Harry sighed. Yet again, he'd been abandoned whilst his cousin Dudley was enjoying himself. Mind you, it could have been worse – although he didn't think that being left with Mrs Figg would be half as bad now that he knew she was a squib, she was still an old lady with an overbearing fondness for cats. Non-muggle or not, he was fairly certain he'd have been bored stiff if he'd been left back at Privet Drive with her.
Of course, the Dursleys hadn't trusted him enough to leave him on his own at their house. He could picture Uncle Vernon's face now - "look what happened while we were here! Do you really think that we'd be stupid enough to leave you here on your own? We'd probably come back to find the house had moved to China or some other bloody awful place!" Harry had been very tempted to say yes, he did think that they were that stupid, but had thought better of it. If he had, his uncle might have changed his mind about not locking him in his room. The only reason he'd decided not to do that in the first place was the thought of another group of wizards storming his home while he was out, and spiriting Harry away somewhere. Harry smiled to himself at that thought, until he remembered where he had been taken the year before…. 12 Grimmauld Place…Sirius' house.
Forcing himself not to think about it, he turned his mind to where he was now. Stood outside a theatre in Oxford, with no idea what to do, where to go and with three hours to kill. Dudley, his beefy cousin, was currently at some rock concert by a band Harry had never heard of – it always amazed him how much the Muggle world changed between terms at Hogwarts. He could never recognise any of the popular groups anymore, but it didn't really bother him. Anyway, Dudley was at a concert (although it seemed a little ostentatious to call it a concert – more like people screaming at each other accompanied by heavy bass guitars and a lot of drums). Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon had gone to the theatre with some of his uncle's 'business associates'. Which meant that he would spend the whole time trying to convince them to buy drills and stuff, and she would spend it getting increasingly more annoyed at her husband's inattentiveness, whilst she was actually spying on the people sitting in the opposite box. Not that Harry had ever been to the theatre with the Dursleys, but they were so predictable it was funny. And Harry needed desperately to laugh.
So it was that he, Harry Potter, was strolling aimlessly around the streets of Oxford, wondering how to occupy himself for the next three hours.
Half an hour later, he was still wandering. It was beginning to get dark, and he guessed it must be about ten o'clock. Perhaps not the best time to be wandering around a strange city, but he didn't really have a choice. He was beginning to seriously wish he'd asked Hermione if there were any wizarding areas, like Diagon Alley or Platform 9 ¾ in Oxford as soon as he'd found out he'd have to come here. Admittedly, that had only been that morning, but he was fairly certain Hedwig could have made the journey to Hermione's and back in that time. Now he came to think of it, he wasn't actually sure where she lived, which was a little odd. In the five years he'd known Hermione, he'd never visited her home, and had only met her parents once or twice. He knew it was somewhere in the middle of England, he just wasn't sure exactly where. Then again, he'd been to Ron's house loads of times, and couldn't have told anyone where Ottery St Catchpole was. He supposed he'd never really had to pay any attention – every time he'd visited the Weasley's, he'd gone by magical means of transport, so it was kind of understandable.
By now Harry had wandered into a large park which was clearly a haunt for the locals. He had already passed several gangs of teenagers, whom he had skirted around carefully. He could defend himself, of course, but there had already been so many misunderstandings where he and magic out of term time were considered, he'd rather not risk it, and he didn't want to try and outrun them in a strange place. Several of them had even looked more brutish than Dudley, which he hadn't thought possible. So when he saw a lone boy sitting silently on one of the benches, he approached warily.
As he got closer, the boy looked up, and Harry caught his breath. In his eyes, there was something…a pain, which he had never thought to see in anything but a mirror. There were terrible things in the boy's eyes, loss, dreadful knowledge, and passion. But only for a moment did Harry catch a glimpse of the soul hidden deep in this boys eyes. The moment passed, and the emotion was buried.
Despite his wariness, Harry's curiosity got the better of him.
"Hi," he said, sitting himself on the bench next to the boy, who he reckoned was perhaps a year or so older than him.
"Hi," came the unresponsive reply. Harry realised that he was going to have to get a conversation started – this boy clearly wasn't the chatty type.
"Er…I like your cat," he commented, as he spotted the lithe creature curling itself round the boy's legs.
"What! What cat?" the boy asked, startled out of his silence. "I don't have a cat! Why would you say I have a cat? Because I don't!" He seemed startled, panicked even, by Harry's suggestion that he could possibly have a cat. What gave him away though, was that as soon as Harry had mentioned it, his eyes had gone straight to where the cat was. Even Harry, used to bizarre occurrences as he was, found this a little odd.
"Ok…Oh, look at the time! I have to be going!" Carefully, he began walking slowly away from the strange boy.
As he turned his back, he was sure he heard a second voice.
"Will! What if he could see me? Like Serafina could?"
"Don't be daft, he couldn't possibly…"
"Will! I think you should call him back.'
"Why? It's more likely he spotted some stray tabby behind me.'
"You're just scared. I bet Lyra would call him back…"
Startled, Harry began walking a little faster. Bodiless voices had never been a good omen for him.
Will sighed. It had been a long day. He had woken up early, not having been able to sleep. He never could, not on this particular day. He'd spent the whole day working at the fruit and veg shop wishing the day would go that little bit faster, so that the evening could take its time. Then, as soon as he had finished work (five minutes before he was supposed to), he had rushed to the park bench where he was now sitting. Not that he cared if he lost his job, he only had it to help Mary pay the bills, and as he was still at school, there wasn't much else he could do except take any job he could in the summer. This grocery assistant had to be the worst yet though, he was on a pittance and he didn't think he could face another leek.
So he had been sitting there, on the park bench, with Kirjava, since six o'clock. Seemingly staring at what must have been an absolutely fascinating dustbin.
He could almost feel her, when he concentrated. He knew Kirjava could feel Pan. The two daemons had a connection that went at least as deep as his and Lyra's, if not deeper. He had sat here, on this lonely park bench, for five hours, dreaming and reminiscing of her. Lyra. His Lyra.
And then, that boy had walked up. He had untidy black hair, clothes that clearly didn't fit properly and round glasses that might have been fashionable five years ago, but certainly weren't now. But it had been the expression in his face that had startled Will the most. Determination, bravery and sorrow and…recognition? Will felt it – as he looked into that stranger's eyes, he could sense that the two of them had much in common. Each had faced much, far more than others their age had. But while Will quickly sealed off the emotions, the boy's face had remained open and honest. There was a certain naïve trust that Will both envied and automatically liked in the boy. Nonetheless, he didn't feel it necessary to make conversation, so when greeted, he replied very curtly in an attempt to ward the boy off.
And then, he had said that he liked his cat. Yes, he supposed that he could have meant some stray behind him, but deep in his heart, he knew that this strange boy really had seen Kirjava. How? In three years he hadn't met a single person except Mary and himself who could see the daemons. And then, on this night of all nights, a boy walks up and announces that he liked his cat?
He hadn't wanted to go after him, but when she'd said, "I bet Lyra would call him back…" he knew he hadn't had a choice. He had to know what made this boy so special, what meant he could see, but not recognise what Will himself could only see after months of practise. How had he seen the daemon?
"Wait!" the boy cried. Harry hesitantly stopped and turned round. The boy was sprinting up to him, the cat following agilely after. For a moment, he thought about running, but something about the boy stopped him.
"Sorry, it's just… can I talk to you? Somewhere more private, I mean,' the boy gasped, out of breath from the running.
Harry raised his eyebrows.
"Oh, sorry! My name's Will – Will Parry. I live just up the road, if you want a coffee or something…"
Against his better judgement, Harry nodded.
"I'm Harry Potter," it was nice, he thought ironically, to greet someone with that and not have their eyes automatically flick upwards to his scar.
Shaking his hand, he followed the boy out of the park and up the next street. At least it's well lit, in the event of an emergency, he thought. Not that he would really be in much danger from a Muggle boy, but there was something else in his eyes that Harry recognised from someone else…Sirius. That look of despair, the knowledge that this person would have no scruples if he needed to get something done. That scared Harry, even as he recognised that determination in himself.
The boy – Will – led Harry up to a terraced house in a one of the shabbier streets near the park. There were bright orange marigolds blooming in the flowerbeds under the windows, and the front door had been painted a cheerful glossy green. Someone had clearly made an effort to brighten the place up, but the peeling paint on the windowsills and the empty cans and cigarette butts scattered around told a different story. This wasn't the nicest area in the city.
Despite this, Harry couldn't help liking the place. It was an entire world away from Privet Drive and his Aunt and Uncle, who would never even have ventured this far down the road. There was something comforting about it, the fact that this place was so lived in and so obviously a home.
Will had unlocked the door, and was stood waiting for Harry to enter. Shrugging to himself, Harry threw caution to the winds and went in.
As Will followed this stranger - no, Harry - into the hall of the little house he shared with Mary and his mother, he wondered again what had possessed him to invite him round.
He could be a serial killer, or another of those tabloid journalists, he reasoned to himself. And yet…he trusted Kirjava with his life. She was his life. And he knew that she would never have suggested this if there was something wrong with this boy. But even that wasn't enough to silence that niggling doubt at the back of his mind.
He could see that Harry had been having similar doubts. The momentary pause before he had entered the house had not escaped his notice. Surely a psychopath wouldn't be worried about entering a potential victim's house. Would they?
Even so, he wished that they had just stayed outside, or gone to the nearest café. He also hoped that neither Mary nor his mother were home, as he had no idea what he would say to them if they were. 'Oh yes, this is just a random boy I brought in off the streets because he said he could see a cat.' He couldn't see that going down too well with either of them.
Well, there was only one way to resolve this.
Harry was fascinated. It was soon becoming obvious that his first impressions of the house had been right. Although he had been brought up in the Muggle world, the only homes he had ever seen were his aunt and uncles, 'Aunt' Marge's and Mrs Figg's, and all of them had been decorated fairly similarly. Grey, with floral patterns and thick pink carpets. The wizarding places he had been in were different – full of clutter, leftovers from mediaeval or Elizabethan times, an often untidy mixture of old and new that meant there was always something to looks at. This, however, was – well, amazing. Instead of thick carpets with patterns raised into them, the wooden floorboards of the house had been left exposed, covered only by a long thin rug that stretched the length of the hall. The walls were painted a gentle cream and the only furniture was a coat stand right next to the door, which was piled high with various jackets and coats. It wasn't elaborate, and definitely not expensive, but Harry liked it.
He turned to ask Will whether he should leave his shoes on or not, but the other boy was frowning at a note that had been left next to the door.
Instead, Harry bent down, and went to stroke the cat that was now twining itself around his legs.
"No!" Harry jumped, his hand automatically jerking away from the cat.
"I...I'm sorry! It's only a cat, I didn't think…"
"She is not only a cat," Will replied haughtily. "Her name is Kirjava, and I would very much like to know how it is you can see her,"
Harry's eyed widened in surprise, whilst his right hand crept towards the pocket where he kept his wand. It looked like he might be needing it after all.
"What do you mean, how can I see her? It – She's a cat for goodness sake! Why shouldn't I be able to see her?"
Will had panicked when he had seen Harry bent down to stroke Kirjava. At first he was outraged – how dare he? Then the rational part of his brain kicked in, soothing, saying, how could he know? And now you'll have to tell him something. But not the truth. You know you can't tell anyone the truth.
"Well, sometimes she scratches and I wouldn't..."
"Will!" He sucked his breath in sharply as he felt claws digging into his ankle. "Tell him!"
"…Did your cat just talk? Are you sure it's a cat? Not an animagus, or, or..something? " To Will's amazement, Harry seemed only vaguely fazed by Kirjava's ability. This was – unexpected.
Will raised his eyebrows. "A what? But… She's not a cat, not really."
"An animagus. Someone who can change into an animal at will? No? What is she then?" By now, Will was almost beyond surprise at Harry's serenity. His 'cat' had just spoken to him, and he got this little reaction? He was almost disappointed!
"She's my daemon."
Harry blinked. This was a turn of events and no mistake. The boy had a talking cat! Mentally he skimmed through 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them', but couldn't recall anything about talking cats, except sphinxes. This clearly wasn't a sphinx.
And now he was being told it was a daemon, whatever that was. He couldn't remember ever coming across the word before, but then as he never paid that much attention in class…where was Hermione when you needed her?
So instead of a knowledgeable 'ah' or an amazed but satisfied 'ooh, of course!' Harry replied with the first thing that came into his head.
Will frowned. This was getting stranger by the second. "You don't know?"
"No." Harry shook his head. "Should I?"
"No, no. It's just, I thought… Well actually, I didn't know what to think." He sighed. "Well, you'd better come and sit down. This could take some time. Do you want a drink or anything?"
"A cup of tea would be brilliant, thanks. I'll just - wait in here, shall I?"
"Oh, no! Go sit down! The living room's just through there. I won't be long."
Will watched Harry make his way into the living room. As soon as he was out of sight, he strode into the kitchen, where he turned on Kirjava.
"What the heck are you playing at? You have no idea who he is!"
The cat stared up at him, and blinked slowly.
"Kir! Don't do that! Answer me!"
If she could have raised her eyebrows, she would have done. "Can't you feel it? He can help us. I don't know how, or why, but he can."
Will was unimpressed. "Great. All this based on a feeling? A pricking of your thumbs? What am I supposed to tell him?"
"The truth. Go out there and tell him everything. He needs us as much as we need him."
"How do you know?"
"We daemons…we're more…connected than you are. To the earth, I mean. We feel more, sense more. I don't know how to describe exactly. But you have to tell him."
He sighed. "I trust you. But it doesn't mean I'm happy about this."
He remembered what he had gone into the kitchen for in the first place, and put the kettle on to boil.
Harry, feeling very intrusive, wandered into Will's living room. He perched nervously on the edge of a battered armchair.
He wasn't quite sure how he'd ended up in this situation. At least, he thought, Will hadn't shown any psychopathic tendencies. Yet. Harry wasn't that scared of any person near his age anymore, not after Voldemort. A tiny voice at the back of his mind kept whispering about polyjuice, but Harry dismissed this as paranoia. Even that wouldn't explain the talking cat.
The talking cat! Will had seemed quite confused when Harry hadn't known what it- she - was. His bewildered look had made him feel quite guilty that he didn't know, although he knew that wasn't his fault. He was pretty sure he'd remember if they'd covered talking cats in class.
Will walked into the room and Harry found himself jumping to his feet, as he would for a professor at school.
The other boy chuckled wryly, and handed Harry a steaming mug.
"Sit down. This is quite a long story."