Author's Note: Vaguely set during Harry's sixth year, nothing really spoiler-ish if you've read through the first five books. Select dialogue taken from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone.
Harry knows why he was raised by the Dursleys. Dumbledore had a lot of reasons. But Harry also knows that there are rather a lot of wizarding families who would've been more than willing to take him in, would've been honored to do it, in fact. Harry doesn't quite know what he thinks about that, but nevertheless he sometimes wonders what his life would be like if he had been raised by a wizarding family. If he could pick (not that, as a baby, he could've picked an adoptive family, but in theory), there's no question he'd choose the Weasleys. Mrs. Weasley did say, after all, that Harry was as good as a son to her- well, what if it had always been like that? And truly, not just metaphorically? Growing up with Ron and all his brothers and Ginny, as if they were his brothers and sister? Quidditch and hand-me-downs, ghouls in the attic and gnomes in the yard, Mr. Weasley's obsession with Muggles and the twins' pranks. Presents every Christmas and birthday and Mrs. Weasley's hand-knit sweaters because, lame as it sounds, the center point of the Weasley family is love.
It causes him near physical pain to think of it, and to compare that imagined life to the hell he had, and still has, with the Dursleys. It's like a hand squeezing at his insides, that just won't let go.
For some reason, he doesn't think he would've turned out much differently as a person, though, if he'd been raised by the Weasleys. He still wouldn't have had everything he wanted, and his life still would've had adversity, just adversity of a different (better?) sort. And when he'd first come to Hogwarts he'd thought that being raised by wizards would've been an advantage in his classes, but he'd quickly realized that wasn't necessarily true. All he had to do was compare Ron to Hermione.
But then Harry thinks of what it was like to first go into the Leaky Cauldron with Hagrid, to have everyone know his name, for strangers to know more about him than he himself did. What if he'd grown up like that? Knowing he was some sort of hero to the wizarding world? How could that not affect him as a person? Hermione told him once that he has a "saving people" complex, and that just came from the last few years (Harry still gets a flush in his cheeks when he remembers Hermione saying that, did she think he wanted to be the hero all the time? Didn't she realize he'd give anything to be a normal kid with a mum and dad still alive? Can he help that he's been singled out and that trouble follows him wherever he goes?) But if he'd known, his whole life, just what it really meant to be Harry Potter… maybe he would've ended up as stuck-up as Malfoy (as stuck-up as Snape tells him he is, as stuck-up as he knows people think he is, as stuck-up as he fervently hopes he isn't).
He's sitting by the lake one afternoon watching the giant squid lazily stretch its tentacles and pretending to write a Potions essay when the thought comes to him suddenly. What if he'd been raised a Malfoy?
At first the idea seems ludicrous. After all, Lucius Malfoy was - is - a Death Eater. What would he want with the boy who defeated Lord Voldemort? Other than to kill him, of course. But… it really does make perfect sense.
You'll soon find out some wizarding families are much better than others. You don't want to go making friends with the wrong sort.
Malfoy had wanted to make friends with Harry on the train his first time to Hogwarts, hadn't he? Harry had no reason not to expect he'd been encouraged by his father. It was all about power. He's not stupid; he knows the attraction in his name. Lucius Malfoy would have died (or rather, killed, as seems more likely) to have had the chance to raise Harry as his own, another Draco, a perfect little Death Eater in training ready for if the Dark Lord ever did come back. And besides even that, it would have been excellent cover. Lucius Malfoy had denied he was a Death Eater, and who would have suspected him if he'd taken the boy who defeated You-Know-Who as his son?
His father, his real father, was arrogant, and Harry's been told (by Snape, mostly) that he is, too. So he'd make a perfect Malfoy, wouldn't he? Plus he's got the very Slytherin-like ability of Parseltongue, and he almost did get sorted into Slytherin.
You could be great, you know, it's all here in your head, and Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness, no doubt about that-
Harry tries to imagine himself in Slytherin green and silver, smirking with Draco while his cronies Crabbe and Goyle stand by, talking of his "father" and getting extra points from Snape (would Snape's grudge lessen if he were nearly as much Malfoy as he were Potter?) and acting friendly with Parkinson and Zabini and the rest. Remembers his second year and thinks how maybe he would've been pleased to have people thinking he was the Heir of Slytherin (that thought makes him cringe). Imagines having a mother. Does Narcissa Malfoy love Draco like Lily Potter loved Harry? Enough to die for him? He runs a hand through his rumpled dark hair and then imagines it slicked back like Draco's, and wonders if his hair would cooperate. Surely it must- a Malfoy's appearance is always impeccable.
At night he sits with Ron and Hermione by the Gryffindor common room fire and listens while they bicker- he's not sure what it is this time, it's always something and he's learned to tune them out as best as he can. He notices the frayed sleeves on Ron's robes and the way he can see his old socks bunched around his skinny ankles where the robes are too short.
My father told me all the Weasleys have red hair, freckles, and more children than they can afford.
Would he have stood next to Malfoy and laughed while his "brother" mocked Ron? Or maybe he would have joined in, or started it, even. Would he have had that same cultured tone dripping with spite? Would he have called Hermione a Mudblood? Harry practices sneering in front of the mirror in the bathroom when no one's around.
Somehow it looks different when Malfoy does it.
Harry'd like to think that he's a good enough person to have turned out all right even if he had been raised by Lucius Malfoy, because, after all, the Dursleys didn't ruin him, now, did they? He's not another Dudley, so why should he think he would've been another Draco? But there's a voice in his head that reminds him the Dursleys didn't treat him like they did Dudley, and if they had, maybe he'd be a lot different. He snickers at that idea, and then feels slightly ill.
Harry knows that Malfoy's family's got loads of gold and had he grown up with them he would have had everything he'd asked for. But Harry also knows that money definitely isn't everything, not by a long shot, and he'd take the poor Weasleys' loving household any day. He's not sure whether Lucius would've loved him. He doesn't think so.
Hell, he doesn't even know if Lucius loves Draco. Not that he cares.
In the morning he sits at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall at breakfast and sneaks a glance over at the Slytherins. Malfoy's got a crowd around him, listening while he speaks with a bored drawl (Harry sometimes wonders if Malfoy practices). As he smiles distractedly at something Ron said while pretending he actually heard, he thinks about whether any of the Slytherins are actually friends, or whether they just pretend to be while they're really just seeking out allies and ways to get ahead, ready to stab each other in the back whenever it suits.
Crabbe. Goyle. Nott. Malfoy. They all play at being their fathers, and he wonders whether any will succeed. Wonders whether they really want to, whether they ever actually had a choice in the matter. Of course, there's always a choice, he knows that more than anyone, but still. Growing up like that. Harry didn't even know his father and everyone says he's just like him. So, is he playing too? Posturing at being something he's not?
At least, Harry's father wasn't a monster. Bit of a ponce when he was at school, but then, who isn't at some time or another. No, not a monster, certainly not. Maybe a fool. A brave fool. Harry guesses that's about right, if he's describing himself, too.
Harry decides that maybe his life could've been a lot better, but it could've been a lot worse, too. Experiences make who you are, and Harry thinks he's pretty happy with who he is, so maybe things did turn out for the best. In the end, he knows he'd take the Dursleys over the Malfoys, at least. The thing is, it's only because he wasn't raised by the Malfoys that he can know this.
But he wasn't, so Harry counts his blessings.
And looks forward to spending time with the Weasleys, since he's practically a Weasley anyway, no matter who raised him.