Disclaimer: Everything belongs to someone else. Nothing belongs to me. I even gave all the electrons back when I was done.

In a world where anything is possible and magic is real, the story of Harry Potter is very widely known. In the vastness of the universe, there are an infinite number of different variations on this theme. This, then is one of them.

Learning to read

Sitting, hunched over a coffee table, a little boy was reading. Not very quickly, as he was sounding out the words very slowly as he went. His face showed that he was very serious about each word, and paying careful attention to each picture. This was a book about bears. These bears wore pants, ate porridge, and kept on about things bears don't normally keep on about.

He had finished all his chores that morning, it being early August and school hadn't started yet, and was just settling in to try and read this little book again. His eyebrows furrowed together as he focused on each page, concentrating as hard as he could. Turning the page, he moved his fringe out of his eyes so that he could see better. His hair refused to cooperate, as always, slipping back down in front of emerald green eyes.

His name was Harry Potter, and he was a wizard. At four years old, however, he had no idea of what could possibly be in store for him or how he came to be in this absolutely regular home in Little Whinging. He knew his parents were dead - that much was certain. His Aunt and Uncle made it very clear to him that they were good for nothing drunks, and had died in some kind of car crash. The moral of the story always revolved around what a terrible burden Harry was, how lucky he was to have such loving family as would take him in when absolutely nobody else would, and how little they really asked of him in return.

There was very little about Harry's life that was normal.

Staring intently at the children's book, Harry found he was focusing on it so hard, sweat was starting to form on his brow. A strange tingling was making itself known in his stomach - like he'd drunk some really warm hot chocolate. Flipping through each page, he found himself almost floating inside his own head. It seemed like he was looking out through his eyes, from the back of his own skull.

He'd only just finished the book for what seemed like the tenth time, this time flipping it around to stare at the covers as well, when his Uncle stomped into the living room, cuffing Harry in the back of the head for sitting on the 'good furniture' as Aunt Petunia called it.

"Into your cupboard, boy. And don't let me hear any sass from you!" groused Uncle Vernon. "I'll come and get you when it's time for dinner. You're lucky I'm letting you eat at all."

Ducking under another swipe from his uncle, Harry scuttled out of the sitting room and slipped into the cupboard under the stairs. Pulling the door closed behind him, he heard the lock slip into place and his uncle stomping off, muttering about ungrateful children. Harry settled back onto his little cot, closing his eyes. He smiled to himself, as he picked up the book again - but this time, completely in his mind.

Likes to read. Plays well with others.

By the time little Harry Potter was 6 years old, and finishing his third year of primary school, he had read and remembered hundreds of books. He absolutely loved books and loved learning. His favorite subject was history. He really got a kick out of reading books on famous kings, churches, and different wars. He also got rather a thrill from history, because one of his heroes was Indiana Jones, the main character from a series of American movies. He never actually got to see any movies - but his cupboard was right next to the sitting room, so he was always able to listen in any time the Dursleys were watching something on the television. He'd listened to a lot of television over the years. In fact, when he closed his eyes, he could 'see' the video as it played out in his mind's eye - all while going over the many, many different books he had in his now voluminous mental library.

He kept this mental place neat and tidy - even keeping the children's books he'd read in order by author and subject. This place made him feel safe. Nobody could hurt him here, and nobody could take anything away from him. Not from here.

Since he remembered and could easily recall anything he read, this meant he was naturally very gifted in school, receiving an almost unending stream of praise from his teachers. Praise Dudley worked very hard to beat out of Harry on a regular basis. Harry may not have been particularly interested in sports, but he was certainly getting a lot of practice running. For such a little fellow, he could really fly on his feet.

Dudley Dursley was Harry's cousin, and he was nothing but trouble. It always made the teachers unhappy when they would catch Dudley bullying Harry - however, there never seemed to be much they could do to stop it. Dudley ran with a whole group of boys, and it seemed that their only purpose in life was to harangue Harry. Sometimes verbally, most times physically. By this point, however, Harry had taken to hiding in the school library, and bullies are notoriously afraid of books.

The librarians always looked fondly at little Harry Potter. It was rare to see such a studious little lad, and he was unfailingly polite to each and every adult he knew. His eyes always glowed green as he read furiously through every book he could lift. One particular librarian, a Miss Bindowen-Jones, always fussed over Harry like a grandson, making sure that on the days she worked that she brought in an extra sandwich. She worried that little Harry wasn't eating enough at home - he was terribly small for his age.

One bright Thursday, after school, Miss Bindowen-Jones sat down at the table where Harry was skimming through another volume of this year's edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica.

"Hello, Harry! It's so good to see you, dear." she said, quite fondly.

"Hello, ma'am. It's good to see you too!" replied Harry, looking up from a page on castles with his eyes shining like emeralds.

"Such a polite boy, Harry. I brought a snack today and wondered if you'd like to share it with me?" she asked, opening her bag to bring out a covered plate with small sandwiches on it.

Harry looked down at the page he was on, finished skimming it, noted his current page number and closed the book gently. He always treated books - every book - as if it were important and valuable. This never failed to impress the adults working in the library.

"Yes ma'am! I'd love that." said Harry.

Setting out napkins for both of them, she placed a bit of sandwich on each. She really liked children, and Harry was just a little treasure. He was smiling, hands in his lap. It always struck her as odd that he never ate first. Harry always waited for her to start eating before he took up his snack.

"Such manners" she thought. "His parents must be so proud!"

"Tell me, Harry. What was it your parents do again?" she inquired. Harry was a very pleasant child, though he never seemed to talk about his family.

"There isn't much to tell, ma'am. Uncle Vernon works at Grunnings, and my Aunt Petunia stays at home." said Harry, mildly.

She thought there was likely more to the story, especially since Harry never seemed to wear things that weren't 2 or 3 sizes too big for him. However, he kept his appearance as neat and tidy as he could, and looked to be in decent enough health. "Just hasn't hit his growth yet, then." she thought, smiling.

Finishing his sandwich, Harry scooted his chair backwards a bit. "May I be excused, ma'am? I'd like to go wash my hands before reading some more." he asked.

Smiling warmly, she nodded, and Harry scampered off to the loo to wash up.

"Such a good lad." she said quietly, before getting up to go back to her business.

The Highest Marks

It was the day of the first major Key Stage exams held in the United Kingdoms, and Harry had done exceptionally well. He skipped all the way home, happy that the exams were over and very pleased that all the teachers had clapped him on the back for work very well done. He was smiling so hard, he was sure his face was going to hurt later from it.

He got home just in time to hear his Aunt Petunia hanging up the telephone. Shutting the front door behind him, he headed into the sitting room, on through towards the kitchen to see his list of afternoon chores. His aunt always posted a list of chores for Harry to take care of when he got home from school each day, and he wasn't going to get any dinner if he didn't finish them all off properly before the rest of the household had finished with their meals.

The smile fell from Harry's face, as his aunt turned from where she'd been standing in front of the phone. As she faced him, Harry's stomach tied itself into knots, as her face was a steely mask of rage - her lips pressed together into a thin, white line.

"You just wait until your Uncle gets home." she hissed, her breaths coming in ragged, angry gasps. "I don't know what you did to your teachers, or how you cheated on your exams. Do you know who I just got off the phone with? Mmm? The principal at your primary school. He seems to think that you're some kind of ... genius. That you're so very smart, and we should all be so terribly proud of you.", she spat at Harry. "You've made Dudley look TERRIBLE in front of all his teachers and you're going to suffer for it. Mark my words, child."

With that, she pointed, and Harry knew exactly what she meant. He scooted out of the kitchen, ducking into his cupboard and pulling the door shut behind him. As the lock outside clicked into place, he shivered uncontrollably, wrapping his arms around himself for protection and warmth. "What was wrong with doing well in school?" he thought.

The front door opened, filling Harry with a cold sense of dread. There was never any mistaking Uncle Vernon's heavy footsteps as he tromped past the hallway cupboard. It was almost as if the heat in 4 Privet Drive had been sucked out of the very air. No sooner than his Uncle had entered the kitchen, did a very angry and animated conversation strike up. Harry couldn't hear anything more than the accentuated bits of both Vernon and Petunia's voices - but he was certain they were having a right go at it.

Harry heard the phone ring, and the shouting stopped as someone answered it. The seconds were punctuated by Harry's blood pounding in his ears and the silence in his cupboard was making him dizzy. No more than a minute later, Aunt Petunia's wailing could be heard, and then it happened. Some fast, heavy feet were moving towards the front door and before he really knew what was going on, Harry had been hauled out of his cupboard and thrown into the sitting room.

Aunt Petunia was sitting in one of the overstuffed chairs, weeping into a handkerchief whild Vernon stared at Harry in a rage. His purple face was made all the more terrifying by his Uncle's complete and total lack of neck. As he stood there, glowering at Harry, his jowls jiggled as he shook and his hands were clenching and unclenching with fury.

"Well, boy?" fumed Vernon Dursley. "What is all this nonsense about your testing today?"

Harry didn't really understand why everyone was so upset. His teachers had told him he'd done well, and that it was all well and good to be a bright lad. "I'm sorry sir." started Harry uncertainly. "I'm not totally sure what you're asking? The teachers all said I did..."

Vernon cut Harry off abruptly, "Your aunt tells me that the teachers called. Called us HERE! To tell us how well you've done and that we should be very proud of you."

Harry nodded slowly, waiting to see where this line of inquiry might be going.

"Then not five minutes ago, my son, my very BLOOD calls his own home crying. My boy was sobbing into the phone - afraid to come home, because he was scared we'd be upset because he hadn't done as well ... as some FREAK child." sputtered Vernon.

This sent Aunt Petunia into a fresh wave of tears. "Our perfect little Duddykins hasn't got anything to be scared of." sniffled Petunia.

"Which leads me to my question, boy - and you'd best answer me right and quick, or it won't go easy on you." said Vernon, with a steely glare. "What did you do to your teachers? What kind of tricks or cheat did you employ? Oh, I know your kind" fumed Vernon, dripping venom with his very words "think that because you're different, that you're somehow better - somehow above the rules. Well, I'll show YOU who's better."

Harry's eyes went wide as Vernon reached out for him, but mercifully, after the first blows landed, he knew no more.

When Harry opened his eyes again, he was kind of confused. After a bit, he started to get a sense of things. First of all, he realized he was in pain. A sort of dull ache was present over most of his body. He was laying, sort of haphazardly, on his cot. Probably tossed there by his Uncle after he'd finished with him. He wiggled his fingers and his toes carefully. Thankfully, it didn't seem like anything was broken this time. His breath hitched as twinges of pain shot through his chest, but Harry was sure he wasn't bleeding anywhere and that was some small bit of relief.

"I think I understand now." thought Harry grimly. "They're more upset because I did better than Dudley. I didn't do anything wrong really - they're upset about how much I did right"

In that moment, Harry decided that he wasn't going to stand out, ever again.

Letters letters, who's got the letters?

The next four years passed in a kind of haze. Harry was always unfailingly polite to every adult who spoke to him - but he himself never initiated a conversation. No direct questions had been asked of him after the testing 'incident' as Harry referred to it, and he'd made sure never to volunteer anything.

Harry spent every second he could in libraries or bookstores, soaking up anything lay his hands on. He was secretly quite proud - at ten years old, he'd memorized dictionaries and encyclopedias. He could understand no less than ten different languages, since foreign translation dictionaries were usually pretty comprehensive. Of course, he rarely had much opportunity to practice speaking anything, but that didn't stop him from listening in on visitors from other countries when they thought nobody could understand them. It was always very interesting to Harry to find out what people would say when they thought nobody could understand them.

School was just ending before the summer of his eleventh birthday. This was it - he was going to be done with primary school, and off to secondary school. He knew that Dudley was going to Smeltings, his father's alma mater and Harry was going to end up in Stonewall, the local public school. This made Harry very happy, as that meant he could stop holding himself back. After his original blinding successes in school, it was pure torture to force himself to perform 'just well enough' to keep teachers from complaining but never so well that he ever stood out.

The day started out like most any other. The post came, and Harry was ordered out to pick it up. Nothing exciting - a letter from his Aunt Marge, and some sort of utility bill. Harry wandered back into the dining room to drop it off. What happened next was really outside of Harry's ability to comprehend.

Aunt Petunia noticed it first. There was something tapping on the window in the kitchen. As Harry looked over, he saw his aunt going as white as a sheet. She drew the shades, turning away from the window.

She fixed Harry with an angry glare. "I suppose you're so very happy. Aren't you, boy"

"What do you mean, ma'am?" said Harry.

"Do you know what this is?" jerking up the shade and opening the window, Petunia reached out and yanked an owl that had been sitting on the sill into the kitchen. The owl dropped what it was carrying, thrashed around a bit trying to bite at his aunt, and then flew back out the window. "This is what killed your parents. This right here." She picked up what looked like some kind of letter, crushing it in an angry fist.

She threw the wad right at Harry's face. He was so stunned that he let it just hit him and fall to the floor.

"Well, boy? Open it. Go on." Vernon Dursley looked on with a cruel sneer on his face. He knew precisely what was in that letter if the look on his face was any indication.

Hands shaking, Harry reached down to claim the crumpled mess of paper. Pulling the heavy letter open, Harry eyed the contents. His breath caught in his throat.

"What's all this? I... I don't understand..." Harry was looking between his aunt and uncle, pulse racing. This had to be some kind of mistake. Some kind of joke.

Petunia sniffed disdainfully. "That's right. You're a wizard, Harry. Just like my sister, and that worthless idiot she married. I've known it since the day you were dumped on us"

Vernon chuckled with mirth and went back to reading his newspaper. Harry couldn't figure what could possibly be funny about all this.

Harry took his letter and crawled into his cupboard. Staring at the outside of it, he let the words 'cupboard under the stairs' work their way into his brain through his eyes. He stared so long that his eyes started to dry out from not blinking.
He could hear laughter from the kitchen as his relatives finished up the last bit of breakfast before Vernon left for the day. Harry just numbly sat on the cot he always slept on, uncomprehending.

"It's like they always knew," said Harry quietly. "They knew. Everyone knew. It's all been such a great joke all along, hasn't it." Harry was whispering angrily without anyone to hear him. Hot tears of shame were leaking out the sides of his eyes.

He didn't come out of the cupboard until the afternoon. There were no more tears in his eyes as he walked into the sitting room to find his aunt.

"Aunt Petunia, how am I to reply to this?" he asked her.

She merely smiled at him wickedly. "Have no fear, boy. Someone will come round shortly to deal with you. Oh yes. I'm sure they will," as she sat there sipping tea.

That evening was quite possibly one of the worst of Harry's young life. Waiting was the most terrible torture, and he couldn't decide if he was waiting for something good or bad to happen. Even though his relations had given him a little information, all it had done was opened up a million more questions.

Apparently, he was a wizard and magic was somehow real. "Well, that answers a lot of questions in my mind, I guess," thought Harry ruefully. "And apparently, magic is what killed my parents. That helps with the rotten dreams I've always had"

The doorbell rang, and Harry heard his aunt leave the sitting room to answer it. Voices on the front steps were just a little too far away and muffled for Harry to actually make out the words, but he could tell it was his aunt and another woman. He tried and failed to contain a sneeze, as his cupboard was kind of dusty. At that sound, the conversation stopped, and Harry heard some footsteps moving towards him.

Unlocking the cupboard and opening the door, Petunia grabbed Harry by the arm and propelled him into the sitting room. "You sit right there, boy, and be quiet"

Harry could see a tall, prim looking woman standing in the entryway looking shocked. Her hair was tied up into a severe bun, and she was wearing casual, but fine clothing.

"Well? Come in already," said Aunt Petunia. Harry was stunned. Under no circumstances had his aunt ever been so rude to anyone before. His aunt took a seat and waited, her hands in her lap. "My husband isn't going to be home until later, so what I say here is as if he were here saying it as well. Let's get on with it - I'm not much in the mood to waste any time dealing with you people." She seemed irritated to say the least.

"Very well," began the older woman. She came in, and took a seat on the couch next to Harry, looking him over. "Goodness. You're the spitting image of your father. He.." Petunia held up a hand to interrupt.

"Look, witch." The word came out as if Petunia was trying to spit it out of her mouth for tasting foul. "Now that you're here, I'm going to speak my mind. I'm at least happy you've come back to collect your garbage. There's very little else that needs to be said - and I'm going to say it all right now. That boy is not wanted nor welcome here. Never has been, never will be. I'll not have you polluting my home with your filth"

She took a deep breath before she continued. "Before you get any of your foolish ideas, let me tell you this. My husband and I have retained a solicitor. I know what your kind can do - I'm no fool. I saw Lily do all manner of crazy, unnatural things when we were children. Therefore, I'm stating right now that I'll have no more of that in my home. If you and your kind wish to press this matter, then my solicitor will be notified and the proper steps taken. You had no right to dump him on our doorstep when you did, and now that you're here, you're to take him away and never bring him back. Am I making myself clear"

The older woman was staring at Aunt Petunia, taking her measure. She looked at Harry very slowly. "Harry, my name is Minerva McGonagall. I am the Deputy Headmistress for Hogwart's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It appears," McGonagall glanced at Petunia then back at Harry "that we'll be gathering you and your things tonight and leaving here for good. How long will it take you to be ready"

"Ma'am, I have nothing to pack. Just my letter." Harry was sitting tense and nervous. His head was whirling, making him feel a little dizzy.

Her scowl deepened as she stood. "Then let's go"

As they stepped out to the curb, McGongall put her wand into the air and signalled the Knight Bus. Harry didn't really know what she was doing, but the end result made things crystal clear. He resolved to remember what she'd done, just in case he himself needed to do some travelling.

The ride itself was exciting in the extreme, and it seemed like they were going somewhere called 'The Leaky Cauldron'. Once the bus stopped and they'd disembarked, Harry could see what looked like a dingy pub tucked in between a couple of normal looking shops. She opened the door and waved him through. Harry could smell smoke, cooked meat, and a few other things he wasn't quite able to place. There was a light haze hanging in the air around the room as the professor guided him to a table, tapped him once with her wand, and went over to the bar.

While she was deep in discussion with an older man, presumably the barkeep, Harry took the opportunity to look around. There were a few people sort of lounging in the common room. The pub itself seemed kind of dirty, and the lighting was terrible - just some lanterns hanging here and there giving off a pretty feeble light.

While the older witch was taking care of things, Harry watched the patrons carefully. Being small for his age, people tended to seriously underestimate him. They usually thought first of all that he was of average intellect as well as being younger than he really was. To be fair, he was extremely small for his age. Harry could tell the wizarding world was both interesting as well as terribly out of date. He also observed something fundamental about wizarding culture almost immediately.

Wizards and witches are lazy. Every single opportunity they had to let magic work for them, they took. Even things like picking something up off the ground, wizards just waved their wands and let magic take care of it. Harry chuckled under his breath at this, knowing fully that he'd be taking serious advantage of idiot notions like that before very long.

McGonagall came back over to the table and took a seat. "Mister Potter," she began, "I'm going to have to leave shortly. However, before I go one of my co-workers will be joining us. His name is Rubeus Hagrid and he's the Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwart's. You'll be staying here at the Leaky Cauldron, since your relations have made it clear you're not welcome in their home any longer." She sighed heavily before starting again. "Do you have any questions"

"No ma'am. My aunt made everything pretty plain to me," said Harry simply. "They've never wanted me, and as such have always made me very aware of it." He sat, hands in his lap. Harry figured that dinner was going to be forthcoming, so he'd just wait and see what happened next.

Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?

After a while, Harry had asked a few questions, gotten a few answers and remained very unsatisfied with the overall picture he was painting. Just after the meal was finished, the front door opened to allow a man inside. He was a huge creature, obviously carrying some giant blood in him. His boot steps made the floor tremble as he made his way over to where Harry and McGonagall were sitting. Pulling up a bench, he settled in, smiling behind a very huge, bushy beard.

"'Ello, 'arry! Why I 'aven't seen you since you was jus' a baby," started the large man. "Blimey. Lookit my manners. My name is Rubeus Hagrid, Keeper of Keys and Grounds at Hogwart's." He stuck out an absolutely monstrous hand, which Harry shook carefully. "We'll be stayin' 'ere tonight. Then tomorrah we'll be gatherin' all your school supplies." At this point, the giant paused and looked over at the prim witch.

"Hagrid, I'm not sure what to do at this point, but Harry's guardians have made it clear that he's not to come back. I'm going to leave now, and speak to the headmaster about it. I leave him in your capable hands." McGonagall rose from her chair, nodding at Harry. "Mister Potter, please remain on your best behaviour for Hagrid. We'll get things sorted out for you presently"

Harry nodded, sitting quietly. There were things going on around him that he wasn't sure about. He surmised it would be best if he just rode things out and only gave suggestions if someone actually asked him for them.

The rest of the evening passed quickly, if not quietly. Hagrid told Harry some stories about his parents' time at Hogwarts. Most of the tales seemed to revolve around the pranks and mischief they would all get involved in.

"Hagrid, you said my dad had three friends. You've talked about Peter and Remus. But who was the last one? What was his name?" Harry had been paying very close attention, and Hagrid's response was what he'd predicted.

Hagrid looked embarrassed, looking down at his meal and poking at some hunks of potato with an overly large spoon. "His name was Sirius Black, 'arry. He ... " Hagrid's voice caught in his throat. "He was yer dad's best mate in the world. Brothers if not for blood." The big man looked for all the world like he was about to cry over this revelation.

"If Black was my father's best friend, why are you avoiding talking about him?" Harry felt there was something going on here that might well be vitally important to him.

Hagrid sighed heavily. "'arry, you have ter understan'. The Headmaster had only yer best interests at heart. Really, I'm not supposed to be tellin' ya." He paused to mumble under his breath "Don' know why Dumbledore doesn't want yer knowin"

Harry faked a wide yawn, stretching. "Well, that's about enough for tonight Hagrid. I'm really pretty knackered." Hagrid got to his feet, looked around the Leaky Cauldron, and then led the way upstairs to the room they were sharing. Harry figured the smaller bed was his, curling up under the covers after kicking off his shoes. He didn't take too terribly long to drop off to sleep with a smile on his face. His life was changing, hopefully for the better.

Diagon Alley

Harry woke the next morning to something tapping on the window of their room. Opening it up, an owl hopped inside carrying what looked like a newspaper. Once Harry took the paper from the owl, it nipped him a bit on the hand and shook one of its legs in the air. Harry could see a small leather sack fastened to the owl's leg. He looked at the paper headlines, and spotted the price of that edition.

Rummaging through Hagrid's coat took a few minutes, but it wasn't long before he had a small handful of coins. There were three different kinds, so Harry took a moment to read them, figuring out that the bronze ones were 'knuts'. He dropped a couple of them into the owl's pouch and patted its head. It hooted softly, hopped back to the window, and took off. Harry settled in to read the paper from front to back. Harry was a very rapid reader, only taking a minute or two to get through the entire paper. He nicked the subscription form from the back for his own use later, slipping it into a pocket.

Hagrid stirred after a short while longer, and both men headed down into the common room to catch some breakfast prior to collecting Harry's school things. One fine breakfast spread later, they progressed out of the Cauldron and into the space behind it.

"Stand back, 'arry," said Hagrid as he started tapping bricks on the wall with his umbrella. The wall started to change shape, the bricks rotating out of the way forming a strong looking archway that led into a busy street. "Welcome to Diagon Alley."

The two stepped through the arch into Diagon Alley. As the portal closed behind them, Harry found himself wishing he had another pair of eyes. There was so much to see. The shopping trip went very quickly, and without fanfare. Since Harry was keeping his hair down over his scar, most people hardly gave him a second look. Each shop they went to had a basic set of equipment for first year Hogwart's students. When Hagrid wasn't looking, Harry nicked an owl ordering catalog from each place. He was coming into the wizarding world for the first time, and knew that he was going to have his work cut out for him catching up.

The issue of money was a simple enough one to solve. Hagrid had Harry's vault key on him, which he turned over. The key had Harry's vault number on it, and that's all that was required at each shop. When the merchants found that they were ringing out the famous Harry Potter, there was usually a minute or two of excited conversation or handshaking. Harry smiled and nodded at the appropriate times, but really wanted to get out of Diagon Alley. As much as he was enjoying his first immersion into the wizarding world, the attention was beginning to really grate on his nerves.

Stepping out of the wand shop, all that was really left was the bookstore. Harry ducked inside to grab a few things. Hagrid had said he wanted to go get a quick nip down at the Leaky Cauldron, so he left his charge there in the store to shop. Harry spent the time well, gathering up all his school books and then reading and memorizing an interesting collection of other subjects. Ultimately, Harry found he really never needed to actually buy books since he could remember anything he looked at. He only bought textbooks to have in the related classes. Teachers didn't need to know he was different.

Harry paid for his books, grabbed the owl ordering catalog, and stepped back out into Diagon Alley just as Hagrid arrived with a cage holding a beautiful snowy white owl. He presented the boy with it, and stood back, smiling.

"Don' expect you've gotten many presents from the Dursleys, 'arry", rumbled Hagrid as they turned to leave Diagon Alley.

Looking up at the giant, Harry squinted his eyes, thinking that Hagrid sure seemed to know rather a lot more about his upbringing that he rightly should have.

"Who was it you said left me with the Dursleys, Hagrid?" asked Harry, faking his most innocent tone. He knew that Professor McGongall had already said it was someone named 'Dumbledore', but he wanted to hear the name again. He may have been a lot of things, but stupid wasn't even remotely on the list.

"Why, it were Professor Dumbledore himself, 'arry. Seemed right set on it too, if'n you ask me. Both Professor McGonagall and meself were right there on the Dursley's doorstep. Left you a letter and everything!", said Hagrid. "Tha's why I thought it so odd you knowin' nothin' 'bout your parents until yesterday. It were all in tha' letter Dumbledore left with you." He had a sort of puzzled look on his face, which then cleared up and Hagrid was his normal, busybody self again. "Anyways, never you mind tha', 'arry. We'll get you taken care of straight away!"

"Dumbledore", thought Harry to himself. Making sure to keep a genial smile on his face, Harry went over the possiblities of what he was hearing in his mind. Dumbledore knew. He knew how badly he'd been brought up! For reasons completely incomprehensible to Harry, the most powerful man in the wizarding world had left an infant on a muggle doorstep - unprotected - with nothing more than a letter to explain. Hadn't checked up on him in over ten years? Ten miserable years?! Harry actually stumbled just a bit, under the weight of the rage and frustration he was feeling. He had lived like a slave, in a cupboard under the stairs - in a home where he wasn't wanted or loved - and the man KNEW?! As far as Harry was concerned, someone that stood back and let things happen, knowing full well, was as bad as or worse than the person actually doing the thing.

Whoever this Albus Dumbledore was, Harry was certain he couldn't trust anything to do with him - or anyone he associated with.

Trunks, Platforms, and Redheads oh my!

Harry followed Hagrid back to the Leaky Cauldron. They got a table and a light lunch.

"Well, 'arry. We're just waiting for the Headmaster to come. I expect he's off dealin' with your muggle family"

This made the boy laugh. He kept on laughing, holding his sides as he was gasping for air. "Hagrid, you're the best. I can't wait to see what happens next." Harry swiped his sleeve across his eyes, drying the tears of laughter there.

Hagrid looked confused but shrugged and continued eating his stoat sandwich. The floo flared up for a moment, and an aged wizards stepped through, brushing soot off his lavender robes. Spotting Hagrid and Harry, he moved to join them.

"Ah! Hello, boys!" started the old man. "My name is Albus Dumbledore, and I'm the Headmaster for Hogwart's school of witchcraft and wizardry. Do you mind terribly if I join you?" He took a chair as Harry smiled and Hagrid nodded through his food. "Harry, the Dursleys have been dealt with. I'll let Hagrid take you home here in just a bit and look forward to seeing you again come the first of September." The old man's eyes were shining in the torchlight.

Harry smiled at the old man again. "Are you certain, sir? My relations seemed pretty set on not ever having me come back"

"Pish posh, my boy," Dumbledore smiled widely "Likely just having a bad day - for some muggle families, the idea that there's a wizard in the house can come as a bit of a shock"

"If you think that's best, sir." Harry couldn't wait to see how this all played out. His aunt and uncle were very clever folks. Since his aunt had grown up with a powerful witch for a sister, he really felt that Dumbledore was severely underestimating her. As much as he felt no real love or affection for them, he was also looking forward to whatever reciprocity was going to happen to the headmaster.

The next month went quietly and painlessly. The Dursleys acted as if nothing had happened when Harry got home. Hagrid had called the Knight Bus for Harry, and paid for the fare to Surrey. Once he'd gotten home, Harry had found himself pleasantly surprised to find that the Dursleys had also moved him into the guest room. The room was lightly painted, with Petunia's preference for summer colors showing plainly.

Within the first day, Harry had absorbed the entire year's worth of texts, and was setting his potions equipment up for some practice brewing. He'd gone over all the school rules and knew he shouldn't be using his wand for anything involving casting - but there wasn't anything preventing him from brewing potions. That evening, Harry had decided he was going to need more potions ingredients and sent his owl out with a purchase order to the Diagon Alley apocathary. The basics of potions brewing weren't all that much different than cooking. Harry figured he should pick up a couple more full sets of student brewing gear since there wasn't any reason he couldn't brew more than one potion at a time.

In fact, so far, potions was proving to be far and away the most interesting subject of study for Harry's upcoming first year at Hogwart's. He was taking notes in some blank journals he'd purchased for that very reason and had a few topics he was looking forward to studying.

The only thing that broke up Harry's routine came his second day back.

"Harry?" a light tapping sounded at the guest room door. Harry called out and the door opened to reveal his Aunt Petunia. "May I come in, Harry? I can see that you're busy, but I've got some important news"

Harry looked over at his potions setup. One cauldron was going right now, but it was just simmering with a burn salve and didn't require much attention at this stage. "Certainly Aunt Petunia. What can I do for you"

She sat down in a afghan covered chair that was right by the door. "Harry, it appears that my desire to have you no longer living here is not being respected by your headmaster." Harry nodded at her to continue. "Our solicitor had orders to check on things the day after you got your letter, and a complete list of questions to ask both your uncle and I if he found that you hadn't moved out." She took a deep breath. "I'm deeply disturbed by all of this, you know. Because it seems to me that regardless of what we 'muggles' want..." she placed special angry emphasis upon the word muggles, and Harry could tell she wasn't at all pleased by it. "that wizards see fit to direct things to whatever way they want. I am all too aware of your situation, and it enrages me beyond all reason to be bullied by magical types that know better than us lesser folk"

Harry frowned. There wasn't anything he hated more than bullies, and he knew exactly how this situation was making his aunt feel. "Ma'am, I know it's no consolation - I didn't ask a single person to bring me back,or do anything to you. I didn't know where I was going to go, but I'm sure I could have figured something out"

Petunia nodded. "I know, Harry. It may not have been right, but I know very well how we've treated you all these years. Sadly, I'm mostly to blame for it. On the one hand, I am sorry for it. For what it's worth, at least. That's why I'd like to talk to you. We know that your headmaster actually forced us, magically, to agree with his demands - blatantly disregarding our wishes in the matter. The most frustrating part is there isn't anything we can do, since we're only muggles and what we want doesn't mean much to wizards"
"That's where you come in. Our solicitor has suggested that we build up some sort of case against the Headmaster, but in your courts and legal system. We'd like to ask for your help. We know you'd like to leave, and goodness we'd sure love to have you leave," she stopped to take a breath and calm herself some. "I would like to offer you this room to stay in, the only conditions being that you explore alternate solutions, and that when at all possible, you don't interact with anyone else in the house. We won't bother you if you don't bother us. This is an unpleasant situation all around"

Harry considered this for a moment. "Aunt Petunia, I can do you one better. I am grateful for your forbearance, and if you're at all interested, while we both know I can't do any wand related magic outside of school, the subject of potions seems to be a kind of loophole. You'd likely be surprised the sorts of things you can do with a properly brewed potion. This summer, I'm still learning the subject, but I'd like to make the offer for next summer. I honestly doubt that the Headmaster is going to let me move out of here. The more I learn about the man, I find him capable of doing anything within his power to get what he wants"

The thin woman nodded. "Well, I don't know all that much about it, but I'm willing to see what you've got to offer. I know my sister, God rest her soul, really loved the subject as well and could do some rather amazing things. I'll bring some lunch up for you later on. Thank you for hearing me out"

"Thank you for taking the time, Aunt Petunia. I am really sorry that things have turned out like this. It really isn't right when someone thinks they know your life better than you do"

She pulled the door closed as she left, leaving Harry sitting on the edge of the guest bed considering his burn salve with a critical eye.

By the time the month of August had ended, Harry had made some great strides in the realm of potion brewing, taking hours every day to practice. His relations, while not really excited about the idea, could accept the notion of Harry leaving some of his brews behind with instructions for their use. Nothing special past some burn relieving creams, and a couple of calming draughts - but the effort was not wasted.

He'd also made arrangements to have a new trunk delivered to Hogwart's, as his current trunk wasn't going to be sufficient for more than this first year. He'd looked over the trunkmaker's inventory in his catalog, and had decided on something a little more complicated. The proprietor had written Harry back to let him know that his new trunk would already be on the train at King's Cross station when he left for school.

September 1st came sliding in, and Harry was ready for it. He'd packed the night before and was out the door as soon as sunlight hit his windowsill. Figuring that he could put almost everything into his trunk, he made sure he had a couple school books to read as well as his muggle notebooks in his backpack. One of the things Harry found sort of odd about his entry into the wizarding world was the anachronistic approach they took to everything. He couldn't hardly work a quill to save his life - so, he made sure he'd stocked up on pens, pencils, and spiral notebooks.

He hit the curb at 4 Privet drive at a run, calling out for the Knight Bus. Shortly thereafter, he found himself at King's Cross, and speeding through the barrier on Platform 9 and 3/4. The train was sitting quietly, puffing out bits of steam. Moisture was condensing and running down the sides of the cars, and Harry could smell a touch of oil mixed in with the dewey morning air. Bouncing up the steps, he grabbed a car right in the middle of the train and settled in for a bit of reading, as he was hours early and wanted to enjoy the peace and quiet while he had it.

Hogwart's Express

Children started filling the train, and before Harry knew it, they were rolling out of the station. Harry was so excited to be on an adventure like this. Smiling, he felt like the luckiest kid in the world. While he was fully aware of his terrible childhood, he could understand how the Dursleys felt about being carved out of the magical world almost completely. Aunt Petunia must have been very jealous of her sister when one was sent to Hogwart's and the other was not.

It didn't take too long before someone decided to take an interest in his cabin. A redheaded boy looking to be about Harry's age pulled open the door and poked his head in.

"Do you mind if I sit in here? All the others are full"

Harry considered this for a moment, knowing full well that the boy was lying. He decided to see where this was going as he answered. "Sure thing. I'm Harry," he said. "Harry Potter"

The redhead smiled widely, "I'm Ron Weasley! It's great to finally meet you!" The boy was blushing furiously, all the way out to the tips of his ears.

Harry sighed inwardly. He knew, based on the reactions of the people he'd seen in Diagon Alley on his first trip, that things were always going to be like this. His aim was to make some friends that didn't actually care about some bloody scar, and it didn't look like this lad was going to fit the bill. "It's nice to meet you, Ron. Have a seat"

"My mum said you'd be on the train today, but we didn't see you getting on earlier. Figured we'd just missed you or something." said Ron eagerly.

Harry just shrugged and went back to his book. He had chosen one of his history textbooks, as it read like a muggle fantasy novel. It was pretty easy for Harry to remember what was going on since it really was an interesting read.

"Oi," said Ron shortly. "We'll have enough reading for months to come. No sense wasting the train trip too. Let's play some gobstones or something"

Harry looked over the edge of his book at the redhead. Ron was almost bouncing up and down in his seat with excitement. "No thanks, Ron. I'd rather just read. Quietly, if you don't mind." said Harry softly.

Ron blushed again, mumbling, "Bloody mental. Killing curse must have scrambled his brains"

As time passed, the redhead tried again and again to engage Harry in something other than quiet reading. After the fifth unsuccessful try, Harry closed his book and stashed it in his backpack.

"It was nice meeting you Ron. Pardon me if I'm being rude, but I'm going to go see if I can find a quieter spot to read. Cheers!" and with that, Harry headed out of the cabin. He slung his backpack over a shoulder and headed down the hallway, looking to see if he could find a spot to sit for a while.

Harry found a spot in between the car where the wind wasn't too terribly bad. He hunkered down, got out his book again, and picked up where he left off. Generally, Harry wasn't a particularly excitable child. He'd had that trait bashed out of him at a very young age by the family he was living with. This didn't mean he wasn't happy by any means. In fact, while Harry hadn't always had a great childhood, he'd learned how to keep his head down and keep his nose clean. All told, the last month of his life had been far and away the greatest of his life - and now that he was free, he wanted to take every opportunity to enjoy things in the ways that made him feel the best.

He sighed again and decided to put the book away. Trying to read right now was just a bad job, so Harry just enjoyed the passing countryside. The wind was whipping his already frenzied hair around and he could smell the thick loamy earth the trees were all growing out of. His eyes were closed when someone opened one of the car doors.

"They said Harry Potter was on the train today," said a drawling voice. Harry turned to see a blonde lad he'd originally run into at Madame Malkins. There were two larger boys flanking him, acting for all the world like bodyguards. "I should have known it when I saw you the first time. Your scar is quite.. well known"

Harry looked at the three boys over the rims of his glasses. "That's right. I'm Harry Potter." For the sake of politeness, Harry stuck a hand out.

"Malfoy. Draco Malfoy." he replied. "These two are Crabbe and Goyle. Our fathers are all very well acquainted." The blonde boy took Harry's hand and gave it a firm shake.

"It's nice to properly meet you, Malfoy." said Harry. "Out here for a bit of fresh air, then?" He wasn't totally sure where this conversation was going, but he couldn't really see the point in antagonizing someone without cause.

"Actually, we were looking for you specifically. One of the Weasleys was wandering around, telling anyone who would listen that they'd best watch out for you. That you were mental or something." Draco laughed lightly. "Something about scrambled up brains from the killing curse"

Harry laughed along with Draco, and the two larger boys smirked as well. "Well, he might just have something there. You never know." Harry wiggled his eyebrows and put on a crazy face.

"Enjoy the rest of the ride, Potter. It's going to be interesting to see what house you get into. Potters have always been in Gryffindor, but I'd say you've got the makings of a fine Slytherin as well." Draco and his two mates turned and headed back inside the train car, leaving Harry with his thoughts.
The Sorting Hat

As the first years progressed into the great hall, Harry found himself absolutely mesmerized. The ceiling looked just like the night sky outside. Having soaked up 'Hogwarts: A History', it certainly came as no shock, seeing the ceiling like this. However, what you read in a book - however well you remember it - tends to pale when compared to the real thing.

Harry could hear Ron talking to someone in hushed tones about the sorting itself.

"My brother told me you've got to wrestle a troll! And that they sort you based on how long you can hold out!" Ron looked positively panicked about it.

Harry just snickered behind a hand and waited. In short order, Professor McGonagall drew them all out into the Great Hall, and stood them in the center. She retrieved a small stool as well as a manky looking hat. "This is the Sorting Hat," she began in a loud, clear voice. "When your name is called, come up here, sit on the stool, and we'll see where the hat places you"

There seemed to be a large rip in the front of the hat, which then spread wide and started to sing as if the rip were its mouth. Harry couldn't help laughing at the spectacle. "This wizarding stuff is just completely insane," he thought.

The professor started reading off names, alphabetically by last name. Harry knew he had a while until he was called, so he looked around the room a bit. The head table was full to capacity, except for an obvious gap next to the headmaster himself. Harry expected that to be McGonagall's seat. The headmaster was observing the sorting with what looked like considerable interest, his smile seemed genuine and his eyes were dancing over the newest students with a kind of glee.

"Harry Potter" called out McGonagall. Whispers are racing up and down the Great Hall, and Harry heard his name in breathy tones more than once.

As the hat settled down over his head, Harry couldn't help but wonder. What would the hat choose for him? What if this were all some kind of terrible mistake - or worse yet, a joke? It's not like the Dursleys really wanted Harry around, but he couldn't help feeling that his uncle wouldn't feel especially bad if Harry came home after being kicked out of wizarding school for having no magic at all.

He sat there, with his hands in his lap, quietly waiting. The silence in the great hall was roaring in his ears. As time ticked past, Harry couldn't know it, but a frantic conversation was taking place someplace he couldn't possibly hear. Headmaster Dumbledore leaned forward a bit in his seat, to look down upon the tiny form of Harry, his eyes twinkling in the magical candlelight.

The hat shook a little on Harry's head, and out of its mouth came "GRYFFINDOR!", breaking the silent spell that had the entire hall in its grip. Harry bounced up off the smallish stool, placed the hat back upon it, and scampered down to sit with his new housemates.

An excited bushy haired girl scooted over to make room, and Harry slid in beside her, smiling.

"That wasn't so bad", she said quietly in Harry's ear. "This place is full of surprises! A talking hat, no less!"

Harry shrugged. So far as he could tell, it was entirely random where the hat had placed him.

Bubble bubble, toil and trouble

Since he was young, Harry had always been proud of the fact that he never really had to ask people for help. His razor sharp mind and strong memory made it easy for him to get around Hogwart's, and as such wasn't late to any of his classes at all.

His only stuttering point was his first potions class. Harry sat quietly waiting for the class to start. As Professor Snape read down the register, the dour man paused as he reached Harry's name. Snape asked some questions that, while in the book, were certainly not a part of the first year teaching plan. Without delay, Harry answered them all politely and was rewarded by having Snape removing house points anyhow for being an 'insufferable know-it-all'. Harry merely shrugged off the insults. He knew what it looked like when people were jealous of him.

Likewise, Harry's first flying lessons went without incident. Neville Longbottom, a pudgy dormmate of his, managed to fall off his broom almost first thing. As he was taken to the infirmary, Malfoy snatched up something Neville had dropped and made off with it.
The blonde child flew around a bit, completely disregarding Madame Hooch's instructions to the contrary, while everyone else merely looked on.

"Prat. Serve him right if he fell off his broom." thought Harry. He concluded that despite the obvious differences between the magical and muggle worlds, the people in both worlds were basically the same - short sighted and narrow minded.


The morning charms class on the day of Halloween wasn't particularly eventful or exciting. Harry had partnered up with Finnegan again, garnering some moderate success in levitating his feather around. Finnegan, for all his efforts, was rewarded with a smoking and burnt feather. No shortage of magical ability there - it was his control that needed work.

Weasley and Granger were paired up, and having a tough time of it. The red headed boy seemed ultimately uninterested in actually performing the spell correctly.

"Wingardium Leviosa!" said Ron, whipping his wand up and down furiously.

"Seriously, Weasley. You're going to put an eye out if you don't stop!" Granger was leaning away from Ron as he thrashed about.

"Fine then. If you're so bloody smart, let's see you do it"

"Wingardium Leviosa" intoned Hermione seriously. One swish and flick later, she was guiding her feather up towards the ceiling much to the delight of Professor Flitwick.

"See here everyone? Miss Granger's done it!" squeaked the little man, bouncing up and down in excitement.

"Bleeding know-it-all," muttered Ron under his breath. Harry shook his head. He could see that no matter what, you could always count on Weasley to be jealous about something.

Harry sat down to the Halloween feast. he'd spent most of the day outside of classes picking through different subjects in the library. That had always proved to be his favorite method of taking in information. Pick a book at random, read it through, then follow the train of thought and research into some other book.

Rinse, repeat.

Looking around, however, he noticed a conspicuous absence.

"Where's Granger?" he asked, leaning over to Longbottom.

"Well, I heard Lavender tell Parvati that Hermione has been in the girl's loo all afternoon. They say she's been crying her eyes out." replied the podgy lad.

"What's all that about, then"

"Seems Weasley's got a mouth on him. Insulted her right after charms class." continued Neville, shrugging.

"What a prat." agreed Harry.

The two boys sat quietly, eating dinner when the doors to the Great Hall burst open. Professor Quirrell came sprinting in, panicked and almost out of breath.

"Troll! In the dungeons!" the man was gasping for air, "Just thought you should know." at this, his eyes rolled up into the back of his head, and he passed out in the middle of the hall. The students had all gone quiet, but immediately upon someone screaming, almost all of them joined in, starting a stampede for the door.

Harry put a gentle hand on Neville's shoulder and looked him in the eye. "Wait, Nev." he whispered. Neville nodded, and let his weight settle back down onto the bench where he was seated.

Professor Dumbledore shot some sparks up out of this wand, and commanded everyone to be silent.

"Please, everyone. Be calm. Prefects, gather up all of the students from your house. Since both Ravenclaw and Gryffindor are in the two main towers, would those students please group up and head to your dormitories. Your meals will be taken there. Slytherin and Hufflepuff, since you're located on the more 'ground floor' portions of Hogwart's, please wait right here until the teachers can verify that the threat has passed and the path to your common rooms is clear." The old man stood calmly, directing his charges with a cool and collected voice.

Harry and Neville fell in with their housemates, when Neville leaned in to whisper in Harry's ear.

"Harry. What about Hermione? She... " the boy was stammering with fear "she doesn't know about the troll"

Harry nodded, looking around. Gryffindors were still grouping up, so Harry reckoned he had a moment or two before they left the Great Hall. He found the nearest prefect, and got his attention.

"Prefect Weasley?" said Harry loudly "It seems Granger wasn't with us at dinner. Neville says he thinks she's in the girl's loo on the second floor." He turned his head to see Lavender and Parvati both nodding excitedly.

Percy's face set itself grimly. "Thank you for letting me know. We'll all be leaving here in just a moment." the tall redhead looked around quickly, "Professor McGonagall? It appears we've got a missing Gryffindor. They tell me she's in the second floor girl's lavatory"

Professor McGonagall paled at the news, and headed for the Great Hall doors, grabbing a pair of seventh year Gryffindors along to help.

"There we go, that's everyone." said Percy loudly. "Right. Let's go. Stay together - make sure no stragglers get left." as he led the red and gold robed children out of the Great Hall and off to safety.

The good news about the 'Troll Incident' as it was being called was that most everyone made it through the evening without injury or problem. In fact, response to the troll being inside the school itself was quick and decisive. Sadly, it wasn't quite quick enough to spare Hermione Granger an encounter with the terrible beast.

The official story that was being circulated by the teaching staff was that the troll had cornered Miss Granger in the second floor girl's lavatory. It had smashed its way from one end of the room to the other, leaving Hermione pinned and helpless underneath the wreckage. It was only the timely arrival of McGonagall and the two seventh years that saved the young girl's life, as the troll was digging the girl out, presumably to eat her.

Gryffindor was somewhat saddened by these happenings, not so much for the injuries, but that the very next day, Hermione Granger was withdrawn completely from Hogwart's by her parents. A week or so later, a scathing letter was sent to the editor of the Daily Prophet by the Granger family, encouraging every parent with children at Hogwart's to think seriously about their children's safety. It had been pure luck that had saved Hermione from a particularly grisly fate - and they felt it vitally important to let the wizarding public know that, seeing as how not one mention of the attack had been issued by Hogwart's staff.

A few more muggleborn children were withdrawn shortly thereafter, leaving the school in a somewhat somber mood.

Harry thought this was a pretty good idea, all the way around. For whatever reason, this place seemed to be the epicenter of all manner of trouble and danger. The boy really worked very hard to keep his head down, and avoid everyone. He and Neville took to watching each other's backs, studying long into the night and working very hard. Weasley, on the other hand, couldn't have cared less. He loafed about the common room, trying to get anyone he could to come and play chess with him. Failing that, he'd go out to the Quidditch pitch with his brothers, and fly around for hours, pointedly ignoring his schoolwork until the last second.

"What do you think, Nev? Think Weasley will be back next year"

"Dunno, Harry. We'll have to see. I know if I were lazing about like that, my Gran would skin me alive"

"I hear that, mate." grinned Harry. He and Neville were becoming good friends. Something Harry hadn't ever had before. What sweetened the deal was that Neville didn't seem to care all that much about Harry's scar or any of that 'boy-what-lived' nonsense. What he did seem to care about was getting through potions class each week, with all his limbs intact. Thankfully, Harry had started working with Neville and they were doing loads better every week.

Christmas came bright and brisk. Harry hadn't ever gotten gifts before, and this year didn't seem to be all that different. There was a letter from the Dursleys wishing him happy holidays, and a package from the Weasley family.

"Oi, what's this, Weasley?" said Harry, tearing open the lumpy parcel to reveal a maroon sweater and a small tin.

Ron started mumbling, then spoke up. "Well, I told mum that you'd never had a Christmas before. She felt kind of bad for you, and.. well.." The redhead was blushing furiously to the tips of his ears.

Harry really didn't like the fact that the wizarding world had no sense of decency or manners. This was a pity gift. Nothing more, nothing less. However, Harry wasn't rude by any stretch and made a mental note to send Ron's mum a thank you note. The fudge turned out to be rather tasty, too.

"Well, no harm done. Looks like a pretty warm sweater, too." said Harry, smiling.

Ron looked like he was going to break his face, smiling as widely as he was. The rest of the day was spent engaged in odd Christmas antics. Harry begged off early on because he'd much rather read quietly than bounce around and make a lot of noise. Retreating to his dorm room, there was one more package perched on the edge of his bed.

Harry opened it, to find a note and some kind of silvery material.

"Your father left this in my care many years ago. Use it well." was all the note said. Harry flipped it over, wondering who would send him a gift like this. Shrugging in the cool quiet of his room, he cleared away the rest of the wrapping, and held the item up.

It looked like some kind of cloak or robe. Harry flipped it around to look at either side, and was stunned to find that from one side, it looked like a normal length of cloth and from the other, it was completely invisible. Someone had given him an invisibility cloak?

"Crikey. This was my dad's? I can't hardly imagine what sort of 'good uses' he must have put it to." Harry smiled widely, thinking quickly. He stuffed the cloak into one of the pockets of his robes. Couldn't hurt to always have it on him. This would make his getting to and from classes go all that much more easily. He hated the almost constant attention he got no matter where he went. Getting a burst of inspiration, he dashed off to the library.

The single strangest thing about Christmas was the dinner feast. The meal started out well enough, and some owls were swooping around, making a few last minute deliveries. The biggest shock was a parcel that winged its way straight to the teachers table, carried by two school owls.

It dropped right in front of the Headmaster, to the surprise of everyone in the hall. It seemed to be a very festive box, with a big red bow. Dumbledore looked at the box over the rims of his half-moon glasses, and plucked the card off the box.

As he slipped a finger into the envelope to open it, the box popped open - the sides falling away. Everyone in the hall could clearly see what exactly had been in the package. It was a large jar that held a fat grey rat. As hall was silent, he heard Ron exclaim

The Headmaster's eyebrows were creeping upwards towards his hairline as he read the card. Only a minute more passed before Dumbledore picked up the jar and turned to stride out of the Great Hall.

"Professor McGonagall, you'd best come with me. We seem to have a very serious matter on our hands. Very serious indeed." his old eyes were sparkling with mirth as he glanced over at Harry for a brief second. The two professors bustled out of the hall as chatter started up at the one long table that was being used for meals during the holidays.

"Hmph. I bet that's my brothers' doing." grumped Ron as he got back to eating a fourth helping of Christmas ham.

After the Christmas holidays had concluded and all the students returned, Harry and Neville were often found revising together. Harry found Neville to be a stalwart companion. Quiet, and possessed of a solid sense of humour. Being a properly raised pureblooded wizard, he was a fountain of useful information to Harry about all the things he'd never known growing up outside of wizarding culture.

In contrast, Harry was a direct conduit to all things muggle for Neville. They'd owl ordered a few comic books and a board game to play in the common room. The game 'Clue' was a big hit with everyone. Muggleborn students already knew and loved it, and the wizarding students thought the idea was brilliant - especially after the twins and Percy Weasley had modified the game to instead include Hogwart's professors and the different rooms in the castle.

"Was it... Professor Snape, in the Library, with the...," Harry looked down at his scratched notes "candelabra"

Neville smiled, pulled the cards out of the little envelope, displaying them for all to see. Harry stood, took a bow and gave up his spot at the gaming table to someone else.

Percy smiled at Harry, patting him on the back. "Brilliant deduction there, Potter"

"Elementary, my dear Weasley!" quipped Harry in return. He'd introduced the red headed prefect to the stories of Sherlock Holmes, and they spent a bit of break time sitting in the common room, going over the different mysteries held within. Harry found that Percy had a very strong analytical mind, and once you'd won his respect that he was a loyal friend.

The Weasley twins had also fallen into Harry's circle of friends. They were, to be honest, fairly loose with school rules - but they made up for it by being maniacal geniuses. They also seemed to speak a language of their own invention, which drove most everyone crazy. Harry couldn't believe how much his life had changed since coming to Hogwart's. He had friends, was getting great marks, and could see a very real and positive future for himself.

As the year moved ever onward, Harry watched the different houses and how they interacted. Nobody seemed to like the Slytherins - which made a kind of sense. The students from that house went out of their way to bother or bully others any time they thought they could get away with it - especially if it involved a Gryffindor.

Hufflepuffs mostly kept to themselves as did the Ravenclaws. To be fair, there were interhouse friendships, but not all that many. Harry couldn't understand the rationale behind such forced separation. It was almost as if the plan was to arbitrarily create dissension and keep the students from being friendly with everyone.

Harry had also been reading the paper all year. He'd subscribed to the Daily Prophet right as he'd gotten to Hogwart's, and was abreast of the wizarding news. However, it was almost universally pointless. Muggles had loads more going on, so the wizarding news was primarily whatever flavour of political scandal was brewing each week. There were a lot of very interesting things for Harry to keep track of, however.

He'd taken to writing down whenever anyone from any house got points or had them taken away, as an exercise in evaluating the strange house system Hogwart's used. As the year had progressed, he'd begun to notice a pattern and he didn't like it all that much. He decided, right after Easter, that he'd had enough of the bias that was being shown so he asked Percy to help him out.

"What can I do for you, Harry"

"Take a look at this, Percy," Harry slid his points notebook over to the redhead. Percy started leafing through it, lips pursed as he very quickly started to discern the pattern. "Is this same thing going on at every student level"

"I haven't been keeping track of it like this Harry, but I'd be willing to wager that it has. Now that you mention it, these trends are a very clear indicator of why Slytherin house has held the House Cup for all five years I've been here." Percy didn't look happy about it, either.

"Just to make sure I'm clear on this - seeing as how I'm a lowly orphan child, raised by muggles that hate magic," Harry smirked as he said this. It was a running joke among his housemates who commonly referred to him as 'the lost Ravenclaw'. "we're paying to come here, so that certain teachers can abuse and insult us. The house system is designed so that the rich and influential students get biased treatment and everyone else gets a substandard education. Have I left anything out"

"No, I don't think you have. Would you mind if I took a copy of your notes and brought them to our head of house?" asked Percy.

"By all means, go ahead. But don't tell her you got them from me. Find out if she's got any way to verify my observations. I certainly don't want to be accused of 'making up fanciful tales' by anyone." Harry chuckled quietly. It was pretty widely known that Harry was far and away leading his year in academic progress and surprisingly, Neville Longbottom was keeping well apace as the second place student. This had the Ravenclaws in a terrible state but there wasn't much to be done. Harry and Neville put in loads of study time, both in theory and practical casting as well as being driven to succeed.

The only class both boys had poor marks in was potions, and it had become obvious early on that Snape not only favoured the Slytherins but loathed both Potter and Longbottom. Neville had written his Gran asking for some kind of guidance in the matter and she'd referred Neville to an outside potions tutor. The two boys had attended every single potions class thereafter, brewing enough for two gradeable vials of everything Snape asked for. Then when class was ending, they'd turn in their work as well as document and store a sample of that same work for the outside and impartial tutor to evaluate.

It made them quite happy to see that they were both as excellent at potions as they were at every other subject, and the only thing keeping their marks low was Snape's poor attitude. The school rules were sort of hazy about how to handle this sort of thing, but Harry and Neville had agreed - they couldn't just skip classes. That was expressly forbidden. They also couldn't go to the Headmaster, as it had been made clear to them right from the start that everything Snape did, he did with Dumbledore's blessing.
So, knowing they had plenty of time to practice prior to taking their OWLs, the two boys made the best of a bad situation. They knew that they were 'just children' in the eyes of all the adults around them so they adopted a plan of 'wait and see' about the quality of instruction.

"What do you think, Harry?" the two boys were in the library, revising prior to the end of year exams and had gotten onto the topic of the mastery program. "I bet we could both get mastery in potions, no problem"

"Couldn't be that hard, now could it? I mean if ol' hooknose can manage it." Harry said, causing Neville to giggle. "I bet you could get your mastery in Herbology using only your left hand, mate. I've been working in my Aunt's garden forever and I've never been able to make things grow and bloom the way you can"

Neville blushed from the praise. He knew he was gifted in the area of plants, but to hear it from Harry really meant something to him. "Well, as good as I am with plants, you're as good at Charms work. You know, I've never met anyone like you, Harry. You're the smartest guy I've ever met - but you're not a prat about it"

"Thanks, Nev. I'd like to think my parents wouldn't have wanted me to be a snot to everyone. It's bad enough being 'the boy-who-lived'. Think if I was 'the boy-who-was-a-major-prat'. That's way too many hyphens, you know"
They shared a quiet laugh before getting back to work.

Exams came and went. After the last exam, Harry and Neville went for a walk down to the lake. The day was cool and clear - perfect stone skipping weather.

"Well, Nev, that's the year. What are you doing for the summer"

"Dunno yet, really. My Gran sometimes likes to travel, sometimes likes to stay home and relax. I guess we'll just have to see"

Harry nodded. He had a lot he needed to get done this summer. He and the Dursleys had a nasty case of Headmaster to address and if the school year was any indication, it wasn't going to be easy to deal with. "Neville, can I ask you a favour"

"Anything, mate. You're the reason I'm doing so well"

"Bah. I wasn't the one sitting there taking your exams for you. Everything you got, you got for yourself. I might need a place to stay later on in the summer. My relatives don't want me living with them, and to be fair, I don't want to live with them either"

Neville looked concerned. He knew all about Harry's rotten upbringing and he'd shared his own painful parent situation with his best friend. "Well, I'll have to ask my Gran first. I'm pretty sure it will be ok, though"

"That's all I was looking for, mate. If it's not, don't even worry about it. I am just making sure I've got an option or two in my pocket if possible." said Harry.

Neville nodded, skipping another stone out across the water. "If there's any way I can help, Harry, you just have to ask"

The last couple of days before the train came to pick up all the Hogwart's students had the castle buzzing with excitement. Partially because of the upcoming summer holidays, and partially due to some kind of secret happenings amongst the teachers. None of the students really seemed to know what was going on, but there was a lot of traffic to and from the infirmary by the teaching staff.

At the Leaving Feast, Dumbledore stood and asked for quiet.

"It is with a heavy heart that I must announce that we've had a tragic loss to the teaching staff." he covered his heart with his hands and looked somberly out over the hall. The students noticed that there were a number of empty chairs, so it wasn't immediately obvious who was missing and why.

"Professor Quirrell had been suffering a degenerative condition all year long, as I'm sure many of you can attest to." a murmur of agreement passed through the hall as the headmaster continued "and this morning, he finally succumbed to it. He passed from this world into the next great adventure, and we all wish him godspeed"

The wrinkled man raised his goblet in salute of Quirrell, and the student body joined him. A moment of silence came and went before Dumbledore continued, "The year has come and gone. I am certain that somehow I know even less now than I did at the start of it. I can only hope the rest of you feel differently. Now, let's eat!" the feast began as the old man clapped his hands.

Riding the Hogwart's Express back to King's Cross was a lot of fun. Harry and Neville spent some time in between the cars again, just soaking up the cool air and rich scents. At one point, they passed the car where the youngest Weasley was sitting and noted that the boy had somehow been turned a rainbow of colors. Likely due to some prank or another played by his brothers.
Malfoy and his pair of malcontents wandered the train, trying to bully anyone that would sit still for it. This lasted until a pair of Hufflepuff seventh years stuffed all three boys into a closet and sealed it closed.

"And that right there is the joy of being 'of age' in the wizarding world." said one of the seventh year students. "We don't have to lie down and let a prat like Malfoy walk all over us, because we can use magic as we see fit. This here seems pretty fitting." He grinned widely and went back to his friends as Harry and Neville passed by the door of the closet, laughing at the pounding they could hear coming from inside.

As the students got off the train, there were hugs and handshakes all around. Families split up and went their separate ways. Harry and Neville agreed to write over the summer, as well as to make some time to get homework done. They grasped eachother's forearms firmly, using the more traditional and brotherly method of parting. Neville strode away as his grandmother looked on proudly.

Harry considered his next step carefully. He knew that the Dursleys wouldn't be there to pick him up. He figured he'd be catching the Knight Bus back to 4 Privet Drive to sort out the summer. What he didn't expect as the crowd of wizarding families thinned out, was a lone, somewhat thin man remained. He was sitting on one of the benches off to the side as he spotted Harry, waving him over.
Making sure his wand was in his wrist holster, Harry headed over to see who this was. A handsome man, for certain, if a little thin. Mustache, twinkling eyes, and a lopsided grin all painted a picture of a dashing prankster going a touch grey in the muzzle.

"Hello, Harry. My name is Sirius Black."