Harry Potter and the Exchange Student
by Christine Morgan
christine@sabledrake.com
http://www.christine-morgan.org



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Author's Note: the characters of the Harry Potter novels are the property of their creator, J.K. Rowling, and are used here without her knowledge or permission. All other characters property of the author, with the exceptions of Becca Morgan and her parents, who are themselves. November 2001. 35,000 words.
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For Becca, with love.
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Chapter One – A Walk in the Park

Another summer with the Dursleys was drawing to a close. For Harry Potter, who lived with them, it was both better and worse than the other summers of his life. Better because the Dursleys now knew that it was pointless to try and keep him from corresponding with his friends from Hogwarts, the school for Witchcraft and Wizardry which was Harry's true home nine months out of the year, and worse because … well, because Dursleys were still Dursleys.
Dudley, in particular, was more Dursley than ever. The real trial of the summer came because the nurse at his school, a decidedly Muggle one, suggested to Aunt Petunia that Dudley might benefit from an exercise regime. Dudley, whose main goals in life had always been a.) tormenting Harry, and b.) eating anything in sight, had recently grown so round that he resembled a head perched on top of a big pink beach ball.
He hadn't had the exercise of tormenting Harry in ages, first because he'd been afraid that Harry would turn him into something unpleasant, and then, once the Dursleys found out that Harry was in fact forbidden to use his magic outside of Hogwarts, worried that some wizard friend or teacher who was not so restricted might show up. Dudley had never forgotten, and probably never would no matter how he tried, the time that Hagrid had given him a pig's tail, or the time that the Weasley twins had tricked him with a tongue-expanding toffee.
But the nurse said exercise, and Aunt Petunia was determined to see it happen. Which meant that every morning, rain or shine, Dudley was forced out of bed and into his jogging suit – making him look like a head perched on top of a flannel-covered beach ball – and sent out to do a circuit of the neighborhood.
After the first few times, in which Dudley cheated and hid behind a hedge on the corner of Privet Drive, Uncle Vernon took matters into his own hands and decreed that he and Harry would join Dudley on these morning jogs to make sure it got done.
Harry didn't mind. He was glad for the chance to get some exercise himself, although he would have preferred being allowed to take his broomstick out for a spin. It wasn't easy to face a new season of Quidditch, the popular wizard sport, when he hadn't been able to practice all summer.
Besides, it was rather funny, this jogging. Uncle Vernon wasn't exactly skinny himself, being a big beefy man with jowls and a perpetually red face. He puffed and sweated whenever he ran more than three paces, and by the end of their circuit, he was usually the color of a plum and gasping so hard that he could barely find the voice to yell at Harry.
As for Dudley, he would have looked more at home bouncing or rolling down the street. Everything jounced and jiggled. The ground shook beneath him, and the first few times, everyone on Privet Drive came out of their beds in fright, thinking it was some early-morning earthquake. He wheezed and complained the whole time, soaked with sweat until his hair was pasted on his round head.
To their credit, though, they stuck to it throughout that long summer. It might even have worked, if Aunt Petunia hadn't rewarded Dudley for each successful completion of his daily exercise by feeding him an enormous breakfast of bacon and cheese sandwiches that had been dipped in egg batter and fried in butter, served up with a generous pouring of syrup and enough powdered sugar to bury a mouse. So it was that, by the time Harry's birthday came around, Dudley had burst out of yet another pants size.
Harry's birthday was an occasion that usually went unremarked in the Dursley household. Until he'd turned eleven, he'd accepted this simply as a matter of course and went on with life. Now, he could count on cards and packages from his friends, which arrived by owl … very late at night, though, because even the mention of the word 'owl' these days was enough to have Uncle Vernon grasping at his chest and sputtering.
This birthday proved much the same. Hermione Granger, the most dedicated student at Hogwarts, sent Harry a gift case with brand-new quills, inkpots, and scrolls of parchment. Ron Weasley, his other best friend, sent a large and untidily-wrapped package by way of the Weasley family owl, Errol, who fluttered to the windowsill and actually made it inside before pitching, beak-first, onto Harry's desk where he lay without moving until late the next afternoon. Hedwig, Harry's own owl, hooted scornfully, but Harry reminded her that if Errol hadn't done it, Ron's own small owl Pig would have, and Pig drove Hedwig half mad with his constant hopping about and hyperactive chirping.
The package from Ron and family consisted of six Chocolate Frogs (Series II, with mystery cream fillings happily not made by the people responsible for the Every Flavor Beans – when they said every flavor, they meant it; the macaroni cheese was actually quite good, but the mildew-flavor was enough to turn one's teeth green – and an all-new line of wizard trading cards), a joke wand from Fred and George that produced an amazing array of disgusting noises, a hand-knitted broom cozy from Mrs. Weasley, and from Ginny, Ron's little sister whose face went nearly as red as her hair whenever Harry was around, a homemade card done in wizard-crayons so that the images in the picture moved. Ginny had drawn, with considerable skill, a Quidditch match with Harry as Seeker swooping down on the elusive Golden Snitch.
He also had a card and a box of homemade dragonspice cookies from Hagrid, the Hogwarts gamekeeper. Hagrid, a huge and hairy figure with a heart as big as the rest of him, was a great friend but his cooking left something to be desired; just opening the box of dragonspice cookies caused flames to leap out and singe Harry's hair.
The most eagerly-awaited present was the one from Harry's godfather, Sirius Black. Sirius had promised him a scrapbook from his own student years at Hogwarts, when he and Harry's father had been best friends. Harry sat with the large leather-bound book for hours, paging through clippings on Quidditch matches, notes that James Potter and Sirius had passed during Professor Binns' History of Magic class – arguably the most tedious one at all of Hogwarts, though Harry preferred it to Professor Snape's Potions lessons – and even a program from a school dance in their sixth year, when Harry's parents had been voted Most Magical Couple.
So, even with the jogging and Dudley's endless whining, even with Uncle Vernon's dark looks every time the neighbors remarked on the odd number of owls that seemed to frequent Number Four, the summer passed pleasantly enough. A note arrived from the Weasleys inviting Harry to join them for the last two weeks at the Burrow, their ramshackle but happy home. This was custom by now, and as it spared Uncle Vernon the task of seeing that Harry got to Diagon Alley for school supplies as well as to King's Cross Station each year, he only grumbled a little when Harry informed the Dursleys that he'd be leaving.
He packed his trunk eagerly, coaxed Hedwig into her cage, and left the house that was like his prison, his own personal Azkaban, for the pre-arranged meeting place where he'd wait for the Weasleys. This pre-arranging had become necessary after several mishaps and Uncle Vernon quite firmly putting his foot down: Harry could go with 'those people,' but he wasn't going to have them bringing flying cars to his house or popping out of the fireplace or other such nonsense.
The meeting-place was a park two streets over, and Harry felt a little conspicuous dragging his trunk and baggage on an old red wagon of Dudley's that he'd salvaged from the closet of the second bedroom. This was ostensibly Harry's bedroom now, but the closet still served as dumping ground and graveyard for Dudley's broken or abandoned toys. Once, Harry had ventured to ask how come they didn't just throw all the junk away, but Dudley had pitched such a fit about losing his favorite things that Aunt Petunia, her lips pressed down to a tiny white seam, told Harry he was a horribly mean and rude boy even to say such a thing.
The wagon only had three wheels and one of them wobbled, but it held together long enough for Harry to get to the park. There, surrounded by Muggle mothers who'd brought their children to the wading pool and swings, he was struck with a sudden melancholy. The Dursleys had certainly never taken him to the park, although they'd taken Dudley and not only pushed him on the swings but carried him to the top of the slides so he wouldn't have to climb.
Harry's own parents hadn't had him long enough for that. He was comforted somewhat by the photo album Hagrid had given him at the end of his first year, as well as memories of the Mirror of Erised and other strange spectral encounters, but it didn't completely make the ache go away.
The nearby clock tower chimed the hour, and Harry pushed those mopey thoughts away and began looking about for the Weasleys. He was never sure what to expect. Mr. Weasley was fascinated by Muggles and had been known to corner strangers on the street, asking them breathless questions about how televisions worked, and what 'fast food' meant if it didn't instantly appear the way conjured food did. Sometimes, he got so caught up in these conversations that he forgot all about other appointments. But surely Ron wouldn't let him forget about Harry.
Surely.
And yet, as the minutes ticked by with no sign of the Weasleys, Harry started to get a little worried. He hoped they'd remembered to come to the park. His mind summoned up all sorts of horrible incidents that could happen if the Weasleys mistakenly went to Number Four Privet Drive again.
Half an hour went by. Harry, pulling the wobbly wagon after him, went once around the park in case he'd gotten the wrong bench. He didn't see the Weasleys, and their hair would have made them impossible to miss even if they'd been dressed as Muggles.
No Weasleys. No Ron. Hedwig rustled impatiently in her cage. She, like Harry, was tired of the long confinement of the summer and ready for the carefree fun of life at the Burrow. He was tempted to let her out with a message, to see if there was some delay, but didn't dare. He was already getting some funny looks from Muggles in the park.
Starting to be really genuinely nervous now, Harry went around the park again. He stood on the bench and peered all around at the streets, hoping for a red flash of Weasley hair. Nothing.
But …
The park was usually a fairly busy place, especially on a nice summer's day like this. Muggles came and went in regular crowds. Except now, Muggles weren't coming, and Muggles weren't going. No one was entering or leaving the park, and there was a strange sort of shimmer over where the streets bordered on its tree-lined lawns.
Having run into enough magic to know it when he saw it, Harry understood right away that a spell was going on. And having also run into enough occasions when someone tried to prevent him returning to Hogwarts, he further understood right away that it was aimed at him. Someone didn't want him to find the Weasleys, go to the Burrow, and from there to Diagon Alley or Hogwarts. Someone wanted him to have to return, head held low in shame, to Privet Drive and explain to the Dursleys that he wasn't welcome as a visitor.
Harry was not about to let that happen. He watched as a Muggle mother, having finally rounded up her children over their protests, started toward the gate of the park. She didn't act as if she saw the shimmer – to Harry's eyes, it was now as visible as a curtain made of glittery gold threads in sheer cloth, so that the street could be seen through it but there was definitely something there – and as she drew close to it, the Muggle woman stopped, frowned, turned this way and that in confusion, and then gave in to her children's pleas to be allowed to play just a little longer.
A diversion spell, a misdirection spell. For no good reason that they could ascertain, the Muggles inside the park couldn't leave it, and Muggles on the outside passed right by as if they didn't notice the park was there.
Just then, out on the street, Harry saw the familiar flash of red he'd been waiting for. It was Ron Weasley, weaving down the street on a bike that looked even wobblier than the wagon holding Harry's luggage. His brothers, Fred and George, were with him. So was his father, but Mr. Weasley's bicycle was the old-fashioned kind with one gigantic front wheel. They pedaled around in seeming agitation. Harry jumped up and down, calling and waving, but even when Ron looked right in his direction, Ron's eyes passed over Harry without seeing him.
The Weasleys were arguing and gesturing wildly. Mr. Weasley unfolded a map from his pocket and consulted it while Fred and George put their heads close together, whispered, and then –
Harry was astounded. The twins' bicycles had looked odd to him, and now he understood why. They weren't bicycles at all but fake cardboard bicycle disguises built around broomsticks. While George rode his at street-level, doing stunts and tricks to distract the Muggles, Fred kicked his off the ground and soared above the rooftops.
Ron, meanwhile, had wrestled Pig out of a wire cage and was trying to get the small owl's attention. Pig was far more interested in trying to nip the uncombed strands of Ron's hair.
Harry hadn't been idle all this time. With the wagon jolting and swaying behind him, he was running for the gate, shouting. But every time he got close, he'd all of a sudden find himself heading back into the park, as if he'd changed his mind or been reversed in step by an unseen force.
Frantic now, Harry did the only thing he could think of. He shut his eyes and plunged blindly, hearing by the startled exclamation that he'd nearly run right into a Muggle. The wagon shuddered alarmingly and lurched to one side as another wheel came off. Luckily, the two that remained were both rear ones, so it didn't tip and spill his things.
He felt a pressure at his mind, a whisper that he couldn't quite hear but could still understand, telling him that the park was a perfectly nice place, no need to leave, why not turn around and stay a while? Gritting his teeth, Harry ignored it and felt a tingle as he burst through the shimmering veil. He exploded into the normal street, tripped, and sprawled on the sidewalk with a grunt.
Fred Weasley landed beside him, and the Muggles who'd already been looking at Harry did a double-take, then shook their heads as if to tell themselves that bicycles couldn't really fly.
"What an entrance, Harry, what an entrance," Fred said, helping him up and dusting him off.
The other Weasleys came rushing over, still arguing. Mr. Weasley was waving his map.
"See there, George, I did not have it upside down, here's the park, right where I said."
"Wasn't there a minute ago," George replied.
"Where've you been, Harry?" Ron picked up Hedwig's cage, which had fallen onto its side. Pig poked his beak through the bars to squeak a hello at Hedwig, but the big white owl fluffed her feathers and turned her head all the way to the back so she wouldn't have to look at any of them, disgusted with the whole ordeal.
"Someone put a spell around the park," Harry said, coughing as Fred beat the dust from him a little too enthusiastically. Fred and George were Beaters on the Quidditch team, their job being to whack the malicious Bludgers trying to unseat the other players, and both twins were stronger than they looked.
"A spell?" Mr. Weasley looked around, squinting in a way that made his forehead wrinkle terribly.
"Not again," groaned Ron. "Don't tell me someone wants to keep you from Hogwarts again."
"Well, it's not going to work," Harry said vehemently. "I don't know who it is this time, and I don't care how good they think their reasons are. I'm so glad to see you, Ron."
"Highly irregular," muttered Mr. Weasley. "I can just pick up the residuals. An Aversion spell, a big one too to cover the whole park. Have to investigate."
"Not now, Dad," said George. "We promised Mum we'd be back for dinner, and we're going to have to hurry."
"You go, boys," said Mr. Weasley absently. "Tell your mother I'll be late. I've got to get the Ministry out here to have a look at this."
"Come on, Harry," Fred said. While his father wasn't looking, he squeezed out a dab of Insta-Gloo that instantly stuck Harry's luggage, wagon and all, to the back of his bike. "I'll take this, George'll take Hedwig, and you can ride double with Ron."
Harry got on rather doubtfully. It wasn't the bike; he'd ridden one before when Dudley had flat-out rejected a birthday present, and besides, someone almost as comfortable on a flying broomstick as he was on his own two feet shouldn't have anything to fear from a bike. What he did doubt was Ron's riding ability. Despite his secret wish to captain the Quidditch team, Ron rode at a headlong lunge that was somewhere between reckless and suicidal, and tried too often to copy the fancy moves made by Fred and George.
Once they were out of sight of the park, where Mr. Weasley was waiting by his old-fashioned bike for the Ministry's experts to Apparate in, Fred and George shared a grin and glanced over, eyes shining, at Ron and Harry.
"We'll get in trouble," Ron said before either of them spoke.
"Mum hates it when we're not at the table right on time," Fred said.
"If we get caught, you can tell her it was all our idea," added George.
"I always do and it usually is," Ron said glumly, "but that doesn't stop her from yelling at me, too. My ears are still ringing from the last time she sent me a Howler."
"That one wasn't our fault," Fred said. "Wish we'd thought of it, though!"
"Come on," George cried, and kicked his bike off the ground. "Last one there gets gnome duty!"
"Might as well," Harry said, clinging tight as Ron followed his brothers up and out of the secluded street, dodging and weaving among chimneys to avoid being seen as they sped on toward the Burrow.

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Continued in Chapter Two -- News From The Ministry



2001 / Christine Morgan / http://www.christine-morgan.org / christine@sabledrake.com