Harry Potter and the Exchange Student
by Christine Morgan

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.
For Becca, with love.

Chapter Eleven – Uncle Vernon's Mistake

The end of the school year was always the saddest of times for Harry because he knew he'd have drag himself through a summer on Privet Drive and would be cut off, except for the letters and occasional phone call from his friends, from the entire wizarding world.
Exams came with their usual fervor of last-minute studying. The games of Wizard War had tapered off as everyone buckled down and got serious about passing with good marks. Hermione turned in a thick thesis on her independent study project about the Witch's Rights Movement and it was so well-received that she single-handedly earned Gryffindor a hundred points and secured them the House Cup yet again.
Professor Ophidia Winterwind was so zealous that she'd managed to squeeze an entire year's worth of Defense Against the Dark Arts into half that time, and they also all still knew how to cast a Great Ward into the bargain. Dumbledore did make good on his intention to offer her the job full-time, and she did not hesitate in accepting. This didn't set well with Snape, of course. Harry had occasion to overhear the two of them in the corridor as he and Ron were on their way back from a long studying session in the library.
"… would never do that to you, Severus," Ophidia Winterwind was saying, and without even seeing her they could tell she was pouting.
"You could have refused."
"But you heard Dumbledore. He wasn't about to put the extra work on any of you. He's right, too. It is a very challenging class."
"I've been teaching Potions for years. I could do it in my sleep."
"I believe you."
"And why, why did you take him up on the offer to continue on the staff?"
Her voice dropped to a breathy whisper. "Why? Don't you like having me around?"
"That isn't the point, Ophidia. Or you could have offered to take over Potions, if you were so eager."
"Severus, do you remember how I did in Potions class? I was never very good at it, especially compared to you. My water-breathing potion nearly cost me my life, and as for my fire-proofing potion … some things don't bear thinking about. You're the clever one with that subject. I could never fill your shoes."
They passed by, unaware of Harry and Ron, who were becoming quite adept at finding hiding places in the many alcoves and behind the many statues and tapestries that Hogwarts offered.
"She plays him like a harp," Ron said, not without some admiration.
"Hermione can't stand her."
"Girls can get so jealous."
"We weren't much better when it came to Lockhart," Harry reminded him.
"I was never jealous of him," Ron objected. "I thought he was a git."
All too soon, exams were done and everyone had to pack and say their farewells. The seventh-years graduated in great ceremony, preparing to leave school for good and go out to get jobs. Some would be opening shops of their own in Diagon Alley or other wizard places, some planned to apply to the Ministry of Magic, still others meant to travel abroad and learn about magic in other parts of the world.
That last morning at breakfast, one final feast before they all boarded the train, the owls swept in with the mail and one of them swooped low over Becca to drop a thick envelope into her hands. Harry recognized the various transoceanic runes on it, having seen them on all the letters and parcels she got from her parents. Quicksilver settled onto her shoulder and poked his head inquisitively into the envelope as she was trying to get it open.
"Psst," she said, pushing his head away. "Psst, oh, it hardly ever works on the cats and it doesn't work on you either. All right, all right, let me look."
She tilted the envelope and a packet of drake treats fell out. Quicksilver seized it eagerly up in his clever little forepaws and tore it open, munching happily, as if he hadn't been working his way through an entire dish of sausage and eggs.
"Letter from Mom and Dad," Becca said. "They're coming to London to meet me at the train station, and then we're going to vacation around Europe a little. Mom's always wanted to go to Austria."
"If you're near Romania," Ron said, slathering jam on a piece of toast, "stop by the dragon preserve and say hi to my brother Charlie."
"They also say …" Becca's eyes got big. "Oh, wow!" At once, she shredded the rest of the padded envelope until a smaller, creamy white one came into view. It had been written on in rich silvery ink and the broken seal was wax with an emblem on it of a pyramid.
"What is it?" asked Hermione.
"I got in! They accepted me!" Becca cried, waving the single sheet of parchment. Harry almost took the corner in the eye, and snatched it from her hand.
"Dear Miss Morgan," he read. "We are delighted to inform you of your admission to the Sterling Academy."
"What's the Sterling Academy?" Ron asked. Out of habit, he looked at Hermione, but she shrugged and looked just as curious.
"It's a school, a prep school," Becca explained. "In upstate New York, I think. You were wrong, Hermione, to say that there aren't any magic schools in America. The Sterling Academy, well, it's not totally magic-focused like Hogwarts, but sorcery is part of the curriculum."
"Why didn't you get in before?" Hermione asked.
"They wouldn't take me before. It's very exclusive. Illuminati-run. Even though Dad's a member, they still insist that you have to have a scholarly or practical magic background. Except that when there's nowhere to learn it … kind of like how you can't get a job unless you've got experience, and you can't get experience without having a job."
"A year at Hogwarts has got to be a good enough magical background," Harry said. "Congratulations, Becca."
"This is great! I was afraid I'd have to go home and go back to regular school, which would be boring after Hogwarts! They say the Sterling Academy has a couple of ghosts, and even some real live gargoyles."
"That's splendid," said Hermione. "You'll still write to us, won't you?"
"You bet!" Quicksilver, picking up on her excitement, bumped his nose into hers and made a high trilling noise. She petted him. "We're going to the Sterling Academy, Quicksilver! I couldn't take a drake to ordinary Everett High."
"And you get to tour Europe, too," Ron said enviously.
"You just did at Christmas," Harry pointed out, envious himself. "And you've been to Egypt. I'm the one who's never been anywhere."
"Why don't you come with us?" Becca suggested. "My parents wouldn't mind. We're going to Rome because Dad wants to and the Black Forest because Mom wants to, and my grandparents are on sabbatical in Russia so we're going to stop and see them too. It'd be a blast!"
"I couldn't," Harry said. "It sounds pretty expensive."
"Oh, pff," said Ron. "You've got the money."
"In wizard cash, sure," Harry said, thinking of the big vault at Gringotts. "What good will that do me in the Muggle world?"
"Gringotts can change it into any currency you want," Hermione said in her know-it-all manner. "There's a shop on Diagon Alley, too, that can provide you passports and travel papers to anywhere."
"See?" grinned Becca. "Not a problem."
"Except for the Dursleys. They'd never let me go."
"I thought they knew by now that standing in the way of your plans was a bad idea," said Ron, grinning himself as he remembered the times the Weasleys had fetched him from Number Four Privet Drive.
"You could at least ask," Becca said. "All they can do is say no."
"And lock him in the cupboard," Hermione added. "And starve him. You have no idea how awful these people are. Most Muggles don't have any idea about magic, but they know too much and they actively hate it. They'd keep Harry chained in the attic if they didn't know we'd all come break him out."
"Just think," said Ron. "A few more years, and you won't have to put up with them at all. You'll be free and can go anywhere you want. Assuming, that is, you survive Hogwarts. But since nobody's tried to kill you this year, I'd say things are looking up."
"Thanks, Ron." Harry finished his breakfast just as the doors opened and Hagrid announced it was time to go.
The red and black train was waiting at Hogsmeade Station, house-elf – or would they properly be called train-elves? Harry wondered – baggage handlers waiting to help them load their trunks. Although the platform was crowded with students, Harry had no trouble making out the sleek blond head of Draco Malfoy. And wonder of wonders, instead of looking to cause trouble for others, Malfoy and his two thugs, Crabbe and Goyle, were having a heated argument of their own. Harry elbowed Ron and they looked on, snickering, as the three bickered among themselves.
"She likes me best," Goyle, who had an unnervingly deep voice for his age, said firmly.
"No, she likes me, I told you!" Crabbe whacked him on the upper arm, not quite a punch but not far removed.
"You're both fools," sneered Draco. "She told me, specifically, how much she was looking forward to seeing me next year."
"You can't be her favorite," Goyle grumbled. "You're already Snape's."
"Oh, how revolting." Hermione and Becca had caught up with Harry and Ron. "They're talking about her, you know."
"It's absurd," said Ron.
"I'm glad to see you're finally showing sense."
"That's right. I'm going to be her favorite."
It wasn't often Hermione was at a loss for words. She settled for giving Ron an utterly disgusted look and hurried onto the train to find them a compartment.
Several hours and a lot of Chocolate Frogs and boxes of Snapcorn and cups of iced pumpkin juice later, the train pulled into King's Cross Station at Platform 9 ¾.
Harry had another glimpse of Malfoy, looking very disheveled and sporting a fresh bruise, and surmised that the argument had only gotten worse. When he also saw Crabbe, whose entire head had been Transfigured into a sort of sluggish, squiddish monstrosity oozing slime from a mass of tentacles over where his mouth should have been, and Goyle never got off the train at all but was found by a porter unconscious and stuffed onto an overhead luggage shelf, he knew Malfoy had gotten the better of the fight.
Mrs. Weasley was waiting for her younger children, meeting them with hugs and bustling around fussing over how much they'd all grown. She said hello to Harry and Hermione as well, reminding them of their traditional visit at the end of the summer and their joint shopping trip to Diagon Alley, and then the Weasleys were on their way.
Hermione's parents felt more comfortable waiting in the station proper rather than plunge through what looked like a solid wall to get to Platform 9 ¾. Harry and Becca followed her through, spacing it so that they didn't attract too much Muggle attention when they appeared out of seemingly nowhere. The Grangers were on time, and with more hugs – it felt decidedly awkward to be hugging Hermione, even more than it had been to be kissed by Ginny at Christmas – and good-byes and promises to write, Hermione was gone.
Harry looked around for Uncle Vernon, who usually came alone to pick him up. He didn't want to expose Aunt Petunia or Dudley to any more of this upsetting business than he had to. Every time, Harry thought that this would be the time Uncle Vernon wouldn't show up. He'd leave Harry to find some other way back to Privet Drive, and in his bleaker moments, Harry imagined arriving to find that the house had been sold and the Dursleys moved far away. While this would have been a fantastic stroke of luck for him, he wasn't sure what he would do then unless it was to barge in on the Weasleys for the entire summer.
Uncle Vernon was nowhere in sight. Becca's parents were, though, coming toward them waving, with luggage of their own on trolleys. Quicksilver had vanished, which was probably for the best, since Harry was getting weird enough looks by virtue of having Hedwig in her cage strapped to his trunk.
As it turned out, the Morgans were catching another train in a couple of hours. They invited Harry to come to the café and have a bit of lunch, something solid to counter all the junk food they'd gorged on. As they ate, Harry kept an eye out for Uncle Vernon, tensing every time he saw a portly man bulling his way through the crowds.
And then, there he was. Ruddy-faced and out of breath, his hands stained with grease. He saw Harry sitting in the café and came up to him, looking very disgruntled.
"Had a blowout," he grunted. He took in the Morgans, and some of the lines in his face smoothed out as he saw how non-peculiar, how mundanely Muggle, they looked.
Harry made the introductions. Some instinct urged him not to mention that Becca was a fellow student from Hogwarts, so he made it sound as if they'd just struck up an acquaintance here at the station. More lines vanished as Uncle Vernon heard the pronounced accents of the Morgans, clearly identifying them as Americans. He'd made the same presumption that Hermione had: Americans being the Muggliest Muggles of them all.
"About time you met some decent folks," Vernon muttered to Harry, and took Mrs. Morgan up on her offer to sit down and join them for a cup of tea. "Good, solid, dependable, un-freak-ish types, these."
Becca nudged Harry under the table and showed him what looked like a thick bracelet on her arm. It was Quicksilver's tail, wrapping her wrist and extending up the sleeve of her blouse, which lay perfectly flat as if the drake's body were curled in some magical pocket. She raised an impish eyebrow as if to ask if she should drag Quicksilver out of hiding and give Uncle Vernon a real shock.
Harry signaled her not to, because the last thing he needed was Uncle Vernon having a heart attack right in the middle of the train station. He nearly dropped his spoon a moment later as Mrs. Morgan, who'd been detailing their vacation travel plans, quite smoothly mentioned that Becca's Aunt Kathy was supposed to have come with them but had to change her plans at the last minute, and so they had an extra set of tickets.
"It would be a shame to waste them," she said. "Would you mind if we gave them to your nephew? He told us he doesn't have any plans for the summer."
"Hum, well, that's very kind of you," said Uncle Vernon. "But …"
"Oh, I know. We've just met, we're total strangers, and here we are wanting to steal Harry away for three weeks. I'm sure your family already had plans."
A slow, cunning light dawned in Uncle Vernon's beady eyes. Harry could just see the wheels turning in his head, the abacus beads sliding as he did the math. Three weeks now, plus the usual two he spent at the Burrow, and that was a big chunk of the summer in which the Dursleys wouldn't have to put up with Harry. No owls in the night. No disastrous dinners when Marge came to visit. Harry could be well out of his hair for a good while.
"Nothing pressing," he said. "Nothing pressing at all. A generous offer. It'd do him good to spend some time in the company of regular people."
"Regular people?" repeated Becca's mother with just the right air of quizzical concern. "What do you mean by that?"
Uncle Vernon coughed and rumbled. "Nothing, figure of speech, pay it no mind."
"Maybe we should see what Harry thinks," said Mr. Morgan.
"I think it'd be grand," Harry said, and didn't have to fake the gratitude and excitement he felt. "Thank you! I won't be any trouble."
"I'd like to believe that," mumbled Uncle Vernon.
"Looks like it's settled, then." Mr. Morgan shook hands, first with Harry and then with Uncle Vernon. "Here's a copy of our itinerary if you need to get in touch with us."
Uncle Vernon put the piece of paper, unlooked-at, in his pocket. Harry couldn't imagine any circumstance, including a death in the family, that would lead him to try to contact Harry anyway. With the onus of his orphan nephew lifted, however temporarily, a lightness seemed to have come over him. He got up with a spring in his step, flat tire forgotten, and looked like he could skip all the way home to tell Aunt Petunia the good news.
"Regular people," Mrs. Morgan said again, aggravated, once Uncle Vernon was gone. "Talk about an insult."
"He just doesn't know you like we do," her husband teased.
After a whirlwind-fast trip to Diagon Alley to swap some Galleons for Muggle money and pick up a passport at the Ministry of Magic's branch office, and hiring post-owls to send off with letters to Ron, Hermione, and Hagrid right away so they wouldn't bother writing him at the Dursleys for a few weeks, Harry found himself on another train, this one headed for the coast and the wide world beyond.


The End

Coming Soon – "Harry Potter and the Fifth House," in which a new first year is Sorted into a House that isn't Gryffindor, Slytherin, Ravenclaw, or Hufflepuff. What's in the mysterious West Tower, and what's the secret about the students who live there?

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