The Best Revenge
Harry kept his grin unseen as he followed Professor Snape to Twilfit and Tattings. He had never been fussed over by anyone before. Professor Snape had arrived early in the morning, told Muffy that Harry would be lunching out, and then had made Harry change his clothes. It seemed that he was concerned that Harry might be noticed, and he wanted his charge to make a good impression. Harry's riotous dark hair was glowered at.
"It's always been like this, Professor," Harry pointed out reasonably. "Once Aunt Petunia practically shaved my head, but it was all back just like this in the morning. My hair just sticks out all over the place."
"Perhaps if it were longer..." Snape considered.
Harry shrugged. "I don't think it gets along longer than this, sir. I've never needed a haircut."
Snape only grunted, and then made Harry change his clothes again, this time into a pair of olive drab slacks and one of Dudley's very nice white dress shirts, newly sized to fit him. Harry thought it was a strange look together with his trainers, but Snape seemed to think it would be all right with some additions that they would find right away in Diagon Alley. Harry endured the unpleasantness of apparition, and instantly was looking about him at the busy wizarding street.
"Can't we go see the owls first, sir?"
"Owls after we take care of this," Snape replied, in a voice that brooked no discussion. Harry had to stretch his legs to keep up with his teacher, and in a few steps they were in the hushed environment of a shop that clearly catered to the privileged.
"Mr Potter requires a robe for street wear," Snape told the greying but debonair Mr Twilfit.
"Mr Potter!" The wizard tailor's eyes gleamed. "How well I remember your father and grandfather! They were very loyal customers-and such taste!"
Harry submitted to meticulous measuring, and then to a consideration of color and fabric, answering "Yes, I like it" and "Not so much," when his opinion was solicited. In short order, he had a summerweight robe draped over his shoulders. The light tan fabric was soft to the touch and had a kind of cape effect in back. Numerous leather-covered buttons resolved themselves, and Professor Snape and Mr Twilfit appeared satisfied with the result. Harry studied himself in the mirror, which to his astonishment expressed its own approval in a smooth, ingratiating baritone.
"Yes...now you look quite the thing. Oh, yes... I daresay even Abelard the Unctuous would feel not the slightest compunction at being seen in your company. The shoes...well...yes. A daring piece of personal style. Very modern... My dear boy, the robes are absolutely you. You wouldn't care for another set in Liverwort Green?"
"Uh-no. Not today."
"Pity. They would match your eyes to a marvel."
Professor Snape rescued him, and they left the shop, but not before Mr Twilfit told him that they would keep a record of his measurements, "As we do with all our clientele."
Harry rolled his eyes, following Professor Snape down the street. The robes were too nice to make him feel ridiculous, especially once he discovered that they billowed a bit like Professor Snape's. He tried holding his arms like the tall wizard in front of him, and found it improved the effect.
"What are you doing?" Snape asked impatiently, seeing the boy making some sort of mystical gestures.
"Nothing," Harry answered instantly, walking a little faster. "Ca-may we see the owls now, please?"
"If we must."
There were even more shoppers abroad than there had been on his last visit. Harry had never seen anything like Eeylops Owl Emporium. He had little time to stare into the shadows, for almost instantly there was a swoop of snowy feathers, and the white owl he had noticed the week before was staring him in the eye. Harry stumbled, and Snape put out a hand to support him.
"Why is it so dark in here?" he whispered.
"Most owls are nocturnal," Snape lectured. "This is more comfortable for them. The Snowy Owl, however, is not."
The shopkeeper seemed pleased. "Difficult bird to place, that one. Very choosy. Come near biting off one young chappie's nose. Seems to have taken to you, though."
Harry stroked her plumage with awe and delight. "She's gorgeous. How much is she?"
Snape reminded himself to have a talk with Harry about letting shopkeepers see how much you wanted something. The boy was absolutely transparent. Not being infatuated with the owl himself, however, he was able to rein in the shopkeeper's more exorbitant demands. In short order a price was agreed on for bird, cage, perch, and a bag of owl treats that should last two months.
"We'll retrieve the creature before we leave the Alley today," Snape said, hurrying Harry out the door. "We can tell her your address, apparate back to the house, and have everything prepared for her arrival."
Harry looked wistfully back through the shop window. "You don't suppose he'll sell her to someone else?"
"Certainly not. We made a wizard's bargain. What will you call her?"
"Hedwig." Harry had been thinking about this owl for a week, and had searched out a suitably wonderful name for her. He found what he was looking for in A History of Magic. "Her name is Hedwig."
The bootmaker was next, and Harry's boots were ready. He tried them on and was amazed at their comfort. Snape shrank and pocketed his trainers.
"You can wear the boots while we're here amongst wizards. Have a look at the bookbags here. Since you'll be using your family trunk, you can afford a decent bag."
How nice to be reminded of his new treasures. Harry had a trunk for school covered with real dragonhide: a trunk that was a family heirloom. They would go Gringotts later today, so Professor Snape could show him some of the other things of Harry's that he and Professor McGonagall had located. Buoyed at the thought, Harry took a deep breath, enjoying the rich smell of the shop. There were all sorts of leather items here: bookbags, gloves, and wand holsters. There were belts here too, and a selection of wonderful buckles, made by a wizard silversmith whom the bootmaker knew. Harry liked one shaped like an owl in flight, and then another with a pair of dragons. He was admiring them, when a boy stumbled into him, and nearly knocked him off his feet.
"Oh, Neville!" boomed an old woman's voice, "Watch yourself! You might have done the poor lad an injury, a clumsy great lump like you!"
Harry looked up and blinked. A witch, certainly: elderly, severe, and disapproving. Speechless, he noted that she had a vulture on her hat. Beside her was a bony old man no taller than herself, with a sly twinkle and a salt-and-pepper moustache. He laughed at the boy.
"It's the feet, you see. I said it, didn't I? Feet that big must go astray. Trampling on this little chap, more's the pity. You all right, lad? Neville's no featherweight, and he don't trouble to look where his big feet take him."
Harry felt sorry for the other boy. He was taller than Harry and somewhat plump, with a round, pleasant face and a hunted expression.
Harry never had liked bullies, grownup or not. Very clearly, he said, "I'm quite all right. It was just an accident. He didn't hurt me a bit." Turning to the boy, he said, "You aren't hurt, are you?"
Looking surprised, the boy simply stared at Harry until the old witch snapped testily, "Well, speak up, Neville! Don't stand there like a gormless noddy! Beg the lad's pardon!"
With a touch of asperity, Harry interrupted, "He already said he was sorry. It's all right." Trying to help the other boy-Neville-he put out his hand and blurted, "I'm Harry Potter, by the way."
"Pleased to meet you. I'm Neville Longbottom." The boy was not exactly shy, but a little reserved, as if he didn't quite know what to make of Harry. He had nice manners, though, even by the standards of Professor Burbage, whose book had taught Harry a lot about how wizards were expected to behave. The boy took his hand, gave it a brief, mild shake, and then said, "This is my grandmother, Madam Longbottom, and my great-uncle, Algernon-"
Salt-and-Pepper Mustache gave Harry a wink, "Algy's the name. Algy Bagnold." Harry shook his hand, trying not to wince at the painfully tight grip, and then he almost committed the gaffe of offering his hand to Madam Longbottom. Professor Burbage wrote that a wizard was never supposed to offer to shake hands with a witch. It was up to the witch to decide if she wanted that degree of contact or not. Harry hid his hand behind his back, and then had to quickly put it out again when Madam Longbottom extended her own to him.
"How do you do, Madam Longbottom?"
The witch did not release his hand, but dragged him over for a closer look. "That's what I like to see!" she declared. "A young lad not afraid to speak up for himself. Knew your father and your grandfather-and your great-grandfather before them! Fine wizards-fine fellows! Saw your father and grandfather married. And now there's just you. The old families are thin on the ground these days. Well, you look like you'll do the Potters proud. I hope Neville learns to take a leaf from your book! What house for you, my lad?"
"Actually-" Harry began.
Great-Uncle Algy winked again. "Oh-Gryffindor! No fear! A little bit of the lion in all of the Potters, ain't there? And there he is, already scarred with battle!" He danced about like a boxer, sketching wavy little movements with his hand that Harry guessed represented spells. "Too much to hope for that our Neville will join you in the old Red-And-Gold, I reckon."
Neville's face was a study in misery. Harry knew exactly how he was feeling. "Actually," he said loudly. "I really can't say which house I'll be in. All of them have their good points. I think what's important is to make the most of your time in school, no matter which house you're sorted into."
"Well said, Mr Potter," agreed Professor Snape, who appeared quite suddenly behind Neville. "Have you chosen your bag?" He bowed with a distant air to Neville's relations. "Madam. Sir. Mr Potter has a number of purchases to make. You must excuse us."
Madam Longbottom narrowed her eyes at Snape in suspicion. "You might as well get a bookbag while you're here, Neville. Go with the Potter lad. I daresay he won't lead you astray. We'll be sitting over there."
Neville looked at Harry uncertainly. Harry said, "I saw one I liked, Professor Snape. Sir, this is Neville Longbottom. I believe he's going to be a first-year like me."
Snape nailed the boy with a forbidding stare. Neville's eyes wobbled in fright. "How do you do, sir?" he faltered. His hand jerked forward a little, but then seeing Snape standing there unmoving, it was withdrawn.
Harry took Neville by the elbow. "Over here. I saw some nice ones. Excuse us."
Snape stood back and let the two boys murmur to each other. So that was Frank and Alice Longbottom's boy. An unpromising specimen-though who wouldn't be with that gorgon of a grandmother and that posturing imbecile with her? Her brother, he supposed. It was horribly true that one couldn't choose one's family. He had never liked Frank Longbottom. A red face and a loud voice and Hex-the-Snakes. He had been in Lucius' year, and one of his chief rivals at Quidditch. And then an Auror, of course. Snape had been taken into custody by Longbottom once, on suspicion of brewing Dark Potions. Longbottom, like all too many "peace officers" both muggle and magical, was one for putting the boot in first, and finding the evidence later, if at all. Bastard. Alice had never had any use for Snape, either, and must have taken more points from Slytherin-and Snape in particular-than any Gryffindor prefect in history. What had happened to them was hideous: but when people made such a point of showing the opposition how much they hated them, it was only to be expected that they would make themselves targets.
And of course there was the prophecy. Snape nearly laughed aloud at the idea of that pathetic Longbottom boy being a threat to the Dark Lord. Appalling as she was, Augusta Longbottom was right to see that there was no comparison between her grandson and Harry Potter.
"Black is the most practical, probably." Harry took one of them down. It was smooth and shiny, and the leather was soft as butter. He liked all the little compartments for his quills and his ink. "This one looks good."
"It's nice." Neville answered quietly. After a moment's consideration, he took down one very much like it. "Did you mean what you said about not minding what House you were in?"
"Yes. I know my parents were in Gryffindor, but I'm not them. It's important to be in the house that suits you, because that's where you'll do your best."
Neville whispered, "I've got to be in Gryffindor. My parents were Gryffindors, and all my family. It's bad enough that they think I'm practically a squib-"
Harry blinked. Professor Burbage's book had explained what a squib was, and how shameful it was to be one. "You can't be a squib if you got a Hogwarts letter. You did get one, didn't you?"
"Yes-but Gran-" The taller boy started again. "They thought I was a squib so long that they never let me out much. I've never talked to a boy my age before. It's really nice of you to help me. You must have been in Diagon Alley about a million times."
"No!" Harry protested. "It's only my second time. I didn't even know I was a wizard until last week. I've been living with my-muggle-relatives, and they never told me anything. Diagon Alley is brilliant, though," he said, not wanting to talk about the Dursleys. "Have you got your wand yet?"
Neville shook his head. "I've got to use my father's. Gran says it's a sacred trust."
"Mr Potter!" Snape called. "If you're quite finished?"
"Coming, sir!" Harry dropped his voice to confide in the boy beside him. "Professor Snape teaches Potions. He acts really strict, but he's been very nice to me. Be sure to read the first chapter of the potions book before your first lesson. He likes to quiz people to see what they know. I've got to go-but I'll see you at Hogwarts. And remember-you don't have to be a Gryffindor, just because your parents were!" He dashed off after Snape, not hearing Neville's reply.
"But I do..."
"Should I have bought a wand holster?" Harry asked Snape, as they headed to the apothecary.
"In your first year?" Snape scoffed. " I would certainly hope you have no need for one at the ripe age of eleven! Perhaps after your O.W.L.s. You may wish to practice dueling by then."
They then spent nearly an hour in Slug & Jiggers Apothecary. Snape was very anxious that Harry have a leg up in potions class, and they looked at all sorts of ingredients, so Harry could recognize them by sight, rather than simply knowing lists out of a textbook. It was interesting, but Harry was beginning to feel a bit done in by Snape's relentless coaching. It was better when old Mr Jiggers took them into the back of the store, where they saw a whole huge dragon's liver in his cooling bin. Harry was invited to touch it, and he burst out laughing at the sheer grossness, the wet and bloody gooshiness of it all.
Snape saw that the boy had had enough for the time being, and said, "I have more business to transact here. I believe you wanted to find a book about Runes? Flourish and Blotts is only four shops away on this side of the Alley. Go there and browse, and don't leave. I'll be there presently."
"And let me clean your hands."
Harry put out his bloody hands for a quick Scourgify, and then thanked Mr Jiggers for his time. Dashing out, he enjoyed the air and the sounds of the Alley, and the feel of his robes billowing in the breeze. Striding along, he passed Quality Quidditch Supplies, and tried not to look at the brooms. He'd know about them soon enough.
Crowds of students and parents were in Flourish and Blotts, looking for textbooks. Harry told an assistant that he already had his schoolbooks, but wanted something extra about Runes. She led him to a tall bookcase, and pointed out An Introduction to Ancient Runes. It was an appealingly thin volume, and Harry glanced through it. It seemed to be what he was looking for. Old Futhark was there, anyway. In the bookcase were all sorts of books about languages. Harry saw many he had heard of, along with others that were new to him. Mermish? As in mermaids? Looking around, he saw that "History" was not far away. He really wanted to know more about Voldemort.
It would be so embarrassing if people thought he was wanting to read about himself. He wasn't being silly, he told himself fiercely. He really needed to know what had happened. Trailing his finger along the titles, he moved past Magic in Ancient Egypt and Wizards of Sumer and Babylon, down several shelves and up again, until he was past Wizarding Life in the Victorian Age. Closer...closer...
There! Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century. Nearby were Modern Magical History, and The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts. Hurriedly, he gathered up the books and crept back to the Runes section. He opened up Great Wizarding Events and skimmed the last third until he found what he wanted.
"Most abominable were the crimes of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, and his just fate was no less remarkable than his misdeeds. That an infant, a child only just weaned from his mother's breast, could prove a doughtier opponent than many a battle-hardened Auror may be difficult for posterity to credit; but it unquestionably true. Little Harry Potter was utterly alone: his parents struck down in a viridian blaze. Evil Most Orgulous loomed over the martyred mother, but he reckoned not with the imponderable nature of Magic. Trusting in his own power, he discounted that of others-forgetting that even Merlin was once a babe-in-arms.
"Fittingly, the slayer of the innocent and helpless was in his turn slain by the most innocent and seeming-helpless of his victims. A mighty blast-a haunting silence. Did the Terrible Wizard realize in his last moment that The Wheel of Fortune had turned-that another power had risen to thwart his most vile intent? We may picture it-we may imagine the momentary look of astonishment and terror in those red orbs as they perceived his bane rise before him: his disbelief and horror when the Boy proved invulnerable to the Monster's Unforgivable Curse: his despair as he was banished into less than the meanest dust, and his spirit cast into the Outer Darkness from whence it came. Let those of us who suffered savour that vision, and give thanks to Harry Potter, The-Boy-Who-Lived..."
Harry made a face. The book made him sound like some sort of weird Super Baby, casting a spell to destroy Voldemort. Could he even talk then? "Curse oo, Vodamor!" Er-probably not.
He looked back through the pages, trying to find out more about Lord Voldemort. The author failed to tell a clear story. Voldemort seemed to come out of nowhere sometime late in the 'Sixties, and a lot of important people had been put under something called the Imperius Curse by him and made to do what he wanted. Apparently, though there was a lot of dancing about the issue, what he wanted was to "purify" the wizarding world of outside elements, something that quite a few people still thought needed doing.
Which really means getting rid of people like my Mum. That is so sick.
Professor Burbage hadn't been very forthcoming in her book either. It seemed to Harry that a lot of people still believed that the only real witches or wizards were the ones with magical ancestors on both sides going back a thousand years. Well, sod them.
The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts was not much better, though the language wasn't as old-fashioned. Harry guessed that it really wasn't a very good book. It told the story of seven evil wizards from ancient times to Lord Voldemort, and showed how a reliance on Dark Arts had led to the undoing of each of them. The chapter about Voldemort, once again, didn't say anything about where he came from. It just told about how evil he was and how the Dark Arts were addictive. Lord Voldemort had steeped his soul into so much evil that he couldn't understand goodness anymore. When he tried to kill a pure and innocent child, his magic backfired on him somehow, and he cast the curse on himself. This author did not think that Harry Potter had actively destroyed He-Who-Must-Be-Named (Harry was getting very tired of all the stupid hyphens), but he had played a passive role as a Perfect Sacrifice. There was a long digression about the history of blood sacrifice in olden days, when there was no other way to avert disaster but by the blood of innocents. However, the author wrote, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named showed the moral blindness common in adherents of the Dark Arts. In attempting to perform the Rite of the Perfect Sacrifice, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had presumed to play the role of the Rightful King. Only the Rightful King could shed the innocent blood of the Perfect Sacrifice to preserve the people. And no Dark Wizard, the author declared, could ever have been a Rightful King. Not even in earliest times, when the nature of the Dark Arts, was, regrettably, far less clearly understood than in these more enlightened days.
There was another digression, all about some kid called the Infant of Prague, who could speak Latin when he was a baby and do maths. Harry yawned, and set the book aside.
Reluctantly, he paged through Modern Magical History. Boy-Who-Lived. He-Who-Must-Not-Be Named. Blahblahblahblahblah. This author, a witch who was writing under a penname "for personal reasons," thought that Harry had used accidental magic. She wrote that Harry was clearly an exceptionally powerful magical child, who had somehow shielded himself so strongly that the Killing Curse bounced off and hit Voldemort instead. There was even a truly creepy diagram showing Voldemort, Harry in his cot, his mother dead on the floor, and the possible angle of reflection. It seemed like the most reasonable explanation, except-
He frowned, leafing back through the book. He had done what Professor Snape called "accidental magic" in the past. He had appeared on the school roof: he had turned a teachers hair blue. Could he have shielded himself? Could he have deflected a spell that blasted Voldemort into smithereens? Somehow he doubted it. How would a baby even know he was in danger?
More importantly, he thought with a sour smile, his "accidental magic" had never really done him much good. It had never fed him when he was hungry, or summoned help when he needed it. It had taken him away from a thumping that one time, but no other. The book was stupid. All these books were stupid. How could these clever people writing these books know anything about it, when they weren't there?
There were no witnesses. Nobody had come forward, saying they had seen what happened. It was just Mum and Dad and Harry, and that rotten Voldemort. Three of them were dead, and Harry didn't remember.
Yes, you do, a voice in his head seemed to whisper. You remember a green light and a high, cold laugh.
But what exactly did he remember? Had Voldemort actually cast the curse on Harry, or did Harry just remember the light because he had seen the curse cast at his parents?
Well, there was his scar. It wasn't like a normal scar at all-not with that weird lightning-bolt shape. Yeah, Voldemort had shot something at him, but maybe Professor Snape's guess was as good as anybody's. Maybe Voldemort made a mistake. Maybe he was tired. Maybe you could only throw the Killing Curse a certain number of times before your aim was off, or you mispronounced a word. Harry liked this theory better than those that made him weird even in the magical world.
Maybe I'm immune to the Killing Curse. Super. How do I find out? Ask Professor Snape to have a go at me with it? Somehow I don't think he'd be willing. Anyway, nobody knows, no matter how much they go on and on...
The shop was getting crowded. Harry put the books back on the shelves, and then noticed a volume entitled, The Path of Darkness. It was a history of dark witches and wizards from prehistory to the present. The author seemed to have some sympathy for them, and talked a lot about defining "darkness" in different ways. The style was more to Harry's taste. Professor Snape was not here yet, so he looked for a place to sit and read. Someone was sitting down in his place in the Runes section. There was a vacant leather chair over in "Careers." Harry was soon engrossed in the story of the snake-priestesses of Crete. It was better than any novel Harry had ever read. Time passed, but Harry was oblivious.
"Rather bold of you to declare your career choice so publicly," said a boy.
Harry looked up. A blond boy with a pale, pointed face was smirking at him, highly amused.
"It's a terrific book," Harry admitted. "Hogwarts?"
"Of course. My father was getting my books, but he was called away. I just escaped from Madam Malkin's. What a bore! I don't recall having seen you about."
Harry knew it was bad manners to keep sitting, so he rose and offered his hand, just the way Professor Burbage said he ought to.
"I haven't been about much. I'm Harry Potter."
"Really!" The boy looked briefly impressed, and then tried to sound indifferent. He shook Harry's hand. "It's true then. Harry Potter is coming to Hogwarts. And my name's Malfoy-Draco Malfoy."
Harry wondered if his new acquaintance had ever seen a James Bond movie, and changed his grin into a smile. "Draco like the constellation? That is so cool."
The boy seemed very pleased, and puffed up a little. "Well, astronomical names are something of a tradition in my mother's family-the Blacks."
"Rather than Tom, Dick-or Harry," Harry said. "Lucky you. Have you got your wand yet?"
"No. My mother's been talking with Ollivander, but we have an appointment after lunch. I can't wait. And you?"
"I was here last week and got mine then. Mr Ollivander is a bit-strange."
"Well-that's not that unusual in powerful wizards when they reach a certain age. A lot of them go off their heads. My father says Dumbledore is all but senile himself. Still pretty powerful, though."
"That's something to look forward to."
"No. Still being able to blast off spells when I'm a hundred and fifty."
The blond boy laughed out loud. "So you're Harry Potter? You're nothing like I imagined."
"No. I mean-youre quite-normal."
Now Harry laughed. "Not according to my aunt!"
"Where have you been all these years? It's all been very hush-hush."
"I like being a man of mystery. And I've been living with my relatives." Seeing the boy's puzzlement, Harry clarified. "My muggle relatives."
Draco's eyes widened. He stepped back a fraction. "That's right-your mother-I mean-muggles-" He leaned closer and whispered, "Are they horrible?"
"Pretty much." Then, remembering that he was not supposed to let on about his days in the cupboard to anyone, Harry added hastily, "At least my cousin. He's a fat bully. I hate bullies. We don't have a lot in common."
Draco shuddered. "I should think not. That's dreadful."
"I'm fine," Harry insisted. "Other than that, of course. My room is great, and now-"
"Draco?" a soft voice spoke close by.
Harry caught the scent of a delicious perfume before he saw the witch's face. She was very nice-looking, and very obviously Draco's mother.
"Draco?" she repeated, "who is your young friend?"
In a very formal way that Harry found rather silly, Draco gave his mother a slight bow. "Mother, may I present to you Harry Potter." He swung out his arm in a sweeping gesture. "Harry, this is my mother, Madam Malfoy."
"How do you do, Mr Potter?" the lady asked, for Draco's mother was very much a lady. A very posh lady. She looked nice and smelled nice. Her robes swirled softly and her jewels gleamed. Harry thought that Draco was a very lucky boy to have such a mother. She was putting out a soft, white hand, and Harry tried not to claw at it in his haste to take it lightly in his own. He gave his own tiny bow.
"I'm very pleased to meet you, Madam Malfoy."
"Such nice manners." She lifted his chin and pushed away the wayward fringe of black hair. "Yes, the scar. I've always been astounded that a child could have survived such violent, tragic events."
She stepped back and put an arm around Draco's shoulders. Harry experienced a brief, poignant thrill of jealousy. Last night, Professor Snape had brought him a book of pictures of his Mum, and she was so pretty. If only his own Mum could be here like Draco's-
"Surely you aren't here all alone?" she was asking.
Harry noticed Draco's eyes go wide again, and the boy looking about him, curious and rather alarmed. He thinks he's going to see a genuine muggle, Harry realized. Maybe it would do Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon good if just one time they were treated as if they were the freaks.
"No, Madam Malfoy. I'm not alone. I'm waiting for-"
"Mr Potter! There you are!"
"Professor Snape," Harry grinned.
A.N. Thanks again to my wonderful reviewers and their clever ideas!