Warnings: Starts with useless trivia about the number 7, fluff, mentions of mild child abuse and neglect, contains random crackpot theories that the author thought up in the space of maybe ten seconds.
Disclaimers: Harry Potter belongs to Joanne Kathleen Rowling and associates, of whom I am not one. Information on the number seven altered from what was found on Wikipedia.
Seven is the most magically significant number, and for good reason. According to the most prominent Western religions, it took seven days to create the earth – wizards had a similar belief, however it pertained instead to Atlas and his creation of the seven earthly elements (soil, water, metal, flora, fauna, magic, and life) which was changed in Greek legend to be his daughters – and the ideas of sin and virtue were each separated into seven categories, morally speaking.
In mathematics, the number seven was special due to various rules that no one other than mathematicians could make heads or tails of. Most importantly, it was a prime number, and prime numbers were always the most important numbers (expect, of course, for 42, which seven multiplied into).
In parts of the world, the numeral seven was bisected, demonstrating its uses in both the dark and the light.
There are also seven colors in the rainbow – Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, and Violet – and seven units were adopted by scientists to quantify matter, space, time, and energy. Seven is neutral in terms of bases and acids, something very important in terms of brewing potions.
So even muggles could understand the importance of the number seven, calling it a lucky number or a holy number. They even made a cycle of seven days to represent a greater cycle of time.
The wizarding world had thrice as many reasons to revere seven, and less than half as many that made any sense without intense study. There was only one that mattered at that exact moment.
Particularly, the one relating to the age of seven.
At the age of seven a young wizard's (or witch's) magic would completely flood that child's body for precisely one second. Even squibs experienced this; any child with the potential for magic would experience it. Before that one instant, it was impossible to know whether a child would be magical.
Even during that instant, and for a time after, it will remain unknown.
Magic is a fickle force, and despite its tendency to favor those of magical stock – they tended to be better adapted for it physically, and magic gravitated towards itself – if it decided that the subject was unworthy it would forsake its host and in the place of that host another compatible, nonmagical child would, no less than a month later, perhaps become magical.
Of course it wasn't quite that simple. Every child had a challenge to overcome for magic to deem that child worthy, even the "selected" muggles.
James Potter would boast that his was finding his way out of a jungle while his best friend, Sirius Black, proclaimed that his was managing to survive in that wretched house his family lived in. Lily Potter nee Evans would admit that she had no idea what hers was, only that when she gave some of her birthday cake to a hungry looking boy at the park – a young Severus Snape – that she was suddenly filled with a strange energy. Snape would not speak up on the matter of his own test.
On occasion, a powerful wizard would be transported away in that single instant of magical awareness for a greater test. One such was Tom Riddle who vanished from lunch at his orphanage and appeared in a cave not far from where his orphanage was known to go on trips. He escaped the cave, climbed a cliff that would make a mountaineer edgy, and was found by the town authorities. Despite being punished for running away, Tom gained something greater that day.
It was assumed that Albus Dumbledore had a similar experience, but he refused to comment.
The most famous of such challenges was that of Merlin, and his was ongoing. Born in late 19th century Wales as Taliesin Llwys, at the age of seven he suddenly began to live backwards; he had to learn to walk backwards and talk backwards for the sake of everyone around him (1). He knew how things would end before they happened because he had already lived through them and to everyone around him he grew younger while to him they were the ones going back to the cradle. Always being transported through time, Merlin's task was one of ardor and often solitude. After all, to meet an old friend who has never met him was surmised to be the greatest challenge known to man. Likewise to hear of his own escapades and not know how he accomplished them.
There was no way to prepare for magic's test. It tested everyone in a different way, and in some cases it didn't test at all, only observed to decide whether or not it liked the host. This would be the case with Neville Longbottom, whose magic would finally accept him when he was dropped out the third story window by his uncle at the age of nine.
Harry James Potter was born on July the thirty-first, 1980 at 5:33 am. Unlike other children, there would be no parents anxiously awaiting the results of his challenge, no one to congratulate him if his magic chose to stay – it was rather unlikely that it wouldn't, only one in every ten magical children turned out to be a squib or received only a grudging acceptance from magic – or even anyone to explain what happened. Harry didn't even know that he could be a wizard, or that magic existed.
He slept soundly, unaware in his cupboard. It was 5:30 am.
In a castle in Scotland, an old man of 143 years was drinking tea with a woman of 78. It seemed like a strange time to be drinking tea, and both of them still in their bed things, but far stranger things had happened at Hogwarts.
"He won't be prepared for what is to happen," the woman sniped. She was Minerva McGonagall, a professor of Transfiguration, a master of her art. "No matter how hard Petunia Dursley tries to explain, she can't –"
"Minerva, there is nothing to worry about," the elderly man, Albus Dumbledore, appeased. He was the Headmaster of Hogwarts and once taught Minerva's subject. "Harry will not lose his magic."
"Albus, I realize you have your theories about magic thinking him worthy for surviving the curse," and she did, because he had gone on about how love and magic had saved the boy, marked him for greatness and would never desert him, but... "If he's as powerful as I have been led to believe, his test will be nigh insurmountable! I can only hope he doesn't end up like Merlin." She had never met Merlin, he had turned back before she was born, but Albus had met him not long before taking up an apprenticeship with Nicholas Flamel and knew some degree of the tragedy there.
"I would not worry," the Headmaster smiled placatingly. "I'm sure Harry will do just fine. When a strong wizard is tested, it is difficult, but nothing he cannot overcome. It is the same with all tests; difficult, but never impossible."
Minerva begged to differ but held her tongue and simply glared at the man as she sipped her tea.
The hands on the clock clicked to 5:32 am.
The Dursley household was silent; no one was due to wake for an hour yet. Petunia and Vernon would wake first, and while Vernon showered Petunia would wake Harry. Dudley, of course, could sleep in as late as he wished because it was summer. As usual, a special birthday surprise was planned for Harry.
Petunia was going to give him Dudley's old shoes.
Had Harry known what a house elf was, he might have wished he was one so that this gift would free him from his family. However, he slept fitfully and obliviously in his cupboard. He always slept poorly, shallowly, so that he wouldn't sleep in and get in trouble. He always slept worse on nights where he hadn't eaten; last time he ate was dinner on the twenty-ninth, and his stomach rebelled.
However, as the clock in the parlor changed to say 5:33, he did not wake during that one second in which his magic was completely and totally unlocked. It saturated his skin, the air, and he was oblivious.
At the end of that second, Harry's eyes peeked open, then closed, not understanding the difference between the darkness of his cupboard and the darkness of where he had arrived. Registering only that it was still dark and that his aunt had not come for him yet, he drifted immediately back to sleep.
It was not for two hours that Harry would be awoken. He heard soft footsteps on a hard floor – a whisper of cloth-soled slippers like the ones Aunt Petunia favored – and was immediately waking. He lamented that his blanket had fallen off in the night, but realized suddenly that he was not in his camp-cot that served as a bed. But he can't have slept on the floor of his cupboard as there was no room...
This realization all occurred before he opened his eyes, which resulted in momentary blindness as natural light shot him straight in the face. He wasn't in his cupboard.
Harry scrambled to his feet, feeling stone, somehow, beneath his feet. If Aunt Petunia caught him sleeping in the hall or, as he suspected from the ground's texture, the drive –
But his eyes focused, if just a little since he didn't have his glasses on, and he noticed that everything around him was the same sharp gray color. The ground and walls were made from the same texture – large stone bricks put together, he could tell by the fuzzy shadows between them – to his eyes, and a bit further forward he could see the ceiling was the same gray color. There was yellow-red-orange dancing on the walls at intervals. Lights? Except they flickered and electric lights didn't do that.
And then, of course, there was the figure approaching him. He could tell it was a woman because men weren't curvy like that, even from a distance. He suppose she must have been wearing a dress, since her entire body was black as coal, leaving a few peach-colored blobs that must have been her hands and neck. Her hair was brown, but Harry really couldn't tell anymore.
Nor did he want to really. He was somewhere, somewhere he shouldn't be, and he scampered to one of the walls, pushing himself up against it in an effort to go unnoticed. If he stayed out of the way, his uncle usually ignored him, as would his aunt sometimes, so maybe this lady would too?
He didn't consider asking her for help. Adults didn't help, nor did children. Maybe they would help good kids, but not gawky, geeky Harry-the-fairy.
The woman had obviously seen him – she called something out in a low, no-nonsense sort of voice, but Harry didn't understand the words – because she had changed her direction slightly and was making a bee-line for him, skirts raised ever-so-slightly to make the journey easier. Harry kept his eyes on the ground, never letting them wander any higher than an inch or two which was just enough to see the shiny, golden tops of the ballerina-like slippers.
She spoke again, and Harry didn't understand; he withdrew a bit more, waiting for her to get angry at him for not replying. Calloused fingertips touched his chin suddenly, before his blurry eyes even registered that a hand had darted forward, and he flinched at the touch. Even his aunt's hands, the few times they had deigned touch him, were soft, but this woman's were rough and despite the thinness reminded him more of his uncle's touch.
The hand retracted momentarily, something else was said, and then the hand reappeared, slower so that he saw it. Two fingertips touched the very tip of his chin and raised up upwards, slowly, to look the woman in the eye.
Harry stood stalk still, terrified. Up close he could tell the woman had curly brown hair and a lean, handsome face. Her lips were full, cheeks high and thin, jaw strong, and her hair carefully braided into an intricate plait that Harry couldn't make out very well. Amber eyes stared into his before a pleased smile came across her face. She stood to her full height, which was shorter than Aunt Petunia (who was taller than any woman Harry had met), and released his chin.
Then the end of a stick was pressed to the bridge of his nose and Harry slept.
"- Else could I do? The poor child looked on the verge of panic, and his magic is only bubbling under the surface." The voice was softer now, but Harry recognized it as the gibberish-lady in the black dress. On reflex, he had flinched, the jolt bringing him into waking. She said the M word! Not even Harry's teachers said that word after Uncle Vernon laid into them.
This was what Harry heard as he jerked into waking. He was on something soft, a bed softer than Dudley's (Harry only knew this because he was the one to make the older boy's bed), and a rough blanket was laid overtop of him. Even as his eyes flew open and he registered the white fabric – something that generally didn't exist in the Dursley household for fear of Dudley spilling on it, though the stated reason was different – he wondered how much trouble he was in.
"You think he's been sent by magic," this voice was male, quiet and soft, but low. Harry shifted on the mattress, soft as feathers, and started sliding off of it. "What challenge is here to face? It's summer; there are no older children, only the castle. Is he perhaps muggleborn? His task might be to accept the magic within him."
"Most assuredly not!" A higher voice, airy and feminine, it reminded Harry of Mrs Number Two's voice as she told her children to keep away from "that Potter scamp". She sounded... not angry. What was the word his teacher used? Affronted? Scandalized? Horrified? Maybe. "No, most certainly not. Magic takes too well to him, it coddles him really, like how it treats father. The child is of magical blood, though by his strange garb he must be foreign, and a peasant I would wager."
"I wonder where he is from? He did not understand me in the hall – I fed him a translation potion on the way here of course – so it is unlikely he is from the Isles. I tried all the local tongues, and even latin," the first woman again, sounding annoyed. "Perhaps his task is to go home?"
"With the power within him? That would be far too simple," the second woman said this in a tone Harry didn't recognize. It wasn't any sort of anger or humor, so something in between. "It's more likely –"
"Be that as it may," the man intruded, voice simmering with something dangerous that made Harry flinch even as he scooted under the frame of the bed, "it is his own to overcome. If, as you say Rowena, magic loves him as it does father and he is not in fact living backwards, then I should not worry of him becoming a squib. Magic coddles the powerful."
"I... Salazar, I didn't mean –" Distress.
"What you did or did not mean is irrelevant, Sister," the man sighed. "Helga, how much longer will your spell last?"
"Only a few more minutes, if that," the first woman sighed. "If only Godric were here. Rowena and I are not very good at healing, and you..." Apologetic, but not sincerely. Yet it also wasn't mocking like the time a teacher had forced Dudley to apologize for stealing Harry's classroom snack – that, of course, was before the school learned not to put Harry and Dudley in the same class. "Well, suffice to say he should be up and about soon enough, and we can get some food in him. He was asleep when I entered the Entrance Hall, and he seemed rather small for seven when I brought him up."
"Very well," the man affirmed. "As I have already broken my fast, I will be in the greenhouses if I am needed. As always, it is a pleasure, my sisters." Sharp steps, like the slap of bare feet but different, sounded as the man apparently retreated.
The curtains around the bed Harry had been placed in opened slowly, and he saw the same ballerina-like slippers the woman from when he first woke had been wearing. There was a "hmm" noise that sounded almost amused, and a few words Harry didn't understand. He was careful to keep all limbs out of view of the sides of the bed, but this apparently was not enough.
The bed lifted straight up, and Harry panicked, skittering across the floor. How had she done that? Not even Uncle Vernon could lift a bed straight up; he only lifted one end if he could be bothered to do it in the first place! Was there some sort of pulley? Or maybe a weird machine. But why would they do that anyway?
Having rushed out of the curtains, they tore off the metal frame and attached to him as he pelted forward. Unfortunately, Harry was short for a freshly seven year old boy, looking instead freshly six or perhaps in the middle of being five. Even if he had been the regular size of a boy his age, he wouldn't have been able to avoid tripping on all the cloth that clung to him. He tumbled and braced himself to encounter more of the hard stone flooring that he had been kneeling on mere seconds before –
And he didn't. He didn't feel anything under him, nothing at all. It was like he was still falling, but he knew he wasn't because there was no rush, no pull to the ground (he thought it was called gravy or something of that sort). It was like fl- no, he couldn't even think the word after the last time his uncle had yelled at him for spouting nonsense about flying horses.
All, the same, when he opened his eyes he saw the ground below him, staying stationary as though he had no reason not to float above it. Then he saw the black train of the handsome woman's dress and knew he had been caught.
"I think your estimation was off, Helga dear," the higher voice giggled and another skirt bottom, this one a deep blue, entered his field of vision. "He must have heard a good half of our conversation with Salazar. Oh do let him down, the poor boy is trembling."
"A bit of healthy fear is good for children." And yet Harry felt and saw himself descending. As soon as the ground was within reach, he scrambled to touch it. "I always loved it when mother hovered me. Perhaps the boy is afraid of heights?" She sounded amused. Harry was able to put weight on his hands and feet now and scrambled away from the women.
They both quieted, stifling laughter in the case of the higher pitched woman, and Harry didn't hear them pursuing him as he made his way to a bed along the opposite wall, using it to stand again. The woman in the black dress was just as indefinite as before, her blurred features less discernible than they had been in the instant before he had fallen asleep.
The woman in the blue dress was taller than the other, taller even than Aunt Petunia, Harry realized. Her hair was a sort of white-blond color, and it looked straight to him, but his view of things was always different from others so it might have been wavy or curly, too. Her skin was also paler than that of the other woman, bordering on pasty. She cut a dangerously thin figure, and even from three meters away Harry could tell she had soft, sharp features, pretty features, rather than the handsome woman beside her or the horse-like Petunia.
She was beautiful, like Harry sometimes liked to pretend his mother was. And she glowed, though that was likely a trick of the light.
"He's simply adorable," the blonde whispered just loud enough for Harry to hear. "And his eyes – just like Salazar's, don't you think?"
"Yes, I noticed before," said the handsome woman. "If I didn't know Salazar didn't participate in the Samhain rituals... well. Come along boy, breakfast will be ready by now, I should think." She turned about and was headed for a gaping square hole that Harry imagined must have been a doorway. The blonde did not follow, instead crouching lower, to his level, and stretching out one thin hand that was attached to a bony wrist.
Harry didn't move.
"It's rude, you know, to not introduce yourself to a lady," she giggled slightly to herself, a sound like bells. "It is a lesson of etiquette that your parents should have taught you, don't you think?"
On reflex, Harry parroted what he had been told, "My parents died in a collision, because my father was drunk." Seeing the stunned look on the woman's face, he looked down, blushing. He wasn't to speak to strangers, especially not the strangely dressed ones. Still, she had said he was being rude, which the Dursleys always chided him for. "I'm Harry."
"I... see, young Harry," her hand fell a moment, before the pink line Harry knew to be her mouth curled into what must have been a smile. "I am Rowena Ravenclaw. My sister and I would like you to join us for breakfast. When Helga found you this morning, she was on her way to the Great Hall to dine, and I'm afraid it has been near on to an hour since then. Would you come along?"
Instead of replying in the expected affirmative – even Harry expected such a reply as he remembered he hadn't eaten the day before – the child asked, "Where am I?" He didn't move toward her so much as a centimeter.
"I forgot to mention that, didn't I?" the woman giggled. "You are at Hogwarts Castle; the land belongs to my mother, or it did before she gave it to me. Now it belongs to my brothers, Helga, and me. Now come along or the food might be cold when we get there."
Despite wanting to ask what she meant by castle – for Harry had no business being in a castle and had no reason to believe the claim other than the stones that seemed to make up the floors and walls – Harry nodded and stepped forward. He did not take the proffered hand, knowing from experience that it wouldn't end well; once, his aunt had taken his hand while crossing the street and practically wrenched his arm from its socket.
While Harry followed the lady, he was surprised to find it really was a castle. Then again, both ladies seemed to come straight from one of the books about princesses that the girls at Harry's school liked to read. He watched curiously as the fancy televisions that were placed on the wall at intervals almost seemed to react. The images themselves were strange, looking painted despite moving, but the castle was even stranger.
The passed through the same hallway three times, but each time the carpet was a different color, and it was on a different floor. Harry was positive that one of the staircases two floors above him had moved, and a few times they had gone up a flight of stairs rather than down only to circle about and descend down the same staircase they had used to get onto the floor they had come up from in the first place.
He was silent the entire way as the lady filled the quiet with chatter, mostly about her family. She was the baby of the family and didn't know her siblings very well until a few years ago. She had two elder brothers, twins named Godric and Salazar, and the other lady, Helga, was her big sister, the oldest of them all. They'd all grown up separately, having the same father but different mothers, but they had come together with the dream to create a school of magic.
She didn't notice the way Harry's flinched whenever she said that word. Didn't she know it was a bad word? A dangerous word for something that didn't exist? But Rowena continued talking, telling him about the castle and the classes taught there. She taught students about the stars in the sky and their relevance to magic, as well as the magic in letters and numbers. Helga taught a sort of cooking class called potions, a class on how to turn one thing into another, and history. Godric taught students to defend themselves and heal, which went hand and hand, and he also taught something called charms, though Harry didn't know how bracelets had anything to do with anything.
"And Salazar... he's a little touchy," Rowena giggled to herself, "but he's very nice once you get past his shell. He teaches herbology – that is, the study of plants – and mythozoology – the study of magical animals. Very few students are literate when they arrive because of the church, so he also teaches them to read and write. He's patient in his own way. He yells at people easily, but he'll keep helping them – not at all like Godric. Godric's temper is hard to fire up, but when he gets mad at someone he won't help them with anything for months. He's stubborn, really."
At this time, they reached the place where Harry had woken up, a smaller hallway leading to a very large chamber the size of the dance halls on the telly. Rowena led him down a great staircase and toward a very tall set of doors that were already open. He marveled at the even larger room that lay within, the roof obviously made of glass since he could see the sky through it. There was one table in the middle, a small one with four chairs, and the lady in the black dress, Helga, was already seated and speaking to what seemed to be a very small person. The person bowed to her - it can't have been higher up than Harry's waist, which was a testament to how short it really was - and disappeared with a very sudden CRACK.
The child jumped and his hand clutched at Rowena's skirt reflexively before he realized what he'd done. He would iron the dress to make up for it.
"Let's have breakfast, Harry. And welcome to Hogwarts." She smiled and took the hand that had clutched her skirt, leading Harry to the table.
Author's Note: This was supposed to be just a one-shot, but... well, just getting to breakfast took 5000 words, so... this'll be chaptered. And I'm considering a sequel, because everone will hate me for the end. We'll see. The idea struck me while I was getting some juice while in the middle of reading a Harry-goes-back-to-the-Founder's-Era fic. And I liked it. (Ironically, the first parts of the idea were actually the Title and Summary, which I usually can never think of.)
The "all the Founders are siblings" idea is from my sophomore year in high school and really makes more sense if you have read Marion Zimmer-Bradley's version of the Arthur legend, however it also meshes with White's version. Essentially, the Merlin fathered the siblings at Samain (the traditional Celtic holiday occurring on what is now All Saint's Day) over the course of 3 years, and they were raised by their mothers (considering Merlin lives backwards, it'd be awkward to raise children he had not yet fathered... must make sex awkward... ew) except Salazar who was raised in Avalon, and they came together to make a greater school of magic. Helga is the oldest, then the twins Godric and Salazar (with Salazar being the younger), and Rowena is the youngest. The only times they met as children (prior to Rowena becoming 16) were at various solstice events – Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasa, and Samain – when the mothers would all migrate back to Avalon.
(1) Couldn't resist. I always liked the Once and Future King since I was a kid; in it, Merlin lives backwards and there is evidence that suggests he was born in the near-modern era (after he says "Blow me to Bermuda" and is literally blown there, he tells his magic to replace his hat and it gives him one from the 17 or 1800s, I can't quite remember. I haven't read that book in over 4 years...). The name Taliesin is from Lady of Avalon, though Merlin is a title passed down through the generations. Llwys is an early form of Llewis or Lewis (very difficult to pronounce those double-Ls) though it is still used some.