Disclaimer: Do I look like a middle aged woman? Never mind, you can't see me. I the only thing I own of this story is the stray strand of absurdity/idiocy that weaves its way through the plot. Happy?
And ah, yes, on that note, any song lyrics or little phrases from music albums you might find don't belong to me - they're a part of an obsession that comes from listening to my favourite bands while I write. I take no credit, and therefore no responsibility ;)
AN/Warnings: 1. A note on the nature of the story: first thing's first, Harry - he will be OOC, a little more sarcastic and cynical, and he might begin to show a cruel streak as time goes on. This change, as well as a few things behind magical theory and Harry's heritage are going to be, for the most part, the only fundamental things I will change (well, there will be other things, but...spoilers spoil) - many of the events in canon will leak into my own plot; so even though this is, in all technicality, an AU, the original timeline will be weaving through.
2. The rating is T for now…but if it ends up anything like most of my original fiction, it could get quite dark/bloody in places (though I will try to keep the more macabre elements of my sense of humour out of this...), so depending on how it goes, it could end up as M. Be ye warned.
3. I will be screwing with the Harry Potter universe, Greek and Egyptian mythology, and methods of divination (especially cartomancy) as I please. I will try to stick to basic facts about canon HP, the occult, and mythology, but I will be manipulating these things a great deal, in the end.
4. Over time, it has come to my attention that my rationality only ever aligns with everyone else's when I'm doing math. So if parts of this story seem a bit...strange, they probably make perfect sense to me. Interpret that how you will.
5. Last but not least, thank you for reading. I'm hoping that all of us will enjoy the evolution of this story, and I appreciate any input that you can give me :)
Now, onto the good stuff:
Chapter 1: Of Cousins and Cards
Harry Potter had terrible luck. He had known this for quite a long time, though he was not sure when exactly he first realized it, or when, in fact, it had started. Perhaps it had been when his hair miraculously turned blue right before Marge Dursley had come to visit his Uncle, Vernon Dursley. Marge always took great pleasure in cruelly antagonizing Harry whenever she visited – though he had no idea why any adult in their right mind would enjoy mocking a six year old – but because his hair was too 'freaky' for Uncle Vernon's liking, Harry had been locked in his cupboard for the weekend, depriving Marge of her fun, and causing Harry to be punished for weeks after. Then again, maybe the bad luck had started soon after, when Aunt Petunia, Vernon's wife and his deceased mother's sister, had burnt dinner, and then blamed it on Harry, saying that she had had him cook dinner – the whole unfortunate debacle was what initiated Harry's now regular stints in the Dursely kitchen. Perhaps, though, the bad luck started a few years later, when Harry's math test scores were handed out on the day the Supervisor had been looking over his class. Seeing Harry's scores, as well as the fact he had thoughtlessly corrected the teacher on one of them, he had called the Dursleys and excitedly suggested that Harry be moved up a grade. The discussion that followed quickly spiralled out of control, and in the end, the poor man ended up fired, and Harry was thrown in his cupboard for a week. Or maybe it was when Harry, for reasons even he didn't know, had commented offhandedly about how Uncle Vernon's work wouldn't go well. When Vernon returned, he was positively furious, blaming Harry for the fact that his business deal didn't go through. It was an post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy – Harry had pulled that nifty phrase out of a book in the library, his favourite retreat, and loved it ever since – Harry pointed out, but apparently the older man wasn't as intelligent as he claimed to be.
All that being said, Harry was sorely tempted to conclude that his bad luck had started the day he was dropped on the Dursley's doorstep at fifteen months old, the doorstep of Number 4 Privet Drive, Surrey. He had no idea why his parents hated him enough to go off and die (in a car crash, the Dursleys insisted, but Harry was rather inclined to believe that everything they said was a lie), leaving him with such beastly relatives, and he had no idea what he had done in a past life to deserve his atrociously large chore list – maybe he had been Hitler, he idly mused. But what really stumped him was that at night, after particularly mind-numbingly-bad-luck-filled days, he could swear he heard distant, mocking laughter eerily seeping through the musty walls of his cupboard – which lead him to believe that either he was going insane, or someone was screwing around with him, or both. Yes, Harry Potter had very bad luck.
That was why nine year old Harry wasn't all that surprised at the situation he was in. After school, his tubby, yet vicious cousin Dudley and his friends had cornered him, quite obviously wanting to play a game of 'Harry Hunting' – clever game that it was. In a fit of exasperation, Harry had simply turned toward them, closing his eyes and bracing himself; he was not going to give them the satisfaction of chasing him. But at a sudden thudding sound, he had snapped his eyes open, finding Dudley's friend Piers slumped against the school wall, apparently concussed, Dudley and co. staring at Harry in undisguised horror. Harry had had no desire to find out what had happened, and darted, faintly hearing the sounds of pursuit behind him as he had ducked into a decrepit alleyway. He had heard his pursuers swiftly approaching and panicked, not knowing where to go next, until suddenly, a soft, hissing voice had floated into his ears:
:This way...hide, this way...:
Without a second thought, Harry had leapt in the direction of the voice, crawling into a crevice in the alley wall. Harry was a small boy, but had barely fit in through what he had identified as a broken window. He had cut his hands and knees climbing through, but ignored the bite of the murky glass as he curled up in the cupboard-like hollow, holding his breath. Voices wafted through the alleyway, distant but loud, eventually fading out into the dissonant sounds of the suburban afternoon. When he deemed it safe, he peeked outside, and began to make his way back into the alleyway – which would have been fine, except that he couldn't get back out. He was trapped. Which was the situation he was in now. Hungry, late for chores, dirty, and bleeding, and on top of that, trapped in an old abandoned building, which really should have been boarded up better. He wished he could make the window bigger, like he had with his toy soldier that one time, but as per his bad luck, his 'freakishness' simply would not manifest on demand. Harry truly hated his luck, and in a rather melodramatic fit of hopelessness was considering merely closing his eyes and waiting to shrivel up and die, when he heard the muffled voice once again.
:In here! He's in here!:
Suddenly the wall on the far side of his hollow snapped open, and with the incoming light, Harry realized that he was, in fact, in a cupboard of sorts. Oh the irony. But this realization was hardly what was flooding his mind; for staring at him with wide, unfocused green eyes, was a man, his long, greasy blonde hair tied in a loose ponytail. Only the faintest of lines crossed his forehead - betraying maturity that belied his careless posture. The man smelled funny, Harry vaguely noticed, but seeing the state of his Led Zeppelin t-shirt and ripped jeans, Harry suspected that this was due to a lack of washing. It looked as though he had not changed in days; perhaps the jeans were his only pair, and his t-shirt was his favourite? Harry's suspicions concerning the smell, however, were promptly erased when he laid eyes on the pile of strange herbs and powders and the burning incense on rickety table in the centre of the room, which sat beside an old record player, from which was emanating a droning electric guitar riff.
:Well damn! It is a boy!: the man said, glancing down at the rather enormous snake draped around his neck.
:Told you,: the snake sneered – Harry was hard pressed to hide his shock, for hitherto he did not believe snakes could sneer.
Frowning, he cleared his throat slightly, :Excuse me…:
The attentions of both the man and the snake snapped toward him as they exclaimed simultaneously, :He speaks!:
:Er…of course I speak.:
The man, seeming shaken out of a stupor, shook his head knowingly and jerkily lifted Harry out of the cupboard, saying with a American accent that had a slight twang to it, "There's speaking," :And then there's speaking.:
Harry frowned, noticing the slight difference in tones, one harsh, gravelly, well-defined, the other oily, whispery, and sultry; it was as though they were the same language, yet different…
"There's a difference, you know."
"Right." Harry was still slightly skeptical.
The man nodded with solemnity that did not at all look good on him. "You were speaking the language of snakes."
"O-of snakes?" wondered Harry, astonished, glancing up at the python around the man's neck.
The man stared at him incredulously. "Oh? Oh? I tell ya you can speak the language snake, and all you can say is 'oh'?"
"Stranger things have happened to me," Harry replied matter-of-factly, recalling the blue hair incident.
"I bet they have, kid, I bet they have," the man mumbled, slurring slightly as he stumbled and collapsed into a sitting position upon a pillow by the table. "Here, take a seat." He tossed a torn, lumpy pillow toward Harry.
"So," Harry began awkwardly, sitting down on the pillow with reluctance, somewhat baffled with the strange scene he had stumbled upon, briefly considering the possibility that he was hallucinating, or that Dudley had caught him after all, leaving him in a coma...But then again, maybe it was real – he vaguely recalled a book he read about a girl who fell down a rabbit hole, finding herself in a wild world of backwardness and fantastical absurdity...wait, that was fiction. Nevertheless, he was beginning to make connections… "You're American?"
"French, actually," the man corrected lazily. "Spent more time in 'merica though."
"Uh…and why are you here?"
"Well, I'm broke, so I'm squatting," the man deadpanned.
"Ah, no, I mean, in the country."
"Oh, that. Well, I was looking for you."
Harry's eyes went wide. "F-for me?" he asked in disbelief.
The man nodded solemnly, closing his eyes in thought. However, the thoughtful expression soon faded into a confused grimace. "Say, what's your name, kid?"
Harry's expression flattened. "You were looking for me, but you don't know my name?"
"That's right," the man drawled.
"How were you planning on finding me if you didn't know my name? And how do you know I'm the one you're looking for?" asked Harry dubiously.
"Well, uh…" the man paused and took a drag from the joint he had picked up, "You speak to snakes…and I was lookin' for someone who could speak to snakes."
"Well, there must be other people you can speak…snake."
The man shook his head. "The Tongue of Python, or Parseltongue. It's a family trait. Now that I think about it, there was a British family that had it too…Gyps, or Gaunts, or sumthin'."
"And I'm British."
"Just shut yer pie-hole, will ya? Let me finish. All the British ones are dead, which leaves us French folk."
"Well, you're obviously not as British as you thought."
Harry scowled at him. "I am British."
"Meh, sure they rock and roll great – long live Led Zeppelin," he crossed himself, "But lets face it, the French are better. We got croissants. And escargot."
"And eating snails is so bloody amazing."
"Yes, it is."
Harry's nose wrinkled up in disgust.
"So, name, kid?"
The man sniffed, "Suspicious little bastard. The name's Jean Alliette."
The Jean's eyes widened into disturbingly round balls. "You don't say."
"What, you know who I am now?"
"'Couse, but that has nothin' to do with me. I was looking for you for a reason."
"Well, kid, we're cousins!" Jean grinned widely. "Or something like that."
Harry's jaw dropped in shock. "Wh-wh-what?"
"Yup, must be."
"B-b-but…" A cousin, another one? I nicer one, at that?
"No, buts, the locator spell led me here, and I don't think there's any other snake-speaking brats in the vicinity."
"I…wait, spell?" Harry's slight panic attack came to a sure halt.
Harry blinked. "What?"
"I'm a wizard, so are you, ya know. There's a whole world of us out there, secret, of course." He winked.
Harry frowned, considering the brazen, unreal statement. His first instinct was to deny it, Uncle Vernon's favourite phrase, 'There's no such thing as magic!' coming to mind. But then again, considering his abysmal luck and penchant for freakishness, it was plausible. "Oh."
Jean gaped at him. "Damn, kid, you freak out about being my cousin, but being a wizard and a snake-speaker's okay. Great way to make a guy feel loved."
"Nah, 'sfine." He picked up a tray sitting on the table, shoving it toward Harry. "Cookie?"
Harry cautiously picked up one of the cookies and took a bite. "It tastes…funny…" It tasted sort of like dirt or straw, really. Not that he was complaining, or anything.
"Yeah, well, they got weed in them."
"Weed?" Harry asked incredulously. "Like dandelions?"
Jean chuckled. "Yeah, sure, kid."
Harry frowned, but finished the cookie anyway, reaching for another one. It was odd, he was suddenly feeling a little light headed, the colours in the room brightening and seeming…happier – but it was alright, he decided, grinning inwardly.
"Now," Jean exclaimed, clapping his hands and startling Harry from his cookie-induced daze, "Down to business."
"What business?" Harry asked, his inquiry muffled by a mouthful of cookie.
"Well…hmm…I dunno, just seemed like a good thing to say," Jean said, grinning lazily.
"Sure." Harry turned his attention back to the cookie, pondering how something so odd and queerly textured could make him feel so good. He had not felt so relaxed, carefree in years. If only Aunt Petunia had a cookie recipe like this...
Suddenly, the plate was snatched away from him, and he turned to glare at the thief.
"I think that's quite enough of those," mused Jean, snapping his fingers. Suddenly a sharp, biting sensation shivered through Harry's body, oddly resembling how one feels after biting a lemon, but without the taste.
"W-what was that?" Harry pouted, suddenly feeling much more...sober.
"Huh, well, you see...never mind."
Harry blinked at him expectantly.
"So…what to say to bratty estranged cousin…"
"Huh…you live around here kid?"
"My Aunt and Uncle."
"People who can't do cool shit like us."
Harry stared at him blankly.
"Must be boring."
Harry thought briefly of all the time he spent doing chores, "I guess." Chores: garden work, sweeping, cooking...cooking. Suddenly, he was reminded of how furious Uncle Vernon would be if he wasn't home to make supper, and yelped as he leapt to his feet. "I have to go!"
"Woah, woah, take it easy, little guy."
Harry scowled at the nick name.
"Before you take off, I thought I'd give you something."
"Like…a present?" Harry asked, shocked and slightly gleeful at the prospect of getting a gift from his newfound cousin.
Jean's eyes drifted off as he considered this. "Sort of."
"What is it?"
He pulled out what appeared to be an old, ornate deck of cards from his pocket. "I'm gonna give you some wisdom, kid."
Harry sat back down hesitantly, looking at the deck of cards that Jean was holding out for him. Slowly, he took the deck, relishing the electric rush that ran through his finger tips and up his arms when he touched them. It was like fire, and cold water, and a fresh breeze – like he could feel the blood pumping through his veins, like it called out to the antique stack of cards in his hands, ingraining the reminiscent, familiar feeling into his skin.
"Huh, they've taken to you already. Cut the deck," Jean instructed, sharply jerking Harry from his astonishment.
Harry did so, and handed the deck back to Jean, who was humming along with the record player. Haphazardly, Jean shuffled the deck, his hands running over the card in smooth, reflexive motions as he started to sing, or rather, mumble as he did so,
"Been dazed and confused, for so long it's not true…"
His skilled movements halted suddenly, and he gingerly drew seven cards, placing them face down in a neat half circle on the table.
Harry stared at the arrangement of cards, feeling a strange familiarity as he observed the patterns on the backs of the cards and the way they rested on the table. "What now?"
Jean grinned as he overturned the first card, revealing the image of two wolves standing at the edge of a pond with a crayfish in it, between two distant towers, howling at a bright orb in the sky. "The moon," Jean intoned with a raised eyebrow, "That's your past, Harry – full of illusions, fear, doubt, and lies. Don't sound like much fun."
Harry's eyes bugged out as he listened to Jean, the man's gravelly, slightly slurring voice transforming into a low, dreamy tenor.
He overturned the card just below it, revealing the image of a bright sun, with an infant riding a white horse. "Your present, the sun, enlightenment," Jean suddenly grinned, "That would be my doing."
Harry looked at him oddly, but remained silent.
Jean overturned another card, revealing the image of a man holding a chalice and a wand. "What will influence you, the magician! What a surprise. Hidden talents, cleverness, and creativity, Harry, they'll take you far." He overturned another card, revealing a beastly monster, holding the chains that bound a naked man and woman. "Ooh…the Devil. You will have to overcome temptation…you'll be tempted, tempted to run away, to lose hope, to use your talents for things you shouldn't, nasty stuff like that."
"You know," Harry interrupted, "It's very hard to take you seriously when you talk like that. It doesn't sound very wise at all."
Jean rolled his eyes, and overturned another card, revealing a tall, skeletal figure. "Death. Your expectations…you expect change, rebirth, the death of what you know now." He overturned another card, showing an elderly man holding a lantern in the dark. "The hermit. It would be wise to sit and wait, kid, learn all you can, and prepare for what's coming. Enjoy the silence while it lasts" Ghosting his hand over the last card, he flipped it over. "The wheel of fortune." At this, he outright laughed, a rich, melodious, and honest sound, and yet, at the same time, sad. "Yep, you've got great things ahead of you, Harry." He gathered all the cards back into the deck, and stood, Harry following.
"What was that?"
Jean winked. "Divination. Cartomancy, actually. You see Harry, all wizards can use divination, but very few are actually good at it. It's in the blood, you see. And one of our ancestors, well, let's just say that she was an oracle that broke her vows, and did the dirty."
"Meh, look it up later."
"Sorry, look what up?" Harry asked faintly, his mind reeling.
"Uh…Pythia. Look up the Pythia. Family history's important, after all."
"Oh, and here!" Jean handed the deck of cards to Harry, who took them, but frowned questioningly.
Jean shrugged. "They seem to like you. Keep 'em. Someone's gotta carry on the family legacy." He retrieved another, larger deck from his pocket, handing them also to Harry. "This one's the Minor Arcana, that one's the Major Arcana. They're tarot, cards, Harry, old, special ones, been used by our family for centuries, very in tune with our magic. There are lots of ways to perform divination, but cards are my favorite. I have a feeling you'll like it too. It's like poker, but ya win wisdom instead of money. The only thing is, wisdom won't buy you booze…not usually, anyway. Cuz there was that one time in New Orleans that I...uh, never mind, it'd be too hard to censor that one. Anyway, the cards are yours."
"And…you're just giving them to me?"
"Yup. They got to go to someone. They'll serve you well. But listen, Harry, the bigger deck, the Minor deck, they're for everyday use, for little things, like joints."
Harry frowned at the comparison, but refrained from commenting.
"But the Major Arcana, they're a big deal, like meth – only use 'em when you need 'em."
"But…you just used them now."
"Ah, but Harry, now, this is a momentous occasion. Our meeting! Big stuff! Stuff of legends, this."
Harry giggled quietly, smiling fondly at his…older cousin.
"Ha! So you can smile." He ruffled Harry's tumultuous mop of raven hair. "You're a good kid." He smiled. "Well time you got home, I s'pose."
Harry nodded, but blinked when he suddenly found himself alone, standing in front of Number 4 Privet Drive, the cuts on his hands and knees vanished, and the only proof of his surreal meeting with Jean Alliette being the two decks of cards in his hands.
The next day, right after school, Harry rushed to the old abandoned building that he had met Jean in the previous day. This time, he took care to break all the glass in the window so that he could climb through with ease, crawling out of the cupboard and into the greyish, concrete room. He found it empty. The table was free of any dubious substances, and Jean's ratty pillows were nowhere to be found. The only visage of the man's presence was found in the faint aromatic smell wafting through the stagnant air, and the record player in the corner, a record still spinning as a crooning voice sang quietly,
"There's a lady who's sure, all that glitters is gold
And she's buying the stairway to heaven.
When she gets there she knows, if the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for.
Ooh, ooh, and she's buying the stairway to heaven.
"There's a sign on the wall, but she wants to be sure
'Cause you know, sometimes words have two meanings.
In a tree by the brook, there's a songbird who sings,
Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiven.
Ooh, it makes me wonder,
Ooh, it makes me wonder…"
Harry hummed the curious, enchanting song as he plodded home, determined not to let tears of disappointment and vague loneliness stream down his face. He bit his lip as he stumbled through the white, prim door of Number 4 Privet Drive, barely bracing himself for the bellowed greeting:
He cringed as he followed the voice into the kitchen, timidly ducking his head, looking away from his uncle's rapidly purpling pudgy face. "Yes, Uncle Vernon."
"What. Is. This." The man spat.
Harry's head reluctantly rose, his gaze following Vernon's trembling hand, eyes widening in horror when they landed on two familiar decks of cards sitting on the table.
"What is the meaning of this? Bringing these…these freaky devil cards into my house!"
"Please…please…Uncle Vernon…I just found them and…"
"Stop your snivelling, you miserable, ungrateful boy!" He snatched up the cards, waddling into the living room and stopping in front of the hearth.
Harry froze, not even able to protest as Vernon flung the cards in the fire, grinning wickedly as they lit up, rapidly disintegrating into ash.
"There will be no freakishness in this house, boy, you'd do well to remember that!"
Harry nodded blankly, his face set and determined not to show his uncle his tears. He would cry himself to sleep that night.
"WAKE UP, BOY!"
Harry rubbed his eyes furiously as they blinked open, wiping away any stray tears left from the night before. Sniffling, he reached for his glasses, waiting for his eyes to adjust as he slipped them on.
Stretching as he stood from his bed, he suddenly froze, as nausea suddenly overwhelmed him. His body tensed, and he started coughing, gagging violently at the stinging sensation in his throat, which steadily intensified as he tried desperately to remain quite, lest he be heard. A moment later, he started to retch – but nothing came out…at first. One card, two cards, and then finally a myriad of paper cards spilled out of his mouth, fluttering down onto his bed like leaves in the fall. Giving one last cough, Harry collapsed to his knees, sweating and shaking, teeth chattering, as he slowly, fearfully lifted his eyes to his bed, and letting out a shocked laugh when he saw, splayed over his sheets, the seventy-eight cards of the Major and Minor Arcana.
A gleeful grin formed on Harry's face. The cards did like him.
Your thoughts and comments are appreciated :)