|SIYE Time:17:30 on 23rd June 2018|
Category: Pre-OotP, Alternate Universe
Characters:Albus Dumbledore, All, Draco Malfoy, Harry/Ginny, Hermione Granger, Minerva McGonagall, Neville Longbottom, Nymphadora Tonks, Other, Remus Lupin, Ron Weasley, Severus Snape, Sirius Black
Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, General, Humor, Romance
Warnings: Dark Fiction, Mild Language, Mild Sexual Situations, Violence/Physical Abuse
Summary: Harry had never friends, so he imagined one: a red haired girl he kept forgetting to name. Ginny imagined a shy boy with untidy hair and bright eyes, who knew nothing of magic, so she told him. He dreamt of a world of magic and of a girl who wanted to be his friend. She dreamt of a boy who loved to hear her voice, no matter what. Then dreams become a reality when Harry met Ginny.
Rating changed for later chapters.
*Nominated for 2014 November/December DSTA for Best New Story and Best Romance* *Nominated for 2016 January/Feburary DSTA for Best Comedy, Drama, and Romance*
Hitcount: Story Total: 109974; Chapter Total: 4167
Awards: View Trophy Room
Tw o: Strange Things
The taxi pulled up outside Kings Cross train station shortly before midnight. Aunt Petunia took them in, put their bags on a trolley, and stopped at a ticket booth. She conversed with the man on duty for a while, and then purchased three tickets to Ottery St. Catchpole, a small town, she said, in Devon. She did not explain her reason for choosing this destination. Harry shouldered his and Dudley's rucksacks, while Aunt Petunia gave Dudley the task of dragging her suitcase. She draped the strap to the small hanging bag from her shoulders with her purse, grunting as she did so.
"Our train leaves at 5:30," she said in a tired voice. "We'll stay in an inn tonight." She led them out of King's Cross. Standing on the curb outside, Harry felt very awake, even exhilarated. The rush of the cars speeding past, the chatter from the many pubs and taverns, even the neon signs and street lamps lighting the road, all gave him so much to look at.
"Take my hand," Aunt Petunia said. Dudley took it eagerly, looking around in fear. Harry kept his hands to himself, assuming his aunt meant Dudley.
"Harry, I said take my hand," his aunt snapped. Harry blinked, stunned.
"Because I said so!" she said, grabbing his hand. "Come on. And don't let go." Aunt Petunia pulled them down the streets, her grip on their hands tight. Harry glanced at Dudley, who looked just as confused as Harry felt. His aunt never showed any positive feelings for him, let alone care. And twice that day, she'd shown protectiveness of him.
Guess there's a first time for everything.
Hey, why are you still awake? His friend said in a groggy voice.
We have to find an inn first.
Quickly, Harry explained to her what had happened, from the funny phone calls to his aunt's sudden need to protect him. He left out the bit about his mother, and the strange shield thing he'd conjured.
Wow, She said. Just, wow. And you're headed for Ottery St. Catchpole? Her voice sounded excited, but also confused. In his mind's eye, he imagined her standing in front of a mirror, frowning at her reflection.
Yeah. I think the person my aunt was talking to after dinner lives there. Either that or they're meeting us there.
I hope it's the former.
Because I live in Ottery St. Catchpole!
What? You're kidding!
No! Well, not really in the town, near it, but in the area. Maybe… She trailed off, and he imagined her frowning harder. Outside his mind, his aunt stopped at the edge of the curb, waiting to cross the street. Ahead, Harry could see a sign advertising Bailey's Inn & Tavern. He guessed that was where his aunt was taking them.
Nothing, it doesn't matter.
Yes it does. Harry focused on her voice, and strained to read her mind. He saw a thought floating in her mind.
Maybe I could visit you? He said. In the real world, Aunt Petunia led them across the street, she paused, and let go of his hand. Startled, Harry glanced at her. Then she put her arm around his shoulders, and pulled him close. She did the same to Dudley, whispering to him to stay close to her. Harry glanced around, and saw why. Ahead of them, a group of raucous men and women stood outside a pub, laughing and drinking from mugs of beer. They quickly noticed Harry, and his aunt and cousin, and shouted to them. A few of the women threw back their heads' and laughed, but one or two of the group hushed them. One girl in particular, holding a tray and wearing an apron, yelled "SHUT IT!" The group fell silent, except for a few whispers, and giggles. The woman, Harry assumed she was the waitress, stepped toward them.
"Can I help you?" she said. Harry noticed that she had bright orange hair, pulled into two loose braids. The strands of hair escaping from her braids were frizzy, and Harry guessed that if she hadn't contained the rest of her hair, it'd look like she had a habit of sticking her fingers in electrical outlets.
"No, thank you," Aunt Petunia said, her voice clipped. She tightened her grip on Harry and Dudley. The waitress glanced at Dudley, and then her eyes fell on Harry. She glanced up at his forehead, and a look of surprise, almost awe crossed her face.
"These two yours?"
"I don't believe that is any of your business," Aunt Petunia snapped. The waitress held up a hand.
"I don't wanna be nosy, miss, but you might wanna head back the way you came with those two. Bit young for this neighborhood."
"I realize that."
The waitress' eyes narrowed. "Where's your husband?"
"Again, not your business."
"You headed for Bailey's?"
"As a matter of fact, we are."
"Best cross the street. Aim for Mrs. Honeycomb's B and B. She's a hell of a lot simpler, and what with the kids, Bailey's might not be the best."
"We'll only be staying the night."
"Bailey's get a lot of people like you, and a lot of them regret goin' there."
"The place is over-rated. The cheapest room is practically a closet."
"Had lots of experience with those," Harry muttered. The waitress glanced at him, then back at Aunt Petunia.
"Not only that but it sees a lot of one nighters, if you know what I mean. And the walls are pretty thin. With a bit of rotten luck, you'll end up right next to one. You really want those two to overhear that?"
Aunt Petunia stiffened. Then she glanced across the street. Harry did too, following her gaze to a quaint looking three story building. The sign said Honeycomb Bed & Breakfast.
"What's the charge for one night at the B and B?"
"Pretty cheap, considering the quality. I live there meself. Mrs. Honeycomb is sweet as can be, and she doesn't allow one nighters of that kind if she can help it."
"Mum, what's a one niter?"
"Never mind that, pumpkin," she said quickly. Harry opened his mouth, but Aunt Petunia shushed him.
"Thank you, miss," Aunt Petunia said. "We're very grateful."
"No problem," she said. Her eyes fell on Harry.
"How old are they?"
"How old are they?" the waitress repeated. Behind her, one of the men shouted for another pint. She waved him off, her eyes returning to Aunt Petunia.
"Eleven, and ten," Aunt Petunia said.
"Which one's older?"
"Me," Dudley said. He grinned.
"Oh, yeah?" the waitress smiled at him. "You hungry?"
"Yes," Harry said.
"Wait here a minute, then." The waitress said, and then, smiling kindly at Harry, she hurried into the pub. Aunt Petunia hesitated, squeezing Harry's shoulder.
A minute later, the waitress returned, pushing through the crowd. She wasn't wearing her apron anymore, and was holding a plastic bag in one hand.
"I'll take you over to Mrs. Honeycomb's," she said. Aunt Petunia opened her mouth, but the lady shook her head.
"It's no trouble and my shift's over, anyway," she said, "follow me."
She crossed the street. Harry followed her, and Aunt Petunia followed him. On the other side, the lady led the way to the quaint Bed and Breakfast.
"By the way, I'm Anna," she said as she opened the door to the inn.
"I'm Harry," Harry said. "This is Aunt Petunia, and Dudley."
"It's very nice to meet you," she said, smiling again. Her eyes rested on Harry again. Then she ushered them into the inn.
The parlor before them was very cozy, and warm. Chintz armchairs and matching little couches sat in front of a heart. A crackling fire burned in the grate, and a round rug lined the ground. A desk and a straight backed chair sat on Harry's left. Ahead, a hallway led to the back, and a staircase led to the upper floors Anna smiled at the room.
"Best inn in London," she said. "Have a seat, I'll fetch Mrs. Honeycomb." She dropped the bag on the desk, and headed up the stairs. Dudley slipped out from under Aunt Petunia's arm let the suitcase fall to the ground, and flopped onto a couch. Harry followed his cousin, flinging the two heavy rucksacks by the suitcase, and dropped into an armchair. The cushions were soft, and warm from the fire. He felt tired instantly, and curled up in the chair, ready to fall asleep right then and there. Then, he suddenly felt a warm breeze on the back of his neck. He glanced around, feeling a sense of familiarity, like he'd been there before.
You gonna answer me?
Oh. Answer what?
Are you going to visit me?
Harry felt his insides twist, and knot together. Visit her? How?
"Welcome!" Harry sat up, and glanced over to the staircase. A plump woman with graying brown hair and dressed in a faded flowery dressing gown stepped forward, smiling broadly at them. Anna stood right behind her, smiling satisfactorily. The plump woman's eyes landed on him, and then traveled upward, onto his forehead. Harry fidgeted uncomfortably under her gaze, and reached a hand up to push his fringe over his scar.
"Ooh, you poor dears," the old lady simpered, stepping forward and grabbing Harry's hand. “You're cold as ice. Come, come, you two," she gestured for Harry and Dudley to get up; “you ought to be sound asleep."
"Uh, Mrs. Honeycomb?"
"We'd like to stay here tonight; do you have a room for us?"
"Oh, of course," Mrs. Honeycomb said. "Just write your name on the slip of paper there, dear, and I'll show you to your room."
"Shouldn't I pay first?"
"Oh, my guest's always pay in the morning, dear," Mrs. Honeycomb said. She crossed to the desk and handed Aunt Petunia a pen. "Cash or check, though dear, when you do pay."
"Well, we'll be leaving early tomorrow, so would you mind if I paid now?"
"Oh, you go right ahead, love."
Aunt Petunia nodded, and pulled her checkbook out of her purse. "How much?"
"Depends, do you want separate rooms?"
"Ah, well, maybe, how much is one room?"
Aunt Petunia raised her eyebrows, but said nothing. "Two rooms then," she said, turning back to her checkbook. She signed it quickly, and handed it to Mrs. Honeycomb. Mrs. Honeycomb smiled, said thank you, and then tucked the check into her pocket. She pulled a ring of keys from a drawer in the desk, and crossed to the staircase. Harry followed her, grabbing his and Dudley's bags as he went, with Dudley and Aunt Petunia following him with the rest of the luggage. Anna trailed behind them, holding her plastic bag.
Mrs. Honeycomb stopped at the second floor, and turned down a hallway. Harry looked around, surprised. He expected to see electric lights lining the walls but instead, he saw old fashioned gas lamps, hanging from hooks in the walls. He even saw lanterns with candles. There were no electric outlets in the walls, either. It looked like what Harry expected a 19th century inn to look like. Except he could still hear the rush of cars and the shouting of drunks through an open window.
Mrs. Honeycomb stopped halfway down the hall, and riffled through her ring of keys. Harry strained his neck, looking at the keys. They were the old fashioned type, big and rusty brass. What were they called? Bone keys?
Skeleton keys… her voice came to him soft, and full of surprise.
What are skeleton keys, again?
Those, nitwit; I use skeleton keys in my house, and so do most Wizarding families, if they don't use magic.
Right. Why doesn’t she use regular keys?
Honeycomb Bed and Breakfast… She said, ignoring his question. I think I've stayed there once. Yeah, I have. Mum took me to London for my ninth birthday, and we stayed in Honeycomb Bed and Breakfast, because the Leaky Cauldron was all filled up.
All right, so four creepy things have happened today; what's next?
"Here you are, dears," Mrs. Honeycomb said, unlocking the door. She stepped inside, and light poured from the room. "I assume the boys will stay here?"
Aunt Petunia glanced into the room. Harry did too; and again was surprised at the lack of electric items. There were two gas lamps, one sitting on a table between two twin beds, and one on a dresser. Also on the dresser, sat a ceramic bowl, patterned with faded blue flowers, and matching pitcher. The floor was hardwood, like the floors in the rest of the inn. Aunt Petunia dropped her hanging bag on the floor by one of the beds.
"Dudley and I will stay here," she said. "Harry can stay in the other room."
Mrs. Honeycomb frowned, but didn't say anything. Harry disentangled Dudley's bag from his, and dropped it on the floor.
"Well, here's the key," Mrs. Honeycomb said. "Bathroom's three doors down on the left, I'm upstairs, and Anna's right next door. Yell if you need me." Mrs. Honeycomb shut the door, and shook her head.
"It's a crying shame she's leaving you all by your lonesome, Mr. Potter," Mrs. Honeycomb said, turning to the other wall. Harry froze, stunned, while Mrs. Honeycomb fumbled with her keys.
"You think you'll be all right by yourself, Harry?" Anna asked. Her eyes were wide, and full of something… concern? Harry was further shocked.
"There you go, Mr. Potter," Mrs. Honeycomb said, unlocking the door. Then, she pulled something from her dressing gown pocket, a long thin stick. She brandished it at the room, and the lights came on. Harry's jaw fell open.
"How- how…" he stammered.
"It's a simple charm, Mr. Potter. You'll probably learn it at Hogwarts this year."
"Oh, next term, I'm sure," Anna said, "they learn mostly theory first term."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, my cousin Molly's children are students there, and none of them learned household charms until the second term of their first year."
Harry shut his mouth, feeling rather stupid.
"Er, excuse me?"
"What- er, how- first, how do you know my name?"
"Well, everyone knows your name, Mr. Potter. You're the Boy Who Lived," Mrs. Honeycomb said.
"I'm- I'm what?"
"Oh, my!" Anna clapped her hands to her mouth. Slowly, she lowered them. "I don't think he knows!"
"Dear, how did you get that cut on your forehead?" Mrs. Honeycomb asked.
"In the car crash, when my parents died."
"You're name is Harry Potter, right?" Anna said, holding the plastic bag closer to her chest.
"And what were your parents' names?"
"James and Lily," Harry said, glancing between the elderly inn keeper and the waitress.
"It's definitely him," Mrs. Honeycomb said.
"Then why-" Anna stopped mid sentence. In creepy unison, Mrs. Honeycomb and Anna both turned towards the door to Aunt Petunia and Dudley's room.
"That's why," they said.
"You haven't got your Hogwarts letter, then?" Anna asked.
"My- my what?"
"She's hidden it from him, I bet," Anna said.
"Or she doesn't know."
"Yeah, her. Is she really your aunt?"
"Yes," Harry was thoroughly confused now. What were they talking about?
"On your father's side?"
"No, my mother's side."
"She'll have to know then. Obviously, she hid it from him," Mrs. Honeycomb said.
"Hid what from me?"
"Well, maybe she didn't tell him for a reason," Anna suggested.
"Maybe. A thing like that could really mess with a child."
"A thing like what?" Harry asked.
"Should we tell him, Mrs. H?"
"I don't think so, Anna," Mrs. Honeycomb said. "We'll leave it be."
With that, Mrs. Honeycomb handed Harry the key to his room, and walked away.
"Oh, dear," Anna rubbed the back of her neck. "Well, it's a school."
"Oh. I've never heard of it."
"It's a private school. In Scotland, I think."
"Why would I have a letter from them?"
"Well, er, it's complicated, Harry. Best put it out of your mind." Anna looked down at the bag in her hands. "Oh, I almost forgot!" She handed him the bag. "Homemade pumpkin pasties and cauldron cakes, some sugar quills, and a box of Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans. Be careful with the beans, some of them are right nasty." Anna then turned on her heel, unlocked the door next to Aunt Petunia's, and stepped inside, shutting the door.
Harry looked down at the bag in his hands, then at Anna's door. Shaking his head, Harry entered his room, and shut his door. The room was smaller than the one his aunt and cousin occupied, but just as cozy. There was a bed bearing a patchwork quilt, a night stand with a gas lamp, a dresser with two bowls and pitcher and another lamp, this time burning a candle, a full length mirror by the dresser, and a hearth.
Harry stepped towards the hearth. Like the one downstairs, it was lit. The fire set the walls dancing in its glow. On the mantel, two pretty glass jars sat. One of potpourri, the other one full of a grayish green powder that he couldn't recognize. A miniature grandfather clock sat between the two jars. The hands read 1:24. Harry turned to the bed. The thing was honestly enormous. Bigger than his aunt and uncle's bed, back in Little Whinging. He assumed this one to be a king size bed, because his aunt's was a queen. Harry dropped his rucksack and the plastic bag onto it, and ran a hand over the quilt. It was soft in some places, rough in others. He liked it.
Harry pulled back the covers, and felt the sheets. They were soft, and fuzzy. Flannel. Harry grinned. Tonight might just be the best night of his life.
Eager to get to sleep, Harry pulled his pajamas from his bag, and pulled off his shirt. Harry rubbed his hands over his bare arms. They were filthy from all his work. He raised an arm, and sniffed. He wrinkled his nose in disgust. He dropped his shirt on the floor, and glanced around. His eyes fell on the bowl and pitcher. A rag and a bar of soap sat there. Stepping forward, Harry peered into the bowls. One was full of clean, clear water. The other was empty. Harry picked up the rag, and dipped it into the water. Surprisingly, it was warm. Harry shrugged, and dropped the soap into the bowl. Quickly, he washed his upper body, and once he was finished there, he rid himself of the rest of his dirty clothes, and washed the rest of him. His feet stank, but were mostly clean.
Along the way, Harry figured out that the second bowl was for dirty water. He squeezed out the rag over it, and then dipped it back in the clean water. Eventually, he was clean, and he dressed himself in clean underwear and his pajamas. Just then, the clock chimed out 2 o'clock. Harry felt very tired by this time, and he slipped into the bed. The blankets were warm, and the mattress was soft. His head hit the pillows, and he closed his eyes.
What? Harry said sleepily.
We need to talk about this. Right?
No. And honestly, I just want to fall asleep.
Hey! Listen to me!
Harry felt very annoyed at her insistence, but rubbed his eyes and focused.
So… what are we talking about?
You are an absolute idiot.
Okay, Harry yawned.
We're talking about what's happening!
I- I don't know.
So why are you keeping me awake?
You're not hearing me! Something mad is going on.
Yeah, Aunt Petunia carted me and Dudley of to London in the middle of the night, Harry grumbled.
And she's taking you to my hometown.
Can we deal with this in the morning? Please?
You'll have to visit me.
I have no clue.
Harry ignored her. She kept on babbling about Ottery St. Catchpole and him visiting her, but Harry had already fallen asleep.
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