The rickety cart continued on down deep into the cavernous bowels of Gringotts until it came to a screeching halt in front of vault 713. Climbing nimbly out of the cart Crackrock approached the vault door with Hagrid only to rudely tell the man to step back.
"Stand back" the goblin commanded importantly as it ran one long, razor sharp nail down an almost invisible crack "if anyone but a Gringotts Goblin attempted this they'd get sucked in and trapped."
Harry and Blaise exchanged looks.
"How often do you check to see if anyone's in there" Harry's insatiable curiosity surfaced.
The Goblin gave a nasty smile "every ten years or so."
The answer pleased the slightly sadistic part of Harry's nature and he figured that if you were stupid enough to get caught in such a situation then you could take the consequences. But then Harry had also been raised with a strange sense of morals; they were twisted and only made sense to the other people in the world who shared a similar set of thoughts and upbringing, but they were morals nonetheless.
"Hope they thought to bring something to read with them" Manuel commented dryly as Hagrid returned to the cart, tucking a slightly grubby package into one of the many pockets in his furry jacket "they'll go crazy with boredom otherwise."
Briefly Harry wondered what the grubby package contained to warrant such an obviously important vault but he had too many other important things on his mind, such as exploring Diagon Alley and getting his school supplies.
Back in the main section of the Gringotts building Manuel, Harry, Trevor, and Blaise parted ways from Crackrock and Hagrid. Hagrid was muttering something quite loudly about a pick-me-up at the Leaky Cauldron and still hadn't truly seemed to notice his cart companions, not that they minded. After changing pounds for galleons the group headed to Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions where Harry and Blaise were fitted for their school uniforms. Manuel took over here having grown up being impressed upon how appearance was everything and had ordered their purchases to be of fine cut and cloth, or at least the finest permitted for Hogwarts uniforms. They also ordered a few robes and cloaks made from obviously expensive material for any important excursions into the wizarding world as well as everyday wear.
There was one brief encounter in the robe shop when a snobbish blonde took interest in the quality of their clothes and attempted to approach them in order to introduce himself, but a glare from the ever wary Manuel set him scurrying back to his measuring platform in a hurry. After that it was a whirlwind of shops such as Flourish & Blots where they bought their required course books for first year along with Hogwarts, A History; The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts; and some other books Trevor picked up, including many of the second level books and beyond. Blaise and Harry groaned at that, they wanted to be prepared when they entered the wizarding world but didn't want to do as much studying as it seemed they were going to be doing that summer to get to a level Trevor considered prepared.
After Flourish & Blots they picked up their telescopes, dragon-hide gloves, cauldrons, and phials as well as a set of scales in the various different shops. Then it was to Ollivander's for their wands, something Blaise and Harry had been waiting for excitedly. In the window lay a single gleaming wand on a faded cushion. The shop itself was a dark, gloomy, enclosed place that made the group slightly fidgety. No one was in sight but suddenly the quartet turned sharply towards a shadowy alcove that few ever noticed in time to see a creepy old man step forward on silent feet.
"It's been a long time Mr. Zabini" Ollivander said "Oak and dragon heartstring, 12 inches, a stern wand."
Ollivander motioned Blaise forward "which is your wand arm?"
Harry watched from his father's side, practically obscured by shadows, as Mr. Ollivander started the tape measure before abandoning it and searching through the stacks of long, thin boxes piled around the room while the tape measure kept measuring.
Finally Ollivander came back bearing an armload of boxes that he opened and handed the wand inside to Blaise for her to wave. No sooner had Blaise touched some wands then they were snatched back while others she waved only for something to explode. Finally Blaise hit upon the magic combination of willow and dragon heartstring, 11 Â½ inches.
"Excellent" Ollivander exclaimed "a perfect mix of both your parents' wands. Your mother's wand was made of willow, your father's core was dragon heartstring, and the length of your wand falls between their lengths."
As Mr. Ollivander went on for a few more minutes about the rare occurrence with Blaise's wand being the perfect combination of her parent's wands, which were exact opposites and therefore a highly incompatible and unusual mix, the measuring tape was dancing around Harry and measuring him at the oddest places. The tape had just finished measuring his hair and scar and had moved on to measure his teeth when he had opened his mouth to say something when Ollivander suddenly snapped and it stopped. Ollivander's attention was completely and fully on Harry, excluding everyone else in the room.
"Ah yes, Mr. Potter. I was wondering when I would be seeing you. You have your mother's eyes."
Ollivander's eyes flicked to the proudly exposed scar and his finger hovered in the air almost as if he yearned to touch the cursed mark "And that's where...yes...I am sorry to say that I sold the wand that did it."
Harry had tensed during the exchange but relaxed when Ollivander turned back to business and began to hand Harry wands that he snatched back even quicker than he had for Blaise as if knowing it wouldn't be that easy for Harry to find a compatible wand.
Wand after wand passed through Harry's hands as Ollivander made his way deeper and deeper into the back recesses of his shop. Finally Ollivander seemed to come to some conclusion and made his way back to the front of his shop and carefully picked the cushion up with the wand on it and held it out to Harry. Harry took the wand with caution, something in Ollivander's blank face affecting his actions, and brought the wand down in a smooth wave. A silent wind filled the dusty shop as silver and gold lights filled the air.
"Curious" Ollivander muttered and Harry had to wonder if the old man was alright, his face had taken on a foreign hue as if two rare occurrences in one day were just too much.
"What is curious" Manuel spoke for the first time since they had entered the shop.
Ollivander looked up, his ancient eyes boring into Harry's even as he answered Manuel's question.
"That wand has laid in that window ever since my father made it over a century ago, the last wand he ever made. A very curious combination it is too. 12 Â½ inches my father used Rowan wood, which is almost never used in wand making due to the high magical temperament of the wood, and a phoenix tail feather. The Phoenix which donated the feather in young Mr. Potter's wand gave only one other feather which wasn't made into a wand until years later by my hands, a wand that left this shop to give you that scar. You own a rare and temperamental wand young Mr. Potter, very powerful, all others who have tried to claim or use that wand have been injured in the process."
Ollivander's words hung thick in the dusty air, making everyone stir uncomfortably.
Quickly paying for the wands Manuel and Trevor ushered Blaise and Harry out of the dusty shop and back into the bustling, light filled main street of Diagon Alley. As Harry passed through the door he saw Ollivander sit on a spindly chair near the now empty cushion as if exhausted.
"What can we expect from you Mr. Potter" Ollivander's dry voice barely made it to Harry's ears, but it made the boy wonder.
What could people expect from him? What would he be capable of? Could he live up to the expectations it seemed the wizarding world already held for him? Harry had already seen the curious and sometimes adulating looks sent his way and knew that if not for his father and Trevor's commanding presence they would be all over him, mobbing him. Harry wasn't sure if he was ready for this, he was used to the shadows, not the attention and fame.
Their next stop was the Apothecary where they were assaulted by a strange and disgusting mix of odors, the pleasant ones having been overpowered by repulsive things Harry had of yet no name for. Leaving their fathers to pick up their potions kits and any other ingredients Trevor thought they needed Harry and Blaise began to explore. They saw various animal parts and withered looking plants as well as slimy creatures floating in some sort of viscous liquid. They were staring at one jar that looked as if it held the embryo of a disfigured child when Trevor and Manuel said there were ready to leave.
"I've gotten you both potions kits for first and second year as well as some filler vials so you can begin brewing this summer. Potion brewing can be a difficult and dangerous subject where things can easily go wrong if you aren't prepared and..."
Trevor trailed off as a tall, darkly robed man brushed past them and headed for the door of the Apothecary.
"Severus Snape" Trevor called out to the man who turned with a scowl on his face.
"Zabini" Severus nodded coolly, recognizing his old classmate even after so many years "I do not have time for idle chat right now, I have to prepare for the upcoming school year."
Trevor nodded "are you teaching potions at Hogwarts then? My daughter Blaise is starting classes this year as well as Harry."
Severus glanced over at Harry, taking in the scar. So this was Potter and the man behind him must be the uncle the brat was shipped off to live with. From what Severus had heard Potter had been the perfect image of his father when little but with his mother's eyes. The Potter in front of him did indeed have Lily's eyes though they were more guarded than Lily's expressive eyes had ever been; but he didn't look like James had, didn't have that pompous air about him. Harry's longish hair was pulled back neatly and secured at his neck with a leather thong and the boy possessed and air of alertness, of seriousness that James had never had.
Severus scowled and turned away, sweeping into the Apothecary without a further word; the boy would probably still be a damned Gryffindor. Trevor shrugged in dismissal and continued on with Harry, Blaise, and Manuel. He knew Severus' feelings towards James Potter and knew the Potions Master would try and see Harry as an extension of the father the boy had never known.
"You'll have to study well in Potions over this summer" Trevor said "Severus won't go easy on you and will find fault with everything you do even as he tries to trip you up, he was a perfectionist when taking potions class at Hogwarts. We won't give him a chance to fault you."
'Especially you Harry' Trevor thought 'Severus will most likely try and take out his hatred of James on you. Severus was never one to let go of a grudge lightly.'
In Harry and Blaise's mind their last stop in Diagon Alley was one of the best, The Magical Menagerie. There were all kinds of birds, cats, mice and rats, snakes, toads, and creatures Harry and Blaise didn't have names for. Blaise found herself drawn to some sort of fur-ball creature that hopped around letting out chirps, squeaks, and purrs while Harry followed a voice he heard back to the snakes. A two foot silver and gold snake was the one that had been speaking.
~You look like an interesssting human~ the snake hissed startling Harry.
~Thanksss~ Harry said back, surprised when his voice came out as a hiss.
~You ssspeak~ The snake was shocked but before Harry could reply Trevor was dragging him over to where Manuel stood with Blaise, thankfully not having heard Harry speak in parseltongue.
"Now" Trevor said once they were all together "your letters said an owl, a cat, or a toad so that is what we are here for. Not puffskeins or deadly, poisonous snakes. Blaise, I already have an owl so you don't have to get one though Harry should so that we can always make sure there is a way of communication open between us."
In the end Blaise got a black keazle crossbreed she promptly called Nisha while Harry picked out a fierce black and gold raptor owl he named Ciara. After the long day of shopping the group went to the Leaky Cauldron for a bite of dinner before heading home, knowing that the cooks wouldn't be expecting them for the evening meal even though there was always more than enough food. They all ordered the shepherd's pies with pudding as it was the specialty for the evening. Harry, Manuel, and Blaise also got their first tastes of pumpkin juice and Butterbeer before they had to head back to the muggle world and bring an end to the exciting and magical day.
Albus Dumbledore sighed and took a deep sip of his fire-whiskey, he had spent all night at Number 4 Privet Drive and a nearby hospice trying to figure out what was going on and the things that he had discovered had served only to make the burden on his aging shoulders heavier. Two nights before there had been a disturbance with the wards surrounding the house at Privet Drive where Harry Potter lived with his aunt and uncle, the wards had actually seemed to strengthen like they had never done before and for a moment he had feared Harry was in danger but then everything had suddenly stabilized and been fine. Running a quick magical test Albus had found Harry to be at the house, safe and well, no sign of excess magical signatures anywhere in the vicinity so he had foolishly ignored the alarm.
Then last night the wards had suddenly crashed sending Dumbledore into a panic, this couldn't be happening so close to September first, so close to Harry's arrival at the safety of Hogwarts. Something was wrong with Harry, their hope and savior; Lily and James' son. Albus couldn't remember the last time he had run so fast to the apparition point but suspected that it had been that night almost ten years ago on Halloween night. Albus had smartly apparated a few streets away and ran to the Dursley residence to find the house and surrounding property cordoned off with bright yellow tape with muggle authorities pacing around it in agitation. It was the night shift guarding the house and from what Albus could overhear the crime had occurred the night before at around the same time there had been a disturbance in the wards. From what Albus could tell from extending his senses to the linger magic in the air the wards had vainly tried to maintain themselves after the disturbance had occurred but without a sane blood relative in residence the wards had finally collapsed this evening.
Casting numerous invisibility and silencing charms on himself as well as muggle repelling charms Albus had snuck closer to the house and slipped inside. What he saw caused a shiver of fear to run down his spine. Along one of the walls near the steps there were vivid red stains spattered across the paint as well as what appeared to be tiny pieces of shredded flesh at about the height of a man's head. On the pale beige carpet directly below the spattered streaks of blood that colored the previously pristine walls were more blood stains from where the body had fallen in a messy heap as well as some marks that emitted an odor faintly reminiscent of a latrine. His sharp eyesight kicking into overdrive Albus continued to search around and at one point on the wall behind the stairs there could be seen the imprints of where a woman's fingernails had gouged into the plastered wall, blood lightly filling the grooves where the fingers had split from the force placed upon them.
Nothing in the rest of the house was disturbed and it seemed as if the child's room had not been entered at all.
"Where are you Harry" Albus sighed, in his thorough search not noticing that the only pictures of a child in the house contained a large blonde boy reminiscent of an over-inflated beach-ball.
Realizing that the house could tell him nothing Albus took to eavesdropping on the muggle authorities who just happened to be talking while taking an alcohol laced coffee break.
"Shame really" one officer was saying in a confidential tone to his partner "the man was killed while the woman watched on. Medics said she was screaming something bloody crazy when they hauled her out of there. The wench was trying to claw her own eyes out, they have her sedated and restrained in the padded ward at the hospice. That poor boy too, having to sit in that hospital with his mother while they try and figure out what to do with him; social services be called soon. At least the boy wasn't here when it all happened."
Albus felt as if the deities had smiled upon him and thanked Merlin and whoever else would listen for leaving such obviously untrained officers on duty tonight, they had just saved him a load of work by wagging their loose tongues. Using Legilimency Albus pried the location of the hospice from the mind of the officer that was slightly less drunk than his companion and apparated, changing into a muggle suit as he did; no need to attract more attention then he had to, not that the overly long beard and outrageous colors of his suit helped him blend in all that much. Thankfully the halls were dim and empty leaving Albus with no problems as he snuck past the nurses on duty and finally found himself at the ward he had heard spoken of. Bypassing the locks on the doors with a simple 'alohomora' Albus found himself standing next to the bed of a distraught woman who was strapped down with soft, heavy gloves on her hands that were obvious precautions to keep her from tearing at the bandages fastened around her head. Where her eyes would be if not for the heavy bandages a faint hint of blood could be seen seeping through. The woman kept mumbling and trying to thrash about even though an IV drip kept her heavily sedated.
"Lily" the woman, Harry's aunt, half-muttered and half-screamed "no, not Lily, not Lily's eyes. Sorry Lily...no..."
Shaking his head sadly Albus moved to the next bed over where he could see a child huddled, many blankets piled over him to form a protective padding, most likely a physical form of protection that the child needed for his mind though in truth it served to make the child look more fat than protected. Albus felt sorry for young Harry. He had lost his parents when only a year old, now his uncle was dead and his aunt had most likely lost her mind for good. Gently Albus moved some of the covers away from the boy's slumbering body, wanting to catch a glance at Harry's face while he was asleep and without the past days trauma weighting him down. What he found shocked him to no end. The boy beneath the covers was not Harry Potter and did not look a thing like Harry Potter would have.
Moving over the night table next to the hospital bed Albus picked up the hospital identification card that was lying there with shaking hands. Dudley Dursley the card read, age eleven. Albus dropped the card back where he had found it and a frown crossed his face.
This was Harry's cousin then. But if he was here then where was Harry, the officers at Number 4 Privet Drive had only mentioned one boy. Where was Harry? Had he been taken? Was he still alive? A noise rang out in the corridor and Albus realized the night crew was making their last rounds before the change in shifts. Not knowing what else to do, but knowing he would discover no more where he was, Albus apparated as close as he could to Hogwarts and made the slow journey back to his office to pour himself a shot of fire-whiskey and sit dejectedly while Fawkes hovered near his shoulder piping up occasionally to offer comfort as only a Phoenix could.
Albus Dumbledore, proclaimed greatest and most powerful wizard of the time spent the rest of the day going over everything he had seen and heard only to realized belatedly that it had not appeared that Harry had ever lived at Number 4 Privet Drive. He should have checked up on the boy on occasion instead of just leaving him with his relatives while hoping all went well and they heeded the letter he had left. He shouldn't have placed so much faith in the wards. He had known that the wards would remain constant until the summer of Harry's eleventh birthday due to the powerful nature of the blood spells, only after that would Harry's presence be required to sustain the wards; he should have checked to make sure Harry was actually living on Privet Drive sooner. He should have set up a wizard in the area to check up on young Harry...
This was how Severus Snape found the Headmaster of Hogwarts when he entered Albus' office after the dinner hour with the barest of knocks. Not bothering to sit or even wonder why Albus was indulging in spirits he launched straight into his account, not knowing how badly it would rattle the already shaken Albus.
"While at Diagon Alley today I saw the precious boy-who-lived and a man I suppose to be his uncle" Severus sneered "you will be pleased to know he seems content."
Turning Severus made to leave before Albus could reply, his duty done, only to whirl back at the crystalline sound of shattering glass.
Albus' hand twitched as what Severus said sunk in and the glass fell to the floor, shattering into a million sharp and sparkly pieces coated in a caustic amber liquid.
"This is not possible" Albus' raspy whisper filled the silence that had pervaded the room "his uncle was murdered two nights ago and I wasn't able to find a trace of Harry anywhere, there was no sign he even existed at Privet Drive."
Albus downcast eyes rose to face Severus Snape's shocked expression and a new light bloomed in their twinkling blue depths "tell me everything you know, everything you heard and saw."
And Severus did, not leaving anything out. He told of his run in with Trevor Zabini and his daughter Blaise where he caught his first sight of the Potter brat. He told Albus how Potter had looked and how from Trevor's statements it was a given to assume that Harry was coming to Hogwarts. Then he told of the nameless muggle man he had assumed to be Harry's uncle, but without a name they didn't have much to go on and because of the protection spells cast on Harry as a baby locating charms did would not work on the boy. So they tried to cast location charms for Trevor but it seemed that the crafty Slytherin wizard had also taken precautions when he left the wizarding world and neither he nor his daughter could be traced.
In the weeks before term started a few trusted members of Hogwart's teaching staff such as Severus, Minerva, Hagrid, and Filius were sent out to make a discreet search for the missing boy-who-lived as well as to try and locate Trevor and Blaise Zabini who had been last seen with Harry in Diagon Alley. But each time they returned empty handed from not having any real leads to work with when they started. Yet Albus now had hope, he just knew that Harry Potter was still alive and if he had been seen alive and well in Diagon Alley not but two days after the murder of his uncle then surely he must be coming to Hogwarts. They would just have to wait until September 1st and hope that Harry Potter was aboard the Hogwarts Express along with all the other students making their way to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Then a very serious talk would have to take place to find where Harry Potter had been if not with his aunt and uncle, they could not afford to lose tabs on the savior of the wizarding world, they could not afford to have him outside of their control where the dark forces that inhabited this world could try and lay claim to him.