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The Well Groomed Mind

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Disclaimer: Harry Potter and related characters, situations, settings, and plots is the original work of J.K. Rowling and under copyright. While I enjoy playing/experimenting in her sandbox, it's not mine and never will be.

All author's notes will be located at the end of the chapters.


Professor Dumbledore was now looking down at Harry, who looked right back at him, trying to discern the expression of the eyes behind the half-moon spectacles.

"Did you put your name into the Goblet of Fire, Harry," he asked calmly.

"No," said Harry. He was very aware of everyone watching him closely. Snape made a soft noise of impatient disbelief in the shadows.

"Did you ask an older student to put it into the Goblet of Fire for you?" said Professor Dumbledore, ignoring Snape.

"No," said Harry vehemently.

- Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 17

My mind laid in shambles, ransacked by an unknown invader. Friendless. Bereft. The hope I clung to that Dumbledore would stop this sick farce, that he would protect me, was utterly destroyed. Moody was the only one who believed I didn't put my name in the cup. Even McGonagall defended Dumbledore's age line, not me. If my own head of house wouldn't defend me, who would?

The headmaster?

Twinkling blue eyes partially hidden by spectacles appeared in my mind's eye. Calm swept through me. Peace. For the first time since my name came out of the cup, I believed everything would be fine.

My thoughts reordered themselves. Hermione and Ron would stick by me. With them, I could do anything, even take on a thousand-year-old basilisk and Voldemort. As long as I had them and Professor Dumbledore, I was fine.

I would live though this. Thrive even.

Then, a memory intruded.

Moody pointed his wand at me and whispered, "imperio". I struggled against the curse, half-obeyed. Immediately afterward, I felt floaty, happy, but violated, like an unseen invader had systematically destroyed everything that made me me and then left a note gloating about it.

My mind wrenched. The calm gave way to terror, horror, and revulsion as the same psychological backlash I associated with the imperius curse flooded my senses.

What the hell was wrong with me?

Why did thinking about Dumbledore make me feel as violated as I did after Moody's imperius? I leaned against the wall in the deserted corridor, drowning in my own fears as I tried to reconcile my feelings with reality.

What was reality? My breath caught in my throat when I realized I didn't know. A distant recollection flickered across my mind. I knew once, I thought. At least, I knew who I was, what I felt like, the indescribable sensations that encompassed my unique presence. By age three, I understood everyone had a presence and could easily identify Aunt Petunia (tart and prickly), Uncle Vernon (squicky like six-week-old gym socks), and Dudley (rotten apples; mushy, smelly, and above all disgusting). As I child, I relied on this sixth sense, comparing how I felt to others, constantly seeking someone like me, a place to belong. I stopped shortly before I started Hogwarts.

Didn't know why. I just woke up one day and decided to stop judging people based on ephemeral sensations that might not be real, but what if I was wrong?

I closed my eyes, searching for my center—a vibrant ball of particolored light inside me that I discovered when Uncle Vernon locked me in my cupboard for my seventh birthday. Sweat pored down my brow. I pressed my cheek against the cool stone wall and focused. Reaching it shouldn't be this hard.

A vortex, once orderly colors as jumbled as the rest of my mind, appeared before me. I touched the edge. It sucked me inside like Odysseus's raft caught by Charybdis.

Debris swirled around me. Thoughts, memories, emotions, fragments of everything that made me me, slamming together until they pieced themselves back together, forming a facsimile of myself.

Recoiling in horror, I pulled back until I had a bird's eye view of the vortex. Stretching out my hands, I let my magic flow out my fingertips and snagged a broken memory. I would fix this or die trying.

Dudley chased me and I appeared on the school roof. Picked last for rugby, as always. A teacher talked with Aunt Petunia, saying I needed glasses. She bought me reading glasses at the supermarket. I lied to my teacher, pretending I could see perfectly when I couldn't tell the difference between half the letters on the board. Drawings, punishments, Uncle Vernon bellowing. Suspicions. A small hand twist unlocked my cupboard and I snuck out to steal food. More petty theft, all in the name of survival. Taunting Dudley and running before he could retaliate.

The spinning slowed as memories settled into their proper order. I lost all concept of time as I pushed and pulled, matching memories with different aspects of my personality.

The sorting hat insisted I would have done well in Slytherin.

Ron. Troll. Hermione. Stone. Voldemort.

Fawks. Basilisk. Riddle.

Dementors. Sirius. Prongs.

Everything fell into place. I screamed.

A hand grabbed my shoulder and shook me. "Potter," someone yelled.

My eyes flickered open. Moody stood over me, one eye whirling in a constant three-sixty sweep, the other boring into me.

"Who attacked you?"

"No one," I said in a hoarse whisper. My throat felt raw, like I'd been screaming for hours. How long was I in there?

He gave me a piercing look and nodded once. "As you say, Potter," he said, grabbing me by the elbow and hauling me to my feet. He frog marched me down the empty corridor, up two flights of stairs, through the defense classroom, and into his office where he released me and gently pushed me into a chair.

I slumped over, clasping my head in my hands, mind still reeling, the grandfather of all migraines building behind my temples.

He shoved a vial under my nose. "Drink," Moody ordered.

Wordlessly, I took the potion and chugged it. Headache reliever, I realized when the rampaging hippogriff in my head subsided. He passed me another. I glanced at the label. Calming draught. Not necessary.

"Standard procedure," he said. Standard for whom? Aurors? "Helps you process the facts so you can deal with the emotions."

Sounded good to me. I tossed it back, grimacing at the taste, and set the vial aside. The panic receded. "Thank you," I said several minutes later.

"What the devil happened?"

"I'm not sure," I said, searching for an answer that would both satisfy him and protect me. I paused. Protect me? I trusted Professor Moody, didn't I? He was a friend of Dumbledore's. My eyes widened.

I didn't trust Dumbledore. Something I did changed how I felt about Professor Dumbledore. Now I regarded him much like I did Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia, as someone to be endured but never trusted. What happened?

He flicked his wand, summoning the chair behind his desk, and sat down. "Then tell me what you did."

"Meditation," I said, settling on a likely muggle explanation. A lie. It was magic of some sort.

My hands shook. He conjured a handkerchief and handed it to me. "Wipe your nose," he said with a softer tone.

I did. The handkerchief turned red with blood. Shocked, I stared at it. How long had I been bleeding? Why didn't I notice?

"Meditation doesn't cause nose bleeds, Mr. Potter, but a legilimency attack does."

"Legi what?"

"Legilimency. Literally, it means 'read mind'. It's a technique whereby a wizard delves into another's mind."

"How?" I asked, feeling nauseous.

"Depends on the wizard. Most need a spell, but all a master needs is eye contact."

Eye contact? Dumbledore's twinkling blue eyes hovered in my mind. Did he…"What exactly can a master—"

"—legilimens," he supplied.

"What can a master legilimens do?"

"Tell if your lying, for one. Why do you think Albus defended you tonight? He knew you were telling the truth better than you did."

"What else?" I whispered, throat suddenly dry.

"Access your thoughts, emotions, memories. A true master can twist your perceptions, maybe even alter your personality, but you don't have to worry about that."

"Why not?"

"Albus wouldn't."

Albus? Wait, he meant Dumbledore. Dumbledore was a master legilimens and earlier, I deliberately made eye contact with him. Shit.

"Who else?"

"In Britain, the Dark Lord. Six, maybe seven in the States. The Canadians and Japs both have a few, but they're all aurors. The Jap's one of the best interrogators I've ever seen. Watching that woman work is a thing of beauty, I tell you." He got a creepy smile on his face. I shuddered. Anyone who made Mad-Eye that happy wasn't someone I ever wanted to meet.

"Could the spell cause…" I trailed off before I gave away my secrets.

He gave me a knowing smirk. "Perhaps. Do you remember seeing anyone?"

I shook my head. "No. I was heading back to my common room. Next thing I knew, you were there." Not a lie, but not the whole truth either.

"Very well, Potter," he said, standing. He took a book off a shelf and handed it to me. "Here."

The Aware Mind, I read. Interesting. If some wizards could read minds, maybe there was more to my make-believe sixth sense than I thought.

"Read and practice," he said, jabbing the book with his wand. "Every wizard worth his salt knows basic occlumency. Mind you, keep it hidden. The ministry banned that book. If anyone catches you with it, you didn't get it from me."

I nodded tightly, clutching the book. Moody didn't give me the book out of the goodness of his heart. He had a hidden agenda, but the library didn't house banned books. Even if it had one on occlumency, I couldn't check it out anonymously. Not to mention, it was probably in the restricted section. Most helpful books were. Right now, I would take what help I could get.

"You'll be needing a note," he said, summoning a parchment and quill. He scribbled something illegible and passed it to me. "Filch gives you any trouble tonight, come to me," he said in dismissal.

I accepted the excuse and tucked it inside the book. I raised my head, eyes darting around the room as I noted all the changes. Lupin always had a dark creature stashed in a corner, bright candles, and books scattered everywhere like Hermione does when she's researching. Moody's office contained whirling sneak-a-scopes, a rather odd mirror with roaming eyes, and books with morbid titles like Dead vs Dying: How to Guarantee Your Enemies Never Get Back Up and Only Dead Imbeciles Stun. Still reflecting on the differences and wondering if I might learn as much from Moody as I did from Lupin, I left his office.

As I walked to the dorm, my mind churned with half-baked plans and ideas. I needed to step back, set goals, analyze my situation, and formulate a strategy, just like I used to do when Vernon locked me in my cupboard, Dudley stole my homework, or Petunia spread yet another nasty rumor about me.

What was my ideal outcome? I paused on the stairwell, not caring when it moved.

Survival, I decided. Survive the Triwizard Tournament. Graduate. Never fight Voldemort again.

I paused. Everyone said he murdered my parents. Did I really want to let that go? Maybe. Judging by what little information I had pieced together, my parents voluntarily took up arms. They had me in the middle of a war and rather than leave, like sensible people would, they chose to stay in Britain and fight.

Any fool can tell you people die during war. Being parents didn't make them exempt from that cardinal rule. Their deaths were an easily predicted outcome caused by their choices, not mine.

I spent most of my life believing they died while driving drunk. Before I came to Hogwarts, I wasn't going to hunt down the other driver and murder him or her. Why should I fight Voldemort when I didn't even know what my parents were fighting for? If I could find out why he was after me, maybe I could negotiate something. Say a visa and no more Dursleys?

I mentally added that to my list.

No more Dursleys.

I took a deep breath and finally understood what I had to do. Before I came to Hogwarts, I was a conniving little snake. Although I still used that trait to its fullest during the summer, fighting my battles with calculated words and trickery, for some reason, I abandoned those aspects of myself the moment I entered the castle.

I needed to stop being half a person. I needed to become the real Harry Potter.


With my bed curtains spelled shut and the silencing charm the twins taught everyone in the dorm as a joke on Ron applied, my bed was as private as I could make it. Moody's book laid on my pillow. His warning echoed in my ears. Gryffindor Tower was infamous for its complete lack of privacy. Something about being sorted into the house of bravery was supposed to make you want to bare your soul to your peers. Utterly barmy. Unfortunately, the mild shocking charm I'd added to the curtains was the only security spell I knew. If someone wanted in, they'd get in.

Eying the cracked, leather spine, I gnawed on my bottom lip. Reading a banned book in my dormitory where anyone could see me was a risk. Laughter echoed up the stairwell. The tension bled out me. It was only a risk if there was someone caught me. With everyone in Gryffindor either celebrating my inclusion in the tournament or gossiping about me, my dorm was deserted and likely to remain that way until the wee hours of the morning. At least, the goblet served as a distraction.

Gently, I opened the book and examined both the title and the copyright page. The title matched the spine, but the date gave me pause.

1811, the year before the Ministry of Magic began censoring books, including the resale of older books, by subject matter instead of title. I knew because after I learned I was a parselmouth, I spent weeks combing the library after curfew, searching for information on the ability, more specifically, why everyone hated me because I had it. Voldemort wasn't an adequate explanation. The prejudice was too ingrained.

What I discovered made me sick. In 1812, The Daily Prophet gleefully reported the executions of numerous parselmouths, including a four-year-old girl, on trumped up charges. A little more research at the muggle library over the summer gave their actions a name: moral panic. The library book referred to the Red Scare and the Holocaust as notable examples. It took me all of five seconds to realize moral panics were a human, not a muggle, condition. Before then, I pretended I wasn't a parselmouth because Professor Dumbledore told me I acquired the ability from Voldemort. After my research, I hid it out of fear.

If I studied and applied Moody's book, would have I have something else I had to hide at all costs? Did I care?

Whatever I did unearthed almost forgotten memories, thoughts, and feelings, many of which centered around escaping from both the magical world and the Dursleys. I desperately wanted out, but I never left. Gut feeling, someone cast a spell on me, like Lockhart tried to do to make us forget about the Chamber, to make me ignore my true feelings.

My stomach clenched. Bile filled my mouth. Foreign urges warred with my desire to survive, transforming my mind into a dark labryinth with no way out. The minotaur lurked in the shadows, stalking me. The moment it consumed me I died and it took my place, becoming me. No one would ever mourn me because as long as my body lived, breathed, and spoke, who would say the minotaur killed me? No one.

I gnashed my teeth. If I was going down, I was taking the bastard who placed the minotaur in my head with me. Maybe he'd cushion the landing.

I almost laughed at myself. Aunt Petunia always told Dudley not to borrow trouble. Funny, I should think of her advice. I was just a fourth year student. I didn't know what happened. Maybe I did something real, maybe not. Maybe the minotaur was just a figment of my imagination, triggered by recent events. Not real. Gut feelings weren't proof. I needed to understand my situation first, then identify the culprit (if there was one), then put all my years getting petty vengeance on the Dursleys to good use and make the bastard pay.

My gaze fell on Moody's book. What was his game?

Among the faculty, it was an accepted fact that Harry Potter was a lazy student. I spent more time playing quidditch than in class. Instead of homework, I played chess, exploding snap, or explored the castle. The only way to teach me was to show me, like Lupin did with the patronus charm, because I couldn't be bothered with cracking a book. Sure, my nighttime wanderings frequently brought me to the library, but I'd grown more savvy over the years and doubted anyone knew. Even then, I researched issues specific to my mysteriously survivable, end-of-year adventures or subjects I found personally relevant, like parseltongue. I didn't research course work because I had Hermione.

Assuming Moody knew my reputation, why did he give me a book? Did he see through my Hogwarts mask to the real Harry Potter?

I shook myself. Not likely. Even the Slytherins, who should know better than to take someone at face value, didn't.

My breath hitched as the answer hit me. Moody had a reasonable expectation I wouldn't read it, much less apply it. He gave it to me to look like he was helping me without actually helping.

To hell with that.

I opened the book to the prologue. The pages were still crisp, indicating a preservation spell. Sentences were underlined in pencil. Skimming to the first chapter, I spotted notes in no less than five hands. With the notes to explain things further, the text wasn't overly difficult.

I would master this, I silently vowed, or die trying.

Hours passed. My dorm mates trickled in. First Neville. Then Ron. Around midnight, Dean dragged Seamus up the stairs. Each time, I doused my lumos, waited until I heard their bed curtains shut, and recast it, mouthing the spell instead of saying it. It wasn't as powerful, but it worked well enough. I wondered if words were always necessary, but pushed my question aside and focused on the book.

Three pages into the book, my worst fears were confirmed. Whether someone, I refused to think names yet, did it or not, I didn't know, but a skilled legilimens could tweak things just enough to add their own thoughts, emotions, and personality to someone else's mind. The book even listed examples. By page six, I knew why the ministry banned the book. An expert occlumens could completely counter veritaserum, fight off the imperius curse, which I suspected I did through magical power and stubbornness. It even provided limited protection from dementors, which meant if Sirius knew occlumency prior to his incarceration, he'd be a bit saner.

In short, occlumency was the mental discipline for the paranoid crazies who believed the world was out to the get them or, at least, control them. Moody'd probably say it's not paranoid if they're really out to get you. I completely agreed.

In true Moody fashion, I turned to the first exercise, which was designed to show how insidious legilemency really is, fetched a stack of parchment and ink from my trunk, and began listing major events in my life. In truth, you were suppossed to have a legilimens plant information, then list everything out, and use deductive reasoning to identify the plant. Since I wasn't about to ask Dumbledore for help identifying information I suspected he planted, I wrote down everything I could, often working backwards from a major incident while I tried to identify what information Hermione, Ron, or myself might have legitimately known. Without asking them to do the same exercise, I couldn't be certain about some things, but for example, a second year, no matter how smart, discovering Slytherin's monster was a basilisk before the teachers was a touch suspect.

Jotting down a few notes about my time with the Dursleys, I realized that before today, I didn't remember opening the cupboard with magic and my food theft was limited to whatever I could steal off plates or out of the trash. In my newly organized memories, I vividly recalled stealing a loaf of bread, boiled eggs, fruit, even a chocolate bar. When I was four, Uncle Vernon twisted my arm, accidentally breaking it. I shattered every window in the house. Until today, I didn't remember any of it.

An obliviate? I checked the index and flipped to chapter six. After skimming the information, I realized my memories weren't missing or fragmented. Frustrated, I almost slammed the book shut, but a foot note caught my eye.

Although not widely used, memory suppression, a pure legilimency technique, is more subtle than the obliviate spell. Rather than making the memory disappear, suppression persuades the subconscious the memory is unimportant, thereby placing less emphasis on the memory over time until the memory has little to no impact on the subject's life. As suppression can be overcome if the subject possesses sufficient magical strength and knowledge, it is rarely used.

Unimportant described my feelings perfectly. The memories and feelings weren't important until they suddenly were, almost like I flipped a light switch in my head or performed accidental mind magic.

My hand shook, spattering ink over my bed spread. Dumbledore really did it.

But why make me deemphasize stealing food? Stealing wasn't part of my personality. "No, but I stole to survive," I whispered.

Before Hogwarts my survival instincts were so ingrained, they were an integral part of my personality. A stolen apple off the lunch cart. A half-eaten sandwich another student threw away. The pencil Peirs dropped on the floor that mysteriously disappeared before he could pick it up. All the little lies I told my teachers and class mates so they wouldn't know the truth about my home life. A million things that combined meant I was a sneaky, conniving child, always on the lookout for my next meal. Even after I started Hogwarts, I left the dinner table with half my meal in my pockets, but the conniving stopped. Why?

With shaking hands, I noted the personality change on a separate sheet of parchment and began searching for the next. As I continued examining my life, more issues cropped up, like I remembered Aunt Petunia making me watch the bacon, but I thought I didn't start until I was ten. Now, I remembered standing on a chair beside the stove. I must've been five, maybe six. Malfoy's dueling trick in first year was almost identical to one I pulled on Dudley when I was eight, save the being out after dark part. If I'd stopped and used my brain, which I did before Hogwarts, I would've seen through his trick.

Starting to hyperventilate, I sank back into my mind. Hogwarts, I thought to myself. "Start with Hogwarts and work your way forward. Focus on surviving now. Deal with early childhood later," I whispered to myself.

When I started Hogwarts, Malfoy was more Gryffindorish than I was. So why, two months after I arrived, did I leap on a troll's back and stick my wand up its nose? Hermione's my friend. I'd do almost anything for her, but back then, she was an annoying little snot, and Harry Potter didn't stick his neck out for anyone.

The real Harry Potter would have stayed in the middle of the group heading back to the dorms so if the troll attacked it ate someone else, not him. He might have told a prefect she was missing, but probably not. Sure, he laughed when she ran off, but Ron was the one who bullied her. She was Ron's responsibility, not Harry's.

The real Harry Potter, the boy Vernon locked in a cupboard for a month after he set a boa constrictor loose, would have let Hermione die in that bathroom. I doubt I would've lost sleep over it.

That scared me. Both because I was a bit cold back then and because my personality did a one-eighty almost over night.

When I started the exercises, I suspected I might find one or two actions that weren't entirely my own or an epiphany I couldn't have derived from the knowledge I possessed at the time. For example, why did I suddenly wonder if Myrtle was the student killed by the basilisk? She isn't the only student to die while attending Hogwarts so that wasn't a rational theory. Looking back, I started suspecting she was the student back in January. Months before I acted on the information. The book mentioned triggers. I wondered if Ginny being taken into the chamber was the trigger. If so, did that mean Dumbledore knew about the diary beforehand?

With shaking hands, I grabbed a sheet of parchment and tore it into strips. If I broke everything into small pieces, maybe I could process it.

Four hours later, I leaned against my headboard and rubbed my eyes. A light glowed above my head. Small piles of torn parchment littered the bed, each bearing a major event, interaction with Dumbledore, unexplained sensation, or broken rule. All sorted by year. The rules were further divided neatly into caught and punished, caught but not punished, and not caught stacks.

Looking at the pile, I was shocked that I survived the first six months, and I certainly should have been expelled many times over, but Dumbledore…First year, he caught me out of bed, gazing into the Mirror of Erised. By all rights, he should have given me a lecture and detention. Instead, he told me he saw himself holding a pair of socks.

I barely knew him, but it felt like meeting an old friend. He talked to me like I was an equal, not a snot-nosed brat. He probably lied about the socks, but he still shared a desire, meaning I could relate to him.

Racking my brain, I searched for similar incidents. The cloak. What responsible adult gives an eleven-year-old an invisibility cloak? Yes, it was my father's, but still. He might as well have given me a hand written invitation to break curfew.

Bloody hell, the first thing I did with it was break into the warded restricted section. Surely, the protections registered my magic, but no one punished me. Did Dumbledore clear the ward or brush off Madame Pince? I pursed my lips, struggling to recall her behavior.

Judging by the way she glared at me afterward, he swept it under the rug.

Then, in the hospital, after the stone, he joked with me about earwax-flavored jellybeans. It was almost like I was talking to Ron instead of an adult.

Instead of expelling me for entering a forbidden zone, he awarded house points, giving Gryffindor the house cup, which made all the Slytherins and Ravenclaws hate me.

I snarled. As much as I despised him, Snape had a point. Dumbledore favored me to an obscene degree, but why?

I tabled that thought for a moment, picked up my entire first year stack, and skimmed through it. The answer was right in front of me. I could sense it, but didn't understand it, yet.

The first piece only said "Hagrid".

I stared at the parchment, tracing Hagrid's name with my fingertip. Hagrid is, and probably will always be, one of my dearest friends, but I needed to be objective. I needed to step back and look at this as if he were a complete stranger, which he was back then. I had to look at Hagrid the way the magical world saw him and view myself as the so-called 'boy-who-lived'.

Hagrid was a groundskeeper. When I was eleven, my fame rivaled Dumbledore's and, according to Ron, I'm the sole heir to a wealthy, pure blood family.

Sending Hagrid to deliver my letter and introduce me to the magical world was like Eton sending a janitor to pick up Prince William. Given my celebrity, which I will always despise, I should have been introduced by either McGonagall, Dumbledore himself, or a board member. Not that I would've wanted Lucius Malfoy to take me to Diagon Alley. Then again, Mr. Malfoy probably wouldn't have shouted my name in the middle of a crowded pub.

What did Hagrid accomplish?

Nibbling on my quill, I recalled our first meeting. Five big things. He sang Dumbledore's praises, told me about my parents, let me see him fetch the stone, preached that all bad wizards came from Slytherins—despite him believing Sirius Black, Gryffindor extraordinaire, betrayed my parents—and gave me my first birthday present Hedwig.

"Be suspicious," I whispered to myself. "Sure, Hagrid's the kindest man I know, but I must be objective."

Hagrid claimed he knew me as a baby. Probably true, but Voldemort could truthfully claim he knew me, as well. Looking like my parents was special, but only because I had never seen a photo of them. Then the shock and awe of discovering the magical world combined with how my parents actually died…It was overwhelming.

And his rants about Slytherin…Ron said similar things on the train, but Ron was just another kid. I probably would've dismissed his opinion if I hadn't already heard the same thing from Hagrid.

If I hadn't met Hagrid, my tie would be green and silver. Talk about bad PR for Dumbledore's side.

My mind bounced to the Weasley's. Mrs. Weasley broke at least two laws when she announced Platform 9 3/4 to the entire station. Why?

Coincidences kept piling up, but I was no closer to an answer than I was initially. Then, I remembered.

When Hagrid told me about my parents, he said he took me to the Dursleys. On Dumbledore's orders.

How did I miss that?

I spent my entire summer blaming Voldemort for the Dursleys. He killed my parents, but he didn't place me with the Dursleys. Dumbledore did.

Funny. One moment I was thinking about Dumbledore and the next I was recalling a show Aunt Petunia taped and made Dudley watch ad naseum. Last summer, Dudley's, not mine, year five teacher was convicted for sexually molesting one of his students. The local news pushed traffic accidents and robberies aside in favor of talking heads, urging parents to question their children and teach them how to recognize predators. Uncle Vernon glared at me whenever it came on like I should have been the one the victims.

The psychologist's voice droned in my memory. "Children, who come from abusive or broken homes, are generally more vulnerable to child predators than children from stable environments. During the targeting stage, some predators deliberately seek out vulnerable children as they are typically starved for affection and attention, making them more susceptible to the positive reinforcement used during the grooming process."

Did Dumbledore know how the Dursleys treated me? I wasn't sure. I did encounter wizards prior to attending Hogwarts. Any one of them may have told him about my general situation. First year, Hagrid met the Dursleys and had some choice words for Uncle Vernon. Looking back, Hagrid probably knew.

Then when I asked to remain at Hogwarts, Dumbledore refused, sending me back to the Dursleys.

I was positive the twins told their parents about the bars on my window. I distinctly remembered the phrase, "they were starving him".

Even if Hagrid didn't mention anything, the Weasleys probably did.

Dumbledore knew. He had to, and he deliberately left me in a situation where I was a vulnerable child who was saved every Sept. 1st by the Hogwart's Express.

Add in my height being in the lowest 4th percentile for my age group—I overheard the school nurse tell Aunt Petunia her concerns a few weeks before my old junior school let out for the last time—body weight that hovers between the 5th and 15th percentile, depending on punishments, and regular stays in the Hogwarts Hospital Wing, including multiple stays during my first year when I know for a fact my stats indicated chronic malnutrition—the nurse in Surrey tried to talk Aunt Petunia, who swore I ate twice as much as Dudley, into taking me to a nutritionist for prescription supplements—Pomfrey would have to be the most incompetent nurse on the planet to miss my physical condition.

Chills ran down my spine.

The nurse said something else. She claimed I was a little timid, almost submissive, in class and during recess. She informed Aunt Petunia that submissive behavior was a symptom of malnutrition, which thrilled Aunt Petunia beyond words. The nurse went on to describe how I ran from Dudley and the other children, all Dudley's gang, on the playground and was unusually quiet during class.

That fit my emerging grooming theory perfectly.

I snatched another piece of parchment up and tore it into strips. After dipping an extra quill in green ink (I used blue for the events), I started jotting down the stages of child grooming. My memory was a little fuzzy. I spent most of that day vacuuming and gardening, but they replayed the segment at least six times.

I laid them out on my bed, placing categories underneath each major stage. Sitting on my heels, I studied them.

Targeting - vulnerable children

Recruitment

Show trust/favoritism

Special Gifts

Isolate/alienate from peers/other adults & secrecy

Desensitization (process used to test child's resistance and engage them in abuse)

Maintenance (progression of acts and checking of risks)

Feeling ill, I pooled my previous stacks together. When I first wrote down the major events, I noticed they all shared a common thread: me risking my life/nearly dying.

When I was small, Uncle Vernon would sit at the kitchen table and rant about child soldiers in Lebanon. Caring about them when he never cared about me confused the hell out of me, but I did learn one thing from his speeches.

Children do not belong in war.

Children are not supposed to risk their lives for anyone's cause.

And yet, every thing, from the troll to the dementors, desensitized me to my own mortality.

I wished I prayed. Uncle Vernon said I'd pollute the church. I didn't attend and had only a passing acquaintance with religion. If I did pray, I would be praying my emerging conspiracy theory was completely wrong.

Tentatively, I took the first item—Hagrid telling me all Slytherins were evil—and placed it under "isolate/alienate". I sorted the next item and the next until my pile was redistributed by stage, not year.

First year alone was damning.

Under "show trust/favoritism", I had house points for stealing the Sorcerer's Stone, no detention for being out of bounds the third time I saw the mirror, being put on the Quidditch team for flying without supervision (an offense Madame Hootch said she'd expel us for), telling me about the socks, and informing me that he had destroyed the stone.

The cloak may have been my father's, but no sane educator would ever give an eleven-year-old an invisibility cloak. Unless, he had an ulterior motive. I stuck that underneath "special gifts" along with all the tidbits Dumbledore, Hagrid, and McGonagall, who was added sometime during the night, told me about my parents. The tidbits were more special to me than the cloak. I reluctantly added Hedwig and my photo album because I couldn't prove the gifts were really Hagrid's idea.

The last minute house points at the end of first year alienated me from every house except Gryffindor. In second year, when everyone was whispering that I was the heir of Slytherin, he told me I acquired the ability to speak parseltongue from Voldemort, but he didn't tell anyone else. If he had, I might not have been reviled by everyone in the school, including my own house mates. His inaction damned me in their eyes.

I gnawed on my lower lip. Did he lie about that? Parseltongue isn't a common gift, especially not after the Ministry of Magic labeled it dark and kissed every parselmouth they could get their hands on between 1812-1814, but while it is still considered rare, there are parselmouths outside of Britain.

The Muskogee in America venerated the sint hilo, also known as the horned serpent, aka the basilisk. They believed they appeared to "wise young men".

And they aren't the only snake speakers. India, Brazil, Canada, the US, South Africa, Australia, all boast parselmouths.

Just like there are witches and wizards outside of Britain, there are also parselmouths.

Based on my admittedly limited understanding, parseltongue is genetic. Killing curses, no matter how powerful, do not transfer genetic material.

On another sheet of parchment that had migrated to my pillow, I made a note: research family tree and find out more about parseltongue genetics.

Every so-called adventure was piled underneath "desensitization". They presented an ever escalating level of personal risk and danger. The teacher's were right outside the door when Ron and I went after the troll. Last year, it was just me and a patronus-less Hermione.

But the earlier stages paled when compared to maintenance.

After every adventure, Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore pulled me aside for a polite chat. Once, he told me my mother's love protected me. Voldemort couldn't bear to touch someone who'd been marked by something so pure. He even claimed I survived the killing curse because my mother loved me.

That's just what every orphan wants to hear.

In reality, it's highly improbable that I am the only child in the history of wizarding warfare whose mother sacrificed her life. The killing curse dates back to the early middle ages. If love could block the killing curse, they would've renamed it by now.

Voldemort did offer her a choice. In theory, that could have played a role, but there's not a difference between leaping in front of a curse intended for someone else and refusing to step aside. They are both conscious choices. They both involve someone sacrificing their life for someone else. There's no difference. Since the early middle ages,it's highly probable both situations have occurred numerous times. Despite how desperately I wished it was true, my mother's love didn't make me unique.

With only one survivor, Dumbledore's explanation was just a poorly formulated hypothesis more grounded in wishful thinking than fact.

I added "love, magic, killing curse" to my notes and moved on.

In second year, he reassured me that I made the "right choice" when I begged the hat to not put me in Slytherin. He kept telling me "it's our choices that define us" or some such rot. While that may be true, what he told me was also a classic maintenance tactic: assuring the child of the rightness of what they are doing.

It fit the pattern all to well.

He also emphasized the people I saved, how they would be dead without me. Sirius, in particular, stood out.

Why would you tell a child who has never cast a corporeal patronus to illegally use a time turner to rescue an escaped convict from dementors when you are an adult wizard with a proven ability to cast said patronus? Either you want the child and the to-be-rescued adult to die, a distinct possibility, or you have another motive. Yes, he knew we were alive and he heard me say I saw my father, but we didn't use the time turner until after that conversation. Although the event had happened, we hadn't rescued ourselves, yet. The future wasn't fixed until we used the time turner. A teacher under a glamor charm could've accomplished the same thing without risking a failed patronus.

I stared at my bed. Every major event for the last three years fit the model perfectly. My lips quivered. Tears pricked the corners of my eyes. Before the first sob escaped, I snatched my wand up and cast a silencing charm. No one would ever see me cry.

Wrapping my arms around my knees, I sobbed so hard the bed curtains shook. The few happy memories I possessed were in shreds, tainted by my spur of the moment analysis.

I smiled sadly. Wasn't it better to know?

I took the sheet of personality changes I'd noted throughout the course of my analysis. Without both a master legilimens and a mind healer, I couldn't completely assess the damage to my psyche, much less fix it. I set it aside.

I carefully documented my other observations, especially the child grooming ones. I doubted muggle psychology was popular in the magical world—who needs grooming when you have the imperius—but everyone knew Dumbledore kept up-to-date on all things muggle. If he found something useful, he'd use it.

I levitated my parchment scraps and cast a quick incendio. The ashes fell onto my bed. I brushed them off. Dean smoked in the dorm all the time. No one would notice the smell.

Three long sheets of parchment remained behind: my child grooming conspiracy theory, personality changes, and a long list of questions. Mostly about my parents, the list contained everything I'd learned from Dumbledore and Hagrid along with a few questions of my own.

I slipped outside the bed curtains. Ron's snores rattled the window panes, but everyone remained asleep. Quietly, I levitated my trunk onto my bed, shut the curtains, and cast another silencing charm. Then I unlocked the trunk and dumped my clothes on the bed. Underneath the clothes was a student dictionary roughly the size of my fist, my lock box.

I bought it last summer in Diagon Alley. Mr. Fortescue recommended a little luggage shop at the intersection of Diagon Alley and Knockturn after he saw me lugging around a large sack of gold. He said things go missing sometimes in a dorm and I should store my vault key and galleons somewhere safe. The lock box cost two hundred fifty galleons—a fortune, in my opinion—but it had two compartments about the same size as my trunk and it was keyed to my blood, wand, and a password. Without all three, it wouldn't open. An anti-theft spell supposedly burned anyone who touched it without my permission.

Questionably legal, but secure.

The dictionary disguise kept Ron and Hermione from examining it too closely. I doubted Ron even knew what a dictionary was. Hermione owned three better ones.

I cut my finger with my potion's knife and dribbled some blood on the tip of my wand. Then I touched it to the box lid, pictured a snake, and hissed, "Dudley looks like a pig in a wig." The lid vanished.

The left side was a terrarium with temperature controls, sunlamps, and what the shop keeper called an "always right side up" charm. (The shop owner didn't ask questions and I didn't volunteer.) In a nest of leaves, lay Dyfi, a melanistic common adder a little under three feet long. I rescued the bossy snake from one of Mrs. Figg's cats two days before I blew up Aunt Marge. (She deserved worse than she got.) I tried to release Dyfi several times, but she always came back, muttering about Hedwig and free mice.

She spent last summer prowling around Aunt Petunia's garden and my bedroom, informing me of both her needs and mine, and casually commenting about biting my relatives. Remembering when Dudley deliberately pissed all over the bathroom wall instead of in the toilet, I smirked. I really should have let her bite him on the pecker. With any luck, it would've fallen off, removing any future Dursleys (Vernon had a vasectomy when I was five and Marge is childless) from the gene pool. A true favor to humanity.

She'd agreed to hide during the school year and preferred her sun lamps to biting cold, Scottish winters. Good thing. If my dorm mates discovered I had an adder hibernating in my trunk, they'd lynch me.

Still smiling, I laid the papers inside the second compartment, checked her water and the temperature, and shut the lid, satisfied that my notes were temporarily safe. I repacked my trunk, leaving out an invigoration draught I filched from Madame Pomfrey last year, and levitated it off my bed. A faint thump sounded when it hit the floor, but my dorm mates remained asleep.

I swallowed the draught, grimacing when my heart rate sped up and my eyes tingled. Then I sat down and began reading Moody's book, which would also take up residence inside the box. Today, I'd study occlumency as much as I could alone. I hoped I'd at least grasp the concept well enough to detect low-level intrusions. I'd also write Sirius.

Biting the inside of my cheek, I wondered if I should tell Ron and Hermione. They were almost as involved as I was. I weighed the pros and cons. No, I decided. If Dumbledore found out I told them, he might target them, either directly or through their families. I didn't know Sirius well enough to tell him anything, yet. Maybe after a few years, but not now. However, I could ask him a few questions about my parents and see if he contradicts Dumbledore.

Meanwhile, I'd follow my new rule: question everything, especially if I learned it from Dumbledore.