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The many deaths of Harry Potter

Chapter Text

The sullen look on Dudley's face was almost as much of a gift as the cupcake in front of him.

Harry glanced up at Miss Harper. She was younger than most of the other teachers, and he'd always thought she was pretty, but now she seemed blinding.

It was just a small cupcake with a candle in it, but it was the closest thing to a present Harry had ever had. His aunt had once given him a dirty sock, but she'd changed her mind and snatched it away.

Harry had to fight the urge to hunch his shoulders and guard the cupcake. If Dudley hadn't been at the back of the crowd he would have done so anyway, even though he'd seen Miss Harper get on to other children who acted like that.

The fact that she'd remembered his birthday was almost as amazing as the gift itself. She'd done this for the other children, but somehow Harry had assumed that he'd be skipped over like he was at home.

Compared to the huge cake and the mountainous pile of gifts Dudley got every year, this was a pitiable birthday celebration.

Yet as the other children began to sing in a half-hear ted, desultory fashion, Harry couldn't help but look at the teacher. She looked a little bored, but no other teacher had even tried to remember every student's birthday.

She'd remembered Harry's birthday, something no one had ever done before. She'd never been as beautiful as now, and Harry wondered if this was what it felt like to fall in love.

Harry felt himself being shoved from behind, and he felt to one knee. The curious glow he'd been feeling all day finally faded.

Glancing backward, he saw Dudley and his friends. Dudley's face was flushed.

He'd known there was going to be a reckoning, he'd just hoped that it would be later. He would have liked to have had a little more time to indulge in the fantasy of being a normal child with a normal birthday.

“That's for eating my cupcake, freak!” Dudley snarled.

Harry stared at them for a moment. He grabbed the strap to his bag and he surged to his feet. Before Dudley could say anything else, Harry was already off.

As much as he'd hated Dudley's favorite game, Harry hunting had made him fast and agile. The threat of being beaten was more than enough motivation for him to learn.

Unfortunately, the other boys learned almost as fast as he did. As Harry dashed forward, he saw that some of them were already waiting for him. Dudley had somehow added more people to his group of bullies.

The new ones weren't used to Harry's tricks yet, so he managed to slip in between them.

After that it was a matter of speed and endurance.

Harry sometimes suspected that Harry hunting was the only thing that kept Dudley from getting fat enough that he couldn't move. Even so, he was always at the back of the group, depending on the others to catch up with Harry and hold him.

The other advantage to being hunted repeatedly was that Harry had learned the neighborhood. He knew every shortcut and hidey hole between the school and his house, and even some in the other directions. Hiding was risky. As long as he wasn't found he would be fine, but the best hiding spots only had one entrance, and if he was caught in one of these he would be trapped.

Trying to go to an adult was hopeless; the beating he'd get would be twice as bad once the adult went away, and they never believed him. They always assumed that he was exaggerating or playing.

Harry cursed under his breath as he saw three boys emerge from a side street a block ahead. They were on bicycles, and there was no way he could outrun those. He slipped behind a bush, praying that they hadn't seen him.

From where he could see, it looked like they were being systematic. They had a pretty good idea of where he was, and he saw other boys emerge, checking the bushes.

Even as Harry slipped into an alley, he could hear people calling out from the far entrance of the alley.

They were closing in on him from the front and from behind. Harry knew there was a loose board in one of the fences; there wasn't a lot of room to squeeze through even for him. None of the other boys would be able to squeeze through at all.

He didn't know what was on the other side of the board, but there wasn't time to worry about it.

Harry rushed for the fence, grabbing the board and moving it aside. It was a tighter squeeze than he'd suspected, but by pushing his backpack through first and exhaling, he was able to squeeze through.

He slipped though and turned quickly, hoping the board with his hand. Hopefully no one would notice that it was there and they'd just think that they'd missed him.

He heard the sounds of searchers entering the alley and he held his breath.

The sounds of the boys on the other side of the fence were strangely muted. Despite this, Harry found himself holding his breath for long moments as the boys on the other side of the fence turned over old boxes and tried to look in every nook and cranny.

It wasn't until they were gone that he took a deep breath and finally allowed himself to breathe.

He simply crouched with his forehead against the fence with his eyes closed for several long moments, waiting for the pounding pulse in his ears to finally slow.

When he finally opened his eyes and looked around he froze.

Sandwiched in between the cookie cutter houses to each side, before him was a monstrosity of a house. It looked as though it had been put together by a madman, one piece at a time with no concern for the laws of physics. It's second floor was bigger than the first, but smaller than the third. It looked as though it had been built piecemeal, with different parts having different architectural styles.

Considering that it had to be at least four stories tall, Harry didn't understand how he hadn't noticed it in a neighborhood where every house had one story. It should have been visible from blocks away, like the old church or the school.

Somehow Harry had missed it.

There was a strange haze in the air all around, something Harry had never seen before. It made the sky seem reddish and made everything inside seem sinister.

Harry felt drawn to the house, but he also felt uneasy. This felt a little like the witch's gingerbread house in one of the books Dudley had discarded when he was younger.

He wouldn't be able to leave for a while yet; the boys would take time to tire of their game and go home.

In spite of himself, Harry found himself walking slowly toward the house, his backpack forgotten against the fence behind him.

It was only as he reached the back porch that he realized what he was doing, and by then it was too late.

The back door slammed open and an old man with stringy, yellow hair stepped out. In his hand he held some kind of stick.

The man's rheumy, yellowing eyes glanced at him, and then up at his forehead.

Harry didn't know why so many people had that look of recognition when they looked at the scar on his forehead, but they'd had it his entire life. Usually, the response was to bow even as Harry's aunt and uncle hurriedly led him away.

This man didn't bow; instead he smiled, showing misshapen teeth. It wasn't a happy smile.

“Potter, is it? On my doorstep, eh?”

The man chuckled, and it was a mean, ugly sound.

Harry found himself backing away slowly. Suddenly a beating by Dudley and his friends didn't seem that important.

“Don't leave yet boy; the fun's barely started.”

The man lifted his wand and whispered “Crucio!”

Harry's world turned to pain.

“W..w..what have you brought us?”

Harry couldn't move; after what had been done to him already he wouldn't have been able to have moved anyway, but the man had done something with his stick and now he couldn't even blink his eyes.

They were in a dark room, and there were torches on the wall.

“I stumbled across a gift for my lord.” the older man said. From the corner of his eye Harry could see the man grin that ugly grin again. “The master will want to see this.”

The man in front of them stared for a moment, then scowled. His stutter vanished.

“If he's not pleased with what you've brought him....”

The man standing over Harry chuckled. “No worries about that.”

Scowling, the man in front of them turned their back to them. If Harry could have gasped he would have. There was a face on the back of the man's head!

The face scowled down at them.

Before it could speak, the man reached down and moved Harry's hair aside with his wand.

The face seemed at a loss for words. After a moment, it finally spoke.

“Where did you find him, McNair?”

“I was checking an old property held by a mudblood, dead in the last war. The wards were still up, but sometimes you get wizarding scum trying to settle in. Nobody misses a wizard who can't even make a place for himself.”

The face nodded impatiently.

“When I felt someone entering the wards, I went to investigate, and look who I stumbled across.”

“Fortunate indeed,” the face said. “And so much for Dumbledore's prophecy.”

The smile on the face was even worse than McNair's smile.

“Are you going to show him to the others?” McNair asked.

The face stared at the other man with a contemplative expression before finally shaking its head. “I will have my body before I deal with the others again, and only a fool would keep an enemy imprisoned for months.”

“There's the prophecy,” McNair said hesitantly.

“I'm sure Dumbledore would have liked to have kept it to himself. I imagine he regrets taking that fool Trelawney for a drink in Hogsmeade on that one particular night.”

The face waved it's wand, and a moment later a poker by the fireplace shimmered and shrank, turning into a small blade.

A flick of the wand, and the blade was in the hand of the man whose head hosted the face.

“I'll imagine you were hoping I'd use magic,” the face said.

The blade seemed unnaturally shiny, and even though walking backward and using a knife backward wasn't easy, somehow the two faced man made it work.

A moment later the blade was at Harry's throat. The man looked awfully uncomfortable, given that his elbows didn't bend the right way, but the face didn't look like it cared.

“The one thing the muggles are good at are killing each other,” the face said. “Let's see you try to get out of this.”

A moment later Harry felt a sharp pain across his throat, and a moment later everything went dark.

On the evening of his tenth birthday, Harry Potter died.

Harry woke, gasping for air. He tried to sit up only to feel his face smash into something solid.

It took him a moment to realize that he was back in his cupboard. He grabbed for his throat, but his skin was unbroken. There was no pain.

It hadn't been a dream; he'd never experienced pain like he'd had in that vision, and if pinching was enough to wake people up, that would have been enough to make him never sleep again.

A sudden pounding on the roof above him as his cousin jumped up and down made Harry startle.

“Happy birthday, freak!” Dudley shouted. “Maybe your parents will come back from the dead and give you something!”

Harry froze. Dudley had said that yesterday...exactly that. His birthday had been yesterday, not today.

As he slowly exited his cupboard, Harry felt a strange sense of Deja' Vu. His cousin and aunt were wearing the exact same clothes as they had been wearing the day before.

It wasn't surprising that Dudley would wear the same clothes, but Petunia would never wear the same clothes in the same week, much within two days.

If yesterday had been a dream, how did he know what they would be wearing?

If it wasn't...

It wasn't until he was sitting in front of the lit cupcake that Harry realized that the day really was repeating itself.

He felt himself go numb with sudden horror.

Today was the day that he died.

Chapter Text

The knowledge of what waited for him at the end of the day made the cupcake taste like ashes. Despite this, he didn't share any with Dudley; not sharing the cupcake with him had only been an excuse. Dudley and his friends didn't need an excuse for Harry hunting.

The fact that Harry was getting attention when Dudley wasn't, even if only for five minutes was enough to set everything in motion.

Concentrating on his classes proved to be impossible with the looming threat at the end of the day casting a pall over everything. The fact that the classes were exactly the same as the day before only worsened his horror. The thought that it might just have been a dream was washed away by the third class of the day.

The fact that he'd been through all of it before allowed him to turn his work in in a daze. It felt as though his body was working on automatic.

Lunch was normally his favorite part of the day. The Dursleys cared what other people thought, and if they shorted him lunch, people would talk. Dudley sometimes stole his lunch, but that was a different matter altogether.

Today everything tasted like sawdust. He ate alone like he did every day, and there wasn't anyone to distract him from his thoughts.

He saw Dudley talking to his friends and they all kept glancing in his direction. He wondered how he'd missed the significance of it the day before.

The end of the day came before he was ready.

The moment he left the front entrance to the school, he began running. He hoped that he'd be out of sight before Dudley or his cronies had a chance to find him.

Just in case, he made sure to turn down a street in the opposite direction from the way he'd gone the last time. A simple beating was much better than having his throat cut and having the pain of whatever that man had done with his stick.

Harry had a five minute head start on the bullies looking for him, and even though some of them were on bicycles, that was all he needed.

By the time Dudley came home, flushed and angry, Harry made sure that he was already cooking dinner for his aunt.

He made sure never to be alone with his cousin, and he went to bed in his cupboard. The one advantage of his cousin's casual cruelty was that he probably wouldn't remember to be cruel tomorrow, at least not for the reasons he'd been after Harry today. It was possible that one of his smarter friends might remind him, but Harry planned to be on his guard.

Laying in his cupboard, Harry shuddered. He'd been able to change the course of the day, but there was no guarantee that the man, McNair wouldn't find him in public one day and simply follow him home of simply snatch him off the street.

His entire life he'd had strange encounters with men who bowed to him and acted strangely. Always they'd stared at the scar on his forehead. The horrible face on the back of that man's head hadn't known who he was until McNair showed him the scar.

Harry became intensely self conscious about the scar. He found himself looking away from people, and he found himself scanning crowds for any sign of something being off.

It took time, but eventually he noticed that there were people whose clothing They looked as though they were trying to fit in but just didn't know what they were doing. The adults ignored them as odd eccentrics, but these were always the people who stared at his scar.

Eventually Harry asked his aunt about wearing a hat.

“A hat?” she turned to stare at him for a long moment. “What makes you think that we would ever spend a single penny on you that we didn't have to.”

His aunt and uncle had always hurried him and Dudley away from the people who had bowed to him. Harry suspected that they might know more than they were letting on.

“It's just that the men with sticks like to stare at it,” he said. “And it makes me uncomfortable.”

He'd never actually seen any of the men carrying a stick, but if Petunia knew more than she was letting on...

Her face went white and she grabbed him by the biceps, hard enough to hurt.

“Have freaks been showing you their sticks? Have they been showing Duddie-kins?” Her voice was intense and there was an undercurrent of fear.

“Not yet,” Harry said. “But I think it's just a matter of time the way they stare at it.”

When he arrive home the next evening, his aunt threw a baseball cap and a hooded sweatshirt at him with a sour look on her face.

He smiled at her, but she only promised to make him work extra to pay for them.

Despite the extra chores, it was worth it. With his hood up and baseball cap on, Harry felt a little safer out in public, although he never really let his guard down.

He began to notice places where things were off out of the corner of his eye, places where the air shimmered. It wasn't ever as obvious as it has been from the inside of the house McNair had found him at, but Harry was especially careful to avoid those places like the plague.

He conjured all kinds of fantasies in his mind about what it all meant. Was it a secret government conspiracy? Had his parents been spies?

Were their monsters hiding among them?

Why did they want to kill him in particular? Had his parents' car crash actually been a drunken accident, or had it been something more sinister?

Had he time traveled, or had he simply had a vision of the future? Either way, where had that power come from?

How had the man caused pain? His stick had never come close to touching Harry. How had the other man turned a fire poker into a knife?

Would he ever feel safe again?

His nights were filled with nightmares of men with sticks yelling Crucio, of knives flashing and strangely of green flashes of light and a woman screaming.

He tried looking up self defense techniques in the library, but although the pictures in the book looked simple enough, he could never remember what to do when his tri-weekly beatings came from Dudley and his friends.

It would take practice and a willing partner, Harry supposed, and he didn't have either of those. His only choice was to stay alert and get faster.

He began to look at Harry hunting as something more than an opportunity to get away from beatings.

If men actually wanted to kill him, he was going to have to get faster. He'd have to learn to be alert, and to be able to dodge whatever came at him.

He never actually reached the point that he was grateful for Dudley and his friends, but he did find himself getting better and better. Dudley kept having to recruit more and more people to keep up with him, and Harry took to escaping as though his life depended on it.

One day it might.

Months passed, and Harry got better at running and hiding. It wasn't brave, but when adults with strange powers were hunting you, it was the smartest thing to do.

One day, they were leaving a toy store. Harry had been brought along to be a pack mule, and he had boxes in his hand piled up past his eyeline.

That was the only excuse Harry had for missing the man at the end of the parking lot. Harry was helping to put the presents into the car when he first noticed the man staring at them.

Harry wasn't wearing his hat; Dudley had grabbed it while his hands were full and thrown it into the back of the car underneath the presents where it would get squashed.

“Aunt Petunia,” Harry said, his voice strained.

“What?” she snapped.

Harry turned away from the man who was staring at them, and said, “It's one of them.”

“One of...” Petunia asked, and then her face whited as she looked up.

“Get in the car,” she said shortly. She began shoving the presents in the back of the car as quickly as she could.

Dudley, for once was unusually observant.

“Is the freak scared of strangers?” he asked, grinning nastily.

Dudley's grins had hardly affected Harry at all since he'd seen what a real evil grin could look like.

“You want me to bring him over here and introduce you?” Dudley asked.

For the first and possibly only time in Dudley's life, his mother cuffed him. “Get in the car!”

As they pulled out of the parking lot, tires squealing, Dudley stared at them both in shock. He was uncharacteristically quiet.

Harry was too busy staring back at the man who was watching them to notice. His heart was in his throat. Had they found him?

From what he'd seen on the telly, all they had to do was write down the license plate and they'd be able to find out where they lived.

Vernon seemed unusually at a loss for words as he made both of them sit down that evening.

“I need to talk to you boys,” he said, glancing toward his wife.

She nodded at him sharply, urging him to continue.

“You may have some questions about what happened today,” he said. “And about what's been happening for a long time.”

Dudley had run to his father immediately after getting home with the story of getting slapped by his mother. He'd clearly expected that there might be an argument, but after a short period of whispered arguing, they'd been sent to their room and their cupboard respectively.

For the first time, Harry was happy to have his cupboard. If men were coming to murder them, the bedrooms and living areas were the first places they'd look.

The Dursleys had done everything they could to make Harry as invisible as possible. There were no pictures of him on the wall, no toys, no indication at all that he lived in the house.

Even his cupboard's door wasn't obvious as anything but a small closet.

The thought that the men with sticks might come and murder his aunt and uncle and cousin hadn't bothered him as much as he'd thought it might.

“Harry's parents didn't die in a car accident like we always told you,” Vernon said.

Harry's head snapped up. “What?”

“They were murdered,” Vernon said. “By people who were in...a cult I guess you'd say.”

“Why didn't anybody call the police?” Harry asked.

Vernon looked disgruntled. “You don't think we'd have tried that if we could? They've got people in the police. If we went to them they'd have us.”

“They want to kill me, don't they?” Harry asked, feeling numb.

Vernon scowled. “If it was just you, it wouldn't be that much of a loss. But if they get you they'll get the rest of us too.”

It explained a lot. It explained why the Dursleys resented Harry so much. Every moment that he stayed in their house he was endangering all of them.

The anger they'd shown every time one of the men had bowed toward harry, that had just been their fear showing.

Beside him, Dudley began crying and Aunt Petunia rushed to comfort him.

“Why do you keep me here, then?” Harry asked.

Vernon scowled and didn't answer for a long moment. Finally he said, “There's two groups of them, and one of the groups is making us do it. If it was up to me, I'd have left you at an orphanage the day we got you.”

“So if you give me up one group comes for you...if you don't, the other one does.” Harry said, staring at his uncle.

They were trapped even more than he was.

Strangely, he found himself getting along better with his aunt and uncle after that. Their behavior toward him didn't change much, but he suddenly found himself unable to resent their coldness toward him. They had reasons for it that he could understand, and that made it easier to accept.

That didn't mean that he didn't still crave love and affection, but at least he didn't fight back against them.

His attitude improved, and they softened toward him, even if only imperceptibly.

The one who changed the most was Dudley. The same paranoia that had infected Harry had begun to infect him.

The Harry hunts stopped; Dudley no longer wanted anything to do with him. If adults were hunting Harry, Dudley didn't want to be anywhere in the vicinity.

Now Harry wasn't the only one to have nightmares.

Life began to settle into a predictable pattern, at least until the summer holiday.

That was the day the letter came that was to change Harry's life.

Chapter Text

The letter in his hand seemed as dangerous as a snake. Harry stared at it numbly.

Wizards and witches? It would explain the sticks the men had used and it would explain the things they had done. It certainly didn't explain why they wanted to kill him or why they thought he'd want to go someplace where people wanted to kill him.

He felt a presence behind him, but before he could react Dudley grabbed the letter from him.

“Mum! Harry opened one of the letters!”

He was running before Harry could react, still stunned from what he'd read. Glancing up at the entryway, Harry winced. His aunt wouldn't react well. She was terrified of the men with sticks and this was only going to make the temporary truce they'd worked for evaporate.

Cautiously he stepped into the kitchen. Petunia's face was as white as a sheet as she stared down at the letter.

“It was addressed to me...” Harry said slowly.

He'd never had a letter addressed to him, and he'd opened it without thinking.

“I won't have this filth in the house,” she said in a low, cold voice.

Harry nodded. “Thing said they made you take me. Are they going to make this happen too?”

She looked up at him wordlessly and stared at him for a long moment.

“This's a boarding school?”

His aunt nodded. “Your mother went...thought it was a lark. It killed her in the end.”

Harry stared at her for a long moment. “What happens if we say no?”

“They'll come for you,” she said. “They don't care what people want, not really, as long as they get what they need.”

“So the more we fight it, the more likely they'll be to send someone here,” Harry said. He hesitated. “If they do, what are the chances that someone will follow them?”

“They said we'd be protected as long as we stayed in this house,” Petunia said. “Vernon's had to give up promotions because we'd have had to move.”

So the family had even more reason to resent him. Harry scowled.

“All they need to know is the neighborhood we're in...they could look us up in the phone book or just wait at the local grocery store.”

Petunia turned even whiter.

“Do you know why they want me dead?” Harry asked quietly.

“There was an accident when their leader murdered your parents, and he died instead of you.”

“That's it?” Harry asked disbelievingly. “I was a baby! You can't blame a baby for something its parents probably did anyway.”

His aunt had the grace to look away for a moment. “They do, and now both sides are obsessed with you. We were warned about letting you around either group.”

Harry scowled. “So whatever happens, I'm going to end up going, and if we fight it they may send someone here.”

Petunia scowled, but nodded.

“So maybe we shouldn't fight it. If I'm gone for nine months out of the year, you all should be safe. And maybe I can learn something to help keep us all safe.”

“It'll be the death of you.” Petunia said.

“Would that bother you that much?” Harry asked. “At least all this would be over and then you'd be able to go on with your lives.”

She flushed. “You think that hasn't occurred to us?”

“And if I don't die, eventually I'll be able to leave and you'll all be safe again.”

“Not until you're seventeen,” she muttered. “We've got to keep you until then.”

“That's only a year and a half that we have to live under the same roof,” Harry said, “If I'm only here three months a year.”

“Vernon won't like it,” she said, but she was already wavering.

“Only, I don't know where to get all the stuff they're talking about, or where to catch the train.”

“I know where to go,” she admitted reluctantly. “There's a place where they sell...things. I won't go in with you though.”

Harry froze. Going alone to a place like that, where everyone was a possible wouldn't be safe.

“Maybe we should wait for someone to take me then,” he said uncertainly. Although he found the idea of depending on anyone from that world worrying, it would be better than going alone.

His aunt's face tightened. “We aren't allowing any of them to come here. I'll drive you.”

No matter how he argued, she wouldn't change her mind.

“It's somewhere around here,” his aunt said. She'd left Dudley at home and she was adamant in her refusal to come with her.

She'd grudgingly gone to the bank and withdrawn three hundred pounds. The expression on her face said more than anything that she'd find some way to make him pay her back. She'd seemed reluctant to hand him the money at all, but apparently the thought of avoiding having a wizard come to her house was worth the money.

“This is all you get,” she said. “And they won't take proper money...they've got their own kind. You'll have to go the's run by horrid creatures. They'll exchange the money there. They'll try to cheat you...don't let them. Ask a human what the exchange rate is before you see them.”

“You know a lot about this,” Harry said.

“I went with your mother,” Petunia said shortly. “I saw as much as I'm ever going to want to.”

Harry nodded. “But you don't know where I'm supposed to go in?”

“Proper people can't see it,” she said. “Only freaks.”

Harry nodded. He looked around and he noticed the strange shimmer that he'd seen in other places all over town.

There was one building that looked different than the buildings around it. It looked older and more decrepit; there was a sign.

“The leaky cauldron?” he asked.

She nodded grimly. “There should be enough there for you to take a cab to the train station to get back. I'm not waiting on you.”

Not as though he thought that she would. She looked nervous even being this close.

She'd lent him a knitted woolen longshoreman's cap that Vernon had been planning to throw it away. She informed him that Vernon wouldn't want it back after it had been on the freak's head.

He was grateful, though. He pulled it down so that it covered his scar, and he pulled his hoodie up. Reluctantly he stepped out of the car, and she was driving away almost before he could close the door.

He stood in the street for a moment watching the brake lights of her car. She never slowed down or looked back.

Grimacing, he slouched and headed for the Leaky Cauldron.

Stepping inside, he felt uneasy. As far as he knew, it was illegal for children to be in pubs by themselves, and he worried that he would draw attention to himself by doing so.

It was dark and shabby, and Harry had a sudden feeling that he'd stepped back into another time. The subtle wrongness he'd sensed in people was everywhere here. In the corner a man in a tall wizard's hat was drinking something green that bubbled and popped.

A group of old women were huddled in a corner; they glanced up at him for a moment as he entered, then turned back to whatever they were discussing.

The barman was waving a wand over his bar; as the wand passed over it it turned shiny and clean.

Reluctantly, Harry stepped up to the bar.

“I need to visit the alley, sir,” he said. He kept his head down, the knitted cap pulled down over his scar.

“Muggle born, are you?” the man asked. He chuckled and said, “Follow me.”

It made Harry uneasy going anywhere alone with an adult that he didn't know, but according to Petunia, this was how it was done.

The man led him into a small walled courtyard behind the pub, and he showed him the pattern to enter the alley. It would take a wand, Harry noted, and he was going to need one to get back out.

With a glance at the man, Harry slipped inside.

The sense of stepping into another century was even more intense. Cobblestones covered the street and men and women everywhere were wearing strange robes. They looked every bit like the cult the Dursleys had accused them of being.

There were shops selling robes, telescopes and instruments ha had never seen before. There were windows selling bat spleens and eels' eyes, potions, brooms and bottles galore.

It was overwhelming. It was hard enough to deal with the everyday occurrence of a single wizard, but any of the people on the street here could be out for his blood.

Harry hunched over even further and began heading down the street, keeping his head down and trying not to make it obvious that his eyes were darting back and forth.

He reached the bank sooner than he would have expected. The creatures standing outside the bank were shorter than he was, and they stared up at him with undisguised animosity.

The plaque on the outside had a warning against those who would steal from the goblins. Harry didn't doubt that they'd have horrible punishments. They had pointed teeth and looked as though they were ready to stab him at a moment's notice.

The clerks inside weren't any friendlier. He had to wait in line and eventually managed to get his money exchanged from a bored looking clerk.

He hadn't asked about the exchange rate, although it looked to be five pounds to the galleon. The clerk had begrudgingly explained the other Wizarding coins to him.

Getting out of the bank made him feel relieved, only to feel overwhelmed again as he realized that it was even more crowded now than it had been before.

He managed to find his potion supplies, his books and even get his wand from a man who made him feel deeply uneasy. Despite his scar being covered, the man seemed to know who he was, and he made cryptic comments about the wand that eventually chose him.

His aunt had apparently shorted him on money; he wondered if she'd done it deliberately, or whether things simply cost more now than they had when his mother went to school. In any case he had to find a used robe shop, where he had to bargain to get three robes that were worn.

Getting an owl was out of the question. He didn't have any money left, and even if he had, Harry couldn't imagine his aunt and uncle allowing an owl inside the house.

Still, of all the products on display, an owl and a broom were the ones he most wanted. From what he saw, the broom would let him get away from danger, although it wouldn't be very convenient to carry everywhere. The owl he wanted for himself.

He'd never been allowed to have a pet before, and an owl that could find anyone and deliver messages to them sounded a lot more useful than the goldfish Dudley had gotten from a fair once. That fish had died within three days.

The books and equipment he'd purchased were heavy, and Harry didn't look forward to the trip to the train station. He'd been watching carefully as they'd driven.

Although his aunt had told him to get a cab, there wasn't enough money after he'd bought everything. There would barely be enough for the train fare.

So Harry found himself walking, burdened down by books and bags. His shoulders were already aching, and it was only going to get worse before it got better.

The sun had already set and Harry noticed that there weren't a lot of cars passing by.

He felt deeply uneasy as he walked, and he though he heard the sounds of footsteps behind him.

Glancing back, he saw two men walking slowly behind him. They were dressed in regular clothes, but something about them seemed off to him.

Wizards never quite seemed to know how to dress like ordinary people.

Harry turned to run, but it was already too late. A man appeared in front of him with a crack of displaced air.

“This is from the Dark Lord,” he said.

Harry stared down at the dagger in his stomach for a moment. A moment later he found himself falling.

Chapter Text

Despite his paranoia, Harry had largely forgotten just how frightening and how painful dying was.

Laying in the darkness inside his cupboard, his chest heaved. His heart raced and he could feel his hands trembling.

It wasn't morning like it had been the last time he'd died, but he had no way of knowing when he'd gone back to, not until his aunt came to let him out of the cupboard.

How had they found him? He'd been careful to keep his scar covered and he'd kept his hood up. If they didn't know what he looked like...

Harry grimaced.

Every other child of his apparent age had either stared at the shops around them with a sense of wonder, or they'd looked bored. All of them had been accompanied by adults.

None of them had crept around like a burglar in a kids show.

He'd made a point of identifying wizards by the subtle differences, the ways they didn't fit in with normal human beings. Yet somehow he'd assumed that they would be less observant than an eleven year old child?

Wizards weren't stupid, and even if most of them were all it would take was one or two observant ones to alert the others and put them on his trail.

He covered his eyes with his arm and willed his breathing to slow down, but he wasn't having much luck.

There was no way he was going to be able to convince Petunia to go with him. It would be difficult to convince her to give him more money.

Harry hadn't liked the part of the alley he'd gotten the secondhand robes from; the clientele had seemed dodgy. He wondered if that was where he'd been identified. Had he died for the lack of twenty pounds?

If he'd had more money he could have at least gotten a taxi, although he suspected that if he'd been seen that the wizards wouldn't have hesitated to kill a taxi cab driver. He wasn't even sure if a taxi would take an unaccompanied child anyway.

The thought of taking the train by himself was daunting; he'd never done it, and from what he'd heard there were dangerous people on the train late at night even without wizards.

All in all, he'd been a fool. He'd thought he'd be able to do it all himself.

He should have known better.

The next morning seemed like any other day; it was a Saturday and without school to jog his memory, Harry had trouble realizing just when this was.

A glance at the mirror in the loo reassured him that he hadn't gone back a year. He'd had nightmares about having to repeat his entire academic year, this time with the knowledge of what was coming. He wasn't sure he'd have been able to take it.

It wasn't until he volunteered to take Vernon's newspaper to the trash that he'd gotten a good look at the date.

To his relief he'd only lost two weeks. It could have been much, much worse.

He'd have time to rethink what he'd done, to come up with a better plan.

On reflection, it had been foolish to depend on the Dursleys for money. He began looking for odd jobs aropund the neighborhood, beginning with Arabella Figg, his neighbors with all the cats.

Although he was only making five to ten pounds each day, by the time his letter had come he'd managed to collect and hide almost one hundred and fifty pounds. The fact that his cousin was no longer Harry hunting gave him the time to look for work.

Some of the neighbors turned him away, convinced by the rumors the Dursleys had spread about him being criminally minded. Others didn't, and enough of them had given him the benefit of the doubt that he'd managed to collect what to him seemed like an inconceivable amount of money.

Of course, since he'd never owned a single pound of his own, any amount of money seemed inconceivable.

Although the work was hard, he'd been forced into having a work ethic by the Dursleys. The hardest part was that he had to continue doing his chores for his aunt and uncle on top of the work he was doing for the neighbors.

He fell into his cupboard exhausted each night. The nightmares he was having didn't make his sleep any easier, but sheer exhaustion helped him get enough sleep.

As the day got nearer and nearer, he found himself growing more and more anxious. He had a plan, but he wasn't sure how he was going to manage it.

The only way he'd be able to blend in was if he was with some adults and other children. His best bet was to find a family that looked like normal people and worm his way into shopping with them.

No one would be looking for Harry Potter in a family with other children.

It was a technique that he'd heard some of Dudley's smarter friends use to get into movies they wouldn't ave been allowed to go in and see alone.

The only question was whether he could pull it off. Could he pretend to be friendly when his entire life he'd been ostracized. Could he even find a family that looked like they might help him?

Fear grew in the pit of his belly, until the day his letter came.

At least this time he knew exactly what to say to get his aunt to take him to Diagon Alley.
There was a risk in hiding outside the Leaky Cauldron. There was every chance that someone would notice him, and that he'd be pulled further back into the alley he was currently in and murdered.

He'd thought long and hard about what he was looking for. People who knew what they were doing were out of the question.

The questions he'd asked Petunia on the car ride here had been a little different this time. She admitted that sometimes wizards were born to ordinary people and that other times the parents were all wizards.

What he needed were a family with wizard children and ordinary parents. They wouldn't know anything about him or about whatever dark lord that was trying to kill him. They'd be more likely to try to help him as well.

A steady stream of people made their way into the leaky Cauldron, but most of them had no problem making straight for it. It seemed like an eternity that Harry waited, and he was conscious the entire time of the four hundred fifty pounds that he had in his pocket.

There were normal criminals who would slit his throat for far less money, at least according to the shows Vernon watched on the telly. Harry sometimes saw part of them while he was cleaning and he heard the rest from inside his cupboard.

The fact that he knew first hand that some people wouldn't hesitate to kill made the horrifying scenes he'd listened to and heard all the more frightening.

Harry stiffened as he saw a family was a man, woman and a girl who looked to be his age.

The adults looked confused and they kept trying to turn away. The girl finally had to take them both by the hand and drag them forcibly toward the pub.

They resisted for a moment, but eventually their steps grew surer. They looked surprised, as though they were finally seeing something that should have been obvious right in front of them.

Harry took a deep breath. This was it.

“Is this your first time to the alley?” Harry asked the girl.

She seemed to be a chatterbox, rarely stopping to take a breath. He was grateful; with the amount she talked, he barely had time to get a word in edgewise, which meant that he hadn't had to try to sell much of the lie he'd been working on for the past two weeks.

It had been surprisingly easy to ingratiate himself with them before they'd even stepped into the pub. Simply asking if they were coming to buy school supplied had been enough to get everything started.

Harry had claimed that his family was going to pick him up because both his caretakers were working late. He'd come up with all sorts of elaborations on that story, but the Grangers had accepted them immediately.

He was thankful that he'd managed to convince his aunt to cover his scar with makeup. He'd had to force himself not to rub at it; it felt odd on his skin. The anonymity it provided let him hold his head high, however, even if he had to repeatedly tell himself not to slump or skulk around.

“My parents are dentists,” the girl was saying. “And they didn't really believe in magic, even in spite of the strange things that were happening in our house until this professor came to our house and showed us.”

She took a breath and finally seemed to register his question.

“We've never been here, if that's what you are asking. You're the first other wizard I've ever had a chance to talk to, and I have so many questions.”

Harry forced himself to smile. Being a wizard hadn't brought him anything but pain and misery, but this girl Hermione seemed to be filled with the wonder of it all.

He allowed himself a moment to wonder if he'd have been this naive, this cheerful and full of life if his life hadn't been what it was.

Fortunately the girl's attention turned away from him as the bartender led them to the small courtyard leading into Diagon Alley.

Whatever questions she'd had for him vanished the moment she saw what was on the other side of the brick wall.

Harry studied her expression for a moment then tried to imitate it. He tried to look awestruck, and he could only hope that he was a good enough actor that no one would notice this time.

He was able to confirm his story to the Grangers that he'd been there in the past, and he was able to repay their kindness by leading them to the goblin bank and then to the various shops.

This time he was actually able to afford new school robes, the first clothes he'd worn in his life that weren't used since he'd lived with the Dursleys.

He discovered that he was actually interested in what the girl had to say. She'd had her own bouts of accidental magic, and how her parents reacted was a stark contrast to how his aunt and uncle had. They'd been confused but accepting.

If his aunt and uncle hadn't lived in a constant state of fear for their lives, would they have been kinder? Would they have actually cared for Harry, if not as much as they did for Dudley, at least a little?

Yet despite the girl having the kind of upbringing Harry would have given almost anything to have, he could tell that she had deep seated insecurities.

While they were getting measured for new robes, she admitted that she'd been bullied for her intelligence.

He didn't tell her that he'd been forced to hide his own intelligence ever since he'd been in school. Making a better grade that his cousin had led to accusations of cheating, and he'd soon learned to never do more than he had to to get by.

The evening came to a close faster than he'd expected. Although he'd found himself watching the faces in the crowd, wondering if any of the people were watching him back, he'd been less stressed than he had the first time.

The first hitch came when the Grangers insisted on waiting for his family with him. Worse, the Leaky Cauldron didn't have a telephone.

Harry had to admit finally that he'd been going to take the train home. They were horrified that a child of his age would even think of doing such a thing, but he pleaded that this aunt and uncle hadn't had any choice.

What astonished him was that they insisted on driving him home himself.

It was thirty minutes hour round trip for them but they didn't hesitate to offer.

Harry felt a lump in his throat at their kindness. In any other circumstance he would have been suspicious that they were waiting to take him away somewhere, but compared to what he was facing from the wizards, how bad could it be?

No one in his entire life had offered him that kind of kindness, at least not without having an ulterior motive.

He'd gotten in the car quickly as he noticed other people coming out of the pub. After all his work at being anonymous, the last thing he wanted to do was make a scene.

As he rode home, he felt tears in his eyes. He'd survived this time entirely on the kindness of strangers. There was no way he could depend on that kind of luck in the future.

He was going to have to plan for the worst. Hoping for the best seemed foolishly optimistic.

Chapter Text

A month at home hadn't really prepared Harry for the trip to Hogwarts

His uncle had been upset about the three hundred pounds, and about his going to Diagon Alley, but his aunt had spoke to him in quiet tones and he'd eventually settled down.

They'd moved him to Dudley's unused room after seeing the way his letter was addressed. Harry was impressed. Not only did he finally have more room, but he could study his books by moonlight.

Even with the money he'd saved, he hadn't been able to buy half the books the Grangers had gotten Hermione. He'd looked for books on recent Wizarding history, however, hoping to find information about the war that had killed his parents.

What he'd found shocked him.

Not only was there a very public prophecy about him, but there was a common consensus that the Dark Lord was coming back. That had kept his followers energized and in turn that had kept attacks by Death Eaters at a low boil for the last eleven years.

They were organized and they believed that their master was the only one who could kill Harry Potter.

Harry winced and rubbed his side. He had evidence that that wasn't the case, unless somehow the prophecy meant that he couldn't be permanently killed by anyone other than the Dark Lord.

But from what he'd understood, the face on the back of the man's head had been the Dark lord, and that still hadn't killed him.

Of course, it hadn't been the dark lord's hand that had held the knife. It had been whoever was hosting him in the back of his head. If that was the case, then once the Dark Lord regrew his own body, Harry would be in real trouble.

The entire Wizarding world was going to expect him to be some kind of master duelist, but Harry didn't see how that was possible. He knew that the Dark lord was in Britain and he assumed that he was working toward regaining a body.

Harry hoped that someone...Hermione or someone else would tell him the name of the Dark Lord. It wasn't in any of the books and it only seemed right that he knew the name of the man who had already had him murdered twice.

Of course, he studied his books as much as possible, without rubbing his aunt or uncle's nose in it. He didn't know what he would face in Hogwarts, but at least some of the students would be the children of death eaters.

Others would undoubtedly be the same kind of bullies Harry had seen in school; some would actively bully others, and others would happily join in.

It seemed insane to Harry to have a school where every student carried a weapon with them at all times. He'd seen how impulsive his classmates were and he could only imagine how much worse Wizarding children must be.

After all, they lived in a world where normal laws didn't apply, and Harry assumed that had to come with a certain sense of entitlement.

He could even see why his aunt and uncle had called them a cult. After all, they separated their members from the rest of humanity, isolating them for months at a time. They forced them to secrecy, not allowing them to talk about whatever went on in their community.

By not teaching maths or science or history they crippled students ability to leave their community. With a Hogwarts education, there was no way he'd ever be able to go to Uni. He'd never be able to get a good job in the non-magical world.

He'd be forced to live among the wizards, following their rules and living the way their community decided they should live.

Still, if they were going to put a weapon in his hand, he was going to learn how to use it. He knew better than most just how necessary it was to protect oneself, although he supposed that it would be years before he was able to duel with an adult wizard.

His best bet was to know more than anyone expected. Surprise could be a great equalizer, and even a trained fighter could be taken down by an amateur doing something unexpected.

So he studied, harder than he ever had in his life. Whenever he thought about slacking, his hand went to his side and he went back to it.

He still had his normal chores, or course, but at least now he wasn't taking on extra work in the neighborhood. As it was summer, there were no classes and he had time to study.

The only regret he had was that he wasn't allowed to actually use his wand. The Grangers had an actual meeting with a teacher at the school, and they'd been informed that the use of magic outside of school by minors was strictly forbidden.

Without being able to actually practice, he wouldn't be able to really accomplish anything. Harry suspected that they wouldn't be learning anything really impressive the first year anyway; there wasn't any point in teaching an eleven year old how to blow up a castle when they didn't have the self control to even stay out of fist fights.

He had no idea what magic was really capable of. Could he really learn how to blow up castles? He wished he'd had more money to buy more books, or at least to buy an owl so he could order some.

Not that he had anyone to send letters to anyway, other than Hermione, and he'd gotten her telephone number before they'd dropped him off down the street. He'd lied about the actual address, having them drop him off at a house down the street that was abandoned and empty.

He'd pretended to go around the back to get in; the last thing he'd needed was to have the Grangers confront his aunt and uncle about leaving him to go shopping on his own.

They were on edge as it was.

His aunt admitted to him that there had been incidents, times when wizards had attacked the family only to be attacked and killed by other wizards.

They'd been found a half dozen times throughout the years, but the other side had seemingly always managed to silence the wizards who were after them. It had led them to be overly cautious and furthermore it had led them to resent him and the effect being forced to keep him had one their family.

The fact that the wizards had wiped the memories of every normal person in the area had only increased their anxiety. Petunia had a persistent fear that it had been done to her as well; Harry could hear it in her voice.

What truly horrified her was the thought that it had happened much more often, and those half dozen times were the only times they'd let her remember. The expression on her face made Harry feel pity for her for the first time in his life, even as the true horror hit him.

His aunt and uncle had been allowed to remember the attacks, but he didn't remember a single one of them. What had the wizards done to him? Was there some way to keep it from happening in the future?

His aunt and uncle were anxious about driving him to the train station. They were convinced that wizards would be watching for him, and that they would attack the moment he stepped out of the car.

Harry thought they were right. It was the logical thing to do, even if the other side was going to be watching. At the very least they would try to identify him.

Even if he managed to slip into Hogwarts, Harry had a strong suspicion that the children of his enemies would give very good descriptions of him, and coming home would be much more dangerous. There wouldn't be any chance that he'd be able to slip through the crowd then.

The only thing that occurred to him was to repeat what he'd done in Diagon Alley. He told his aunt and uncle about his plan and although they were initially reluctant to involve other normal people, the look of relief on their face at not actually having to go was obvious and palpable.

“Thanks for picking me up,” Harry said.

“Since your uncle was able to meet us halfway, it wasn't a problem at all,” Hermione's father said. “I'm glad that Hermione is going to know someone at that school of theirs.”

Harry flushed. He felt guilty using the Grangers the way he was. After all, they had been the first people in his entire life to be nice to him. They had helped him out of a sense of common decency, not because they wanted something from him.

Now he was endangering their lives, and if there was some kind of magical terrorist attack on the station, he'd been endangering the lives of other wizard children and their parents as well as all the normal people.

He shook his head. It wasn't as though he had a choice.

“Still, it's a lot more than I could have asked for,” Harry said.

Hermione's expression had been troubled since he'd gotten into the vehicle. She kept glancing at her parents and then back at him significantly as though she desperately wanted to say something but couldn't.

Harry shook his head in her direction. Undoubtedly she'd read all about the prophecy and given that she'd bought three times as many books as he had, she might actually know more about it than he did.

He'd question her once they got on the train.

At least she seemed smart enough not to bring things up in front of her parents. Harry couldn't help but imagine them leaving him on the side of the road once they found out. His aunt and uncle certainly would.

She didn't look hurt or betrayed; if she'd realized the real reason he'd asked them to take him with them she wouldn't have been able to help it. The girl didn't seem like she'd be able to lie to save her life. It was all she could do now to blurt out whatever it was that was bothering her.

He simply kept quiet, focusing on how he was going to look as normal as possible as they entered the station. As far as he knew, none of the enemy Wizards had a good description of him, and he'd had his aunt cover his forehead with makeup.

She'd been more gentle about it this time, and he'd almost thought he'd seen a look of pity in her eyes as she'd sent him on his way. Whatever she felt, it wasn't enough for her to endanger herself of any member of her family.

They were at King's Cross station before he was ready.

“I heard they have plainclothes aurors all over the station,” Hermione murmured. “To obliviate an muggles who see too much.”

Harry glanced at her sharply. That sounded a little too much like his aunt's horror stories.

“It's just for one day,” Hermione said. “You can't have dozens of wizarding families in the same place without someone slipping up after all.”

“They do tend to stand out,” Hermione's father said as he pulled the car into a parking spot.

Harry nodded grimly. As insular as the Wizarding community was, it was inevitable that they'd have trouble fitting in. They didn't even watch television, according to his aunt, or read muggle magazines.

He'd have thought that the muggle born wizards would change that, but apparently not.

Harry hated the term muggle. It implied a certain sense of superiority over the other 99.999% of humanity. When he'd read about the term, it had only increased his sense of disquiet.

Unlocking his seatbelt, Harry took a deep breath.

It was an effort to force himself not to look around. If he'd been one of the dark lord's servants, he'd have had men posted in the parking lots, since most of the aurors would be focused on the station itself.

He forced himself to look unconcerned and he wondered if he was getting any better at it. If Hogwarts had a drama department, he might consider taking some courses just for the experience.

Pulling his trunk from the boot at the back of the car, he turned to Hermione and said, “Are you ready for this?”

She smiled and said, “I think it's going to be brilliant, don't you?”

Hermione's father took his trunk from him; Harry was grateful. Struggling to carry his trunk until he could find a cart would have made him more obvious, not less.

Harry shrugged and said, “I hope it is.”

“How can you not?” Hermione asked, scandalized. “Didn't it just feel right when the professor came and told you all about it?”

“That's just for muggleborns,” Harry said. “My parents had magic, so I guess they thought my family would tell me about it.”

“So you always knew?” Hermione asked, with a wistful look on her face.

Harry felt himself beginning to sweat. Anyone listening too closely to their conversation might have enough clues to who he was. Also, he wasn't sure what the sweating would do to his makeup.

“I'm just wondering how we're going to get there,” Harry asked.

“Oh, we already know the way,” Hermione said, switching gears. “Professor McGonegall told us how to find it, and we came up last weekend to make sure we'd know where to go.”

Harry nodded, the sensation of having a bulls eye between his shoulder blades growing with every step they took toward the station.

There was already a crowd approaching the station. Harry could see some people who were obviously wizards.

“Sometimes I wonder how everybody misses it,” Hermione's mother said quietly.

Her father chuckled. “We never noticed anything before we found out. Now you can't help but see it.”

Everywhere Harry looked there were wizarding families, but the horrifying part was that they were intermixed with normal people. Harry couldn't be entirely sure who was wizard and who was muggle. Surely not every wizard was clueless about modern fashions.

Keeping his head held high and a pleasant expression on his face was far harder than Harry would have expected. He'd managed it in Diagon Alley, but there had been no way for the enemy to know which day he was going to show up.

Here, they knew exactly where and approximately when he was going to show.

He felt like every step was one more step toward his execution.

Chapter Text

Simply making it into the station was a major accomplishment as far as Harry was concerned. He was acutely aware of just how much he was sweating and he forced himself to smile even wider than he had before.

The inside of the station was even more crowded. With this many people, it would be easy for someone to stick a knife in him or do something with a wand. Even after studying his school books, he didn't have a real idea just what a wizard could do.

He couldn't see anyone who looked like aurors. If they were competent, they would look more like muggles than muggles. Their whole job was blending in, after all, and making sure everyone else blended in.

Hermione stopped talking about magic; the last thing they wanted was to force someone to be obliviated.

While Hermione's father got them both carts for their luggage, she stopped and turned toward him.

“So do you have everything you need for school?” she asked.

“Not as much as I'd like,” Harry admitted. “But I've got all the basics. I would have liked to have gotten an owl, though.”

Glancing around, he could see at least a dozen families carrying owls in cages as well as other animals. He couldn't understand how the normal people around them didn't notice. Didn't it seem odd?

“I read that they create a low level confundus field here just for school days,” Hermione said. “It keeps people slightly confused. They don't do it the other days because it would cause all kinds of problems...people getting on the wrong trains, getting lost, that kind of thing.”

Harry nodded. It had to be something like that, because it didn't look like some of the families were even trying to be discreet.

He could see families running straight into a wall up ahead and disappearing. Even given the normally accepting nature of Londoners, that normally would have drawn a lot of attention.

“That's it then?” he asked in a low voice.

Hermione nodded. “I went through when nobody was looking; we went late just in case when we came last week. There wasn't a train then, of course. I'm excited to see what it looks like.”

“I would have thought they'd do something like flying carpets,” Harry said. “Or broomsticks.”

“Flying carpets are illegal in Britain,” Hermione said. “And you really want to try carrying a lot of luggage on one? Can you imagine hundreds of flying carpets all heading for Scotland? It'd be a nightmare from a secrecy perspective.”

“Nobody thinks anything about a train,” Harry said, considering. “And it's a lot more convenient than trying to balance a trunk on a broom, I guess.”

“It's been in operation since 1830,” Hermione said. “but with magic, they've been able to keep it running like new.”

From what Harry had read, wizards had stolen the train from muggles using massive amounts of memory charms and other magics.

He flinched despite himself as an older man rushed past him. The sheer numbers of people inside the station was a nightmare from the perspective of watching for attackers.

“Maybe we should get going,” Harry murmured.

Hermione nodded. She turned to her parents and said, “I wish I could take you through, but...”

“It'd be too inconvenient for everyone, trying to go back when everyone else is going in,” Hermione's father said. “We've told us.”

Hermione lowered her voice. “Most wizards just disappararate once the train leaves. I can't wait to learn how to do that...I've wanted to teleport since I watched the Tomorrow People reruns when I was a child.”

At Harry's quizzical look, she said, “I'll tell you about it on the train.”

She turned to her parents and began hugging them. She had tears in her eyes and they clearly felt the same.

Hermione's father clapped Harry on the back. “Take good care of our little girl.”

“It seems more likely that she's going to take care of me,” Harry said awkwardly. He had to force himself not to flinch as the older man's arm went over his shoulder.

He wasn't really sure how to react to the obvious love and affection the Grangers were showing out in public. He'd never been hugged before, much less kissed.

His only human contact had been Dudley's fists, or being punished.

Still, he could see others around him doing the same thing, and so it only helped make his ruse more convincing. After a moment, he relaxed.

The man withdrew just as Harry was getting used to the sensation.

“Well, you two had better get going. You don't want to be late. From what that professor told us, we'd never be able to find the school on our own.”

Hermione didn't seem to want to let go of her mother.

Someone jostled into Harry, and he felt a chill down his spine. They needed to get moving, or he'd be dead for sure. The last thing he wanted was to be murdered again.

For all he knew he was like a cat, except that maybe two extra lives was all he had. Maybe he had three or seven or ten. Maybe he could permanently die by some method that hadn't been used on him yet. Whatever happened, he couldn't afford to take chances.

As they approached the platform, Hermione said, “You have to take a bit of a run at it. If you move slow and just touch it, it seems solid, but with a little speed you'll go right through.”

She'd tried it the week before, so she'd know. Presumably she and her family had been told the trick by whoever had been sent to tell them about magic.

Harry wondered if his aunt knew, and why she hadn't told him. Of course it had been fifteen years or more since she would have been told, so she might not remember.

A moment later, Hermione was pushing her way through the wall, and Harry took a deep breath and followed her through.

As he stumbled through to the other side, Harry had a sense that he was walking into another world. Whereas on the other side the wizards had made at least a token effort to fit in with the muggles around them, on this side they'd changed into clothes they were more comfortable.

It was like Diagon Alley all over again, except this time there were children everywhere. They were moving around and talking in high pitched, shrill voices.

Adults moved more sedately. This was making Harry anxious; the fast moving younger children were coming in from all directions, and the sensation of quick movement out of the side of his vision made him jerk.

It was only two red haired twins throwing something through the air at each other.

Harry reached up and wiped the sweat from his forehead. His hand felt sticky, and a moment later he realized that he'd wiped the makeup from his forehead.

Hermione was staring at his forehead.

“I'd wondered if you'd gotten cosmetic surgery to have it repaired,” she said quietly, staring at the scar on his forehead. “I just didn't want to say anything.”

As if the Dursleys would shell out for cosmetic surgery. He was lucky they'd even bothered to get him glasses.

The train was bigger than he would have thought; it had to be to carry hundreds of students. Harry found himself being impressed in spite of himself. It wasn't like a modern tram at all, and despite its age it looked brand new.

The sign said Hogwarts express, eleven o'clock.

“Maybe we should get on the train before the good seats are taken,” he said. The first two compartments were already filled with students, some hanging out of the windows calling to their families.

He could see an entire family of redheads staring at the scar on his head. He winced, and grabbed Hermione.

“I've had too many people gawk at it; that's why I cover it up with makeup.”

It was a lie, of course. He'd never even given people a chance to gawk at it, although he could see several people in the crowd gawking at it now.

They pushed forward, and he and Hermione managed to pull their suitcases onto the train. They dragged them to the first empty compartment they could find, and together they managed to wrestle the luggage into the overhead bins.

Harry felt exhausted as they finally sat down; less from the exertion with the luggage and more from the emotional stress of having had to walk through the gauntlet. He'd felt like he was creeping through a minefield, but for whatever reason, no one had tried to kill him.

“I read about the prophecy, you know,” Hermione said. “And we got a subscription to the wizarding newspaper...there was an article about your attending this year.”

She pulled out a paper, and Harry saw a picture of him as a baby. His scar was starkly visible.

“The last thing I want is to get famous,” Harry said. “Or think about the prophecy. I think prophecies are rubbish anyway.”

“Well, they do always seem to be written in a way that they can be met in multiple ways.”

“You never hear about a prophecy saying that someone is going to be defeated on June 22nd,” Harry said, smirking.

“Well,” Hermione said. “If I heard I was going to be defeated that day, I'd just call in sick.”

Harry nodded.

“I think it's nonsense anyway. Do they really think I defeated the Dark Lord as a baby?”

“You call him the Dark Lord?” Hermione asked. “I thought only Death Eaters did that.”

Harry flushed. “I couldn't find out what his name actually is; I'm not going to run around calling him 'you know who' like they do in the books.”

Hermione smirked and leaned closer to him. “You want to know his name? I know what it is. It's-”

A round faced boy stuck his head in the door and said, “Have either of you seen my toad?”

Harry stared at the boy for a long moment. He couldn't for the life of him understand why anyone would want a toad. Owls were useful, and cats were good for petting, at least when they weren't clawing and biting like Ms. Figg's many cats when they were in a mood.

A toad didn't seem useful at all, and they didn't seem like they'd be good companions.

“Haven't seen it,” Harry said.

“Let's go help him,” Hermione said. “It'll give us a chance to see the rest of the train and we might even make a new friend.”

Harry hesitated. The other students would see his scar soon enough, and he could feel the train beginning to move. There wasn't much chance that the adults had allowed death eaters on the train.

“All right,” he said.

It was a relief to finally not have to worry about his life every second. According to what he'd read, Hogwarts was the safest place in all of wizarding Britain. He should be safe enough until it was time to come home.

The thought of finally being able to relax made him smile. He said, “Sure...let's go.”

Finding the toad wasn't easy. Most of the students seemed absorbed in their own conversations, and few of them seemed interested until they glanced up at the scar on his head.

Harry made sure to let Hermione and the new boy to do all the talking even as he kept well back. The last thing he wanted was to have a lot of questions.

One redhead was in a compartment with his brothers. “I want to go meet Harry Potter...” he was saying as Hermione opened the door to the compartment.

Harry quickly stepped back out of sight before the trio could see him.

Some of the looks the older students gave them weren't friendly, especially the ones wearing green. Harry felt a little uncomfortable around them and he was starting to feel like this was a mistake.

A white haired boy and two goons brushed by him, barely giving him a look as they headed toward the back of the train.

“Out of the way, mudblood!” he snarled at Hermione, who seemed confused.

Harry stepped aside quickly, letting the three of them pass.

“What's a mudblood?” he asked.

Hermione shrugged uncomfortably. “It didn't sound very nice.”

Eventually they found the toad in the boy's loo.

“Thanks, mate. I don't think I'd have found Trevor on my own,” the boy, who'd finally introduced himself as Neville Longbotton said.

With a name like Longbottom, Harry suspected that he had to have been bullied, unless other wizard names were just as outlandish.
“It's not a problem,” Harry said. “Why don't you and Hermione head back and I'll catch up with you in a bit.”

He wanted a chance to see if he could recover his scar with the makeup, even though almost everyone had seen it by now.

“It's all right if I sit with you?” Neville asked.

The boy seemed harmless enough. A toad didn't seem like the kind of pet a Death Eater would have anyway. Maybe a snake or a hawk to peck out people's eyes.

Harry wondered if he would be allowed to keep a hawk as a pet, but decided that it probably wasn't worth the effort. With his luck it'd peck his eyes out and he'd end up back in his cupboard...or worse, he wouldn't die and would have to go around with a distinct lack of eyes.

After Hermione and Neville left, Harry checked the makeup on his forehead, hoping to get it back into a semblance of concealing his scar. He finally had to give it up as a lost cause.

He washed it away as well as he could and he finally began heading back toward his compartment.

Stepping from one train compartment to the other made him a little nervous; the ground was flying by quickly and it looked like all it would take would be a strong wind to throw someone off the train.

He was almost back to his compartment, opening the door to the outside when he heard someone rushing him from behind.

Harry felt himself being shoved outside, and he struggled to grab the rail, but whoever it was that was pushing him was a lot bigger and stronger.

There wasn't even a chance to see who it was; Harry was grabbing for the rail and holding on for dear life. Someone grabbed his hands and wrenched them open.

Before he could even scream, he was pushed over the edge. He was pulled under the wheels of the train, and there was a moment of horrific pain before everything went black.

Chapter Text

Waking in darkness, for a moment Harry thought he was back in his cupboard. It took a moment before he realized he was in his bed in his room. Although he had a window, he'd had to cover it at night in order to sleep; after years of total darkness it was hard to sleep with the light shining through the window.

He rolled out of bed and staggered for the door. He moved quietly in the darkness through the hallway and into the lavatory. Not bothering to turn on the light, he quietly retched into the toilet.

His mind kept flashing back to the pain as he'd rolled under the wheels of the train, to being pushed.

From what Hermione told him, there weren't many adults on the train...only the witch running concessions and the driver. That meant that either an adult had managed to hide somehow on the train, or one of his fellow students had outright murdered him.

Either way, any sense of security he might have had was gone. Hogwarts wasn't going to be any safer than being at home; less so in many ways. At least here he had anonymity.

He closed his eyes and hoped that there might be some way to refuse. He was in his room, which meant that this was after he'd received his Hogwarts letter and after his trip to Diagon Alley.

Aunt Petunia might be upset at the loss of three hundred pounds, but she hadn't really wanted him to go to Hogwarts anyway.

Maybe there was a way to rescind his acceptance and simply go to public school. Living with the Dursleys wasn't that bad, especially since they'd come to an accommodation.

He grimly cleaned the toilet as well as he could, after finally reaching to turn on the light.

Staring at himself in the mirror, Harry noted that he looked pale and haggard. While his body was whole and there was no sign of the broken bones and mangled flesh that he'd experienced for a moment, the memory still remained. He remembered every death, and those memories were more intense than any of the others.

This last death had been more intense than the others, although the crucio spell the man had used on him had hurt almost as badly.

He couldn't keep going through this, or he would go insane.

Harry went back to bed, and sleep was a long time coming. He had nightmares about being ground beneath the wheels of a train even as men in robes stabbed him over and over again and laughed maniacally.

It wasn't until he woke the next morning that he discovered that he'd lost a month this time. All the goodwill that he'd slowly developed with his aunt and uncle over the preceding month was gone.

Furthermore, he'd have a month to obsess and revisit what had happened on the train. He'd have to do everything over again, and he wasn't looking forward to it.

It had been easier this time to gain the approval of his aunt and uncle. He'd seen what buttons to push the last time, and he'd managed to find other things that they approved of this time.

His aunt and uncle were easier to manipulate than he'd imagined. Of course, he couldn't manipulate them the way Dudley did. Dudley didn't even have to make an effort. Harry had to do it gradually, and in small steps. If he went too far they simply assumed that he was mocking them and they punished him.

He managed to get their permission to work outside the home three days a week if he gave them half the money he earned.

He went over his school books again, but he'd already read them all several times by this point and he was getting bored. Finally he became desperate enough to phone Hermione.

She managed to convince her parents to come to Surrey for the weekend; although it was only fifty six kilometers it would take almost an hour to make the drive due to traffic.

Hermione brought some of the books that she'd bought, ones that Harry didn't have yet, and she let him borrow them with the promise that he'd return them when they reached Hogwarts.

Harry was stunned. No one had ever done anything like that for him, and having the books would give him something to do other than stay in his room or stare at the wall.

The Grangers had even taken Harry out to dinner. It was a fast food place, but Harry had been touched that they'd been willing to buy him food when they didn't have to. His aunt and uncle had always seemed to begrudge every bite that he'd eaten, and yet here these near strangers were willing to buy him a meal.

They'd wanted to talk to his aunt and uncle about Hogwarts, but he'd made the excuse that they were working late again. They'd settled on talking to Harry about what his expectations of the school were.

Harry had lied, of course. He doubted that Hermione's experiences at school would be anything like his were likely to be.

He imagined six years of assassination attempts, of never knowing a moments safety. It made him want to crawl back into the safety of his cupboard and never come out.

The problem with writing a letter to the school was that he didn't know how to reach them. He hadn't been able to afford an owl and he had no idea what the address was. He suspected that muggle post wouldn't reach them anyway and that trying would be a violation of the secrecy that the wizards worked so hard to maintain.

Talking to the Grangers, however, he learned that there was a way for muggle parents to write to the school and they were helpful enough to give him the address and what he was supposed to write.

He went home and even though he knew it would possibly mean someone from the school would come to the house, enraging his aunt and uncle, he wrote a letter saying that he'd changed his mind about coming to Hogwarts.

Despite all of this, he studied the new books Hermione had given him, did household chores and he did occasional work for people in the neighborhood, although he was careful not to be outside where he could be seen very often.

He mostly worked in the mornings, when his uncle was at work and his aunt went shopping. It meant that he was around when they needed him in the evenings, and that his aunt didn't have to take him with her shopping.

She felt safer with him not around, and when she felt safer she was less irritable. The money he was giving them helped as well. He didn't always tell them when he'd gotten a tip for doing good work, but as far as he was concerned, what they didn't know wouldn't hurt them.

So he was surprised when he returned to their house after a job raking leaves and digging up weeds down the street to see an angry looking man at the door.

He was wearing all black; a frock coat and a cravat with long trousers. In some ways he looked like a puritan minister from a historical show on the telly. Vernon disliked that kind of show, but Petunia liked the fire and brimstone sermons.

This man wasn't even trying to hide what he was. Only the fact that he was knocking loudly at the door instead of breaking in kept Harry from running the other way.

He'd been expecting a visitor from Hogwarts after all.

“Can I help you?” he asked cautiously. His grip tightened around the trowel in his right hands. Under the right circumstances the small shovel could be used as a weapon, even if it wouldn't be very effective.

He wasn't sure whether it was better to close the distance with the man or to stay away. With a muggle criminal, keeping his distance was obvious. The man was taller and stronger than he was, and as he'd seen, the dark lord's followers were willing to use knives.

On the other hand, he had no idea how far a wand could reach, and from this distance he had no way to do anything offensive.

He chose to err on the side of caution, keeping his distance.

“Mr. Potter,” the man said, his face impassive, although he looked as though he wanted to say something much less flattering.

Harry could see the man glance up at the scar on his forehead for the briefest of moments, and as he did, Harry took a step back. Letting wizards see his scar had been what had gotten him killed at least twice.

“Who are you?” Harry asked. He took a step back...diving into the bushes might not provide much protection, but it would be better than nothing.

“Professor Severus Snape,” the man said. “I am here to discuss your attempt to dis-enroll yourself from Hogwarts before you even attended a single class.”

Harry stared at the man. “Attendance at Hogwarts isn't mandatory, at least that's what the books say. Given that, I'm not sure why you're even here. A simple letter would have sufficed...muggle post preferred.”

“Perhaps this would be better discussed inside, with your guardians,” the man said, gritting his teeth.

“My aunt and uncle aren't here,” Harry said. “With half the Wizarding world wanting to murder me, I hope you understand why I wouldn't want to let a strange wizard into our home.”

“Besides,” he said. He leaned his rake against the wall. “My aunt and uncle don't care for magic. They'd be upset with me if I allowed your sort in the house.”

“My sort?” the man asked. He'd gone quiet.

Harry smirked. “Wizards. People who murdered my parents and who are looking to murder me and my entire family. You can understand how they might be a little cautious about who they'd want to let in the house.”

There was a strange expression on the man's face at the mention of his mother but it vanished so quickly Harry wasn't sure it had ever existed in the first place.

Pulling his wand, the man looked startled when Harry dropped behind the bushes.

Harry shoved his way through the bushes and made his way to a gap between the bushes and the wall. He was small and thin, and he was able to crawl quickly. Hopefully the cover would make him harder to hit, although he hoped that the man didn't simply set the bushes on fire.

He crawled toward the edge of the house, hoping to round the corner where he'd be able to run.

Looking up, he saw the man staring down at him.


How long it was before Harry woke, he wasn't sure, but he was in his aunt and uncle's living room sitting on a chair. His neck hurt, presumably from the angle he'd been lying at.

The man who'd stunned him...Snape something or other was sitting across from him drinking tea.

“You seem to be under the misapprehension that you have a choice as to whether to go or not,” the man said.

“Hogwarts isn't mandatory.”

“Homeschooling is allowed, for people who have wizards in their family or who are able to afford tutors,” the man said. He glanced around. “I gather you do not fit in either of those categories.”

“I could apply to another school,” Harry said. “Maybe one outside of Britain.”

Finding a school where no wanted to kill him sounded like a great idea...maybe he'd go to school in America, or wherever Durmstrang was.

“The time for registration has already passed,” the man said. “You won't be able to get into another school until next year at the earliest.”

He hesitated. “And if you think that moving out of the country will take you beyond the dark lord's reach, you are sadly mistaken.”

Harry froze. According to Hermione, only death eaters called whoever it was the dark lord. Everyone else called him 'you know who.'

But if the man was a servant of the ones trying to kill him, why wasn't he doing anything now?

The man must have read something in Harry's expression, because he snapped, “If I meant harm to you or yours, I wouldn't have been able to find this house.”

“What?” Harry asked, taken off guard.

“There are wards around this house that make wizards who wish you harm unable to find it,” the man said. “As well as providing other protections.”

“Even more reason for me not to leave then,” Harry said. “Anonymity is my only protection and once my face is out there that's it.”

“Hogwarts is the best protected place in all of Wizarding Britain.”

“Better than right here?” Harry shot back. “I'll be going to school with the children of the people who want me dead. At least here I only have to deal with people who want to kill my social life.”

“The dark lord's followers haven't tried to find you because they knew you'd be coming this year,” Snape said. “If you do not, they'll be looking for you seriously.”

“Good luck,” Harry said.

“How long do you think it would take a muggle investigator to find you?” Snape asked, leaning forward. “And you'd have to go to school sometimes. It would be easy to snatch you from whatever muggle school you found and change the muggle's memories so that you simply never showed up.”

“So my alternative is to go to a school where they'll know where I am,” Harry said. “It doesn't exactly inspire confidence.”

They argued back and forth, but ultimately Harry was forced to conclude that the wizards and their politics wouldn't allow him to skip school. Half the Wizarding world had their hopes resting on him and the other half wanted to strangle him. Both sides wanted him at Hogwarts.

If he refused, his family would simply be charmed into forcing him to go.

Harry finally agreed to go; his aunt would be home soon and he didn't want to deal with the fallout that would cause.

For some reason the man didn't seem particularly in a hurry to see his aunt either. Most of the school officials in Harry's experience would have insisted on talking to her, but this man left quickly, banishing his teacup with a flick of his wand.

He was trapped. He was going to Hogwarts whether he wanted to or not.

Chapter Text

“I found a toad in the lavatory,” Harry said.

He'd insisted that Hermione wait outside while he checked his makeup. Oddly enough, he'd been less anxious this time while moving through the crowd. Knowing that they were planning to kill him on the train made the platform outside less anxiety provoking.

“Why would anyone want a toad?” Hermione stared at the creature curiously.

Holding it on his lap, Harry had to admit that the creature was rather amusing. It probably would get tedious after a while though.

“We can ask around later and see if anyone's missing their toad.” Harry idly stroked the back of the toad, calming it.

Hermione was silent for a long moment. “Harry...I read some things about you. I didn't want to talk about it in front of my parents, but...”

Scowling, Harry said “If you don't want to be seen with me, I can understand. We don't have to talk after we get there.”

If he was courageous he'd tell her to leave now, but the last thing he wanted to do was to be alone on this train.

“What? No...I just wanted to say how sorry I was about your parents...and about how the people in the papers are treating you.”

Harry glanced up at Hermione. She seemed sincere. He wondered how she could look so unconcerned...maybe the implications had escape her. He had a target on his back and anyone who was close to him might get caught in the crossfire. The smart thing to do would be to stay as far away from him as possible.

If he was a better person, he'd make her go away for her own good. Hermione was the first friend he'd ever made. Her family was the first people to ever treat him decently. He owed her more than to let her get hurt because of his own problems.

“Thanks,” he said, hating himself.

“Do you think it's true?”

“That I'm some kind of savior?” Harry shook his head. “It doesn't matter. As long as the rest of the world thinks that's what I am, it's going to affect my life.”

“That's why you cover it up?” Hermione asked, glancing up at his forehead.

“Among other reasons,” Harry said shortly.

The door opened suddenly, a boy sticking his head through. “Have you seen a toad...Trevor!”

“I found him in the loo,” Harry said. “We were going to start looking for his owner when the train started.”

The train began moving with a jerk.

“Would you like to join us?” Harry asked. The more witnesses he had the less likely anyone would be to try anything.

“I left my luggage in another compartment,” the boy said hesitantly.

“We'd be glad to have you,” Harry said. He forced himself to smile. Longbottom was too small to be the person who had forced him over the rail.

No matter what happened, he wasn't leaving the compartment until the train reached its destination.

Once Neville returned with his luggage, Harry turned and locked the door. At the looks from the others, he shrugged. “Everybody should have found their compartments by now.”

The door rattled behind him and Harry winced.

“Have you seen Harry Potter?” A voice came from outside the compartment. It sounded like the redhead, although after a month Harry couldn't be sure.

A moment later he heard murmuring voices. There were shouts outside and the sound of someone hitting the wall even as someone else shouted “Blood traitor!”

Harry smirked as they heard the sound of rushing feet in the corridors as older voices yelled down the hallway.

“Like I said...everybody should already have found their places.”


The rest of the trip was oddly anticlimactic. Eight hours with the other two should have been a trial, but Neville Longbottom was an endless source of knowledge about the wizarding world. He'd been raised a pureblood and he seemed more than happy to answer Hermione's endless questions.

There had been trips to the loo for the other two; Harry had insisted on going along with Neville and he'd been sweating the entire way. He wondered if there was a spell to make it possible to not have to use the bathroom.

Neville had showed them some wizarding games to pass the time and Hermione had showed them some of the books she'd gotten from her third trip to Diagon alley.

He'd given her money to make a few purchases for him, including a book about poisons and a bezoar. While he doubted anyone would openly attack him at school, at least as long as he was with other people, he could easily see poison being used. According to his texts, bezoars weren't good for everything, but they were better than nothing.

Neville finally told him the dark lord's name, although he seemed as though he was about to pass out as he said it.

Voldemort....French for flee from death. The irony of that wasn't lost on Harry. As much as Harry tried to flee from death, it always seemed to find him. Presumably the other wizard didn't have the same problem.

It didn't seem likely that it was the man's given name anyway. Nobody named their child Voldemort Jones, after all...although given that he was sitting with someone named Longbottom he might be mistaken.

They talked a little about the House system in Hogwarts. Neville assumed he would be in Hufflepuff, believing it was the house for people who weren't good enough for the other houses. Hermione hoped for Gryffindor, although she rather thought she might be placed in Ravenclaw. Harry had no idea where he was going to be placed. He didn't care, as long as he wasn't going to have to sleep near people who wanted to kill him.

All in all, although Harry kept waiting for something horrible to happen, nothing ever did.

Maybe Snape had done something to beef up security, or maybe what had happened the first time had simply been a crime of opportunity once the perpetrator had realized who he was. Either way, Harry felt better once the train had stopped and they had all slipped into their robes- he and Neville first, and then followed by Hermione as they stepped out into the corridor.

He felt nervous again as the crowd surged around him. It would be easy for someone to push a knife into his back in the press of the crowd and get away without anyone seeing what happened.

They managed to get out onto a small, dark platform, and then out onto the grass. Harry made sure to push his way to the edge of the crowd, although he shivered in the cool night air.

A light appeared, and a moment later a huge figure appeared. He was twice as tall as an average man and three times as wide, and he had a beard that looked like it could host an entire flock of birds.

The man looked as though he was looking for someone; Harry's paranoia suggested that it was him, so he carefully bent down as though he'd dropped something.

“Firs years! Follow me!” the man said. He sounded disappointed for some reason.

The man led them down a dark, narrow path. It was steep, and Harry wondered if he was going to put his foot in a hole and twist his ankle. If he fell and broke his neck he would not be amused.

They walked for a time, with everyone oddly silent. As they rounded a bend, everyone gasped as the sight of the still, black lake and the castle beyond.

Even Harry, as bitter and anxious as he had become wasn't immune to the sight before him. For a moment he forgot to worry about dying and simply stopped to take in the sights.

“Four to a boat,” the man said. Harry wasn't certain he was entirely human. Given his size, how could he be?

He and Hermione and Neville all scrambled to get into a boat. Harry saw the redhead and the boy with the white hair arguing with loud whispers even as everyone else scrambled to get into their own boats.

A girl named Lisa Turpin joined them on the boat moments before it began to glide across the lake on its own.

Staring at the water, Harry was particularly careful to hold onto the sides of the boat, even as he kept a wary eye on his companions.

“Are you afraid of the water?” Neville asked quietly.

Harry shook his head. “I'm not particularly anxious to meet the giant squid.”

Neville paled.

Truthfully, while the whole thing seemed solemn and impressive, it didn't seem very safe to Harry. The redhead and white haired boy and his two followers had argued long enough that there weren't any boats left. They were riding together and Harry could see the boat rocking in the moonlight.

How many of the students couldn't swim? Given how impulsive some members of his age group were...

He could hear the sounds of a splash as the other boat turned over.

A moment later he saw the boat right itself and four screaming boys being deposited back into their boat by massive tentacles.

“Huh,” Harry said. He suddenly felt a little better about the trip across the lake.

He relaxed a little and decided to try to enjoy himself.

The trip across the lake was over all too soon.

The stern faced woman introduced herself as Professor McGonagall moments after scowling at the four boys who were dripping water all over the flagstones.

She pulled her wand and Harry tensed, but all she did was cast some sort of drying charm that still didn't do anything for the boys' hair. They scowled at each other even as the woman began her speech.

They used flaming torches instead of electric lights, and Harry wondered if they were magical, or if they were some sort of safety hazard. It did lend the massive hall a distinctive look.

She mentioned something about houses, but Harry was distracted. He'd made his way to the edge of the group and he was keeping his back to the wall. These were all first years and he didn't really expect an eleven year old to try to assassinate him, but he'd been wrong before.

The sounds of screams made him flinch. It took him a moment to see the ghosts floating by. Unlike the others, he wasn't particularly bothered by them.

He only wanted to worry about things that could actually kill him, and at least according to his first year books, ghosts couldn't.

Shortly after that they were led into an even greater hall, where they were faced with a singing hat.

Harry was nonplussed. He wasn't sure that he'd want to wear something that was sentient or even that
just seemed to be.

The whole thing seemed a little silly.

He glanced behind the singing hat. There was a table of adults; he assumed that they were professors. Snape was among them, glowering down at the student body, along with a man who looked a little like Gandalf, a woman with what looked like magnifying glasses for spectacles and...

A chill of horror went down his spine, and it was all he could do not to collapse to the floor.

The man who'd murdered him the first time was sitting at the table along with all of the other adults, smiling genially as though he wasn't a mass murdering terrorist.

He was wearing a turban, presumably to cover the face at the back of his head.

Hermione glanced at him, a look of concern on her face.

Harry forced his expression back to being neutral, even though he had to hold his hands behind his back to conceal the fact that they were trembling.

The odds were slim that the man was going to murder him in front of hundreds of other people, not unless he was planning to begin his new takeover immediately.

He'd wait until they were alone.

Harry felt like he was in a daze. The hat sang some sort of song that barely registered with him, and they began calling names.

Hermione and the red haired boy were chosen as Gryffindors, as was Neville. The white haired boy and his two cronies went to Slytherin. He didn't know any of the others, or really care.

His name was called twice before he noticed. He rubbed the makeup off his forehead as he made the long walk to the seat with the hat on top of it. He felt like he was walking to his execution.

He carefully didn't look at the man in the turban, reminding himself that the man didn't know that Harry knew who and hat he was. As long as that continued to be true, Harry had a minimum of protection.

Harry reluctantly picked up the hat and turned to face the gathered children.; Turning his back to the man in the turban was one of the hardest things he had ever done. He felt as though he had a bullseye on his back, and he found himself waiting to be shot.

As he placed the hat on his head, Harry wondered how many other heads the hat had been on, and exactly how hygienic it was to wear a hat that had been on at least eight hundred heads.

They weren't even supposed to share combs at his old school, not since one of his classmates had gotten lice and spread it to half the class. His aunt and uncle had somehow blamed him for it.

“I don't have lice.”

The voice in his head startled him so much that he pulled the hat off his head and began to throw it to the ground.

An elderly hand on his arm caused him to look up at Professor McGonagall for a moment. He scowled and put the hat back on his head.

“As I was saying...I am cleaned magically every year, much better than any muggle techniques could manage.”

“I'm not sure all of my classmates from this year look particularly clean,” Harry mumbled. “Especially that white haired kid. He looks like he uses a lot of grease in his hair.”

“You are the one who put makeup on my brim,” the hat said.

“Sorry,” Harry muttered, glancing at his hand. It did feel greasy. He wiped it on the edge of his robes.

“On to business,” the hat said. “You have a fine mind, and plenty of talent. You had courage once, although much less now.”

“If you're looking in my head you know that's not my fault,” Harry said. This time he managed to simply think it without speaking, and the hat still seemed to understand him.

If magic could read minds, then he was going to have a harder time than he thought keeping himself safe.

“Anyplace but Slytherin,” Harry thought. “Gryffindor would be fine...Ravenclaw...even Hufflepuff. Hufflepuff might be the safest option...”

“Oh, that wouldn't do at all,” the voice said. “Hufflepuffs value loyalty and friendship. You've never had anyone to be loyal to until just recently, and even though you've recently found a friend, you didn't hesitate to put her at risk for your own safety.”

“Ravenclaw then?” Harry asked. “I study.”

The truth was, he'd been studying more over the past month than he'd ever studied in his life.

“But you don't care about learning for its own sake.” The hat sounded almost disappointed. “You only care about how it will help you get to your goal.”

“Gryffindor?” Harry asked cautiously.

“Once, perhaps it would have been a good fit for you. I don't tell everyone this, but sorting isn't so much about the traits someone has as much as the traits someone values.”

The hat continued. “Hufflepuffs value loyalty and friendship. Ravenclaws value knowledge. Gryffindors value bravery, but they also value seeming brave. They want glory above everything. Can you truthfully tell me you value glory? Do you care what anyone else thinks of you? Do you even care about courage?”

To anyone else, Harry would have lied, but this hat was looking inside his head.

“No,” he said after a long pause.

“Recently, your life has been about a single driving ambition...about surviving. You are cunning and devious and willing to use others to accomplish your goals. Your mind has more than a few similarities to the one who is now trying to kill you.”

“You sorted Voldemort?” Harry said out loud. It came out louder than he'd intended, ringing across the hall.

The crowd nearest to him gasped and pulled back.

“I tell no secrets of those whose charge I am given,” the hat said. “If there is ambiguity, I often allow a student a choice, but in your case there is no ambiguity.”

“Has to be SLYTHERIN!” the hat called.

The sense of walking to his execution worsened as Harry slowly pulled the hat off and faced the silent crowd in front of him.

Chapter Text

There had been cheers for the other students, but for Harry there was dead silence.

He grimaced and carefully set the hat down. He walked toward the Slytherin table and carefully sat down without a word.

The other first years almost imperceptibly pulled back from him, and it seemed that none of them could stop staring. Looking up, Harry could see that even Professor McGonagall seemed at a loss for words.

After a seemingly endless time, she eventually went on to the sorting of the last two students.

Harry felt miserable and misused. It wasn't his fault that he was trapped in a situation that required him to be cunning. He couldn't help but look before he leaped; there were pitfalls everywhere.

He was sure that he could have fit in one of the other houses. He could learn to love having friends! He simply was too new to it to know exactly what to do yet.

He glanced over at Hermione, who had a sympathetic look on her face. He couldn't see Neville.

Harry stared at the table, barely noticing when the headmaster stood to give some sort of speech. He was startled to see food appear on the table, more food than he'd seen in his entire life.

While the other students talked openly, the students around him seemed subdued. Harry could feel them glancing at him and he grimaced.

A moment later, he felt a presence settle beside him. He glanced over and saw a gaunt, dead eyed ghost covered in silver blood.

Harry shrugged and began eating, even as the other students around him reacted to the ghost. He didn't have time to worry about phantoms.

“We weren't expecting to have a Potter sitting at this table,” the ghost said finally.

Harry chewed his food for a moment, considering what he was going to say. “I can't say I expected to be here...but I can't say the hat was wrong.”

This end of the table mostly consisted of first years, while the older students were further back. Harry suspected that he had the most to fear from the sixth and seventh years. They would know the most magic and wouldn't be risking as much of their magical education by trying to hurt him.

“You think you are cunning enough to be a Slytherin?”

“Try me,” Harry said. He smiled mirthlessly. “There's a prophecy about me...if it's right, I'm going to be a very dangerous person someday.”

Probably best to head off any problems.

“I've got a very, very long memory, and I hold grudges.”

The ghost glanced around the table. All the others nearby seemed to be listening intently, and some of them were pale.

The ghost nodded. “I can see why you were placed here.”

Harry smiled mirthlessly. He chatted with the ghost, who introduced himself as the Bloody Baron. He supposed that as a ghost there wasn't much that could be done to him.

His classmates were in an unpleasant position. Harry suspected that at least some of them would have been happy to have been friends with him. However, with Voldemort's people being active, none of them could afford to be seen as being friendly to him. There were too many people in their House who were doubtlessly reporting to their parents. Some of the parents were Death Eaters.

Being friendly with Harry was a good way to have friends and relatives murdered, at least if the histories Harry had read from the last war were still true. This was like his experience in school with Dudley keeping anyone from being his friend, only infinitely worse.

Harry glanced behind him. Hermione was talking to other people around her, and she seemed happy at least.

The red haired boy was glaring at Harry, with a look of betrayal on his face. Considering that Harry had never met the boy, certainly not in this timeline, he couldn't see what the boy had to feel betrayed about.

The rest of the meal concluded in silence, and afterwards the headmaster made an announcement about avoiding the third floor on pain of certain death, as well as warning about the Forbidden forest.

Harry felt his stomach drop. He already had an insane professor waiting to murder him the moment he turned his back. Some mysterious danger on the third floor and a forest nearby filled with horrible monsters.

He wondered if he would survive the night, much less live to finish all seven year of school.

If this was the safest place in all wizarding Britain, he wondered what an average place was like. Did they have trolls in the toilet, or giant snakes in the drains? Didn't this bother anyone?

None of the other students around him seemed all that concerned.

In his old school, they would have evacuated everyone if a homeless man had wandered onto the school grounds. Parents certainly would have withdrawn students if they heard about certain death on the third floor.

Harry was still grumbling to himself when the entire room was led by the headmaster in a horrible rendition of the school song.

Apparently music wasn't one of the subjects taught here.

An older student, apparently a prefect gathered them up, and led them out of the Great Hall. They were led down a set of stairs; apparently the Slytherin common rooms were in the dungeons.

Harry felt exhausted. Apparently being in constant terror was wearing on the body, and he'd had a long day.

They were led to a stone wall, and the prefect turned to them.

“The password for this week will be Alpha Serpentis. Memorize it and don't let any member of another house hear about it...we haven''t had anyone from another house break into our common rooms in the last seven hundred years and I won't have it happen on my watch.”

“It'll change every two weeks and it'll be posted on the note board inside,” he said.

The wall opened up in front of them and he led them into a short passage. It led into a room with greenish lamps and chairs. The ceiling was low and there were windows apparently leading out to the lake.

“You've been assigned rooms,” the prefect said. “Your trunks have already been moved next to your assigned bed.”

Harry wondered how they'd moved all the trunks in the short time since the sorting. It had been less than an hour, and he hadn't seen any staff other than the professors.

“Professor Snape handles the punishments within Slytherin, and he is known for his...creative punishments for those who prove to be an embarrassment to the house. I know better than to ask the lot of you to stay out of trouble...but you'd better not get caught.”

The prefect gestured, and a female prefect came to escort the girls away to their rooms.

“The girls' rooms are off limit to the boys. I don't suppose you care much about that now, but you will later,” the prefect said, smirking.

He led them through a small hallway into a circular room. There were five beds, and Harry's was the one farthest from the door. He wasn't sure how he felt about that. It would make it difficult for him to escape, but it also meant that an attacker from outside would have farther to go before they could attack him.

“You should go to bed,” the prefect said. “Class schedules will be handed out at breakfast tomorrow. Classes start at nine and breakfast begins at eight, although in the future early risers will be able to get an abbreviated breakfast at seven thirty.”

The boys around Harry groaned, although Harry couldn't understand their problem. He was up by six A.M. at the Dursley house in order to shower and start making breakfast so it would be ready by seven. Sometimes he had to get up earlier if he knew he had extra chores.

Even during the summer his aunt insisted that he keep to the same schedule, claiming that he didn't need to be lazy even when his cousin slept in until 10.

They had late breakfasts on those days to accommodate his cousin, even though this left Harry hungry.

The prefect glanced at Harry and said, “Good luck and welcome to Hogwarts.”

As the door closed, Harry turned to face the other boys. The white haired boy was flanked by his two cronies and a black boy was standing off to the side.

“I'm sure you all know who I am,” Harry said. “Who are you.”

“Draco Malfoy,” the white haired boy said. “And this is Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle.”

Harry wondered if the later two could speak for themselves. They didn't look to be particularly cunning, although maybe they simply wished they were.

The other boy was tall and dark skinned. He said, “Blaise Zabini, pleased to meet you.”

“Are you?” Harry asked.

“How much do you know about the prophecy?” Harry asked.

“My father says it's all a load of...hogwash,” Draco said. “As though a kid our age would be a threat to the dark lord.”

Harry smiled grimly. “And yet they act like I am a threat. Can you think of a reason why?”

“Because old people are crazy?” Goyle asked.

“Yes, actually, but sometimes they're right.” Harry said. He headed for his bed. “You know if I end up dead in here, half the wizarding world is going to be after your heads, right?”

The others stared at him silently.

“And if you try to kill me and fail, you'll be stuck in here, sleeping with me,” Harry said. He smiled, although the smile didn't reach his eyes. “The hat told me that my mind is very much like Voldemort's....and what does he do to those who cross him?”

They all started, although he couldn't tell if it was at his use of the name or at what he'd said.

“Whatever you do to me, I'll find a way to hurt you,” Harry said. He hesitated. “I know you can't be seen as being my friends, but being my enemy wouldn't be very bright either.”

With that he began undressing for bed, and the others followed suit. Harry would have thought that the greenish light that was coming from the windows would keep him up, like the lights outside his aunt and uncle's house. Instead he found them to be oddly soothing.

After the day he'd had, he was exhausted. As he fell asleep, he wondered if he would wake up again in his bed at the Dursley house.

To his surprise, he survived the night.


At breakfast he discovered that his classmates had decided that the simplest way to deal with him was to ignore him. It was the safest thing they could do under the circumstances.

Although he'd worried about the Slytherins, he actually heard more comments and received the most dirty looks from the Gryffindors. Apparently, he'd been expected to be sorted into their house and they saw it as a personal affront that he hadn't been.

The class schedule was simple; all he'd really have to worry about was flying class on Thursday and Potions on Friday, both of which were held in concert with the Gryffindors. Other than that he'd simply have to avoid them in the halls, and he should be fine.

His first class, History of magic was a monumental disappointment. Harry began to wonder seriously if the ghost teaching the class was trying to bore them to death. If the rest of Hogwart's curriculum was this boring, Harry couldn't see why the students wouldn't just all move to France or possibly America. Anything would be better, although at least there were no attempts to kill him.

On his way out the door, Harry felt his legs being pulled out from under him. He saw a group of Gryffindor boys snickering nearby, with one sheathing his wand.

He scowled. On top of attempts on his life he'd have to deal with garden variety bullying? He'd thought he was done with that when he left Dudley behind. It had been the one thing he'd been looking forward to about going to this castle shaped death trap.

Making sure to never be alone, Harry made his way to charms class, which was led by a professor who was short enough to be a goblin.

This class he found much more interesting. Although they weren't allowed to do any practical magic, Professor Flitwick did begin to teach them the basics of wand movements and a little about the theory behind the pronunciation of spells.

At home, Harry had always been at the mercy of the bigger, stronger boys. No matter how hard he'd tried he'd never been able to fight back in any way that mattered.

However, trained wizard duelists were known for being able to take on multiple opponents at once. Magic was the great equalizer. A child the size of Hermione could defeat a man who weighed a hundred kilos, assuming she knew the right spells.

What he learned in class was going to be the basis for defending himself from Voldemort, his death eaters, and even from bullies in other houses in his own.

The problem was going to be learning fast enough, Harry thought as he was dodging jinxes from another set of bullies. The Slytherins hadn't joined in so far at least, but Harry suspected that it was only a matter of time.

Harry vowed to remember everyone who'd attacked him and to find some way to get back at them. Talking to Dudley had never made a difference. The only thing that had stopped his bullying had been fear.

The only way Harry would be safe from day to day was if people feared to attack him.

Herbology was interesting, but didn't seem as useful. Harry had studied poisons a little as he'd feared that would be the easiest way to murder him.

He kept his bezoar with him religeously.

Herbology didn't seem to focus on poisons, or even plants that could be used to attack people. It seemed perfectly pleasant, and Harry liked the professor, much as he'd liked Flitwick. Neither seemed likely to try to murder him, although the woman would seem to have the skill to make a competent poisoner.

Astronomy made him anxious. Being at the top of a tall tower during the middle of the night seemed like a recipe for being pushed off the tower while no one was looking. He made sure to get a telescope as far from the edges as possible, and he was careful on the stairs coming back.

He couldn't see how astronomy was going to help him on his quest to survive, although once he'd realized he wasn't about to be murdered he'd relaxed and enjoyed looking at the stars.

Part of him wished that he'd be able to simply lie on a blanket out staring up at the stars without a worry in the world.

If he'd been in Gryffindor he was sure he'd have had friends. People wouldn't have been afraid to talk to him. He'd have been able to spend time with Neville and Hermione every day. He wasn't even sure if they'd want to speak to him now and he hadn't had a chance to find them.

Undoubtedly the other Gryffindors were going to pressure them to stay away from him.

In a perfect world, he'd be able to relax, letting Hermione do his homework and spending time with Neville, playing...whatever it was that wizards played.

It wasn't until he stepped into his Defense against the Dark Arts class that he realized that he'd be taught by Voldemort himself, or at least the man who hosted him.

Chapter Text

Unlike Gryffindors. Slytherins were content to wait for the best time to attack an enemy. Harry had to remind himself of that as they filed into the classroom under the watchful eye of the man who had Voldemort in his head.

The entire room reeked of garlic. There was an undertone of rot, a smell which had been barely noticeable the first time Harry had been killed by the man. It was stronger now, even if the scent of Garlic almost overpowered it.

Apparently, hosting Voldemort inside your head wasn't very healthy. Harry couldn't imagine the kind of violation it would be to have his worst enemy inside his head.

“ may address me as Professor Quirrell,” the man said as the last student took their seats. “A..and this is defense against the dark arts.”

The stutter had to be an affectation, doubtless to make the man seem less dangerous, just as the garlic had to be there to cover the smell.

Harry wondered if Voldemort's face was a little like having a zombie sewn to the back of your head. He wondered if Voldemort got sweaty inside that turban.

The idea that Voldemort might get sweat in his eyes and not be able to do anything about it made Harry smirk.

Quirrell had been ignoring him, but he glanced toward Harry who suddenly felt sudden pain radiating from his scar. The pain had begun just as Quirrell looked at him, and it receded when he looked away.

The man hadn't even touched his wand and he'd been able to cause pain without anyone noticing.

Harry made an effort afterward to avoid meeting his eye, even as the lesson proved to be less than inspiring. The man told a story about battling a zombie, but with his maddening stutter the story took twice as long as it should have. He told a nonsensical story about his turban, which none of the other students seemed skeptical about.

Slytherins were supposed to be cunning and suspicious. Harry liked to think that even if he'd never met Quirrell before he'd have been suspicious of him from the very beginning.

He was glad to get out of the classroom, hurrying out without his usual caution which was why he was caught by a spell. He felt his hair falling off his head even as the Gryffindors snickered.

The Slytherins smirked slightly as they passed by him, especially Draco Malfoy. Malfoy had looked offended at his speech the night before and had been more obvious about ignoring him than any of the other Slytherins.

Harry knew better than to rush to a lavatory to check his hair, not with Quirrell staring at him. Being alone would be bad for his health.

Hermione looked horrified, and she looked as though she was going to get up and walk across the room to talk to him, but Harry grimly shook his head. The last thing she needed was to associate herself with him in front of the entire school.

The only consolation was that his accidental magic tended to work very well on hair. Harry fully expected to have hair again by the next morning. In the meantime the breeze against his scalp felt different and interesting.

If the hair didn't return, he wondered if he might start wearing a turban like Quirrell as a way to mock the man.

The worst thing about it was the continual laughter from the Gryffindor table, with pointed glances at him.

The Slytherins didn't say anything. There were occasional glances and smirks, but nothing overt. Some of the Slytherins looked a little uncomfortable with the situation, while others seemed to take a grim delight in smirking where he could see it.

Harry tried to take note of which students fell into each category. The Slytherins who looked uncomfortable weren't just first years. If he was going to get help from anyone, even if it had to be in secret it would be from them.

He couldn't depend on any Gryffindor other than Hermione and Neville, and they were only first years. He could see how the Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs viewed the Slytherins as well. They weren't as boisterous in their rejection as the Gryffindors, but they were suspicious.

Harry began to work out a plan. He wouldn't be able to do it on his own; learning only what was going to be taught in class was going to be too slow. He'd be no better than anyone else, and he was going to have to be better.

If he was going to stop the bullying, he had to be strong enough to make people stop.

Given his luck, Quirrell was going to repeatedly kill him, which meant that he couldn't even console himself with the thought that he only had to endure it for seven years.

He might be stuck here for eternity, repeating the same days over and over. Just because he would know when some attacks came didn't mean that other attacks wouldn't occur when the first attacks failed.

Learning to fight back was going to be his first challenge, one he intended to begin learning as quickly as he could.

Transfigurations that afternoon was a revelation. Watching McGonagall transform a desk into a pig and back again, Harry wondered if he'd be able to do something like that to defend himself.

Could you create trained attack pigs, or did they have to be just as stupid as untrained pigs?

Harry had once heard that wild boars were willing to eat people and that spears had to have cross pieces to prevent boars from forcing the spear through their body in attempt to get at the person who'd speared it.

He fantasized for a moment about an army of boars attacking Quirrell.

Unfortunately, it appeared that his army would have to wait for a long time. He wouldn't even be able to create attack gerbils, much less boars.

Instead they spent much of the session on a set of complicated notes. After that they tried to turn a match into a needle.

Only Blaise Zabini was able to make the slightest change in his needle despite a half hour of trying. Harry didn't even come close, and he felt frustrated by this. He was supposed to be some kind of chosen one, and that ought to have come with some benefits, like being a prodigy at magic.

Instead, he was muddling along with the rest of the class even as his enemies continued to plot against him.

His dreams of becoming some kind of wizarding wunderkind didn't seem to be panning out.

Still, of his classes so far charms and transfiguration seemed the most useful. Herbology might be useful once they learned about the more dangerous plants.

Harry suspected that potions might be quite useful, but that wasn't until Friday and flying class came first.

Fortunately, his hair had returned by Thursday morning, just as he had predicted. Malfoy looked almost disappointed.

That didn't stop the redhead, whose name was apparently Weasley from making some comments, along with two or three of the others, whose names he didn't know.

Hermione and Neville tried to give him encouraging smiles, but it wasn't enough to make up for their housemate's jibes.

The brooms looked old and ill used, and Harry wondered if someone had tampered with his broom. If they had there wasn't much he'd be able to do about it. He made sure to be the first one to pick a broom and he did so randomly.

At least Harry's broom leaped into his hand on the first try. When Harry saw that several of the Gryffindors had been less successful, he smirked at them, leading to angry expressions on their face.

He knew it wasn't wide to antagonize them, but at this point none of them knew any more magic than he did. It was the second years and up that he really had to worry about.

The smirk left his face as he saw Neville rising on his broom out of control. As Neville fell he wondered if that was the broom that had been intended for him.

If it had been, it wouldn't have been very effective as Neville was only left with a broken wrist.

Malfoy laughed the moment the professor dragged a crying Neville away, and some of the other Slytherins took part in mocking him.

Harry wasn't sure what to do about it; if he defended Neville he might be making it more difficult for Neville with his own Housemates. Joining in on the ridicule wouldn't seem right.

Keeping quiet was apparently the wrong thing to do as well, because Hermione was looking at him with a disappointed look.

It wasn't until Draco grabbed Neville's Remembrall that Harry decided he had to act. Neville had shown them the Remembrall, which he'd said was a gift from his grandmother. Harry couldn't see how useful it was considering that it didn't even tell you what you didn't remember, but he knew it was important.

“I could use one of those,” he said to Draco.

Draco sneered. “I'm sure you you need to be reminded that you don't have any friends.”

Harry leaned close and said in a low voice, “I think I'll tell everyone just how helpful my good friend Draco has been to buds that we are and all. I'll bet the upper years will be happy to hear about that when they write home to their parents.”

He smirked as Draco's face drained of color.

Being a pariah had it's uses.

Sullenly Malfoy handed the remembrall to Harry, who noted that it turned red the moment it touched his hand. Apparently he'd forgotten something, but he couldn't remember what.

“Apparently you do need a clue, almost as much as Longbottom,” Draco said. He smirked, although it looked forced. “Hope you remember whatever you've forgotten.”

Weasley acted outraged, going as far as to complain to the professor when she returned.

Harry mildly suggested that he had merely been holding it for Neville; from the expressions on the faces of everyone in the crowd, everyone but Hermione thought he was lying.

That was exactly the impression he was hoping to give.

Flying turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable, once he got over his suspicion that his broom was held together by spit and chewing gum.

The day was a success.

Harry only hoped that potions was as successful. Maybe he could learn to make potions that would give Voldemort boils or something.

The only thing that surprised him was that there hadn't been an attempt on his life in days. Harry worried that Voldemort was just waiting for him to let his guard down.

Finally, Friday came, and it was time for potions.

Although Snape was their head of house, Harry hadn't seen him at all in the week since he'd begun school, except at mealtimes where he sat with the other teachers. He'd have thought that the man would be more involved with his students, but maybe he preferred a hand's off approach.

He'd begun to get used to the chill of the dungeons, so the potions classroom didn't seem to bother him at all. Hermione and Neville sat next to him, but unfortunately a number of Gryffindors did so as well.

Snape swept into the room with flowing robes and Harry wondered if the man had theatrical training.

His speech about potions had the sense of being something that was well rehearsed, but Harry still couldn't help but be impressed. Stoppering death sounded like exactly the kind of thing he needed.

“Potter....” Snape asked. “What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?”

“A way to fake your own death,” Harry said. “Or someone else's.”

He'd considered using a potion to fake his own death in the hopes that Voldemort and his cronies would give up looking for him, but Voldemort struck him as the kind who would destroy the body just to be safe. After all, a man who named himself flee from death had to be paranoid.

Snape stared at him for a moment, before asking “What is the difference between monkshood and wolfsbane?”

“They are the same thing,” Harry said. “People think that wolfsbane is just poisonous to werewolves, but it's a pretty effective poison on it's own. If you take very much of it, you'll go numb and your chest will hurt, you'll throw up and you'll have diarrhea.”

For some reason, the Gryffindors around him looked uncomfortable.

“Planning to poison someone, Potter?” Snape asked, looking him directly in the eye.

Harry couldn't help but have a contemplative look on his face. He'd studied the poisons because he was expecting to be poisoned, but he wondered how hard it would be to get to Quirrel's food. It magically appeared from somewhere, but he'd read that food couldn't be created.

The question would be how to poison Quirrel without hurting anyone else.

Harry wondered why it hadn't occurred to him before. He'd never be safe as long as Quirrel was alive, but killing someone was a huge step. He wasn't sure he'd really want to kill someone, no matter how bad they were.

Maybe he could learn how to transfigure him into a doorstop. That way he wouldn't actually have to kill him, but it would get him out of the way.

Snape was looking disconcerted for some reason.

“Where would you look if I told you to find a bezoar?”

“In my pocket,” Harry said without thinking. He grimaced. He hadn't actually wanted anyone to know that he had one.

He pulled it out. “I think it's stupid not to have one. After all, you never know what people are going to put in your food.”

He glanced significantly at the Gryffindors. The Weasley boy had the grace to flush, even though the others didn't seem nearly as embarrassed.

“And if you lost yours?”

“At the apothecary, or the stomach of a goat if I couldn't just buy one.”

“What Potter didn't say was that asphodel and wormwood combine to form the Draught of Living Death. It is a powerful sleeping potion which is used for more than just attempting fraud. Monkshood and wolfsbane are also called aconite, and they are just as poisonous as Potter suggested. A bezoar will save you from most, but not all poisons.”

Snape was silent for a moment before he snapped, “Why isn't anyone writing this down?”

Harry was paired with Hermione for the practical portion of the potions class. Although he felt they were doing reasonably well with their potions, Snape criticized their potion just like he criticized everyone else's except Malfoy.

When Neville's cauldron melted, Harry was the first to react. The potion caused boils to erupt all over Neville's arms and legs, and it was melting some of the Gryffindors' shoes.

As Snape ranted about adding the porcupine quills before taking the cauldron off the fire, Harry began taking notes.

Potions could be dangerous, and apparently misbrewed potions could even become weapons.

If he could only find a way to bottle it, Harry would love to pour Neville's potion down Quirrel's back.

“Potter!” Snape said. “Take Longbottom to the hospital wing.”

Chapter Text

"You've got to read the directions before you start the potion," Harry said.

Boils covered Neville's arms and legs, and face. Harry wondered if Snape would allow him to buy Neville a full body apron and face mask.

Given how dangerous poisons seemed to be, they probably all should be wearing protective gear. Harry made a mental to always check his supplies before starting potions. Tampering with his supplies might be a very good way to assassinate him if the kind of injuries Neville had sustained from a harmless potion were any indication. What risks would there be when they moved onto more dangerous potions?

Harry couldn't imagine trying to teach a class like that, especially when students like Crabbe and Goyle didn't seem any brighter than Dudley. It wasn't any wonder than Snape was so irritable all the time, even if he didn't turn out to be a Death Eater.

Glancing around, Harry realized that this was the first time he'd been in the hallways while almost being alone. He'd made sure to always stay with groups of other students, even if they'd studiously been ignoring him.

"I hope you know the way to the infirmary," Harry muttered.

"This'll be my third time this week," Neville said glumly, wincing as Harry took his arm.

Harry stared at him. "What happened?"

"I twisted my ankle on one of the moving stairs." Grimacing, Neville said "I can't even keep myself from getting hurt, much less do any magic."

"I didn't transfigure my needle either," Harry said. That and potions were the only real pieces of magic they'd tried during their first week. "Hardly anybody did. They've got to teach us the basics before we can do real magic."

"Like not falling down? I seem to have a real problem with that."

Harry sighed. "I think you're just too anxious, and it's making you make a lot of mistakes."

Anxiety was becoming a constant companion for Harry, but at least he was keeping himself under control. It was exhausting, though, and he suspected that he was anxious a great deal of the time when nothing was even happening.

While it was possible that Voldemort was in the castle simply to kill him, it was just as likely that he had some other plan in mind as well. If he did, then he couldn't be plotting to kill Harry every second of the day.

It was more likely that he'd simply wait until a good opportunity presented itself and he'd kill Harry when he finally let his guard down.

"I can't think when Snape is hovering over me," Neville complained.

"Sometimes you have to take a deep breath and calm down, or you'll just make more mistakes," Harry said. He paused and then grinned. "Obviously that's not true once your cauldron melts. That's when you run away."

"You didn't get splashed at all," Neville said. "I've never seen anyone move so fast."

Harry shrugged. "I've gotten good at dodging things."

He'd never thought that Harry Hunting would be useful, but it had helped him avoid a few of the more obvious incidences of bullying over the past few days. He still got caught sometimes, mostly because he was unfamiliar with magic, but he was learning.

Neville hesitated. "I'm sorry about the others. A lot of them are convinced that you've turned dark and some of them worry that you'll join up know who."

Harry laughed mirthlessly. "There's not much chance of that."

It was very unlikely that Voldemort would even offer Harry that kind of choice. Even if he did, Harry would be a fool to take him up on it. Most likely he'd kill Harry in his sleep the first night they joined forces. Harry had seen enough to know that he could never trust him.

Voldemort needed Harry dead for more than one reason. The prophecy meant that a certain portion of the population would give up hope the moment Harry died. Taking over would be much easier if people thought Voldemort was unbeatable.

As long as people had hope they would continue to resist. It didn't matter whether the prophecy was true or not; what mattered was that people believed it was. The believe that Voldemort would return had kept his followers together, and the believe that Harry would save them all had kept the rest of the wizarding population from giving up.

Killing Harry meant the rest of the wizards gave up, and Voldemort's path to power was assured.

Neville directed Harry to the infirmary. The nurse seemed reasonably competent, and she sent Harry back to class.

Absent hallways full of students, Hogwarts seemed much larger and more ominous than it ordinarily did. The paintings on the wall comforted him a little, but Harry was still wary of walking alone.

His footsteps echoed oddly in the hallways, and Harry frowned. The walls were covered with paintings and tapestries; there shouldn't have been any echoes.

He glanced behind him nervously, but he didn't see anyone.

Harry started to walk again, but this time he listened for the echo. The footsteps seemed louder and closer now, and when Harry stopped walking, they stuttered on for an additional step or two.

Exploding into a run, Harry fled down the hallway, cursing the fact that his school robes were a little harder to run in than his usual muggle clothes. He glanced behind him and he still didn't see anyone.

He turned to go down the nearest set of stairs, but it wasn't until he was on a moving staircase that he realized the danger he was in. He fell an invisible force yanking his legs out from under him, and a moment later he found himself flying out into empty space.

He only had a moment to hope that when he reset he'd be able to talk the hat out of Slytherin.

Awakening, he found himself confused. This wasn't his cupboard, or his room at the Dursleys or even his room in Slytherin.

It took him a moment to realize that he was in the hospital wing. As he tried to move, he discovered that he hurt all over. Apparently, whatever had caused him to fall hadn't been enough to kill him.

Harry turned his head to see Neville staring at him from the bed nearby.

"What happened?"

"They found you at the base of the staircase almost dead," Neville said. He looked much better than he had before.

"How long has it been?"

"About six hours," Neville said.

Harry scowled and turned back to looking at the ceiling. He couldn't be sure that the murder attempt had been done by Quirrel. He'd have to check and see if Quirrel had been teaching Defense during his accident.

Given the kind of bullying he'd been under, he wouldn't put it past one of the older Slytherins. They'd been waiting to make their move all this time, and they seemed to have much better impulse control than the Gryffindors.

Although it went against the grain, he had to tell a teacher. He wasn't sure how he'd be able to convince them about the face in the back of Quirrel's head; he couldn;t exactly tell them how he knew without sounding crazy.

Maybe if he shared his conviction that it had been a murder attempt and his belief that Quirrel was behind it, that would be enough.

"I've known Professor Quirrel for years, and he certainly isn't in the business of trying to murder eleven year old boys," Professor McGonagall said.

"Someone hexed my legs out from under me," Harry insisted. "This was deliberate."

"I asked the paintings," she replied, "And none of them saw anyone attack you."

For some reason, his head of house had delegated questioning Harry to Professor McGonagall. He'd asked to speak to the Headmaster only to learn that he was away on pressing business with the Wizengamott.

Apparently Dumbledore had enough titles and jobs that he was kept exceedingly busy throughout the year. Harry suspected that he was trying to do too many things without delegating enough. He'd heard Vernon complaining about a boss at work who did the same thing.

Micromanaging, he'd called it. Being too controlling over every little detail meant that sometimes you missed important details. Sometimes you missed the big picture.

Harry suspected that if the most powerful wizard in the free world had been paying attention, he'd have noticed the face in the back of the head of the man who sat less than ten feet from him during every meal.

Sometimes it was better to do one thing well than many things poorly.

Harry sighed. "Could you at least tell the headmaster about this? I'm not just any eleven year old boy. There really are people who would like to see me dead."

"I've heard about your...troubles," McGonagall replied, carefully. Considering that he'd been bald during her first class there couldn't be any way she'd miss it. "Are you sure that this wasn't the result of a prank gone wrong?"

"You don't push someone from the top of the stairs if it's just a prank," Harry said irritably. He was silent for a moment and then he said, "And it's disappointing that I've had more trouble from your house than my own."

"I imagine that some of them are disappointed with your choices," she said, looking uncomfortable.

"You think I'd be in a house with people who want me dead if I had a choice?" Harry asked. He grimaced. "Apparently I'm not enough of a bully to get into your house."

"Mr. Potter!" McGonegall said, stiffening.

"I'm sorry...I'm just a little tired," Harry said. "I know a couple of good Gryffindors. It's just that it feels a little hopeless having two houses dead set against me. It would have been easier if I'd been a Hufflepuff."

Nobody noticed Hufflepuffs. They were safe and they were invisible. Harry sometimes wished desperately that he'd been sorted into that house, even though he knew that the hat had been right.

"I'll let you rest," she said.

As she left, Harry frowned. He'd have thought the Headmaster would be a little more concerned about what was happening with the savior of the wizarding world.

Apparently Dumbledore had enough titles and jobs that he was kept exceedingly busy throughout the year. Harry suspected that he was trying to do too many things without delegating enough. He'd heard Vernon complaining about a boss at work who did the same thing.

Micromanaging, he'd called it. Being too controlling over every little detail meant that sometimes you missed important details. Sometimes you missed the big picture.

Harry suspected that if the most powerful wizard in the free world had been paying attention, he'd have noticed the face in the back of the head of the man who sat less than ten feet from him during every meal.

Sometimes it was better to do one thing well than many things poorly.

Neville was in the bed across from him; apparently he'd been listening in. "We're not all bullies."

"You aren't," Harry said shortly. "Hermione's not...the rest of them I'm not so sure about."

Neville had been gone for only a few hours when Harry had another visitor, someone he hadn't met before. The fact that he was wearing Gryffindor colors made Harry wary.

"My name is Oliver wood, and I'm the captain of the Gryffindor Quidditch team."

Harry smirked when he realized that he wasn't going to be attacked immediately. "You must be really hard up if you're recruiting from Slytherin."

The older boy grimaced. "I'm here because I talked to Longbottom, and I wanted you to know that we aren't all like that."

"That's not what my experience," Harry said neutrally. "I've had more trouble from your house than from people whose parents want me dead."

"It's just a few bad apples," Wood said. "McLaggen is a tosser, Hooper is a complainer and Jordan can't understand why everybody isn't in Gryffindor. The twins...they prank everybody."

The redhaired twins had been the ones who'd made him bald.

"You're what...a fifth year?" Harry asked. "If you don't approve of what they are doing, why don't you stop it?"

"I don't have any classes with them," he said. "And I've tried to talk to them about it, but they've been unreasonable."

"You could talk to your head of house," Harry said.

"You think I haven't tried?" Wood was silent for a moment. "I heard that you were raised muggle, so maybe you don't know what it's like for the rest of us."

"So why don't you tell me, then?"

"You know who is the bogeyman who keeps wizarding children up at night, except he's real. Most of us have lost at least a few family members to him and his followers. Have you noticed how big the castle is compared to how many students are here? That's because there used to be a lot more wizards until the war pared us down."

"Ok," Harry said. He wasn't sure what point Wood was making.

"The one bright spot was that we were told that a savior was coming, someone who would make it all go a end to the dark times."

Wood hesitated. "Getting here and discovering that the savior was a Slytherin was a shock to all of us."

"So?" Harry asked. "So I wasn't one of you. Does that give you any right to pick on somebody who can't even fight back?"

"People get scared," Wood said. "And when people get scared they get mean."

Remembering the Dursleys, Harry nodded. Most of the abuse he'd suffered throughout his life had been a result of fear and resentment.

"So what are you going to do about it?" Harry asked finally.


"Telling me you're sorry and than not changing anything isn't going to help me at all."

Wood stared at him silently. "I've already told you that they won't listen to me McGonagall won't either."

"Bullies won't stop unless someone makes them stop," Harry said. He'd learned that throughout his childhood. Unfortunately, it had never stopped for him.

"So teach me to make it stop," he said.

"What?" Woods asked again.

"Teach me how to defend myself, and I'll make them stop," Harry said.

"I'm pretty busy with Quidditch," Woods said. He looked away. "And teaching a Slytherin to attack a Gryffindor won't make anyone happy with me."

"So don't let anyone know," Harry said. "You think it's good for them to get away with bullying people? If they'll do it to me they'll do it to other people, maybe even people in your own house."

"I'm not sure..." Woods said reluctantly.

"I'll figure out a place we can meet, and we can work around your schedule."

It would require that Harry find ways to be alone, which he didn't feel particularly comfortable with considering that he was in the hospital wing already for being caught by himself.

Wood frowned. "I don't know if you've heard, but I can be a little...intense."

"I don't need to spend four months learning to turn a needle into a matchstick," Harry said. "Intense is exactly what I need."

Harry felt anxious as he knocked on the door. All the other third year Slytherin boys were away studying, but his target was alone.

Wood had finally agreed to help him, but had only agreed to a maximum of three hours a week. Harry needed more training than that, and he suspected that Wood would only be teaching him less dangerous spells.

Adrian Pucey was one of the Slytherins who had looked uncomfortable at the abuse Harry had been undergoing. Listening in on the conversations of others, he was noted for being less likely to cheat or foul others during games.

This wasn't considered a point in his favor with the team, but he was good enough as a chaser to stay on anyway.

Everything Harry had heard about him gave him hope that he would at least listen to what he had to say.

"Come in," the boy said.

Harry stepped inside.

"What do you want?" Pucey asked.

"I want you to teach me to defend myself," Harry said.

Pucey stared at him and then shook his head. "I'm not going to do that."

"You've heard the prophecy," Harry said. "Supposedly I'm going to be good enough at all of this to be a threat to Voldemort himself."

Pucey flinched at the sound of Voldemort's name.

"Everybody seems to think that it's a foregone conclusion that I'm going to lose," Harry said. "The question they should be asking themselves is what if I don't."

Harry stepped closer to where Pucey was sitting on his bed. "If I'm powerful and cunning enough to kill Voldemort...and I'm in Slytherin, what do you think is going to happen to the people who crossed me when I was weak?"

"I can't help you," Pucey said, "The others..."

"The others don't have to know," Harry said. "Teach me in private, and I'll give you permission to bully me all you want in public and I won't hold a grudge."

Pucey frowned. "That seems...unlikely."

"That I won't hold a grudge?" Harry asked. "I'm a Slytherin. I understand self preservation better than anyone."

A contemplative look came over Pucey's face.

"If I lose, then you lose nothing. I'll be dead and won't be able to tell anyone. If I win, you'll be one of the people I won't be coming after. Either way, all you'll be out if a little of your time. Call it insurance."

It took a little time, but eventually the older boy agreed to help him.

For the first time since he started school, Harry began to feel a little optimistic. If he learned to fight back, he'd be able to take control of his own life again. He'd hated the feeling of helplessness he'd had since the first time he'd died.

Actually, he'd had that feeling his whole life. Harry was looking forward to a time when he wouldn't have to feel that way.

He'd taken his first step.

Chapter Text

It wasn't as easy as just learning to wave his wand a certain way. Apparently there was a lot more to casting spells than Harry had thought. Part of the reason the school presented it in a slow fashion was so that students could understand what it was that they were doing.

He struggled, even with the help of Woods and Pucey, neither of whom knew about each other.

Woods was a demanding taskmaster, a perfectionist who seemed to love to make long and boring speeches. Despite that he seemed to know what he was talking about.

"It's better to have one spell that you know very well than a half dozen you can barely cast," he told Harry early on in training. "If you can figure out unusual ways to use that spell, you're even better off."

He tried to help Harry cast spells, but focused more on teaching him to dodge them. Apparently dodging was an important part of wizard combat, especially since there was no shield that would stop an Avada Kedavra.

Harry had to practice dodging for increasingly long periods while trying to cast spells back at the other person. Wood only taught him to use Expelliarmus and Stupefy. Pucey also taught him the stinging hex on the principal that causing pain to the bullies was the only way to get them to stop.

It took time even to get the casting of those right- frustrating time that made Harry wonder what he was doing. He was supposed to fight Voldemort, so shouldn't he be some kind of prodigy?

Both of his tutors assured him that he was learning quickly for a first year, although Harry was suspicious that they were just humoring him. Even once he began to cast the spells, they weren't very powerful.

His stinging hex hurt less than a slap to the face, and his stupefy only dazed his tutors for a moment. Worse, even if he got the spell to work right, he still needed to hit his target, and both of his tutors excelled in a sport that required dodging.

With time the spells got better, although it never seemed to be enough against the older boys.

It all felt like an exercise in futility until he managed to catch Cormac McLaggen in the face with a stinging hex after the fifth time he tried to catch him in the halls in a week.

Woods had demanded to learn where he'd learned that spell; Harry claimed he was practicing it on his own.

The Slytherins bullied him occasionally, although they were usually less blatant than the Gryffindors and much less likely to get caught.

Hermione and Neville took to staying close to him during classes they had together and while moving to and from class. They tried to head off the bullies wherever they could, even though Harry could see that it made Neville anxious.

He reassured Neville that courage wasn't about not having fear. It was about acting in spite of fear. The irony of a Slytherin lecturing a Gryffindor on the nature of courage wasn't lost on either of them.

Hermione tried to complain about the abuse to McGonagall, but she seemed to think that Harry's head of house should handle the situation. Strangely, Harry began to wonder if Snape was actively avoiding him. He saw him interact more with other students, even if those interactions were usually negative, but he mostly let Harry alone.

Sometimes he would stare at Harry in class and then turn away with an uncomfortable look on his face. Harry had no idea what that was about.

Quirrel kept up the ruse of being a perfectly normal teacher, although Harry became more and more convinced that he was up to something.

Wood cast a disillusionment charm on him after each practice, but it was up to Harry to get to him without being seen. He took to meeting with Hermione and Neville in the library and then leaving them shortly before before he was to see Wood.

With Pucey it was easier. They could meet in the dungeons, and the one time they were almost caught, Pucey hit Harry in the face with a jinx that made his entire face swell for several hours.

Harry heard some of the other members of the Quidditch team congratulating him for that one. Pucey didn't even bother to apologize later; it was part of the deal, after all.

Objectively, Wood was better than Pucey. He was a fifth year after all, while Pucey was only a third year. Pucey, however was willing to teach Harry to fight dirty.

Yet Harry found himself valuing his relationship with both boys for more than just the training. Wood was firm but fair, and Harry sometimes imagined that he would have liked to have had an older brother just like him.

Pucey had a sharp wit. He had a dry sense of humor, and a way of looking at things that Harry had never thought of before.

Sometimes Wood seemed almost affectionate toward him, and Pucey was guardedly friendly. Harry would have loved having wither attitude from his aunt and uncle. He'd craved affection from anyone, and even though both boys were somewhat reserved around him, it was more affection than he'd ever had in his entire life.

Compared to the training Harry was receiving from the older boys, it surprised him how slowly they were in learning real spells in class. The school seemed to be more concerned with creating a foundation for the understanding of how to cast spells than in actually casting spells.

He'd been working with his two mentors for a month before Flitwick's class learned how to levitate a feather.

The wandwork he'd learned made the task easier, although he still wasn't first in the class. It was close, though, and Harry suspected that if he kept working, he might eventually be the top of his class.

He got better with transfiguration, although they still only worked with small objects that were similar to each other. Transfiguration was still slow for him, as it was for everyone else in the class. It required a lot of imagery and getting every detail perfect.

The levitation spell seemed useful enough, and Harry could practice it on his own, unlike the spells he had been learning.

On the day of October 31st, the day they learned to levitate feathers, Harry went to meet with Neville and Hermione in the library, only to learn that Hermione wasn't coming. Apparently Ron had said something that upset her, and she was in the girl's bathroom crying.

Harry didn't know how to deal with a crying girl, so he tried to put it out of his mind. She'd stop crying eventually, and then he'd deal with her when she was back to being rational. It was the only sensible way to deal with things.

However, as the afternoon progressed Hermione didn't show up for Flying lessons. It was unlike Hermione to miss classes. Given her nature, that meant that whatever had happened had hurt her greatly.

Harry began to feel guilty. Hermione was one of only two friends that Harry had made, someone who had faced the wrath of the entire school to be friends with him.

Part of it might have been that she wasn't making friends in Gryffindor, but Harry suspected that was in large part because of her association with him.

Neville sometimes hinted that they were being pressured to end their friendship with him, but Hermione never said anything.

When she still hadn't shown up in time for dinner, he decided to find her. After making sure that Quirrel was at the high table, as well as locating his most frequent bullies, Harry slipped away from dinner. He'd managed to grab a few things from the feast and slip away; Hermione hadn't eaten lunch and he assumed she'd be hungry.

He found the bathroom on the third floor, and he called out cautiously, "Hermione?"

The sounds of sobbing could be heard from inside. He wondered how she'd had the energy to cry for so long. On the occasions he'd been able to cry he'd always worn himself out in short order.

"Go away," she said. "You can't be in here. This is the girl's loo."

Harry hesitated. "Well, I'm a Slytherin so I'm probably not good at following the rules."

"Just because you're a Slytherin doesn't mean you don't have to follow the rules!" Hermione said, her voice outraged.

As Harry stepped cautiously into the lavatory, he noticed that Hermione was sitting with her back against the wall. Her face was red and her eyes were swollen from crying.

"I don't really care about rules," Harry said. "But I do care about you. What happened?"

Hermione stared at the floor in front of her. "I don't want to talk about it."

"All right," Harry said.

"What?" she asked, startled.

"If you don't want to talk about it, I'm not going to make you." Harry said. He held out a napkin. "I brought you a little something from the feast."

Her nose crinkled. "I'm not going to eat in the loo! It's not hygenic."

Harry shrugged. "OK." He popped a roll into his mouth.

"You shouldn't eat in the loo either!" Hermione protested.

"What's it going to do, kill me?" Harry asked. He smirked. "There's still time to go back to the feast and eat proper."

Hermione scowled and looked back at her feet. "I don't want to."

"Is Weasley being a prat again?"

"Where did you hear about that?" Hermione asked sharply, looking up.

"Weasley's always being a prat to you, as far as I can see," Harry said. "So it wasn't hard to guess."

She was quiet for a long moment before she finally spoke. "He thinks I'm a traitor for spending time with you. He calls me a Slytherin in sheep's clothing."

"Is that the worse thing?" Harry asked quietly. "Aren't you smart and ambitious just as much as you are brave? I daresay the hat could have probably put you in any of the houses if it had wanted."

"He says I would never have had any friends anyway if I hadn't met you and Neville, that I'm a busybody and a know-it-all."

"Well, you are a know-it-all," Harry said. "Which probably upsets some people who are know nothings."

"Am I a busybody?" Hermione asked quietly.

Harry shrugged. "You care about people and you want to keep them safe. The thing is, people want to make their own mistakes. Not me of course...I never want to make any mistakes."

"That's why we get along?"

"Well, it's not because you do my homework," Harry said. They weren't around each other often enough for that to happen.

"There's a lot of musclebrains in Gryffindor," Harry said. "Idiots who believe I'm the chosen one and then keep antagonizing me over and over again."

Hermione stared at him.

"Do they think I won't remember?" Harry asked. "That I won't hold a grudge for years?"

Harry crouched down next to Hermione and he said, "I'm going to learn that bald spell one day, and they'll regret teaching it to me."

She giggled finally.

"I might make all the male Gryffindors bald, just to be safe. We could get Neville a headband so he looks tough and kind of cool."

"Headbands don't look cool," Hermione said, giving him a strange look.

"Don't let Weasley push you into a loo while he and his friends get to enjoy a feast. You'll let him win then," Harry said.

Hermione wiped her eyes. "We can't have that, can we?"

Harry shoved the second roll in his mouth and threw the napkin in the trash. He offered her a hand up. Hermione took it and he pulled her to her feet.

A bloodcurdling scream from outside made them both freeze. Harry glanced at Hermione's frightened face before pulling out his wand. Despite everything that he'd been learning, he wouldn't stand a chance against an upper year much less something worse, but it was all he had.

They smelled it before they heard it, a stench that smelled like the worst locker room stench combined with a smell he'd only smelled when Vernon had gotten sick and spent three days in the lavatory. Hermione looked as though she was about to become sick, but Harry put a hand to her mouth.

Movement from outside made Harry tense up. Something was coming closer. It sounded ponderous and

shuffling. There was a deep throated grunting noise. There was the sound of something dragging against the stone floor.

From the sound whatever it was was too close for them to escape.

Harry gestured to Hermione, and they hurriedly but quietly made their way toward one of the stalls. They stepped inside and carefully stepped up on the lid of the toilet.

Both of them stopped breathing as they heard the labored breathing from outside the stall as something entered the lavatory. There was a sound of crashing as something seemed to be moving heavily around.

Hermione stared at him, her face as white as a ghost. Her entire body was trembling and she looked like she was about to faint.

Harry grimaced and put his eye to the small gap between the stall door and the jam, and he looked carefully outside.

It was twelve feet tall with skin that looked like granite. It stood on legs that looked like tree trunks, and it was staring at itself in the mirror, almost as though it didn't understand that it was looking at a reflection.

It growled and smashed the mirror, and Hermione gave an involuntary tiny scream as her foot slipped into the toilet water.

The creature whirled and Harry knew he didn't have a choice.

He exploded out of the stall and cast a stinging hex directly in the creature's eye. They'd covered trolls the week before in Defense class, and Quirrell had been unusually thourough. Their hides were spell resistant, and there wasn't much of a chance that he was going to be able to stop it.

However if he could lead it away from Hermione, he might have a chance of leading it toward one of the teachers.

The stinging spell to the eye outraged the creature. It roared and smashed it's way through the entrance to the lavatory.

It hadn't noticed Hermione, and Harry found himself feeling glad. She hadn't had his experience in running away from things and she wouldn't have had much of a chance against something like this.

He ran down the hall yelling at the top of his voice. This would serve the dual purpose of leading the Troll away from Hermione and hopefully drawing the attention of professors.

The troll lumbered after him. Harry felt good about his chances. As powerful as it was it didn't have his speed or agility. He should be able to outpace it and maybe even squeeze into a place where it couldn't follow. He'd had experience in that sort of thing already.

He really needed to explore Hogwarts more to see if there were good hiding places. He'd heard that a lot of old castles like this had secret passages; finding some of them would make it easier to get around without being seen.

Before he hid, though, he needed to draw the troll far enough away that it wouldn't circle back and get Hermione.

Harry turned the corner, and before he could stop he found his feet slipping out from beneath him. He lay stunned for a moment, and it took another moment to realize that he was laying in a massive pool of blood.

Glancing to his right, he stifled a scream as he saw the Hufflepuff prefect's body laying against the wall. Bones were showing, and blood was everywhere.

Harry scrambled to get to his feet, as the pounding of footsteps drew nearer. He was covered in blood but that didn't matter as much as just getting away.

His feet slipped in the blood and he fell to one knee. By the time he managed to scramble to his feet it was too late.

The troll stood over him, its face a mask of rage. Before Harry could do anything, he saw the club rise and fall toward him.

His world exploded with a moment of pain.

"...must be SLYTHERIN!"

Harry stared at the faces of the assorted students in front of him, and he felt the hat on his head. For a long moment he was confused, frozen as what had happened finally registered with him.

His stomach heaved, and Harry threw the hat down and ran out of the Great Hall.

As he was sick in one of the boy's lavatories, Harry could only think one thing.


Chapter Text

Classes were boring the second time around.

While it was true that Harry was getting a reputation as a particularly gifted student, he knew better. Being the first to turn a matchstick into a needle wasn't much of an accomplishment when you'd been practicing it for two months while the others were trying for the very first time.

Potions was still a challenge, because Snape assigned Neville as a partner when it was clear that he was somewhat better at preventing disasters than any of Neville's other partners. Partially it was greater experience, and partly it was painful memories of the disasters Neville had created the last time.

Astronomy, history of magic and Herbology were horribly boring, however. Charms was a little better, although in the first months it was mostly written work. Harry got much better at the lumnos charm.

He was better at avoiding the bullies as well.

He didn't remember every time they'd caught him unaware over the past two months, but he remembered often enough that it was difficult for them to catch him.

The expression on Cormac McLaggen's face when Harry hit him with a stinging charm was priceless. The fact that Harry hit him in the face three more times was considered a little excessive, but Harry thought it was important to drive a point home.

Even the detention he serve was worth it; McGonagall's disapproving face made him feel a little guilty, but not enough not to not do it again the next time someone tried to bully him.

There were benefits to doing everything again; he'd come early to flying class and he'd volunteered to help set the brooms out. He'd carefully switched brooms so that Neville's broom was taken by Draco instead.

Draco was the one to go to the infirmary, and a week later when they returned the old broken down brooms had all been replaced by new, more serviceable school brooms, presumably donated by the Malfoy family.

He ducked the hair loss spell, and it was Malfoy that the Weasley twins inflicted with the balding spell. Harry hadn't intended for that to happen, but he wasn't particularly bothered.

The fact that Draco tried ineffectually to retaliate turned the Weasley twins attention away from him and onto Draco and his cronies. What followed was a brief prank war that Harry found himself enjoying.

After the first incident, McLaggen was much more cautious about physically attacking Harry, although he made sure to say insulting things whenever he thought Harry could hear him. Harry always pretended that he hadn't; it was easier than another detention.

The older boys Hooper and Jordan still caught him sometimes, although it occurred less frequently than it had been the last time. They were much more cautious in what they did because Harry had shown a vicious streak in retaliating.

Harry made sure to try to give as good as he got, and while he wasn't always successful, he made it painful enough often enough that the older boys were more cautious.

Two weeks after the hat had sorted him, Harry approached Oliver Wood, eager to show him the skills he now had and resume training. Unfortunately, Wood wasn't interested.

“I saw what you did to McLaggen's face,” Wood said. “Why would I teach you to do even worse?”

His tone was unfriendly, and the look he gave Harry was even more so. It was a shock to Harry, compared to the almost brotherly way he'd treated Harry before.

“You saw how he was treating me,” Harry protested. “He wasn't going to stop.”

“How do you know that?” Wood asked. “He was just a little angry.”

In this time McLaggen hadn't bullied Harry over and over again. Harry had barely allowed him one incident before lashing out. His anger over what had happened wouldn't make sense because it hadn't happened yet...and now that McLaggen feared him, it probably wasn't ever going to happen.

“I've got to protect myself from Jordan and Hooper,” Harry said.

“They're just angry because of what you did to McLaggen,” Wood said. “Don't you think you have it coming?”

“I'm a first year...they're third years. You think it's fair that they can do whatever they want?”

“That stinging hex you used on McLaggen is a third year spell,” Wood said. “I imagine you'll do just fine.”

No matter how much Harry pleaded with him, Wood wouldn't budge. As far as he was concerned Harry could take care of himself.

It surprised Harry just how much it hurt, losing that relationship. The slow friendship he'd been developing with the older boy was gone in the space of an instant, and Harry wasn't sure that he'd ever get it back.

Considering the mistrust he'd created in fighting back with McLaggen it didn't seem likely.

He did manage to talk Pucey into training him, and the older boy was amused to see just how much Harry already knew early in the school year. He refused to believe that Harry had been raised by muggles, assuming that Harry had been trained by some Wizarding family or other.

It was frustrating, cutting his training time in half, but there weren't any other Slytherins that he trusted enough to get to train him, and McLaggen and the others were spreading rumors about him to the other houses as quickly as they could.

It was frustrating; although he was bullied less this time around, he was less popular than he had been before. He felt even more isolated.

Pucey began working with him on shielding charms, which normally wouldn't be taught until second year, and leg locking charms and finite incantatem, which were first year charms. The shielding charms were enormously difficult, and it was more than a month before Harry was even able to hold a shield up that was any stronger than a soap bubble.

Afterwards, he could practice on his own, with Neville and Hermione throwing things at him. Hermione insisted that he show her how to cast the shielding charm, even though he refused to tell her where he'd learned it.

The humiliating thing was that she managed to form as good a shield in a week as he had in three. Yet she insisted as seeing him as a talented wizard.

Everyone was convinced that because he knew a couple of spells that were advanced for his age he was some kind of gifted student.

Harry saw himself as simply more motivated. His death by troll had been the last straw; if anything convinced him that he needed to learn all the magic that he could it was that.

He began researching trolls and their weaknesses. If Voldemort was going to use trolls to attack him and his friends he needed to learn everything about them as possible.

What he couldn't understand was why Voldemort had been trying to murder Hermione. He hadn't had any way of knowing that Harry was going after her, but any number of people had known where she was and what she was doing.

He couldn't understand why Voldemort had focused on her instead of him. She didn't do his homework, or provide him with any answers. She didn't do anything for him other than be his friend.

The thought that Hermione's presence in the path of the troll had been entirely coincidental occurred to him, but he quickly dismissed it. Voldemort was obsessed with Harry, or at least that was what Harry believed.

The thought that Voldemort might have some other plan at the school occurred to him as well. However, no matter how Harry tried to come up with something, the only things he could think of that Voldemort might want at the school was the lives of Harry and Dumbledore

Although he kept expecting another attempt at shoving him down the stairs, it never materialized. While he never really let his guard completely down, he stopped believing that Voldemort was trying to murder him every minute.

He knew he was simply waiting for his moment, and so Harry tried to never give it to him.

Harry had nightmares in which the troll was chasing him, along with men with faces in the backs of their head. He dreamed of clubs and daggers, of bodies with bones sticking out and blood.

Malfoy and the others complained, and the nurse tried to give him a potion to make his sleep dreamless, although she warned him that he couldn't take it on a long term basis as it could be addictive.

Harry wouldn't have minded having a room of his own if he didn't think that would make him more vulnerable, not less. Given his boredom in class, he began reading ahead. He especially wanted to know what kind of things he could expect from older and more dangerous wizards.

He found something a little further along in his class syllabus, and he managed to get Pucey to teach hi the slicing charm. It was a first year spell that was mostly used in tailoring and for other mundane uses.

What he had in mind for it was something different.

“Why is there a big lump of wood in the middle of the room?” Malfoy asked. He stared at Harry balefully.

He knew who the twins had really been aiming at with the baldness spell, and he'd never really forgiven him. Even the last time their relationship had never been good, but now it was positively frosty.

“It's a tree trunk” Harry said. He'd managed to track down a house elf and talk one into finding one for him, although it had refused to carry it to his room. Apparently there were some limitations on what Hogwarts would allow its elves to do for the students.

Some purebloods would probably work the poor things to death if rules weren't enforced.

“Why is there a tree trunk in the middle of the room?” Malfoy asked. “Is this some sort of mudblood thing?”

Crabbe and Goyle stared at the trunk, which had been hard to acquire and even harder to wrestle into their room.

“I'm practicing,” Harry said, ignoring him.

“Practicing what?”

“Diffindo,” Harry said. With a motion of his wand he sliced a little of the bark off the wood.

“Isn't that a spell we're supposed to learn later?” Malfoy asked.

“Later on, yeah,” Harry said.

“Why are you practicing it now?”

“It takes practice to be able to really cut through things,” Harry said. “Diffindo.”

Another chip flew off the wood. It was disappointing. From someone with experience and power, the spell was able to do a lot more.

“Why would you want to cut things?” Malfoy asked uneasily.

“Well,” Harry said, “If you get really good at this, you could cut someone's arm off.”

After his experience with the troll, he needed something that was possibly lethal, and Pucey didn't really know any spells like that except for the fire charm, and Harry doubted that he'd be able to do enough with that spell in a couple of months to make much difference.

Trolls were somewhat magic resistant, much like giants, and even if they weren't, their sheer size would make a lot of spells difficult. Transmutation, for example grew more difficult the larger something was. Even a master of the art like McGonagall would have trouble transmuting a dragon for example.

“Diffindo,” Harry said again.

Unlike most of the combat spells he was learning, this he could cast on his own. He stared at the chip of bark that had flown off the wood. Was this chip infinitesimally larger than the others before, or was he simply engaged in wishful thinking.

He glanced up at Malfoy, who looked pale and white. For some reason the other two with him didn't look much better.

“Are you all right?” Harry asked.

Draco didn't say anything; he simply hurried out, followed by the other two.

“Diffindo,” Harry said.


Over the next two weeks the bullying from Slytherin stopped entirely, although for some reason he kept getting odd looks from the people in his house.

He kept whittling away at the log whenever he had a chance. With time and practice the chips did indeed get larger. He began practicing casting the spell while moving.

Although he had no intention of actually facing a troll every again, he suspected that Voldemort would find some way of forcing the issue. He tried to prepare by being more secretive about his meetings with Hermione and Neville.

Hermione confronted him once.

“Are you ashamed of us?” she asked.

She was still having problems making friends in her own house, and Harry suspected that made her more sensitive about their friendship.

“I don't know what you mean,” Harry said. He coughed and said “Wingardium leviosa.”

Hermione looked annoyed as he practiced a spell they hadn't tried in class yet in front of her. He'd been practicing the spell as well, in part because carrying logs into his room was exhausting, and in part because he suspected that it might be useful at some point.

The only way to get really good at magic was to practice it over and over. It was a little like professional muggle athletes. They had to spend thousands of hours perfecting their craft, doing the same things over and over until they were perfect.

Harry had once heard that it took ten thousand hours of practice to become a genius at something. While he didn't know that he believed that, it sounded like a goal to reach for.

“You never want to be around us,” Hermione said. “And if other people are around you pretend like we aren't together.”

“Neville said people were pressuring you,” Harry said, levitating a third quill. “I don't want to cause you any problems.”

It was easier to stare at the dancing quills than to look Hermione in the face. Part of him wanted to blurt out just how important their friendship was to him, but he knew he couldn't afford to tell her that. He'd almost gotten her killed the last time around; he couldn't afford to do it this time.

If he was a better person he'd have stopped talking to her entirely, but having lost his friendship with Oliver Wood, and being isolated by the other houses, he felt he'd have gone a little crazy without someone to talk to.

“Neville shouldn't have said anything,” Hermione said irritably. “I can handle bullies.”

Harry smirked. “If you say so.”

“Still,” she said. “You don't have to act like you're ashamed of us.”

“I'm not,” Harry said. He added a fourth quill to the ones dancing in front of him, but he was already feeling strained. “But there are people who would hurt you to get to me if they knew how important you were.”

They were in the library, and he would have liked to levitate books, but the librarian had booted him out the last time he'd dropped one. It had taken Hermione three days to forgive him. Now he limited himself to quills and instead of trying to increase the weight worked at increasing precision and the number of objects.

Strangely, lifting four quills was as mentally straining as lifting one small tree trunk, even though the weights weren't even within a couple of orders of magnitude of each other. Lifting multiple items was hard. He had to split his concentration between all of them.

He tried not to do it in front of teachers, fearing that his reputation as a prodigy would get even worse.

If he managed to survive the troll again, eventually the schoolwork would catch up to him and he'd be a normal student again. He didn't want to disappoint his teachers.

Despite all his preparations, Halloween came again almost before he knew it. Harry went over his checklist.

This time he would go to Hermione early in the day; he'd remove the temptation to go after her by getting her back to class on time.

After that he'd rejoin the group, and he wouldn't leave the group for anything. Hopefully this time things would fall into place and Voldemort wouldn't even bother trying to use a troll.

Somehow, though, Harry thought it wouldn't be that simple.

Chapter Text

The day began much like it had before, although after two months Harry's memory of the day had begun to fade.

He'd shown off a little levitating feathers. Although he hated being called a prodigy, he'd put a lot of time and work into the spell and Flitwick had been excited when he'd managed to levitate six feathers all at the same time.

Harry didn't mention that he'd once levitated eight of them, although he still couldn't do it reliably. He imagined that it was a little like muggle juggling. Adding each new item made it a lot harder to keep track of all the other items.

Pucey had refused to practice the diffendo spell with him. Apparently there was a rumor going around that Harry was wanting to use the spell to chop people's arms off. While Pucey didn't admit to believing that, he felt a little uneasy about Harry's aim and didn't want to risk his own limbs.

He did transfigure teacups into angry goats, but Harry had stared into the goats' faces and been too squeamish to use the cutting charm on them, a fact which seemed reassuring to Pucey.

They did make for good practice at dodging and using the stunning spell, however.

Harry didn't comment that they still had the same patterns on their fur as the teacups had or that they had handles on their backs. He was amazed that Pucy had managed to transfigure something living, even if he hadn't done it perfectly.

He'd reflected that if Pucey got better at transfiguration, it might take his training to an entire different level. If Pucey was able to animate statues, Harry wouldn't have any compunction about using the severing charm.

He'd be able to do more lethal things and things like statues would be much more dangerous than Pucey was alone. Unfortunately, Pucey's skills weren't nearly at that level. Even the goat spell represented his casting well above his classmates. Pucey was only a third year, and there were going to be limits to what he could do.

Knowing what was coming, Harry was waiting for Hermione outside her classroom. It was a slight risk being away from the group, but Hermione was important enough to take the risk.

She was already crying as she ran into him.

“Weasley being a prat again?” he asked.

She stared up at him, as though she wondered how he knew.

Harry rolled his eyes. “Weasley's always a prat. I don't know why you listen to him.”

“Hey!” he heard from behind them. “Take that back!”

Harry turned slightly and stared at the other boy. As far as he could tell, the boy wasn't nearly as bad as the other bullies who had made multiple timelines hell for him. He had the grace to be embarrassed when he did something wrong, although he didn't always seem to know what that was.

The boy didn't seem to have a lot of experience in talking to girls, which didn't seem surprising, given what Harry had heard from Neville about his family.

However, Harry didn't consider that a good excuse. He hadn't been raised with any females at all other than his aunt, and at least Weasley had one sister.

“You make girls cry all the time, Weasley?” Harry asked.

“She was being a know it all,” he said shortly. “Not that it's any of your business.”

“Probably trying to help you,” Harry said. “What's the lesson today, wingardium? Couldn't get it up, Weasley?”

Harry didn't know why some of the older students passing by snickered, but Weasley's face turned red.

“If she didn't hang around Slytherins all the time she might have some friends,” he said sullenly.

The other students moved around them, some glancing at Harry before rapidly turning away. Apparently the rumor that he was some kind of arm chopping lunatic had spread to the other houses. It didn't seem to phase Weasley though.

“She's got friends, though,” Harry said. “Neville for one.”

“He should have been a Hufflepuff,” Ron said dismissively. “And she should have been a Ravenclaw.”

“I'm sure the hat wishes it had a house just for idiots,” Harry said. “But since it doesn't it has to put them in Gryffindor.”

“Hey!” Hermione said from beside him.

“You should have been a Ravenclaw, remember?” Harry said. “Which means that you're better than some of these idiots.

Of course, as Crabbe and Goyle proved, there were idiots in every house. If Weasley had been thinking more clearly he would have pointed that out.

Instead he turned redder and looked as though he was about to go for his wand.

Before he could do anything, however, a voice from the classroom stopped them both.

“Boys, I'd hate to take points from both your houses, but dueling in the hallways is not allowed,” Flitwick's face was unusually serious.

Harry shrugged and turned to Hermione.

“Are you going to be OK?” he asked.

She nodded; apparently his defense of her had pulled her out of the funk that Weasley's bullying had pit her in.

“I'd like to speak to you, Mr. Potter,” Flitwick said.

Weasely and Hermione both left quickly, heading in opposite directions. Harry simply stood and waited for the other students to clear out of the room. Once everyone else was gone, Flitwick gestured for Harry to come into the room and close the door.

“I've been hearing some concerning things about you, Mr. Potter,” Flitwick said. “Rumors that have worried me.”

Any other teacher and Harry would have immediately been on his guard. Flitwick, however had never been anything but friendly and caring. He struck Harry as someone who cared about his students, even if they weren't in his house.

Harry suspected that most of the teachers were subtly biased toward their own houses, but he'd never noticed any bias with Flitwick. Anyone with a good mind and a will to work was able to find favor with him.

“I'm sure people say a lot of things about me, professor,” Harry said neutrally. “Even though not many of them have tried to get to know you.”

“You don't seem to have made many friends, outside of those two Gryffindors,” Flitwick said.

Harry shrugged. “It takes a lot of courage to be friends with me. The Slytherins have too much of a sense of self preservation to even try, and some of the Gryffindors have been spreading rumors so that no one else will spend time with me.”

“Why would they do that?”

“They think being Slytherin makes me automatically dark, and that scares them,” Harry said.

“So you haven't been practicing a spell to do grievous injury to people?” Flitwick asked.

“I've been studying ahead,” Harry said. “A lot of the spells we're taught at Hogwarts can do harm if misused.”

“I think the concern is the...focus you've had when practicing this one spell.”

Harry sighed. “I'm not planning to chop anyone's arms off. I'm sure why Malfoy has been telling everyone that.”

The rumor had spread as far as Gryffindor, and Neville had told Harry as soon as he'd heard it. Harry hadn't bothered confronting Malfoy about it because it had been useful. Having the Slytherins stop bullying him because they thought he was a little crazy was useful.

“You have to admit that the kind of practice you have been doing wouldn't be necessary if you were just going to use it for tailoring or some other mundane use.”


“You don't think I need a weapon?” Harry asked. “I have a bounty on my head. I've heard some of the other Slytherins talking about it when they think I'm not listening.”

“There are other ways...dozens of ways you could incapacitate enemies,” Flitwick said. He hesitated. “It's not an easy thing, killing, especially at your age.”

Harry scowled and looked at the floor. “When the Death Eaters come for me, I don't think stunners will do me much good.”

“Your fellow students aren't Death Eaters,” Flitwick said.

“Are you sure about that?” Harry asked. “How sure are you that Voldemort isn't already here?”

Flitwick flinched at the name, although he didn't seem to be as superstitiously terrified as most wizards were when the name was brought up.

Harry continued. “They're coming for me, and sooner or later I'm going to have to fight life and death battles.”

“Why the severing charm?” Flitwick asked faintly.

“I can practice it without anyone else helping me,” Harry said. “Practicing stunners and body binds requires that you have partners, and there isn't anyone willing to help me.”

Flitwick frowned. “So if you had this extra training, you wouldn't use it against the other students?”

“I probably would,” Harry said. “Because people keep attacking me. But stunners are much safer than the alternative.”

Flitwick stared at him for a long moment before saying, “Detention, Mr. Potter, for tomorrow at six after the feast. Bring your wand.”

Harry stared at the diminutive professor. Was he suggesting what Harry thought he was suggesting? According to Hermione, Flitwick was known as a dueling master.

“We can't have you forced to use techniques that could hurt someone, can we Mr. Potter?”

Harry grinned, elated. It was the first time he would ever be looking forward to a detention. All he had to do was survive the night.

Feeling tense on the evening of the feast, Harry didn't relax until he saw that Hermione and Neville were in their places at the table.

There would be no horror in the bathroom this time, and Harry relaxed.

The Hufflepuff prefect hadn't left yet; Harry wasn't sure whether he had been coming after Hermione out of some sense of fair play, or whether he was on another errand, but Harry had been thinking about what to do for two months.

Despite this, Harry wasn't sure what to do. He couldn't manage a confundus charm, and because he didn't know why the prefect had been in that corridor, he couldn't find a way to stop him.

His only option was to watch the prefect and improvise.

He'd thought of finding a way of making the prefect sick, so that he'd spend the feast in the hospital wing. However, given the speed of wizarding healing, there was no guarantee that the nurse wouldn't have him better in time to be in the hallways.

Harry could barely taste his food because his stomach was twisted in knots. He only hoped that he was quick enough to find some way to stop the prefect.

Harry chewed slowly, then felt himself freeze. Where was the other Hufflepuff prefect, the girl?

He hadn't seen her the entire feast. He'd been focusing so much on the male prefect that he hadn't been paying attention to seeing if anyone else was missing.

Harry froze. He was too young to fight a troll by himself.

He started to stand up to go to the table, despite Quirrell sitting among the other teachers with a small smirk on his face. It was as though he knew exactly what Harry was thinking.

Before he could, a shriek rang through the hallway.

The female prefect was at the entrance, blood streaming from her side. “Troll! Troll in the dungeon!”

She collapsed, and suddenly there was pandemonium.

No one would listen.

Harry had tried to tell the prefects that they should all remain in the Great Hall, that sending the Slytherins back to the Slytherin dorms was suicidal when the troll was supposedly in the dungeons.

Assuming the troll hadn't moved far from where he'd been the last time, they should be reasonably safe, but Harry tried to stay in the middle of the group.

Unfortunately, as everyone was Slytherins they all had the same idea, and he was smaller than the others and found himself being pushed toward the front.

There were almost two hundred Slytherins behind him, and Harry should have felt reassured by that, but most of them were untrained, and very few of them would be able to face a fully grown mountain troll.

At least they were moving quickly. Unlike the Gryffindors, none of them were included to be heroic. Everyone was focused on reaching the safety of their dormitories.

When Harry smelled the familiar, hideous smell, he grimaced and tried to call out a warning.

It was too late. The troll turned the corner ahead of them and began to lumber toward them. Harry could hear screams from behind him as people fell over each other trying to run.

The sixth and seventh years, who might have stood a chance against the troll were knocked over in the confusion. People were climbing over each other in their terror to get away. In the tight confines of the corridor people couldn't move well. It was the perfect trap.

Harry considered his options. He was fast enough that he might be able to dodge the troll and leave it to attack the other Slytherins. However, despite everything they had done to him, he didn't believe that all of them were bad people.

Something within him, perhaps some faded remnant of Gryffindor nature refused to leave his dorm mates to die.

Harry grimaced and pulled his wand. He promised himself he'd have a better plan the next time around, something that wouldn't get everyone around him killed.

“Diffindo!” he shouted, and a cut appeared on the troll's chest. It roared angrilly.

His casting had gotten strong enough to pierce a tree trunk with a single spell, but trolls were resistant to spells.

“Diffindo!” Harry shouted again, this time aiming for the troll. Blood seeped from it's cheek and it charged toward him, outraged.

It swung its club, but Harry was faster, running between its legs. The smell was even worse, but he pointed his wand up and cast the spell again.

The troll screamed, and it staggered as it whirled around to face him.

It was no longer facing the mass of other students, who were slowly getting back in order. The prefects tried hitting the troll in the back with spells, but nothing worked.

Harry cast over and over again, leaving deep gashes in the creature's hide.

He realized quickly that he was in trouble. He hadn't been the victim of Harry hunting in months, and at Hogwarts he hadn't had any exercise outside of flying class. He didn't have the endurance to keep this up for long.

Harry dodged again, and felt a chip of stone hit his cheek.

A loud blast sounded, and Harry saw that Pucey had fought his way to the front of the crowd. He was pointing his wand and a flock of birds were streaming from it to flock around the troll's head.

The troll began to claw at his head and Harry grinned. He stopped and pointed, and this time his aim was much better, even though the troll was still moving.

The troll screamed again as his eye exploded from the severing charm. Their eyes were their weak points, but Harry hadn't been able to aim well while dodging.

The troll quickly turned it's back toward Harry and began running toward the crowd, who began to scream.

Some of them had the presence of mind to try to fight back, but their spells bounced harmlessly off the creature's hide.

It was now covering its face with one arm even as it charged the Slytherins.

Pansy Parkinson fell.

Harry saw Pucey see what was happening and there was a look in his eyes that Harry couldn't interpret. Deliberately, Pucey stood between Parkinson and the troll, blasting fire from his wand.

Harry screamed, but it was too late. The club came down, and it came up bloody.

What happened afterwards, Harry wasn't sure. The world around him seemed to go red, and he lost all control of himself.

He leaped, and a moment later he found himself on the creature's back. It whirled, trying to spin him off, but he held on for dear life.

A moment later, he shoved his wand up its nose and shouted, “DIFFINDO!”

An explosion rained down material that he did not want to examine too closely, and he found himself beginning to fall. He rolled away from the falling corpse of the troll.

The moment he reached the ground he was crawling toward the troll.


The professors found him shortly afterwards, standing covered in blood over the twisted remains of the troll, casting the same spell over and over mindlessly. He had a broken rib and a broken leg, but he didn't seem to notice.

They called out to him, but he didn't seem to recognize them.

They had to stun him to get him to stop.

Chapter Text

Waking in the hospital wing, Harry was confused. It took time for him to remember where he was and what had happened.

Pucey was dead.

For some reason, the sorrow or maybe rage he should have felt at that wasn't there; all he felt was numb. As he stared up at the ceiling he wondered if it would have been better if he'd simply let himself die and then tried again.

“I've administered a calming potion,” he heard distantly. It took a moment for him to recognize the nurse's voice.

“How is he?” the Headmaster's voice was almost unfamiliar; he hadn't heard in the in the two months since sorting began.

“There won't be any way to tell until he wakes up,” the nurse's voice said again. “He's been through a trauma that no child should go through.”

Harry must have been hurt worse than he'd realized; he still had pain. Given the power of wizarding healing the damage must have been bad.

Someone must have noticed him stirring, because the nurse was quickly by his bedside waving her wand.

“Hello, Harry,” the Headmaster said gently. “You've been through a terrible experience.”

“Voldemort caused this,” Harry said. He grimaced in pain as he tried to sit up. “The Slytherins are supposed to be his followers and he didn't care. He set a troll on us.”

The Headmaster stared at him, then shook his head. “There's no evidence that this wasn't simply a tragic mistake.”

“How is it that you can't see it?” Harry asked.

For a moment he considered telling the Headmaster about the face in the back of Quirrell's head. He'd carried the burden of that secret for so long that it would seem like a blessing to simply hand it over to someone else.

Dumbledore was the one person Voldemort had ever seemed to fear, so telling him was the obvious solution. At one point, Harry had wanted to do exactly that.

However, Harry had been researching off and on to see if there was any reference to what was happening to him. If there was a reference to someone living the same lifetime over and over, there would be some indication of why it was happening and how to manage it. If this was a wizarding phenomenon, there had to be an indication of how to stop it.

He'd found nothing. Time turners were as far as wizards had gone in researching time travel, and those were considered highly dangerous. Wizards had erased themselves from existence through ill advised experiments with time turners. Further research in the field was controlled by the Ministry.

There were rumors that the Unspeakables were looking into it, but their research was never revealed to the public. Harry doubted that they'd gotten very far; if they had Voldemort simply wouldn't have been born.

The thought that Voldemort's rise and fall was the best of all possibilities was chilling. What if the past had already been changed and the original present had been even worse?

The worst risk for Harry was the rumors that the Unspeakables were actively suppressing any wizards who even tried to experiment with time. They weren't sent to Azkaban; they simply disappeared.

Although there weren't many records for obvious reasons, Harry had asked Pucey who had known about rumors that the Unspeakables did experiments that would have been considered inhumane in their quest to understand time and the other mysteries of the universe.

Of course, as they couldn't talk about what they did, no one really knew.

If anyone believed Harry about his power, Harry had no doubt that unspeakables would be by to collect him, sooner than later. Even despite his prophecized role the possibilities his abilities would open up would be worth more than his role as a figurehead.

He'd vanish into the depths of the Ministry and he'd never come out. His power or whatever it was wouldn't help him if he didn't die. They'd be able to keep him for the rest of his life, and then if they killed him he'd have to do it all over again.

The image of being trapped for lifetime after lifetime chilled him. He stared up at the Headmaster, frozen.

The urge to tell him died. Instead Harry stared up at the Headmaster and sighed. “I guess I'm just a little upset.”

“You've been through a great deal,” the Headmaster said, patting him on the arm. “It's easy to see patterns that aren't really there when we are afraid.”

He'd have to find another way to reveal Voldemort for what he was, a way that wouldn't risk exposing him.


Madam Pomprey hadn't let anyone in to see him for three days, and he'd been forced to lay in bed and relive what had happened over and over.

He'd gone over the fight again and again, trying to see what he could have done differently that wouldn't have gotten anyone killed.

Arguing harder that they all should have stayed put; even if he'd had to throw things and cause a scene. Any number of detentions weren't worth someone's life. He should have done anything that it took to make them listen.

He should have drawn the troll away; kept it from turning on the others. He should have aimed for its eyes faster or cut at the same place over and over until he hit a vein.

Killing the troll didn't bother him, even though part of him thought that it should. It had killed his friend and had threatened to kill others. He didn't have a lot of sympathy for it, even if it was a dumb beast.

Instead, he regretted that he hadn't practiced more with the Diffindo spell so that the cuts would have been deeper, so that it would have gone down faster. Every time that he'd spent with Neville and Hermione, secure in his belief that he could run from the problem and not be where the troll was appeared in his mind as a lost opportunity.

He should have been more focused, not spending time with friends, no matter how happy those brief moments had made him. If he had, maybe Pucey would still be alive.

At night, as he lay in the hospital bed he had dreams that had him waking up screaming. Madam Pomfrey dosed him with a heavier version of the potion she'd been giving him to control his dreams, but warned him that he couldn't take it over the long term.

He was in the hospital wing for three days. He was finally allowed to leave, but classes had already ended for the day.

Whispers followed him as he walked through the halls. He discovered that there was a feeling of pause every time he entered a room. The other students became quiet and cautious, like deer scenting something strange.

As he passed through the hallways he'd catch other students glancing at each other whenever he didn't think he was looking. They'd quicken their pace and turn their heads away from him.

He didn't know if they were afraid of him or if they were simply ashamed of what had happened. The Slytherins were the worst about it; some of them turned pale every time they saw him, especially the lower years.

Even the members of the Quidditch team, who had always been a little rougher toward him than the others seemed to be keeping their distance.

He didn't get to see Hermione or Neville, who hadn't been told that he was out and had already gone back to their common room. He went to bed feeling curiously numb and alone.

There were people missing from breakfast. Apparently some of the parents had withdrawn their students from the school after what had happened. What surprised Harry wasn't that that had happened, but that so few had gone.

In a muggle school, they'd have had to close their doors, but there were less than twenty students gone now. Harry wondered if the muggleborns had even told their parents what had happened. In a world where he wasn't under the constant threat of death, he'd have been afraid of being taken out of school. Harry suspected that he'd have loved magic instead of just seeing it as a tool.

When he finally got to see Hermione, she brought him back issues of the wizarding paper. There were scathing articles calling for Dumbledore's dismissal. Apparently in the three days he'd been out there had been a number of hearings and Dumbledore had almost lost his position.

Harry wondered if that had been part of Voldemort's plan all along. While killing Harry was obviously a priority, that didn't mean that he didn't have other plans in the works.

The Quibbler had an article wondering if it was a conspiracy by Voldemort; Hermione was dismissive, but Harry knew it was the case.

He'd thought he was safe in the middle of a crowd, but if Voldemort was willing to risk the deaths of the children of his followers just to get to Harry, then no place was safe.

It offended Harry on a deep level. Voldemort had proven that he was loyal to no one, and just seeing him sitting at the teacher's table caused a slow burn of anger and rage to light up in Harry's chest.

Quirrell and his passenger thought they'd gotten away with it. Sometimes Harry saw Quirrell beaming down at the students with a smug smile. Considering that all the other professors looked grave and upset, he couldn't understand why anyone didn't see what it meant.

Harry wondered why it had been him that had survived. In a way it didn't seem fair. Every death chipped a little further away at Harry's soul, but he would ultimately survive no matter what. Pucey hadn't had that option.

Focusing in class was difficult. He felt as though he had a leaden weight on his chest.

He caught the sympathetic looks on the teachers' faces, and it just made it worse. The students acted as though they were afraid of him; even the Gryffindors didn't seem to know what to say to him.

Maybe they saw something that he didn't see in himself. He felt as though he was a pot that was getting ready to boil over.

Malfoy and his cronies had taken to waiting to come to bed until he was already asleep. That wasn't hard. He'd taken to sleeping as early as he could. The dreams were almost better than his thoughts during the day.

Still, over the next few days he thought he was keeping everything relatively stable until the day came when he had Defense class.

“ one knew w..what to do,” Quirrell said. “W...which is why w...we're going over t...trolls again.”

Harry stared at him, as though he could burn a hole in Quirrell's turban simply by staring at it. He had his usual headache, the one he always had when he was around Quirrell, but he didn't care. It simply made him more angry.

The student's closest to Harry kept glancing at him and then at each other.

“P...perhaps if s...someone had listened in c...class they might not have died.” Quirrell said. He was staring directly at Harry, as though he was taunting him.
Harry felt a flash of rage. After what had happened, any good Defense professor would try to show people what they could have done. But Quirrell hadn't prepared them for trolls at all when he'd taught them before, and to blame Pucey...

“Adrian Pucey was a hero!” Harry said, standing up suddenly. He knew that he should keep his mouth shut, but suddenly he couldn't stop himself. He'd been silent the entire year, twice, and all it had gotten him was one lost friend and one dead one. “If he hadn't done what he did, how many people in this class alone wouldn't be alive?”

“ hardly h..had to come to that,” Quirrell said. “I...if he'd kept his head he'd have survived. A...after're a f...first year and you m...manged to defeat it.”

Harry gripped his wand tightly; for a moment he was afraid he was going to snap it. He forced himself to loosen his grip.

“My question is where were you and the other teachers?” Harry asked. “I told everyone that it was a stupid idea to leave the Great Hall, but no one listened.”

“W...we went ahead looking for it.” Quirrell said.

“And you sent Slytherin to the dungeons when you knew the troll was in the dungeons. It's almost as though someone wanted Slytherins to die.”

The other students were staring at him, and he could see that some of what he was saying was registering with them. They began muttering among themselves.

“How exactly did the troll get on the school grounds? Aren't the school wards supposed to protect against that happening?”

“'s a mystery that's still being investigated by the aurors, Mr. Potter.”

The man's stutter was obviously faked. It slipped when he was distracted. How no one else noticed this, Harry didn't know.

“Isn't it true that only school staff has the ability to shut off the wards? Isn't the most likely thing that one of the professors changed the wards to allow the troll onto the grounds?” Harry asked.

“T..that's a s...serious accusation, Mr. Potter,” Quirrell said. “W...why would any of the professors want to do any of you harm?”He smirked, as though he knew Harry had no way to prove what he was implying.

He probably meant to imply that some of the professors might want to harm Harry, but the other students were clearly getting another message.

To hurt Harry, it didn't matter who they went through, even if they were purebloods and supposed to be protected.

“Who would do that?” Harry asked. “It certainly isn't anyone affiliated with the Headmaster; he almost lost his position over it. Who else would have to gain?”

He turned to the other students and said, “Who else would have something to gain? There's only one person it could be...and if it's him, then that means that none of us are safe. He has no loyalty, and just because our parents are his followers doesn't mean he won't have us killed.”

“You w..weave an I..intriguing f...fantasy M..Mr. P..Potter,” Quirrell said. His smirk was gone “B..but p..perhaps it is time to get back to the lesson so you don't get any more of your classmates killed.”

Harry saw red.

He was moving before he knew what he was doing, his wand coming out of his pocket. The world felt as though it was moving in slow motion, and Harry felt himself stepping out from behind his desk and charging down the aisle.

“Deffindo!” he shouted, his wand pointed at the professor's head.

Quirrel's eyes widened and he went for his wand, but it was too late. Harry's spell had hit the turban on his head, leaving the cloth to unwrap and slip over Quirrel's eyes.

Harry followed up with another spell, attempting a expelliarmus, but it didn't work. Quirrell was already recovering, but Harry's next spell hit him in the side, causing his jacket to redden with blood.

The man twisted, as though to protect his side and Harry heard screams as the closest students saw what was on the back of his head.

Harry pointed his wand and cast, but Quirrell had regained his equilibrium.

For all the practice that Harry had done, he was still a child with only a few months experience and Quirrell was an adult wizard.

He felt his wand being yanked from his hand by Quirrell's spell, and a moment later he screamed as Quirrell hit him with a crucio as the horrified class sat in their chairs, frozen in horror.

“You've caused enough problems, boy!” the horrible voice at the back of Quirrell's head said. “Finish him, and then obliviate these fools.”

Harry screamed and screamed as the pain seemed to go on forever.

Eventually there was a flash of green light, and everything went dark.

Harry froze as he woke, covered in blood.

He was standing over the corpse of the troll, his horrified classmates staring at him in horror. He could hear the sound of the professors approaching quickly.

It took him a moment to understand what this meant. He'd had a vague hope that if he attacked Quirrell that he might be able to go back, to redo Pucey's death, to find a way to save everyone.

His friend was dead, and there wasn't any way to change it.

Harry screamed then, staring at the blood on his hands. It felt like the blood wasn't ever going to stop. For a moment it felt as though he wasn't ever going to stop screaming.

He heard footsteps followed by a horrified gasp. A muttered spell later, he felt everything go black.

Chapter Text

For three days Harry lay numb, not thinking about anything. He simply stared at the ceiling and ignored the worried sounds of Madam Pomphrey talking to the other professors.

It wasn't until they began talking about sending him to St. Mungos that Harry finally began to move again. Neville had told him what had happened to his parents; twelve years locked away in a hospital with no wand and no freedom.

Harry was going to need freedom for what he had to do.

Quirrell was going to pay.

Voldemort and all his followers were going to pay. Harry wasn't sure how he was going to do it; he wasn't invincible, and if they did any permanent damage to him that occurred before his life reset, he'd be stuck with it forever.

If they ever learned what was happening to him, they'd simply lock him away in a room somewhere to rot. If he couldn't die, he couldn't reset.

Harry had to get strong as fast as he could, and he had to stop thinking defensively. Attacking Quirrell head on hadn't worked, but that was because he'd been thinking like a Gryffindor. Even a child could hurt an adult with enough time and preparation.

Quirrell thought he was unassailable; Harry intended to show him that wasn't true at all.

His first step was to hold Professor Flitwick to his promise. Learning dueling from a master duelist was going to be much more productive than learning from schoolboys who were still learning themselves.

Flitwick would have been able to defeat a troll easily, and Harry needed that kind of power.

He soon learned that there were limits to what Flitwick would teach him. He refused to teach him lethal spells and he was only available to teach once per week.

However, Flitwick was able to teach him things about strategy that neither of his other two teachers had been able to verbalize. He learned footwork and to keep his head when spells were flying. Flitwick was a capable teacher, one who was gentle but firm when he had to be.

Harry felt like he was in a daze the first few days after he was allowed out. Everything felt numb and nothing felt real. He knew that this feeling wouldn't last forever; eventually he'd feel the emotional pain, but it was better than being overwhelmed.

On the day he was to take Defense class, Harry went to the hospital wing and claimed to have a headache. It had the virtue of being true; he was anxious that he wouldn't be able to restrain himself if he heard Quirrell talking about Pucey again. Now wasn't the time to attack straight on, and if he redid the same week over and over all he'd be doing was causing himself pain.

The thought that he'd train himself by just attacking Quirrell over and over again until he learned to not die was amusing, but Harry still didn't understand how the times for his reset moved forward.

Every time he'd died he repeated the same situations, but whenever he'd survived the time frame had moved forward. Harry wasn't sure if this was a coincidence or if this was how it actually worked.

By the time Quirrell's next class came around, Harry was under better control of his emotions. He comforted himself by staring at Quirrell and attempting to push his hatred through the air and into the other man's skull.

For some reason, it was Quirrell that began to have headaches during their sessions, and Harry found this grimly ironic. Harry still had headaches during Defense class, but they were fewer than before.

The bullying stopped, although whether it was because everyone thought Harry was dangerous or out of guilt for what had happened. Harry didn't care. It made it easier to move around and he became a little less jumpy.

Three weeks later, late in November Harry was sitting in the Library with Hermione and Neville. He'd been cautious about being seen with them, but a Quidditch game was going on and there was little danger of them being overheard.

Considering that the professors were all at the games, Harry loved Quidditch. It was the one time he could move around the castle with little fear of being attacked. He rarely attended matches as a result. His own house didn't care for him being there and none of the other houses wanted him to sit with them.

Hermione wasn't impressed by sports and Neville was somewhat interested, but more interested in spending time with Harry and Hermione.

The matches had only begun in early November and this was their third match. There was one more match and then none again until February, which Harry regretted.

“You're going home, then,” Neville asked.

Harry nodded. “It's not safe for me to stay over the holidays.”

The prospect of weeks at Hogwarts with few other students and no supervision was a nightmare. Quirrell would have all the time in the world to attack him. Time with the Dursleys would be paradise by comparison.

Neither Hermione nor Neville believed him when he told them that Quirrell was an agent of Voldemort. They thought he was being paranoid and that Quirrell was harmless. Harry told them, however so that they would stay on their guard.

“I'd invite you to visit,” Neville said, “But Gran has heard about the bounty on your head. She says we couldn't provide enough security.”

“I'll be safest at home,” Harry said. “It upsets my muggle family when they are faced with magic, so it's better not to send an owl. I've gotten Hermione's telephone number, so I'll call her whenever I can without upsetting them.”

Needless to say, his family wouldn't be happy if he got calls. Hermione had seemed upset that they'd discriminate against her for being a witch, but Harry explained that they would have been angry if she'd been an ordinary girl who called, much less a magical. Eventually she'd agreed to wait for him to call instead.

“Send her a letter and I'll have her read it to me over the telephone,” Harry said. “I'll send her letter through muggle post that she can send on to you.”

Neville nodded, although he still wasn't clear about just what telephones were. Harry had tried to explain it several times, but had concluded that he was going to have to see it to understand it.

“Ron almost got killed the other day,” Neville said.

“What?” Harry asked sharply. If Quirrel was attacking other students, one who weren't associated with Harry then it had to be in the pursuit of some other plan.

“He wandered onto the third floor corridor,” Neville said. “Said he stumbled into a room where there was a giant three headed dog. He barely got out alive.”

Harry shook his head. “Dumbledore warned us about that corridor. Weasley doesn't strike me as the type to listen.”

Hermione shook her head. “The question is why he has a giant three headed dog in a castle full of schoolchildren at all.”

Harry stared at her. “This entire school is a deathtrap, even without Voldemort. It's set next to a forest filled with giant, man eating spiders, werewolves and a host of other monsters. There's a tree on the grounds that will beat you to death if you get too close to it.”

He ticked the examples off his fingers. “The stairs move out from under you so you can go falling to your death. Potions class is like a class where you make bombs without a clear idea of what you are doing. I've heard older years talk about books that will bite you if you aren't careful.”

“Every kid here has a weapon in their hands, at an age when bullying is particularly terrible. With all of that, you think a three headed dog is unusual? I'm surprised that they don't have them as dorm mascots.”

Hermione opened her mouth to protest but Harry interrupted her.

“What would happen to a muggle school where even one of those things were true? They'd close it down in a day. Parents would be demanding the staff's heads and here it's just considered part of normal business.”

“I hear muggles don't have very good healing,” Neville offered quietly.

“And that's why wizards are so blasé about risks,” Harry said. “Break an arm? They'll vanish the bone and regrow a new one overnight. Get mangled by a giant dog? There are spells...”

“Well, don't they have a point?” Hermione asked. “Wizards aren't nearly as vulnerable as muggles.”

Harry stared at Hermione, wondering how she could have assimilated the wizarding naivete after less than three months. She should have still had a little muggle caution.

“They don't have magic to cure being dead,” Harry said bluntly. “A student died, and here we are a few weeks later acting like nothing happened.”

“It's not just here,” Hermione said quietly. “I had a classmate at my old school...she was killed by her father.”

Neville looked shocked, and Harry wondered if that sort of thing didn't happen in Wizard families, or if it just wasn't spoken about.

“Everybody was upset, but they were back to acting normal in a few weeks.”

Harry grimaced. He didn't understand how people could be so uncaring. Adrian was dead and everyone acted as though he didn't matter.

Was it because he was a Slytherin? Did the rest of the school hate their house that much that a Slytherin death wasn't a reason to mourn? Of all the Slytherins, Harry had thought Adrian was the most liked. He never cheated, he always played fair and he was good to everyone.

So he wasn't quite as friendly as a Hufflepuff or quite as studious as a Ravenclaw. He'd been a good person.

“Adrian Pucey was my friend,” Harry said quietly. “He helped me when the rest of the school was bullying me, even though he really didn't have to. I think he took pity on me.”

Hermione frowned. “It's not that nobody cares. It's just that most people didn't know him outside of Quidditch, and nobody wants to think that we might still be in danger.”

“You guys need to watch out,” Harry said. “If he's willing to send a troll after Slytherin, there's no telling what he'd be willing to do to people who are my actual friends.”

“Not everything is about you,” Hermione said, sighing, “Even if the world seems to be conspiring to make you think it is.”

“So you aren't curious about the dog?” Neville asked.

“Not at all,” Harry said. “Going to look for things that want to eat me sounds like the worst use of my time.”


Although the other students were no longer actively bullying him, they also had not become any warmer toward him. Instead, everyone was keeping their distance. Given Quirrell's attacks, Harry thought it was for the best, even if he desired more friends.

The day after Harry put in the paperwork saying that he was going home for Christmas, he received a note come and speak with the Headmaster.

“I'd thought you might stay over the holidays,” the Headmaster said. “I've been busy and had hoped to get more of a chance to get to know you.”

“I understand that you are running the skirmishes with the Death Eaters,” Harry said. “But I can't stay with Quirrell, not where there aren't protections.”

“You never did explain exactly why you thought Quirinus was working for the other side,” the Headmaster said.

“It had to be one of the staff that let the troll in,” Harry said. He couldn't tell the Headmaster the real reason he knew Quirrell was literally in Voldemort's pocket. “Hogwarts is supposed to be the safest place in Wizarding Britain, and part of that is because of the wards.”

“There are several members of the staff under investigation by the aurors,” the Headmaster said mildly. “Including myself.”

“You had nothing to gain and everything to lose,” Harry said. “As the leader of the people fighting Voldemort, hurting you would hurt the resistance to his rise to power.”

“There are still other candidates,” Dumbledore said.

“McGonagall is in your pocket,” Harry said. “Sprout isn't brave enough to do anything illegal. Trelawney isn't competent enough. Flitwick cares too much...”

“Are you saying Quirinus doesn't care about his students?”

“He makes my scar hurt,” Harry admitted. “Being around him gives me chronic headaches, and besides, he fakes his stutter.”

“That's hardly enough to take to the aurors, Harry,” Dumbledore said. He pulled a piece of candy from the candy jar beside his seat and then offered some to Harry who shook his head.

He wasn't stupid enough to take candy from anyone. With his luck it would contain truth serum or something else that would cause him to damn himself.

“Even if it were true,” the headmaster continued, “I'd need proof to act against him. There are many people with suspected ties to Voldemort's followers that we've never been able to prove are connected to them.”

“People of wealth and influence,” Harry said, cynically. He doubted that a lack of proof would stop them from investigating the poor and unconnected. From what he'd heard from Neville, the wizarding world was corrupt, which was part of the reason Voldemort's people had been able to hold on for so long.

The Headmaster didn't say anything; he simply took another bite of candy.

“There was another matter I wanted to speak to you about,” the Headmaster said. “I had planned to give it to you as a Christmas present, but as you are going home and I understand your aunt and uncle do not care for our world I am going to give it to you now.”

The Headmaster rose and went to a shelf, where a package had been sitting.

“What is this?” Harry asked, unwrapping it.

“It belonged to your father. He left it in my safekeeping, for me to give to you when the time came.”

Harry unwrapped it, and flowing cloth spilled out onto his hands. His hands, underneath the cloth were invisible.

It was an invisibility cloak.

Harry felt a sudden feeling of rage. He'd spent months, twice, being bullied and chased from place to place. He would have loved having a cloak like this.

He'd been murdered once because he didn't have something like this.

Dumbledore was giving this to him now? After the bullying had stopped?

Harry felt his hands clench around the cloak and he forced himself to smile. Better late than never, and this would help keep him safer. It would be a relief to be able to move around without being seen.

If he was going to fight Quirrell, he was going to have to do it from the shadows. This was a major tool toward that goal.

“Thank you,” Harry said. Most likely the Headmaster hadn't even had time to notice what had been happening to him.

It didn't make him feel any better about it.


Exploring the castle was something Harry had never been free to do, not with death on his heels. The following Saturday he explored invisibly even as his classmates were outside enjoying the several feet of snow which had suddenly appeared as if by magic.

The last thing Harry needed to do was get into a snowball fight. Someone would probably put a rock into one of the snowballs.

Instead he wandered the halls, carefully avoiding the third floor corridor where Ron Weasley had almost become dog food.

A casual investigation wouldn't do much good; what Harry really wanted to find was secret passages and other things that would allow him to move quickly and hide well. He wanted to find the places where he could be ambushed, or where he in turn could ambush someone else.

He was checking classrooms when he stumbled across one with a strange mirror inside.

Harry approached the mirror cautiously. Considering where he was, even inanimate objects could be dangerous. Wizards were foolish about leaving dangerous objects just lying around.

Looking into the mirror, he grimaced and turned away quickly. He doubted that the mirror showed the future, although he'd love to believe it did. However, he would have thought that a mirror that showed the actual future would be famous. Everyone would have heard about it and Dumbledore would be using it to stop Voldemort in his tracks.

Turning, he stumbled into the Headmaster.

“Interesting mirror,' he said.

“It is, isn't it?” the Headmaster said, looking down at him. “What do you think it shows?”

Harry shrugged. “Nothing I didn't already know.”

“It shows nothing but one's deepest desire,” the Headmaster said quietly. “Men have been drawn to the mirror to the point of ruin for centuries.”

Harry scowled. Indulging in pointless fantasy had never gotten him anywhere. What the Headmaster was saying was that the mirror showed nothing more than a lie.

“I imagine you saw your family,” the Headmaster said, smiling sadly. “Those who have lost loved ones or never knew them often do.”

Harry shook his head. “That's not what I saw at all.”

The Headmaster frowned. “What did you see?”

“Voldemort and his followers dead, every last one,” Harry said.

The Headmaster stared at him wordlessly, looking disquieted. Harry couldn't understand why this of all things would bother him. It was only obvious. Every bad thing in Harry's life, from his mistreatment by the Dursleys to the death of Adrian Pucey could be laid at Voldemort's feet.

Until Voldemort was dead, Harry would never be able to have a family or friends. He couldn't even see anything like that in his dreams. All that was before him was a single goal.

Quirrell and Voldemort had to die.

Chapter Text

Returning from Hogwarts was easier than arriving there. Neville and Hermione were both returning home for the holidays, and Harry wasn't nearly as helpless as he had been the first time he'd been murdered on the train.

Furthermore, the other students knew to be wary of him. The Slytherins, who were the most likely to try to murder him had witnessed him cutting the brains out of a troll. That would make them more cautious about trying anything.

The dangerous part would be once he reached the station. However, the Headmaster had assured him that no one knew about his Invisibility cloak, and so Harry felt confident that he would be able to get out fairly easily.

Neville had even told him about a special bus that took wizards from place to place.

Hermione agreed to let him hide in the Grangers car partway home; Harry didn't bring any luggage home with him. He'd done his homework for the holidays in advance and he didn't want to bring anything home that might antagonize his relatives.

The new peace between them was too fragile to risk.

It all went like a charm. Harry slipped into his invisibility cloak as the train stopped and he followed Hermione out onto the track. The hardest part was not bumping into anyone.

Harry watched as Hermione was greeted by her parents, and he felt a stab of envy at the easy love and affection they showed for each other.

Although Harry had no doubt that death eaters and others looking to collect the bounty on his head were looking for him, he managed to get out to the car without any problem.

Hermione held the door open a little longer than necessary, waiting for him to get in. She covered her action by talking to her father.

It wasn't until they were partway home that Harry revealed himself, almost making Hermione's father pull off the road.

After that they had to explain to her parents why Harry had hidden in their car, which involved a ten minute discussion about Voldemort, Harry and the bounty on his head.

Harry's plan had been to take the Knight bus back to his neighborhood and then find his way home. He wouldn't give them his exact address because that would make it too easy for whoever was looking for the bounty.

The Grangers were unhappy that he hadn't told them about the bounty before, but they insisted on driving him home, thinking it too risky for him to go alone.

Harry hadn't expected them to be that brave. After all, his own family had been willing to throw anyone under the bus to keep themselves safe. These were good people, even if they were a little naive. He could tell, however that they didn't really believe in the danger he and Hermione were telling them about.

They drove him home, and he stopped in the same place as before. Although he didn't mind as much now that they knew where he lived, muggles had no defense against magical compulsions to tell what they knew. He didn't want anyone knowing his exact address.

Harry slipped behind his neighbor's house, and then slipped his cloak on.

The Dursley home was quiet and dark. Harry had a key because the Dursleys had once almost been caught leaving him outside when they didn't show up after school. The gossip had been deflected, with the excuse that Harry had lost his key, but he'd been given one afterward.

No one was inside, and Harry felt uneasy. At this time of night Vernon should have been home and his aunt should have been making dinner. Dudley should have been been home from Smeltings, complaining in his way about the food not being ready.

Harry felt a sudden fear. While the wards protected the house, there was nothing preventing Voldemort's people from finding out where Vernon lived. From there it would be a simple matter to spell him into taking the family out somewhere they could be attacked.

Once they were dead, the wards would fall. Harry had asked the Headmaster, who assured him that the wards were linked to Petunia and Dudley.

The thought that he might be entirely defenseless even now chilled him, and Harry gathered his invisibility cloak around him.

He heard a movement at the door and he quickly moved back to a corner, pulling out his wand. There was a fumbling sound, and Harry pointed his wand. He'd heard that casting spells outside of school could get his wand snapped, but self defense was a valid defense.

As a hulking silhouette moved through the suddenly opened door, Harry prepared to cast his most powerful Diffindo. Against a troll it wouldn't do much, but against a human it would kill.

His hand trembled as the figure moved forward in the moonlight. He wanted Voldemort and his men dead, but did he have it in him to actually kill? Killing a troll was very different from killing a man, Harry discovered. He was hesitating, and he cursed himself for doing so.

“I've reached my limit, do you hear!” Vernon's voice rang through the house. “Shopkeepers should have more respect than to treat a working man with hard earned money like that.”

Harry's hand shook and his fingers gripped his wand so hard he was afraid it might snap. He'd almost killed his uncle. In a moment of rage and fear, he'd almost done something that he would never be able to take back. Even if he reset time, he'd always remember what he'd done, and the stain on his soul would never go away.

Quickly, he put away his wand and hid his cloak in his cupboard, which now had ordinary odds and ends filling it.

Dudley had gained more weight, Harry noted absently as the lights were turned on and the Dursleys stared at him.

Vernon started as he saw Harry. “What are you doing here, boy? Did those freaks kick you out of that school of yours?”

“It's Christmas,” Harry said. “I'll be here two weeks and then I'll be back.”

Harry's aunt and Dudley were following behind. His aunt had piles of packages while his cousin had nothing.

Vernon scowled. “I guess you ran back here, where its safe.”

“That's pretty much true,” Harry said, surprising his uncle. “We've already had one death at the school, and it's every bit as bad as you would expect.”

His uncle stared at him for a moment, and then, as though cheered by the thought that the school was unpleasant, he said, “Help your aunt with the packages.”


After Dudley went to bed, Harry spoke to his aunt and uncle. He explained about what he knew about the bounty on his head, and about the dangers of Hogwarts. He talked about the troll and about what he'd had to do.

Harry had sat his wand on the table in front of them, and as he described how he'd caused the troll's brains to explode, Vernon's face turned pale.

He looked down at the wand, finally seeing it as the weapon that it was, and Harry could almost see the thought moving through his head. How much did Harry resent the years of neglect and abuse?

Did Harry intent to murder them all?

“We need each other,” Harry said quietly. “As long as Aunt Petunia and Dudley and I are all alive, the wards around this place will remain. Wizards who mean us harm won't be able to find this place, although we'll still be in danger outside.”

“You've put us all in danger, boy,” Vernon growled.

Harry shook his head. “It's the wizards and their crazy ideas.” He hesitated. “They think I'm supposed to fight this Voldemort and one of us will die.”

He stared at the table. “I'm working at getting better all the time, but it may take a long time before I get good enough to take on someone like him. In the meantime, our best option is to lay low.”

“Our best option would have been for you to leave us alone,” Petunia said. She looked more frightened than her husband, probably because she understood the wizarding world better than he did. She knew just how dangerous wizards could be, while Vernon still thought the stories about them were somewhat exaggerated.

“You haven't been good to me,” Harry said coolly, “But you are the only family I have left. I'll protect you, and not just because of the wards.”

They discussed it, and even though Vernon blustered, in the end he agreed with Harry and Petunia. Harry would not leave the house for the next two weeks and he would make sure that the neighbors wouldn't even know he was home. In return he would try to be accommodating, and he wouldn't kill them all in their sleep.

Giving up something he wasn't planning to do in the first place wasn't much of a sacrifice.

Dudley had regained some of his courage over his time at Smeltings. The fear and anger of his parents over wizards following them probably felt like a distant dream.

The first time he tried hitting Harry, Harry grabbed for his wand. It wasn't intentional; after repeating months of being being attacked grabbing his wand had become second nature. Petunia's shrieks of fear when she saw Harry go for the wand must have gotten through to Dudley, because after that he restricted himself to just making comments.

He seemed to see something in Harry that was more dangerous; Harry wasn't the same downtrodden orphan who had let himself be abused. In the past he was just a child who had no power to defend himself.

Now he'd been through enough that he was perfectly willing to defend himself with the power that he did have- and in the future he was only going to get stronger.

Dudley eventually, hesitantly asked him about his school. Harry told him, once his aunt wasn't around to listen. He told him of the wonder and the horror of it, of trolls and giant dogs and murderous trees.

Somehow Dudley didn't take it the way Harry had intended. He seemed to think it was cool to go to school in a death trap.

Despite that, he taunted Harry about his lack of presents.

Harry knew that he'd be receiving presents from Hermione and Neville; he'd called Hermione on the telephone. They'd all agreed that it would be better to simply hold the presents until he got back to school, given his aunt and uncle's fear of being discovered.

He'd asked Hermione to deliver a letter to Neville, in which he'd asked Neville to buy Hermione a particular present. He'd promised to pay him back later. He'd asked Hermione to do the same for Neville.

There wasn't much money left over from his working during the summer, but Harry made the best use of what was left that he could. He wondered what he was going to do now that the money was almost gone.

The last thing he wanted to do was expose them all by being in the neighborhood. The odds of his being found were unlikely, but not impossible. His biggest defense was that Voldemort's followers didn't know what city he was in. The problem was that it wasn't just Voldemort's followers he had to worry about.

There was a bounty on his head, which meant that any wizard who wanted to curry favor with the dark lord could simply turn Harry in, or turn what he knew about his whereabouts in.

If they knew which city Harry was in, it would be a simple matter to hire an investigator to find out where Harry had gone to school and from there to find out the exact address.

Harry had asked Dumbledore carefully about the exact limitations of the blood wards. The Headmaster admitted that they wouldn't do anything against muggles. Once they knew the address, all the death eaters would have to do was use magic to compel the local police to pull them out of their homes.

All in all, it was best that Harry remain unseen.

Harry decided that he needed to learn more about disguising himself with magic and through mundane methods. He mentioned as much to his aunt and uncle one day.

He was surprised, though, to have a single present on Christmas day from his aunt and uncle. It was unexpected; he'd only had one Christmas gift before. Harry wondered if this was going to be the other sock to complete the pair from his last Christmas gift.

The shape was wrong though.

He opened it and was surprised to find that it was a book titled “How to disguise yourself.” It was an old copy, apparently bought at a used bookstore. Flipping it open, Harry saw that it had been written in 1974.

Even though it was self serving of them, Harry still smiled at his aunt and uncle. It was the first real present they'd ever gotten him, and if the book was any good, it might save his life some time.

In the time that remained he studied the book as well as he could. The book had handy illustrations about creating a variety of disguises. Some of it involved stagecraft and was meant more for theater than for the kind of work Harry was hoping for.

Some of it would be useful, and Harry was relieved. He asked his aunt to get some of the materials he would need, and for once she didn't argue, although she bought these as cheaply as she could as well.

Dudley even helped him practice, although he taunted Harry about wearing makeup, feeling it was unmanly.

Harry still had to clean and cook and work outside in the yard. The yard was protected; wizards outside the ward wouldn't be able to see Harry although muggles would.

Several neighbors approached Harry about doing work for them, but Harry declined, telling them that he was grounded by the Dursleys for the entirety of the holidays.

Despite everything, he didn't mind the work. It kept his mind off the worries he'd had constantly at Hogwarts.

Being someplace safe, even if his aunt and uncle were still cold to him felt as though a weight he hadn't even been aware of had been taken off his shoulders.

He felt like Atlas when he'd no longer had to hold up the sky.

When he'd come home, he'd been so on edge and fearful that he'd almost accidentally murdered his uncle. With time at home being safe, he gradually felt something unclench within him.

He began to relax, and although he still had nightmares, they weren't as intense.

After one particular nightmare, he got up to wash his face and he saw his aunt in the hallway. She'd obviously heard him crying out. He almost saw something that looked like sympathy on her face, although it vanished quickly.

She was careful not to show any kind of expression of kindness by day, and certainly not in front of Vernon.

The truce between them all held, and as the holiday came to an end, Harry almost felt ready to go back.

He'd needed time away from the constant fear of death and pain. Feeling safe was a precious gift, one that no amount of money could have bought him.

When the time came for him to leave, the Dursleys were willing to drive him halfway, although they insisted that he disguise himself and hide under his invisibility cloak, which Harry had eventually revealed to them.

Petunia was shocked and didn't seem to know what to do when Harry impulsively grabbed her and hugged her before he left and summoned the Knight bus. Although they had not been good to him, for once they hadn't been particularly bad, and Harry appreciated that.

The Knight bus driver had no idea who Harry was, not through the disguise. Harry gave a false name. He found the trip to be anxiety provoking, and by the time it was over, much of the inner calm he'd developed over his time with the Dursleys had vanished.

Wizards, apparently were pants at driving.

Slipping through the gauntlet at the train station was easy with his invisibility cloak. His main worry was about bumping into people, and Harry was quick to find a massive couple to walk behind until he could get to platform 9 3/4ths.

Hermione and Neville were already waiting for him on the train.

As they headed back to Hogwarts, Harry couldn't help but feel as though he was riding back to his doom.

Chapter Text

Although the idea of killing Quirrell and Voldemort was attractive, actually doing it was another thing. He'd hesitated when he'd thought Vernon was an attacker, and Harry was afraid that he'd hesitate again when the time came to actually kill.

The reason Harry wanted them and their followers dead was because it was the only way he could ever see to feel safe again. He didn't actually want to kill someone, and he feared that he'd feel terrible remorse, even if killing the troll had been mostly guilty free.

Furthermore, he was only eleven. Killing an average adult wizard would be difficult enough. Killing someone who had the second most powerful wizard of the age in his head was going to be exponentially more difficult.

Glancing at his friends, Harry was glad that they at least couldn't read minds. If they knew that he was casually contemplating murder, they wouldn't want to be anywhere close to him. They were Gryffindors, for all that they probably deserved to be in other houses.

In their world it was important not only to be heroic, but to be seen as being heroic. Assassinating someone from the shadows would seem cowardly and weak.

But he was weak. In comparison to Quirrell his power was nothing. He was like a three year old trying to fight an adult. He might be able to get a kick to the shins, but he was hardly a serious threat.

The ideal thing would be for him to get the proof that Dumbledore asked for. If he could prove what Quirrell was he might be able to get Dumbledore to take care of him for him.

He couldn't simply make an accusation; no one believed children anyway, and for something as serious as what he had to tell it would be even worse.

People tended to dismiss children, in part because children often lied.

He would need incontrovertible truth. The simplest thing would be to use a spell to yank the turban off his head. Wingardium Leviosa wasn't fast enough to do what he did. Adrian Pucey had told him about a spell that might do the trick.

If he could get Flitwick to teach him Accio, he might be able to accomplish his goal. However, he wouldn't put it past Quirrell to use some sort of sticking charm to the turban. He'd have to learn a counter to that spell as well.

Hermione smiled at him, pleased at the book he'd had Neville buy for her. It was a book about healing magic. In its way, it was as selfish a present as the one the Dursleys had given him. If she knew enough magic to stop him from bleeding someday, it would be worth every galleon.

Neville he'd gotten his own wand. Much of Neville's problem was that he was using a wand that was not suited for him. He'd heard that the youngest Weasley had the same problem, but Harry hadn't bothered to say anything to him.

If Neville could cast spells appropriately, he'd be better able to protect himself and eventually Harry and Hermione. It was a sound investment.

Their gifts to him had been a revelation. He'd expected a little cheap candy; if they'd given him that much he'd have been pleased.

Neville had gotten him a pocket sneakoscope. It had begun whistling several times as people passed by in the corridor outside.

Harry wasn't sure how useful it was going to be in Slytherin. He slept in a room with Draco Malfoy after all. However, he was thrilled not only that Neville had thought to get him such a gift, but that he'd put that much thought into it.

Hermione had gotten him a book called “Secrets of the Ninja.” Harry tried to explain to her that he'd tried to learn martial arts by reading books in the past and failed, but she'd rushed to explain that the book was more about moving silently and how to follow people without being seen.

Flipping through the book, Harry saw illustrations. He knew better than to think that he'd be able to read a book and suddenly be a master at fading into shadows. But given that being heard was the biggest risk when he was under his cloak, it was a thoughtful gift.

If it helped him walk more quietly, even if only by a little it might keep him alive.

There were also apparently chapters on meditation techniques to be used for relaxation. Harry could feel himself becoming more tense the closer they got to Hogwarts and he wondered if this might not be the most important part of the book.

The illustrations were poor, and the sections on martial arts would likely be useless to him, but Harry had some hopes for the book.

He thanked Hermione profusely. She explained that she'd been looking for a book about how to move quietly, but that was the only one she'd been able to find. There were a few books which had tricks about moving through the forest, but Harry hardly needed to worry about that.

The gifts left him with a warm glow, feelings that he hadn't had before.

The slightest scrap of affection from the Dursleys was worth celebrating, but Hermione and Neville gave of themselves freely. They had no reservations, even though they had to know by now that being around Harry was dangerous.

Neville knew without a doubt the price that could be paid for opposing Voldemort; he visited his parents in St. Mungos regularly.

Hermione was still a little naive and Harry worried that she didn't really believe that anything bad could happen. In his experience, children their age didn't really understand death, not on a visceral level, at least not until they'd had personal experiences with it.

Still, she'd stuck with him in the face of opposition from her own house. She'd been pressured to give up her friendship with him and had even been bullied sometimes and she'd stuck with it.

He valued them both more than he could admit to anyone, and after Adrian had died he'd promised himself that he wasn't going to lose anyone else.

They arrived back at Hogwarts late that evening, in time for a celebratory dinner. Quirrell was back in his customary seat at the teachers table, and Harry couldn't help but have a flash of hatred for him. The prophecy had made him and Voldemort enemies, but Quirrell had chosen to work with the Dark Lord.

He was right about the sneakoscope not being very useful in Slytherin. He had to muffle it and put it in the bottom of his trunk, although it was useful for times when Harry was alone and he wanted to make sure no one was coming to the door.

Harry resumed classes, but he began to look at what magic there was for disguises. The book the Dursleys had given him was fairly detailed, but Harry was unsure how well the disguises would actually work if there were people looking for him.

Some of the advice was obvious, like changing hair and facial hair. As an eleven year old with a beard would be highly suspicious, this was only of limited use.

Changing his glasses or wearing sunglasses might work better if he had money or was better at transfiguration. He was reluctant to try transfiguration on his glasses because he wasn't sure he'd be able to repair them if he broke them.

There were makeup tricks but close examination would reveal those, Harry suspected, and it would take a lot of practice to get good enough at them to fool people.

What he needed was a simple spell to change his appearance; with that he'd be able to get around even in crowded places where his cloak would be difficult to use. He suspected that he needed to be cautious in his use of the cloak. If Quirrell and his cronies learned he had it, they'd start taking it into account and they'd be harder to deal with.

He began looking into it during his time in the library with Hermione and Neville, especially during Quidditch matches. Unfortunately the choices weren't promising.

There was polyjuice, which looked very difficult to brew. It was clearly far beyond his potion brewing skills. There was human transfiguration, which was a skill aurors learned. It was beyond NEWT level, and with good reason. Harry was reluctant to even try for fear that he'd end up without a nose and unable to change himself back.

Some people could turn into animals, much like Professor McGonagall, but that was apparently also very impossible. Very few people were registered as animagi, although Harry suspected that there were a lot of people who wouldn't register. A skill like that was much more useful if no one knew you could do it.

Other than that there were only a collection of cosmetics charms, mostly used by witches to change hair color and styles.

It was frustrating, but if there were easy ways to disguise oneself, the wizards would have come up with more countermeasures. At the very least people would have to check and recheck everyone around them, so maybe it was for the best.

Life was a nightmare enough already with Harry knowing who the people around him were, even if he always didn't know their motivations.

He continued practicing with Flitwick, and although the practices were only once a week, the quality of the practice almost made up for it. The professor was able to make things clear to Harry. He kept the spells safe; Harry learned the body bind curse, the leg locking curse and the tripping jinx.

Most importantly, he trained Harry with the shielding charm, and as time went on it went from being as insubstantial as a soap bubble to something stronger and protective. Flitwick warned him, however that while it would be good against other students it wouldn't hold up against an adult wizard.

Flitwick taught him how to dodge and how to use the environment to protect himself. Even the killing curse could be protected against if something blocked it, like a piece of statuary or another object from the environment.

Although learning to hide behind objects wasn't part of a duellist's training, Flitwick had been through the first war with Voldemort, and he had learned some of what aurors learned about situational awareness and how to use cover.

Untrained wizards tended to stand out in the open, where they were excellent targets, but experienced wizards were more canny.

He set up situations to test Harry's ability to use the environment, even with his limited spell selection. Harry practiced until he was exhausted, and then they would share small cupcakes from behind his desk and Flitwick would talk a little about his experiences during the first war, and about his memories of teaching Harry's parents.

Harry felt himself growing more affectionate toward the man. He was gentle in a way that Harry wasn't used to; Snape and McGonagall and most of the other professors were strict, Sprout was distracted and didn't have much time for him.

The Dursleys had rarely showed gentleness even to each other much less to him.

Harry considered trying to teach Hermione and Neville, but they didn't have much time together, and if others learned what he was teaching them they'd be in even more danger.

Despite his success with this, his other professors noted that he wasn't doing as well in classes as he had before. This time he didn't have the advantage of repeating classes, and so he looked much less like a prodigy.

Some of them came to him, worried that something was impacting his studies.

Harry couldn't tell them that he'd effectively cheated throughout much of the previous semester, and so he simply claimed that everything was as it always was.

He practiced the skill of moving silently, which was more difficult that Hermione's Ninja book would suggest. With time he did start to get a little better at it, and the book also had tips on disguise.

Apparently, real ninja hadn't worn black suits at all. They'd dressed like everyone else and had specialized in not being noticed until they'd already murdered someone.

Harry learned that sometimes something as simple as changing the fit of his clothes made him more difficult to recognize. He practiced changing the way he walked, and considered changing how he dressed. He asked the house elves, who were able to find him old clothes that students from previous years had left behind.

He was careful not to let anyone see what he was doing, which was where the Sneak-o-scope came in handy.

Creating a disguise was often more about creating a persona and having the right attitude than anything else. He'd stuck out like a sore thumb in Diagon Alley, trying to sneak around because he'd looked like he didn't belong. It wouldn't have mattered what he wore, people would have noticed him.

Still, it was slow going, and every class with Quirrell was getting harder and harder. Harry's rage and hatred never diminished, and Quirrell seemed to sense that. He began to call Harry out for demonstrations, seeming to take a sort of sadistic delight in humiliating Harry.

He almost seemed to be waiting for Harry to attack him, and each time Harry barely managed to avoid doing so by the skin of his teeth. He was afraid that it wouldn't be long before he attacked the professor again.

If Quirrell were smart, he wouldn't kill Harry this time. Instead he'd simply capture him and turn him over to the aurors to have his wand snapped. Harry would be helpless, and the people who supported Harry wouldn't be able to do much.

The thought that he might not die was the only thing that kept Harry from attacking Quirrell.

In May, an alarm was sounded and all the professors were called out the school to deal with an emergency. Like the other students, Harry streamed outside to see what was happening. An emergency large enough to call the teachers away might be a distraction for another sort of attack and he didn't want to be alone where he could be easily murdered.

As Harry stepped out onto the lawn, his senses on high alert, he saw smoke in the distance. There was a fire, and as there had been no flame recently, the professors were all heading to take care of it.

Harry was careful to watch around him. With a crowd all around him, and everyone rubbernecking to see what was happening it would be easy for someone to stab him without being seen. He'd been stabbed often enough not to want to repeat the experience.

The professors were gone for more than fifteen minutes before they'd returned, faces grim. They carried a stunned baby dragon while Hagrid the caretaker followed behind looking shamefaced and upset.

Hagrid was sacked the next day. Apparently keeping dragons was illegal, and the dragon had managed to burn down Hagrid's hut, had killed his dog and had threatened to attack a pair of Hufflepuffs who were helping Hagrid in his garden.

Neville was sorry that it had happened, but Hermione was convinced that it was for the best. Hagrid had been keeping a dangerous, illegal creature on school grounds, a fact which Harry agreed with wholeheartedly.

Unfortunately, Hagrid was replaced by a man who seemed like Argus Filch's sketchier brother. Seamus Rookwood didn't seem to like anyone, and he had an unfortunate tendency to leer at the girls. Harry personally thought it was stupid to replace a man-child who at least seemed to know his job with someone who looked like a crime waiting to happen.

It wasn't long after that that Harry finally snapped and attacked Quirrell in class. He'd had enough sense not to use anything that might be considered lethal; he didn't want to end up in Azkaban. He wasn't sure what would happen if his soul was destroyed by a dementor.

Would he wake up in the past like normal, or would he simply awaken one day as a husk. How did his ability work? Was he transporting his soul back in time, or was he simply a seer who could perfectly see a possible future?

He had no way of knowing and even as angry as he was he wasn't willing to risk it.

Attacking the professor, even with stinging jinxes wasn't Harry's smartest decision. Quirrell managed to break through his shield easily and put him in a full body bind.

He was taken to the Headmaster, and Quirrell assigned a detention that made Harry's stomach drop.

There was something in the Forbidden Forest killing unicorns, and Harry was to accompany Seamus Rookwood into the forest to look for it.

His heart sank as he saw the triumphant expression on Quirrell's face. The small smirk the man sported made Harry want to attack him again, but he knew better than to do so in front of the Headmaster.

Harry felt sick as he contemplated entering a forest filled with man-eating spiders and with whatever Quirrell had waiting for him.

He was doomed.

Chapter Text

“Fifty points, Potter?” Malfoy stared at him incredulously.

Harry shrugged.

“For attacking a teacher? Anybody else would have been expelled....should have been expelled!” Malfoy said.

Harry had already heard an earful from Hermione and he stared impassively at the other boy.

The only reason that Harry cared about House points was that losing them angered the other Slytherins. He was already seeing unfriendly looks from the upper years, and if he survived the night it was going to mean trouble.

“It's just proof that you're dangerous...if you're doing this first year, what are you going to do, burn down the entire castle before you graduate?”

Malfoy's outrage had overtaken his usual fear of Harry, and he was saying things that Harry suspected he usually said behind Harry's back.

Harry looked at him impassively and said, “Quirrell irritated me.”

Quirrell had been needling him all semester. Malfoy had been there, he'd seen what had happened. He'd been there during the attack.

“Everybody irritates you,” Malfoy said. “Except that mudblood and that blood traitor.”

At Harry's look, Malfoy held up a hand. “I don't know what your problem is with the man, and I certainly don't know what his problem is with you. You need to solve it, before the upper years come and beat you to death in your bed.”

“I didn't know you cared,” Harry said.

“They don't know who sleeps in which bed,” Malfoy said dryly, “And I doubt some of them would care.”

“What, with your father's connections?” Harry asked.

“Some people,” Malfoy said, with a significant look in Harry's direction, “Do stupid things and regret it later.”

“Like dueling with Weasley in the corridor,” Harry said.

The look Malfoy gave him was blistering.

Having detention at eleven o'clock at night was almost as insane as sending children alone into a monster inhabited forest accompanied only by a groundskeeper who looked like every groundskeeper in every horror movie ever.

They met with Filch, who glared at them with an evil grin.

“Attacking a teacher, fighting in the halls...wouldn't have happened in my day. My day they had real punishments...hanging from the ceiling by the wrists for a few days would do the lot of you some good.”

Harry wondered where Filch had gone to school. As a squib, he couldn't have gone to Hogwarts.

Filch chuckled darkly.

“This might be better though...”

Apparently Malfoy and Weasley hadn't been told where they would be serving their detention. They both looked uneasy as Filch lit a lantern and led them outside.

The moon was bright, but dark clouds kept plunging them into impenetrable darkness. Harry had to watch his step; falling and breaking his neck before he even reached the forest would be a nastily ironic death.

With his luck he'd suffer through all the pain and then wake up two minutes before he fell. Having to repeat the same horrible evening over and over was his conception of hell.

After a few minutes they managed to reach the caretaker, who was carrying his own lantern. The light from the lantern lit his face in a way that made it look even more sinister than it usually did. It made him look almost ghostly.

“What are we doing?” Harry heard Malfoy ask uneasily.

“You'll be going into the forest tonight, boys,” Filch said, a sort of unnatural glee in his voice. He grinned. “Whether you'll be coming out is another story.”

“There's Acromantula in the forest,” Weasley said. His face was pale in the lantern light. “Giant spiders the size of the Knight bus.”

Harry hoped that was an exaggeration. Something that size wouldn't be able to move through the trees.

“And werewolves,” Malfoy said. He glanced up at the moon. “If my father knew how you were endangering me, he'd...”

Filch was already walking away.

The groundskeeper said held the lantern up and said “You think he doesn't know where you are, boy?”

“What?” Malfoy asked.

“He hasn't been very loyal, the past few years. He needs to be taught a lesson.”

Malfoy looked almost as alarmed as Harry felt. The man was as much as admitting to be a death eater, and if that was the case...

Harry carefully reached into his pocket for his wand. He'd brought his cloak, stuffed into his pack just in case. If he could just get away he'd be able to vanish without any of them seeing him.

Weasley seemed not to catch the implications of what the groundskeeper had just said.

“Get moving....we don't have all night.”

“What are we doing?” Weasley asked quietly.

The groundskeeper bent down and showed them a silvery trail on the ground. It glowed in the moonlight and was oddly beautiful.

“That's unicorn blood,” the man looked up at them. “We're tracking it.”

Malfoy stared at the man for a moment then asked, “Why? Isn't it your job to keep the animals in their places?”

“You're my helpers tonight, boys,” the man said. His grin was nasty.

“Why's it bleeding,” Weasley asked, staring at the ground.

The trail led into the forest. It surprised Harry that the unicorns got this close to the castle, and he wondered who else knew about it.

“There's something in the forest killing the unicorns,” the groundskeeper said. “We're hunting it down.”

Both Weasley and Malfoy looked pale and ghostly now. Harry suspected that they'd both be more careful about dueling, assuming they survived the night.

The trail wandered and split shortly after they walked into the forest. The groundskeeper said, “Looks like we'll have to split up and cover more ground.”

Draco glanced back and forth between Harry and the groundskeeper. On the one side he seemed concerned about the grounds-keeper's cryptic remarks, worried for once that the man might actually try to hurt him to get back at his father.

On the other side, while he knew Harry could take care of himself, it wasn't like being protected by a fully adult wizard.

In the end, that seemed to be what caused him to make his decision, because he insisted loudly on going with the grounds-keeper.

They followed the groundskeeper into the darkness of the forest. The only light was the moonlight through the trees and the light of the caretaker's lantern.

Eventually they came to a fork in the path. Malfoy and the caretaker took the path to the left and Harry and Weasley took the path to the right. Despite what the caretaker had said,. Harry wondered if Malfoy's inclusion had just been to give plausible deniability in the case that Harry didn't come back.

After all, if a prominent Pure blood had been assigned the same punishment as Harry it couldn't be all bad, could it?

As the light from the lantern retreated into the distance, Harry turned and saw Weasley lighting his wand. Apparently his spell casting issues from earlier in the year were resolved, because the light shone shockingly in the darkness.

“Cut that out,” Harry snapped, closing his eyes in an attempt to maintain his night vision.

“Why?” Weasley asked, but at least he extinguished the light.

“Anything in the forest will be able to see the light from further away than we'll be able to see them,” Harry said.

“Like the spiders and werewolves?”

Harry nodded. Opening his eyes, he noted that the forest seemed even darker than it had before. He cursed to himself.

“Besides, you may need your wand for something else,” Harry said. “If things get bad. Why do you think he was carrying a lantern? It was to keep his wand free.”

Idly Harry wondered if there were spells to allow someone to see in the dark. He was sure that some people had learned to transfigure cat's eyes for themselves, but he wouldn't want to try that until he was very good.

The light from the lantern faded off into the trees. This left Harry alone with Weasley in the Forbidden forest.

“We'd best get to it,” Harry said after giving his eyes a chance to adjust.

Weasley stared at him for a moment before saying. “Sorry, mate.”

“For what?” Harry asked distractedly. The darkness made him uneasy. It would be easy for an enemy to snipe at them from the darkness and they'd never know what had hit them. Only the fact that having a light would make that even easier instead of harder kept Harry from wanting a light.

“For what happened to your friend,” he said.

At Harry's sudden sharp look, he held up his hand. “I heard you talking about it to Hermione and Neville.”

Harry scowled. He'd thought he was more careful about being overheard than that. He hoped this didn't endanger Pucey's family.

Still, Weasley was at least attempting to extend an olive branch. He hadn't done as much bullying in this time as he had the last time, and he couldn't really be held responsible for what his previous self had done.

“It's all right,” Harry said, although he could see from Weasley's expression that they both knew it wasn't. “Thanks for saying so.”

“You think they're really going to make us go into the forest?” Weasley asked fearfully. “With the spiders?”

Harry nodded grimly.

“The sooner we get it done, the sooner we get back,” he said.

Part of him considered simply pretending to traipse off into the woods while hiding instead. If he'd been with Malfoy he'd have considered it, but with a Gryffindor coming along with him it wasn't going to happen.

Even if Weasley was afraid of spiders, Harry doubted that he could keep a secret. Malfoy would have been happy to skiv off and show up later; if he'd been thinking he would have gone with Harry and then neither one of them would have had to go.

Instead he was with a Gryffindor, who would undoubtedly think cheating was a terrible thing. One of his brothers would have been much more likely to go along with the idea.

They followed the silvery trail into the forest, which grew darker and thicker the farther they walked.

“Why aren't you afraid?” Weasley asked suddenly from behind him.

Keeping conversation to a minimum was one of the things that might keep them alive, but Harry suspected that Weasley was one of those who needed to hear himself talk to deal with his own fear.

“Who says I'm not afraid?” Harry asked, glancing behind him. Considering that fear was his constant companion, Harry wondered if he might have simply gotten used to it. Was this bothering him less than Weasley because this was his entire life?

“You sure don't show it,” Weasley said.

“Half the people in my house would like to kill me,” Harry said. “And the other half are afraid of the first half and won't support me.”


“You learn not to show weakness pretty fast, or you don't survive.”

Weasley was silent after that, for which Harry was pleased. The boy was making enough noise moving through the forest. Harry was doing a little better, due to his practice at being stealthy. Even he was making more noise than he'd like, however.

They wandered around, following the meandering trail for what seemed like forever before Harry heard Weasley hiss behind him.

Weasley had spotted something; blood splashed against a tree, as though the unicorn had staggered and flailed against it.

The trail continued out into a clearing. Harry moved more cautiously now; the blood seemed fresher here, and he suspected that they were about to find whatever it was that they were supposed to find.

It occurred to him that the caretaker hadn't given them any way to alert him when they found the unicorn or its killer. He'd been preoccupied and hadn't questioned it.

His stomach clenched. Whatever they were about to face, it was likely very close.

Bright and gleaming on the ground, the unicorn was dead. Harry felt a catch in his heart at the sight of it. It wasn't often that he really appreciated magic, and sometimes he envied the wonder he saw in the muggleborn's eyes. Suddenly he wished he could see a unicorn in all its glory.

Unicorns represented the pureness and innocence that had been stolen from Harry. Living with the Dursleys, Harry wasn't sure he'd ever had it. It was a bitter envy to see Hermione or the others living life unconcerned about possible dangers at every corner.

Harry stiffened as he heard a slithering sound. He froze, holding up a hand for Weasley to do the same.

Out of the shadows emerged a dark figure, crawling along the ground like some kind of beast. It moved slowly toward the unicorn. The familiar spell of rot was in the air, along with lingering traces of garlic. If Harry hadn't known what he was looking for he likely wouldn't have noticed it.

Harry stood motionless in the shadows, and to his credit Weasley didn't move either. They both stood and watched as the figure lowered its mouth to the neck of the unicorn.

Before Harry realized what he was doing his wand was out and he was shouting “Diffindo!”

The figure jerked out of the way, and Harry dodged as a bolt of green light struck the place where he'd just been standing.

“Run!” he shouted to Weasley even as he dodged behind a tree.

He struggled to remember the lessons Flitwick and his books had taught him. Make use of cover and concealment; avoid being silhouetted against a skyline or against light colored objects.

Carefully select a new fighting position before leaving an old one.

Harry grabbed his cloak and quickly pulled it over his head. It was important to avoid setting a pattern, and the time he left himself exposed had to be limited.

Firing off another spell at the figure, who dodged behind a tree, Harry moved. It was hard not to make noise moving through the leaves and underbrush and he cursed to himself. He'd need more practice, if he ever got the chance.

“Diffindo! Diffindo! Diffindo!” Harry yelled. Although Quirrell dodged, Harry thought he saw a darkening pool of blood on his left sleeve.


Harry felt his wand being yanked from his hand and he cursed to himself. He hadn't bothered with a shielding charm, knowing it wouldn't stand up to whatever Quirrell planned to use against him.

He moved quickly through the darkness, his cloak covering him, even as flashes of light flew through the area he had been in.

Harry saw his wand lying on the ground six yards away. Quirrell was a dozen yards away, looking off in the direction of the last place Harry had been.

It was a clearing, and so there wasn't a lot of leaves or undergrowth. Harry carefully sued every skill he'd practiced to move slowly toward the wand.

“There's no one coming, boy!” the voice suddenly shrieked.

A sudden flare lit the entire area in a blinding light, as bright as daylight. Harry froze, his night vision suddenly gone. The only compensation was that Quirrell seemed as confused as he was.

“I wouldn't be so sure of that,” Dumbledore said, stepping out of the forest.

Quirrell suddenly whipped around, pointing his wand at Dumbledore. “I was just looking for the boy; it's not safe out in the forest.”

“You were the one who set him this task,” Dumbledore said mildly. “I was concerned and so I followed discreetly. Imagine my surprise to see what you have been up to with the unicorns.”

Harry cautiously began to bend down. Under the bright lights he hoped that his invisibility cloak covered all of him.

“I'm ill,” Quirrell said bluntly. “This is just to keep me going long enough.”

“You won't have the stone,” Dumbledore said quietly. “Perhaps there is something St. Mungos can do.”

“You think I haven't tried that?” Quirrell snarled. He wasn't even pretending to stutter. “I even went to muggle healers. This is the only solution.”

Harry's hand grasped the wand.

“No,” Quirrell said, and a moment later he apparated away.

“Harry,” Dumbledore said sharply, “Come here.”

Harry hesitated, not sure it was entirely safe. He began to walk toward the Headmaster, who looked in his direction and seemed to know exactly where he was.

He felt a sudden surge of displaced air behind him, and a moment later he felt his cloak being pulled away from him. The tip of a wand was placed against his forehead.

“Step away or the boy dies,” Quirrell snarled, staring up at Dumbledore.

Harry reached up and grabbed Quirrell's wrist, feeling a sudden surge of pain even as Quirrell screamed. He tried to wrench the wand away from his forehead, and he twisted his body, even as Quirrell yanked his hand away.

Quirrell's wrist was blistered.

“I wouldn't have thought it of you, Quirinus, playing host to something like that,” Dumbledore said. “Harry is protected by things neither you or your master can ever understand.”

“Kill him!” the voice from the back of Quirrell's head shrieked.

The two wizards suddenly exploded into action, and Harry ducked out of the way. He bent down and grabbed his cloak and he started running through the forest. At this point all staying would do was distract Dumbledore and risk his getting hurt.

Harry doubted the combat would last very long. Quirrell was sick and weakened, and Dumbledore was at the peak of his strength. The most likely outcome would be that Quirrell would apparate away, which meant Harry needed to get back inside the wards of Hogwarts as soon as possible.

As he reached the edge of the forest, Harry saw Malfoy, Weasley and the groundskeeper. He felt a sudden surge of exultation. He'd done it!

Dumbledore would remove Quirrell and Harry would be as safe at the school as he had ever been . He felt a sudden surge of relief. It was over, at least for now.

“I found the others,” Weasley said excitedly. “I was trying to get help when we saw the light.”

The shift in the grounds-keeper's expression was Harry's only warning before the older man went for his wand. Harry twisted out of the way even as he lifted his own wand to point at the other man.

He wasn't fast enough, and he felt his torso explode beneath him.

As he fell into darkness, his last thought was that for all his good points, Dumbledore was pants at hiring people.

Chapter Text

"Healing spells? I haven't even started to look at healing magic," Hermione said. She was staring at the book in front of her.

Harry sat, frozen.

Part of him still felt a void where his stomach had been, and he felt suddenly nauseous. He was on the train, and his presents from Neville and Hermione lay opened in front of him.

"It'd probably be a good idea," Harry forced himself to say, again, "Given the number of trolls and giant dogs running through the halls."

Hermione nodded, already looking through the book. Neville looked with her; his wand had already been gotten for him early when Hermione had taken him to Ollivander's.

"I think I need to head for the loo," Harry said.

Without looking back Harry quickly made his way out of their car and he headed for the loo. He didn't bother to hide himself. In the mood he was in, anyone who got in his way would regret it.

He stared at his face in the mirror once he reached the loo. He felt nauseous, but this time he didn't retch. Maybe this time he was getting used to being murdered, a little?

In the next five months he had to change everything. If he didn't he'd be trapped in his first year, repeating it again and again. That was the definition of hell.

He'd always moved on by surviving, and this time he intended to do more than survive.

Quirrell's flesh had burned when he'd touched it. That was a major discovery and possibly something that could alter the balance of power. Harry had no idea why it was happening; possibly it had something to do with the prophecy.

He'd hurt when he touched Quirrell, but he hadn't taken any damage. Maybe he and Voldemort literally couldn't exist in the same universe without killing each other?

It didn't matter why, but like his Invisibility cloak, it was a tool that was almost useless if Quirrell and Voldemort knew about it.

He had to keep the gameskeeper at his job so that the death eaters didn't have a chance to get their own man in the position.

For the first time Harry cursed his own lack of curiosity. While the other students had gossiped about what had happened to Hagrid, Harry hadn't been interested. There had been something about his harboring an illicit dragon.

He wasn't even exactly clear on when it had happened, although it was sometime in May. Harry had been distracted, worrying about Voldemort's plots and he hadn't really been concerned about any of the other teachers.

It was clear to him now that there was more than one way to attack someone. By removing one employee, Voldemort had created an opportunity for himself, one he'd been quick to take advantage of.

Harry had to endure five more months of classes with Quirrell. The boredom of having to repeat the classes was bad enough without having to listen to his incessant taunting.

At least now he knew Dumbledore wasn't a complete fool. He'd listened to Harry's complaint, and he'd waited until he could get proof to act.

That meant that Harry didn't actually have to murder Quirrell, as much as he sometimes wanted to. All he had to do was reveal him where Dumbledore or the other teachers could see and he would be expelled from the school.

Of course, even if Quirrell was placed in Azkaban, Harry wouldn't be safe. Quirrell dead was much safer than Quireell imprisoned.

After what he'd seen Quirrell do to the unicorns. Harry wasn't sure he shouldn't kill him. The man was dying, probably because he had an evil face-tumor in his head.

Getting actual evidence on him would require following him, something that made Harry want to sick up into the washbasin. He'd faced Quirrell three times in battle and three times he'd lost.

He'd have to get better at stealth; much better. The risk of following the man who was actively trying to kill him, who literally had eyes in the back of his head was enormous.

Harry had let Quirrell and his passenger dictate his life for too long. He'd let him reduce his life to nothing, and it was time to take his life back.

"I thought you lived with muggles," Flitwick said.

Harry was covered in sweat and sitting on a bench. Learning to dodge behind objects was difficult and he needed to get in better shape, although the possibility that whatever gains he might make could be erased in an instant were frustrating.

"I do," Harry said.

Flitwick frowned. "You've gotten better...much, much better. If someone is training you I'd like to meet them and learn how they taught you six months of training in two weeks."

Harry froze. He could hardly say that Flitwick had been the one to train him, and any other answer would sound like a lie.

His mind raced and finally he said, "People's families would be in danger if I revealed everyone who trained me."

Although Weasley knew or would know that Pucey had been Harry's friend, Harry hadn't told anyone about the training. Putting Pucey's family in danger wouldn't be fair or just after everything he had done.

Flitwick said, "When this is all over, I hope you ask them to talk to me. Whatever their teaching methods are, they are hugely effective."

Harry looked at him for a moment then said bleakly, "I doubt anyone would like them. Learning like this is...difficult. I wouldn't recommend it for anyone who didn't have to do it."

Flitwick stared at him sympathetically, but said, "If you continue to progress like this, you'll be a wizard to contend with someday."

The sooner the better as far as Harry was concerned. The last thing he wanted was to be a thirty year old wizard stuck in the body of a thirteen year old, repeating the same year endlessly. It was his idea of hell.

His performance in the fight with Quirrell, his third loss to the same man proved that once a week of training with Flitwick wasn't nearly enough.

The problem was that none of the other Slytherins were nearly as sympathetic as Pucey had been. Harry suspected that he'd helped him as much out of pity as anything else. Harry had chosen Pucey carefully, mostly because of his reputation for fairness and honesty and his lack of pureblooded ideologies.

None of the others fit as well as he had. Those who were brave also had suspect associations. Those who lacked those associations weren't particularly brave. Harry doubted that he'd be able to get anyone to help him that wouldn't betray him.

Turning to the other professors was out as well. McGonegall and Dumbledore were both far too busy with their duties. Madam Hooch didn't particularly like him. Sprout didn't seem like she'd be a very effective duelist.

Professor Sinestra might be good, but he didn't know enough about her, and she didn't seem particularly open.

He didn't know the other professors very well...including Hagrid, whose presence back at the head table was a little jarring.

Harry wasn't sure exactly how old the dragon was when it had set everything on fire, and he wasn't sure how long Hagrid had possessed the egg before it had hatched.

The simplest thing to do was to read up on dragons. He wasn't even sure what kind of dragon it had been but he still remembered what it had looked like.

Hermione might be willing to help; she was ridiculously easy to talk into anything that resembled research, and if he figured out a time frame that Hagrid might come into possession of the egg, he'd be able to figure out something to do about it.

First, though he needed to cultivate a relationship with the man. Showing up on his doorstep the day he got a dragon egg demanding that he give it up wasn't likely to be persuasive.

Sometimes talking was more effective than force. Harry hoped that this was one of those times, because he doubted anyone could physically force Hagrid to do anything he didn't want to do.

He'd ask Neville and Hermione to ask around about Hagrid; his reputation was bad enough that he couldn't ask questions without it being noticed. The Slytherins would report whatever he asked to their parents, and he might end up getting Hagrid sacked even faster than he had been the last time.

Slipping his invisibility cloak off after looking carefully around, Harry knocked on the door to Hagrid's hut.

The sounds of loud barking came from within, and Harry wondered suddenly if the man had moved the three headed dog into his hut. From what Hermione had discovered, the man had a history of raising questionable animals.

Consensus was that because he was a half-giant, a fact that Hermione was assured was known only to a few, few things could hurt him. He seemed insensitive to the fact that smaller beings weren't as resilient as he was.

Harry felt his stomach clench as the man came to the door.

Up close, Hagrid was even more impressively large than he was at the professors table, towering over Harry in a way that reminded Harry uncomfortably of his encounter with a troll.

Supposedly half-giants shared some of the trolls' resistance to magic, which made him even more anxious. This was someone who a well placed diffindo couldn't do much against.

"Harry?" the man asked, sounding confused.

"Hello, Hagrid," Harry said. He forced himself to smile. "I decided to come over and visit. Is this a good time?"

The man's face broke into a massive smile and he said, "Come on in!"

The interior of Hagrid's hut was a single room, with hams and pheasants hanging from the ceiling. Harry wondered why Hagrid bothered, unless the House elves simply weren't feeding him enough. If that was true, the man needed to negotiate a better labor contract.

There was a fireplace, with a large copper kettle. Something was boiling inside. There was a massive bed with a patchwork quilt. There were ingredients and objects Harry couldn't recognize, but it all seemed very rustic.

"I meant ter invite you over anyway, Harry, but Dumbledore's been keeping me pretty busy over the past few months," Hagrid said.

"He's got you helping against the death eaters?" Harry asked. If Dumbledore was staffing Hogwarts with his cronies who were helping in his war effort, it might explain his seeming incompetence in hiring employees.

After all, soldiers weren't necessarily good teachers.

Hagrid grimaced. "Never mind abou' that. Kid like yeh shouldn't have ter worry about the war."

Harry bit back the obvious response. He was involved, no matter what adults wanted for him, and he would be involved until the other side was dead.

"I hear you were here at Hogwarts during my parents' time," Harry said. "Maybe you'd like to tell me about them?"

In his experience, the few wizarding adults who'd known his parents seemed to love talking about them as much as his aunt seemed to hate it. It was the easiest way to break the ice, and deep down, Harry did find himself interested.

From the way Hagrid's face lit up, Harry had stumbled across a sure-fire conversation starter.

Harry learned more about his parents in the next thirty minutes than he'd learned in a lifetime with his aunt and uncle.

"So they had a house?" Harry asked.

Apparently this was the man who'd delivered him to the Dursleys. Harry wasn't sure how he felt about that. On the one side, this had led to a lifetime of loveless rules and restrictions and eleven years in a cupboard.

On the other hand, he'd be long dead by now if he hadn't been delivered to them, or he'd be caught in an infinite loop where he was murdered over and over again as a baby, unable to do anything to change his fate and trapped in a private hell he'd never grow old enough to truly understand.

"A lil' cottage in Godgric's Hollow."

"What ever happened to it?" Harry asked. He wondered if he owned the cottage how much he could sell it for.

"You-know-who didn' leave it in very good shape."

"But I own it?" Harry asked.

With his luck his aunt and uncle would have long since sold it and used the money on Dudley.

"Well, that'n the contents of yer vault," Hagrid said. "Ye won' be able to get control until yer seventeen."

"My vault?" Harry asked, leaning forward. "What?"

All in all, although there was no sign of the egg, his visit to Hagrid's had been very productive.

"I've got enough on my hands with my studies," the Ravenclaw said. He stared at Harry. "Why would I want to help you anyway?"

This was the third Ravenclaw Harry had asked, and none of them had been willing to help him.

"According to the prophecy, I have a chance to beat Voldemort. If I do, that'll mean I'm pretty powerful," Harry said. "And I'll remember people who were good to me."

"And what's that to me?" the Ravenclaw asked. "Unless you plan to become Minister for Magic or gain some kind of political office, your personal level of power if of no concern."

"I'll remember my enemies too," Harry said, even though he knew it was a mistake.

The Ravenclaw sneered. "A first year trying to be threatening, how quaint."

"Tell that to the troll," Harry muttered.

The Ravenclaw stared at him for a moment and then started walking away.

Harry felt frustrated. He should have done this the last time; then he'd know who to not bother talking to and who might be open to the idea of helping him. As it was, he could tell that some of the Ravenclaws had been talking.

Some of them looked at him with expressions of pity and others sneered at him; all of them turned away when they saw them coming toward them.

Harry began to wonder if the only way he was going to get any practical training was to pick fights in the hallways, but if he did that then he suspected that Flitwick would stop teaching him.

He stiffened as he felt an arm drape over his shoulder. He looked up at and saw that it was one of the Weasley twins. How had the sneaked up on him without his knowing.

"People have been talking," the first brother said.

"Talking a lot," the second said. "Saying you've been looking for people to practice magic on."

Harry shrugged out from under the arm of the first twin and stepped away. He kept his hand close to his wand. Although they hadn't bullied him in this timeline, other than a attempt to make him bald, he remembered what it had been the last time.

"You can understand if people might be a little reluctant to let you practice on them," the first twin said. "After what you did to the troll."

"Are you coming here to gloat?" Harry asked. "Because nobody wants to help me?"

"If you don't want to listen to what we have to say, we can walk away," the first twin said. "But we were actually thinking about making a deal."

"What kind of a deal?" Harry asked suspiciously.

"We've been working on...creative uses of potions and spells for our jokes. For some reason, people seem to be a little reluctant to be the first to try them."

Harry's mind made the obvious leap. "So you are offering practice with me in return for my being a experimental test subject?"

"From what we've heard, you're a little mental," the first brother said. "Which is what it would take to try some of the things we've come up with."

Anybody would be mental if they had to go through what Harry had gone through. Was Harry willing to put himself through what was likely to be humiliating and unpleasant just for a few more hours of practice a week?

"How do I know you won't poison me?" Harry asked suspiciously. "Or that this is all just a gag to get me to agree, and then you'll go back on your word?"

"Would we lie to you?" the second Weasley asked. He glanced at his brother. "Well, maybe, but we've heard what you do to people you aren't happy with."

"Besides, we're interested in seeing just what you've got," the first Weasley said. "People keep talking about you being some kind of a genius of a firstie. We'd like to see if that's true."

Well, whatever they did to him wouldn't kill him permanently, and he'd have to be careful to avoid anything causing permanent damage.

Although he mentally tended to lump them in with the others who had bullies him, they didn't seem to have the same kind of malice when they pulled their pranks.

From what he'd heard, they'd even hit Quirrell in the back of the head with a snowball during Christmas break. Harry wondered how they'd react if they realized they'd hit Voldemort in the face.

He wished he'd gone farther back in time, if only to have gotten to see it.

With some reluctance, Harry agreed to the deal. Part of him regretted it already. Ingesting unknown substances didn't seem like a very good way to survive, but if they were as creative as they thought he might find something among all the jokes that might be useful.

He'd be ready the next time. Harry vowed that the fourth time he fought Quirrel was going to be the charm. He was tired of losing, and tired of dying. It was time to work on winning for a change.

A few weekends of having his skin turn purple wasn't that much of a price to pay.

Chapter Text

"Mr. Potter," Professor McGonagall asked. "May I ask where you have put your head?"

Working with the Weasleys had been even more challenging than Harry had thought. They had a genius for using old spells in new ways and were even making cautious inroads into creating their own spells. The fact that they were only third years made it even more impressive.

Of course, most of their projects didn't work well, or at least not safely, which was why they were willing to work with harry in the first place. Some of the experiments were painful and others were simply embarrassing. Most of them were hard to easily reverse.

"I was helping the Weasleys with a project," Harry said. He grimaced, even though with his head invisible no one could see it.

The snickering from the other Slytherins almost made Harry happy that no one could see his expression.

"And they didn't put you back to where you were when they were finished?" McGonagall asked.

Harry shook his head, then realized that she wouldn't be able to see it.

"No ma'am," he said. "Finite incantatem didn't work at all, and neither did the other usual methods of reversing it. The twins seem to think it will wear off sooner or later."

"We'll see about that," McGonagall said, pulling out her wand.

As she engaged in a series of fruitless attempts to reverse the magic on his head, Harry imagined what it would be like if this never reversed itself. It would make using the cloak a lot easier if he didn't have to hide under it.

However, it had clearly disconcerted Hermione and Neville when they'd seen it. Presumably this was why the Weasleys were trying to put the magic into a hat.

It was just the latest in a series of mishaps that made Harry wonder if the twins were taking a sadistic pleasure in seeing just what he would tolerate.

There had been the nose biting teacup, which had become far more vicious than the twins had intended. The twins never told him what their creations were supposed to do; they enjoyed the expressions of surprise and terror on Harry's face. Harry had been anxious when they presented him with a simple teacup. He'd become more anxious when it had exploded into action. It hadn't just attacked him, but the twins as well. He'd had to go to the Hospital wing after that debacle.

The fanged frisbee was almost as vicious. He'd ended up racing through the hallways being chased by one, only to have it be confiscated by Filch. The detention he'd gotten had been almost worth it; cleaning the Great Hall by hand had been better than being attacked by a flying monstrosity.

The electric shock glove had been worse. Harry had thought he was going to have to repeat the year when his entire body had seized up and he'd fallen to the floor. The Weasleys had actually seemed to be concerned about the results of that one.

It had gotten to the point that he was dreading his next session with the Weasleys almost as much as he dreaded classes with Quirrell. At least he knew what to expect in Quirrell's class.

The Weasleys kept their promise about practice at least. Three times a week they practiced with him. As it turned out, they weren't that much better than he was at dueling, but there were two of them, and Harry got used to fighting multiple combatants.

It was good for his reflexes, and he learned to be more observant of his surroundings. Although the Weasleys weren't that good at fighting, they were clever and had a vicious streak. They fought dirty.

They were impressed by his skill, and he was already getting better. Flitwick was already commenting on just how much better his shield charm was getting, and Harry was getting used to having opponents who would try all sorts of unfamiliar spells against him.

Considering the number of spells Quirrell and Voldemort undoubtedly knew, it was exactly the kind of training he needed.

Learning to think on his feet wasn't as easy as he would have thought. He was probably better at it than any of his year-mates, but he had to be at least as good as it as an auror, which was a high standard to live up to.

McGonagall stared at him. Harry's head, apparently, had stubbornly refused to reappear.

"We'll simply have to make do," she said. She turned to the rest of the class and said, "Today we will be working on transfiguring teacups."

Harry shivered, a chill going down his spine. He hadn't been able to look at a teacup the same way since he'd been attacked by one.

Fortunately he'd had this class before, and so it would be easy.

It had been three days before his head had returned to normal, and Harry had eventually found it somewhat liberating. Not having to be careful with his expressions around people; being able to scowl or frown or stick his tongue out.

He'd even started to enjoy the unsettled looks the Hufflepuffs kept giving him, as though he was the latest of the castle ghosts.

It had been a long time since he'd had fun, and he took advantage of that time.

All good things came to an end, and on the morning of the fourth day he saw his own face reflected in the mirror. His hair was sticking up worse than usual as he hadn't bothered to comb it in days.

He scowled at himself, then got to the boring business of trying to look presentable.

His next session with the Weasleys was today; he'd thought they might cancel for fear the magics might interfere with each other, but apparently it wasn't to be.

Liking the Weasleys wasn't something he could do when he was the continual butt of their jokes and experiments. He did respect their genius and he knew that they respected him.

No matter how often they caused his tongue to explode out of his mouth, or his hair to change colors or his eyes to turn into tentacles, he kept coming back. They looked as though they were just waiting for him to say enough, but he never did.

Not every product was a failure. A magical comb that magically changed hairstyles worked exactly as planned. Harry had been afraid that his hair would animate and attack him, but it hadn't. Instead, it allowed an instant change in hairstyles.

They'd given him their prototype comb, pleased that he was interested in it. Harry suspected that it would make disguising himself easier, and so he was pleased to keep it on his person.

Peruvian darkness powder wasn't actually their invention, but they'd somehow found a supplier willing to import some. Harry had enough money to buy a little from them; if it saved his life it would be worth it.

Harry didn't bother to use the magical comb; he was saving it for a time he needed to use it for a disguise.

As he entered the room they'd been using for their experiments, Harry groaned as he saw the twins grinning. There was a pair of trainers on the floor between them with suction cups on the bottom.

"I suppose you two know cushioning charms," he said warily.

It looked like this, like most of the Weasley inventions, was going to hurt. Harry could only hope that in a couple of years the products would be a little safer, because for now each one was a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Resignedly he began unlacing his own trainers.

"I really hate you guys sometimes," he said.

Despite the pain the Weasley experiments caused, his dueling skill got better rapidly under their tutelage. He learned the accio spells, and they taught him how to use it to pull items from behind an enemy wizard to hit him from an unexpected place.

He learned to watch for that kind of strategy being used against him.

Getting better at accio was easy. He practiced it repeatedly, to the point that it annoyed his roommates when he summoned objects from across the room instead of getting up to get it himself.

It was a wonder that some wizards even remembered to walk. If it weren't for his sessions with Flitwick and the twins, Harry wouldn't have any exercise at all. Flying class had ended at the end of the first session, and now there wasn't any physical activity at all.

Harry considered running, but couldn't figure out how to find a place to run where he wouldn't leave himself vulnerable to being attacked. Weights and hand to hand combat wouldn't make much difference. Muggle soldiers only spent a little time on hand to hand combat training because their primary focus was their gun.

A wand was a wizard's gun.

What Harry really needed was to learn how to twist out of holds when people grabbed him, and maybe how to escape from being tied up, although most wizards were more likely to use magic.

His biggest frustration was that once he lost his wand, he was helpless. He approached Flitwick about learning wandless magic.

"Casting spells wandlessly is a great deal more difficult than the usual swish and flick," Flitwick said. "And it's not particularly useful for the more powerful spells. Most wizards don't even bother to learn it at all."

Harry frowned. "I want to learn to cast a wandless accio and a wandless finite incantatem."

"You've barely been able to cast accio for a month," Flitwick said. "And you shouldn't be able to cast it at all. We usually don't teach it until fourth year."

"We learned finite this year," Harry said.

"The problem is that finite requires pitting the power of the user against the power of the spell to be dispelled. Without a wand, power is drastically reduced, which is part of the reason only the strongest wizards typically bother with it."

"Can I at least try?" Harry asked. Being able to summon his wand back to him might make all the difference in a real fight. Being able to reverse a spell if he was kidnapped might save his life.

Flitwick looked at him for a moment then shook his head. "I'd refuse if it was anyone else. We can try, but I don't have much hope for success. I think you are simply too young."

For the next month and a half it looked as though Flitwick was right. Even though Harry's accio kept getting stronger and stronger, pulling things toward him as heavy as one of the Weasley twins from longer and longer distances.

Without the wand, there was no movement at all, no matter how Harry strained. It was as though there was some kind of fundamental block that kept his magic from working. What frustrated Harry was that he had worked magic without wands in the past. He couldn't understand why it wouldn't work for him now.

He kept visiting Hagrid, cultivating the relationship as well as he was able. He kept his eyes peeled, and when one day Hagrid decided it wasn't convenient for Harry to visit even as the interior of the hut was blazing hot, Harry knew it was time.

He slipped into Hagrid's hut, found the egg in the fireplace and cast a Glacius spell on the egg. It was a spell that he had been practicing for weeks; and it caused a burst of freezing air to come from Harry's wand. Dragons in the egg were sensitive to temperature, and a little cold was enough to kill them.

He regretted the necessity, but he didn't have any place to send a dragon to, and if Hagrid possessed the egg it was already too late.

Hagrid was visibly grief stricken over the next two weeks, but Harry avoided him over that time.

In this reality Hagrid remained as groundskeeper and there was no fire. Life went on as it always had and not one of the staff or other students realized that the world had subtly changed.

Harry resumed his visits to Hagrid shortly afterwards, and when the giant man mentioned finding Unicorns dead in the forest, Harry knew that time had almost caught back up to him.

Hagrid was quite open about the curse that afflicted those drinking unicorn blood. This made Harry wonder just how desperate Quirrell was to survive. He vaguely remembered Quirrell and Dumbledore arguing over something, and he had the impression that Quirrell was waiting for a better means to preserve his own life.

The day Harry finally managed to accio a feather an inch without his wand was a day he planned to celebrate. Wandless magic, he discovered, was like riding a bicycle without using hands. It allowed one to do other things, but it was terribly difficult and not terribly useful.

Still, by practicing over and over again, he managed to summon slightly greater weights a foot to a foot and a half. It never really got any easier, but Harry kept trying because it was so important.

The Weasleys had watched him practiced, and they'd joked, asking him if it was that hard to get a salt shaker from the Slytherins.

Harry had simply worked harder and harder, his sense that time was finally running out growing more intense with each passing day.

His plan to follow Quirrell hadn't worked out; somehow he'd found excuses not to follow the man each and every day. The fact that he knew that the man didn't plan to attack him until the end of the term made the idea of doing anything to provoke him more and more unpleasant.

Harry had taken to reading ahead in his class and doing his best to ignore the man whenever possible. He sometimes felt pain in his scar whenever he was in the room with him, but he was careful to keep his mind on classwork.

His hatred of the man hadn't changed, but he was better at hiding it this time around. He'd been a fool the last time to risk antagonizing him.

His skills at stealth simply weren't good enough to sneak up on the man. In the end, he decided to watch and wait and avoid leaving the man any opportunity to get him alone.

He hadn't gone through the tests the last time, and so this was new, but he'd been through all the material twice. Of all the tests, only history of magic had been difficult, primarily because he hadn't paid much attention in class either time. Harry suspected that he'd still done better than some of his classmates, at least from the expressions on some of the Slytherins' faces.

Harry got a note to meet Hermione and Neville in the library; he slipped away from his fellow students after dinner. Hermione had been looking up information on just whose families held death eaters. Harry wanted to know which Slytherins were more likely to be looking to hurt him.

He slipped off his cloak moments after reaching the library, after looking around to see that no one was around.

The library was curiously quiet. At this time of year, after tests no one was studying or reading. Most of the students were in their common rooms celebrating the end of exams. It made for a good time to meet with Hermione since no one was likely to be around.

As Harry stepped into the library, he felt a little uneasy. The librarian was nowhere to be seen, which was unusual.

He supposed that she could be celebrating just like everyone else, but he doubted that she would have left the library unattended.

Cautiously, Harry moved through the stacks, looking for any sign of Hermione or Neville, or anyone.

Harry detected movement to his right, Some sense of wrongness caused him to duck as a stunner flew over his head.

Quirrell was waiting for him in the stacks.

Harry dove behind a heavy desk, shoving it over with all of his might. It fell on its side with a heavy thunk, and Harry grabbed his cloak, covering himself, even as he felt the desk shudder with a spell.

Obviously the letter hadn't been from Hermione. It had looked as though it was, but it was possible that Quirrell had used magic to force her to write the letter then forget about it.

Harry stood, covered in the cloak and ran quietly, even as the desk exploded behind him.

He had no doubt that Quirrell was muffling the sounds from within the library somehow, so he needed to get out before Quirrell could kill him.

Harry felt something sting him on the leg, and his leg began to go numb. Apparently his legs hadn't been covered by the cloak as he ran.

He grimaced as he ducked behind a book case. He crouched and saw Quirrell moving quickly toward him.

"Accio bookcase," he said quietly, pointing his wand toward the top of the bookcase. It was at the upper limit of what he could move, and even at that he was only able to tip it, but Quirrell crashed to the floor as books rained down on top of him.

Harry limped toward the bookcase. In a fair fight he'd never be able to beat Quirrell, but Harry had never believed that a fight had to be fair. Attacking Quirrell while he was pinned down was the only sensible choice.

Reaching the side of the bookcase, Harry leaned down, only to realize that Quirrell was gone.

Suddenly aware of his danger, Harry turned to run, only to feel his entire body freeze. He fell over, unable even to brace himself from the fall.

Quirrell was suddenly standing beside him, grabbing the cloak.

"Isn't this something," he said. He pulled the cloak from Harry's shoulders, not bothering to touch Harry at all.

He plucked the wand out of Harry's stiffened grasp and he stuck it in his pocket.

A moment later Harry felt himself levitating into the air. Quirrell carefully draped the cloak over Harry; no one would be able to see harry as he floated along behind the man.

"We've got a little business to conclude," Quirrell said, with no trace of a stutter.

As Harry felt himself floating through the hallways of Hogwarts toward the third floor corridor, he wondered just where he'd gone wrong this time.

He had a feeling that whatever was about to happen, it was going to hurt.

"Mr. Potter," Professor McGonagall asked. "May I ask where you have put your head?"

Working with the Weasleys had been even more challenging than Harry had thought. They had a genius for using old spells in new ways and were even making cautious inroads into creating their own spells. The fact that they were only third years made it even more impressive.

Of course, most of their projects didn't work well, or at least not safely, which was why they were willing to work with harry in the first place. Some of the experiments were painful and others were simply embarrassing. Most of them were hard to easily reverse.

"I was helping the Weasleys with a project," Harry said. He grimaced, even though with his head invisible no one could see it.

The snickering from the other Slytherins almost made Harry happy that no one could see his expression.

"And they didn't put you back to where you were when they were finished?" McGonagall asked.

Harry shook his head, then realized that she wouldn't be able to see it.

"No ma'am," he said. "Finite incantatem didn't work at all, and neither did the other usual methods of reversing it. The twins seem to think it will wear off sooner or later."

"We'll see about that," McGonagall said, pulling out her wand.

As she engaged in a series of fruitless attempts to reverse the magic on his head, Harry imagined what it would be like if this never reversed itself. It would make using the cloak a lot easier if he didn't have to hide under it.

However, it had clearly disconcerted Hermione and Neville when they'd seen it. Presumably this was why the Weasleys were trying to put the magic into a hat.

It was just the latest in a series of mishaps that made Harry wonder if the twins were taking a sadistic pleasure in seeing just what he would tolerate.

There had been the nose biting teacup, which had become far more vicious than the twins had intended. The twins never told him what their creations were supposed to do; they enjoyed the expressions of surprise and terror on Harry's face. Harry had been anxious when they presented him with a simple teacup. He'd become more anxious when it had exploded into action. It hadn't just attacked him, but the twins as well. He'd had to go to the Hospital wing after that debacle.

The fanged frisbee was almost as vicious. He'd ended up racing through the hallways being chased by one, only to have it be confiscated by Filch. The detention he'd gotten had been almost worth it; cleaning the Great Hall by hand had been better than being attacked by a flying monstrosity.

The electric shock glove had been worse. Harry had thought he was going to have to repeat the year when his entire body had seized up and he'd fallen to the floor. The Weasleys had actually seemed to be concerned about the results of that one.

It had gotten to the point that he was dreading his next session with the Weasleys almost as much as he dreaded classes with Quirrell. At least he knew what to expect in Quirrell's class.

The Weasleys kept their promise about practice at least. Three times a week they practiced with him. As it turned out, they weren't that much better than he was at dueling, but there were two of them, and Harry got used to fighting multiple combatants.

It was good for his reflexes, and he learned to be more observant of his surroundings. Although the Weasleys weren't that good at fighting, they were clever and had a vicious streak. They fought dirty.

They were impressed by his skill, and he was already getting better. Flitwick was already commenting on just how much better his shield charm was getting, and Harry was getting used to having opponents who would try all sorts of unfamiliar spells against him.

Considering the number of spells Quirrell and Voldemort undoubtedly knew, it was exactly the kind of training he needed.

Learning to think on his feet wasn't as easy as he would have thought. He was probably better at it than any of his year-mates, but he had to be at least as good as it as an auror, which was a high standard to live up to.

McGonagall stared at him. Harry's head, apparently, had stubbornly refused to reappear.

"We'll simply have to make do," she said. She turned to the rest of the class and said, "Today we will be working on transfiguring teacups."

Harry shivered, a chill going down his spine. He hadn't been able to look at a teacup the same way since he'd been attacked by one.

Fortunately he'd had this class before, and so it would be easy.

It had been three days before his head had returned to normal, and Harry had eventually found it somewhat liberating. Not having to be careful with his expressions around people; being able to scowl or frown or stick his tongue out.

He'd even started to enjoy the unsettled looks the Hufflepuffs kept giving him, as though he was the latest of the castle ghosts.

It had been a long time since he'd had fun, and he took advantage of that time.

All good things came to an end, and on the morning of the fourth day he saw his own face reflected in the mirror. His hair was sticking up worse than usual as he hadn't bothered to comb it in days.

He scowled at himself, then got to the boring business of trying to look presentable.

His next session with the Weasleys was today; he'd thought they might cancel for fear the magics might interfere with each other, but apparently it wasn't to be.

Liking the Weasleys wasn't something he could do when he was the continual butt of their jokes and experiments. He did respect their genius and he knew that they respected him.

No matter how often they caused his tongue to explode out of his mouth, or his hair to change colors or his eyes to turn into tentacles, he kept coming back. They looked as though they were just waiting for him to say enough, but he never did.

Not every product was a failure. A magical comb that magically changed hairstyles worked exactly as planned. Harry had been afraid that his hair would animate and attack him, but it hadn't. Instead, it allowed an instant change in hairstyles.

They'd given him their prototype comb, pleased that he was interested in it. Harry suspected that it would make disguising himself easier, and so he was pleased to keep it on his person.

Peruvian darkness powder wasn't actually their invention, but they'd somehow found a supplier willing to import some. Harry had enough money to buy a little from them; if it saved his life it would be worth it.

Harry didn't bother to use the magical comb; he was saving it for a time he needed to use it for a disguise.

As he entered the room they'd been using for their experiments, Harry groaned as he saw the twins grinning. There was a pair of trainers on the floor between them with suction cups on the bottom.

"I suppose you two know cushioning charms," he said warily.

It looked like this, like most of the Weasley inventions, was going to hurt. Harry could only hope that in a couple of years the products would be a little safer, because for now each one was a lawsuit waiting to happen.

Resignedly he began unlacing his own trainers.

"I really hate you guys sometimes," he said.

Despite the pain the Weasley experiments caused, his dueling skill got better rapidly under their tutelage. He learned the accio spells, and they taught him how to use it to pull items from behind an enemy wizard to hit him from an unexpected place.

He learned to watch for that kind of strategy being used against him.

Getting better at accio was easy. He practiced it repeatedly, to the point that it annoyed his roommates when he summoned objects from across the room instead of getting up to get it himself.

It was a wonder that some wizards even remembered to walk. If it weren't for his sessions with Flitwick and the twins, Harry wouldn't have any exercise at all. Flying class had ended at the end of the first session, and now there wasn't any physical activity at all.

Harry considered running, but couldn't figure out how to find a place to run where he wouldn't leave himself vulnerable to being attacked. Weights and hand to hand combat wouldn't make much difference. Muggle soldiers only spent a little time on hand to hand combat training because their primary focus was their gun.

A wand was a wizard's gun.

What Harry really needed was to learn how to twist out of holds when people grabbed him, and maybe how to escape from being tied up, although most wizards were more likely to use magic.

His biggest frustration was that once he lost his wand, he was helpless. He approached Flitwick about learning wandless magic.

"Casting spells wandlessly is a great deal more difficult than the usual swish and flick," Flitwick said. "And it's not particularly useful for the more powerful spells. Most wizards don't even bother to learn it at all."

Harry frowned. "I want to learn to cast a wandless accio and a wandless finite incantatem."

"You've barely been able to cast accio for a month," Flitwick said. "And you shouldn't be able to cast it at all. We usually don't teach it until fourth year."

"We learned finite this year," Harry said.

"The problem is that finite requires pitting the power of the user against the power of the spell to be dispelled. Without a wand, power is drastically reduced, which is part of the reason only the strongest wizards typically bother with it."

"Can I at least try?" Harry asked. Being able to summon his wand back to him might make all the difference in a real fight. Being able to reverse a spell if he was kidnapped might save his life.

Flitwick looked at him for a moment then shook his head. "I'd refuse if it was anyone else. We can try, but I don't have much hope for success. I think you are simply too young."

For the next month and a half it looked as though Flitwick was right. Even though Harry's accio kept getting stronger and stronger, pulling things toward him as heavy as one of the Weasley twins from longer and longer distances.

Without the wand, there was no movement at all, no matter how Harry strained. It was as though there was some kind of fundamental block that kept his magic from working. What frustrated Harry was that he had worked magic without wands in the past. He couldn't understand why it wouldn't work for him now.

He kept visiting Hagrid, cultivating the relationship as well as he was able. He kept his eyes peeled, and when one day Hagrid decided it wasn't convenient for Harry to visit even as the interior of the hut was blazing hot, Harry knew it was time.

He slipped into Hagrid's hut, found the egg in the fireplace and cast a Glacius spell on the egg. It was a spell that he had been practicing for weeks; and it caused a burst of freezing air to come from Harry's wand. Dragons in the egg were sensitive to temperature, and a little cold was enough to kill them.

He regretted the necessity, but he didn't have any place to send a dragon to, and if Hagrid possessed the egg it was already too late.

Hagrid was visibly grief stricken over the next two weeks, but Harry avoided him over that time.

In this reality Hagrid remained as groundskeeper and there was no fire. Life went on as it always had and not one of the staff or other students realized that the world had subtly changed.

Harry resumed his visits to Hagrid shortly afterwards, and when the giant man mentioned finding Unicorns dead in the forest, Harry knew that time had almost caught back up to him.

Hagrid was quite open about the curse that afflicted those drinking unicorn blood. This made Harry wonder just how desperate Quirrell was to survive. He vaguely remembered Quirrell and Dumbledore arguing over something, and he had the impression that Quirrell was waiting for a better means to preserve his own life.

The day Harry finally managed to accio a feather an inch without his wand was a day he planned to celebrate. Wandless magic, he discovered, was like riding a bicycle without using hands. It allowed one to do other things, but it was terribly difficult and not terribly useful.

Still, by practicing over and over again, he managed to summon slightly greater weights a foot to a foot and a half. It never really got any easier, but Harry kept trying because it was so important.

The Weasleys had watched him practiced, and they'd joked, asking him if it was that hard to get a salt shaker from the Slytherins.

Harry had simply worked harder and harder, his sense that time was finally running out growing more intense with each passing day.

His plan to follow Quirrell hadn't worked out; somehow he'd found excuses not to follow the man each and every day. The fact that he knew that the man didn't plan to attack him until the end of the term made the idea of doing anything to provoke him more and more unpleasant.

Harry had taken to reading ahead in his class and doing his best to ignore the man whenever possible. He sometimes felt pain in his scar whenever he was in the room with him, but he was careful to keep his mind on classwork.

His hatred of the man hadn't changed, but he was better at hiding it this time around. He'd been a fool the last time to risk antagonizing him.

His skills at stealth simply weren't good enough to sneak up on the man. In the end, he decided to watch and wait and avoid leaving the man any opportunity to get him alone.

He hadn't gone through the tests the last time, and so this was new, but he'd been through all the material twice. Of all the tests, only history of magic had been difficult, primarily because he hadn't paid much attention in class either time. Harry suspected that he'd still done better than some of his classmates, at least from the expressions on some of the Slytherins' faces.

Harry got a note to meet Hermione and Neville in the library; he slipped away from his fellow students after dinner. Hermione had been looking up information on just whose families held death eaters. Harry wanted to know which Slytherins were more likely to be looking to hurt him.

He slipped off his cloak moments after reaching the library, after looking around to see that no one was around.

The library was curiously quiet. At this time of year, after tests no one was studying or reading. Most of the students were in their common rooms celebrating the end of exams. It made for a good time to meet with Hermione since no one was likely to be around.

As Harry stepped into the library, he felt a little uneasy. The librarian was nowhere to be seen, which was unusual.

He supposed that she could be celebrating just like everyone else, but he doubted that she would have left the library unattended.

Cautiously, Harry moved through the stacks, looking for any sign of Hermione or Neville, or anyone.

Harry detected movement to his right, Some sense of wrongness caused him to duck as a stunner flew over his head.

Quirrell was waiting for him in the stacks.

Harry dove behind a heavy desk, shoving it over with all of his might. It fell on its side with a heavy thunk, and Harry grabbed his cloak, covering himself, even as he felt the desk shudder with a spell.

Obviously the letter hadn't been from Hermione. It had looked as though it was, but it was possible that Quirrell had used magic to force her to write the letter then forget about it.

Harry stood, covered in the cloak and ran quietly, even as the desk exploded behind him.

He had no doubt that Quirrell was muffling the sounds from within the library somehow, so he needed to get out before Quirrell could kill him.

Harry felt something sting him on the leg, and his leg began to go numb. Apparently his legs hadn't been covered by the cloak as he ran.

He grimaced as he ducked behind a book case. He crouched and saw Quirrell moving quickly toward him.

"Accio bookcase," he said quietly, pointing his wand toward the top of the bookcase. It was at the upper limit of what he could move, and even at that he was only able to tip it, but Quirrell crashed to the floor as books rained down on top of him.

Harry limped toward the bookcase. In a fair fight he'd never be able to beat Quirrell, but Harry had never believed that a fight had to be fair. Attacking Quirrell while he was pinned down was the only sensible choice.

Reaching the side of the bookcase, Harry leaned down, only to realize that Quirrell was gone.

Suddenly aware of his danger, Harry turned to run, only to feel his entire body freeze. He fell over, unable even to brace himself from the fall.

Quirrell was suddenly standing beside him, grabbing the cloak.

"Isn't this something," he said. He pulled the cloak from Harry's shoulders, not bothering to touch Harry at all.

He plucked the wand out of Harry's stiffened grasp and he stuck it in his pocket.

A moment later Harry felt himself levitating into the air. Quirrell carefully draped the cloak over Harry; no one would be able to see harry as he floated along behind the man.

"We've got a little business to conclude," Quirrell said, with no trace of a stutter.

As Harry felt himself floating through the hallways of Hogwarts toward the third floor corridor, he wondered just where he'd gone wrong this time.

He had a feeling that whatever was about to happen, it was going to hurt.

Chapter Text

The hallways were deserted, with students all having retreated to their common rooms to celebrate the end of tests. As Harry floated through the air behind Quirrell, he realized that the portraits wouldn't even notice anything because he was covered with the cloak. Most of them seemed to be away from their paintings as well, as though they too were celebrating.

Quirrell could make him vanish and he'd never be found; if Quirrell and Voldemort knew about his time reset abilities, they could just turn him to stone or into a bone or something and be rid of him permanently.

Harry realized that he heard talking.

"We'll use the boy to get the stone," the voice whispered from under Quirrell's turban. "And then we can be rid of him."

Quirrell spoke quietly, "And what of the prophecy?"

"Your hand is my hand," the voice said, chuckling. "For now."

Harry muttered under his breath, but neither of the other two seemed to notice.

"Finite incantatem," Harry muttered. "Finite incantatem. Finite incantatem."

He regretted not practicing the spell wandlessly more; he'd given it up after a few tries because it seemed that he'd never be able to reverse any serious magic with it wandlessly.

Now that he needed it, he tried over and over again, but it didn't seem to have an effect.

"The boy is trying wandless magic," the voice underneath the turban said. It chuckled. "As if he could do anything even if he got free."

"It's best not to underestimate anyone," Quirrell said. "Should I stun him?"

They were moving up to the second floor now; Harry floated behind Quirrell as he walked up the moving stairs.

"I enjoy watching him squirm," the voice said. It chuckled. "He'll be dead soon enough."

"As you wish," Quirrell said.

Harry continued muttering. After the horrendous effort it had taken him to learn to accio things wandlessley, all to little effect, it seemed impossible that he was going to be able to have any effect at all on the spell that was binding him.

That Quirrell had used a full body bind on Harry was almost insulting; it said that he didn't think that Harry was dangerous enough to be worth any stronger spell. There were spells that stopped the victim from thinking or speaking, and since Harry had never learned to cast spells silently that would have been it.

"Finite incantatem, finite incantatem," Harry kept muttering, a steady stream of words that seemed to have no effect on the spell covering him at all.

Perhaps he was making a mistake trying to undo the entire spell. If he could just undo part of the spell, he might be able to grab Quirrell when he turned and tried to do something to him. Harry doubted that Quirrell knew that Harry's touch would burn his flesh.

He hadn't touched Harry, even when he covered him with the cloak. If he had he might have had a nasty surprise.

Harry began mentally focusing on his right hand, even as continued to recite the spell. The power of the spell holding him was immense compared to the tiny amount of power he was generating to unravel it.

However, Harry felt his index finger begin to loosen.

They were moving up the stairs leading to the third floor, and Harry began to wonder with alarm if they were intending to feed him to the giant dog that was reputed to live there. It would be the perfect murder; not only would it get rid of Harry, but Dumbledore would probably be sacked for having a giant beast in his castle that killed the boy-who-lived.

Voldemort seemed to like plans that served multiple purposes. The bounty on Harry's head not only had the chance that someone else would kill Harry, but it probably diverted auror resources away from his own followers and onto the people who just casually were willing to attack Harry.

It meant that there were more eyes looking for Harry, and it meant that his own followers could spend less effort doing that than whatever else they were doing.

Harry wondered if whatever this stone Voldemort was looking for had been placed by Dumbledore to distract Voldemort from killing Harry. As long as Voldemort was focused on getting a new body...Harry assumed he didn't want to be a face on the back of someone's head forever...he wouldn't focus on murdering Harry as much.

It was likely that both Voldemort and Dumbledore had multiple sets of plans, each of which had multiple purposes. Of course, engaging in that kind of chessmanship meant that more basic things like hiring practices had to be sacrificed. No one could focus on everything.

Harry's right hand was able to move, up to the wrist.

They reached a door to the third floor corridor on the right hand side. Quirrell pulled his wand and began unlocking the door, which apparently was locked with some sort of locking spell.

"Hurry," the voice at the back of Quirrell's skull whispered. "Dumbledore will be returning soon, and we have spent too much time overcoming the obstacles and returning for the boy."

While they were distracted, Harry changed his chant, whispering, "Accio, wand."

Quirrell was close, but he was speaking to the voice at the back of his head. "It will be done soon. The hound is sleeping and the other challenges won't take long."

He didn't notice as the wand slipped out of his pocket and into Harry's hand, which he had pulled free from the cloak.

If any of the portraits noticed the sudden appearance of a child's hand in mid-air, none commented. Harry suspected that portraits weren't nearly as observant as the people they'd been created to resemble. From his position he couldn't really see many of the portraits anyway.

The door opened, and Harry stared inside at the monstrous three headed dog inside. It was huge; from what he could see any one of its three heads would stand as tall as he did. A harp lay beside it, playing a soothing music.

Harry had researched three headed dogs, of course, shortly after he'd learned there was one in the castle. He'd also researched ghosts, acromantula, unicorns, hippogriffs and thestrals, werewolves and bugbears. Any creature that was known to live near the castle or the Forbidden forest he'd looked up if only to see whether it was likely to kill him or not.

He'd had images of him approaching a unicorn, thinking it was perfectly safe like in muggle literature, only to be speared through the chest and trampled. Fortunately they were safe, but until he'd looked them up he'd had no way of knowing.

He'd also looked up Grindylows, Selkies, and the giant squid, although he hadn't had any intention of going near the lake if he didn't have to. It would be too easy to drown him and declare it an accident.

Among the more interesting things he knew about three headed dogs was that music put them to sleep. It seemed like a rather inconvenient problem in a guard animal to Harry. Still, the sheer size and intimidation factor probably made it worth it.

Quirrell grumbled. Apparently the dog had shifted in its sleep, covering the trapdoor leading to wherever he was planning to go.

He pulled his wand and slowly managed to levitate the dog.

Harry was impressed. The dog had to weigh as much as a small bus, and Quirrell was levitating it, even if it was slowly. Harry's limit was somewhere around that of an average sized man.

"Finite incantatem," Harry continued to say, but this time he tried to wave his wand. The angle was poor and the wand motions were difficult. The one thing Harry was afraid of was dropping his wand. If he did, it would all be over.

"Finite incantatem, finite incantatem, finite incantatem."

Harry put as much force as he could in the last one, and he suddenly felt something click into place as the wand movements fell into place.

He found himself falling to the floor.

At the sound of the thump, Quirrell whirled, but Harry was already pointing his wand.

"Expelliarmus!" he shouted.

Quirrell's wand ripped free of his hand and flew toward Harry with all the force of his frustrated fear and anger.

Lunging toward him, Quirrell hissed as Harry grabbed his arm. He pulled back instinctively, only to find Harry's wand in his face.

"Remember what I did to the troll?" Harry asked quietly.

Quirrell paled. He had been one of the professors to stumble across the aftermath of Harry's encounter. Harry hadn't been fully in his right mind, but he vaguely remembered his being there.

"Back off," Harry said, "Or I'll give you a chance to see what the inside of your own head looks like."

Quirrell backed off rather suddenly, and Harry scrambled to his feet. He reached down and put one foot on Quirrell's wand, grabbed one end and pulled it up sharply, snapping it.

The wince on Quirrell's face was deeply satisying.

"I suppose you'll be taking me to the Headmaster now," Quirrell said quietly. "I wasn't going to hurt you. I just needed your help with a project."

Harry stared at the teacher. Did he really think Harry was that naive? Harry was eight months older than his body seemed, but he doubted that he'd have been taken in even if he really was just eleven years old.

"You and Voldemort you mean?" Harry asked. "How did he talk you into it? Did he just say "You aren't using the back of your head, are you?"

"Don't make jokes about the master, boy!" Quirrell hissed. He looked as though he was ready to spring forward and attack Harry.

"Locomotor mortis," Harry said, waving his wand.

Quirrell's legs locked together. He'd still be able to hop, but he was suddenly a great deal less dangerous.

"Let me talk to the boy," the voice said.

Quirrell fell heavily to his side. He reached up and pulled his turban off, revealing the horrible face beneath.

"How did you know I was here?" it asked.

"I heard you talking on the way up," Harry lied. "And I knew it was you because who else would it be?"

"We can make a deal," the voice said. "One must kill the other, but no one says when."

"It could be today," Harry said. The face was just as monstrous as he remembered, and as it stared at him, its features twisted in anger.

"I saw what you did to the troll," the voice said. "If you are that bloodthirsty, you would make a fine death eater."

"Every bad thing in my life is because of you," Harry hissed. "You have cause me pain like you couldn't imagine, and after all that you think I would just serve you?"

"Azkaban will never hold me, boy," the voice said. "My people will free me. It would be safer to take my offer and rule by my side."

Harry pretended to consider, then shook his head.

The face scowled, and then before Harry could do anything, Quirrell's arms snapped back, pulled in the wrong direction, and the face shouted, "ACCIO WAND."

Apparently Harry wasn't the only one who'd learned wandless casting. The wand flew through the air, landing in Quirrell's hand.

Quirrell rolled, but Harry had already leapt forward. Quirrell screamed as Harry's hand burned his flesh. They both scrabbled for the wand, and Quirrell rolled over Harry, trying to pin him under his own body.

With his legs locked together, however, he couldn't get good purchase, and Harry squirmed out from under him, wand in hand.

He kicked Quirrell in the back of the head, his foot directly in Voldemort's face.

Before Voldemort could recover, Harry was already diving out of the room. He turned and yelled "Diffindo!"

Quirrell tried to roll to avoid the attack, only to realize that Harry wasn't aiming for him at all. His eyes widened as he saw the harp that was playing shatter, cut completely through in a single line.

To make sure, Harry shouted, "Diffindo!" again. This time a bloody line appeared above the dog's central head. The dog awakened suddenly, and it was angry.

Quirrell tried to roll toward the door, but there wasn't time.

Harry closed the door quickly. The last thing he saw was Voldemort's enraged face on the back of Quirrell's head.

He closed his eyes and shuddered as he heard the screaming from inside the room. It didn't last long.

Harry very quietly looked around. None of the portraits were in their frame and he didn't think any of them had been.

He quickly slipped his cloak on over his head, and he very quietly slipped away, headed back to the dungeons.

There was an investigation, of course, when Fluffy coughed up a human skull and Quirrell went missing.

Harry had made sure to slip invisibly up to his room before coming down to greet the other Slytherins who had already started to party. The impression all of them had was that he had been in his own room the entire time.

The aurors questioned everyone, and no one recollected anyone being away from their rooms at the time of the death. The investigation lasted three days, and the case was declared an accident, although Dumbledore was reprimanded for keeping a dangerous animal on school property.

On the fourth day, Harry was summoned to see the Headmaster.

"Good afternoon, Harry," the Headmaster said.

Harry stared at the floor, wondering just how much the man knew about what had happened. He'd had nightmares afterwards, and felt more guilt than he'd expected, but not nearly as much guilt as he should have felt. He'd killed a man and ended a life.

He suspected that it was going to haunt him more as he got older. Part of him still didn't believe that it was over; his nightmare would be to suddenly die and have to go through it all over again. He suspected that once that feeling of unreality left that it was going to bother him more.

In a way, he hoped it bothered him more. If he was the kind of person who could kill someone without feeling guilty, did that make him any better than Voldemort?

The hat had told him that his mind wasn't much different than Voldemort's.

"Good afternoon" Harry said quietly. "I'm not sure why I'm here."

"It occurs to me that we haven't had much time to talk," Dumbledore said congenially. "I've been busy coordinating the efforts against some of the people who have been trying to hurt you and your family."

Harry nodded. "You can understand why I don't feel particularly safe, even here."

"We've done everything within our power to keep you safe."

Harry snorted. He'd been killed three times in this school and almost killed twice. That didn't even count the fact that he'd been killed on the way to the school. Safest place in the wizarding world? What a joke.

"You can't let what happened to professor Quirrell color your opinion of the school," Dumbledore said.

Harry shrugged. If some people hadn't insisted on having dangerous monsters in the school, there wouldn't be professor's skulls lying around.

"Aren't you curious about why he was there, Harry?" the headmaster asked.

"Not particularly," Harry said. "I'm sure his reasons were his own."

The headmaster looked a little sad."Lemon drop?"

Harry shook his head. He'd heard of veritaserum and he didn't trust the old man not to slip some to him inside of candy.

"There were some oddities in the report," Dumbledore said. "There was a harp in the room that was broken with a cutting spell, and the dog had a cut on its head."

"Oh?" Harry asked.

"His wand was snapped as well."

"It probably happened during the battle," Harry said. "He cast a cutting spell at the dog and it hit the harp instead."

"That is the puzzling thing. There is a spell, priori incantato that reveals what spells a wand had cast in the recent past. What is not commonly known is that it can be made to work even if a wand has snapped."

"Oh," Harry asked, struggling to keep his face impassive. He didn't look at the headmaster.

"Not a single diffindo had been cast from that wand."

Harry was silent for a moment, and then said, "That is puzzling."

"The aurors wanted to test the wands of everyone in the school, but I managed to convince them that it was just an unfortunate accident."

Harry looked directly at the Headmaster. "Why would you do that?"

"I understand that the severing charm has become a rather signature spell for you," the headmaster said quietly. "I'd hate for the authorities to get the wrong idea."

For a moment Harry wondered if he was being threatened, and then he wondered if the older man was trying to get his gratitude.

"I cast that spell often enough that it wouldn't mean anything," Harry said. "I'm fairly sure that I used it just this morning to cut off a slice of roast beef."

He did that sometimes; it helped to remind the Slytherins around him what he was capable of. Harry believed firmly that it was better to intimidate someone now than to have to fight someone later.

"Still...a curious coincidence," the Headmaster said.

Harry suspected that the old man knew exactly what he had done, and he had the sense that the man was disappointed in him somehow.

"Hypothetically," Harry said. "I've heard rumors of Voldemort existing as a spirit and possessing someone's body. If that person died, would it be over?"

The headmaster was silent for a long moment, staring at him. Finally he shook his head.

"You can't assume that every rumor is true, but if that were the case, Voldemort's plans would simply be delayed and not ended while he sought out another host."

Harry couldn't stop the scowl that came to his face.

"There's one more thing," Harry said. "I understand that my parents left me money. Have you heard anything about that?"

That served to distract the conversation away from the topic of Quirrell, and Harry made sure that it never came up again.

Slytherin won the cup, which was not a surprise. Harry had a sense that the headmaster wanted to make some sort of adjustment to the score; he kept glancing at Harry. However there were no surprises, and that night his house celebrated.

Harry celebrated as well. He'd managed to survive his first year of Hogwarts, and he was going home to feel safe again for the first time in months.

For a short period at least, life was good.

Chapter Text

Although Harry had thought that two months of being away from the constant stress and danger of school would be overwhelming, he found himself going stir crazy after just three weeks.

Vernon had treated Harry like a bomb that was about to go off, and Harry had worked very hard to keep everything as inoffensive as possible. He emphasized just how dangerous school had been, and about how he had been pushed off a set of stairs and almost murdered.

He didn't talk about his own murder, but from the way the Dursleys treated him, there was some kind of change in the way he looked. Harry suspected that he seemed harder and more dangerous somehow.

The fact that he was mentally eight months older than he was physically might be part of it as well. As a Slytherin he'd learned to control his emotions and to show how he felt much less. This made tolerating Vernon's rages and Petunia's pettiness a little easier as he didn't make things worse by responding as he had when he was younger.

Yet even though things had settled into a kind of sullen sameness in the household, they weren't like they had been when Harry was younger.

When he was younger, he had been taken to the grocery store to help carry the groceries while Dudley taunted him. He'd walked to school and back and he'd even been able to visit the library on his own if he didn't take too long from his chores.

Now the Dursleys refused to take him anywhere. They went out to eat and left him behind, bringing him the leftovers from Vernon and Petunia's meals (Dudley never had any leftovers.)

There were no more trips to the grocery store, and the Dursleys were even afraid to allow him to do much work outside, even despite Harry's assurances that the wards covered the yard. The Dursleys didn't want anyone to realize he was there, because they'd somehow learned about the bounty on his head.

Vernon had tried to make Harry stop carry his wand, but Harry had refused. He'd made the point that if the wards failed Harry's wand would be their only defense. He also pointed out that he was allowed one free use of underage magic.

Paling at the implicit threat, Vernon had backed down.

Harry had overheard his aunt and uncle talking about putting bars on his door and locking him in; he'd quickly interceded and pointed out that as along as he had his wand he could simply explode the wall, which might hurt someone else in the family as well as be costly.

Vernon had blustered again, but eventually had given in.

Harry had worked hard after that on making his family feel that he was on their side of things. He'd denigrated the wizarding world and he'd loudly expressed his envy of Dudley for going to Smeltings. The truth was he did envy Dudley; for months out of the year the worst he had to worry about was getting a thrashing by the older boys.

Eventually Harry had run out of books to read. He'd gone over his homework multiple times. He'd practiced sneaking around the house at night, practicing his skills at stealth so they didn't get rusty.

He'd even tried to enlist Dudley's help by having him pelt Harry with tennis balls while Harry dodged. Dudley had taken a vicious pleasure in this at first, but he'd had trouble hitting Harry and had quickly lost interest.

After three weeks, Harry felt stir crazy. He could feel his skills atrophying, and he worried that by the time school resumed he'd be terribly vulnerable.

So he cheated, slipping on his invisibility cloak one day while the Dursleys were away and he headed for the library nearby.

He found a book there, Methods of Disguise, which had over 130 illustrations, including makeup, shoe lifts, contact lenses, fake tattoos, wigs and transvestite disguises.

It had a section on how people identity other people and on changing voices.

He checked out this book along with some books on acting and a few fiction books to take his mind off things. He'd had little enough fun in his entire life, much less since he'd been isolated by much of the Hogwarts population.

Harry called Hermione as often as he could when the Dursleys were away and she kept in contact with Neville, who owled her. It was never enough, and Harry found himself missing the times they'd spent together in the library.

He wondered if he should start teaching them to fight during the next term; even poorly trained opponents would help him get better if there were enough of them.

If it weren't for the Trace Harry would have continued practicing whatever magics that he could; as it was, he wished he could find some way around it. He doubted that it would be easy to find; most likely the Ministry restricted any information on the Trace.

The one thing he did know was that it couldn't distinguish between magic the teenager cast and magic cast around him. In a location like Hogwarts or Diagon Alley it wouldn't notice a spell cast at all.

According to Neville, children in Wizarding families were often able to cast spells outside of school simply by staying near their parents, which gave purebloods a powerful advantage over their muggleborn compatriots.

Harry practiced his disguise skills as much as he could with the materials he had on hand. He'd had Hermione send him 100 pounds through muggle mail, promising he'd pay her and her family back once he got to Diagon alley and got to his vault.

He bought a makeup kit and began practicing on prosthesis for his nose, and on blending. Dudley had tried to make fun of him for it, but for once Petunia and Vernon had been on Harry's side. A disguised Harry was a Harry who was less of a danger to them all.

Finally his birthday tolled around again on July 31st. The Dursleys didn't celebrate it of course, but his aunt did leave a collection of her old makeup in a box at his door.

The Dursleys were having guests that night, and the one thing Vernon asked of Harry was that he be quiet and discreet.

The last thing they needed was for the guests to talk about Harry to the wrong people. As Harry was in total agreement, the deal was made.

Harry settled in for a quiet evening reading his books.

Unfortunately, fate had another plan in the form of a mad house elf.

Harry had discovered the house elves during his explorations of Hogwarts, and he'd already used them to deliver pieces of wood as well as for other tasks. In his experience, they all seemed to have an overstated opinion of his importance.

The house elf sitting on his bed wasn't nearly as well dressed as the Hogwarts house elves, who wore a uniform made of tea towels. This house elf was wearing an old pillowcase.

"Harry Potter!" the house elf began. "Such an honor to meet you sir. So long has Dobby wanted to meet you."

House elves were a partial exception to the wards on Harry's house. Unlike wizards they could find his home, but only if they had no ill intent toward him. To house elves and other magical creatures who wished him harm, Harry's house was just as invisible as it was to anyone else.

Of course, there were ways around this. Harry had been concerned about the exception. Convince the house elf that he was helping Harry, and it might deliver him straight to the dark lord himself.

"How did you find me here?" Harry asked quickly. "This place is supposed to be secret."

"Dobby talked to the Hogwarts elves who knew your mother," the house elf said. "Some helped at her wedding, and met her sister and her husband. One knew the names."

"Still," Harry said. "How did you know where they lived?"

"The muggles have a book, sir," the house elf said. "It has the names and addresses of all the muggles in a city."

Harry stared at the creature feeling a chill go down his spine. The house elves knew enough to let someone find him?

Given the ignorance of wizards to muggle ways, Harry suspected that one of the house elves had probably served a half-blood and had known enough to give Dobby some friendly advice.

The only thing that was keeping him safe was wizards arrogance and belief that their slaves were ignorant and knew nothing.

"Did you tell your master where I live?' Harry asked, staring at the creature intently.

The creature shook his head. "My master doesn't know Dobby knows. He can't ever know. If he knew..."

Harry could hear the sounds of his aunt's laughter below.

"This isn't a very good time," Harry said. "I've spent a lot of time trying to get into my aunt and uncle's good graces. "

"It is important, sir," the creature said. He leaned forward. "Dobby heard that Harry Potter faced the dark lord again a few weeks ago."

Harry was silent for a long moment. The only one who knew about that was Voldemort, although Dumbledore suspected. Dobby's master had to be one of the death eaters, and that meant Voldemort had already found enough of a host to communicate with his underlings.

"I'm not admitting to anything," Harry said neutrally. "But what would it mean if I had?"

"Harry Potter is very great sir." The house elf wiped his eyes with the edge of his pillowcase. "But he still must not return to Hogwarts this year. He must stay here where he is safe. If he returns to Hogwarts he will be in mortal danger."

Harry stared at the creature. "You think I don't know that? Voldemort plans to kill me and he knows exactly where I'll be every year when school's in session."

The creature moaned and covered his ears. "Don't speak the name! Don't speak the name, sir!"

The sounds of the party below reminded Harry that he needed to keep the creature as quiet and unobtrusive as popular.

"I'm supposed to kill him. I should be able to say his name at least," Harry said. "But fine."

"There is a plot at Hogwarts, terrible things. I have known about it for months," the creature said.

Harry dropped down to rest on his haunches, bringing his face level with Dobby's. "Can you tell me about the plot?"

"No! Dobby will have to punish himself for telling Harry Potter even as much as he has. He will have to shut his head in the oven."

The creature grabbed Harry's table lamp and began bashing himself in the head. Harry quickly stopped him and said, "You can't seriously think I want to go, do you?"

"Then why does Harry Potter go?"

"They make me," Harry said. "Dumbledore and the Ministry. It doesn't matter what I want or my family wants."

Half the wizarding world wanted him there and the other half wanted him there so they could kill him. There had never been a choice about his going to magic school.

The elf stared up at Harry as if the idea that he wouldn't want to go had never occurred to him.

"If you can tell me a little more about the plot maybe I can stop it before it gets started," Harry said. As the house elf lunged for the lamp again, Harry held up his hand. "But I know you can't betray your masters."

He'd looked up house elves at the same time he'd looked up acromantulas and werewolves. He'd always found their bulging eyes and subservient attitudes a little creepy, even if they were very helpful.

As far as Harry was concerned, anyone who worshiped him couldn't be trusted. Neither could anyone who hated him. Even people who pretended not to care about him couldn't be trusted.

Harry's list of people to trust could be written on a fingernail.

"You must stay here, where it is safe," Dobby said insistently.

"I don't have a choice," Harry said. He gestured toward his doorway. "My aunt and uncle didn't want me to go to that school in the first place, but the wizards didn't give them a choice. None of us can stop them from making me go."

"But why?" Dobby asked.

"They want me to kill the dark lord," Harry said. "And they've set me out like some kind of sacrificial lamb."

After that there wasn't much to say. The house elf left, dejected.

Harry felt a little depressed. He'd known there would be a plan to kill him this year as well, but it was depressing to have confirmation before he even stepped on the train.

Harry had worked hard on his disguise for his visit to Diagon alley. He was wearing some of Dudley's old clothing, which he'd stuffed with old rags. He'd changed his hair using the magical comb the Weasleys had given him to a blonde bowl cut.

He was wearing inserts in his shoes to make him taller. He'd practiced walking like a heavy person; using Dudley's walk as a guide.

This year he'd decided against endangering the Grangers; for one thing everyone knew he was friends with Hermione and being with them would simply endanger his disguise.

He had a second set of clothes on inside Dudley's huge clothes; he'd have to change when he got his new robes or they wouldn't fit at all.

Harry had gotten three hundred pounds from his aunt for his Hogwarts books; one hundred pounds was for the money he'd spent over the summer to repay Hermione, and the rest so that she wouldn't know about his vault.

He had no idea how much or how little money was in his vault anyway, and he couldn't depend on that money until he saw it. If he had plenty of money, he planned on keeping the two hundred pounds for emergencies.

After all the trouble the Dursleys had given him over the years he figured they owed it to him.

He walked more than a mile under his invisibility cloak until he reached a deserted place. He then put his cloak away and lifted his wand, summoning the Knight bus.

As it arrived, Harry kept one hand on his wand. Being attacked on the bus itself was always a possibility, and from his recollection, riding the bus was unpleasant.

All the wizarding methods of travel were unpleasant. The floo network tossed you around, apparition felt like being squeezed from a tube. Broom travel was probably the best, but it still involved getting bugs in ones teeth. The Knight bus was simply inhumane.

If he survived the war with Voldemort, Harry decided that he would work on comfortable means of transportation. He'd make a mint and never have to work again.

It'd be nice to be known as the Boy-who-created-comfortable-and-affordable-travel instead of just the boy-who-lived.

Fortunately the bus trip was uneventful; arriving at Diagon Alley, Harry began to get into his character. He began to walk like a heavy person.

In his first year being alone had been a red flag; no one sent a first year to Diagon alley alone. However, with the shoe inserts and other aspects to his disguise, Harry thought he might be able to pass for a second or third year, and some of them did wander the alley alone.

Harry made sure that he walked as though he didn't have a care in the world. Walking like he was afraid was sure to attract predators.

His first stop was to Gringotts. Dumbledore had been reluctant to give him his key, and had told him he wouldn't have full access to his vault until he was seventeen. He'd finally given in after Harry had pleaded with him and sold him a sob story about how the Dursleys didn't want to finance his education and that it would be an injustice to force them to do so.

A horrifying ride later, Harry was at his vault. The coins in his vault were impressive; piles of gold, silver and knuts. According to the goblin he was with, he had 50,000 galleons worth in total. It was a small fortune, but it wasn't enough to live off of for a lifetime by any means.

Given the exchange rate it might be enough to buy a rather nice house, but that would be it.

For Harry though, it felt like all the money in the world. The three hundred pounds his aunt had given him plus the money he'd earned the summer before were all the money he'd ever had in his life.

He gathered money, more than he thought he would need since it would have to last for the year at Hogwarts, and he left his vault with a sense of anticipation.

Seeing the father of Weasley and Malfoy get into a fist fight in the middle of the street was less surprising than Harry had thought it would be. Apparently the younger duo's feud was something of a family tradition. Seeing Malfoy senior hand a book to the youngest Weasley girl afterwards was somewhat suspicious, but Harry decided that it was none of his business.

With money, Diagon alley was much more interesting. Harry had made it a point to learn the shrinking charm from Flitwick before the end of the last term. He'd asked for a variant that would end on its own after a time. He could cast spells in Diagon alley as there was too much other magic for the Trace to notice, but reversing the spell at home would trigger the Trace.

He used it now to buy more books than he could have possibly fit in his backpack, along with the other supplies he would need. He spent more time on his books than any other issue simply because he needed something to occupy the next month with, and learning new magic would help occupy the time.

The most dangerous part of the trip was when he went to get school robes. He slipped into the store and had to find a place that was out of the way and unseen by anyone else to slip off the heavy clothes that had made him look fat. He took off the inserts in his trainers that had made him taller.

He used the comb to change his hair, and he got his robes as quickly as possible.

Leaving Diagon Alley with his new look, Harry summoned the Knight bus again. He had it take him to a different part of town than he'd left from, and he went home hidden under his invisibility cloak. He barely reached his room before the shrinking charms ran out, exploding objects all across the floor..

The fact that he wasn't murdered on his way back from Diagon Alley was a good sign. Maybe this year wouldn't be as traumatic as the last.

Chapter Text

It wasn't until Harry hit the platform wall and bounced off that he realized he was in trouble. He'd waited until late to arrive to the station to give any attackers less time to attack, and now he was in danger of missing the train.

Worse, whoever had spelled the wall had apparently waited until Harry was about to go through, which meant that they'd penetrated his disguise.

Harry's mind raced even as he forced himself to keep his face impassive. Whoever was watching him had to know he was panicking. Undoubtedly they were waiting for him to step outside and then they'd attack him while he was waiting for the Knight bus.

Settling on a course of action, Harry quickly moved toward a ticket counter. He was grateful for the money he'd taken from Petunia; with any luck it'd save his life.

Studying the schedules, he found the earliest departing train, and he waited in line.

When the lady behind the counter asked, Harry pointed at a man sitting alone; he claimed his father was seeing him off and that his parents were divorced. His books had talked about the importance of selling a story and about not being nervous when telling it.

Apparently Harry was successful in lying, as she sold him the ticket. Harry was outraged by the price, but didn't say anything about it. Ten minutes later Harry was on the train.

He watched the other passengers suspiciously. It wouldn't take much for one of them to put the tip of a wand to his back and walk him off the train. The train was overcrowded and Harry had been lucky to find a seat, wedged in between a heavyset woman and a thin man who smelled as though he hadn't bathed in a week.

By comparison, the Hogwarts Express was the height of luxury.

Some of the other passengers looked suspicious, too, although Harry couldn't tell if they were wizards or simply very sketchy muggles. Some seemed to have hygiene problems and others had piercings in places that it had never occurred to Harry that someone might have them.

Harry waited until the last stop, a forty five minute ride before getting off. He moved quickly, watching for anyone following him. The fact that there were spells to hide wizards didn't make him any more confident about his ability to find any attackers.

If it weren't for his school trunk he'd have slipped into the first loo and covered himself with his invisibility cloak. As it was the trunk would be too difficult to move while wearing the cloak as well. It was heavy, and without wheels it was difficult to carry around easily. Harry wondered if he was going to have to leave it behind.

So Harry settled for moving as quickly as he could. The moment he reached a vacant street he lifted his wand.

He was still in disguise, and the driver stared at him.

"Shouldn't you be on your way to Hogwarts?" the driver asked.

There didn't appear to be anyone else on the street or inside the bus for that matter other than the baggage handler but Harry was nervous nonetheless.

"I missed my train," Harry said shortly. "Any chance I can get a ride to Hogsmeade?"

"Not on the route, sorry, mate," the driver said.

"Diagon Alley then," Harry said, grimacing.

He'd have to use the Floo network to get to Hogsmeade and then he'd wait for the train to arrive. Harry hated the fact that he'd be alone in a wizarding village for hours, but he didn't see that he had much of a choice.

"Hot chocolate?" the baggage handler asked as he pulled Harry's bags onto the bus.

"No!" Harry said. Getting third degree burns from hot chocolate as the bus flew through its usual antics wasn't his idea of fun. He paid the usual fare, and the bus was off.

His first time through the floo network wasn't much fun. Worse, Harry thought he'd drawn attention just by being on Diagon Alley on the day that children his age were on their way to Hogwarts.

If he'd known of any other place that had floo access he'd have used that, but he'd been forced to slip into the first business in the alley that he remembered had access.

Zonko's Joke Shop was the only shop in Hogsmeade whose name he remembered, primarily because the twins went on and on about it incessantly. Consequently, this was where he ended up, slipping through the fireplace and pulling his trunk behind him.

He was covered with ash, as was his trunk.

Now that he was in a wizarding area, Harry immediately turned to his trunk and cast a shrinking charm on it. It would last an hour; hopefully by that time Harry could find a place to hole up. He shoved it into his new backpack.

An outraged clerk was already coming around the counter. Undoubtedly they kept watch on any uses of magic to stop shoplifting.

Harry was out of the shop before the man could reach him, and as soon as he turned the corner he covered himself with his cloak.

Watching carefully, Harry stayed where he was for ten minutes before finally assuring himself that no one was following him.

He wandered Hogsmeade under his cloak for almost a hour after that. This was an experience that he wouldn't be allowed to have for another year after all...and if he died often enough maybe not for another five years or longer.

There were shops he was interested in; the joke shop probably had items that he'd be able to use for more serious purposes. He kept the Peruvian darkness powder on his person at all times for example. The best thing about items was that they didn't trigger the Trace. They were the closest thing he could get to using magic during the summer.

There was a potions shop; it seemed to focus more on medicinal potions than offensive potions, but considering the kind of damage Harry faced, any help would be useful.

A bookstore called Tomes and Scrolls was tempting as well. He'd worked his way through most of the books he'd bought earlier in the summer, and he needed more to keep him occupied over the Christmas break.

The problem was that this was a town that had lived by the Hogwarts schedule for hundreds of years. Any child of Hogwarts age wandering around would immediately draw attention.

He could try to appear younger than he was, but he didn't see any younger children wandering around alone unaccompanied.

Harry recast the shrinking charm on his trunk, and decided to hide in the abandoned building he'd seen earlier. It was up a slope and was somewhat above the rest of the village. The garden outside was overgrown with weeds in a way that would have given Harry's aunt a panic attack. The windows and doors were boarded up and the place looked as though it hadn't been occupied in decades.

The path up to the shack was muddied and there were puddles covered in green algae. Harry hated coming alone to a place like this, even under his cloak but he didn't see any other choice.

Getting in proved to be a challenge. The doors were sealed tight as were the windows. There was some kind of a magical seal on the doors and windows that nothing Harry tried managed to get through.

However, a judicious use of the severing charm let him slice through the back wall itself. He cut through the wall carefully, cutting a small square low on the ground. He lit his wand and looked carefully inside. He slipped inside and waited for his eyes to adjust to the darkness inside.

There was a staircase leading up to the second floor, and as he moved through to explore his surroundings, Harry had an uneasy feeling. The furniture inside the room was smashed, torn apart in a way that didn't seem human. There were claw marks on the walls.

One of the windows looked out onto the castle; Harry could peer through the slats in the boards to see; he carefully checked all the windows to make sure that no one was coming up the path toward him.

There was a low doorway in the wall and a staircase leading upward. Harry took the stairs first. There wasn't much to see up above, although the view was much better from there. There was enough dust on everything that he could tell no one had been in this place for a very long time.

The low doorway on the first floor, however, led down into a tunnel and Harry suddenly felt uneasy.

The sensible thing to do would be to lock the door and simply wait, but for once Harry couldn't. He had to know what was on the other side of the tunnel.

His heart in his throat, Harry lit his wand and he descended into the darkness. The tunnel was earth floored and narrow. It was a few inches shorter than Harry himself, and so he had to crouch a little to make his way through it.

It took a half an hour to reach the end of the tunnel and by the time he did, Harry was seriously considering going back.

He had to bend even lower to get through the exit, only to gasp as the doorway opened out onto familiar grounds. He was on the Hogwarts grounds and...

A tree branch struck where Harry had just been. He lunged back inside the tunnel, happy that his reflexes hadn't atrophied over the summer as much as he'd feared.

Who would be stupid enough to put a tunnel at the base of a murder tree?

Harry suspected that there was some way to make the tree allow entrance, but he had no way of finding out at present.

He headed back to the shack to wait out the remaining hours in boredom.

It was a twenty minute walk to the train station, and Harry felt a chill down his spine as he waited for the train to arrive. It was already after dark and the wind was cool.

Worse, anyone who knew he hadn't been on the train would know where he was likely to be waiting.

He'd used magic to repair the hole he'd put in the wall of the shack; there might come a time when he needed a place to hide again and there was no point in letting things in that hadn't already been there.

He'd also made a special effort to remove every aspect of his disguise. Disguises only worked if people didn't know you used them. Even if wizards knew he was disguised, the only aspect of his disguise that was magical was his hairstyle. The rest was a combination of muggle clothes and makeup and acting. They wouldn't be easily reversible by magic and wouldn't be expected.

Harry huddled under the cloak and was relieved when he saw the train coming. He glanced around; no point in getting sloppy just because the end was in sight. The tricky part would be transitioning from being invisible to visible.

After a thought Harry settled on stepping as close to the tracks as he dared as the train slowed to a stop. He was close enough to the train that the people in the windows above couldn't see him.

He pulled off the cloak and stored it away, and then he waited as the doors opened and children streamed out of the doors. He slipped into the crowd the moment he saw Hermione and Neville, both of whom looked distressed.

"Harry!" Hermione said the moment she saw him. "Where were you?"

"Someone spelled the wall to Platform 9 3/4s so I couldn't get through," Harry said grimly. "I think they were planning to murder me when I left King's cross."

"You think everyone is out to murder you," Hermione said. "More likely it was the twins playing a prank."

Harry shook his head at Hermione's naivete. Everyone really was out to murder him; he'd been murdered often enough that he considered himself an expert.

Still, he felt somewhat relieved that he now only had to worry about someone slipping a knife into him in the crowd instead of a full on attack by Death Eaters.

They could hear the familiar voice of Hagrid calling out to the first years. As the younger students separated away from the crowd, Harry, Hermione and Neville followed the rest of the crowd along the platform and then onto a muddy track.

At least a hundred coaches waited. Each was pulled by winged skeletal horses; glancing around, Harry saw that no one seemed to be bothered by this, not even those in his same year, who presumably wouldn't have seen the horses before.

Harry had read about Thestrals when he'd done his reading about the creatures around Hogwarts, but it still seemed strange that no one else could see them.

"Can you see them?" Harry asked Neville and Hermione.

"See what?" Hermione asked.

Neville, though, nodded. "Thestrals..they can only be seen by those who have seen death."

Harry stared for a moment at his friend. When had Neville seen death?

"My grandmother died," Neville explained, interpreting his look.

No one asked Harry where he'd seen death. Between the troll, Adrian Pucey and his own mother, it would have been enough. Having seen his own death multiple times was even worse, not that they knew about that.

Hermione seemed a little nervous about getting into the coach when she couldn't see the thing pulling it, but Harry and Neville encouraged her and they soon loaded into the coach.

It smelled of mold and straw, although the smell was faint. Before anyone could say anything, the carriage lurched forward. They were soon moving through a pair of impressive wrought iron gates.

Harry began to explain what had happened as the carriage made its way up the long sloping drive up to the castle. Hermione seemed to think that he was paranoid and that no one had actually been after him, but Neville wasn't so sure.

Given Neville's families' own history with Death Eaters, Harry wasn't surprised that he'd be more cautious.

It didn't matter what Hermione thought. Harry was convinced that he'd been the victim of a poorly executed assassination plot.

The sorting ceremony didn't hold any surprises. The red haired Weasley girl followed the rest of her family into Gryffindor and the rest of the evening went the way it had the year before.

It was a little less impressive the second time around, although only a little. Harry could see how the trip by boat across the lake was designed to impress the children and maybe even cow them a little.

He welcomed the arriving students politely, although he disliked the way that the pureblood students stared at his scar. Only the muggleborns seemed oblivious, and it was a little depressing how easily he was able to pick them out from the others.

They seemed more amazed by everything than the other students; every little magical thing seemed to astound them. Some of them clumped together. None of them had the feigned attitudes of the purebloods, who were determined not to seem impressed even though they secretly were.

After all, the purebloods had been around magic their entire lives. Harry wondered if the deliberate showmanship of the first year boat ride was in part to overcome that attitude.

Not seeing Quirrell at the head table was a bit of a shock. Harry somehow hadn't thought nearly as much about what had happened as he felt he should have. Ultimately, the man had been willing to murder a child and possibly do worse, and Harry felt that in some ways he deserved what he got.

He suspected that he'd feel more guilty when he got older, hopefully when he had the luxury of being safe and thinking back on what he'd been forced to do.

Still, although the new teacher who had taken Quirrell's place didn't have a turban, Harry didn't trust him. If Voldemort was willing to debase himself enough to sit on the back of someone's sweaty head under a turban for an entire year he wouldn't hesitate to hide on someone's back or chest or even in a worse place.

Harry planned to touch every teacher he had over the next semester...when turning work in, when passing by, whatever excuse he could find. Given the way Quirrell's flesh had burned when he touched it, it might be an excellent warning sign.

Of course, even if none of them were Voldermort himself, the odds were that some of them were Death Eaters. Harry wouldn't let his guard down until he was safe back at home.

Harry was getting stronger all the time; he was determined to become as powerful as Dumbledore if that was what it took. Of course that might take a lifetime, and Harry suspected that he didn't have that long, since the point at which he revived kept moving forward.

The only question was whether it would be enough. Voldemort had plans within plans and Harry didn't have a great deal to fight them.

All he could do was watch and wait.

Chapter Text

Harry held his hand up to keep the others from speaking. He listened intently. The voice seemed to be coming from somewhere above him and it was growing fainter, moving upward.

The voice was muttering about blood and death, and Harry was convinced that it planned on killing someone. It was possible that it was just an overly enthusiastic ghost; they had just come from a party full of them after all, but deep in his gut Harry knew better.

He stood for a long moment, indecisive The smart thing, the Slytherin thing to do was to run in the other direction and not look back. Someone else would meet up with whatever it was and the school would take care of it.

Unfortunately the school didn't have a good track record when dealing with this sort of thing. They hadn't even been able to deal sensibly with a troll in the school, much less something that moved through the walls.

Harry needed to know what was coming after him. If he didn't, it might catch him from behind, and if he didn't know what to expect he couldn't stop it.

"Get Colin back to the Great Hall," Harry said. "If the feast ends, give him to a prefect to take back to his rooms."

"What's going on?" Hermione asked.

Harry shook his head. "There's no time. Just do it."

With that he was off, heading up the stairs. Harry grabbed his invisibility cloak as he ran; whatever he was following sounded dangerous and he wanted the best chance of not being seen. Of course, it was possible that whatever it was hunted by sound or scent; if that was the case Harry was in trouble no matter what he did.

The voice was hissing something about smelling blood. Harry reached the third floor bathroom and he skidded to a halt.

On the wall, in blood was written a cryptic message, something about the chamber of secrets. Hanging from a post was Mrs. Norris the cat.

Of the owner of the voice there was no sign.

Harry grimaced; his first impulse had been the smarter one. Being caught with a dead cat just a month after slaughtering an entire crate of Cornish Pixies wouldn't look good at all.

A rumble told him that the feast had just ended. He didn't have long to escape, and so he ran as quickly as he could, only to stop as he realized that the passage was being filled by students coming from each end.

He couldn't be caught using the invisibility cloak; that would be worse for his long term survival than being caught with a dead cat.

If there had been an empty classroom or bathroom he could have ducked into it would have been fine.

It was already too late. There were students at both ends of the corridor and Harry had dithered about pulling off his cloak.

He had no choice.

Pulling a pinch of the Peruvian darkness powder from his pouch he tossed it in the air. Instantly an impenetrable darkness billowed out in both directions.

Harry heard the panicked screams and sounds of surprise from both ends of the hallway. He quickly pulled off his cloak, stuffing it into his bag even as he felt for the wall. He moved forward quickly, using his hand to guide him.

Listening, he heard the group up ahead. Some people were fighting to turn back down the stairs, but in the confusion Harry doubted that anyone would remember just who was in the crowd.

He'd only used a very small pinch, and he doubted it would last very long. He skidded to a stop as the sounds of confusion in front of him became close.

Pushing his way past some of the other students, Harry found himself in the middle of the crowd when the darkness dissipated a few moments later.

He worked to put a confused look on his face.

There was angry mutterings from the students around him. Most of them seemed to think it was another stunt by the Weasleys. Harry heard the first gasps from people up ahead. The message had been seen.

He walked with the crowd who were gathering around the message. Looking back over it, Harry could see that it had been written in blood in one foot high letters.

Malfoy was laughing, stupidly taunting the muggleborn students. Did he want people to think he'd killed the pet of a staff member? Only sociopaths did something like that.

The stray thought that his stunt might have sent someone falling off a stair suddenly occurred to Harry, but he reassured himself that no one had been hurt, otherwise he'd be hearing cries of horror.

The teachers were approaching. Harry very carefully began to back away; he wasn't the only one. He could see several other Slytherins doing the same. Mostly those he considered the brighter members of his house. Something like this could get very ugly.

Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle stayed right up at the front.

Harry could see Filch grabbing Malfoy and shouting. That's what he deserved for being an idiot; Slytherins were supposed to be smarter than that. Harry fought off the desire to smirk.

This had cost him some of his precious darkness powder, and the twins were sure to be suspicious , but it was better than the headache being caught would cause.

"Harry!" Hermione said, finally catching up to him. "What's going on?"

Harry gestured back toward the words on the wall, and she gasped.

"People are going to turn against each other because of this," he said. "Which is probably his plan."

Hermione stared at him then shook her head. "It isn't necessarily always You-Konw-Who that's behind all this."

"Who else? Goyle?" Harry asked. "It's probably a distraction from his real plan."

"Murdering you?" Hermione asked. She looked at him as he nodded and rolled her eyes. "I'm sure You-Know-Who has other things to do other than just murdering you."

"Outside the school, yeah," Harry said. "But the only other things I can think of that he might be doing here is recruiting or trying to kill Dumbledore."

"Maybe there are ancient artifacts at the school that he's after," Hermione said.

Harry shook his head. "He wouldn't tell the world what he was doing. He'd probably have loyal students look for it and then smuggle whatever it was out."

They were making their way back down the stairs. Harry saw that the other students were following suit.

He suspected that things were going to get a lot worse before they got better. Fearful people were angry people, and Hogwarts was already a place where people were divided. They were divided by house, by blood status, by wealth and class.

People tended to bully people who were different, and fearful people became worse bullies. Things were already bad enough and this was the last thing Harry needed.

"I can't believe you wanted to come to this," Harry said.

"It's Quidditch! How can you not be excited about Quidditch?" Colin asked. "Besides, I think it'll make for great pictures."

Harry could see Neville and Hermione sitting on the other side of the pitch with their fellow Gryffindors. Usually Quidditch matches were some of their best times together, times when they could be alone in the castle without interruption, but Harry had decided that being alone in the castle wasn't the smartest idea right now.

The cat, Mrs. Norris had only been petrified, not killed. Harry had set Hermione to helping him look up all the ways that petrification could be accomplished. They'd both read that dark magic could accomplish it, as could certain magical creatures.

None of the creatures they'd looked up could speak with the exception of Gorgons, but that didn't seem quite right to Harry. Gorgons were universally female, and the voice he'd heard had definitely been male.

The more he thought about it, the more he was convinced that he'd heard the voice coming from within the walls. Hogwarts had secret passages aplenty, and someone or something could have been using them to get around unseen. Harry had found a few of them, but he had no doubt there were many he knew nothing about.

Whatever it was, it was able to move around with impunity, and the last thing Harry thought any of them needed was to be alone. Of course, if it was actually come of the monsters they'd looked up, being together might not be much better.

All in all, attending the Quidditch match was the least of the evils, even if the other Slytherins were giving him odd looks because he was finally showing an interest in Quidditch.

"Ooh, it's starting!" Colin said.

He had his camera out as he usually did, and Harry felt a sudden surge of affection for the boy. Colin had never blamed Harry for all the abuse he was suffering in Slytherin, and even though his good humor was wearing thin, he still kept a cheerful face to the world.

The boy looked up to Harry, which was something Harry had never thought he needed.

Hermione was his friend, but she thought his constant paranoia was ridiculous. Neville had never shown the kind of hero worship that Harry had gotten from Colin; he'd once confided in Harry that he could have fit the prophecy as well as Harry had.

Colin, though seemed to appreciate everything Harry was trying to do for him. His hero worship of Harry was more than just about his being the Boy-who-lived. He seemed to think that Harry could do anything, and that made Harry feel as though he could.

Harry had never had a younger brother, but if he'd had, he imagined it would feel something like this.

Quidditch, now that he watched it was an insane game that was a perfect example of what was wrong with the wizarding mindset. No muggle would play a game perched on a broom more than fifty feet in the air.

Two iron cannonballs were careening around the field trying to knock players off their brooms. Two players on the team had bats to defend themselves and their comrades with, but everyone else was defenseless.

No muggle sport was this risky, not even rugby or Canadian Hockey. Every aspect of the sport was potentially lethal; even players simply crashing into each other could lead to a fatality.

Wizards seemed to feel they were immortal.

However, since Harry wasn't the one in the air and in danger he found himself actually enjoying it. He kept waiting for disaster after disaster to happen, but the players almost seemed to be in a dance with each other.

Colin took another picture and turned to Harry. "This is great, isn't it?"

Harry smiled, "Yeah, it's all right."

Once the current business was resolved, he didn't plan to give up his time alone with his friends for this, but attending the occasional game wouldn't be a chore.

Malfoy was the seeker this year, a fact of which he was quick to point out to everyone who would listen. The fact that his father had bought him into the position was less important than how good he was, and it was apparent that he was better than the Gryffindor seeker.

He was flying for the snitch now, although he was being followed by a bludger. He pulled up and the bludger didn't follow.

It hurtled toward Harry, who barely had time to dive away, landing on the backs of some of the Slytherins below him. If his reflexes hadn't been what they were, he would have been hit. The Slytherins underneath him cursed at him and tried to push him away.

The bludger slammed into the seat where he had been sitting and the wood cracked with an audible sound. The ten inch iron ball, which had to weigh as much as Harry did bounced upward.

It floated back upward and then slammed back toward Harry with a blistering speed. Harry barely rolled away in time and he heard the sounds of bones breaking as it slammed into the person Harry had just rolled off of, a boy named Terence Higgs, who had been the seeker replaced by Malfoy.

The bludger was already levitating again. Harry rolled out into the aisle; he'd made sure to be close to an aisle just in case he needed to make a quick escape.

People were screaming, and some were already running, trying to get away from the bludger.

Harry's mind ran through the possibilities. Diffindo wouldn't work. His spell would easily cut through a tree trunk, but ten inches of solid iron were an entirely different matter.

Most of the spells he knew would be useless against the thing.

"Finite incantatem!" Harry shouted, waving his wand, but the bludger was unaffected. It was already coming around for another pass, and now there were panicked people clogging the aisle.

There was only one spell that Harry could possibly cast that would affect the thing.

"DIMINUENDO!" Harry shouted.

The bludger changed from a ball ten inches thick, probably weighing one hundred fifty pound to something the size of a pea.

It slammed into Harry'd outstretched left hand, and he could feel one of the small bones in his hand break. He still managed to wrap his hand around the bludger and with he slipped his wand into his pocket and wrapped his other hand around it as well.

The bludger tried to pull away from him several times before finally going quiescent.

Harry stared at Hermione, who was staring at him in horror from across the field. "See?" he mouthed to her.

People really were trying to kill him, and now they'd done it in front of the entire school. Even Quirrell had mostly tried to kill him alone, except for the times Harry had started it.

Harry anxiously scanned the skies for the other bludger, but it seemed to be acting normally.

There was chaos on the pitch afterward, and as Harry clutched his throbbing hand, he suddenly wished he'd used his Peruvian darkness powder again. It might have revealed him as the prankster in the corridor, but he wouldn't have been hurt.

As the teachers had taken possession of the bludger, presumably to do some of their own tests on it, Lockhart had tried to convince Harry to let him heal the broken bones in his left hand.

Harry had seen through it; the bludger was the first assassination attempt, and the man would do something that would weaken Harry while pretending to try to heal him. That would leave him alone in the Hospital wing, the perfect place to stage an assassination without being seen by anyone.

He'd gone straight to Madam Pomphrey, who was able to heal the bones in his hand in a metter of moments, although she still have him pain reducing potions to help with the trauma in the surrounding tissue.

As Harry lay in his bed, he could hear the sounds of the celebration going on down in the hallway below him.

Slytherin had won, once the game was resumed, and everyone was celebrating.

Harry stared at the ceiling and tried to think of who was trying to kill him now. Any of the upper year Slytherins would have the ability to do it, and he'd become lost enough in the game that he hadn't been paying enough attention to them.

He couldn't let them get away with it.

A soft pop, and Harry looked down to see a familiar House elf at the base of the bed.

"Harry Potter came to school," the elf said sorrowfully. "Dobby warned and warned Harry, but he came anyway. Why didn't Harry go home when he missed the train?"

Harry gripped his wand, which he'd kept on his bed in case the killer tried to use the party below as a distraction to try to kill him.

The House elf had been trying to keep him from coming to Hogwarts, and he'd blocked off the entrance. He'd probably followed Harry all the way from home, which was why his disguise hadn't worked.

"You tried to get me expelled," Harry said. His fingers tightened on his wand. "Tell me why I shouldn't decorate the wall behind you with your guts."

The house elf held his hands up. "Dobby hears death threats five times a day at home, sir. He is used to them."

Harry gritted his teeth. "If I was expelled from Hogwarts, they'd break my wand. I need my wand to protect myself when the Death Eaters come."

The house elf scowled. "Death Eaters are bad, but what's coming is worse, much worse."

He began to smash his head into the wall; apparently even mentioning this much wasn't being loyal to his master.

For once Harry didn't stop him. It was exactly what he wished he could do to the thing, except that he knew if he started he might not stop.

The creature stopped on its own, however, looking up at him. "Dobby thought his bludger might..."

"Are you saying you tried to kill me?" Harry asked. His wand was out now.

"Kill you, sir? No!" Dobby said. He seemed to finally sense the danger he was in because he looked up at Harry with wide open eyes.

"Never kill Harry Potter...simply send him home badly injured,,,:

"Wizards can heal practically anything overnight!" Harry said, shouting. "The only way you could have got me sent home was if you'd taken an arm or a leg off, and even then that would only be a few weeks in St. Mungos. It'd take a curse or some other dark magic to do anything permanent."

At the creature's sudden hopeful look Harry snapped, "Don't get any ideas."

The creature stared at him and said, "Dobby must get Harry Potter out. Now that the Chamber of Secrets has been opened again, history is about to repeat itself."

Harry saw the sudden look in the creature's eyes. It had said more than it had intended to.

Before he could press the question, he heard screams from below, and the creature turned, panicked. It disappeared in a puff of displaced air.

Harry rushed downstairs to find the Slytherins gathered at the entrance to the common chamber. There were panicked whispers and some sobs from the younger Slytherins.

Harry shoved his way through, only to freeze in horror.

At the entrance to the blank wall leading into the Slytherin house common chambers was a large pool of blood. Beside it was a child's shoe and a familiar, broken camera.

Colin Creevy was gone.

Chapter Text

Harry felt numb.

He could heard the other Slytherins whispering anxiously. It had been one thing to laugh about the Chamber of Secrets when the victim was a cat that wasn't even dead, but this had happened right outside their common room.

It had happened to one of their own, even if he was a mudblood.

Any one of them could have been returning to the common room and been ambushed and murdered. Harry could see the dawning horror on their faces, horror that had been a familiar companion to him since he was ten years old.

No one was doing anything other than milling around. Fear had overwhelmed their good sense; if Colin had been killed there was a good chance the killer was nearby.

Harry pulled out his wand.

"Get Snape," he snapped at the prefect, pointing with his non-wand hand.

The prefect blinked at him, as though surprised, but he turned and did what he was told.

"Get back inside," Harry said, turning to the crowd behind him.

They stopped milling around and turned to stare at him. The incongruity of a twelve year old ordering a crowd that was mostly older than him wasn't lost on them.

"Why should we do what you say, Potter?" Malfoy snapped back.

"How far do you think whatever did this got?" Harry asked. "And how long do you think it will be before it comes back while we're standing here talking about this?"

Realization that they might all be in danger suddenly came across everyone's faces, and everyone suddenly vanished back into the common room with the exception of Malfoy.

"If you say anything snide about this, I'll make you regret it," Harry said, not looking at Malfoy.

Malfoy glanced behind him, making sure they were alone. "I just wanted to say sorry, mate. I know how attached you were to the little mud...muggleborn."

With that he was gone.

Harry stood guard over the scene until Snape appeared, almost hoping that whatever had taken Colin would come back.

Snape took one look at the scene and sent him back into the common room, where Harry proceeded to brood. He was numb and he couldn't even feel a single emotion.

"You think they're going to close the school?" Neville asked anxiously.

They were out on the lawn outside the school. Ironically, given that there was something in the walls, this was probably one of the safer places to be at the moment.

"The professors say there is no proof that Colin is actually dead," Hermione said. "Just missing. The aurors are investigating, but they haven't found anything."

Harry was lying on a blanket with his eyes closed. The sun felt good on his face. Colin's death hadn't really caught up with him yet, not like Pucey's had, and he wondered if he was getting hardened. Was it possible to stop feeling bad when people around you died?

Was that what had happened to Voldemort?

"There wasn't anything on his camera," Harry said. "I doubt he even had a chance to bring it up."

"Well, they can't keep having classes if people start disappearing," Hermione said. "It wouldn't be safe."

"Colin was a muggleborn," Harry said, his eyes still closed. "As long as it's not a pureblood or a halfblood from a good family that disappears, they'll keep it all going."

"Are you saying that muggleborns are less important than everyone else?" Hermione asked, sounding outraged.

"No...but muggles are," Harry said. "If muggles protest too much, wizards will just obliviate them. Half and pure bloods have families whose opinions have weight in wizard society."

"That's horrible!" Hermione said, sitting up straight.

Harry shrugged. "I don't have any wizarding relatives left, so I'm in the same situation. If it wasn't for the prophecy, nobody would care if I went missing."

"We'd care," Neville said.

"Nobody with any power would care," Harry said, correcting himself. He scowled. "They should care about Colin too, but they don't."

"We're sorry that happened," Hermione said for what had to be the fifteenth time.

"If I get a chance, I'll make whoever did it sorry," Harry said. He scowled again with his eyes closed. "I'll make them wish they were never born."

It was a sign of his trust in Hermione and Neville that he was willing to close his eyes around them. Not only did he trust them not to intentionally hurt him, he trusted them to keep an out for any approaching danger.

Of course, the sneak-o-scope in the bag underneath his head provided a little more sense of security. Trust but verify, Harry had heard from somewhere, a sentiment that he heartily agreed with.

Harry fully intended to get vengeance. He was angry not only on the people who had done this, but on the rest of the wizarding world for their seeming indifference.

Life had gone on for the rest of the school after only a few days. The people who were most affected were the Slytherins. The attack had occurred immediately outside their common rooms, and it could have been any one of them.

Claims that the Heir would only attack mudbloods were dismissed; anyone could have stepped outside at the wrong moment and no one doubted that if they had they'd have been killed as well.

Several of the students, including Malfoy had written angry letters to their parents, who had been curiously apathetic about the whole thing. Harry suspected that the parents were being influenced by the Death Eaters to leave the matter be.

The other houses seemed more inclined to dismiss the whole incident. The other houses preferred to believe that Colin had either run home because of being bullied by the other Slytherins or that if he'd been harmed it had actually been one of the Slytherins who had done it.

Malfoy had made a few attempts at bragging about being the heir of Slytherin before the attack. He had stopped talking about that now altogether and he seemed pale and drawn.

All the Slytherins seemed to be exhibiting a healthy sense of paranoia these days, something of which Harry heartily approved. They tended to go to places in groups of no less than three and they were jumpy as a group.

They were snapping at each other within the safety of their own dorms, although they managed to keep any disagreements within the house outside of the view of the rest of the school. Harry stumbled across several duels being held inside the common room; all the perpetrators were punished if they were caught, but many were able to threaten eyewitnesses to keep them from saying anything.

The duels got bad enough that Snape announced the formation of a dueling club a few days later. Apparently the club had been the idea of Lockhart, which rang all sorts of alarm bells for Harry.

Was this a way to judge Harry's skills? If it was, was it wise for Harry to join the dueling club at all? He'd made a reputation on being a person of mysterious abilities; people feared him because they didn't know what he was capable of.

Yet part of him very much wanted to join the club. The Weasleys were no longer able to give him much of a challenge, and they weren't working with him currently anyway. They'd been blamed for the Peruvian instant darkness powder business and they were angry at Harry.

One hour a week with Flitwick wasn't going to be enough to keep his skills in shape. He was trying to train Neville and Hermione, but it was hard to find time and places to get away that would be safe, and it would be even longer before they were able to give him a good workout.

Although Harry was deeply uneasy about it, it appeared that the dueling club was going to be his best option.

Harry fully expected Lockhart to pretend to be incompetent at the outset of the dueling club; it didn't take long for him to be vindicated. It was interesting to watch Snape's technique though. As a former Death Eater he had a level of skill that Harry was going to have to measure himself against if he ever wanted to overcome Voldemort.

Setting the entire class to practicing defensive spells at once was obviously a mistake. Harry was paired with Malfoy, but once the spells started flying he was forced to dodge several stray spells that "accidentally" were launched his way.

The fact that it was sixth and seventh year Slytherins launching the spells, and the fact that none of the stray spells came near anyone other than Harry wasn't lost on him. Harry had been expecting it though. As angry as the Slytherins had been since Colin's disappearance, they wanted to take it out on someone. The fact that Harry was someone they were expected to be angry at made it easier.

If he hadn't been waiting for it, he'd have been hit in the back several times. As it was, one spell had gotten through his shields and had grazed his side painfully.

As the teachers tried to contain the chaos left in the aftermath, Harry tried to figure out who had launched the attacks at him. Three of the seventh years in the corner seemed like the most likely suspects, although he couldn't rule out anyone.

"Let's have a demonstration," Lockhart said. "Perhaps Miss Granger and Miss Bones?"

"Mr. Potter seemed to be working above his level," Snape interjected. "Shielding charms haven't been taught yet and he seems to have a very good grasp of them."

"Oh?" Lockhart asked. "What would you suggest?"

"Perhaps have him compete against a third year," Snape said. Glancing at Harry he reconsidered. "Perhaps a fourth year. Mr. Jordan, would you face off against Mr. Potter?"

Harry hadn't forgotten about the bullying Lee Jordan had done against him before the first death he'd had at Hogwarts. Even though the bullying hadn't been nearly as bad the second time around, Harry still resented it.

That was why, when Jordan went for his wand, Harry didn't immediately summon his wand. He blocked his spells with a shielding spell and launched stinging hex after stinging hex after the hapless other boy until Snape was forced to call off the match.

Although he was physically two years older than Harry, Harry had actually had an additional eight months of training due to his resets. Lee Jordan probably never picked up his wand outside of class, and it showed.

Snape frowned at him and summoned a fifth year. Harry had a much more difficult time against this opponent, who was angry at what he had done to Jordan. It was a struggle but he finally managed to beat him through sheer speed, since his shielding spells couldn't hold up against the other student's spells.

Harry indicated that he was up for a third round, and against a sixth year he lost miserably. Sixth years were learning silent casting, and without hearing the spell, Harry stumbled and struggled to keep up. His shield wasn't of any help at all either.

Although he was battered and bruised by the end of it, Harry felt he'd learned a valuable lesson. He was depending too much on hearing the spells, a sloppy habit that he was going to have to ask Flitwick to break him of.

It was decided that he would duel against fifth years even though he was barely able to keep up with them. Fighting the less competent fifth years would improve his skills, and facing a second year would prick the fifth years' pride, forcing them to improve as well.

Against a more competent fifth year, Harry wouldn't have had any chance at all. He saw that as he watched some of the matches. There was a great variation in ability among same age peers. Some fifth years fought like fourth years, and some fought like sixth.

The excellent duelists were in the minority though. Most of the dueling club members were fighting below where they should, at least in Harry's estimation.

The one thing he didn't like was the speculative looks in the eyes of some of the older Slytherins as they looked at him. They'd gotten a good estimation of his skills, and they'd found them wanting.

The dueling club continued over the next three weeks, and Harry kept expecting an attack from his fellow Slytherins that never came.

Deciding that he was being paranoid, even for him, Harry began to relax and enjoy the dueling club. Training against the less competent fifth years, who were actually performing at the upper end of fourth year level really was improving all their skills.

Harry's only complaint about the club was that it didn't take place more often. He enjoyed dueling, he discovered, at least when death or dismemberment wasn't on the line.

It wasn't until he was heading back from a dueling club meeting on the third week that he noticed three upper years following him.

They were all heading down to the common rooms in the dungeons, and so at first Harry didn't think anything of it. He kept an eye on them, however, because he suspected they were the Slytherins who had launched the additional spells at him during the first dueling club.

Getting trapped was the last thing Harry wanted, so he shifted directions and took the first stairs upward. He'd simply wait until they passed and then make his way to the dungeons later.

They took the stairs up as well.

Finally alarmed, Harry sprinted down a hallway. If he could get somewhere he could be unobserved, he'd be able to pull out his cloak and get away unseen.

Going up another moving staircase proved to be a mistake. Harry barely shielded himself from an attempt to toss him over the stairs. He ducked down and managed to crabwalk his way up the stair.

The three boys had split up, Harry discovered. He was on the deserted section of floor where the chamber message had been sent. There were two boys on one end of the hall and one on the other.

The obvious strategy was to blow past the one boy, but these weren't the duffers at dueling. All of them were fighting above their weight class, and turning his back on any of them would be dangerous.

Harry ducked behind a set of pillars as spells began flying toward him from the end of the hall. At this distance accuracy wasn't good, but enough spells being cast would make sure that at least some of them hit home.

"Diffendo!" Harry shouted.

The lone boy managed to shield against a spell that would have taken his leg off. He looked surprised that Harry would be that vicious. Harry couldn't understand why.

The pillars have Harry a small advantage. He didn't have to block much with his shields due to the cover of the pillars, while his opponents were out in the open.

He sent a flurry of spells in both directions, all of which bounded off their shields and sliced into the surrounding territory.

They were at a stalemate. Although Harry was surrounded by superior combatants, he had the advantage of cover and spells didn't go around corners.

Harry discovered how wrong he was when long black snakes began to emerge from the wands of the boys. Each boy cast the snake spell while the other two cast spells to force Harry to keep his head down.

Snake after snake they created. Two became four, which became eight, which became fifteen before they seemed to finally decide they were done.

The venom of even one of those snakes would make a man very sick. The venom of fifteen could easily kill.

Harry couldn't even attack the snakes very well because of the covering fire provided by the three Slytherins. By the time the snakes came close enough to harm him, it would be difficult to deal with them, and then the others would close in.

"STOP!" Harry said as the first of the horde of snakes rounded the corner.

It stopped, as did the ones behind it. The others gathered closer and closer, but kept their distance.

They were listening to him. Harry had known he could speak to snakes since a trip to the zoo when he'd had a nice chat with a snake. He'd assumed that it was one of the things wizards could generally do until Neville had told him otherwise.

Neville had been talking about an encounter he'd had with a snake in his grandmother's gardens and Harry had asked him why he hadn't simply asked the snake to leave.

The fact that Parselmouth was a rare and dark skill somehow hadn't surprised Harry. The similarities between him and Voldemort kept piling up, so why not this as well?

He'd been afraid that conjured snakes wouldn't understand him, but maybe these snakes had simply been summoned from somewhere else.

"I am not your enemy," Harry hissed. "They are your enemy. They are the ones who pulled you from your warm, safe burrows. They are the ones that put you in danger. They are the ones who should pay."

The snakes stared at him for a long moment.

Harry could hear the uncertain murmuring between the older teenagers in the hall. Their entire strategy revolved around waiting until the snakes attacked, and that had somehow been derailed.

The boys suddenly realized they were in trouble when the snakes turned around and began heading toward them.

They launched spells against the snakes, and Harry managed to graze one of their arms with a diffindo because they were distracted by the snakes.

Once they realized that he was going to be attacking, they began to shield themselves as they began picking their own snakes off. They'd killed a third of the snakes, who had almost reached them when Harry introduced the final part of his plan.

He threw the Peruvian instant darkness powder, and suddenly the entire corridor plunged into darkness.

The screaming began immediately. Harry remained where he was as spells began to fly indiscriminately. With any luck they'd accidentally hit each other.

Snakes could sense prey even in the darkness. Humans couldn't.

Harry had been meaning to send a message to those in his own house who thought he was weak. This was the best message he could have send.

Attack Harry Potter and you were taking your life into your own hands.

The screaming lasted longer than he'd thought it would.

Chapter Text

"They'll live," Snape said. "Barely."

He'd just returned from St. Mungos, where he'd rushed Harry's three attackers after Madam Pomprey had told him they were beyond her ability to save. As a result, he'd missed the chaos as aurors had come to lock down the school. All students except Harry had been sent back to their dorms and told to wait.

Apparently an attempt on Harry's life was taken much more seriously after one other Hogwarts student was missing and presumed dead. Harry doubted that there would have been as much of a fuss if he'd been a regular student.

They were now in Dumbledore's office. The older man looked grave and serious. Harry was sitting in a chair while Snape paced back and forth.

Harry was secretly relieved that the boys hadn't died, but he forced himself to keep his face expressionless. Any sign of weakness just led to more problems later.

"If I'd wanted them dead I'd have just left them there," Harry said. "Instead of going for help."

He'd thought about leaving them there, but killing them anonymously wouldn't have helped him at all. He'd wanted to send a message to the entire school, and that required that everyone know what had happened.

"And yet you set venomous snakes on three of your classmates, one of whom was on the Quidditch team!"

"I'm sure the alternate will do a fine job," Harry said. Despite Snape's anger, Harry wasn't intimidated. After being murdered multiple times and almost murdered even more, ordinary intimidation tactics didn't bother him much. "From what I hear Bletchley's not much of a keeper anyway."

"This isn't a laughing matter!" Snape snapped. "They'll snap your wand for this!"

"The aurors said I was in the clear," Harry said mildly.

"What?" Snape stared down at him.

"I didn't cast any snake summoning spells...I don't even know one," Harry said. "Although I plan to learn it as soon as I can."

Dumbledore interjected. "I've already received the aurors' report. Priori incantatem shows that the snakes came from the older boys' wands, not from Harry."

"They're all Death Eater's sons," Harry said coolly. "They were trying to kill me."

Snape scowled.

"Three sixth years corner a second year in a deserted hall," Harry said. "And send fifteen venomous snakes after him. What's the likely result?"

"The aurors' report noted this as self defense," Dumbledore said. "And charges will be filed against all three boys."

Dumbledore looked genuinely regretful. If Harry hadn't known better, he'd have thought the man was a gentle, grandfatherly type. But that kind of man wouldn't have been able to defeat the last two dark lords or be so involved in politics and the search for Death Eaters that he barely had time to be Headmaster.

Harry was sure that in one hundred years he'd have master that look of sincerity as well.

"What troubles me is how you were able to turn their own snakes against them?" Dumbledore said. "I flatter myself to say that I have made a minor study in spells, and I have never heard of any spell like that."

"It wasn't a spell," Harry said. "I just asked nicely."

"And they somehow understood you," Snape asked skeptically.

"I've been talking to snakes since I was ten," Harry said. "They're actually more accommodating than you'd think."

Snape's indrawn breath was strangely satisfying. "You're saying you're a parselmouth?"

"A what?" Harry asked, although he knew perfectly well what a parselmouth was. "Can't everyone speak to snakes?"

"Everyone can speak to snakes, Harry," Dumbledore said. "But not everyone can make themselves understood or understand the snakes in turn."

Snape was silent for a long moment. "There is still the matter of the darkness powder. Similar powder was used in a previous incident, one that endangered other students."

"It's a common product," Harry said dismissively. He was getting better at lying, he thought. "Anybody can get hold of it if they know where to look. Are you suggesting that I was the one who petrified Mrs. Norris?"

"The Heir to Slytherin was suggested to be a parselmouth," Snape said. "Perhaps you are using that legend to your advantage."

"I never claimed to be the Heir," Harry said coldly. "The Heir was the one who killed my friend. When I find out who that is, I'm going to make them pay."

"Making threats, Potter?" Snape asked.

Harry looked up at Snape for a long moment, and eventually it was Snape who looked away.

"If I'm not going to be punished for defending myself, can I go back to my room," Harry asked finally. "It's been a long day."

Dumbledore nodded tiredly, waving Harry off.

Harry glanced at Snape, who was staring at him with an undecipherable expression. He was sure he would pay for all of this later. He'd had a sort of truce with Snape for a long time. The man ignored him, and Harry tried not to do anything too egregious to require the man to pay attention to him.

It was likely that Snape still had to deal with Death Eaters, whether he was still a Death Eater or not. Leaving aside the matter of whether Snape actually had any liking or dislike for Harry, he wasn't politically able to show too much favor for him.

Harry suspected that showing disfavor wouldn't be as difficult for Snape, considering how he treated other people in class.

Dealing with it would be something Harry had to do if it happened. Unlike various murder attempts, worrying about Snape wouldn't actually help.

Harry walked out of the room and stopped just at the edge of earshot.

"The boy is a sociopath," Snape was saying. "Any other student his age would be in hysterics."

Dumbledore said,"Harry's not just any boy his age. He's seen things that no boy his age should have to see."

The old man had no idea. Harry imagined that he was talking about the troll and Adrian and being pushed off the stairs. He only suspected Harry of Quirrell's murder.

Still, Harry supposed it didn't paint a pretty picture. Murdering one teacher, an entire bucketload of Cornish Pixies and mortally injuring three other students. It did make him sound like a sociopath.

"However, he also seems to have a tendency to eavesdrop and should be getting back to his quarters," Dumbledore called out.

Harry winced and quickly began heading down the stairs.

Slipping back to the dungeons, Harry wore his invisibility cloak. Just because three people had attacked him didn't mean that there weren't others waiting in the wings. Harry hoped that the incident with the snakes would make those people more reluctant to attack him, but he couldn't be sure how much they'd heard yet.

Slipping his cloak off just as he reached the wall that led into the common room, Harry entered.

Everyone was in the common room, leaving it much more crowded than usual. As Harry entered, conversation suddenly stopped. Everyone turned and stared at Harry.

The only one with the courage to speak to him was Malfoy.

"What happened, Potter? No one will tell us anything."

"Bletchly, Blishwick and Murton decided to try to kill me," Harry said. He kept a careful eye on the expressions on everyone's faces; they seemed to all be a variation of surprise or puzzlement.

It was possible that no one had known about the attack. If the boys had an accomplice, that accomplice was good at keeping control of his or her expressions.

"What happened?" Malfoy asked.

"I took care of it," Harry said shortly. "They're in St. Mungos and it looks like they won't be back."

Marcus Flint stiffened. Bletchly was one of his team members, and losing him would hurt the team, although Harry had heard that they were considering replacing him anyway.

"Looks like you'll be needing another Keeper," Harry said. "Sorry."

All eyes in the room were on him, and his classmates stared at him in silence. None of them knew just how he'd put three older and presumably much stronger classmates in the hospital, and that made them cautious.

It was a little like living in a lion cage. The only way to survive was to be the most dangerous thing in the room.

"I'm going to bed," Harry said. He was silent for a moment, then said, "If I have any...unexpected visitors tonight, they won't be going to St. Mungos.

Harry tapped his wand for emphasis, and he saw some of the younger Slytherins pale. The older students were better at hiding their feelings, but their suddenly expressionless faces were a clue at how they felt.

That night he slept dreamlessly, and not a single person bothered him.

"Everybody is saying you're planning on being the next Dark Lord," Hermione said.

Explaining just how he'd set the snakes on the other students had probably been a mistake, although given that he had been facing attempted murder charges Harry hadn't seen any other choice. Apparently some of the students had parents who worked in the ministry, and those parents had read the aurors' reports.

"They think I'm the Heir?" Harry asked.

"Surprisingly no," Hermione said. "Too many people knew how you felt about Colin, and so people are saying that you and the Heir are competing to be the next dark lord. They say the Heir killed Colin and sent Bletchly and the others to kill you to eliminate the competition."

Harry laughed mirthlessly. "Where are my minions?"


"You can't be a dark lord without minions. Otherwise you're just a lone, crazed terrorist."

"People are saying Colin was your minion," Neville offered nervously.

He was probably anxious about bringing up Colin, since Harry had been irritable about the whole subject. He'd been going over what he could have done differently to save Colin, and he hadn't been able to think of anything.

Watching over the boy twenty four hours a day wasn't something he'd been able to do, and there were going to be times when he was alone.

"A dark lord with one minion is just sad," Harry said. "It's like trying to be a Bond villain while living in a beat up Volkswagon beetle."

Hermione snickered, while Neville looked confused. Harry forgot sometimes just how separated Purebloods were from popular culture.

"Wouldn't we be considered your minions?" Neville asked.

"The fact that you have to ask means probably yes," Harry said, grinning, "But realistically you aren't subservient enough."

When Harry had first met them, Neville had been much more subservient, but Hermione had been working with him on being more assertive.

They were all silent for a long moment.

Finally, Hermione spoke. "Doesn't it upset you, that people think you are a dark lord in training?"

"If it keeps them from trying to kill me, not really," Harry said. "Besides, do you really think we'd keep having dark lords every generation if there wasn't a reason for it?"


"Why do you think people follow dark lords? They can't all be evil."

Hermione stared at him for a moment, then said, "Some people are too scared not to."

Nodding, Harry said, "Also, the Ministry is corrupt. If people were really happy with the government they wouldn't be following every dark lord who promised something better."

"People should enter politics if they want to change things," Hermione said indignantly. "Not kill people and become terrorists."

"What happens if the political cards are stacked against you," Harry asked. "People try to start revolutions when they think they don't have a voice. I wouldn't be surprised it the next dark lord tries to get the muggleborns to follow him."

"Assuming that dark lord isn't you," Hermione said.

Harry shrugged. "Maybe I've got a future in politics."

The disquieted look on Hermione and Neville's faces was almost worth the joke.

The next dueling club had a drastic drop off in numbers, and many of the students refused to duel with Harry. Everyone seemed anxious around him, and even Snape seemed to be following him with his eyes everywhere Harry went.

Harry had to make it clear that he would be very disappointed if no one came to the dueling club. It took a couple of weeks, but eventually membership grew again as people realized that Harry wasn't planning to launch snakes at them all.

He still felt like he was constantly on display. Everyone watched him wherever he went, and he could sense that the Hufflepuffs especially were uncomfortable with him.

Hermione managed to find out what the Chamber of Secrets was from Binns, the ghost who taught History of Magic.

Given the rumors that he was feuding with the Heir of Slytherin, Harry found a few Slytherins who tried to curry favor with him. Some of them had spoken to their families and had learned that the chamber had been opened once before, fifty years before. One student had died in a bathroom, and Hagrid had been accused of awakening the creature.

He'd been ejected and had his wand snapped, but he hadn't been sent to Azkaban, which to Harry suggested that there hadn't been any proof.

Hagrid wasn't willing to talk about it at all, which Harry found unsurprising. At least the man didn't treat him any differently since the incident with the Slytherins and the snakes. He was loyal if anything.

Harry had managed to convince some of those Slytherins trying to curry favor to get copies of the original reports of the crime, at which he'd learned that Hagrid's accuser had been named Tom Riddle. Furthermore, Moaning Myrtle was the ghost of the girl who had been killed.

Asking questions about Tom Riddle had somehow landed Harry back in the Headmaster's office, where Harry had directly questioned Dumbledore.

Dumbledore had been reluctant to tell Harry, but had eventually revealed who Tom Riddle had become.

Obviously Tom Riddle had discovered the creature fifty years before and was reviving it again. Harry felt vindicated in discovering this.

All in all, it took time. It took time for the Slytherins to contact their parents, and for their parents to look up reports. It took even more time to send reports back.

Christmas break came before Harry knew it, and for once they were all happy to go home to the safety of places that didn't have monsters in the walls.

For two weeks Harry had nothing to do, and he found his anger and feelings of sadness over Adrian and Colin growing. Voldemort had ruined almost every relationship he'd ever had, erasing friendships in the winds of time or outright killing them.

For all the research he'd done, he hadn't found out who Voldemort's agent was in the school, what monster he was using or where the mythical chamber was hidden.

The answer to any two of those questions would give him enough to work on a solution.

Returning to Hogwarts, Harry didn't find himself any closer to a solution. They questioned Myrtle, who only knew that the creature had been very large.

Harry continued with the Dueling club, working harder than ever. His intensity frightened some of the other students, and he insisted on going through more matches than anyone. As far as he was concerned, he needed the matches more than the average wizard.

The fifth and sixth years were brutal toward him, but he slowly began to learn how to deal with wandless magic; Flitwick began instructing him. It was difficult, but he knew it was absolutely necessary.

On Valentine's day he received no cards and no dwarves came to sing to him; that might have been because he was careful to not be in places where he knew the dwarves were. Harry suspected his reputation kept anyone from sending Valentines.

The rest of the school gradually relaxed as there were no more attacks, but Harry did not. He assumed that Voldemort was biding his time, waiting to make everyone complacent.

It was only a matter of time until the next attack and Harry wanted to be ready, He studied petrification and concluded that the most likely creature the enemy was using was a basilisk. He'd been able to understand it, and the basilisk was a form of snake, so this was the most likely culprit.

The deciding factor was learning that roosters had been slaughtered all throughout the school grounds. Roosters were fatal to basilisks.

Harry asked the twins to go to Hogsmeade and but some live chickens. They'd eventually forgiven him for the first darkness powder incident, although he was no longer working as their product tester. They suggested that he go to the Headmaster.

The headmaster was busy dealing with politics and set a time for a meeting in two weeks.

He still asked for the chickens, which he asked for Hagrid to care for in secret.

Harry named them Alpha and Omega.

Still, the school year went on. In March they had to choose their electives for the next year. Muggle studies would obviously be useless for him, and Harry asked some of the professors and learned that Divination was most likely rubbish, unless one actually had the talent.

Additionally it was taught by the woman who had ruined his life by having a vision in a crowded tavern. Harry hadn't realized that. From what he was told, it wasn't something she had voluntary control of, but it was one of the only two or three true prophecies she'd ever given.

He wasn't sure how you could determine a true prophecy from a false one until it came true, but he didn't want to take a class with the woman. His resentment would keep him from taking her class seriously.

Care of magical creatures he decided on almost immediately and Arithmancy, because he wasn't sure that studying ancient runes would do much for him. Arithmancy was apparently a requirement to become a curse breaker and helped with the creation of new spells.

On the day of the next Quidditch match, Harry insisted that they all go. Being alone in the castle was more dangerous than not, bludgers aside. By killing Colin, the enemy had showed that it was targeting Harry specifically, and Hermione and Neville were the only people he was truly invested in.

Harry's meeting with the Headmaster was scheduled for after the game. He separated from the others and headed for the Headmasters office, which was located in a tower through the Gargoyle corridor.

As he approached the tower, Harry heard a female voice from behind him.


Harry turned to see a familiar red haired girl; behind it was something huge and monstrous. He found himself drawn into its eyes. A sudden pain and he felt that his heart was being ripped from his chest.

A moment later he was dead.

Chapter Text

Snakes were everywhere and there were bodies on the ground. Harry grimaced as he realized just when he'd come back to.

He'd been foolish to think that he might be able to reverse Colin's death. This...effect, reliving his life over and over again was a curse. Every time to tried to have a friendship it was yanked away from him, either through death or time itself resetting.

Hermione and Neville had probably only survived because he couldn't spend much time with them.

Scowling, Harry went about reversing the spells, sending the snakes back to wherever they'd been conjured from. At least this time he didn't feel like becoming sick all over the floor. Maybe dying was getting easier?

He eyed the boys dispassionately. He could leave them where they were and no one would know that he had a part in their death. There wouldn't be any foolishness about his being an aspiring dark lord, and the general public wouldn't learn about his being a parselmouth.

However, the other students would still think attacking him was a viable option. The last thing he wanted to do was repeat the year over and over because the older Slytherins thought he was easy prey.

Harry took off down the hallway at a run; people were still in the Dueling club, including Snape, who was the one who'd taken care of it the last time.

As he ran, Harry's mind raced. He'd seen the girl who had been with the basilisk before. She usually sat at the Gryffindor table. She was a first year...and it didn't make sense that she would be able to control a monster that size.

The basilisk had dwarfed the troll Harry had faced in the first year by quite a bit. It was incredible that it managed to get through the school unobserved, even if it was moving through the walls. Where was it coming out?

Was the girl somehow disillusioning it?

Harry had lived eight than a year longer than his apparent physical age and he'd studied magic obsessively, and he still wouldn't have been able to disillusion something that size. How was a first year able to do it? Was she using some kind of item, like Harry's cloak? It would require something the size of a circus tent.

How was she controlling it? Why was she controlling it?

If she was genuinely evil, Harry doubted that the sorting hat would have placed her in Gryffindor. That was a place for gloryhounds and showoffs, not mass murderers.

Perhaps someone was putting her up to it.

There was a memory nagging at his mind, something that he couldn't quite put his finger on. Harry was sure that there was an incident that would shed some light on the current issue, but he couldn't remember and it was maddening.

Harry reached the dueling room, where Snape and Lockhart were still talking to some of the students.

"There's been an attack," Harry said. "Three of the boys are hurt."

Snape started to scowl, but a look at Harry's face convinced him. He began snapping instructions to those around him as he stepped out of the room following Harry.

"What happened?"

"They attacked me with snakes," Harry said. "I stopped them."

The last time he'd been more angry and so his responses to Snape had been less informative and probably less appropriate. He'd wondered if Snape was a part of the attack and so he'd been on his guard. Now Harry was just tired. It had been months since this happened in his personal timeline, and his anger had cooled.

"What?" Snape asked.

"They're all suffering from multiple snake bites from snakes they conjured; I tried a bezoar and it had no effect."

He had tried a bezoar the first time around; this time he'd known it wouldn't work and hadn't bothered trying.

"That only works for ingested poisons," Snape said. He scowled. "This is going to be a problem."

"Three sixth years attacking a second year with deadly snakes seems like a major problem to me, too," Harry said. "I did what I had to do."

Although he only cared minimally about Snape's opinion of him, he did want to avoid another rant in the Headmaster's office. He had more important things to discuss.

Snape was about to reply, but they reached the bodies of the three boys. After that he was too occupied to say anything else.

"They're alive," Snape said, "But barely."

Unlike the last time, when he'd been almost apoplectically angry, now he just seemed tired. The Headmaster was staring at Harry in a way that was different from before as well. Harry wasn't sure what to make of their reactions.

"The aurors have already been here and checked our wands," Harry said. "They'll be pressing charges once the boys recover."

Snape nodded shortly. He scowled. "It's surprising that this hasn't happened already."

"They'll be too afraid to attack me again," Harry said. He shrugged. "We've got more important matters to talk about."

"Three students almost died," Snape said. "What can you possibly think is more important?"

Harry glanced at Dumbledore. He'd been discussing things with the Headmaster before Snape had returned and the Headmaster had seemed impressed at his chain of logic.

"Harry has a theory that a basilisk is the source of young Mr. Creevy's untimely demise," Dumbledore said.

"And what would lead you to this...theory?"

Harry said, "I'm a parseltongue. It's how I turned the snakes back on Bletchly and the others. I heard the basilisk talking in the walls."

Snape stared at him for a moment. "And you didn't think to come to us with this immediately?"

Harry shrugged. "It could have been a ghost playing pranks, or maybe I finally snapped and started hearing things. It wasn't until I did some research and heard from Hagrid that someone was killing all the roosters on the grounds that I put two and two together."

The fact that he'd actually seen the basilisk wasn't something he could share with them, but hopefully he wouldn't have to.

He'd have liked to point the finger at the girl...he couldn't remember her first name, but she was apparently one of the Weasleys. Unfortunately, there was no way he could do that without revealing just how he knew.

She wasn't scheduled to kill anyone else for several months, so he felt safe in waiting.

"Mr. Potter has suggested posting roosters all around campus and then waiting to see if anyone attempts to kill them."

With any luck, the littlest Weasley would be caught and Harry would be free, at least until the Dark Lord could come up with a new plan.

"That sounds like a Potter plan," Snape said. "Something that involves death and destruction."

Harry shrugged. "I do my best."

"That wasn't a compliment."

The students thought the Roosters posted around the school were hilarious, and several had points lost and detentions for disturbing the roosters. The Weasley twins were caught several times turning the roosters different colors and transfiguring them.

They continued to do so until Harry pulled them aside and explained what the roosters were intended to do, at which point they quit.

Although Harry had feared that they would tell everyone why the roosters were there, thankfully they didn't want to start a panic any more than he did.

If the staff officially admitted there was a basilisk in the walls, the school would have to close while aurors descended on the school. Harry wasn't entirely averse to that happening.

However, no one had found the Chamber of Secrets in a thousand years and there was no guarantee that the aurors would be any better. Either they'd give up and reopen the school and everything would start all over again, or they wouldn't.

Harry had looked into other schools when he'd realized he'd be trapped in Slytherin. He'd learned that Durmstrang had a former Death Eater as Headmaster and wouldn't be safe. Beauxbatons had classes in French, and while Harry had learned some French in primary school he'd be at a serious disadvantage there.

He couldn't speak Portuguese at all, so the South American school was out. He couldn't speak Russian or Japanese or whatever language was spoken in the African school.

He doubted the Ministry would let him travel to America to study at Ilvermorny either.

Learning magic as quickly as possible was going to be his only defense during his final, inevitable confrontation with Voldemort. Anything that crippled that had to be avoided.

To that end, Harry resumed going to the Dueling club meetings. What he hadn't banked on was the other students reaction to the fact that he was suddenly five months more experienced in dueling and using magic.

Most of them assumed that he'd been holding back. Harry let them continue to believe that, and left them to wonder if he was still not showing his full ability.

Snape, however kept watching him with a speculative expression that Harry didn't like. Harry needed the training, and so he didn't let it stop him, but he found himself worrying just how much Snape was beginning to understand.

Despite Harry's plan, none of the roosters were killed or went missing. Harry heard Filch complaining about cleaning up after them often enough, even if it was most likely the House Elves that did most of the work.

Harry still felt safer having the roosters around. After all, although the girl hadn't attacked anyone in months in the last world, the current development had to be putting more pressure on her, which meant she was likely to change her strategies.

He took to watching her; oddly enough she didn't look as though she was under any additional strain. She laughed with her friends and seemed comfortable with everyone. She seemed to have the kind of social life that Harry himself hadn't had.

If he didn't know better, he never would have suspected her. Was she this good of an actress? Or had he been the one who was mistaken.

It was possible that she'd been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and that the basilisk was coming up behind her in an effort to devour them both.

Harry did a little more research on basilisks and learned that glasses didn't block line of sight for basilisks; it required seeing them indirectly, usually through a mirrored surface.

He talked to the Weasley twins about it, and they set to work developing a special set of glasses just in case he should ever see the basilisk again. Their ability to create items had improved over the year, but Harry wasn't certain they were up to the task he was giving them. He wasn't even sure what spells they could use.

They seemed intrigued by the challenge, however and set about it gleefully.

Harry supposed that if they were successful they'd be able to see to aurors and there might even be other uses he hadn't thought of yet, so it was a decent trade.

If the glasses worked the way he hoped, he wouldn't even be looking at the basilisk at all.

Of course, even without its gaze it was still a fifty foot long death machine. There wouldn't be a lot Harry could do it it attacked even if he wasn't worried about looking at it.

The only thing that remained was finding out just where the Chamber of Secrets was, if the Weasley girl really was responsible and who exactly she was working with.

Part of Harry still suspected Lockhart, although the evidence was growing that the man was genuinely incompetent. Even Quirrell hadn't been this good at acting like a fool, and he'd literally had Voldemort under his hat to advise him.

If it was someone else, that person was likely the real Heir.

So Harry began to stalk the younger Weasley girl. He followed her whenever he had free time, under his invisibility cloak.

Her life seemed horribly mundane. She had normal friends and participated in normal activities. She went to Quidditch matches, horsed around with friends out in the open and otherwise seemed to lead an unremarkable life.

Only the fact that she kept staring at him when she thought he wasn't looking kept him from assuming that he'd made a mistake.

The Weasleys became increasingly paranoid the more Harry talked to them about the basilisk. Most of their siblings were in the school and were at risk.

They were members of the dueling club, and they were amazed at how much Harry had improved from the year before. Like everyone else, they assumed he was some sort of prodigy.

Weeks passed and eventually they decided that Harry was the one who was most likely going to be able to solve the problem.

They decided to lend him something that Harry would have given his left leg for the year before.

Harry stared at the map. It was incredible, a work of art. It was far beyond anything he'd thought the Weasleys capable of.

It detected all eight hundred students, every staff member, ghost and even Mrs. Norris even though she was presumably just a cat. It didn't detect any of the roosters, owls or assorted pets that Harry knew infested the entire school.

There wasn't any sign of the basilisk, but that would have been too much to ask for.

"We didn't make it," George said. "We sort of...inherited it."

"You stole it, you mean," Harry said.

He could see where the Weasley girl was, in her room like she should be. Although he scanned carefully he didn't see anyone where they shouldn't be, except for two Hufflepuff prefects who were apparently doing something in a broom closet together. While that looked suspicious, Harry had a sneaking suspicion that it wasn't anything he wanted to look into very closely.

"We just thought that if anyone could use this it would be the hero of Slytherin." George said.

"Harry the snake charmer," Fred said grinning. "The man who plans to be Dumbledore by graduation if it kills him."

The irony of that statement made Harry grin despite himself.

"Now, this is a loan, not a gift," George said. "We reserve the right to take it back if we are engaged in any...extracurricular activities."

Pranks they meant. As long as they weren't targeting Harry he didn't really care.

However, it would be painful to give this map back. With this map he could go almost anywhere and not be at risk of getting caught. The map didn't depict portraits, but they rarely moved anyway, except to go visit each other.

"I'll treasure it," Harry said, sincere for once.

"As for the other thing," George said. "It's not exactly what you asked for, but it should do the trick."

Although it was more than Harry had hoped, he was irritated that they'd made the glasses look ridiculous. They looked like a visor that completely blocked the users vision, but the twins had painted concentric circles, like the x-ray glasses he'd seen in the back of some of Dudley's comic books.

"Were the circles necessary?" Harry asked.

The twins grinned at him.

"Totally necessary," they said in unison. "Absolutely required as part of the magic."

Harry scowled. They were lying and just making him look ridiculous intentionally.

"How do they work?" Harry asked.

"We modified the supersensory charm," Fred said. "We've tried it ourselves, and it'll take a little getting used to."

Harry nodded. He slipped the visor on, and his vision was suddenly enveloped in total darkness. He couldn't see a thing.

"Tap the glasses and it'll turn them on," one twin said.

Harry tapped the glasses, and he was suddenly overwhelmed by sensations. He could smell the Weasleys, hear every motion that they made, even make an educated guess at exactly where they were. He probably wouldn't be able to target something human sized with this, but the basilisk was fifty feet long.

It would take some time, but Harry could use this.

"This'll work," Harry said. "I'll get money to you as soon as I can get access to my vaults."

He pulled the visor off.

Both of the Weasleys had identical visors on. They looked ridiculous; both had customized their own visors. Fred's had a large nose on it while George's had eyeballs on springs that Harry was reasonably sure were nonfunctional.

"What, you think we're going to let you be the only one not to get dead?"

Harry spent the next three days looking at the map whenever he could without being noticed by anyone else. He slipped the map inside his school books and was able to mutter the phrase that activated and deactivated the map without anyone noticing.

Ginny always seemed to be where she was supposed to be. There weren't any surprises.

Harry carefully checked the map for anyone else who shouldn't be there. He learned that Lockhart seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time alone in the baths, Snape seemed to stay in his rooms or in the potions laboratory, and Dumbledore often wasn't around at all.

Even Mrs Norris seemed to keep a predictable schedule.

It wasn't until Harry woke on the third night that things changed.

He woke to the sound of Goyle snoring. That happened often enough that he'd gotten used to it, but it was worse now than usual.

Harry almost went back to sleep, but he decided to check the map before he did.

He put his head under his covers and dimly lit his wand. Ginny was out of the Gryffindor rooms and was on the move.

Harry froze.

If he went after her now, there was a good chance that he'd meet the basilisk again and that despite his visor he'd die again. Basilisks were type XXXXX creatures, wizard killers, and Harry suspected that like the snakes that had attacked Bletchly and the others it wouldn't need light to see him.

He'd read a report from an Animagus in the eighteen hundreds that had a snake form that snakes could see heat with organs between their eyes and their mouths. He said snakes could hear, and detect vibrations in the ground.

There was no guarantee that the basilisk was the same, but Harry didn't want to betr his life on that.

At the same time, if he lay in bed, there was a chance that this opportunity might not come again. Harry cursed to himself even as he was slipping out of bed and into his robes.

Feeling stupid, Harry slipped out of the room. He moved through the common room and out into the empty halls of Hogwarts outside.

The sense that he was racing to his doom intensified with every step he took.

At least death by basilisk gaze had only hurt for a moment. With his visor, Harry was much more likely to experience being chewed up first, which sounded like the most unpleasant death he'd experienced to date.

Chapter Text

Keeping an eye on the map, Harry raced through the hallways. It was clear now why the Weasleys had been so successful in their pranking. The ability to know where the professors were and where every other student was would have made getting around easy.

Harry didn't even bother with the invisibility cloak; it would be difficult to run with it and read the map at the same time.

Most of the portraits were sleeping, although a few called out indignantly as he raced by. Considering that Harry really didn't care about detentions or house points it didn't really matter. There wasn't anything the school could do to him with the exception of expulsion that could be any worse than what had happened to him already.

Despite this, Harry kept an eye out for other teachers. Mrs. Norris was still petrified, which meant that Filch was a great deal less dangerous, but Harry could see that Snape and McGonagall were still out patrolling.

Even if he'd been inclined to inform them, Harry couldn't take the risk that they'd stop him. Snape would ask why he was stalking Ginny Weasley, and Harry wouldn't have a good answer.

If he could find out enough this time he'd be able to stop it, even if he had to come back again. Dying without learning anything would just make everything worse.

She'd stopped in the hallway where the first message about the Chamber of Secrets had been left for almost five minutes. Harry still wasn't sure how she'd painted the message in blood considering that the words were too high for her to reach. Magic of some sort, he supposed.

If there was another message it would strongly suggest that she was the one painting them.

Harry stopped suddenly as Ginny vanished from the map.

She'd been in Myrtle's bathroom just a moment before and suddenly she vanished. Was it a glitch in the system? Harry quickly checked for everyone else that he knew, and he saw everyone was where he expected them to be.

Myrtle Warren had been killed in that bathroom, at least according to the records Harry had seen in the last iteration. There had been water at the site of the Chamber of Secrets message.

The conclusion was obvious. The chamber hadn't been found in a thousand years because it was warded somehow, and the entrance was in that bathroom.

Harry wouldn't be able to take on the Basilisk by himself, so he had to get help. Snape would be the obvious choice; Harry had seen enough of his skills during the dueling club meetings to know that he was probably a close match for Flitwick as a duelist. However, he wasn't sure whether he trusted Snape or not and Snape would ask too many questions. The same could be said for Dumbledore.

Trelawny wouldn't be able to protect anyone from a flobberworm, much less a full grown basilisk and Harry didn't want to lose Flitwick or McGonagall. He didn't know any of the other teachers well enough to ask them for help.

Lockhart however...if he was actually Voldemort's servant, this was Harry's chance to prove it. If he was simply faking his skills for some other reason, then Harry would have the assistance of a renowned monster fighter.

If he was an idiot, Harry was reasonably sure he could run faster than the man. Eating him might distract the Basilisk long enough for Harry to escape.

It was a risky plan, but there wasn't much of a choice.

"Her skeleton will lie in the Chamber forever? Hmmm..." Lockhart said, staring up at the message. "An intriguing problem. And you believe that the entrance is in the girl's bathroom."

"Do you think we should inform the other professors?" Harry asked.

Lockhart's answer to the question would lend a great deal to proving him in Voldemort's service or not. Any reasonable person would insist on informing the Headmaster or at least Snape. A basilisk was a lot for one wizard to handle.

"Nonsense, my boy," Lockhart said. His smile seemed forced though. "This is something we can handle ourselves."

Harry turned as though to head toward the girl's bathroom; he was ready when he saw Lockhart pulling his wand out.

"I'm sorry about this, boy...obliv-"

Harry had his wand before he could complete the sentence. He slapped Lockhart with a stinging charm.

"What's Voldemort planning?"

He wasn't able to use any of the Unforgivables, not least because he didn't know how, but he really didn't see why they were necessary. There were spells that accomplished most of what the Unforgiveables did without a mandatory lifetime in Azkaban.

"What?" Lockhart asked. "Help! Help!"

"There aren't any portraits to go get help anywhere near here," Harry said disgustedly. The man looked as though he was going to wet himself. At least Quirrell, for all his faults had been courageous. "That's why it was chosen as a place to put the message."

Pale and trembling, Lockhart said, "We can talk about this, Harry. Madam Pomprey has excellent calming draughts."

"Why is Voldemort attacking us with a basilisk instead of something more reasonable? Is he trying to threaten the Slytherin parents who didn't join him the last time?"

Harry had wracked his brain as to why Voldemort was using the basilisk. Was he trying to get the school shut down? Was it a simple terroristic attack meant to show that he could attack people where it hurt them the most?

Voldemort always seemed to have plans within plans.

"How long have you been working for Voldemort?" Harry asked, wand extended.

Lockhart flinched at the sound of the name. "I don't know what you're talking about. I've never worked for You-Know-Who."

"You were about to attack me," Harry said. He stared at Lockhart for a moment, then said, "I'm sure you've heard how I feel about that."

He pulled out Lockart's wand and leaned toward the man.

"I don't even have to use my own wand. Who do you think the aurors will believe, you, or the boy-who-lived? Especially if they check our wands."

Harry waited for a moment, staring at Lockhart. He really didn't want to torture the man; despite all his posturing he still had some scruples. He wasn't unaware of the fact that his scruples seemed to be deteriorating every time he died though.

A few more deaths and maybe it wouldn't bother him to have a grown man crying in front of him. Now, however it was hard to watch.

"I was just going to wipe your memory," Lockart said. "Get you to stop all this foolishness about the girl."

The spell he had almost cast had started with obli... It was just barely possible that he was telling the truth. Harry would have expected a killing curse, or at least a crucio or imperio from a Death Eater.

"You think I wouldn't figure it out?" Harry scowled.

"None of the others did!" Lockhart shouted.

Both of them froze, and Harry watched as the color drained out of Lockhart's face.

"None of who?"

The thought that Lockhart had been wiping the memories of Hermione or Neville, taking advantage of them made Harry feel enraged. His hand tightened on Lockhart's wand.

"What did you do to Hermione? To Neville?"

Harry slowly raised his wand and pointed it at Lockhart. He'd never realized that someone could literally see red, but he was now.

"I'm a fraud!" Lockhart blurted out. "All those things in the books...I didn't do any of them. I talked to the people who really did and then made them forget and took the credit."

"What?" Harry asked.

"I only took the job here because my book sales were declining and I hoped that I could ride your coattails to stay famous."

"And you didn't do anything to Hermione or Neville."

"They didn't know anything," Lockhart said. "Miss Granger was always a favorite of mine, attentive and helpful."

For all his paranoia, Harry suddenly realized that he believed Lockhart. An entire year of pretending to be an idiot, and the man hadn't slipped up once. No one was that good of an actor. Quirrell had slipped up numerous times, but no one had been watching.

Harry had been watching Lockhart closely.

A solution occurred to Harry. He'd been an idiot to think about going after the girl himself. What was he, a Gryffindor?

Harry felt himself being shaken awake.

His wand was in his hand and pointed at the shadowy figure standing over his bed before he was awake enough to realize what he was doing.

"Continue to point that wand at me, boy and you may not live to regret it," Snape gritted out.

Harry noted that Snape's own wand was also out, although carefully pointed toward the floor. Apparently Snape had some idea about how Harry was likely to react to being awakened in the middle of the night.

Harry suddenly wondered what had gone with his plan. Having Lockhart tell Snape that he'd found the girl himself but lost her in the bathroom, and having him tell Snape about the Weasley twins' countermeasures for the basilisk was supposed to save Harry a nasty bit of work.

"What's going on?" Harry asked.

"I suspect you already know," Snape said. He had a shrewd expression on his face. "You always seem to know everything that goes on if it involves the Dark Lord."

Harry glanced around the room. His roommates were all still asleep; apparently Snape had cast some sort of spell to muffle sound around his bed.

That was worrying; perhaps his roommates weren't as much protection as he'd thought. Being killed in his sleep would be almost impossible to solve if he never saw his own murderer.

"Ginny Weasley was seen going into what is believed to be the Chamber of Secrets," Snape said. "She has not come out."

"You can't find the way in?" Harry asked. That had been the one weakness in his plan all alone. The Chamber had remained hidden for a thousand years. Even knowing the room it was in might not be enough to find it.

"We questioned the ghost and are reasonably sure we've found the entrance," Snape said. "But it requires someone with Parseltongue to open it."

"Ginny Weasley's a parseltongue?" Harry asked, staring up at Snape stupidly.

"It would seem to be a requirement to being an Heir of Slytherin," Snape said dryly.

The only light coming into the room was coming from the door; Snape's face was wreathed in darkness.

Harry cursed to himself. Staying out of it had been the whole point. The last thing Harry wanted or needed was to be killed yet again and have to repeat the year over. He was sick of the year already and he'd only repeated a couple of months.

"Why not simply wait until she comes back up and capture her then?"

"I don't recall saying that she went alone," Snape said, and there was enough light to see him smirking.

"You didn't say she didn't."

"The Dark Lord has been looking to inhabit a body, and while the body of a female child might not be aesthetically pleasing, he is not particular."

Considering that he'd been willing to stay on the back of someone's head for a year, Harry could well believe that.

Harry grimaced. Snape was right. If there was a chance that whoever was coming back up wouldn't actually be Ginny Weasley they had to stop it. If Voldemort someone possessed Ginny entirely, he might be himself enough to actually kill Harry for good.

Reaching for his robes, Harry asked Snape, "The Weasley twins came up with a way to deal with the basilisk's gaze."

"I've been informed," Snape said.

The expression on his face made Harry want to laugh. The thought of seeing Snape wear the fake nose or even better yet the eyeballs on springs was enough to make getting up worthwhile. Harry wished he had Colin's camera available.

He slipped his own visor into his pocket, hoping Snape didn't see it. His visor was less humiliating than Snape's and therefore was likely to be confiscated.

"Let's go," Harry said.

"So what do I do?" Harry asked.

Apparently the Headmaster was away, presumably fighting Death Eaters, although it was possible that he had a love life of some kind. The fact that he was over a hundred made Harry want to scrub that image from his brain, not that he was actually a hundred percent what was involved.

"Ask it to open," Snape said. "It can't have been too complicated because the Dark Lord discovered how to open it when he was a boy."

Harry stared at the mirror in front of him and tried to remember what it had been like to speak snake. It took him a moment, but as he looked down at the faucet, he noticed a tiny snake engraved onto it. In the light it almost looked alive.

He finally opened his mouth and hissed "Open."

The pipe glowed and began to spin; a moment later the entire sink began to sink into the floor.

Harry carefully didn't look at Snape. If he really was working for the Dark Lord, there wouldn't be a better time to attack Harry. Taking him down into a dark pit where anything could happen.

"Go on back to bed, Potter," Snape said. He was staring at the blackness and his expression was suddenly one that was very tired.

Suddenly feeling much more charitable toward Snape, Harry said, "Don't forget to tap the glasses on the side, or they won't work."

If Snape really was working both sides, he had to want the war over almost as much as Harry did. There might be a chance that he could be an ally instead of an enemy.

Harry's only regret was not getting to see him in the glasses.

"Good luck, sir," Harry said.

Harry turned to go. It couldn't be easy, having to fight one's former master. Snape probably should have brought some backup, just in case.

Before he could leave, Harry thought he saw a movement from inside the shadows of the pit leading down into the Chamber. He saw the tip of a wand emerge from the shadows and before he could react, he heard a girlish voice yelling "Accio, boy!"

He found himself flying through the air. A moment later he found himself flashing past the figure of Ginny Weasley, who was returning fire from a spell being aimed at her by Snape.

She shouted the word "Close" in Parselmouth, and the small circle of light from the bathroom up above suddenly vanished up above. He heard Snape shout as he tried to reach the entrance but it was too late.

Harry fell down a steep slide; it seemed endless, especially as he was in total darkness. He couldn't see anything, although occasionally he felt strange breezes and thought he felt openings into the pipe as he flashed past.

He was going down headfirst; Harry wondered if he was going to crush his head when he finally reached his destination. If he did, at least he'd know how to get into the Chamber of Secrets.

It leveled out and he slid out onto the damp floor of a large tunnel. He struggled to his feet and pulled out his wand. Thankfully he hadn't lost it in the slide or he'd have been in deep trouble.

Harry backed slowly away from the entrance to the tube. Ginny likely had to come through the tube to get at him, but unfortunately, he didn't dare turn his back on anything. The chances of meeting the basilisk were too great.

Pulling the visor out of his pocket, Harry slipped it on.

With the goggles on he really couldn't see anything, but he could hear everything. He could hear Ginny running through some sort of side tunnel over his head, even has he heard the deep breathing of the basilisk off in the distance.

He turned and ran. He was going to have to fight her sooner or later, and catching her in the dark might give him the edge he needed to win. He still had the last of the Peruvian Darkness powder after all.

He was able to sense things well enough that he could run without hitting the walls. Eventually he came to a doorway in the wall. He had to reach out and feel the protrusions on the door to realize that they were in the shape of snakes.

"Open," he hissed, and they did.

He entered a wide hallway; in the distance he could hear the sound of labored breathing. He approached and he could sense a small figure lying huddled on the floor.

Wand out he slowly approached.

"It's your fault you know," a voice whispered in his ear.

Harry whirled around, but he couldn't see anyone.

"All the roosters, spoiling my plans...I knew who it had to be," the voice said. This time it was farther away.

Frustrated, Harry pulled his visor off, to discover that the room was dimly lit. Against a pillar stood an unfamiliar young man.

"Voldemort," he said, guessing. "Or Tom."

"Take your pick," the boy said smiling. "I had to speed up my plans, you know. I had intended to take over poor Ginny slowly; the transition is less painful that way, but you had to be difficult."

"I've been told that I am," Harry admitted.

"You don't appreciate everything I've done to get you here?" Tom asked. "Ginny found out about the map...and she mentioned that you might be able to use it to the twins. You'd be surprised how powerful the right word in the right ear can be."

"Why do you even want me here?" Harry asked. "If all you wanted was a new body, why bother with the basilisk. Why not just do everything quietly?"

"One has to develop a power base," Tom said, smirking. "The creature proves that I'm the heir and I will develop a following."

Harry stared. Voldemort already had a following; he wouldn't need to add anymore. Looking at Tom, he realized that the boy didn't look any older than sixteen.

"You're just a copy!" he blurted out.

"I am no copy!" the boy shouted. He suddenly had his wand in hand, and Harry was moving as well.

A moment later they were both pointing their wands at each other, standing and staring.

"Is that what the other one is going to think?" Harry asked. "He's thirty or forty years older than you and he already has his own followers."

"We are the same!" Tom insisted.

Harry shrugged. "I'm different than I was three years ago. I can't imagine how much I'll be different in thirty years."

"We will work together for a better world," Tom said. "One that is safe for the pure."

"As long as you are useful I suppose," Harry said. "And then he'll get rid of you."

At Tom's scowl, Harry said, "How long do you think he'll trust you? He knows you better than anyone, and he'll know you won't tolerate being second fiddle. He'll be waiting for you to stab him in the back, and he'll have to do it first."

Tom's expression changed. For a moment he looked troubled before he focused on Harry again."How very Slytherin of you. Trying to turn me against myself?"

Harry shrugged. "I figured you'd hate yourself. It was worth a try."

"We aren't so unalike," Tom said. "Brilliant, driven, flexible. I heard what you did to those felt like something I would have done at your age."

"I'm nothing like you!" Harry said, gritting his teeth.

"You are becoming more like me every day," Tom said. "It's a pity that's about to end. According to the prophecy, only one of us is going to survive, and I'm afraid it's not going to be you."

He stepped forward. "I don't know how you survived this long, but it ends now."

With that he called out in parseltongue, and a moment later Harry felt a rumbling in the floor. Something was coming, and it was coming fast.

Chapter Text

"Accio wand!" Harry shouted.

Tom had thought Harry hadn't seen the wand he was hiding, probably Ginny's, but Harry had, and although Riddle was solid enough to hold a wand, he wasn't solid enough to hold onto it.

Harry could see the great stone mouth opening and he could hear something moving from within. It was getting closer and he knew that if he didn't do something he was dead.

He slipped the visor on and shoved Ginny's wand in his pocket. He glanced over at Ginny's body and the thought of doing something to her to stop Tom from possessing her flashed across his mind, but he shook his head.

He was tired of losing people, even people he didn't know well. She was a victim, just as he had always been a victim, and he was tired of it.

As the world slipped into darkness, Harry was suddenly aware of everything once he tapped the side of the visor. He could smell the basilisk as it came, and he knew it was coming fast.

It slid into the room like a train, and Harry threw the last of his Peruvian Instant Darkness powder.

"Snakes don't need to see you to find you!" Tom said.

Casting a bubble headed charm was absolutely necessary if he was to survive what was to come. Harry did it quickly. When he'd come up with the plan a month ago he'd had to practice over and over to accomplish it.

He'd had a feeling that he'd somehow end up meeting the basilisk again, and he'd wanted to be prepared. As long as it could sense him, he didn't have much of a chance against a monster that could fight a full grown dragon. He'd thought long and hard about what he could do to level the playing field, and eventually he'd come up with a plan.

Harry closed his eyes, and pointed his wand. He'd been doing better in Transfiguration class lately, even if he didn't practice it with the same sort of dedication that he did defense.

He'd been practicing one sort of transmutation in particular after discussing it with Flitwick. He murmured the word and imagined it just as he had practiced it over and over.

In the opinion of Flitwick, the Carolina Reaper was the hottest pepper in the world. Tasting just the tiniest portion had made Harry wonder if he was going to die again and have to relive part of the year all over again. Ground into a fine powder, it was incredibly hot and incredibly dangerous.

Harry transfigured twenty pounds of rubble into powdered Carolina Reaper, and as the basilisk rushed into the room, he pointed his wand.


All twenty pounds blasted away from him, flying into the basilisk's face.

The basilisk screamed, slamming its head over and over into a pillar. Unlike a mammal, it couldn't blink its eyes to get the pepper out. The pepper filled its mouth and nostrils, clogging them with burning, searing pain. It couldn't see or smell; Harry would be surprised if it could think of anything except the blinding pain.

Harry ran, and the basilisk turned to follow him. Although it couldn't see or smell, it could feel the vibrations of his footsteps.

He screamed, "Diffindo!" as he ran, pointing back at the creature.

Basilisks didn't have the magic resistant hides that trolls did, but their sheer size made them difficult to affect. Still, Harry knew he'd struck the basilisk somewhere in the face when it roared again.

It slammed into a pillar moments after Harry leapt aside. His only advantage was physics. It was harder for something of the mass and sheer weight of the basilisk to start and stop, and that made Harry much more agile.

"Diffindo! Diffindo! Diffindo!"

Harry was cutting away at it, but he couldn't be precise in his attacks because the visor wasn't as good as actual sight. He was literally fighting blind, and it wasn't easy.

There was rubble on the ground that he couldn't see well. Harry tripped, and fell, turning as he saw the basilisk lunging toward him.

"Reducto!" He screamed.

It was a spell he'd only been practicing for two weeks, but it made things explode, which seemed like it might be useful.

The inside of the basilisk's mouth exploded, and it reared back, coughing desperately. Harry was back on his feet and he knew that he had to get off the ground. As long as he was on the ground the thing would be able to sense him running.

He made his way to a statue in the center of the room, and he began to climb, even as the basilisk struggled to breathe.

It managed to come back to itself even as he was halfway up the statue. It was blind and could no longer smell, and it couldn't sense him moving on the ground.

Slithering along the floor, it was looking for him. It didn't know exactly where he was, and Harry was glad he'd thrown the darkness powder or Tom would undoubtedly be calling out instructions.

Snakes couldn't actually hear, and so Harry began to work, using a switching spell on the base of the statue to one side to replace the strength and resilience of stone with the softness of his robe.

Unfortunately, he could only affect a couple of hundred pounds of stone, and the statue weighed tons.

He cast the spell again and again, but the basilisk was getting closer. It was only a matter of time before it realized that he wasn't on the floor at all and it would then start searching higher up.

Harry grimaced. The darkness powder wouldn't last forever either, and once it went, the ghost of Tom would be able to call out his location to the Basilisk.

He considered trying to talk to it, but although it might be able to hear him due to the magic of Parseltongue, it would also be able to find him, and after a face full of peppers, Harry didn't think it would be pleased with him.

Just because something could understand you didn't mean it had to listen.

The basilisk had reached the base of the statue and it was beginning to wind its way upward. Harry sliced a piece of statue off with a well placed diffindo, and then he transfigured it into more pepper. It drifted down and Harry hurried it along with another Depulso.

It screamed again, rearing back, but the reaction wasn't as powerful this time. Its mouth and nose were partially numbed by the first assault, and the pain wasn't as bad the second time around.

Now it knew he was up on the statue. It began to wind its way around the statue; it couldn't see him or hear him, and so it was going to find him by touch.

Harry began blasting away at its head with diffindo and reducto spells every time it wound its way around.

"He's above you, to the left!" he heard Tom's voice shout.

The darkness powder had worn off. Harry ducked as the basilisk's head lashed out, and as he did, he slipped out of the crook of the statue's arm. He started to fall, and he desperately grabbed hold for dear life.

His face smashed into the stone, and he heard a crack. Suddenly his visor was falling off his face; apparently the Weasleys hadn't build it to be very resilient.

He was blinded by the dim lights from the distant torches in the room, and he felt the basilisk's head smash into the rock not five feet from him.

Tom was calling out instructions, and Harry was barely hanging on.

His wand was falling, slipped out of his grasp, and Harry grimaced. If Tom got hold of the wand it was all over.

He struggled up into the crook of the arm of the statue just as the basilisk reared back to deliver a final, killing blow to him. He stared at it, realizing that it was all over when he felt something shift under him.

Part of the base had been made as flexible and weak as his robes. While not enough had been changed to have much of an effect, there was now tons of enraged basilisk clinging to it, with part of the basilisk extended outward in order to make that lunge.

Harry heard a cracking sound, and suddenly the entire statue began to veer to the right.

Harry inadvertently found himself staring at the basilisk, a potentially deadly mistake. However, what he was looking at was the ruin of its face, with small craters where its eyes had been. There were deep gashes all over its head, and it was bleeding from a dozen deep wounds.

Both of them screamed as they fell, tons of statue crashing down on the basilisk, and Harry falling to the ground. He struck the ground and the world turned to white for a moment.

It was hard to breathe, and Harry simply lay there for a moment. He suspected that he'd broken some of his ribs and he felt a little disjointed and confused. His heart was racing unsteadily in his ears. He felt light headed, and his skin suddenly felt cold and clammy.

There was a strange darkness around the end of his vision.

It wasn't until Harry heard a slithering sound that he decided against slipping into unconsciousness. He stared back to see the basilisk, its back broken trying to crawl toward him.

Tom was hissing in its ear, guiding it. He was watching Harry with a smirk on his face and Harry saw that he had Harry's wand.

The Voldemort of today would have simply finished Harry off himself, but this younger version seemed to want Harry to experience pain and fear.

Harry tried to get to his feet, but to his horror his upper leg moved while his lower leg simply stayed there. He pulled his robe up and saw that part of the bone was sticking out of his leg.

His other leg wasn't much better. Harry tried to pull himself along, but it didn't work, and he was losing strength by the moment. He was sure that he was bleeding from somewhere he couldn't see.

The world dimmed around him; he wasn't sure how long, and Harry woke suddenly to see Tom leaning down to whisper in his ear.

"And so it ends. Maybe my older self really has lost his grip...if he's failed to kill you twice. It was so easy, after all."

Harry saw a shadow above him. The basilisk's head was looming above Harry and Harry realized that this was it.

Desperately to glanced around; Flitwick's training came to mind. Always use the environment; doing so will keep you alive.

Harry scrabbled for Ginny's wand, but it was trapped under him. He tried to roll, and he saw something out of the corner of his eye.

A book laying next to Ginny Weasley.

Magical books sometimes had protections to keep them from being destroyed. It probably wouldn't make any difference, but...

"Accio Book!" Harry shouted.

He'd been working on the power of his wandless accios, and the book sped through the air toward him. He grabbed it and held it up, uselessly to block the fang.

The weight of the basilisk's head was too much for him, and Harry felt the book slam into his chest. The fang pierced the book and he heard Riddle screaming.

He wondered for a moment why the fang wasn't penetrating his chest. He wasn't absolutely certain it hadn't. He felt a tremendous pressure on his chest from the basilisk's fang. The other fang just missed his arm.

It took a moment with his increasingly fuzzy mind to realize that he'd switched the strength of the stone statue with the flexibility of his robes. For the moment his robes were as tough as stone, although when that failed the fang would simply pierce all the way through his body.

"Accio wand," He said. His voice was going weak.

He managed to summon his wand from where Tom had dropped it, and he weakly shoved it into the basilisk's mouth.

"Reducto!" he shouted, his voice sounding thin and watery.

The inside of the basilisk's head exploded in a fountain of blood and brains. Some of the pressure came off Harry, but he still knew it was only a matter of time before he died.

Somehow he couldn't find it in himself to care.

He heard the sound of running feet and voices calling out, but he couldn't understand what they were saying.

As he woke, he felt a moment of confusion. Had he died again? If so, when was this?

He was in the Hospital wing, and it took a moment to realize that the pain he was in probably meant that time hadn't reset.

"What's going on?" He asked. It felt as though his words were slurring.

"Hello, Mr. Potter," Madam Pomprey said. "I can say that you are in surprisingly good health for fighting a full grown basilisk on your own."

He stared up at her, his mind struggling to understand.

"The broken legs and ribs were no trouble to heal right away, but I'm afraid that even with the best medical spells available concussions take longer to heal. If you'd been poisoned by the basilisk, there wouldn't have been anything I could do."

Harry nodded.

"It will take time to heal," Pomprey said.

Before he could respond, she was coming at him with a spoonful of liquid that tasted like old socks. Harry wished that he didn't know what old socks tasted like, but his time with Dudley and his gang had been less than propitious.

Before he could protest, he was already asleep.

By the time he woke up again, it was already three days later. To his surprise, it was Snape sitting beside his bed, reading from a book.

"Awake, Potter?" Snape asked.

Harry shrugged. His mouth felt incredibly dry.

"It's been three days," Snape said. "And that's all you have to say for yourself?"

"I'm thirsty." Harry said.

After taking a sip of water, Harry asked, "How's the girl?"

"Her lungs were damaged by some sort of irritant," Snape said. "If we hadn't arrived when she did, there was a chance she could have died."

Harry grimaced. He hadn't been thinking about the girl when the snake came. Becoming obsessively focused with one thing to the exclusion of other important things seemed to be one of his flaws.

"She's in St. Mungos but she'll make a full recovery," Snape said.

"Good," Harry said. "And is Tom really gone?"

"The Headmaster seems to think so," Snape said neutrally. "He has the book in his possession, what's left of it."

Harry nodded tiredly. There was something he was forgetting about the book, something that was vitally important.

"It wasn't the girl's fault. She was possessed."

Snape nodded. He was silent for a long moment before he said awkwardly, "Potter..."

"It had to be done," Harry said, shaking his head. He was pleased to see that there was no pain or dizziness.

He frowned. "Who owns the basilisk?"


"I understand that basilisk parts are pretty valuable," Harry said. "Since I was the one who killed it..."

Snape stared at him for a moment, then his lip twitched. "And here I was thinking you'd decided to start acting like a Gryffindor."

"Well, the school probably owns most of it," Harry said. "But I'd like to share my portion with you."

Snape didn't speak for a long moment, staring at him with an inscrutable expression. "Why would you do something like that?"

"I don't know anything about rendering down a basilisk," Harry said. "Whereas you are an expert, I would presume. The last thing I want to do is be digging around in basilisk guts, while that seems to be your sort of thing."

"So you want me to do all the work," Snape said. "While you reap all the profits."

"I already did the hard part," Harry said. "What do you want?"

Snape eventually agreed to the deal in return for forty percent of the profits. Apparently Harry had already exploded most of the most valuable parts, which were in the basilisk's head, but the rest of the body still had some value.

It was another day before Madam Pomprey decided that Harry could return to classes, at which point he discovered that he was suddenly a celebrity.

The Weasley twins had been going around the school telling everyone about how he'd killed the basilisk on his own and saved their little sister.

Harry felt uncomfortable and threatened by the sudden spotlight. Everyone was suddenly acting friendly towards him and he didn't know how to take it.

"Children will be who they are Harry," Dumbledore was saying. "I'm sure it will all die down soon."

"It can't be soon enough," Harry grumbled.

People being nice to him creeped him out; he kept wondering what kind of ulterior motives they had and it was exhausting.

"Sometimes people really can appreciate a good deed," Dumbledore said. "Learning to appreciate it would stand you in good stead."

Harry scowled, staring at the table. He was almost tempted to take one of Dumbledore's candies, except that he was convinced they were laced with Veritaserum.

The door slammed open, and Lucius Malfoy stepped into the room. His face was thunderously angry. Behind him was Dobby, the mad elf.

Harry's mind raced. Dobby had been trying to convince him not to come to Hogwarts because of something he'd heard in his household...something in Malfoy's household.

A sudden memory of the elder Malfoy slipping a book into a young girl's pale flashed across his memory. This was what he'd been trying to remember. This was the thing that had been nagging at his mind for longer than he cared to admit.

Harry murmured "Accio" under his breath and summoned the book to him wandlessly.

As the two men began arguing, Harry slipped out the door. From the sharp look the Headmaster was giving him, he knew exactly what Harry had done.

"You forgot this," Harry said.

He'd been waiting outside for the argument to finish. Apparently Malfoy had lost, because his expression was black as a thundercloud.

Shoving the book into Malfoy's hand, he gave a significant look at Dobby and he reached into his pocket for his wand.

Malfoy stared at the ruined book for a moment, then looked up at Harry. "What are you playing at boy?"

Absentmindedly he handed the book to Dobby.

Harry grinned as the House Elf opened the book and froze.

"Dobby is free!" the elf squealed, holding up the sock Harry had shoved indie like a bookmark. "Master has given him a sock!"

Malfoy froze, staring at Harry. His expression turned ugly and he lunged toward him, reaching for his wand.

His wand wasn't there, and a moment later he realized that Harry's wand tip was pointed at his nose.

Harry was holding Mr. Malfoy's wand in his other hand. "How would your son feel if I suddenly decided to redecorate the wall behind you?"

The senior Malfoy was frozen, staring at Harry.

"I seem to have a habit of blowing the back of things head's off...troll, basilisk. After what you did, you aren't that much different than any other monster."

"You wouldn't," Malfoy spat.

"I've killed your master twice already," Harry smirked. "What's another Death Eater, more or less.?"

From Malfoy's expression he was surprised about the first time. Perhaps he wasn't as close to the inner circle as he thought.

"The Sorting Hat seemed to think I'm just like your master," Harry said. "Tom seemed to think so too. I sometimes think I'm getting to be a little more like him every days."

Lucius Malfoy was staring at him.

"Your master killed a boy while your son wasn't fifty feet away," Harry said. "A few minutes and it could have been Draco that was killed. Are you sure you are serving the right master?"

Silence filled the hallway for almost a minute as they stared at each other.

Finally Harry said, "I'll do a favor for Draco this once, but if you come against me again you'd better kill me, because next time it won't be a House Elf that I take from you."

He tossed Malfoy's wand down the hall and he deliberately turned his back on the man. If Malfoy attacked him now, he would kill him.

Apparently Malfoy knew it, because he didn't speak a word as Harry walked away.

Chapter Text

Life as a celebrity had its perks, but it also had its downsides.

The anonymity Harry had once enjoyed was gone; likely it had never really been there but people had at least pretended. Harry had been persona non grata for much of the student body for so long that now that people were actually paying attention he felt as though a spotlight was being shone on him and his activities.

Gryffindors actually smiled at him in the hallways. Apparently Ginny Weasley was popular and saving her had been his way into their good graces, at least for now.

Harry knew, however that people were fickle. It was only a matter of time before they returned to hating him, and he couldn't forget the way they'd treated him, both currently and during times they didn't even remember.

Still, some of the Slytherins were making quiet overtures of friendship. They still weren't willing to go public; that would be a good way to get attacked or to have their families face retaliation. However, there was a sense that the battle between Voldemort and Harry wouldn't be quite as one sided as everyone had always assumed.

Harry knew that this would enrage Voldemort and his followers. They'd have to respond because the fear of the populace was a great deal of their power base. Harry's popularity would be a threat to that.

Yet somehow the attack that Harry was expecting never came.

He didn't really think that threatening Lucius Malfoy had really accomplished anything. The man was a hardened Death Eater, and had likely faced death in the face even more times than Harry himself.

However, he still wasn't so far along the path that Tom Riddle had trod that he'd actually been willing to cut through the man's head in cold blood right in front of the Headmaster's office. That would have made his sleeping arrangements a little awkward, considering that the man's son slept less than ten feet away from him.

Malfoy would attack again, and the next time Harry wouldn't show any mercy.

The House Elf had been awestruck by Harry and had been embarrassingly grateful. Harry had managed to get him to promise never to attack Harry again. The elf had promised to help Harry if he ever needed it, a promise that Harry suspected that he would need sooner or later.

The Weasleys had been effusive in their thanks; their family was even larger than Harry had thought and the twins informed him that there were more who were away working.

Life slowly got back to normal.

Harry didn't inform on Lockhart because he rather liked having a professor in his pocket. Lockhart promised to teach him the memory removing charm after Harry told him that he'd written everything down in a place only Harry could find.

Months passed with no further attacks, and Harry slowly began to develop a few acquaintances.

Contrary to expectations, the year ended peacefully, and Harry returned home, pleased that he hadn't been murdered in more than half a year.

Coming back to the Dursleys after months of being relatively popular was a disturbing contrast.

Although they didn't treat him nearly as bad as they once had, there was still an attitude of cold indifference. Harry had once chosen to see that as the best life possibly could be and it was an adjustment to realize that it wasn't.

Still, he managed to reach an accommodation within a couple of weeks. He hadn't lost his Slytherin skills of controlling his emotions, and that helped him to be compliant when Vernon was being particularly annoying.

Petunia watched him increasingly, though. He'd told them about how the basilisk had almost killed him, hoping that would cheer them up but it seemed to have the opposite effect on her. It seemed to remind her that he was growing stronger every day, stronger and more dangerous.

The fragile peace they accomplished was something to be valued. It wasn't until Harry learned that Aunt Marge was going to visit that he realized that would be threatened.

He'd never liked Marge. Unlike the Dursleys, she'd never heard about his magic, about dark wizards or terroristic threats. She'd always been unpleasant simply out of spite.

Harry wasn't even the only one she vented her bile on. Petunia always had a pinched look whenever she came over.

"You've been doing better lately, boy," Vernon said. "Almost acting like a respectable human being instead of one of them. Keep it up...keep a respectful tongue in your mouth with Marge."

Harry scowled. Part of the reason he'd been more respectful of the Dursleys was that he could understand why they acted like they did. He'd put their entire family in danger and he was a threat to them every day that he stayed.

He couldn't understand Marge at all. He suspected that in the Wizarding world she'd have been a Death Eater, and she'd have raised Hell Hounds.

"Second, no mention of any funny stuff," Vernon said. "She doesn't need to know about any of it."

On that, Harry agreed. Letting Marge know even more things she could taunt Harry about was the last thing he wanted.

"And third, we've told Marge that you attend Stonewall High. Stick to the story and don't get caught up in the details."

Harry stared at the older man. Vernon was giving him lessons on lying? Apparently Harry hadn't gone into enough detail about just what Slytherin was.

He'd already gotten them to sign his Hogsmeade permission form.

Although Harry had no intention of casually allowing himself to be the target of assassins, there might be times when he needed things in Hogsmeade. Having permission would make everything easier.

Surely Aunt Marge couldn't be any harder to deal with than sitting across the breakfast table every day from people who wanted him dead.

"Calling my mother a bitch?" Harry stared at Marge. "That's funny, coming from you."

If he'd had time to become more emotionally invested in his parents, Harry was sure that his magic would have exploded around him. As it was, only Slytherin control had kept him from decorating the walls with the back of Marge's head.

He could see that Petunia knew it too. She was pale, staring at him, even if Vernon didn't know the danger.

"What are you saying, boy?" Marge asked suspiciously.

"I'm saying it takes one to know one," Harry said.

Marge's face reddened and she reached out to slap Harry. Harry was already moving, stepping out of her range.

It was important to predict just how people were likely to react.

Vernon's face was already turning red, but Harry could see a secret glee on Petunia's face. Petunia had never liked Marge, not really, although she'd tolerated her.

"My mother...even my aunt," Harry said, glancing at Petunia. "You aren't fit to lick their boots. You talk about blood, but uncle Vernon is worth two of you."

What he didn't say was exactly how much he thought his aunt and uncle were worth. More than Marge at any rate.

As Vernon roared and came after him, Harry ducked around him and sprinted up the stairs. He could hear Vernon stomping up the stairs after him.

Harry reached his room and he turned around, holding his wand.

Vernon skidded to a stop at the top of the stairs. His face was red and he was breathing hard but there was an undercurrent of fear in his eyes.

Harry started screaming at the top of his lungs and banging the wall.

"What are you doing, boy?" Vernon asked, staring at him as though he'd suddenly gone insane. His anger had been replaced by confusion.

"Aunt Marge won't respect you unless she thinks you've punished me properly," Harry said. He leaned forward. "And this way you've got an excuse to ground me to my room for the rest of her visit. That way I don't have to listen to her and there won't be a chance of something...freaky happening."

"You planned all that?" Vernon asked, staring at him.

Harry grinned. After three days of listening to Marge, the idea had taken root and had become almost irresistible. She'd given him the opening he'd needed and he'd taken it.

Harry started to yell again as though Vernon was killing him, crying out that he was sorry and wouldn't do it again.

"That's enough!" Vernon said. "Keep it up and the neighbors are going to call the police."

The Dursleys were very concerned about what the neighbors thought. Harry wondered if he should have started making a scene years before.

Vernon must have seen something in his expression, because he leaned forward. "If they call the police, they'll come and take you away. How long would you last out there with all of them looking for you?"

Sobering instantly, Harry suddenly became quiet. Vernon had a good point, and Harry hadn't realized that he was bright enough to make a point like that.

"I'll be good," he promised. He was silent for a moment. "Why do you put up with Aunt Marge? She doesn't respect Aunt Petunia and she even looks down on you sometimes."

Vernon stared at him for a moment, then said, "You wouldn't understand what it's like with family, boy...when you've got a brother or sister."

In a better family Dudley would have been like Harry's brother, Harry thought. He was bright enough not to say it.

Harry nodded. "You'd better sell it when you go down, or she'll never believe it."

"What are they teaching you in that school of yours?" Vernon asked. "I knew they were freaks, but teaching you to lie like this?"

"I'm surrounded by people who hate me," Harry said. "I've got to learn to lie."

Vernon scowled. Considering that Harry hadn't said whether the people who hated him were at school or at home, that wasn't surprising.

Harry stepped into his room and slammed the door. He heard Vernon stomping down the stairs, bragging loudly about how he'd put Harry in his place.

The fact that he'd let Harry essentially dictate the terms of what was going to happen had seemingly escaped him.

Even better, he'd gotten to call Aunt Marge a bitch to her face and had essentially gotten rewarded for it.

That evening, to his surprise, Aunt Petunia left him a piece of cake along with his dinner. Harry suspected that it was because he'd gotten to say what she'd always wanted to say to Marge.

Running the gauntlet in the train station before getting to the Hogwarts Express was getting easier every year. Not only was Harry getting better at being stealthy, he was less worried about what would happen if he was caught. He still wasn't the match for a full Death Eater, but he probably could fight an out of practice adult wizard who was simply out for the bounty.

His disguises were getting better. No one had recognized him yet in Diagon Alley, and speculation in the Daily Prophet was that he was having someone else pick up his school supplies every year. The fact that no one had caught on was proof of the blind spot wizards had about muggle methods sometimes.

Having a disguise he could remove before entering Gringott's and then reapply had been more difficult, but he'd practiced.

He'd been pleased at the contents of his vault. Rendering the basilisk had doubled his fortune. Although he'd been a little disappointed that it wasn't more, Snape had explained that he'd damaged or exploded all of the really good parts of the basilisk when he'd damaged its head.

Fifty thousand galleons wasn't something Harry had needed strictly, but he was an optimist. If he ever actually did kill Voldemort and his followers, he'd need something to fall back on.

Snape had seemed pleased with his own share, which was half of what Harry had made.

Hogwarts had kept seventy percent, reasoning that if the Basilisk belonged to Salazar Slytherin and it was found in the school, it was property of the school. Harry had tried to argue with the Headmaster, but had found him a proficient arguer. More than a hundred years in politics had given him skills.

The money would probably give Dumbledore leverage in case of another disaster. Since the school seemed to be a target of Voldemort's attacks, he probably needed the extra help. This, and the fear that Dumbledore would simply take it all had caused Harry to give in.

Harry hadn't even bothered to wear a disguise this year as he walked into King's cross road. He'd used a number of different muggle transportation methods- cab and bus and underground in disguise before he'd cleaned himself up and taken the Knight bus to King's cross road. The last thing he wanted was for a smarter Death Eater to find out the general area he lived in by using magic on his cab driver.

No disguise meant that people called out to him as he got on the bus. He looked for Hermione and Neville, and found them waiting to get on the train.

"Harry!" Hermione said. "Are you all right?"

"Are you talking about the convict that's trying to kill me?" Harry asked. "The Ministry sent me a letter about it."

"Aren't you worried?"

Harry shrugged. "I have hundreds of Death Eaters and even more random wizards out to collect the bounty after me. What's one more wizard, especially one that hasn't practiced magic in twelve years?"

Hermione frowned. "I never thought I'd say this, but you can't take it too lightly."

"If he comes for me, I'll be ready for him."

"You're getting overconfident, Harry," Hermione said as they stepped onto the train. "He's a full grown wizard and crazy too. Have you seen his picture in the Wizarding paper?"

As was Harry's habit, he'd waited until late to reach the train. He figured that would give any attackers less time to find him and kill him. He was surprised that Hermione and Neville were late this year as well. Usually they had a compartment reserved for him.

The train seemed unusually full this year; there wasn't an empty car to be found except at the end of the train, where there was a single adult man who seemed to be sleeping.

Harry was immediately on his guard. Adults usually weren't on the train and this man's being here was immediately suspicious. The fact that the man looked ill and exhausted didn't lessen his suspicion. Quirrell had been dying when he taught Harry's first year.

Gingerly sitting as far as he could from the man, Harry kept his hand on his wand.

"You think he's the new professor?" Neville asked.

To Harry's disgust, Lockhart had been caught in a scandal with a fifth year girl at the end of last year and his other lies had been discovered. Although he hadn't been much of a Defense Professor, Harry had put a lot of work into blackmailing him and making him think they were friends.

At least Harry could now manage a decent memory charm if necessary. If it weren't for the Trace, that would make life at the Dursley's enormously easy...possibly part of the reason for the Trace. After all, without restrictions on underage magic, Harry could have utterly terrorized the Dursleys by the end of his first year.

"His bag says Professor Lupin," Hermione pointed out.

"If I were a Death Eater pretending to be a professor, I'd get a bag like that too," Harry said grimly. Little details were important in creating a believable disguise.

The man's shabby clothes certainly didn't look like those of any of the other professors.

"Are you excited about finally getting to go to Hogsmeade this year?" Neville asked Harry. "I've heard the sweet shop is amazing."

"I'd be more interested in the joke shop and the book shop," Harry said. "The Weasley twins have been charging me a fortune to deliver things from there. I'm not sure how often I'll get to go though, what with the bounty on my head."

Harry fully planned to go; he simply intended to be in disguise when he did. Saying that in front of a potential Death Eater would be stupid though.

"You shouldn't go at all until Sirius Black is caught," Hermione said.

"What, this is the year you've finally decided that I'm in danger?" Harry asked, staring at her. "I've been telling you that since first year!"

"This is the first year a maniac is after you!"

Harry snorted. "There's a few hundred maniacs after me all the time."

The train started and they spent the first few minutes chatting about their summers. Harry kept his discussion about his own family situation vague. He suspected that the professor, or whoever he was was only pretending to sleep so he could eavesdrop on him.

Still, he enjoyed hearing about Neville and Hermione's summers, so different from his own. Hermione had spend the summer in France, and Neville had spent the summer in his garden,growing magical plants.

As the afternoon wore on, Harry became more convinced that the man was faking. He hadn't attacked yet, but Harry kept an eye on him. Night eventually fell.

He was winning a game of wizard chess with Neville when the train suddenly began slowing.

"We can't be there yet," Hermione said, staring out the window.

Hogsmeade was nowhere in sight.

Suddenly the train slammed on the brakes and Harry was thrown forward. He was struck in the head by falling luggage and the lights all went out.

"What's going on?" Neville asked.

"It's an attack," Harry said grimly. He should have seen it before. Outlaws had stopped trains in America in the past to rob them; why couldn't Death Eaters attack a train with a known route in order to get to Harry?

He'd been foolish to think he was safe as long as he stayed in the car and away from any upper years.

Glancing outside, Harry didn't see the attackers on brooms that he'd expected, but that might mean that they were already on the train.

There was movement from the corner; the man pretending to be a professor had woken up. Harry turned his wand toward the man, who looked at him irritably. In his hand was what seemed like a handful of fire, flickering.

"I'm not going to attack you," the man said. He carefully kept his wand away pointed down.

Apparently he knew about Harry's reputation. "I'm going to see what's going on. Stay here."

He headed for the door of the compartment, stepping around the trunks on the floor. Harry kept his wand trained on the man as he approached the door.

Before he could reach the door, it slowly slid open.

On the other side was a horror out of Harry's worst nightmares.

Chapter Text

Towering to the ceiling, a cloaked figure stood in the doorway. Its face was completely concealed by its hood. A hand stretched out like the hand of death itself toward Harry, and it was greyish and slimy and dead looking.

The creature drew in a long, slow rattling breath, and Harry felt a sudden wave of cold suddenly sweep over the entire compartment, as though the creature was drawing all the heat from the room. From the corner of his eye Harry could see frost beginning to form on the windows.

It was the cold of the grave, and it was a deeper cold than anything Harry had ever experienced. It was a cold that filled his lungs and began to reach its claws deeper into his chest, into his heart itself.

Harry felt himself falling, and his eyes rolled up into his head. He was drowning in the cold; he couldn't catch a breath. He was being pulled under and none of the skills he'd fought so long and hard for were going to make any difference at all.

He felt that first terrible moment as Quirrel's knife plunged into him. It was only a pressure at first until the knife came out, and he saw the blood. It was only then that the pain came. The sense of disbelief and the realization that he was dying. The terror as he realized that it was over, but it wasn't; it was just beginning.

The second time was worse, because he knew what to expect when he felt that terrible pressure. He anticipated the pain, and it was all the worse, especially as the men stabbed him over and over.

Falling and being pulled under wheels, the pain lasting far longer than he could have ever imagined, unable even to scream as he felt his body being mangled and ultimately pulled apart.

The impact of a massive club; by comparison less painful because it was quicker, but with more time before to anticipate the pain.

Death by spell, painful but less than by mundane methods, almost humane but still frightening. Followed by an explosion.

The glare of eyes causing his heart to clench in his chest.

He went through each and every death, not just once but over and over and in the background he could hear the sound of a woman screaming his name.

After a seeming eternity it ended, and he felt someone slapping his face.

He grabbed for his wand, but apparently his friends knew him better than he'd thought; they'd taken his wand out of reach.

"Are you all right?" Hermione was saying. "I think you had some kind of seizure."

The professor was standing over them and he said, "I've never seen that kind of a reaction to a dementor before."

"Dementor?" Harry asked, confused.

He'd studied the creatures he was likely to encounter around Hogwarts in detail, learning everything from how to deal with Grindylows to the effects of giving clothes to House elves.

Other creatures he hadn't worried about, assuming that he'd learn about them in school or pick it up later if necessary.

Apparently it was now necessary.

"How did you get rid of it?" Harry rasped. His throat felt parched, as though he hadn't drank in a week.

"There's a spell," the man said. "I summoned a patronus and it drove it away."

Harry was so rattled that when the man handed him a large piece of chocolate he took it and ate it without even checking to see if his bezoar was still in his pocket.

"Tell me about Dementors," Harry said. He felt warmth spreading throughout his body to his fingers and toes, and it only now belatedly occurred to him to worry about poisoning.

"They feed on happiness," the man said reluctantly, glancing at Hermione and Neville. "And they can utterly devour someone's soul. Once they've taken all the happiness in someone, all that's left is depression and despair."

"What happens if they take someone's soul?" Harry asked, horrorstruck.

"There's nothing left...just an empty shell." The man stared at Harry, watching carefully to see how he took the news.

"How do you kill them?" Harry asked. This suddenly felt as though it was the most important question in the world.

The train started again with a jerk, and Harry saw his friends give each other significant looks. They'd obviously never seen him this unnerved.

"You don't," the man said. "All you can do is drive them away and keep them from breeding."

Harry grimaced. His hands were still shaking, and it wasn't from the aftermath of the seizure or whatever it was.

He still didn't know how the time resets really worked. It was possible that whenever his body died his soul simply went back in time and inhabited an earlier version of himself.

However, if his soul was destroyed, there wouldn't be anything to go back in time, and he might live his life as an empty shell only to die and suddenly wake up as a younger version of himself, but still a shell.

Would he still have his younger soul, or would Malfoy simply try to wake him for breakfast to find an empty, staring husk?

"Why are they here?" Harry asked after a long silence.

"The Ministry sent them here to protect you from Sirius Black," Lupin said.

Harry felt a rage suddenly blossom in his chest. The Ministry was the cause of more of the problems in his life than anyone with the exception of Voldemort himself and his followers. The Ministry was the organization that insisted he go to Hogwarts and become a target instead of being taught privately at home.

The Ministry was the group that had disseminated the contents of the prophecy Trelawny had uttered in a crowded pub; undoubtedly it would have gotten out anyway, but the Ministry had actively spread it after his parents' deaths.

They were the ones who kept making him a target instead of letting him fade into the shadows. They'd even forced him onto the Dursleys, leading to a lifetime of resentment.

He could have been happily anonymous in the wilds of America or Australia somewhere, but they needed him as a figurehead.

Now that were trying to take his very soul.

"By killing me," Harry said. "Worse than killing me...depriving me of any possibility of an afterlife. What did I ever do to them?"

Harry decided in that moment to find out who was responsible; he'd make sure to ruin their political career if they were simply incompetent. If they were actively in league with Voldemort, he'd do worse.

He hadn't been ready to kill Malfoy senior in a hallway in Hogwarts, but Malfoy had only been trying to kill him, not to destroy his soul.

"Do you have any idea why it would have affected you so strongly, Harry?" the man asked suddenly.

Harry scowled. "How many happy memories do you think I have? Neville and Hermione have a lifetime, but the only ones I've had are those we've had together, and those are all too few."

He'd rarely let himself be happy, his worry and attempts to control what was going to happen making even times that should have been happy less so.

"Harry's been through...more than most people," Hermione explained. "There was an incident with a troll, and a basilisk..."

"And being pushed off stairs," Neville said. "And finding the soul of You-know-who..."

"We'd better get you to the medi-witch," the man said. "Seizures are nothing to take lightly. They can cause brain damage."

Harry nodded grimly. The last thing he needed was to become a drooling idiot; he was going to need all his wits if he was going to leave his soul intact.

He'd been a fool, feeling confident that he could take on anything. Anything he couldn't take on he'd just get a chance to re-do.

Now that certainty was gone, and it frightened him in a way that he hadn't been frightened in a long time.

The train ride was only a short while longer and they ended it in silence.

Harry absentmindedly patted the Thestrels before stepping into the carriage taking him up to Hogwarts. Once there he was intercepted by Professor McGonagall and rushed to the hospital wing.

"I've never seen a seizure from a dementor attack before," Pomprey said. "I think it's best if you stay overnight."

Thus Harry missed the sorting feast entirely, and it wasn't until the next day that he learned the entire school was ringed with dementors.

Hermione and Neville had known him well enough not to tell anyone what had happened to him with the dementor. However, his absence from the sorting hat feast was noticed.

"Where were you last night, Potter?" asked Malfoy.

Harry stared at him for a moment, debating how much to tell him. "I was attacked by a dementor last night."

Malfoy stared at him. "Are you going to be attacked by every animal and creature out there?"

Harry shrugged. It was hard not to show his terror about dementors; he'd had nightmares about them all night until Pomprey had been forced to feed him a potion of dreamless sleep.

"That's why I work so hard in Defense," Harry said. "So I won't be surprised when some random rabbit tries to rip out my throat."

Malfoy gave him a rare grin. "I'll bet you hated finding something you couldn't kill."

"I'll invent a way to kill them if I have to," Harry said. "Or learn how to blow them into outer space if I can't."

"Outer space?" Malfoy asked.

"What we're studying in Astronomy class," Harry said. "No air, just floating around forever until the sun sucks you up and you burn into nothing."

Malfoy shuddered. "You're really morbid."

Harry shrugged, turning as the prefect began handing out class schedules.

He had Arithmancy class at nine o'clock; it was a joint Slytherin Gryffindor class and he suspected he'd see Hermione there. Later he'd have transfiguration, and then Care of Magical creatures.

From the way some of his fellow Slytherins were grumbling, Harry gathered that Hagrid was the new teacher. He wasn't sure that was a good idea.

After all, Hagrid was the one who thought a dragon in a small wooden hut was a good idea. He'd brought giant man eating spiders to school when he was young. He'd dragged Harry and other first years out into the Forbidden Forest late at night to find something that was killing large magical animals.

Harry would trust Hagrid to be his friend, but he wouldn't trust him to know what was safe, and he definitely wouldn't trust him to keep a secret. The book that had been assigned for the class had almost taken Harry's arm off.

Without magic he'd been forced to fight with the thing and he hadn't been able to figure out how to use it at all.

He had considered using it to terrorize Dudley; he might have done so if that wouldn't have threatened the unstable accord he'd managed to reach with his aunt and uncle.

Seeing Hermione in Arithmancy was a relief. It was good to have a class together other than potions; Arithmancy was the most complicated class that Harry had been exposed to in Hogwarts. In part it was because it involved mathematics, and while his classmates hadn't done mathematics in two years, it had been three for Harry, due to his resets.

Hermione promised to help him with it.

According to Professor Vector, Arithmancy was needed to help in the creation of new spells as well as breaking curses. If Harry was ever to start creating spells that would take Voldemort by surprise, he needed this class no matter how hard it was.

Transfiguration was not a surprise. Every year when Harry was actually learning something for the first time he noticed his professors wondering why he was suddenly having more trouble with his work. Harry consequently tried to study ahead, but it didn't always help.

Finally Care of Magical Creatures class was set for the afternoon. It was a combined Slytherin and Gryffindor class, and as much as Harry enjoyed having class with Hermione and Neville, he thought having Houses that didn't like each other in the same class while they dealt with dangerous monsters was almost as stupid as having them in the class where they made potentially explosive chemical concoctions.

Wizards really were careless about the health of their children.

The fact that the class was being held at the edge of the Forbidden Forest made Harry uneasy. It had been bad enough bringing four children in the forest, but bringing forty was a recipe for disaster.

Fortunately they didn't. Instead they skirted the edge of the forest for five minutes and came to a set of empty corral.

"Gather 'round the fence," Hagrid said. "So yeh can see. Firs' thing you want to do is open yer books."

"How?" Harry asked. He glanced around at the other students who were pulling out their books. It looked as though everyone had been forced to tie the books shut in one form or fashion or another.


"How do we open the books?" Harry asked.

Hagrid seemed disappointed that no one had been able to open their books, but he quickly showed them how to stroke the spine to calm the book down.

"Seems like the bookseller should have left us a note," Harry said, scowling. "Or at least warned us when we bought the book."

Hagrid stared at Harry. Given the way wizards thought they probably thought it was funny to give an attack book to thirteen year olds.

"Still, I guess it's practice for dealing with animals," Harry said.

Hagrid looked at him gratefully and nodded. "Ye have to have a gentle touch when yer dealing with animals, or they'll make ye regret it."

While Hagrid left, presumably to bring whatever animals they were to study in, Harry overheard Malfoy complaining to the other Slytherins.

"Think we can use the books on the first years?" Harry asked.

Malfoy's eyes lit up at the possibility, and he suddenly stopped talking about how terrible it was to take a class from someone who wasn't even a real wizard, being more of a magical creature himself.

Hagrid returned shortly leading a dozen strange creatures. Each had the body of a horse but the head and front legs of an eagle. Fortunately they were one of the local creatures Harry had studied. Unfortunately, he could see a dozen ways this could end badly, not least the enormous beaks and the beady eyes that stared at him like they intended to devour him.

"Hippogriffs," Hagrid said. "Beautiful, aren't they."

They were beautiful in the same way the basilisk had doubtlessly been beautiful, at least before Harry had blown its head off.

"Come closer, come closer."

Harry, like the rest of the class was reluctant to come any closer.

Hagrid explained how hippogriffs preferred to be approached. He then called for volunteers to try to approach the creature.

When there were no takers, Hagrid looked disappointed and called out, "Harry?"

Harry scowled. Just because he'd killed a troll and a basilisk didn't mean that he was any braver than anyone else. He was just less lucky.

He reluctantly climbed over the fence, and he tensed as Hagrid unchained one of the creatures.

"Easy now," Hagrid said. "Keep eye contact. He won't trust you if you blink."

Harry stared at the creature, although he kept one hand on his wand in his pocket. His mind was racing with potential plans in case the creature decided to attack. He'd swing to the left and pull out his wand, blowing its head off.

Hagrid seemed to realize what Harry was thinking, because he looked alarmed. "He requires respect, but he won't hurt yeh Harry."

Bowing would expose Harry's neck to the creature, which he didn't care for at all, but he forced himself to do so, never taking his eyes from it. At the first move it made he planned bot blow its head off, no matter how traumatizing it would be for his entire class.

"Mebbe yeh should back away," Hagrid said, looking worried.

The Hippogriff finally bowed to him, and Hagrid encouraged Harry to go up and pet it. This seemed like a good way to lose an arm to Harry, but after some prodding he finally did it.

Harry had visions of having his arm ripped off, and if the reset happened afterward, he might never get his arm back. He wasn't sure just what wizarding healing could manage if it didn't involve curse wounds.

Still, the creature seemed to be enjoying it, and eventually Harry relaxed...a little.

Hagrid began to say something about flying on the thing's back, but Harry glared at him until he shut up. There was no way Harry was going to get on the back of the thing; he could see himself falling to his death and having to redo all of last year.

Harry stepped away from his hippogriff as Hagrid began to have the other students introduce themselves to their own hippogriffs.

Doing it all at once seemed fairly stupid to Harry. He knew just how foolish some of his classmates could be, and he suspected that at least some of them would get overconfident.

He watched closely, and unsurprisingly it was Malfoy who was the winner of the stupidity award. Harry would have suspected Crabbe or Goyle, but they didn't have Malfoy's stupid self confidence.

"This is very easy," Malfoy said. He was stroking it's beak. "I'll bet you aren't dangerous at all..."

Harry had been watching the creature; its posture had stiffened and it was staring at Malfoy with an evil look. He'd read that Hippogriffs could understand human speech; they were smarter than trolls, although that wasn't saying much.

"Accio Malfoy's robe!" Harry yelled.

Malfoy was at the upper limit of what Harry could accio, but he flew through the air pulled along by his robe toward Harry just as the hippogriff lunged toward him snapping its beak.

Hagrid was quick to chain the creature and end the lesson.

Malfoy stared up at him.

"I didn't want to listen to you whine for the rest of the semester because you were missing an arm," Harry said, staring down at him.

He leaned down and said quietly "And tell your father he owes me."

Harry decided that he'd make some pointed remarks to Hagrid about the stupidity of schoolchildren before the next class.

Still, as Malfoy staggered to his feet and started loudly complaining, he looked back at Harry with a strange look.

Being owed favors was a very Slytherin thing to do, and Harry was learning the game.

Chapter Text

Listen, Potter," Malfoy said uncomfortably. "My father told me to stay away from you...didn't say why."

Harry glanced up at Malfoy. He was sitting on his bed studying through the book of monsters. He was looking for anything he could find on dementors.

"We may have had words," Harry said neutrally.

"It's just...thanks..."

Harry shook his head. "Don't worry, nobody's going to think that we're best friends or anything."

Malfoy had waited until they were alone to even mention any hint of thanks. He hadn't even trusted Crabbe or Goyle enough to offer any kind of olive branch in front of them.

The look Malfoy was giving him was strange; Harry wasn't sure what it meant.

"If you're planning on going after Black, I'll see what I can find out," Malfoy said, looking back at the door as though he was fearful someone would come in.

"Why would I go after Black?" Harry asked.

One more maniac out of an army of maniacs and everyone seemed to think he should be worried about him.

"You didn't know? He was the one who betrayed your parents to Voldemort," Malfoy said. "He was their secret keeper and if he hadn't betrayed them nobody could have found them."

Harry had looked himself up, of course. Finding out what had happened to his parents and why had been part of his basic research back in the first year.

"My parents were idiots," Harry said, scowling.


"They should have been each other's secret keepers," Harry said. "Trusting other

people was incredibly stupid of them."

Malfoy stared at him. "So you don't blame Black?"

"I didn't say that," Harry said. "It's just that I'm not going to go looking for him. Everybody says he's coming here, so what's the point?"

"Coming here?" Malfoy asked.

"Given this school's track record, I'd expect him to break in fairly soon. After all, the school couldn't even keep out a troll, and those are dumber than Crabbe or Goyle."

Malfoy looked as though he was considering asking for a room change.

"I've been thinking about learning to cast alarm spells," Harry said. "Any chance you'd be interested in that?"

Harry suspected that Malfoy would be taking his wand into the shower with him from now on. He probably thought Black would be jumping out of the toilets.

Of course, Harry had been taking his wand into the showers since first year. The best place to attack someone was where they felt the most safe, after all.

"There's a boggart inside the box," Professor Lupin said.

The man was surprisingly better as a teacher than either of the first two teachers, despite his shabby appearance.

"Shapeless, they love dark, enclosed spaces. I've encountered them in closets and under beds and in the cabinets under sinks," Lupin was saying. "It's not until we see them that they take the form of our worst nightmares."

Harry slowly lifted his hand. " I to gather you'll be showing this to us?"

"In order to show the spell to resist them, yes," Professor Lupin said.

"You do know we are in Slytherin, right?" Harry asked. "Our fears are likely to be...more intense than those of the other houses."

Malfoy snorted. "What are Hufflepuffs going to be afraid of...their own shadow?"

"It's important to learn to face your fears, Harry," Professor Lupin said. "If you don't they will master you and you'll never be free."

The students around him were glancing at each other. Slytherin students learned from their very first year to keep their weaknesses to themselves. Any weaknesses that were revealed were taken advantage of ruthlessly.

Now the professor was suggesting that they show their greatest fears to everyone in their class.

"Is there any way we can do this privately?" Malfoy asked.

"The boggart is much more dangerous if you are alone," Professor Lupin said. "When there are more than one source of fear, the creature becomes confused, and it doesn't know what to turn into."

Professor Lupin continued. "There is a spell which helps repel a boggart; it requires strength of mind as well as magic. What repels boggarts is laughter."

As Professor Lupin went into details on the spell they were going to use to repel the boggart, Harry wondered if laughter really was the best remedy to fear. He'd had precious little laughter over the last three years...or two years as far as the rest of the world was concerned.

Neville was sometimes funny, but Hermione rarely was. The Weasley twins thought they were, but Harry thought their pranks were more than a little mean. He tolerated them, but they both thought he didn't have much of a sense of humor.

In the end he really wasn't sure.

"Who wants to volunteer?"

Harry shrank into his chair and he noticed everyone in the class doing the same. If they'd been Gryffindors it would have been different. Everyone would have doubtlessly been trying to look brave, but in Slytherin no one wanted to go up at all, much less first.

Professor Lupin's gaze wandered over Harry, and for a moment Harry thought he'd be the first one to get called, but it turned out to be Crabbe.

Learning that Crabbe was afraid of disappointing Malfoy wasn't very enlightening. Seeing the image of Malfoy suddenly dressed in a sundress was funny.

Harry, however was smart enough not to show his amusement. A few of his classmates were not so bright.

One after the other, his classmates went up. Many were afraid of their own parents; Harry got the impression that some of them might be abusive.

Others were afraid of Death Eaters; some saw their entire families lying dead. Harry kept a mental note; many of those were the ones who had extended a hand to him secretly.

Malfoy was afraid of disappointing his father. Seeing Lucius Malfoy wearing a tutu was almost worth the price of admission.

As each student stepped up, Harry felt himself growing more and more anxious. Revealing his fear of dementors would make him look weak before the others, but worse, he had no doubt that some of his classmates would be writing their parents immediately afterward.

The last thing he needed was for Voldemort to start sending dementors after him. The Ministry was already doing that on their own.

However, as class reached a close, the professor did not choose him to face the boggart. Harry felt a sense of relief as the professor began to assign homework, although he saw angry looks from his classmates.

He waited until after the other students had left the room.

"Professor...I noticed you didn't have me face the boggart," Harry said quietly.

Professor Lupin looked up at him. "I'm not unaware of your position in Slytherin, Harry. Showing that you're afraid of Voldemort would weaken you in the eyes of the other."

"But I'm not afraid of Voldemort," Harry said. "I mean, I know I'm going to have to kill him some day, but that's not my greatest fear."

"What..." Professor Lupin asked, then his expression cleared."Dementors."

"I've got to work on a way to protect myself from them," Harry said. "You saw what happened; if I'd been alone I'd have been helpless and I'd be an empty shell by now."

Lupin shook his head. "The patronus is a ridiculously difficult magic...beyond NEWT level. It's one of the most powerful defensive magics known to wizardkind."

Harry frowned. "I'm sure you've heard that I'm...determined in some of my classes at least. This is really important."

Lupin stared at him for a moment, then said, "If it was anyone else..."

"There are dementors all around the school, Harry said gloomily. "It's only a matter of time before some of them decide they need a little snack and come swooping in."

"You really are as pa...cautious as I've heard." Professor Lupin said.

Harry smirked. "I'm still alive, aren't I?"

He turned serious shortly after. "I need this. Whatever you need I'll find a way to get it to you."

Normally he wouldn't be stupid enough to make a blanket promise like that, but he needed this intensely.

Lupin frowned. "All right, but my schedule won't be free for three more weeks."

"Is there anything I should so in the meantime?"

"Concentrate on finding your most happy thoughts," Lupin said. "Not just pleasant ones, but feelings of joy, whenever you were at your happiest."

"It's those feelings that power the patronus," he said.

Harry felt a sinking sensation in his stomach.

If the spell needed happy memories to function, there was a good chance he wouldn't be able to cast it at all.

Professor Lupin soon proved to be popular with almost everyone. Malfoy complained that the man had no sense of style and that he looked like a ragamuffin, but even he seemed to respect what the man was teaching.

After all, they hadn't had a competent Defense teacher since they'd entered the school, and Lupin was competent if nothing else.

He didn't have time to revive the dueling club though, something that Harry bitterly regretted. He'd gotten much better through the club and was feeling the lack of practice intensely. His sessions with Flitwick just weren't happening often enough for his taste.

Worse, his efforts to find a set of happy thoughts weren't going well at all. Even the few happy thoughts he'd had, such as times with Hermione and Neville were all tinged with cynicism and plotting. Harry realized that he was always so busy planning ahead that he never really had time to live in the moment.

He found himself envying Ron Weasley, who seemed to live in nothing but the moment. He imagined him as being largely carefree and he wondered what life would be like without any kind of responsibilities or threats.

Hermione was feuding with Ron; apparently her cat, or Kneazel or whatever it was had eaten Ron's rat. According to Neville, the rat had looked half dead from the first day of school. Harry didn't care much except that it felt a little like Ron was back to his bullying ways, which Harry didn't like much.

As the beginning of October began, Professor Lupin began trying to teach Harry the Patronus spell.

"This is very advanced magic," Professor Lupin said. "Many adult wizards are never able to cast it at all."

They were in Lupin's office in front of the boggart, which had indeed taken on the form of a tormentor. Although Harry didn't faint in front of the boggart, he did relive some of his previous deaths as well as hearing the screaming woman.

"But I'm casting it correctly?" Harry asked miserably.

"Your wand movements and pronunciation are flawless," Professor Lupin said. "The problem is whatever you are using for a happy memory isn't strong enough to support anything more than the barest flicker of a patronus."

Harry had seen the barest gleam of silvery light, and that only by using the happiest thought he could remember. Casting over and over and over had yielded no results.

"I've been doing this for three weeks," Harry said. "And I haven't seen any results at all."

It was already Halloween, and not having reached any progress at all wasn't just frustrating; it was frightening. What if Harry never managed to create a patronus? He'd heard that some dark wizards simply weren't capable of it and he wondered if this meant he was dark himself.

"Are you sure there aren't other happy memories you could use?"

Harry shook his head. "I guess I'm just not a very happy person. Is there anything else you can do to repel a tormentor than this?"

"I'm not sure we've exhausted this option, but the only other good option is to do enough physical damage that they'll back away. The problem with that is that it won't hold them back for long, and if there are more than one of them it's hard to do enough damage to stop all of them."

Harry scowled. Dementors hunted in packs, at least when they weren't trapped in Azkaban. He had to learn this spell or his life would be over before he had a chance to live it.

"Have you ever heard about how a wolf pack hunts?"

Nodding, Harry said, "They attack from all directions and wear the prey out."

"That's what the dementors will do if you don't have a patronus," Professor Lupin said.

Harry glanced out the window. It was Halloween again; nothing good ever seemed to happen on Halloween, although the feast was usually good. It was getting close to time for the feast.

"What can I do to resist the effects," Harry asked. "If I fall down and have a seizure I won't be able to do anything even if I learn the Patronus spell."

Professor Lupin frowned. "There is an advanced technique called occlumency which protects the mind from being read; I've heard that you seem to have some natural talent in that area."

Scowling, Harry wondered who had been trying to read his mind; most likely it was Dumbledore or Snape. It had to be one of the professors for Lupin to have been informed. Whatever skill Harry supposedly had was probably the only reason they didn't know about his resetting time.

"It doesn't seem to help me with dementors at all, though," Harry said. "Even the boggart makes me feel a little faint."

"The other way to shield your mind is to use obsession," Professor Lupin said. "It doesn't have to be happiness, it just has to be a desire powerful enough that you can drive the thoughts the dementors are pulling forth away."

Obsession? That was something Harry could work with. He'd been obsessed with a variety of things since his first death.; most revolved around survival.

"We'll discuss it in the next session," Professor Lupin said. "It's time you get on to your feast."

Harry nodded. If he couldn't master the patronus, he had to at least learn how to stay on his feet when dementors came.

His soul depended on it.

For once Halloween dinner passed uneventfully. There were no dramatic pronouncements about trolls, no hissing announcements about murder in the walls. There was simply a quiet, enjoyable meal.

As such, Harry took his time. For once there was no rush to catch another class or a training session, and there was no chance of being interrupted. Even as the other students began to stream out of the Great Hall, he continued to linger over his dinner.

Malfoy was being more polite toward Harry since he'd saved him, although he couldn't be said to be particularly friendly. Befriending Harry Potter could be literal suicide considering who his father's friends were.

"I don't suppose you'll finally get interested in Quidditch this year, Potter?" Malfoy was finishing his meal.

Harry smirked. "What, don't have enough fans already?"

The few students still left at the table around them was listening. The attitude toward Harry had been a little less hostile since he'd killed the basilisk, but no one could afford to be seen as his friend in public. Still, it was a welcome improvement from having to watch his back every second.

"I can't help it if I'm a god on the playing field." Malfoy grinned. "Not that you'd ever try it yourself."

Harry shook his head. "I had enough trouble with a bludger just being in the stands; people would be trying to kill me all the time on the Quidditch Pitch. Besides, the last think I want to do is give the Weasley twins a chance to go at me with bats."

Apparently the youngest Weasley had decided that Harry was her savior and she had an alarming sort of obsession with him. The twins had already warned Harry against pursuing it.

"Maybe you should try it, Potter. You'd end up with a dozen brats in no time, given the way the Weasleys breed."

Harry shuddered. The idea of having children in a world where he wasn't sure he'd even last the afternoon was horrible.

"Maybe we should be getting back," Harry said, noting that most of the other students were heading out of the hall.

Malfoy nodded. "Nice, uneventful feast this year."

Suddenly there was a commotion at the doors to the Great Hall and people began to stream back inside. The Gryffindors seemed to be agitated.

Harry closed his eyes. "You had to say it."

"What's going on," Malfoy asked.

"Sirius Black just slashed the painting leading into the Gryffindor common room," the nearest prefect said. "The teachers are bringing everybody back to the Great Hall."

Harry held out a hand to Malfoy. "Pay up."

Malfoy looked sour. "Are you a seer Potter? How could you know it would happen by Halloween?"

Harry had known that part of the reason Malfoy was looking so cheerful was that he was convinced he would win a bet they'd made earlier in the year.

How Malfoy of all people could believe that Hogwarts was secure was beyond Harry's ability to comprehend. Where was the Slytherin cynicism? The natural distrust held by anyone who wasn't an idiot.

"Once is a coincidence, twice, maybe still, but three times is a pattern," Harry said cryptically. His parents had been killed on Halloween as well as the troll and basilisk incidents. Apparently evil loved a holiday as much as everyone else.

"You'll have to wait until we get back to the room," Malfoy said. "I don't have any money on me."

A problem with traditional wizard wear was a lack of pockets. Most muggle borns and half bloods wore muggle clothes underneath their school robes, but purebloods like Malfoy wouldn't be seen dead in them.

Dumbledore appeared, and apparently he had learned a lesson from the debacle the first year. Everyone was to stay in the Great Hall for the evening as the teachers all searched the castle.

Harry was impressed as Dumbledore effortlessly summoned eight hundred sleeping bags that were apparently intended to last throughout the night. It was a testament to his power.

Seeing Neville and Hermione, Harry found a sleeping bag in the corner well away from the door. He was happier sleeping away from the older Slytherins anyway, especially since the Gryffindors didn't hate him as much this year as they had in the past.

"How do you think he got in?" Neville asked. He was shaken. Apparently both he and Hermione had actually seen the slashed painting and both of them looked white faced.

Harry shrugged. "This place is like a sieve."

Glancing around , he reached quietly into his pocket where he kept the Marauder's map. Since learning that Sirius Black had decided to specifically target him, he'd begun to keep the map on his person at all times along with his invisibility cloak.

He planned to check the map the moment he was able to do so without being seen. If Sirius Black was still on the grounds he'd find a way to get to him.

The sooner he stopped Black, the sooner the dementors would be removed from around the school.

Chapter Text

Harry had hoped to use the Marauder's map to find Black still lurking in the castle that night. He'd then slip out under his invisibility cloak and ambush him. Once Black was in custody, the dementors would be withdrawn and Harry would possibly have years to learn the patronus.

Unfortunately, even looking at the map under the covers of the sleeping bag after lights out, he couldn't see any sign of Black.

It was frustrating.

Knowing when Black was going to attack would have made it so much easier. Now he'd have to keep checking the map in classes and out. Undoubtedly Black had assumed he was in Gryffindor, since Harry doubted that subscriptions to the Daily Prophet were allowed in Azkaban.

He couldn't depend on that continuing to be the case. The thought of waking up with Black standing over his bed was fairly chilling.

Harry decided that he'd do everything he could to find Black as soon as possible. The fact that Black had betrayed his parents was disturbing, but in Harry's mind that just put him in with the faceless ranks of Death Eaters who were out to kill him.

It was the Dementors who were Harry's current obsession, the true threat.

Harry fell into a restless sleep on the hard floor of the Great Hall.

Over the next few days the school talked about nothing but Black. Harry caught people glancing at him out of the side of their eyes and people who had formerly been friendly to him withdrew somewhat. Harry suspected this wasn't because they resented him, but because they didn't want to be around him when Black finally came to stab him to death.

More disturbingly, the various teachers began to find excuses to walk with him. They weren't very clever in disguising what they were doing. When it wasn't teachers, Harry found himself being followed by Slytherin prefects.

Considering that he'd beaten some of the fifth year prefects in dueling club, Harry didn't feel particularly safer. It was a little insulting that they thought he needed that kind of protection. After all, Black, for all his insanity wasn't a Death Eater who was fresh and sharp with his wand. He was a broken down wreck of a man who had been drained to the last dregs by the dementors in Hogwarts.

Harry couldn't imagine what twelve years being drained by a dementor would do to a man. Just a few moments had been enough to almost destroy him.

Disturbingly as well, Lupin was absent from Defense class, and Snape substituted in. It was clear that Snape didn't care for Lupin, and he immediately substituted werewolves for the creature they'd actually been assigned.

Fortunately, there were werewolves in the Forbidden forest, and so that was one of the creatures Harry had actually bothered to study. Harry imagined that if he was going to have to repeat the semester he'd start studying the wizard killing creatures that didn't live near Hogwarts.

He'd start studying from the most dangerous and work his way down. He'd save flobberworm level creatures for seventh year, assuming they weren't covered already.

Harry carefully checked his Map as often as he dared, even during class if he thought he wouldn't get caught. He didn't bother in Snape's class, of course. Snape would confiscate the Map the moment he saw it, and Harry's chance of ending the dementor threat would be gone.

He never saw Black, however, no matter how much he searched.

One of the features of the map that Harry discovered as he repeatedly stared at it was that it revealed the passwords to various secret passages, including the one at the base of the Whomping Willow.

It was reassuring to know that he'd be able to slip out to Hogsmeade whenever he wanted, even though he doubted the teachers would officially let him go, permission slip or no permission slip.

He wouldn't have gone in public anyway. He'd have to wait until the other students were allowed to go to Hogsmeade before he went because someone his age would stick out like a sore thumb. He'd grown some, and at thirteen he was no longer able to pass for ten.

Storekeepers would note if a Hogwarts age child was in Hogsmeade during the school year alone. From what Harry had heard, Hogsmeade was a ghost town as far as children went in between visits.

Still, he needed supplies, and he fully intended to take advantage of the next Hogsmeade weekend to get more money from the Gringott's subsidiary there and to buy things from the joke shop that could be turned into weapons.

The Weasleys were being entirely unreasonable about their sister; no matter how much Harry claimed that he had no interest in her they were acting overly protective.

Harry almost suspected that it was some kind of long con, the kind of prank they'd pull on him for the entire term just to see his face at the end of the term. Unfortunately he couldn't be sure.

The one thing he was certain of was that having the dementors close by was going to be a recipe for disaster. From what he'd read they hungered for human emotion and they became less and less rational the less they fed. In that way they were a little like vampires, except that they ate souls instead of blood.

Nothing Harry had heard suggested that the dementors were being fed. Considering that children felt emotions more intensely than adults, or at least weren't as good at hiding them, and there were hundreds of children not far from the dementors...Harry felt that the Ministry hadn't really thought their plan through.

When it all happened, Harry had no intention of being one of those who had their souls devoured. Unfortunately, he doubted that going to his professors would do much good. He was widely considered to be a little mental, what with his conspiracy theories and paranoia.

He'd been a little too open about his opinions in the past. If he had a chance to do it over he'd have pretended to be as clueless as a Gryffindor. Unfortunately, most of his mistakes had been made in his first year, and that ship had already sailed.

"Professor Snape?" Harry asked cautiously as he peered into the doorway of the potion master's office.

He hadn't had many opportunities to enter Snape's office; the man seemed to do the best he could to avoid Harry, although that had changed a little since their business deal with the Basilisk.

Despite the slight softening in his attitude toward Harry, Harry knew better than to try to take advantage of it in class or in public. Snape was a former Death Eater, a fact that was confirmed by some of Harry's Slytherin contacts.

Undoubtedly, even if he'd largely renounced his ties to Voldemort's organization, he still had to deal with his former contacts. If he really was a spy for Dumbledore, as the court records indicated, he might still be spying for Dumbledore in which case he would have to be even more careful about who he angered.

Despite his past, Harry had gradually started to trust Snape a little more. The man had come to rescue him after the basilisk incident after all. If he'd really wanted Harry dead, he could have simply waited to tell Dumbledore and not come until after Harry was dead and eaten.

Snape's office was just as Harry remembered it. It was gloomy and dimly lit, with shadowy walls lined with shelves of large glass jars filled with ingredients. Many of the ingredients were slimy and revolting, pieces of animals and plants floating in potions of various colors.

If it had been Harry, he'd have lit the ingredients from behind. That would have made them even more horrifying, and would have increased the intimidation value of entering his office.

As it was, Harry couldn't understand why Snape kept things so dim. He wasn't actually a vampire, although Neville seemed to think so, especially now that Snape was angry about whatever Neville had done to repel his boggart. He'd been doubling down on his abuse of Neville, which had increased the number of incidents in potions class because of Neville's anxiety.

Harry had taken to sitting farther away from Neville, because sometimes Neville's mistakes affected everyone in an area. He noticed that the other Slytherins had taken to doing the same. Although he could tell that this bothered Neville, the last thing Harry needed was a face full of boils to go along with his other issues.

Some of Neville's mistakes had put some of the Gryffindors in the hospital for as long as two days.

"Come to beg for your Gryffindor friend, Potter?" Snape said, entering from another room.

Harry shook his head. "If you enjoy seeing Gryffindors covered in blisters, it's not my place to complain. He'd probably be a little safer if you let up on him though."

"Then why did you come here?" Snape asked, scowling. He glanced at the door, as though to see whether anyone else was listening.

"Because I've got a problem and you're my Head of House."

From what Harry had heard, Snape was much more responsive to the problems of other members of his house than he was to Harry.

"And what sort of problem might that be?" Snape asked. He returned to sanding behind his table, which was scattered with essays, presumably that he was due to grade.

"I've been trying to learn the patronus spell from Professor Lupin," Harry said.

At the mention of the other professor's name, Snape stiffened. "I'm sure he would be...proficient in teaching that."

Harry nodded. "I don't have any problem with his teaching. The problem is with me. He says I cast the spell perfectly, but I can't generate more than the slightest glimmer of a patronus."

"It is a highly advanced spell," Snape said. "And despite your...determination, it may simply be beyond you. Some adults are simply incapable of learning it."

"The problem is coming up with the memories I'm suppose to use. I just don't have any memories happy enough to power the spell."

Snape stared at him, his face expressionless. Unspoken between the two of them was the knowledge that many dark wizards couldn't cast the spell, no matter how talented they were for the very reason that Harry couldn't cast it.

Finally he said, "And just what is it that you think I can do about that?"

"I'm not sure I'll ever be able to cast it," Harry admitted. "And if I can't then I'm in trouble."

"Expecting to go to Azkaban, are you?" Snape asked. He smirked.

"There are dementors right outside the door," Harry said. "And they haven't been fed. How long do you think it will be before they decide to come on in and have themselves a little feast?"

Snape stared at him for a moment. "And you aren't concerned about anyone else in this proposed disaster?"

"You've seen my luck," Harry said. "I'm no Gryffindor. I try to stay back, away from danger, and yet every time I'm the one staring down a basilisk or a troll or a crazed professor. There's a good chance that if the dementors come, I'll be in the front of the line."

"So you think I'm the one to teach you how to have happy memories?" Snape asked.

Harry smirked. "Considering that you have to deal with Neville in potions class, I'd say no."

Although Neville was his friend, he definitely had his flaws. He had anxiety problems and some memory issues. Those didn't outweigh his loyalty or his sense of humor, of course, but they had to be addressed.

Harry doubted that he himself was that good of a friend.

Snape smirked back, then asked,"What then?"

"Teach me occlumency," Harry said. "Dementors detect people by sight and by their emotions. I have ways of hiding from sight, but emotions I can't control."

Snape froze. "And who told you I even have that skill?"

"It stands to reason," Harry said. "Records say you were Dumbledore's spy during the war. Either you were able to conceal your thoughts from Voldemort, or you were actually working for Voldemort and concealed your thoughts from Dumbledore."

"Don't say his name," Snape hissed. He leaned forward. "Do you know why people fear saying his name?"

Harry shook his head. He'd assumed that it was because they feared retaliation from him or his followers. The fact that they were afraid to even say it in private was less understandable.

"There is a powerful spell, a taboo which reveals the speaker's location every time the Dark Lord's name is spoken aloud. Those who spoke it, whether in public or in private often were visited shortly afterward by the Dark Lord's followers."

Harry frowned, trying to think back to whether he'd ever spoken Voldemort's name in a place that wasn't warded or where Voldemort didn't already know he was, like Hogwarts.

"The Headmaster says it all the time," Harry said, finally.

"The Headmaster is able to defend himself if anyone appears to have an issue with his saying it," Snape said shortly.

"Someone should have told me," Harry said. He scowled. "Something like that would seem vitally important for me to know."

"The taboo was broken when Voldemort vanished," Snape admitted. "The Headmaster undoubtedly hopes to make it useless by having too many people saying the name for it should it be established again."

Too much noise for it to be useful...a strategy Harry hadn't considered yet.

"I suppose it would be a good way to set up an ambush," Harry said. He suddenly shifted topics.

"What about the Occlumency?"

Snape was silent for a moment, staring at him. "Do you know what that kind of training entails? You practice trying to shield your mind from being entered by the legillimens. At least at first you risk having every secret in your mind laid bare to your teacher."

Snape hesitated. "You don't strike me as the type to trust anyone with your secrets."

Was Harry ready to share the secret of his resets with Snape? Although he trusted him more than he had in the past, he wasn't sure. If Snape really was a triple agent and working with Voldemort, then Voldemort's learning about his ability was a sure recipe for disaster.

"I didn't think so," Snape said, staring at Harry's face.

Harry hesitated. "What about Legillimency?"

"You think I'd trust you to reach into the minds of others?" Snape asked. He shook his head. "It's a power that is very easy to abuse."

Harry said, "It'd make it easier to find out who's trying to kill me."

Snape stared at him skeptically, and no matter how hard Harry tried, he couldn't convince him to teach him.

Nothing Harry tried in the next few weeks convinced him at all.

Rain sluiced down everywhere and the wind blew so hard that Harry could barely see ten feet in front of him. He couldn't understand why anyone would be out in this, but Quidditch was so popular that everyone in the school had come out.

Harry had tried to beg off; while he enjoyed the occasional Quidditch match as much as anyone, being outside in this sort of weather seemed like a stupid thing to do. Even when the prefects had insisted he'd refused.

It wasn't until Professor Snape had insisted that he go that he realized that he was going to be forced to go because the school staff feared leaving him alone in the castle while Black was after him.

Dumbledore and several of the professors were waiting inside for Black on the theory that he may have heard about Harry's love of staying inside during games.

Worse, instead of getting his usual spot near the aisles, the prefects had insisted that he sit in the middle of the row. Presumably this was to keep Black from easily getting to him, although Harry suspected it was just as much to keep him from slipping away while no one was looking.

As it was, he was miserable in the middle of a crowd that was huddled together to keep warm. Despite this he was soaked to the skin and frozen, and it had to be worse for the players, who were moving through the air.

There was a water repelling charm, but Harry hadn't learned it yet as it didn't seem necessary for survival. He could see however that Hermione had learned it, from the smug look on her face and the fact that she was dry instead of looking like a drowned rat like everyone else. She must have also cast it on Neville.

For once Harry was rooting for both teams' seekers. The game ended when either seeker found the snitch, and the sooner the game was over the sooner he could be inside with a mug of hot cocoa.

Harry had given up on paying attention to the game; he couldn't see with all the rain on his glasses anyway. Instead he simply closed his eyes and listened to the sounds of the crowd; the cheering, the oohs and the aahs as the players made daring plays.

As everything fell silent, Harry opened his eyes. He wondered if something had happened; perhaps someone had been hurt.

Instead he realized that even the wind had gone silent, even though he could still feel it pounding against his skin.

A familiar feeling of cold washed over him and Harry felt a sudden sense of horror as he realized what it was. As lightning flashed he saw a hundred dementors on the pitch, and before he could do anything they were spreading out everywhere.

Dementors began floating up the stairs, scattered among all four houses. People began to scream and panic, and Harry saw several students being pushed and shoved and falling over the side to land unmoving on the pitch twenty feet below.

It took him a moment to react as the people around him screamed and began to panic. The dementors had all the escape routes blocked and there wasn't any way to get away. Some students began to jump, but the dementors left on the field simply swooped over to them.

Harry could see at least a dozen dementors bent over bodies in the field, presumably relieving them of their souls.

He would have done something, anything to help but he already felt the memories overwhelming him. He fell backward, and he could feel someone stepping on his hand as they ran backward, hoping to find a way off the back of the bleachers even though they were even higher off the ground than the first.

A pair of seventh years, one a prefect grabbed Harry and started dragging him to the top.

Harry was only semi conscious, but he wondered at the sudden heroism of the seventh years. Everyone else seemed to only be out for themselves.

He couldn't move and what he saw was in flashes; dementors were in the stands now, grabbing students and pulling them in for the last encounter they'd ever have in this world or the next.

People were pushing and shoving each other, gathered at the top of the stands in a tight crowd.

He heard a sharp crack as one of the older sections of stands collapsed. The sounds of people screaming were interspersed with the bodies of those the dementors had already finished with, lying desolate in the lower section of stands.

Harry saw first years lying dead or worse; Pansy Parkinson was among the dead, as were Goyle. Crabbe was still fighting for survival, although he was being approached by three dementors who looked ready to fight over his body.

Harry was being dragged to the top of the stand. The crowd was getting tighter around them, a crush as people tried to get away from the dementors. With the collapse of one section of the stands more people were coming in this direction in an effort to escape the dementors.

This was it; Harry was going to die with the feeling of a knife in his stomach, with the glare of the basilisk, with the feeling of being crushed under train wheels.

He hoped that Hermione and Neville had gotten away, but he wasn't sure how.

Harry was pulled away from the two seventh years holding him by the press of the crowd. Dementors were surrounding them and people were crushing in on all sides. Harry slipped down and felt people begin to step on him.

He couldn't breathe; he could feel a rib break as people stepped on him and he could feel something stab into his chest. He suspected it was his own rib.

He felt fluid filling his throat but he couldn't breath anyway as the pressure of people piling on people above him grew.

The last thing he saw as he died was a bright, blinding flash of light, and he thought he heard Dumbledore's voice.

It didn't matter; it was too late.

Harry died choking on his own blood.

Chapter Text

Gasping for breath, Harry suddenly realized that he was leaning against a wall of feathers. He looked up to see an eye the size of his fist staring down at him, and a beak that looked like it could snap his head off.

He carefully stepped back. Hippogriffs were dangerous at the best of times, and now wasn't the time to reset his life only seconds after he'd just revived.

Everyone else was busy with their own hippogriffs; no one was foolish enough to fool around, except for Draco, who looked like he was about to be an idiot again.

Harry pulled out his wand and a moment later Draco went flying.

Still unable to breathe, Harry gestured for Hagrid. His heart was racing and his hands were shaking. It felt as though his heart was going to come out of his chest.


"I'm not feeling well," Harry said. "I might need to go to see Madam Pomprey."

He had to get away from everyone, to calm down and think. He was still panicking after what had happened.

Harry had been so smug and self assured, assuming that he'd always be the target of everything. It hadn't occurred to him that he'd just be a helpless bystander, trapped in the middle of the crowd.

This had to be stopped, or it would happen again. He hadn't seen what had happened to Hermione or Neville. He hoped they survived.

"Malfoy can take yeh," Hagrid said. He gave Malfoy a stern look. "Don't think I didn't see what ye were doin with Buckbeak."

As they staggered off, Malfoy looked at Harry. "Th...thanks Potter."

The first time Harry had come up with some sort of line, but now he didn't have the energy. It was all he could do to keep focused on the slope back up to the school.

Harry shook his head. "I can make it on my own. You don't have to go."

The last think he needed was a Malfoy seeing him in his moment of weakness. If Malfoy communicated this to his father, they'd find a way to use it against him.

"What's wrong with you, Potter?" Malfoy demanded. "You look white as a ghost."

Glancing back at the group inside the corral, Harry realized that in two months time many of them would be dead if he didn't do something. People he thought of as friends, acquaintances...even enemies. Even the people he wanted dead he didn't want to have their souls destroyed.

Maybe Voldemort, but that was just because otherwise he suspected he'd even find a way to come back from the grave just to make Harry's life more difficult.

Harry's heart was slowing down and his breathing was getting easier. Apparently not focusing on the images of the entire student body of Hogwarts being attacked was the right thing to do.

"I'm feeling better," Harry said. "I'll be all right."

They were moving out of sight of the class; the castle looming up ahead. Harry's head still pounded and he could feel a phantom pain in his chest, but he knew it would pass if he just gave it time.

"But what was it?" Malfoy asked.

Harry shook his head. "It doesn't matter now. I'm going to make sure it doesn't matter."

No one else was going to die on his watch.

The first step was finding out who exactly was responsible for placing the dementors in the first place. Harry began making inquiries with the Slytherins who were secretly seeking his favor, and they sent notes back to their families.

The results which came back were clear. Releasing a hundred dementors could have only been authorized by the Minister for Magic himself Cornelius Fudge. No one else had enough political power to even attempt to do that.

The second step was to attempt to contact the man.

Harry sent several owls over the next two weeks, but they always were returned unopened. They smelled of a nauseating perfume, which Harry interpreted as meaning that his letters were being intercepted by a female flunky somewhere.

In the long term, if he found Black on Halloween night it would all go away on its own. However, Harry wasn't willing to bank the lives and souls of all his friends and classmates on the chance that he could somehow subdue a full grown wizard.

He had to be like Voldemort or Dumbledore and have plans within plans. If he didn't everyone would die.

Going to Lupin was his next step.

"It won't involve much more effort than trying to teach me," Harry said. "And it just might save their lives and their souls."

"Most of them probably won't be able to do it," Lupin said.

"But the ones who can will be able to protect their classmates," Harry said. "I'm not sure I'll ever be able to cast a patronus, but if my friends can, I'll at least have a chance."

If half the class had been able to cast patronuses, then the disaster wouldn't have happened.

"This situation with the dementors is a disaster waiting to happen. They aren't feeding them and its only a matter of time before a Hogsmeade weekend turns into a feeding frenzy."

Lupin looked troubled. "There might be something to what you say."

"Give people the option and I'll bet that a lot of them will take you up on it, even if it's not mandatory," Harry said. "You don't even have to meet any more often than you are meeting with me."

"I doubt that anyone your age can learn it," Lupin said. "I only tried with you because of your reputation."

"Let them try," Harry said. "If they can't learn it they aren't any worse off, but if they'll make all the difference in the world."

Lupin reluctantly agreed.

Lupin stared out at the sea of faces in front of him. "I didn't think there would be this many."

Harry had gotten Hermione and Neville to talk to the Gryffindors and he'd talked to the Slytherins. He'd reminded them about how they'd had one of their own snatched away from their doorstep the year before, less than fifty feet from them and how they'd been helpless.

The Hufflepuffs had been easy to convince; they were generally afraid of things anyway and the Ravenclaws were interested in an academic sense. He'd made it a challenge, and the Ravenclaws loved intellectual challenges.

Almost two hundred people were waiting for them.

"We're going to have a bigger venue," Lupin muttered. He began casting an expansion charm to expand the classroom he'd planned to use.

He'd seemingly only expected twenty or thirty students to come, but he'd underestimated the uneasiness the entire class had toward the dementors.

Harry didn't participate. Instead he stood near the boggart, helping to hold it in its dementor shape. Apparently Lupin had a spell that kept the boggart focused on one person instead of multiple people.

Lupin claimed that Harry had already mastered the spell, and Harry did help the other students with their wandwork and pronunciation.

Harry practiced focusing on all his anger and rage, his obsession with survival while standing near the dementor-boggart. While the boggart wasn't able to produce as powerful an effect as a real dementor, he still felt drained and exhausted by the end.

It wasn't until the third class that the first patronus was created, unsurprisingly by Hermione. Hers was an otter.

Surprisingly, the second to master the spell was Malfoy. His patronus was a ferret.

The other students began to succeed one after the other once they saw that it could be done, and eventually three quarters of the class had managed to produce patronuses, although few of them could produce full, corporeal patronuses.

Those, mostly were the students in the upper years, fifth year and above.

It was a sign of Lupin's skill as a teacher, and the urgency that Harry put into the entire proceedings that the students did as well as they did.

Harry could only hope that it would be enough.

"I'd like to see the Minister please," Harry said.

He had purchased a nice set of robes and had used the Weasleys' magical comb just so he looked presentable.

"Do you have an appointment?"

Harry shook his head. "I'm Harry Potter; he'll want to see me."

He'd tried to get an appointment through every means he knew how, but his letter had always been returned with the same sickening sweet perfume on them.

Escaping Hogwarts hadn't been difficult; he'd slipped through one of the secret passages on the map to Hogsmeade, then entered the floo network from Zonkos while under his invisibility cloak.

He'd taken the floo network directly to the Ministry.

"There's a killer after you," the representative frowned. "Where is your escort?"

Harry shrugged. "They're around here somewhere. I need to see the Minister."

He'd never been to the Ministry before and it was much more crowded than he thought it would be. He hadn't realized that there were this many people working in government.

"He's in a conference. I can let you see his second in command, though."

Harry nodded shortly. If that was the best he could do, it would have to do.

He was escorted through a series of halls to a door. According to the plaque on the outside of the door he was about to speak to the Senior Undersecretary to the Minister for Magic.

As the door opened, his eyes were overwhelmed by pinkness. The walls were of pinkish grey porcelain tiles. Pink lace drapes and doilies covered every available surface that wasn't covered in dried flowers. The walls were covered in plates that had paintings of cats on them; cats of every conceivable type.

In the center of the room, behind a highly polished desk sat the closest approximation to a human toad Harry had ever seen.

The woman was wearing a pink tweed outfit that wasn't flattering at all.

Harry stepped into the room uneasily. This wasn't what he had expected from a ministry official, not at all.

"Mr. Potter," the woman began. Her voice was simpering and high pitched. "What could have possibly brought you here during a school day?"

"I'm here to talk about the dementors," Harry began. "They aren't being fed and it's only a matter of time before they are a danger to the students."

"The Ministry has full control of the dementors," the woman said. "A child like you shouldn't be meddling in things he knows nothing about."

Harry stepped closer and he suddenly smelled her perfume. It was cloying and it was the same as had been on his returned letters.

"I know that the Ministry is putting the lives and souls of the children at Hogwarts at risk," Harry said. "All because one murder is targeting one person."

"Ah, but you aren't just any person, are you," the woman said, leaning forward. "You are the hope of the Wizarding world."

Harry scowled. "I'm not that important."

"The Ministry doesn't have the resources to protect you through conventional means, so they have to resort to unconventional means."

Harry took that to mean that dementors didn't ask to be paid.

"Then can you arrange for the dementors to get fed? It's a disaster waiting to happen leaving unfed dementors around children."

Although the woman smiled, it didn't reach her eyes.

Although Harry attempted every argument he could think of over the next half hour, he couldn't get the woman to agree to even one of his demands.

She had him escorted back to school, and he received several detentions from Snape, who didn't look as though he particularly disagreed with what Harry had tried to do. It felt as though the detentions were just a way to placate the Ministry.

Harry decided that enough was enough. He had one more option.

"I can't believe you did this," Hermione was saying. "Aren't you afraid of making an enemy of the Ministry?"

Harry shook his head. "It's too important to worry about that."

Hermione was staring down at the Daily Prophet.

Harry had slipped out again and found his way to the newspaper. He'd met another unpleasant woman, Ms. Skeeter, who'd seemed very interested in what he'd had to say.

He'd given an interview, although he'd refused to allow a picture. She'd been disappointed by that and had tried to get one anyway. He'd almost broken her camera.

"If the Ministry believes in the prophecy, then I am in no danger from Black at all. I am destined to face Voldemort and no one else is going to kill me before then. If the prophecy is not correct, then I am not that important. Why then is the Ministry endangering every child at Hogwarts, body and soul for one child?" Hermione read out loud.

She turned to him and said, "You don't really think you are immortal until you face You-Know-Who, do you?"

Harry shrugged. "It was just an argument to convince the public."

If she only knew, he thought.

"The muggles have a saying, 'Letting the fox guard the hen house,' which is exactly what is happening here. The dementors are not being fed and inside the school is the largest concentration of food that they could ever wish for. It's not a matter of if a disaster will happen, but when." Hermione read out loud.

Harry nodded.

Hermione continued. "You know who has attacked the school several times; by doing this the Ministry is doing the work of the Death Eaters for them."

Perhaps the language had been a little harsh, but Harry had been adamant. This was too important and if he had to shock people into doing the right thing, so be it.

"This is going to cause problems, Harry," Hermione said. "Confronting the Ministry like this. Governments don't like to be threatened."

"What else could I do?" Harry asked. "Nobody was listening."

His hope was that if enough parents were outraged that the government might be pressured into withdrawing the dementors.

He'd made the point in the article that assigning a couple of aurors to watch him full time would be much safer for the public than removing a hundred dementors from Azkaban, making it more likely that even more prisoners would escape.

Pointing out Senior Undersecretary Umbridge had possibly been a mistake, but Harry had resented her and her obstructionism that he hadn't been able to help himself.


Harry looked up from where he was sitting in the library. Snape was standing over him.

"More detentions?"

Snape nodded, although for once there was a slight glimmer of humor in his eyes. Apparently Snape had no more love for the Ministry than Harry did.

The rain and wind were just as bad as Harry had remembered, although by now he'd made sure to learn the charm that kept the rain off his face and clothes. It didn't help the chill wind that kept blowing through.

Harry had learned the warming charm as well, and periodically he would cast it inside his robes, causing a gust of warm air that would inevitably be blown away by the next strong wind that would blow right through his robes.

Despite everything he'd tried, the Minstry hadn't done anything. They'd reassured the public that the children were safer with the dementors than without and they'd painted Harry as being paranoid.

Worse, Harry had spent Halloween eve huddled under his invisibility cloak outside the Gryffindor common room waiting for Sirius Black to show. He never did. Something Harry had done had changed things.

Although Harry had done everything he could to avoid coming today, none of the teachers had been willing to allow him to stay in the castle. He hadn't even managed to get an aisle seat. His protestations that Dumbledore should stay at the Quidditch game in case of an attack were ignored.

After all, if Snape and McGonegall and Lupin weren't enough to deal with Black, they were all in trouble.

Harry had tried to make the best of it. He had managed to get a seat on the top row.

His only hope was that his constant exposure to the boggart dementor left him able to act when the real dementors came. Unknown to the prefects who had escorted him here forcibly, underneath his robes he was wearing the Weasleys' suction cup shoes.

Their products had gotten a lot more reliable over the past two years. If the worst came to worst he planned to go over the back and run down the wall so he could escape. If the shoes failed and he fell, well maybe he'd get another chance to do it over again.

Still, the misery of waiting was worse this time, even if he was physically a little more comfortable. He'd warned Hermione and Neville that he was afraid something might happen. Although they were clearly humoring him, they had stayed near the aisles and close to the top in a part that was less crowded.

Harry had cast strengthening charms on the stands when he had realized that he was going to be forced to come. He didn't know whether they would help much; the spells hadn't been meant to withstand tens of thousands of pounds of panicked children but at least he felt he had done what he can.

As the silence began, Harry closed his eyes.

He'd never prayed before, but all he could do now was pray that things wouldn't turn out the way they had the last time.

People began screaming as the dementors approached.

Harry stood and put his wand to his throat.


Those closest to the bottom were panicking still, but Harry saw a bright light as a silvery otter burst forth from the stands across the way.

Bless you, Hermione, Harry thought.


Silvery light began to emerge from wand after wand. Many of the children, even those who'd managed a solid patronus in the class weren't able to create more than a mist under the influence of the dementors collected aura.

However, as more and more of the mist coalesced, the dementors slowed and stopped.

Seeing this, some of the students who had begun to flee to the to the stands stopped and pulled out their wands.

Harry saw a swan made of silvery light emerge, followed by a shimmering fox. A hare, a doe, and a glittering lynx.

Inspired by the success of their fellows, more and more of the students were turning and trying the spell which would save their lives.

Even the Slytherins, initially more fearful were following suit. Harry saw shimmering snakes flying through the air, interposing themselves between the students and the children.

He saw badgers and dogs and even an aardvark emerge through the wall of shimmering mist generated by those who couldn't manage the full spell.

The dementors began to draw back, a rattling sound in their collected throats.

"THIS IS HOGWARTS AND THIS IS OUR HOME. YOU WILL NOT HAVE US!" Harry shouted, his voice amplified by the spell.

The dementors wailed a frustrated wail and began to fall back, away from the pitch altogether.

Harry felt an unfamiliar feeling busting inside his chest. He'd done it. He'd managed to save everyone and no one had died.

He'd saved them. He'd saved them all.

It was unlike anything he'd ever experienced, and it took him a moment to realize what it was. In his entire life he hadn't ever experienced a single moment like this. This wasn't just happiness, it was joy.

Unbelieving, he pointed his wand and shouted, "EXPECTO PATRONUM."

A silvery, shimmering mongoose emerged from his wand.

It was the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen.

Chapter Text

"The Ministry does not follow the whims of a thirteen year old boy."

Considering that Cornelius Fudge had just been thrown out of office by the enraged parents and family of the children of Hogwarts, and by a concerted smear campaign, the new Minister for Magic didn't have much room to talk.

"I was right," Harry said. "Isn't that more important than how old I am?"

Rufus Scrimgeour had been appointed two days before, and Harry was now, finally, belatedly getting his meeting with the new Minister for Magic.

"You went to the press after one meeting?" Scrimgeour asked, leaning forward. "That's not how governments work!"

"If I'd waited there would be hundreds of grieving parents right now," Harry said. "People who wouldn't even get to see their children again after they died. What did you want me to do?"

"Support the Ministry! We're all that stands between the populace and the forces of darkness!"

"I'm a thirteen year old boy," Harry said. "What could I possibly do to help anyone?"

Scrimgeour's office was almost spartan; there were no pictures on the walls or other decorations. There was a desk and a couple of chairs and a couple of boxes in the corner. The man hadn't been in office long enough to personalize his office.

"You really are a Slytherin aren't you?" Scrimgeour said.

"It takes one to know one," Harry said. He looked up at the new Minister. "Leaving the dementors is a non-starter. People are outraged enough that if you try they'll have a new Minister in before you have a chance to decorate this office."

"What do you suggest? A continual guard?"

"I can handle myself pretty well," Harry said. "It wouldn't take much. One other Auror to watch me, in shifts and I'd likely be fine."

"All it would take would be an ambush and one guard wouldn't be enough."

"Do you believe in your prophecy or not?" Harry asked. "If you do, then Black isn't the one who's going to kill me. If you don't, then you are spending a lot of resources on protecting an orphan who doesn't have much political influence."

"You say that after you almost brought down the Ministry?"

"The Ministry almost brought itself down. They should have at least fed the dementors after it was pointed out to them instead of getting stubborn."

"Two guards in rotating shifts," Scrimgeour said. "Children think they are immortal but adults know better."

"Done," Harry said.

"And don't think you'll be able to slip away and leave Hogwarts again like you did before."

Harry hesitated, then said, "Do you think the aurors would be willing to train me? As long as they're already there."

"I won't order them to do anything. I'll leave it to your ability to convince them."

Harry grinned.

"Now about what you can do for the Ministry..."

Harry hadn't expected to get his guard immediately after leaving the office.

"Only a year out of Hogwarts and here I am, guarding Harry Potter," the younger of the two said. "You can call me Tonks, since I don't care for my first name."

She looked young enough to still be a student at Hogwarts. Harry wondered why the Ministry was giving him someone who was just out of training if they were really worried about him.

"Dawlish," the second one said shortly.

"Weren't you the bodyguard for the last Minister?" Harry asked. He'd seen his picture in the paper next to a harried looking Cornelius Fudge.

The man grunted. He looked capable and self assured, exactly like the sort of man Harry would have expected to be an aurors. His hair was wiry and gray. Harry hoped he'd be able to get a few pointers from him.

Of course, this had to be a step down for him. Harry hoped he didn't hold a grudge.

Harry saw the toad woman staring at him with an expression of absolute hatred. Somehow she'd managed to keep her position, but Harry was sure it had damaged her career.

He smiled at her, wondering if he should take such vindictive pleasure in her discomfort.

Considering that she was as much responsible for Fudge's downfall as he was, Harry didn't feel terribly guilty.

"You'll have to watch out for that one," Tonks muttered as they passed her. "She holds grudges."

Harry nodded. The fact that she'd survived the scandal that had taken Fudge down showed that she had some degree of being politically astute.

"She should watch out for me," Harry said.

"Don't get ahead of yourself," Dawlish said. "You're still only thirteen."

Harry glanced back at the two aurors behind him. "And I just toppled a Minister from power. What do you think I'll do by the time I'm twenty?"

Assuming, of course that he ever made it to twenty.

The disturbed looks the aurors gave each other barely registered as they took the floo back to Hogwarts, something that normally wouldn't be allowed without the special permission of the Headmaster.

Apparently Hogwarts was usually kept disconnected from the network for reasons of security.

Harry quickly found the presence of the aurors to be stifling. While he could generally ignore them in class, where they generally stood in the back of the room, it was much more difficult to ignore them when they had to check the toilet before he went to the loo.

He felt constricted in what he said around Hermione and Neville as well; little in-jokes that he didn't feel comfortable telling when there were adults around.

At least he'd managed to convince the aurors to train him; apparently they were as bored as he was, and they saw their sessions as a perfect opportunity to keep their hand in.

Considering how young Tonks was, she was much better at dueling than Harry would have expected. She was fast, and what she lacked in experience she made up for in creativity.

Dawlish on the other hand was a nightmare. Compared to the people Harry was used to dueling he was fast and vicious, although Harry suspected he wouldn't have had a chance against Dumbledore or Voldemort.

Flitwick had a tendency to match his skills to Harry's, feeling that Harry would be easily discouraged if he went up against someone of Flitwick's caliber. Dawlish didn't bother.

The fact that he'd been effectively demoted because of Harry probably didn't help.

There were two other aurors who guarded Harry by night; these were both male, and Malfoy complained incessantly about them. Neither of them seemed to exhibit much personality.

Days turned into weeks, and there wasn't any sign of Black. Harry began to wonder if Black had simply given up on the whole idea of attacking him and scampered off to France to eat baguettes or something.

Really, Harry wondered why most villains bothered. Voldemort probably could have become Minster for Magic quite easily. He could have enacted the policies that he wanted if he'd done it slowly enough, encroaching on people's rights a little at a time.

He could have embezzled massive amounts of money and lived like a king. Instead he'd become a terrorist. Why?

Wasn't telling other people what to do more of a bother than anything? Wouldn't it be better to be on a beach somewhere sipping firewhisky than hiding in a cave fearing the next attack by aurors?

Nevertheless, Harry kept covertly checking his Map whenever he thought the aurors wouldn't notice.

He was sure that letting them see it would be a disaster. They'd confiscate it in a minute so that they could find Black the minute he entered the school.

That might have been all right, but Harry wasn't sure they'd give it back when they were done. He had a feeling that he'd need it later, when Voldemort got serious about attacking him.

As was his habit, Harry checked the Map before going to sleep. The last thing he wanted was for Black to appear and cause problems; the Ministry would likely claim that this was what happened because they removed the dementors.

Hmm...Weasley was in bed again with someone named Pettigrew. Harry didn't know all of the Gryffindors, but he found it a little scandalous, not just because of Weasley's age but because he was sleeping not ten feet away from the others.

Maybe the Gryffindors were a little more liberal about relationships.

He'd seen other things on the Map that he didn't reveal to anyone either; students together in the broom closets with their feet in suggestive positions, or in the toilets, or even behind the bushes late at night. It was hard to find places to be private with others in a place where there were portraits everywhere watching, so students tended to end up in the same place.

He'd even seen some at the top of the Astronomy tower during times where there were no classes.

Well, it wasn't any of his business what Weasley did, although he did find it ironic that it was Ginny the twins were worried about.

He stiffened as he saw Black in one of the secret passages.

Harry stood and began to dress as quickly as he could. If Black was going to be going to the Gryffindor common room, he wanted to be waiting for him.

After all, the man had been responsible for most of the bad things that had happened in Harry's life. If he hadn't betrayed Harry's parents, Harry might have had the opportunity to live in a loving family. He'd have been raised by parents who loved magic, who loved each other.

He'd have grown to trust people, and he wouldn't have died more than a half dozen times. He wouldn't be anyone famous.

There might have been more than one happy memory to power his patronus, not that he'd have needed one.

The war itself might have been over. Dumbledore surely would have killed Voldemort by now if he hadn't disappeared.

Harry stepped out into the hallway where the two aurors were standing guard.

"Where are you going?" one auror asked. He had never been particularly friendly to Harry.

"Common room," Harry said shortly.; "Forgot something."

The aurors followed him.

It might have been easier with Dawlish and Tonks instead of these two faceless drones, but Harry's mind raced.

If he told them what he was really after there was no way that they'd let him go. Their job was to protect him from Black, not let him get into a confrontation with him.

As Harry marched into the common room, he noted that they were following him. This was actually something he wanted. Having two experienced aurors at his back was much better than trying to attack Black on his own.

Still, he didn't trust them to capture Black without him.

"Where are you going?" one of the aurors asked.

"Out," Harry said shortly.

"Not supposed to be out after hours," the auror said.

Harry wasn't sure how bright he was; he could have been as dumb as a troll for all he knew. What he did know was that he had to convince him that he was going to leave.

"What, are you going to take house points?" Harry asked. "You're just here to keep me safe, not to keep me out of trouble."

"Easier to keep you safe if you aren't wandering the castle at night with a crazed killer after you." the auror pointed out.

Harry shrugged, then dashed out of the common room.

He raced out into the hallway outside. He heard them calling out for him to stop, but he didn't.

The moment he rounded the corner he ran straight up the wall; he still had the Weasley boots. He waited up above on the ceiling with his cloak held awkwardly around him. He had to hold it up to keep gravity from dropping it and showing him from below.

The aurors stopped.

One glanced at the other. "Report says he has an invisibility cloak."

The other pulled out his wand and quickly cast a spell. He glanced upward; he obviously didn't know exactly where Harry was, but he knew where we was in a general sense.

"Come on down, Mr. Potter."

Harry carefully took off his cloak and stuffed it in his bag. "I'm afraid I've got something I have to do."

"If you don't come down we'll make you come down."

"You do that and I'll fall, possibly to my death. Are you sure you can levitate me before my head cracks open on the floor like a melon?"

"We could use a cushioning charm," the auror said.

The sensation of being upside down was more unpleasant than Harry remembered. He hoped that he was never held this way by an enemy. Given his luck it was likely that he would be.

"While I'm attacking you?" Harry asked."It hardly seems like you'd have time."

"Attacking an auror is a crime," the auror said.

"Do you really want to be the one to send Harry Potter to Azkaban?" Harry asked. "What would you tell your family and friends?"

He hesitated. "What I'm doing is important, and it'll take less than an hour. After that I'll promise to go to bed."

The aurors conferred with each other in a low voice, and then one nodded. The other sent a patronus in the shape of a silvery dove flying down the hallway.

"What was that?" Harry asked sharply.

"We've heard about you," the auror said. "What you consider a walk in the park will probably need backup."

Harry nodded. More aurors were probably better anyway.

He made his way along the wall as quickly as he safely could. He couldn't really run with the suction cup shoes because one shoe had to be connected to the wall at all times.

Walking high up along the wall instead of on the ceiling at least helped him reduce the blood rushing to his head, even though walking sideways was a pain. He could at least change sides whenever his head felt too uncomfortable.

There was probably a spell to help with this sensation, yet another thing that he hadn't studied yet. He really needed o be more curious about things not related to his immediate survival.

Dawlish and Tonks joined them when he was halfway to the Gryffindor common rooms.

"Wotcher doin Harry?" Tonks asked.

"Got something I have to do," Harry said. He'd slipped the map inside a book; he opened it and checked. Black hadn't reached the Gryffindor common room yet.

He couldn't tell exactly where Black was without opening the map out all the way, but he didn't imagine it would take him too much longer.

"Why don't you just go back to bed?" she asked. "And do whatever it is in the morning."

"I can't," Harry said. He picked up his speed.

Her eyes narrowed.

"Does this have something to do with Black?"

"I'll tell you later," Harry said.

Of course, he wasn't able to move as quickly as they were, but when they came to the moving stairs he saw his chance to get ahead.

While they were waiting for the stairs to move back up he scampered up the wall. He dropped to the floor and began running, which was a relief because he hadn't been sure he could take another moment of being upside down.

By the time they caught up to him two sets of stairs later, he was already at the hall leading to the Gryffindor common room.

He had his wand out, and he was glancing in his book.

"Can you all cast disillusionment spells?" he asked as they raced up to him.


"Black's almost here," Harry said.

Harry pulled the map out of the book and opened it up against the wall. He heard the indrawn breath of one of the aurors behind him.

"Where did you...never mind," Tonks said. She glared at him. "We could have used that..."

"And kept it?" Harry asked. "It doesn't matter. There isn't time to get me away. Best bet is to ambush him here."

"How did you know he was coming here?" asked Tonks, her eyes narrowed.

"Perks of being the Chosen One," harry said, grinning at her.

The aurors had a quick discussion. None of them knew the password to get into the Gryffindor common room and there wasn't time to summon a teacher.

They made Harry hide under his cloak as they all cast disillusionment spells.

After that they waited.

Two minutes later, a large dog came wandering down the hallway. It looked mangy and sick, with ribs showing and an unsteady walk. Harry glanced at the folded map and his eyes widened.

The dog stopped; although the aurors were effectively invisible, it could smell them quite easily.

Ignoring what he'd been told, Harry pulled out his wand and yelled, "Stupefy!"

The dog tried to dodge, but it had been focused on the mass of aurors, not on Harry, who was further back.

It fell to the floor, seemingly lifeless.

Harry pulled off his cloak, and the aurors hissed at him.

"That's Black," Harry said.

"He's an Animagus?" Dawlish asked. "Might explain how he was able to escape and why he'd been so far to find."

The aurors reappeared and a moment later one waved his wand. A shaggy, decrepit figure of a man appeared, lying on the ground. If Harry hadn't known what he had done, he would have felt sorry for him.

A couple of other spells and the man was bound and levitating.

"We'll take it from here." Dawlish said.

Harry hesitated. "What's likely to happen to him."

"He'll be Kissed, almost certainly," Dawlish said. "If he can escape from Azkaban once, he could do it again."

"Can I ask him why he did it?"

The aurors glanced at each other then nodded. A tap of the wand and Black was suddenly conscious again.

"Why'd you do it? Why'd you betray my parents...why are you trying to kill me?"

The man stared at him as though he had no idea who he was; he glanced up at Harry's forehead and then his eyes widened.

"Wasn't coming for you. Was coming for Pettigrew. He was your parent's secret keeper and he was the one who betrayed us all."

"You killed Pettigrew," Dawlish said. "Don't try to lie. Why are you really after Potter."

"Peter Pettigrew?" Harry asked slowly.

He could see the other aurors gathering around Black, angry looks on their faces. He had an uneasy feeling that Black might not actually make it to the Ministry; he might be killed while "trying to escape."

"Pettigrew is dead," Tonks tried to assure him. "All that was found of him was a finger."

"Peter Pettigrew has been in bed with Ron Weasley for the past week," Harry said, gesturing toward the map.

Dead silence followed his proclamation.

Chapter Text

"What's this, Mr. Potter?" Professor McGonegall was in her nightgown and scowled at the lot of them.

Harry suspected that one of the painting had alerted her that something was happening outside the entrance to the Gryffindor common room. She had barely spent the time to throw on a robe and she didn't look pleased.

"This is Sirius Black, ma'am," one of the aurors said. "And he says that Peter Pettigrew is inside with one of your students."

"He's a rat!" Black shouted. "A rat!"

The man looked positively unhinged; enraged and disheveled, it would be difficult to believe anything he said. Harry certainly wouldn't think so.

"He's obviously quite mad," McGonagall said. "Why are you listening to him?"

The aurors glanced at each other then at Harry. They knew Harry wouldn't want his map revealed, and it surprised Harry that they were leaving it up to him to reveal it.

Harry frowned. "Black is an animagus. I think he's saying that Pettigrew is in the form of a rat. Specifically Ronald Weasley's rat."

He knew Ron had a rat; Hermione had complained about it often enough. Ron had been arguing with her for weeks, claiming that the rat had been eaten by her Kneasel. The rat had vanished for a time only to turn up later much to Hermione's satisfaction.

Harry had to wonder just what Pettigrew had been doing during the time he was missing. If he really was the one who had betrayed Harry's parent;s to the Death Eaters, then he was in league with Voldemort and he'd had the run of the castle.

Being an animagus was starting to sound like a very useful skill, especially if it would enable an escape from Azkaban.

McGonagall stared at them for a long moment.

"It's important," Harry said. "A man's life hangs in the balance."

She snorted, then turned and murmured a password to the painting that guarded the Gryffindor common room. Harry strained to listen to what it was, but he couldn't hear what she had said.

Five minutes later she returned, Ronald Weasley in tow, levitating a rat.

"We'll see if there is anything to this," she said. She pointed her wand and murmured what Harry assumed was the counter spell to the animagus transformation.

She shrieked as the rat began to writhe and shift, transforming into a man.

"My IS Pettigrew!" she cried.

Ron Weasley stared at the rat he'd had in his bed for years and he turned white as a ghost.

"Maybe you'd better call the Headmaster," Harry said.

It was a long night for everyone; Sirius Black was taken to the Ministry to be held over for trial.

Having learned that the man hadn't even had a trial the first time around before being held in Azkaban for twelve years, Harry was annoyed.

He explained to the aurors that he would be even more annoyed if the man was killed in transit or Kissed before he ever saw a courtroom in an effort to avoid embarrassment for the Ministry. Obviously the Ministry couldn't be trusted any farther than he could throw them if they wouldn't even follow their own rules.

Harry began to wonder what would happen to him if he actually killed Voldemort. Would the Ministry start thinking he was a liability and make him disappear? Maybe Voldemort wasn't his only enemy.

Even worse, his ability to reset might vanish if he actually defeated Voldemort. It was something to think about.

He almost expected to have one or the other of the men 'escape' in transit, but the next morning the Daily Prophet had headlines screaming that Black had been caught. There wasn't much about his not being the killer, though.

Harry expected there to be some sort of mock trial as a result, but Dumbledore assured him that he would do his best to get the man a real, fair trial.

He seemed surprised at Harry's cynicism. Harry had talked to the new Minister, however, and the man had seemed more concerned about the appearances of safety than actually keeping people safe.

Minister Scrimgeour had been angry at Harry for refusing to have his picture taken, and Harry suspected that if he'd stepped outside the Ministry the man would have had his picture in every paper, Death Eaters be damned.

Still, he'd gotten out of the whole thing without a detention or even any house points taken, and the aurors were removed the next day, so all in all it was a win. He'd claimed that he'd thought Black would come for him and would assume he was in Gryffindor since his parents had been. It was as good a lie as any.

He'd miss the extra training from the aurors, but he wouldn't miss having his time in the loo timed. It had made him enormously self conscious.

Harry arranged to have another meeting with Scrimgeour, and this time his meeting was taken immediately.

He explained to the man how they could blame Black's incarceration on a previous administration which Hermione had told him was headed by Millicent Bagnold, and show generosity by releasing Black.

For once, the man had listened to him instead of treating him as though he was a child with nothing valuable to say.

The gavel fell, and the crowd gasped.

Sirius Black was innocent. Testimony had been forced from Peter Pettigrew, and everything Black had said had been corroborated.

Some had still judged Black guilty, based on the idea that Pettigrew could be confunded, but the fact that Pettigrew had been living in the beds of a succession of underage boys had weighed heavily against him.

Black looked as though he didn't understand what had just happened. Harry suspected that his rage against Pettigrew had been all that had supported him throughout these long years and now that was gone there wasn't much left.

The prosecutor cleared his throat. "There are also the matters of his being an unregistered animagi, and for escaping from Azkaban."

The crowd began muttering, and Black began to look anxious again.

"Is twelve years not enough?" Dumbledore asked, standing suddenly. His voice rang out into the chamber. "An innocent man placed in the worst conditions imaginable. His escape was to protect the boy-who-lived from an admitted ally of Voldemort."

The crowd gasped at the mention of Voldemort's name.

"Protecting the Boy who lived is protecting us all, given the nature of the prophecy," Dumbledore said. "Punishing him for doing so would be a travesty of justice!"

His voice was powerful and compelling. Harry stared at the man; he hadn't realized just how powerful an orator the man could be, given his doddering old man routine at the school. He obviously knew how to play the political game as well.

"What of being an unregistered animagi?" the prosecutor asked.

"Hasn't he been punished enough?" Dumbledore asked. "Is twelve years not enough of a sentence? I say he has served his time and he should go free."

The crowd broke out into loud arguments and it was a full five minutes before order could be called.

"Are there any more witnesses?''

Harry stood. It wasn't his nature to stick his neck out for anyone without something to gain from it, but it irritated him and angered him that the Ministry had railroaded this man. It reminded him a little of being bullied during first year simply because he'd been sorted into Slytherin.

The one thing Harry was learning was that he hated bullies.

He'd been assured that there weren't going to be cameras in the courtroom, although there would be some outside. He knew how to avoid those. The real risk was in letting the members of the Wizengamot see him, since some of them were certainly Death Eaters.

However, it was only a matter of time until he was seen anyway. The Minister wanted his picture out in public so that Harry would agree to engage in propaganda for the Ministry; he'd told him as much in both of his meetings.

It had been difficult getting into the courtroom without being seen by the reporters. Harry had been forced to use every method at his disposal, most of which included his invisibility cloak and the help of auror Tonks.

"Sirius Black is my Godfather," Harry began. "The last living link I have to the parents who gave their lives for me and by extension for all of you. He tried his best to save me, and I'd ask that you do the merciful thing...the right thing and give him his freedom."

Dumbledore had coached him on the kind of things that would likely sway the members, and Harry did his best to look utterly sincere.

Harry had been tempted to imply a threat, but Dumbledore had assured him that would be a bad idea. No one threatened the Wizagamot, much less a thirteen year old boy. Harry's best bet was to look humble and contrite.

Umbridge stood. "After twelve years in Azkaban, isn't it likely that this man isn't quite sane? He may have been innocent before, but he may be a threat to the Boy-Who-Lived now even if he doesn't want to be."

She smiled in Harry's direction, although it didn't reach her eyes. "This esteemed chamber shouldn't be listening to children who don't know how to be silent when around their betters."

"Like you didn't listen to me when I told you that dementors were likely to attack and wipe out a good portion of the next generation of Britain's wizardkind?" Harry asked.

Umbridge's face turned red and she turned a look of undisguised rage toward Harry. Harry wouldn't have wanted to be in a dark alleyway with her without his wand out.

"I won't talk about who should actually be up here on trial," Harry continued. "As the esteemed Chamber has determined that some things were simply the result of incompetence rather than malice."

This made her turn an even darker red. Harry couldn't help but wonder if he continued would be be able to badger her into a heart attack. Part of him wanted to try.

However he was here for a purpose and getting sidetracked wouldn't do Black any good.

"The muggles have a saying...out of the mouths of babes," Harry said. "Sometimes a child will say things that no adult will. I am saying this...what happened to Sirius Black was an injustice. It wasn't an injustice done by this esteemed never even had him brought before you. But sending him back will compound the injustice that has already been done...and that will be on your own souls."

Harry sat down, ignoring the grateful look black was giving him. He didn't know the man and wasn't sure he wanted to know him, although hearing stories about his parents from someone who was their friend instead of just a teacher did sound inviting.

Harry sat back and watched closely as the vote was called. The result would be whatever it was; he'd done his best to make sure the man got a fair trial. From what he understood, the wizarding court system was corrupt and injust. However, they liked having the appearance of being fair and impartial.

The speeches would be reported in the wizarding newspaper, and he and Dumbledore had backed them into a corner. Whatever bribes they had taken, they weren't willing for the common wizard to realize that the game was rigged.

Sure enough, the vote was for freedom, although it was closer than Harry had expected. Harry tried to take note of the men who had voted against freedom. Those were likely his enemies in one form or another.

He'd try to get a copy of the court report. If he could get a list of his enemies, things might get easier in the future. If he could cross reference them with known Death Eaters, he might even be able to learn something important.

No one might threaten the Wizangamot to their faces, but no one said Harry couldn't make them pay in the long run.

Black looked stunned, as though the very concept of freedom was more than he could understand.

Dumbledore leaned down and murmured in his ear.

It finally seemed to sink in, and the man began to smile, which made him look like more than a shell of a man. Black turned and smiled widely at Harry.

Harry smiled weakly back at the man. Dumbledore had arranged for him to be washed and groomed, but he still looked like a dog that had been starved half to death. The smile helped a little, but it would require months of good meals and good treatment to return him to a semblance of his former self.

The chains on Black were removed and he rose and walked over toward Harry. Harry resisted the urge to go for his wand' just because the man was walking a little faster than he was comfortable with didn't mean that he was coming to attack him.

" saved me," Black said.

The man reached out to hug him, and Harry flinched.

It was an involuntary response; Harry hadn't been touched much in his life and he was uncomfortable with someone wrapping their arms around him. The other man was enough larger than he was that he wouldn't be able to defend himself if he did.

"Sorry," Harry said. "Force of habit."

He offered his hand.

Black stared at him for a moment before shaking his hand.

Harry saw a flash out of the corner of his eye and he cursed, turning. He saw a reporter rapidly moving away.

Scrimgeour looked smug. Apparently he'd given the reporter special dispensation to take photographs inside the court. It was telling that the only picture he took was over Harry shaking hands with Sirius.


It had only been a matter of time before someone had gotten his picture. Harry had known that, but this was going to make disguising himself both harder and even more necessary in public.

"Maybe we should have done this somewhere else?" Black asked sheepishly at the look on Harry's face.

"I can't believe you thought I was shagging an adult man!" Weasley said, confronting him.

Harry shrugged. "How was I to know you weren't? For all I know Gryffindors are engaged in all kinds of weird things behind closed doors."

Beside him, Hermione stiffened.

Harry suspected that he'd pay for the comment later, but it was worth it to see Weasley's face turn red. Apparently the twins had told Ron about the map, and he'd rushed to confront Harry immediately.

"Didn't seem like any of my business," Harry said. "Besides, you'd have thought your brothers might have noticed it, considering that they had the Map for two years before I did."

"Did you have to tell the whole world that I had a grown man staring at me for the last three years?"

"Yes," Harry said. "Yes I did."

Weasley's face turned even redder. There had been speculation in the paper about what the wizard might have done to Ron and his brother.

Although Harry suspected that Pettigrew would have been too afraid of being found out to try anything, the papers brought up the point that Ron and his brother might have been obliviated, and thus not even know if anything had happened.

This thought had apparently bothered Ron enough that the twins weren't even teasing him about it, although other students weren't so careful.

"I don't think anything happened," Harry said. "Pettigrew was a coward, and they asked him under Veritaserum if he'd done anything to you. He said he hadn't."

That much hadn't made it into the paper. Apparently the Wizarding paper loved making salacious allegations without anything to back it up, just as the courts threw men in prison without evidence.

Ron stared at him, looking relieved but still angry.

"A man's life was on the line," Harry said.

Weasley didn't look completely satisfied, but he stalked off in a better mood than when he'd started.

"You really should have told someone," Hermione chided. "Someone our age shouldn't be doing anything with anyone else. It's a crime."

"If I'd told anyone, they'd have wanted to know how I knew," Harry said. "Besides, Ron didn't look particularly upset, so I thought he was OK with whatever it was."

Hermione stared at him. "There's something wrong with you, you know that?"

Harry smirked. "You're only figuring that out now? Besides, if I told about everyone I saw in a broom closet or on the astronomy tower, I wouldn't have time to get my studies done."

Hermione looked conflicted. "Do I really want to know?"

"You really don't," Harry said.

Sometimes knowledge was a burden.

Harry spent the next three months waiting for an attack that never came. Voldemort had made a habit of attacking every year, and Harry reasoned that just because someone else was suspected of attacking him didn't mean that his plans had to change.

It made him a little uncomfortable, actually. If Voldemort wasn't attacking him, what was he doing. Was he building up an army in secret, planning attacks, regaining a body?

The man was working from the shadows, and Harry had no way of knowing what was going to happen next.

One good thing to come of everything was that Black started sending him letters. Harry was happy to see them, after he learned a number of detection spells to check for curses. Sending a letter supposedly from one person would be a good way to kill, assuming a deadly curse or poison was in the letter or on the envelope.

Black was apparently in the care of Dumbledore's organization. He was being treated by a Squib psychologist; apparently his time in Azkaban had given him a severe case of post traumatic stress, as had things he'd been forced to do in the war.

He was getting the care he needed, and he would share a story from his time with Harry's parents each time he sent a letter. Harry soon found himself looking forward to the weekly letters despite the effort it took to check them for traps.

Although he'd told Black that he wouldn't go and live with him until the blood wards on his aunt and uncle's home failed, he did leave open the possibility of living with him later. He encouraged him to get better quickly.

It seemed like no time at all before the term was over and he was heading home.

He'd hardly died at all this year, and he felt this was a massive improvement over previous years. The stronger he got, the harder he was to kill. Maybe he would become Voldemort's equal and then hardly anyone would be able to kill him.

All he could hope for was that the next year was uneventful.

Chapter Text

As Harry stepped through the fireplace, he scowled.

The first three years he'd been going to school he'd had to go through a great deal of trouble to conceal what city he was coming from; he'd taken buses, the subway and the Knight bus, putting himself in all kinds of danger and stress.

He'd actually been killed once that way.

If he'd known that Arabella Figg had a floo connection, that she was one of Dumbledore's agents, he'd have skipped all the stress and danger involved in all of it.

His connection with Sirius Black was already paying dividends. It was Black who had told him about Figg in an effort to get him to spend time with him. Apparently they were comrades from the war.

He still couldn't believe that Sirius had convinced him to come. He enjoyed Quidditch, but seeing a professional match wasn't on his particular wish list.

However, Sirius had waxed poetic about it in his letters over the summer, painting a picture that Harry had found himself growing more and more enthusiastic about. Summers had previously been a relief from the constant terror of Hogwarts, but now that he was becoming more confident in his ability not to die, they were actually becoming boring.

He found himself missing the excitement of school, and missing his friends.

Getting the permission of the Dursleys for him to leave for two days hadn't been difficult; Harry had a feeling they were going to celebrate his being gone. At least they weren't actively trying to make his life more unhappy they way they had before he'd learned he was a wizard.

He'd let them know a little of the things he'd done over the year; partially to tell them about how terrible Hogwarts could be and partially to remind them of just how dangerous he was getting. He wanted them to know that staying on his side would help him stay on theirs in the years to come.

Even Dudley was coming around; Harry made sure to buy a load of Wizarding candy and dole it out to his cousin in secret while telling him stories about Hogwarts that he didn't tell his aunt and uncle. Dudley still was a jerk to him sometime, but Harry had made sure the candy was locked away in a box that Dudley wouldn't be able to get into no matter how hard he tried.

It was a little like training a dog; candy when he was good and nothing when he was bad. He reminded Dudley that if he complained to his parents they'd make him throw all the magical candy out and there would be no more ever again.

It was surprisingly effective.

As Harry stepped out into a dusty house, he saw Sirius Black waiting for him, wand outstretched.

"Who are you?" Black asked suspiciously.

"You asked me to come," Harry said, using his own voice. He'd been practicing doing other voices, but he didn't think he was very good at it.

"Harry?" Black asked. "I wouldn't have recognized you."

The man lowered his wand and Harry relaxed. He'd been afraid that he'd have to pull his own wand, which he was holding inside his robe.

"That's the point," Harry said. "You'll have to change too."

Sirius Black accompanying a boy Harry's age would be a dead giveaway. Harry had been reluctant to go at first, but Black had assured him that no one outside of Dumbledore's people had any idea they were going.

He'd purchased the tickets under an assumed name and they were going to be anonymous.

"What do you have in Mind?" Black asked.

Harry pulled out the Weasley's hairbrush. He had a few ideas, although he wasn't sure how the older man was going to feel about them.

"Let's see what we can do."

"An effective disguise requires some compromises," Harry said. He grinned. The fact that he himself now had Weasley red hair and sunglasses was a case in point.

Sirius looked at him sourly, "You had to make me look like bloody Winston Churchill?"

"You don't look like Churchill," Harry reassured him. "I'm sure there are a lot of fat, balding men out there who aren't Churchill."

"I'm never going to get a bird like this," Sirius said.

"You can deal with it for a couple of days," Harry said. "People will be expecting a rail thin man with wild hair. This is as far the opposite as I could get."

It involved more transfiguration than Harry himself could handle. However, Sirius was apparently very good at transfiguration. It was apparently a requirement to become an animagus.

"All right," Sirius sighed. "Let's go."

Apparently they were going to floo to a business in Diagon Alley that was hosting a variety of staggered portkeys. It was too dangerous to have everyone apparating in at once.

Harry and Sirius stepped through the fireplace and emerged into Diagon Alley. They walked quickly, although Harry had to remind Sirius again how to walk like a fat man.

Apparently there weren't many fat wizards, and Sirius hadn't been around fat people very much. He was a fairly good mimic, however. From his stories, he and Harry's father had seemed to be like the Weasleys; pranksters with a mild bullying streak.

Harry didn't care for bullies, but Sirius seemed so earnest that it was hard to take him as being like the people who had tormented Harry in his first year.

Sirius began to walk more like a hefty man; it was somewhat exaggerated, and Harry wondered if Sirius was a bit of a ham.

That was confirmed when they reached the business. Sirius started speaking with a bad Liverpudlian accent, and Harry almost groaned. The point was to not stand out.

"Lawrence White, old man, here with my son Patrick," Sirius said. ""We're here for the ten o'clock."

People from Liverpool didn't even talk like that? Harry stared at the shopkeeper, waiting for him to say something, but the man barely even looked at them. He waved them through to a room where there was a number of old, dirty items.

They had to touch a rusty old tin can, and Harry found himself wondering if he'd catch tetanus. It'd be humiliating to reset because of something so stupid.

They touched the can at the appointed time, and Harry suddenly remembered why he hated wizarding methods of travel. If he could only figure out something more comfortable he was sure he could make a fortune. He'd be richer than Malfoy.

They ended up in a field in front of a pair of wizards who looked exhausted.

"You White and his boy?" one of the wizards asked disinterestedly.

Sirius nodded.

Harry hoped he didn't go into the accent again.

Sirius glanced at him and his lips twitched. Apparently the accent had been a little prank played on harry himself.

"You need to get moving; we've got more coming in five minutes."

They were directed to a cottage a half mile away. Whatever had been left of the morning fog was rapidly burning away in the morning sun and they could see the cottage long before they reached it.

Sirius proved to be adept at handling Muggle money, which surprised Harry even though it shouldn't have. The man had bragged about having a magical motorcyle in one of his letters.

"Why use a muggle?" Harry asked.

"He owns the property," Sirius shrugged. "They keep having to obliviate him."

"They should have made him think he'd won a trip and used a Squib for this," Harry said. "I'm sure Filch wouldn't mind the extra income."

Of course, Filch probably wasn't the face the championship wanted to present to wizards who were essentially out on holiday. Harry imagined that there had to be squibs out there who could act cheerful, somewhere.

As they made their way toward the rows of tents, Harry saw that he hadn't needed to worry. Apparently wizards on holiday dressed even more insanely than they did in Diagon Alley. He could have dressed Sirius in a feathered headdress and no one would have likely noticed.

Harry wondered if he should have convinced Sirius to bring Hermione and Neville, but he decided it was probably better that he hadn't. The man was wanting to improve their relationship and being part of a crowd wouldn't do that.

Besides, disguising four people was much harder than disguising two.

"I paid extra to get a good spot," Sirius said. "Close to where the action is. We'll have to put the tent up without magic...there are too many muggles around to let us do it the normal way."

Harry had never been camping in his life; his one night in the Forbidden forest was the closest he'd ever been. Fortunately, Sirius seemed to know his way around a tent, and he instructed Harry in how to put the tent up while talking about a time he'd gone camping in Bulgaria with Harry's parents and his other friends.

Apparently Pettigrew had been there too...every time a part of the story would come that involved him, Sirius would suddenly stop and look distant before moving on.

Pettigrew had been Kissed shortly after Sirius had been released. Harry couldn't imagine what it would have been like to have someone who had once been a friend betray you and then have their soul devoured. It would have to lead to mixed feelings.

The inside of the tent was larger than the outside; Harry was thrilled to see that it had its' own loo and other modern amenities. It was a rental, apparently, so Sirius asked him not to destroy anything he didn't have to.

He'd been afraid they'd be sleeping inside something like a muggle tent, and he hadn't looked forward to being uncomfortable. Hogwarts had spoiled him. There had been a time where he wouldn't have thought anything of sleeping on a hard floor in a cupboard with the spiders.

"We'll cook on a fire outdoors, cook'll be like old times," Sirius said. His grin seemed a little forced, but Harry thought that was probably because they hadn't really spent much time together and he wanted to leave a good impression.

The truth was, Harry was already having more fun than he'd had in ages. This wasn't something he had to do, like going to school, and it wasn't something for survival. It was the only vacation he'd ever taken, and everything was novel and new.

He could still smell the scents of cooking outside; breakfast was long past over, but some people were beginning on early lunch.

"We can get some food from one of the stands," said Sirious. "Who wants to cook on a day like today?"

Harry agreed. He was excited to see the sights.

When Sirius gestured for them to go, Harry pulled out his wand and began to gesture with it and mutter under his breath. Sirius watched him for a moment before speaking.

"What are you doing?"

"Alarm spells," Harry said. "To see if anyone tampers with things while we are gone. I'd hate to come back and find someone waiting for me."

"You worry too much," Sirius said. "Nobody knows we are here?"

"I've got a price on my head," Harry said. "Ten thousand galleons. They really ought to raise it, because I plan on making anybody who tries to catch me earn every last knut of it."

Harry doubted that he'd be able to duel an adult wizard who was in practice in a fair fight, but he had no intention of ever getting into a fair fight if he could avoid it.

"Let's go," he said.

They left the tend and walked along the path, seeing wizards with small children sitting outside and tending fires. Even smaller children raced around, chasing each other. Harry wouldn't have realized they weren't muggle children except for the outlandish clothing some of them wore.

As they walked, Harry occasionally saw people he recognized from school. He made an effort not to stiffen or in any way give away the fact that he recognized them. A good portion of disguise was attitude.

Seeing the Weasleys gathered outside a tent at the end of the block of tents they were on was disturbing. Outside the Slytherins, the Weasley twins probably knew him better than anyone outside of Hermione and Neville.

He'd disguised his appearance, but not his voice.

"That's the Weasleys," Harry said. "They know me...let's stay away from them."

"How Slytherin of you," Sirius said.

Harry shrugged. "They know my voice."

Sirius nodded, and they made their way past toward the food stalls and other stalls before reaching the field.

"It was amazing!" Harry said.

He'd loved everything...the Veelas, the strange, exotic foods, the gimracks and gadgets and other things sold.

Excitement permeated everything; and the roar of the crowd made Harry forget that he was under the threat of death. He forgot about survival and about worrying and about his plans for the future.

For the space of a few hours he was able to live in the moment and that was something that was unique and precious.

He hadn't even really cared about which team won, although Sirius apparently favored the Irish.

His face was still flushed at their win and he was grinning like mad. His enthusiasm was infectious. Harry couldn't help but grin with him, and it felt great to have a grin that didn't involve prevarication or thinking about what it meant.

Harry was wearing a pair of omnioculars and a large green Irish hat. He had a large foam finger that had apparently been imported from America and a number of other gadgets and devices that Sirius had insisted on buying him.

They were each chewing on a shepherd's pie that was actually portable; it had been enchanted not to fall apart into a mass of mashed potatoes and meat after the first bite.

Harry has drinking butterbeer from a mug that was enchanted to stay frosty for at least an hour; Sirius had offered to let him try firewhisky, but Harry had refused.

For all the fun he was having, he didn't want anything that would slow his reactions or impair his judgment.

"There's nothing better than Quidditch!" Sirius said. "It's too bad you never got a chance to play.

Harry shrugged. "Slytherin know."

"You're the first Slytherin I've ever actually liked," Sirius said.

Grinning Harry lifted his mug and said, "I'm the first Slytherin I ever liked too."

He hadn't talked to Sirius about Adrian and Colin. Even after all this time it still bothered him enough that he didn't want to face it in any sort of a meaningful way.

If he ever got to a time where it didn't bother him that he'd failed to save people he cared about, he suspected that he really would have become the next dark lord.

On Harry's insistence, they'd waited in the stands as the crowd cleared out; the last thing he wanted to be was in the middle of a crowd of strangers. It would be too easy to get a knife to the ribs. Besides, it was nice getting to simply sit and talk and enjoy the night air.

Now they were able to stroll at their leisure with only a few stragglers around them.

"Watching them reminds me of my glory days," Sirius said. "Back when me and your dad played. We were good...if it wasn't for the war I think your dad might have gone pro. He was the best chaser I'd seen, at least before I went to my last world Quidditch cup."

Sirius loved to talk about the old days, probably because they were all he had. His time in Azkaban had left his life on hold and there wasn't much point in talking about twelve years in a dark room being tormented by dementors while planning on murdering your former friend.

Harry saw the Weasley camp; he was reminded again of how many children they had. He wondered what it would have been like to be part of a family that large.

The Weasleys were approaching their tent when the sounds of the first explosion went off. In the distance Harry could see a fireball as a distant tent went up in flames.

That was followed by a second tent and a third.

Harry's mind raced. He had noticed numerous people he'd taken note of in the Wizengamot in the audience and even more people dressed in Ministry robes. Everyone who was everyone was here.

"They're targeting the Ministry," Harry said.

He pulled out his wand and with a gesture removed the disguise that had covered him; at least the magical parts.

He began racing toward the Weasley tent; they were milling around outside the tent.

He'd been told that the Weasley twins' father was in the Ministry...something to do with Muggles. Harry suspected that Voldemort's people had probably booby trapped the tents of people suspected of being muggle sympathizers.

It would serve a dual purpose; first if they killed off enough muggle sympathizers and replaced them with their own people the balance of power in the government might shift. Furthermore, attacking them here would help intimidate those who escaped being killed.

Harry saw one of the Weasleys about to go into the tent. It was the oldest of them, probably the father.


The oldest Weasley stopped and turned, staring at him. The twins seemed to recognize him, because they stopped him with urgent words.

In the distance he could hear the sounds of other explosions.

Harry heard the sound of apparition all around him; apparently he had been heard and people were coming for him.

He should have known. They'd have troops on the ground to attack members of the Ministry who'd escaped the traps.

Harry grimaced.

This was going to hurt.

Chapter Text

Diving to his left, Harry saw beams of light striking where he had just been.

There were three attackers, all of whom were wearing hooded robes and masks with snake like eye slits. They moved like they knew what they were doing, which meant Harry was in trouble. If these had been average wizards just after the reward he might have had a chance, but against trained Death Eaters there wasn't much he could do but cheat.

He did just that, throwing darkness powder into the air just as the wizards were taking aim at him. He'd run out of his first doses of powder, but Sirius had been able to get him a new supply.

Dodging, because they'd surely taken note of where he had been, he lashed out with a quick Diffindo; a cry of pain said that man hadn't dodged fast enough.

Harry rolled on the ground and a moment later he was out of the cloud running toward the Weasleys. He could see Sirius coming behind, still in his disguise.

The sounds of apparating came from within the cloud and Harry instinctively dodged again. No attack came this time.

"You need to get out," Harry shouted. "Leave the tent...they're bobby trapped."

The Weasleys were still standing, staring dumbfounded at the cloud of inky smoke left behind Harry gestured into the distance where the sounds of still more explosions were being heard.

"Harry?" One of the twins asked.

Harry realized that he still had the muggle part of his disguise on; he pointed his wand at his face and a moment later his face was scoured clean. It was unpleasant but effective.

"Can you apparate out?" Harry asked the twins father.

Mr. Weasley frowned. He pulled out his wand and checked.

"They've got anti-apparition wards up. They can raise and lower them to let their own people through, but there's no way of knowing when it's down until it's down."

"Then we've got to get far enough away that we're outside the ward," Sirius said, coming up from behind. He was more winded than he should have been. Although this fit his current appearance as a fat man, Harry suspected that he still need more recuperation and exercise after years trapped in a cell.

"He's with me," Harry said as the Weasleys all pulled their wands.

"I'm going to stay and help the others," the Weasley's father said. "You boys run along and..."

"No..." Harry said. "Think about are their target. They'd love to either kill you and replace you or capture one of your kids and use that to control whatever power you have in the government."

The man stared at Harry. "What are you saying?."

"I'm saying if you don't stay close and protect your family, you may regret it," Harry said. "I'll bet they target people with families because it's too hard to apparate away if there are too many people."

Mr. Weasley glanced into the distance; there were sounds of fighting. He was clearly torn. "All right boys, let's go into the forest," His expression was grim.

"We'll need to split up," Harry said. "There's a bounty on my head, and they'll be coming for me."

"From what you said, they're out to kill all of us," Mr. Weasley said. "You can hardly make things any worse than they already are."

Harry stared at him then nodded. "All right. Let's go."

Privately he thought he and Sirius would have a better chance without the Weasleys. It was harder to hide seven people than it was two, and with their distinctive red hair they'd be easy to see.

As they started walking, Harry reached into his bag and pulled out the brush the Weasleys had made for him. He threw it to one of the twins.

"Change your hair color; it'll help us blend in."

The Weasleys quickly showed their father and brother how to change their hair black as they kept moving. There was a huge crowd of people heading into the forest, so many that Harry feared a stampede. He'd been crushed to death once and had no intention of doing it again.

He regretted not bringing the wall crawling shoes or the new blindsight goggles the Weasleys had gotten for him.

"Did I hear the Ministry is buying your design for the goggles," he asked George.

Nodding, George said, "There aren't that many basilisks out there, but there's some interest from the aurors. They've bought fifty sets already...we've been so busy making them we haven't had any time for any of our other projects."

"Let me know if you come up with anything new," Harry said.

He glanced around them; they were entering the woods in the middle of a crowd. He knew it was only a matter of time before the men who had attacked came back with reinforcements. He assumed it would be sooner rather than later.

Black shadows moved around the edge of his vision. He heard a scream of pain and he saw a flash of green light off in the distance.

"They're in the woods," Harry said.

Undoubtedly they'd known that people would be fleeing into the woods and they'd set up ambush points in the woods.

Harry wasn't sure how they were choosing to target people. Pureblood ideology aside, they needed the will of the people if they were going to rule later. They had to convince people that purebloods would be safe and that only enemies would be targeted.

They had to have a list of people they were targeting, and the attacks had to be quick. It wouldn't be long before the Ministry managed to counterattack. Given the number of wizards around the attackers had to be sorely outnumbered.

Harry suspected that the masked and cowled wizards were probably in the minority. They were there to panic people, to make them run. The real murders would be done by wizards dressed like everyone else in the confusion and the darkness.

The best way to kill someone was in a crowd. Everyone would be so worried about saving themselves that they wouldn't see what was happening to anyone else.

Harry jogged ahead.

"Don't just watch out for the ones in masks," Harry said to Mr. Weasley and the twins. "They'll probably have ones out in the crowd to do for you as well."

He gestured toward the Ministry insignia on Mr. Weasley's robe. "You'd better take that off or hide it; I'm betting they're focusing on people wearing Ministry clothes."

Mr. Weasley looked down and cursed quietly.

"Don't pull the robes off," Harry warned. "They'll be targeting people who look like muggles too. The important thing is to look like everyone else and not stand out."

The man pointed his wand and transfigured the insignia to turn black. In the darkness it wouldn't be visible.

Harry nodded. "We need to keep moving."

The flashes of light were coming closer. Harry assumed that the wizards who had apparated away were going for reinforcements. Capturing or killing Harry Potter would be the perfect cap to the attack and would win them a place at Voldemort's right hand.

They raced through the forest, screams echoing the distance. At times they came across bodies; all of them invariably bore Ministry insignia on their robes.

Ron Weasley stared at him as they passed the first body, as if to ask how he'd known.

People who hadn't lived the life he had didn't have the habit of looking ahead two or three steps. It was the only way to survive.

The trees were thick except along the path; it would make it easy to funnel people into areas where they could be picked out and murdered with impunity.

"Hey," Harry asked, hurrying up to one of the twins. "Can you cast a supersensory charm on someone else?"

He knew they knew the charm; they'd had to learn it to make the goggles. The usual version had to be cast on oneself, from what he'd understood, but he suspected that they'd modified the spell as part of creating the visor, or they'd found an older, lesser used version somewhere.

George nodded for a moment. He pointed his wand at Harry and a moment later the world seemed to brighten around him.

While the woods were only lit by dim moonlight, now they seemed as though they were lit as if on a cloudy day. Harry could see faces and clothes and it occurred to him that the wizards who were attacking were probably using something similar to help identify the wizards they wanted to kill.

Stumbling around in the darkness, frightened and distracted, those wizards wouldn't have much of a chance. It wouldn't work on trained aurors, not for long, but most of the people who worked in the Ministry were bureaucrats, people who hadn't picked up a wand for dueling since they were in school.

The twins quickly applied the spell to everyone and the pushed forward.

It was because of the spell that Harry saw someone lunge at them from the shadows. The man was huge. Harry's wand was already out before he could even think about it and blood was already spurting before the man had a chance to bring his wand to bear on the twin's father.

Harry looked down dispassionately as the body hit the forest floor. It was a huge blonde man, heavily muscled.

Sirius kicked his wand away and kicked the sleeve of his robe away with the edge of his boot. As ugly as anything there was a tattoo on his forearm; it was jet black and was of a skull with a serpent for a tongue.

Mr. Weasley stared at him; the twins, Ron and an older Weasley boy stared at Harry as well. He'd just killed a man in front of them, and he wasn't sure he felt anything.

"They'll be coming," Harry said. "We need to get going."

Mr. Weasley glanced down at the figure on the ground, and then back up at Harry. He grimaced, then nodded.

They pushed ahead.

Up ahead they could hear the sounds of screaming and of battle. Harry grimaced. Depending on the trails was a good way to get killed.

"We need to get off the trail," he said.

People up ahead were already panicking and turning back. If they got caught up in it they'd be crushed between those behind them who didn't know what was going on and those ahead who were still fleeing.

Harry pointed his wand to the side and a quick diffindo let him cut through the underbrush.

He whispered to the oldest Weasley boy, who was going to be the last one through. He'd cast a reparo behind them so that their tracks wouldn't be so obvious.

Of course, the spell would only make the plants seem to be restored; it couldn't restore a dead limb to life. All it had to do was get them to safety; Harry didn't care what happened in the future.

Pushing through the undergrowth was a little eerie; although he could see everything, there were still shadows cast in places. The spell couldn't let him see when there was no light.

He heard the screaming, panicking crowd retreating into the distance as they moved quickly.

With his enhanced vision he saw an old animal trail, and they were soon making better time. They still had to fight some overgrown plants and bushes, but he didn't have to hack a trail through the woods.

He could smell everything; the acrid scent of human sweat, the shampoos some wizards and witches used in their hair. He could smell the scent of animals in the distance; they too smelled frightened and confused.

The fresh scent of loam underneath them; he could even smell the decaying leaves and the smell of berries in the distance.

He could hear the frightened panting of hundreds; he could hear the racing of hundreds of frightened hearts. If he hadn't experienced it before he would have been stunned.

Ron Weasley, his father and oldest brother seemed overwhelmed by what they were seeing and hearing. The twins, however seemed used to it. They had, of course experienced it while experimenting and creating their goggles.

Finally they reached a spot that Mr. Weasley thought would be out of the way of the antiapparition wards.

"Who all can apparate?" Harry asked.

Apparently only Mr. Weasley, the oldest boy and Sirius could apparate. Unfortunately that left Harry, the twins and Ron who couldn't. Apparition was dangerous at the best of time, and the older wizards all admitted that they couldn't side along apparate more than one person at a time.

Since they couldn't exactly summon the Knight Bus to the middle of a forest with no streets, there weren't many other options.

Part of apparating was knowing exactly where one was going. While anyone could apparate out, returning would be much more difficult.

An idea occurred to Harry.

"Can any of you do human transfiguration?" he asked.

All the adults nodded.

"Turn Ron and the boys into something you can fit in your pockets," Harry said. "Apparate out, then turn them back when you get to where you are going."

Mr. Weasley brightened at that. "You're a fast thinker, Harry."

Harry could hear the sounds of footsteps approaching. Before, with the tread of hundreds of feet he hadn't been able to distinguish anyone. Now he could hear them; which meant they could probably hear him as well.

"We need to hurry," He said.

Mr. Weasley grimaced. He turned to the oldest Weasley boy.

"Always wanted to do this," the boy said.

Before either twin could understand what was about to happen, they shrank and twisted, turning into red haired weasels.

They chittered angrily, but their brother picked them up and said, "And if you aren't good I'll leave you like this for a while."

A moment later he, and they were gone.

"Thanks for this," Mr. Weasley said. He grabbed a wide eyed Ron and a moment later they were gone as well.

"Let's go," Sirius said.

He grabbed Harry, and nothing happened.

"Damn," Sirius said. "They've put up another anti-apparition jinx."

"We've got to go," harry said.

There were at least six attackers this time, with more coming behind. Harry knew it would only be a matter of time before they found him. Since they all had the supersensory charm up, darkness powder wouldn't make much of a difference. His invisibility cloak wouldn't either, since they'd be able to hear his and Sirius's breathing.

Worse, they were coming from all directions.

Harry guessed that since he'd been spotted before they'd been tracking him. Whether it was by scent, or tracks, or by some other means. What mattered now was getting away.

He glanced at Sirius, still in his ridiculous fat man outfit. It was probably too late to try another disguise.

Reaching into his pocket, Harry grimaced. There weren't as many objects as he'd planned to bring; if he'd been allowed to use a shrinking charm he could have done more.

Leaning close to Sirius, Harry cast a bubble head charm. Confused, Sirius followed suit.

Although the aurors had probably seen the results of what he'd done to the basilisk, they hadn't been sure of exactly what he'd done. He hadn't been particularly forthcoming either. A trick that people knew about was a trick they could guard against.

He realized quickly that it was too late to go any further; they had found a clearing but the underbrush was thick everywhere except for the three trails that intersected the clearing. The enemy was coming from all three trails.

If he'd been an animagus like Sirius he'd have switched into a dog and he'd have moved easily through the underbrush.

Instead, he gestured toward the tree above them.

Sirius nodded and cast a silent wingardium on Harry's clothes. Harry floated up into the air, coming to settle on the tree.

Sirius pulled out of his robes and shifted into dog form. Harry used wingardium to lift the robes with Sirius on them until he reached the branch beside them; Harry couldn't wingardium something the weight of a full grown man, but Sirius weighed half as much as a dog.

Sirius transformed back.

Harry quickly began transfiguring things he pulled out of his pack into the hot pepper powder.

He let Sirius's robe drop drop to the ground. As the men cautiously entered the clearing, he dropped the pepper.

Something was wrong; it took Harry a moment to realize that they all had bubble head charms. Apparently someone had an agent ion the aurors.

They were looking at each other and around. It would only be a moment before they thought to listen for the sound of his breathing, and then it would all be over.

Time to go with his second plan. Harry gestured for Sirius to close his eyes. He then pointed his wand and closed his own eyes.

"Lumnos Maxima!" he shouted.

A blinding flash of light came from his wand, so bright that even through his eyelids he felt a little blinded. He'd put everything he had into the spell, and if he was lucky the men would have looked up at the sound of his voice.

He heard the screams from below as the men stared into the blinding light with eyes that had enhanced night vision.

Before they could recover, Harry started casting.

"Diffindo!" "Diffindo!" "Diffindo" "Diffindo!"

He could hear Sirius beside him trying to cast stunners. Harry didn't care; with part of the Ministry compromised anyone they sent to jail would likely be out soon.

It was over in a matter of moments. Six men were down, and he could hear no more in the trees.

He accio'd their wands and then he and Sirius cautiously descended to the forest floor. His night vision was shot, but his wand was still lit bright enough to light the entire forest.

Dispelling it, Harry was startled as something filled the night sky. It was a green glowing skull, the dark mark.

Undoubtedly that was the signal for the Death Eaters to retreat.

He felt relieved, even as Sirius stared at him over the pile of dead bodies.

Chapter Text

Blood and death surrounded them and Harry wasn't sure how he felt about it. He had killed before, but never quite so cold bloodedly, and never in front of witnesses.

What would Sirius think of him?

"You should have saved one for questioning," Sirius said.

In the greenish light of the dark mark floating in the sky, his face took on a strange cast. He looked at Harry and it took Harry a moment to realize what he was seeing.


He'd forgotten that this was a man who'd spent twelve years planning the murder of his ex-friend. This was a man who had fought in the last war, who had undoubtedly seen things that Harry hadn't yet seen.

"We'd better get out of here," Harry said. It felt like he kept having to say it over and over, but it was true.

The last thing he needed was for Scrimgeour to have these murders to hold over his head. Harry doubted that any charges would stick, but the time in court would damage his reputation and being transported to and from court would leave numerous chances for him to be assassinated.

Sirius nodded. "I can hear aurors coming."

Harry could hear them too, although he didn't know how Sirius knew they were aurors. He wondered if Sirius's nose was better than a normal wizard's even in his human form because he was an animagus. If it was, how much better would he be able to smell under the supersensory spell.

Grabbing his robe off the ground; Sirius looked around to see if they'd left any other evidence. There was powder everywhere from Harry's attempt to make the wizard's eyes and mouth's burn. Under a supersensory charm, Harry could only imagine how painful it would be. It likely would have incapacitated them without needing to do anything else.

He grabbed Harry as the footsteps got closer, and a moment later Harry felt like he was being pulled through a straw.

A moment later they were standing on the top step of a house. Harry hadn't seen the outside of Sirius's house before, but Sirius had shown him a slip of paper that had let him in on whatever secret. He was his own Secret Keeper apparently, a precaution of which Harry approved.

Sirius sagged to the ground; he looked shocked.

"Not exactly what I planned when I took you on holiday," he said.

Harry grinned weakly. "It's pretty much exactly what I expected."

He'd been running on adrenaline for more than half an hour; he suddenly felt himself crashing. A sudden wave of exhaustion swept over him and he grimaced.

The door opened, and a wizened creature scowled out at them. It was the ugliest house elf Harry had ever seen.

"Kreacher," Sirius said. "Make some tea."

As they staggered to their feet, Harry asked, "I don't suppose you can teach me that animagus thing...or maybe just how to apparate. That sounds like it would be dead useful."

"Harder to do than you'd think...illegal too, although I doubt that'd bother you much."

Harry snickered. He'd just left a total of seven men dead. He was hardly likely to worry about a charge for underage apparition.

"Animagus transfiguration is pretty complicated," Sirius said. "You've got to hold a mandrake leaf in your mouth for a month before you put it in a potion."

Harry stared at him. "Pranking me, are you? Now?"

"I swear!" Sirius said. "There's a reason most wizards don't bother. Apparition is easier and more useful, and not even all wizards bother to learn that very well."

"Wizards are lazy," Harry said.

"We've got a couple of days before you have to go back. Maybe we can see if I can teach you a couple of things."

"You were there?" Hermione asked.

Harry nodded.

He'd worried that the twin's father would have told the Ministry about his killing the Death Eater, but the man hadn't. The twins hadn't contacted him over the summer, but as he'd been getting on the train he saw them staring at him.

His main worry was going to be Ron Weasley. He didn't think the boy was any better at keeping secrets than Hagrid, and if he blabbed about Harry committing murder at school, Harry would find himself in trouble faster than he wanted.

Getting the twins to help him might be important. If necessary he'd obliviate Ron, although going back nine days might be difficult. He wasn't an experienced hand like Lockhart.

Maybe intimidation was the best tactic. He'd try to talk to Ron first, and he'd try to get the twins to talk to him, but reminding him of just what Harry could be like might be the best option.

"Was it as bad as they say in the papers?"

It hadn't been as bad as it could have been; only four members of the Wizangamot had died, mostly because several members had sent their house elves back to the tents for a variety of things. The house elves had died, of course; apparently twelve members had been targeted, almost a quarter of the Wizangamot.

Of course, the rest of the Ministry hadn't fared as well. Almost forty members were dead, some of them in key positions. Harry expected that whoever replaced them was likely going to be suspect.

The Death Eaters had lost thirty members; Harry had accounted for seven of those. However, from what Harry had been able to understand, many of those who were lost were not members of the inner circle, but rather wanna-bes.

Wizarding papers were all screaming about the failures in security. Apparently there had been efforts made to secure Ministry officials' tents, but the people who were running security had been Imperiused. They had purposefully misdirected the aurors to places where the Death Eaters hadn't been attacking and they'd sown as much confusion as possible.

The Ministry was trying to spin the Death Eater deaths as a victory, but for once the wizarding public wasn't buying it. This was clearly a disaster for the Ministry and clearly heads were going to roll politically.

"It was worse," Harry said. "There were bodies in the forest, people being attacked. It was a nightmare."

He was desperately glad he hadn't invited them; not only would he have hated them to be at risk, but the thought that they might feel differently about him because of what he'd done was painful to him.

Even Sirius, although he'd been careful not to act very much differently toward Harry had been a little more cautious around him. They'd studied the basics of apparition, although Harry still hadn't managed to accomplish it.

The deaths of the Death Eaters by cutting had been noted; Harry suspected that he needed to find other go to spells for attacking since diffindo was becoming known as his signature spell.

Before they could ask any more questions, the door to the cabin opened and the twins stepped in. They were holding a large basket.

"Hello, hello!" George said. "Mum had us bring a thank you gift for Harry-kins."

Now that he noticed it, a delicious smell was coming from the basket. It smelled like warm cookies, the kind that Dudley always got and Harry never had. He'd managed to swipe the crumbs a few times before tossing the lot out in the trash though.

"Thank you gift?" Hermione asked.

"Harry saved our dad's life," Fred said. "Saw what was happening and got us into the forest before the death squad could get to him. She wants you to know how thankful she is."

As they handed over the basket, Harry pulled out his wand.

"Don't you trust us?" George asked.

Harry shook his head. "Considering that half your pranks are edible, not really. I wouldn't be surprised if you slipped a little something into the care package."

It would almost be a point of pride for them. They'd want him to know that nothing had changed, that even though they had seen him kill a man their relationship wasn't any different.

"Like this," Harry said, pulling out one cookie sitting innocuously among the other cookies.

"You wound us!" Fred said. "That must have slipped in the back by mistake."

"What does it do?" Harry asked.

He might want to slip it to one of his enemies after all.

Lupin wasn't going to be a professor again this year.

Apparently Snape had gone to the Board with wild accusations about his being a werewolf and he'd been sacked.

Harry wondered if Snape was still spying for Dumbledore; if he was it was possible that he'd had to get Lupin sacked because Voldemort's followers didn't want competent wizards coming out of the school. They wanted wizards who would be easy to cow, barely competent and easily herded.

Of course it was possible that it was a personal matter as well. Snape loved to hold grudges and there had never been any love lost between the two professors.

In any case, Harry wasn't particularly looking forward to seeing what incompetent clown the Ministry had sent to teach them now. If the teacher wasn't incompetent he would likely be a Death Eater. Neither held much of an appeal.

Harry had actually learned from Lupin and it irritated him to no end that the one competent Defense teacher they'd had had been dismissed over something as inconsequential as being a werewolf.

After all, werewolves were human twenty seven days out of the month, and the other three they were only dangerous by night. It was a manageable condition, and from what Harry understood there were even potions to allow them to avoid murdering everyone around them.

However, wizards had strange prejudices. While they didn't think anything of things that would bother muggles, like male wizards wandering around in women's clothes or not wearing underwear at all, or enslaving an entire race. There were even wizards who mated with giants and goblins, something which boggled Harry's mind. By comparison, being a werewolf seemed almost mundane.

The sorting had begun. Harry halfway listened; he wasn't particularly interested in the first years. None of them would have enough power to help him, and none of them typically had anything interesting to say either.

"CREEVY, DENNIS," McGonagall called out.

Harry stiffened as a tiny boy stepped forward. He bore a striking resemblance to Colin, but he seemed smaller than Colin ever had.

It surprised him that Colin's muggleborn parents had allowed Dennis to come to Hogwarts after what had happened to their brother. If it had been him he'd have moved to France if that was what it took to keep his child away from the school that had killed his other school.

He felt a sudden wave of sadness wash over him as he watched the boy sitting on the seat. A moment of anxiety washed over him as the hat was placed on the boy's head.

Not Slytherin. Anything but Slytherin; Harry closed his eyes. While he was much more capable of protecting this boy that he had his brother, he knew the boy wouldn't be happy in the House that had gotten his brother killed.

If Colin had ended up in Gryffindor like he should have, he would still be alive, even if some other Slytherin was dead.

He breathed a sigh of relief as the boy was announced as a Gryffindor and headed over for that table.

"Didn't want a mudblood in the house," Malfoy asked, watching him closely. "There might be hope for you yet."

"Have a cookie?" Harry asked.

Malfoy stared at him suspiciously. "Didn't I see the Weasleys going toward your compartment with a basket of cookies?"

Harry shrugged with an innocent look on his face. Malfoy was getting smarter and more observant, apparently.

"No thanks," Malfoy said quickly.

"Your loss," Harry said.

Crabbe would probably go for it. The boy had never seen a cookie he didn't like.

The sorting ended uneventfully. Harry idly wondered how the Hat was able to make sure that the numbers were so equal every year. Couldn't there be a year where every student was a Ravenclaw or a Hufflepuff? Did the hat operate on a quota system?

Quidditch might get weird if three quarters of the students were Gryffindors.

Malfoy leaned toward him. "My father tells me that they're re-instituting the Tri-Wizard Tournament this year."

He spoke quietly enough that none of the students around him seemed to notice what he was saying. Harry suspected that this was both something he shouldn't know and shouldn't be telling. Maybe Malfoy was trying to impress him.

Maybe Malfoy had heard something about what Harry had done and wanted to stay on his good side. Considering that the only people he could have heard it from was the Death Eaters, that worried Harry a little.

"What's that?"

"It's a contest between three of the schools...they quit having it in 1792 because too many people died after a cockatrice escaped and hurt three of the judges."

Harry felt a sudden knot in the pit of his stomach.

A contest like that would be the perfect way to assassinate someone. Beyond the fact that the contest itself might be lethal enough to kill them without any assistance, sabotage would make it even easier.

It would be the laziest way to murder someone possible. Done right and no one would know it was murder at all.

"Why are they doing it?" Harry asked.

"After the disaster at the World Cup, the Ministry is trying to draw attention away from their incompetence by giving the public something else to focus on."

"Bread and circuses," Harry muttered. He scowled at the food on his plate. "And everyone is o.k. with putting their children in a death match?"

Malfoy rolled his eyes at him, and Harry suddenly remembered the casual indifference of wizards toward injuries. As long as no one died, no one seemed to care how much pain was involved.

"Everybody is scrambling to get it done in a short time...they should have really been planning it since the beginning of the summer; getting as much done as they have in nine days has been a minor miracle. The hardest part was getting the other schools to agree."

The door to the Great Hall slammed open suddenly.

A figure stood in the doorway, illuminated by a flash of lightning from the ceiling. For a moment Harry wasn't even sure if the figure was human. It looked like something out of one of Harry's nightmares, a dream where he'd kept all the injuries he'd accumulated through all of his deaths, including being run over by the train.

Every surface of his skin was covered in hideous scars. He was missing part of his nose, which looked like it had been bitten off. He was missing one leg, and the prosthetic was a primitive wooden leg with a clawed foot.

Worst of all, he had a prosthetic eye that was rotating wildly, staring madly in one direction and then another, moving in all directions seemingly at once. His human eye was dark and beady and scanned everyone in a way that Harry was familiar with.

The man's eye rested on Harry for a long moment and Harry stared back at him. Looking intimidated wasn't going to keep him alive. He'd learned that every day he'd been in Slytherin. Harry kept his hand on his wand under the table, and he had a feeling that the man knew what he was doing, even though there should have been no possible way for him to do so.

It felt as though Harry was being judged for how dangerous he was.

The man eventually stumped forward on his wooden leg. Given the power of wizardly healing, every wound on him had to be a curse wound, indicating either an enormous number of individual incidents or one singe very bad one.

"I am proud to announce your new Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, Professor Moody," Dumbledore said after the man stumped his way to the head table and shook his hand.

Usually when there was a new professor announced there was applause, sometimes polite and sometimes enthusiastic depending on the reputation of the teachers involved. Now there was only dead silence.

Harry grimaced. The man had obviously had a great deal of experience; at the very least he'd be able to tell them what not to do.

Slowly, Harry began to clap. Neville and Hermione, looking shocked still followed suit a few moments later. The twins followed, and shortly after that there was a spattering of applause.

Dumbledore glanced at Harry with a look of approval.

Although the other Slytherins were staring at him, Harry thought they should have been the first to clap. Getting the approval of a new professor was smart. Getting the approval of a professor who looked like he would murder you was even smarter.

He blinked as he realized from the gasp of the people around him that Dumbledore was announcing the Triwizard Tournament to everyone.

The man was droning on about the history of the tournament, and about how dangerous it was. While the sour looks from the Slytherins around Harry looked as though they had the proper attitude toward the event, Harry could see that the Gryffindors looked like they'd been given a free shopping spree to a candy store.

It was everything a Gryffindor loved...glory, death and destruction, more approving audience.

What worried him was that the Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs seemed almost as enthusiastic. What was wrong with people?

They'd just seen the living embodiment of what could happen walk into the room and yet they were still anxious to walk into their deaths.

"The tournament will be restricted to students who are of age, that is seventeen or older. Given the dangers of the event, it is unlikely that students of younger ages would survive."

Harry stood up suddenly. "If someone were to put someone else's name in the cup, even though they were underage, would they still have to participate?"

He had a sudden, dead certainty that this was Voldemort's plan. It might even be Scrimgeour's plan. Harry didn't get the impression that Scrimgeour was much of a believer in the prophecy. Killing off the boy who lived would prove the prophecy wrong and might even give people hope that Voldemort wasn't immortal.

"We will take every precaution to make sure that doesn't happen;" Dumbledore said. "And even if it did, the Goblet is designed to choose the best student from each school for the contest. It is unlikely that it would choose anyone under seventeen because they simply wouldn't have the power or skill to be chosen."

Harry should have felt a sense of relief, but he didn't. He was actually older than he looked, and more skilled. He might conceivably be considered for the running even if the contest was fair. Harry wondered if the cup would take his reset ability into consideration. Whoever was behind the plot would doubtlessly find a way to enter him and make the contest not fair.

"But if it did happen, would they have to participate?" Harry asked.

"It would be a magically binding contract," Dumbledore said.

Harry felt as though the world was closing in on him, inevitably and inexorably. He was going to have a talk with Dumbledore about security arrangements, but somehow he knew it wasn't going to be enough.


Chapter Text

"If there had been more time they'd have had the students from the other schools here already," Malfoy was telling the other Slytherins at the table. "But since it's a rush job we won't see them for another three weeks."

Apparently now that the announcement had been made he no longer had to whisper. He seemed to enjoy having all the others listening to him, even the upper years.

Harry was scowling.

"Won't they be at a disadvantage?" One of the Slytherins was asking. "Since they won't have a chance to put their names in the Goblet."

"They be giving their applications to their Headmasters who will drop them into the goblet in one great lot," Malfoy said.

Harry stiffened. Why were they bothering with an age line and magical protections and all the other easily bypassed foolishness when they could be doing what the other schools were doing.

After all, the age line could easily be bypassed by a long stick. The purebloods might not think of a simple muggle solution like that, but the muggleborns and some of the halfbloods assuredly would.

The assumed one simply couldn't levitate an application across, have an older owl deliver it, or simply bribe an older student. Harry could think of a half dozen ways around the age line in the first few minutes...he was sure he could come up with a few more given a month to plan.

As everyone began filing out of the Great Hall talking excitedly, Harry stayed behind, hoping to talk to the professors who were talking among theirselves.

"Um...Headmaster," Harry began.

"Yes Harry?" Dumbledore said, turning away from the new Defense Professor.

Harry scowled. "You know this is a bad idea, right? They're going to find a way to put my name in the goblet and force me to risk my life."

"You still have three years to go before you'll be eligible," Dumbledore said.

"I still have enemies among the older Slytherins," Harry said, staring up at the man. "Sixth and seventh years who would think it clever to put my name into the Goblet and hope that things go...poorly."

The other professors were listening to him now, as well as a few of the students who had remained behind.

"Should that happen, the Goblet would choose the strongest candidate," Dumbledore said. He looked at Harry. "Someone who has fought multiple adult wizards and survived might not have as hard a time as he thinks."

Harry stared at Dumbledore, feeling a sudden cold sweat. How much did he know? Sirius and Mr. Weasley were both loyal to him; had they told him, or had he pieced it together because he had used a spell not normally used in combat, one known to be used often by him?

"The age line will be easy to get around," Harry continued. "Especially by muggleborns."

"Anyone clever enough to get around the Goblet's protections may be a fine candidate. If not, the cup will know."

Harry stared at the man. It was like talking to a stone.

"Shouldn't all the schools use the same methods to present candidates?" Harry asked suddenly. "The other schools are giving their applications to their Headmasters, who are checking applications for suitability. In the interest of fairness shouldn't we use the same method?"

"And spoil the anticipation?" Dumbledore asked. He smiled down at Harry. "The Ministry wishes for us to bring back the majesty of these games! The excitement and opportunity for anyone to participate is part of that."

He meant that the Ministry wanted people to lose their minds over this the way they did professional Quidditch, hoping to distract from their current troubles. They wanted the students writing home to their parents, getting their parents excited about the chance that they might get chosen, even though all but one of them never would.

It was a little like a lottery, except the prize was death.

"You aren't going to change your mind?" Harry asked.

Dumbledore shook his head. "The game will play to its conclusion."

It was all Harry could do to avoid cursing.

Despite the cloud of doom that was hanging over Harry, the school year began normally. Sprout had them squeezing bubotuber puss, which was apparently an excellent treatment for acne.

Harry was surprised they needed as little as they did. In a school with eight hundred teenagers who ate a diet that would make Dudley proud, he'd have expected to have needed tens of gallons of the stuff a week at the very least.

Hagrid continued to show poor judgment by breeding weird mutant stinging lobster things that would apparently shoot fire from their butts when they were older. The fact that he had five hundred of the things and the fact that they looked like they were going to at least the size of a man did not bode well for the school at all.

Harry hoped he didn't have to preemptively end Hagrid's experiment with these; he'd been so inconsolable after the death of the dragon hatchling. He'd blamed himself.

Neville exploded a cauldron in Professor Snape's class. That had gotten to be a rather rare occasion, actually, since he'd begun getting help from Hermione and occasionally Harry. Snape seemed particularly in a bad mood, however, and this had set Neville off.

Harry wondered if Snape was disappointed that reporting on Lupin hadn't got him the Defense job that he wanted. It was obvious that he hated teaching potions, and he'd shown as much skill in dueling as he had in potions.

He would probably be a quite competent teacher, and if he was happier not dealing with the minefield that was forty students dealing with chemical concoctions that could explode at any time he might be nicer to everyone.

However, from the expressions of the older Slytherins who had Moody, it didn't look like he'd get the chance. They seemed impressed, and given that they'd spent years learning not to show their emotions that was impressive.

Harry couldn't help but feel a little anticipation as he approached the day of his first class with Moody. None of the other students had been willing to tell him what it was like. Hermione and Neville weren't any help, since they'd have the class only a little before he did.

He got a seat early, sitting next to Malfoy and Nott.

As the man limped into the room, Harry could see everyone becoming quiet, with a sense of anticipation that wasn't there with the other professors.

Moody took role and then said, "Put the books away. We're studying curses this year, a subject I suspect many of you have an intimate knowledge of, although not from class."

Harry frowned. It was probably true, given that most of the Slytherin class was composed of purebloods and had probably learned things from their families that Muggleborns never would. Still, it was impolite of him to say.

"I'm sure I don't have to tell any of you what the Unforgivables are," Moody said. "But for the sake of the hopelessly clueless, will someone tell us what they are?"

"The Imperius, the Cruciatus and the killing curse," Malfoy said quickly.

"Anyone know why these are punished more severely than any of the other curses?" Moody asked.

The room was suddenly silent.

Moody unveiled a spider.

"Imperio," he said.

A moment later he made the spider dance. He made it jump through hoops, perform a number of tricks. The room was dead silent.

"The Gryffindor classes I've showed this to laughed," Moody said. "But not you. You lot know what it means, don't you? Too many family stories about people forced to do things they'd never do...or forced to bend to your will. You could force someone to do anything..."

He leaned forward. "Or you could wake up to realize you were the one who had been controlled."

Harry shuddered. His life was difficult enough without the ability to control his own will. One of his greatest nightmares was being locked away somewhere, unable to die as everyone he loved was destroyed.

Moody waved his wand and muttered "Engorgio."

The spider swelled in size until it was larger than Harry's fist.

"Crucio," Moody said.

The spider danced again, but this time it was different. It finally rolled over and its legs twitched horribly. If it had had a voice Harry was sure it would have been screaming.

The class was silent, watching dispassionately, although Harry could see some subtle signs of people being upset. There was a tenseness in people's shoulders, and some of them were holding desks tighter than they should have been.

Their faces they kept impassive. Slytherin was all about control, after all.

"Cold blooded lot, aren't you?" Moody asked. He reduced the spider. "Pain...but I'd suppose you'd all know a great deal about this one as well. I'm sure you've all had family members on one side of the wand or the other."

"Avada Kedavra," he said.

Green light flashed and a moment later the spider was dead.

Moody left the spider on the table, mute testament to the power of the curse.

"No shield can block it...there's no countercurse. There's no forgiveness...only one person is known to have survived, and he's in this very room..."

It wasn't the first time Harry had seen the killing curse, of course; it wasn't even the first time he'd experienced it. He was probably the only person who knew what it felt like to be killed by it.

He could feel everyone's eyes on him, but he ignored them.

"It requires powerful magic behind have to mean it. If the entire Gryffindor class cast it at me I doubt I'd get so much as a nosebleed. Some of you, though..."

His eyes strayed over to Harry, who stiffened.

Did he know what Harry had done too?

What did it mean that Harry didn't feel particularly guilty about having done it, but he felt ashamed at the thought that other people might know? Even by Ministry law he had been defending himself.

"Well...we're not teaching how to cast the unforgivables. This class is called defense for a reason. I'm sure that some of you will learn the unforgivables on their own and when you do you'll face the consequences."

"Why are they unforgivable?" Harry asked. "You can do nearly the same thing with other spells."

"Oh?" Moody asked. "Why don't you explain?"

"Well, instead of using the killing curse you could jinx someone to vomit slugs and then jinx their mouth shut until they drowned," Harry began. "You could turn them into a small animal and feed them to an owl. You could even just cut a leg or a hand off and watch as they bleed to death...all of those seem worse than a painless death from a flash of green light."

The students around him looked a little green, including Malfoy.

"You could use the bone breaking curse on their bones one by one...there's more than two hundred and thirty bones in the human body. It's really quite easy to heal the bones, so you could do it over and over."

"Given it a lot of thought, have you, Potter?"

Harry shrugged. "I'm a little morbid."

One of the ways in which his thoughts tended to wander was thinking of new ways in which he might be forced to die in the future. It wasn't that he was looking forward to doing so; quite the contrary. He was always trying to think of countermeasures.

"Even the tickling charm can be used for torture if you put enough power into it," Harry said. "Especially if the victim can't move."

Moody stared at him inscrutably. Other professors would have given him the Look...that look that Harry had been getting from teachers since first year every time he said something they thought was disturbing.

"All of that is true," Moody said. "Yet it is the Unforgivables that cause you to get a lifetime in Azkaban. I want a foot on why you think that is by the next class."

As the class groaned, he said, "These spells aren't pretty...they certainly aren't nice. But there may come a time when you are facing the wrong end of a wand and knowing how to defend them will be all that keeps you alive. You need CONSTANT VIGILANCE if you are going to survive."

He woke, gasping. There was something wrong with his vision; it was twisted and distorted. It wasn't blurry the way it was when he wore his glasses, it was something else.

Breathing was strangely hard, and when he reached up to the low ceiling above, his hand was strange and deformed.

"My loyal servant," he hissed. "Have the plans proceeded?"

A tall, thin, rangy man stepped into his field of vision. "They have, Master. The others all know their parts and they are ready to serve."

"It has been so long...thirteen long years..."

"You will be restored to your former glory, Master, all it takes will be patience." The man reached down to adjust something around his neck, and as he did, his sleeve slid up. The dark mark shone on his arm, still faded but brighter than it had in the past.

It would become fully restored when he became restored, a sign to all his loyal followers and to those few who had strayed that his power was ascendant.

"It seems a risky plan...what if he is not as skilled as we expected?" It was a moment of indecision that he wouldn't have allowed himself to show in front of his other followers, but in front of this, his most loyal and capable of followers he felt free to do so even in his current state.

"The first two tasks don't matter," the man reminded him. "All he has to do is survive. It is only the third task that he will be required to succeed."

"He will survive...that is all he ever does..."

Harry woke with a start, wondering why he was having strange dreams about Voldemort as a baby with the mind of an adult.

It was a strange dream even for him; his scar hurt. He reached up and grimaced.

Getting paranoid even in one's dreams was a sign that one was too paranoid. After all, he'd never shown any signs of being a seer before. Sometimes a dream was just a dream.

However, given the pain in his scar and the lingering feeling of doubt, it was a long time before he got back to sleep.

Over the next two weeks, excitement about the upcoming arrival of the students from the other schools began to run high. Despite Harry's pessimism, everyone else seemed to be catching a fever at the thought of the contest, even some of the Slytherins who had originally been doubtful.

There were rumors about just who had put their name into the contest. Some of the Slytherin sixth and seventh years were discussing whether being a contest winner would be good for their eventual careers in the Ministry, and if it was worth the risk of even trying.

Classes grew more difficult. Some was of course things he had studied ahead, mostly in Defense, Charms and transfigurations, but no matter how much he'd tried to study ahead he found there were things that he'd skipped or missed.

In the other classes he was as completely clueless as all the other students. Arithmancy was particularly hard. Herbology and Astronomy were easy. Care of magical Creatures continued to grow more dangerous, especially as the blast ended skrewts grew at an alarming rate. Although they'd been the size of lobsters when Harry had first seen them, they were the size of medium dogs already. Harry hated to think what size they would eventually become; he had images of them setting the entire Forbidden Forest on fire; that would be something even the muggles couldn't ignore.

Potions was more difficult than usual, as Snape became even more of a demanding taskmaster than he usually was.

Defense class he discovered that he enjoyed. Moody's attitudes seemed tremendously sensible to Harry; he saw things in ways that other wizards didn't. He was a demanding taskmaster, but a good one.

Some of the lessons were harder then others.

"We've received special dispensation from the Ministry," Moody said. "To learn how to resist the imperius."

Harry could see that the other Slytherins were becoming agitated, talking in low voices among themselves. It took him a moment to realize what they already had...and when he did he found himself almost as outraged as they were.

"We're doing it in the classroom among all your other classmates so that everyone can see that I don't give any secret commands or any that are inappropriate."

Although that seemed to calm some of the students, Harry wasn't as reassured. He wasn't certain how many of his classmates he could rely on to actually protect him, even though a few had made secret overtures toward him.

One by one, Moody called the students forward, asking them to do the strangest things. He made some dance; others he made bark like a dog.

Each of them looked red faced and embarrassed afterwards, presumably because they'd been hoping to be the one student who could fight off the effects of the spell.

Finally it was Harry's turn.

"Imperio" Moody said.

Suddenly Harry felt wonderful. The weight of his anxiety and fears suddenly vanished, leaving him with a vague feeling of bliss.

Why didn't wizards do this all the time? Imperio themselves into feeling better than they ever had. It would be addictive, part of Harry thought, even as the rest of him gave up his thoughts.

"Give me your wand," Moody said.

Immediately, the bliss washed away. He was back to himself, and the anxiety that had gone away all too shortly returned in full force.

"Give me your wand," Moody said.

Harry scowled.

"You can have my wand when you pry it from my cold, dead hands."

Chapter Text

The other students looked shocked, and Harry realized that he was holding his wand pointed at his professor.

Moody was holding his wand pointed at Harry in return.

"A dangerous one, are you Potter...even more than the usual snake," Moody said. "I'd suggest that we both lower our wands at the same time, and then you go back to your desk."

Harry watched carefully, but slowly lowered his wand as Moody did the same. He cautiously returned to his desk.

"As you can see, it IS possible to resist the Imperious," Moody said. "I suspect that if I'd chosen something that Potter was less opposed to he might have struggled more with it, but he'd have eventually broken through."

"What does that mean, then?" asked Pansy Parkinson from the back. "Does that mean that all those people who got off because they were imperiused just didn't mind what they were doing as much?"

"Without a strong will no amount of repugnance will make a difference. Parents can be made to kill their children, people can be made to jump to their deaths...but with such a will you have a chance."

"So does this mean those of us who failed to resist it are doomed?"

Moody leaned forward. "If it was something you either had or didn't, I wouldn't be teaching you this. I'd be off teaching divination or some other such nonsense."

He began to stride back and forth, his prosthetic foot clumping along the floor. "The mind...the will is like a muscle. It can be trained and grow stronger, or it can be allowed to weaken and falter. Will all of you be able to resist the impirious by the end of the year? It's doubtful. But if even a few of you can, even if it's only when it is most important I'll have done my job."

Harry nodded. A little bit of a defense was infinitely better than none.

"Bring me two pages on methods of resisting the Imperius by next session," Moody said. "Potter stay behind."

Harry caught a sympathetic look from Malfoy as all the other students filed out of the room.

"Yes, professor?" Harry said.

"If you ever point your wand at me again you'd better be ready to use it," Moody said, glaring at him.

"Who says I wasn't?" Harry asked. "I wasn't exactly myself and it was a natural reaction, but I know I shouldn't have pointed my wand at a teacher."

"Not the first teacher you've done that to, is it?" Moody asked.

Harry felt a sudden surge of anxiety. Was he talking about his murdering Quirrell or his attacking Lockhart?

"I have no idea what you are talking about," Harry said carefully, keeping his expression composed. "I'd never attack the staff of the school without a very good reason."

"And that's the difference between you and the other students. They'd have just said that they wouldn't even think about attacking the staff."

"I don't have the option of being like the other students," Harry said. "What with the bounty on my head."

"It's not a surprise, Potter, given what you've gone through," Moody said. "I've been talking to Dumbledore...he wants you to know that we will support you no matter what happens."

"But he still won't take my suggestion about the cup," Harry said.

"The cup has to be has to generate excitement to draw attention away from what happened in the Quidditch World cup."

"That wasn't my fault," Harry said. "I don't see why I should be punished for it."

"Blood on the ground says different," Moody said. "Some aurors think you're a hero for leaving that many Death Eaters dead...I worry about being a killer at fourteen will mean for you."

Harry shook his head. "I don;t know what you're talking about."

If the man knew he'd killed, even if it was just indirectly by the time he was eleven he'd be even more horrified.

"The Slytherin way...deny, deny, deny..." Moody scowled. "You lot never admit to anything unless it will fit your interests."

"Are Gryffindors brave when there's nobody around to see it?" Harry scowled. "We aren't so different.."

Moody stared at him. "At least you have the right attitude toward danger."

"Constant vigilance," Harry said. He nodded, then hesitated for a moment. "Say...if I'm going to be railroaded into this contest, then I may need some extra training out of class."

If the man expected him to try to take advantage, he might as well do so.

Wizards were addicted to pagentry.

As Harry stood in front of the castle watching the gigantic, house sized carriage landing, he knew this to be true. France was close enough to Britain that they could have connected the floo networks without any sort of problem.

Instead the other school had chosen a wholly impractical but very impressive method to transport their students. Having been inside wizarding tents and having looked up expansion charms out of an uncharacteristic sense of curiosity, Harry knew that they could have used a regular sized coach and simply had the interior be larger.

The woman who stepped outside of the coach was a giantess, fully as tall as Hagrid. Unlike Hagrid, who had rather course features, hers were much finer and she looked intelligent. She worse fine black satin and wore jewels around her throat and on her thick fingers.

Well, perhaps the coach needed to be bigger so the door could be bigger, but the size of a house was still unnecessary.

Dumbledore began clapping, and the students followed politely.

Harry wondered if allowing a half-human to become Headmistress of a prestigious school meant that France was less prejudiced toward half humans than Britain.

The students who followed were a dozen boys and girls shivering in silken clothing.

Another example of Wizarding obsession with appearance. The clothing was not designed for comfort but to impress and intimidate. The students were all dressed the same way and so it couldn't be a coincidence.

Harry knew nothing about the weather in France, but he couldn't imagine that it was that much warmer than it was in Scotland. Of course, given his ignorance of anything not involving combat he could be very wrong.

Even if it was that much warmer, couldn't someone have called ahead and asked about the weather What surprised him was that no one had cast warming spells. Didn't they learn them in France?

The Headmaster talked to the Headmistress of the French school for a short period before there were shouts from some of Harry's classmates.

Half the reason the French were shivering was that they had waited until well after dark in the moonlight to bring the other school's children to the school. It was cold in Scotland in October after dark. It wasn't particularly warm even in the middle of the day, but it was infinitely worse at night.

Yet the sight of a skeletal ship rising out of the lake wouldn't have been nearly as impressive in the middle of the day. By night it had an eerie sort of finality, as though a ghost ship was visiting.

Harry suspected that Durmstrang had insisted on the time simply so it could make this sort of impression.

The Durmstrang students seemed to be overdressed for the weather, with heavy cloaks of fur. As they stepped off the platform, Harry wondered just how large an object it was possible to apparate. Could someone apparate an entire house? If they could apparate an entire ship, they'd be able to move at least a small house.

He had sudden fantasies of apparating whatever lair Voldemort was working out of right in front of the Ministry. He'd simply sit back and watch the fireworks after making sure no one could apparate away.

After all, he was still angry with the Ministry for insisting on open enrollment. He'd asked his Slytherin contacts and they revealed that the matter had been forced on Dumbledore by the Ministry.

Dumbledore was simply trying to save face by pretending the idea was his own.

All the other schools had only brought the candidates that had been chosen by the Headmasters; a dozen in each case. They had all had their names dropped into the Goblet already, and they were only awaiting the choosing..

Harry blinked as he realized that he recognized one of the players. Viktor Krum had been the Bulgarian seeker who had been impressive during the World Cup. Harry hadn't known that he was still in school.

From the murmuring of the students around him, no one else had either. Quidditch stars were celebrities in the Wizarding world. In a world without movies or television, and with only very limited radio, that left authors and sports stars to be the celebrities.

Having someone around who was almost as famous as Harry itself might be useful or it might be an annoyance. Harry wasn't quite sure.

As they entered the Great Hall, the Durmstrang students sat at the Slytherin table, which made for a tighter fit than usual.

"You are Harry Potter," Krum said. He's sat between Harry and Malfoy even as his classmates had divided out among the Slytherins.

His accent was thick but servicable.

Harry nodded. " did a brilliant job at the world cup...too bad about the loss."

Malfoy looked smug that Krum had sat next to him. Harry couldn't understand why. He wasn't even sure how the Durmstrang students had known to sit at the Slytherin table, although from their reputation the entire school was composed of people who would follow Slytherin values.

Krum shrugged. "It is game. If one side always win there would be no fun."

The French were sitting with the Ravenclaws. Harry wondered if this was also a considered, political decision, or simply because the Slytherin table was closest to the door and the Ravenclaw table was the second closest.

"Life's a little different," Harry said. "Always play to win and make sure the other guy stays down."

Krum nodded approvingly.

Apparently this philosophy was very much in line with what was taught at Durmstrang, because Harry could see some of the other Durmstrang students nodding as well.

Malfoy seemed a little star struck by Krum. He began peppering Krum with questions about Quidditch even as Harry began trying some of the new, foreign dishes that were being served for dinner.

It was a nice chance from Hogwarts usual fare. Hogwarts food was usually so heavy that Harry wondered why more wizards weren't keeping over from heart attacks on a daily basis. He'd been a student here for years and he'd never seen a single salad.

But now there were lighter, French dishes mixed in with heavier dishes from...wherever Durmstrang was. He'd never gotten a serious answer from anyone. Some people said that its location was hidden even from its students, a philosophy Harry agreed with completely.

If no one knew where it was, then former students now turned dark wizards wouldn't know exactly where to go to attack. Given that Durmstrang seemed likely to turn out a lot of dark wizards, it wasn't a surprise that they took precautions.

Harry was careful to keep his questions toward Krum polite and perfunctory, especially as he could see that Malfoy's questions were irritating him. He had some experience with how uncomfortable it was to have all eyes on you.

He could see the Gryffindors staring at least, especially Ron Weasley, who from all reports was an even bigger Quidditch fanatic than Malfoy.

Harry watched as a couple of Ministry officials joined the teachers at the head table.

The rich food suddenly seemed to settle in a lump at the pit of his stomach. He was no longer hungry,. The arrival of the officials meant that the feast was almost over, and that at the end of the feast his life of terror would begin again.

Harry barely noticed as Dumbledore introduced the officials. The moment he heard the names he forgot them, so wrapped up was he in his own misery.

Even Dumbledore's explanation of the tasks was frustratingly vague. Three tasks, spaced out over the course of the school year. It sounded so romantic and brave, at least according to the expressions on the faces of the Gryffindors.

The Goblet was carried in by people Harry had never seen before. His hand itched to grab his wand. Had these people been properly investigated? Presumably they worked for the Ministry, but that didn't give Harry a lot of confidence.

Over the past two months the Ministry had been in turmoil. There had been a great deal of political infighting over the appointment of successors to the people who'd been killed during the world cup. The purebloods were lobbying hard for their candidates, but the other side was lobbying just as hard.

Harry suspected that this was part of the reason that Dumbledore hadn't fought harder over the issue of open enrollment for the Tournament. He was using every bit of political capital he had to try to get his candidates in place so that the entire balance of the government didn't shift in Voldemort's direction.

This, at least was what Harry's Slytherin informants were telling him, although usually in a highly biased manner. Harry was forced to read between the lines to figure out what was really happening.

Whatever happened, the Ministry was in turmoil now, and Harry suspected that Voldemort was using the confusion to full effect. He was likely making inroads in areas that no one was looking.

Dumbledore explained that when candidates were chosen they were do go through the door beside the teacher's table to await further instructions.

He held up his wand, and with a motion every candle in the room was extinguished at once, leaving the room lit by the light of the Goblet and the lights from inside their carved pumpkins. The room was plunged into semidarkness.

It was a brilliant piece of theatrics, as every voice in the hall suddenly fell silent. Even Harry, cynic that he was couldn't help but hold his breath a little as the light from the Goblet flared.

Red light flared from the Goblet, along with sparks. The crowd gasped and a charred slip of paper floated from inside the Goblet to be snatched out of the air by Dumbledore.

"The Champion from Durmstrang is Victor Krum," Dumbledore announced.

Ron Weasley made a loud comment about how this wasn't a surprise. While everyone likely thought so, Harry thought it was rather crude of him to mention it.

Krum rose from his seat and graciously stepped forward.

The cheering and applause was loud and enthusiastic. Krum was apparently popular with almost everyone, something that even the Gryffindors and Slytherins could agree on.

As he stepped through the door, Dumbledore plucked another piece of paper from the air.

"Fleur Delacour," Dumbledore said. "Is the representative of Beauxbatons."

The clapping was considerably less enthusiastic for her than it had been for Krum. This changed when she pulled the scarf off her head and a full hair of beautiful blonde hair emerged like a waterfall.

She was one of the most beautiful women Harry had ever seen. If he hadn't attended the World Cup and seen actual Veela he'd have said she was the most beautiful.

The clapping became considerably more enthusiastic, mostly from the male students.

"Is she part Veela?" Malfoy asked. "They'll let any sort of riff raff into the school these days."

Despite his statement, he didn't stop staring at the girl. Harry would have made fun of him except that he too could barely look away.

Until the night of the World Cup he hadn't thought much about girls. He'd thought of them as simply something to be either manipulated or avoided. Even after the seeing the Veela he'd simply assumed that it was the result of magic, no different than the warm happy feeling the Imperius spell gave him.

However, looking at her now, Harry couldn't help but wonder if he was finally becoming interested in the opposite sex.

It would be a massive inconvenience if it was true. He was almost a year and a half more advanced mentally than physically/ If this continued, he would eventually outpace all the girls his own age, and he doubted that older girls would be knocking down his door.

Worse, from what he saw from the older students, boys tended to become fools around girls. They did things, took risks, and acted in ways they normally would never have acted simply to get a girl's attention.

He couldn't afford to be distracted that way. Unfortunately, from the way his eyes didn't leave Fleur until she left the room, he wasn't sure he'd get a choice.

The other French girls weren't even trying to have the appearance of being good losers. Some of them were openly crying.

It was probably for the best they hadn't sat with the Slytherins.

Harry grimaced as Dumbledore held up his hand. The murmuring in the Great Hall quickly subsided.

"I would like to thank all of you for your enthusiasm for the tournament. Without your support, and that of your parents, none of this would be possible."

The Goblet was sparking again, and Harry felt his stomach drop.

"Not me, not me, not me, not me..."

One of the other Durmstrang students leaned over and asked Malfoy, "What is he doing?"

"He's convinced that the Goblet is going to choose him even though he is not remotely old enough," Malfoy said. "He's a bit dramatic."

"Not me, not me, not me..."

"The champion for Hogwarts," Dumbledore began. "Is..."

He stopped, and looked visibly surprised.

Harry grimaced. The only reason Dumbledore would look surprised was if the result was something no one could have predicted.

"Harry Potter."

The entire room sat in stunned silence. Harry was well known to be too young, and he'd made his objections to the contest known to everyone who would listen.

Slowly the crowd began to clap, beginning with the Weasleys. Harry suspected they were doing it to mock him, but the rest of the crowd seemed to be more honest in their enthusiasm.

The Gryffindors probably thought he'd found a way of the age line, that he'd pretended not to want to participate in order to throw the attention off him. A few of the Slytherins thought the same thing, likely. Most knew, however that he was going to be a reluctant participant.

Malfoy looked shocked.

Harry scowled and fought the urge to flip all of them the bird. With his luck this would be the moment that didn't reset, and he'd have to live with the consequences of it.

He stood slowly and heavily. Each footstep felt as though it was heavier than the last. The fact that Dumbledore looked a little shocked wasn't much of a consolation.

The fact that he'd been expecting this for weeks wasn't the consolation that he'd thought it would be. Instead, he felt a little sick, although he fought to keep it off his face.

It felt like he was walking to his execution.

Chapter Text

It was strange that more of his classmates weren't looking at him angrily. After all, he'd apparently cheated the system that half of them had been trying to cheat and he'd succeeded. Worse, he was a Slytherin and he was going to represent the school.

As he glanced at the Gryffindor table he saw the Weasleys grinning at him. Hadn't they listened when he'd told them it was all a plot?

Apparently his killing of the troll the first year, the basilisk the next year and most especially saving everyone from the dementors had bought him more goodwill than he'd thought. It was a far cry from the way he'd been received the first year.

Harry suspected that if he'd been a glory seeking Gryffindor everyone wouldn't be quite so accepting. However, he'd been making his opinion known about this the entire time and no one could accuse him of being a glory hound.

It was strange. Harry was taking the first steps toward dying again and he felt like the entire school was cheering him on.

Not everyone was cheering; there were some Slytherins and some Gryffindors who weren't. Ron Weasley was one of them, although even he didn't look as angry as Harry would have expected. He simply looked constipated.

Harry reached the table, took one look at Dumbledore and said, "What did I tell you?"

With that he turned, walked along the teacher's table and headed for the door the other champions had gone through.

The other two champions stared at him as he entered.

"It looks like we have our champions," the Ministry official said, beaming.

He looked too happy for it to have been a coincidence. Harry wondered for a moment if Scrimgeour had gotten his name placed in the Goblet, either as revenge or as a publicity stunt.

It'd be strange to be killed simply because a politician wanted to make headlines.

"He's too young," Krum said bluntly.

The Ministry official shrugged. "His name came out of the doesn't seem as though we have a choice."

"I'm underage," Harry said. "Doesn't that invalidate my selection?"

"The Goblet predates the age limit," the official said. "Which was only put in place this year as a formality. No one thought that someone as young as yourself would prove worthy, although we shouldn't have been surprised."

"No you shouldn't," Harry said dryly. Considering that he'd been telling everyone exactly that for the last month, there shouldn't have been anyone in all of Scotland that was surprised.

"This seems irregular," Madam Maxine said, sweeping into the room.

She was followed by Dumbledore, Karkaroff, Snape and Moody. They had apparently already been arguing.

"If Hogwarts wishes to put themselves at a disadvantage by having a child compete, the blood will be on their hands. I am satisfied." The Durmstrang headmaster seemed almost to gloat.

Madam Maxine seemed troubled. "It does not seem fair, and it does not seem safe."

"I have heard of Mr. Potter," Fleur said. "Isn't he the one who killed a troll in his first year, and fought off a hundred dementors only last year?"

Apparently his legend had begun to spread outside of the country. Harry fought the urge to scowl at Fleur. He was trying to get out of the contest, not stay in.

"Perhaps it would be best if we had the Goblet choose someone else," Madam Maxine said. "No matter how capable, he won't be a match for an adult wizard."

The Ministry official stepped forward. "The cup has gone out, and it will not relight until the next ceremony. The choice has been made."

The three headmasters were silent for a moment before nodding their heads.

"Who thought a magically binding contract was a good idea for this sort of thing anyway?" Harry asked. "And what would happen if I just said no?"

The Ministry official leaned forward and whispered in his ear.

Harry felt the blood run out of his face. He wasn't sure if that would follow him through a reset either. Damn...he was trapped.

"So what do we have to do?" he asked. "Kill a dragon?"

The headmasters glanced at each other, giving each other significant looks that Harry didn't have to be a legilimens to interpret.

A dragon was likely to be involved in one of the tasks.

"Part of what is being tested is your ability to think on your feet," Dumbledore said. "As such, you will not be allowed to know what it is. The first task will occur on November twenty fourth in front of a panel of judges. You will face the first challenge armed only with your wands."

He looked at Harry. " will not be allowed."

Harry supposed that he was talking about the Peruvian Darkness Powder. He hadn't used any in quite some time, but it kept indefinitely. He wouldn't be able to use the wall walking shoes, or any of the other Weasley gadgets to help him get through the challenges.

He scowled. The things he carried with him were part of what kept him alive. He'd feel naked and defenseless without them.

"Fine," he said. "But don't expect me to play fair."

The party was in full swing by the time Harry arrived back at the dungeons.

Although Harry could never be openly popular with his classmates for political reasons, they were overjoyed to have a Slytherin become champion. It was better than winning the House cup, and it was the perfect thing to push into the faces of the Gryffindors.

No one could say that Harry was anything but a Slytherin either. He wasn't brave or friendly, and although he worked hard on magic, he didn't love knowledge simply for the love of learning.

Yet saving everyone from the dementors had been noticed.

Harry hadn't paid attention to the slow changes in people's attitudes toward him because he'd been more concerned about his own affairs, but the contrast from first year was astounding.

As Harry walked into the room, everyone stared at him. The sounds of merriment stopped and everyone looked at him almost with an expression of sympathy.

The Gryffindors might have thought that he'd jinxed the Goblet somehow, but not a single Slytherin was likely to believe that he had.

He walked straight to his room.

As he began digging into his trunk, Malfoy stepped into the room behind him.

"I thought you were being paranoid," he said. "but you were right about everything."

"Ministry or the Dark Lord," Harry said, "It doesn't matter who set me up. I'm in it, and I'm going to survive."

"What do you have there?" Malfoy asked, looking over his shoulder.

Harry pulled out a thick book. On the front of the book was a picture of a massive fireball.

"Explosive materials: Classification, composition and properties," Malfoy read out loud. "That doesn't look like any book I've seen in Diagon Alley."

"It's not," Harry said shortly.

"Why are you reading a book about things that explode?" Malfoy asked uneasily. Harry noticed that he was slowly edging his way out of the room.

"I'm figuring out how to kill a dragon," Harry said. "Since they are mostly immune to magic."

"That seems like overkill," Malfoy said. He hesitated. "You aren't going to practice whatever it is in here, are you?"

Harry had the feeling that if he said yes that Malfoy would be requesting a room transfer. While he didn't particularly care whether he did or not, that would mean that he was replaced by someone who didn't understand the rules as well as Malfoy did.

Malfoy at least had a decent sense of self preservation.

"No...I'll find a place," Harry said. He glanced at the windows. "Probably not a good idea to risk flooding the entire Slytherin dorms and drowning everyone."

Another humiliating way that Harry didn't plan on dying...not that he'd have a choice if someone else did it. He didn't have to hasten his own death along however.

He had three and a half weeks to learn what he had to learn. If he didn't he'd be in trouble and he might have to repeat it all again, something that he did not want to happen.

Finding a safe place to conduct his experiments was harder than he'd thought it would be. The dungeons were out due to the risk of massive flooding, and places higher up were more difficult because they were always being watched.

Harry finally settled on the Astronomy tower on nights when class wasn't in session. He began sneaking out at night and using muffling spells and transfigured walls to block the visible light from what he was doing.

Even so, he only dared practice on minuscule amounts. If he did more he risked killing himself or revealing what he was doing to his teachers.

Although he carefully checked the map each night, there was always the chance that a teacher would see something through a window that they weren't meant to see, or that they'd take a sudden detour when he wasn't looking at the map.

Despite this, he found learning what he had to learn easier than he'd thought. Transfiguring inanimate objects to inanimate objects was much easier than turning hedgehogs into pincushions. Dealing with life in either direction was very difficult, but changing objects to object was relatively easy.

He'd had to risk slipping away to Hogsmeade to meet with Sirius in secret. The things he wanted to transfigure he couldn't learn without a sample, and he didn't want to run the risk of a school owl being intercepted.

It had taken Sirius three days to find the things he needed and some of the things were difficult to find because they were used to make methamphetamine and other drugs. The explosive nature of the materials also made them under strict controls.

Fortunately Harry only needed a small sample of all the different things he needed to learn how to transfigure more.

However, with only three sessions he was still struggling. The worst thing was that given the small amounts he was forced to use, there was no way to know just how much he could use and still be safe. If he'd been a muggle he'd have worried about losing a hand, but fortunately he could do everything from a distance.

Still, he had to worry about shrapnel and he was acutely aware of just how dangerous what he was doing was.

As the next weekend approached, Harry became more and more irritable.

Malfoy and Weasley were at it again.

Taking endless delight in taunting Weasley about Harry's being Champion, Malfoy didn't seem to know when to let it go. He kept picking away at him over and over until even Harry could see that Weasley was ready to explode.

Harry ducked as the voices suddenly got louder and angrier; he had taken to ignoring both boys since neither had anything he wanted to hear.

Spells went flying in the hallway and Harry quickly dodged. Unfortunately he heard a scream from Hermione, who was holding her teeth behind him.

Already unfortunately large, her teeth were growing at an incredible rate. The expression on her face was one of horrified incredulity.

"Who cast that?" Harry asked. His voice was cold, and it took him a moment to realize that his wand was in his hand.

Both of the boys looked up at him, and they blanched at something they saw on his face.

Hermione's teeth kept growing and growing and her agitation was becoming more and more obvious. The thought that she had been hurt because he'd ducked brought up feelings he'd thought he'd left behind about Creevy and Pucey.

Malfoy and Weasley both stepped back.

"We didn't mean anything," Malfoy said cautiously. "It's nothing that's not easily fixable."

Harry took a step forward, suddenly irrationally angry. "I didn't ask if it was easy to fix. I asked who cast the spell."

He wasn't sure what he was going to do, but something within him made him want someone to hurt.

Before he could take another step, Harry felt a hand on his shoulder.

"What's going on here?" Snape asked.

"These two were fighting in the hall and they hit Hermione," Harry said, without looking at the older man.

"And why is your wand out, Mr. Potter?"

Harry looked up at him. "They started it...I was planning to finish it."

"I've seen what you consider to be finishing things, Potter, and I suspect that no one would be happy with what would happen if you did."

The looks on everyone's' faces suggested that they thought so as well. The fact that even Hermione looked frightened suggested that Harry might have looked at least like he was going to go to far.

"Fifty points from Gryffindor," Snape said. "And Weasley and Malfoy I'll see in detention. You, Mr. Potter will come with me."

Hermione was covering her mouth and Goyle was gasping like a fish out of water.

"Both of you go to the Hospital wing."

Snape led Harry into his office and carefully closed the door behind him.

"I'm sorry," Harry said. "I know I shouldn't..."

Snape looked at him and said, "You've had bad experiences with dementors before."

Harry blinked. That wasn't remotely what he'd expected Snape to say, and he wasn't sure what it had to do with anything that had just happened.

He nodded after a moment.

"Felt how they suck every small bit of happiness out of you to your very bones," Snape said. "No happiness, no light, simply agony and pain for as long as they are around you."

Harry didn't say anything, simply staring at him.

"Why would you risk going to Azkaban for a schoolyard squabble?" Snape asked. "You've killed before, and so far you've always gotten away with it for one reason or another. But this?"

Snape moved to stand next to him, and Harry's fingers twitched toward his wand.

"You are dangerous, Potter," Snape said. "The Ministry accepts even pleased about this because it means that you are a better weapon against the Dark Lord. That tolerance has its limits."

Harry flinched as Snape leaned closer to him.

"You are a loaded weapon with a hair trigger, and I can only hope that no one you care about will be caught in the cross hairs."

Harry blinked, surprised that Snape would use a muggle analogy.

Snape stepped back and said, "Three nights of detention Potter, next week."

The fact that Harry had gotten more detention than Weasley or Malfoy didn't bother him much. Snape had been right. He had been getting more and more angry and irritable.

Harry couldn't help but feel that it was only a matter of time before something set him off.

"We've got to weigh your wand to make sure it is operational and in good order," Bagman said.

Having been pulled out of potions while learning antidotes, Harry was irritated, especially to learn that this was for pictures. Antidotes were a particular favorite of Harry's.

Harry caressed his wand. "I can assure you that my wand is very operational."

The thought of giving it to anyone else, even for a moment gave him a moment of anxiety. He needed to start thinking about carrying a back up wand, just in case he was ever disarmed. He was making some progress with wandless versions of some spells, but results were never as satisfactory as he'd like.

The woman beside him tittered. "Such a naughty boy. Can I quote you on that?"

Harry shrugged. "Who are you?"

He knew who she was, of course. Skeeter had taken his story about the Ministry's carelessness with the dementors. Pretending he didn't know who she was would hopefully put her in her place. He hadn't liked her the first time he'd met her, but he'd needed her.

She didn't act as though his implicit insult bothered her at all, although there was a glint in her eye that he didn't like.

"I'm Rita Skeeter, with the Daily Prophet. I'm doing an article on the event and I'd like to do an interview with you. From what I've seen, you aren't any stranger to interviews."

"I'm not sure I can do the event justice," Harry said.

He was unhappy with Scrimgeour, but spouting off about how it was all a plot by Voldemort would make him seem like a crank. Without any kind of proof, he might as well accuse the Ministry.

"I'm sure we can work something out," Skeeter said, smiling. It didn't reach her eyes. "Can I have a quick moment to interview him?"

Bagman nodded.

Before Harry could protest, he found himself pulled into a broom closet. He could have pulled away, tried to fight, but he knew that the press had powers that even wands couldn't conquer. Attacking a member of the press would be tantamount to committing suicide, and with his luck he'd reset after it happened and he'd be stuck with it.

Pulling up a stool, she said, "Do you mind if I use a quick quote quill? It'll leave me free to ask you questions..."

"I'd prefer that you not," Harry said. "Those things aren't particularly accurate, and I'd like to be pilloried in the public for things I actually said instead of what I didn't say."

The other reporter had used a quick quote quill; after Harry had seen what the quill was writing, he'd forced him to write it out the old fashioned way.

The fall of Fudge's administration had proven him right.

She scowled. "Most people aren't so picky."

Harry shrugged. "I've got more at stake than most people."

Pulling out a pad and quill, she asked, "What do you say to people who believe that you are the next Dark Lord?"

Harry smiled unpleasantly and said, "I say let's worry about one dark lord at a time. It's not as though I have much of a following."

"People are concerned that your classmates are...not reliable after the incident with the dementors."

"You mean where I saved them?" Harry asked. "Popularity is fleeting. I'm like any other student. I've got friends, but I've got enemies too."

"More than most," Skeeter said. She leaned forward. "Who do you think put your name in the Goblet?"

Harry looked her in the eye and said, "I don't know, but when I find out I'll make them regret it."

"A threat, Mr. Potter?"

Chapter Text

"Isn't it foolish to make threats?"

Harry laughed shortly. "What are they going to do, kill me?"

Rita Skeeter stared at him for a moment. "The rumors of a bounty on your head have never been conclusively proven."

"Just the rumor is enough, isn't it?" Harry asked.

If enough people believed there was a bounty, then idiots and poseurs would be coming out of the woodwork for him. The fact that it wasn't proven made it more difficult for the aurors to track it down.

"Rumors can be quite powerful," Rita Skeeter says. "Like the rumor that you are much more powerful than a boy your age should be...some people say the last boy as talented as you was you-know-who himself."

"Prophecies have a way of making themselves come true," Harry said. He smirked. "If I'm to fight Voldemort as an equal, then I have to become his equal."

"What will you do if you win?"

Harry stared at her. He hadn't thought too much about what would happen afterwards because it felt like he'd be jinxing himself.

"What is it the American sport stars say? I'll go to Disneyland?"

Rita Skeeter smirked.

"I might invent a new hair care product...compete with Lockhart when he gets out of Azkaban...maybe join a rock and roll band."

"Can you play?"

"No...but when did that ever stop anyone?" Harry grinned. "Maybe I'll start thinking about politics."

Rita Skeeter suddenly sat up, her former playfulness gone. "You'd have a leg up given that you are popular with your classmates."

"I was joking," Harry said. "I wouldn't go into politics unless there was something I wanted very badly to change."

"How do you feel about the current administrations policies?"

She was leaning forward and Harry realized he was in a dangerous position. As angry as he was at Scrimgeour, he was at least superficially on Dumbledore's side. With the seats on the Wizengamot open due to assassination, the Wizengamot would be the ones to appoint a successor to fill out his term until the next election.

With the open seats gone, the current balance of power fell in the direction of the purebloods, who would doubtlessly appoint someone Harry didn't care for at all. He'd had the politics carefully explained to him by his Slytherin contacts and for once he'd actually listened.

He had to be careful in what he said.

As he opened his mouth the door opened suddenly. A panicked looking Scrimgeour was standing outside with Dumbledore behind him.

Considering that Harry had toppled his predecessor after a visit to a reporter, Harry could understand his concern.

"It's time for the wand weighing," he said shortly. "The photographers are waiting."

Harry nodded, grateful for once to see the man.

Scrimgeour grabbed him and pulled him away. "What did you say to her?"

"Nothing that will hurt the elections, I hope," Harry said. "But you'd better keep me away from her if you want things to go smoothly."

The last thing he needed was for her to paint him as the next dark lord right before the elections.

She was following them, but didn't say anything as they entered the chamber with the other champions. They were seated together while the four judges were sitting at an elevated table.

"Here is our last champion now," Scrimgeour said. "If I may introduce our expert, Mr. Ollivander we can begin the weighing of the wands."

Harry watched as Ollivander tested Fleur's wand...which apparently contained a Veela hair from her grandmother.

Krum's wand contained hornbeam and dragon heartstring. None of it mattered really; wandlore was a highly specialized and esoteric art that Harry had no interest in. His wand was a tool and a weapon, and as long as it did what it was designed for, he had no problem with it.

Harry found himself reluctant to hand it over, however, although he schooled his face to look impassive.

He found himself looking at the wands of everyone in the room calculating the odds. Who's wand looked loose enough to accio wandlessly, who was most likely to attack him and where would he have to dodge.

By the time he'd finished calculating the possibilities, Ollivander's examination had ended.

Pictures were agonizing afterward; Harry had spend most of the last four years trying to avoid photographers. Even though the Death Eaters now knew what he looked like it was a hard habit to break.

Furthermore, Harry had never had to sit through the interminable family photos like Dudley had been forced to; his aunt and uncle had not cared to have pictures of him. Now he understood why Dudley had hated it so much.

He felt awkward and unsure and this wasn't something he was used to feeling. He didn't care for it at all.

Maybe he'd have loved it as a Gryffindor, loved all the glory and the acclaim, but Harry felt he more naturally belonged in the shadows. The limelight was dangerous.

The article Skeeter had written wasn't quite as bad as he'd feared, but it was almost. She'd described him as dark and dangerous and with possible political ambitions.

Worse was the fact that she seemed to intimate that he and Hermione were dating, and that he was making a political statement by dating a muggleborn instead of a pureblood. She claimed that as a Slytherin everything he did had a meaning.

He caught people looking at him and Hermione in a new light, one that made him feel uncomfortable. Hermione was his closest friend, with Neville as his second. Anything that made her uncomfortable was something he couldn't abide.

Hermione had had her teeth fixed to smaller than they had been before, and so now she was noticeably prettier than she had been in the past. Other boys were starting to notice, which irritated him more than he could admit.

He wondered if it was simply that they threatened his time with her. After all, he'd seen what happened with other couples. They spent so much time making eyes at each other and doing whatever it was that couples did alone that they lost time for their friends.

No one dared to tease him about it; Malfoy came close, but stopped when he saw Harry's expression. However, Hermione wasn't so lucky. She refused to tell him who was teasing her, but he saw her several times with flushed cheeks looking angry.

Neville tried to stand up for them, but the more he protested, the less anyone seemed to believe him.

Harry finally had to resort to sending a letter to Sirius, who agreed to meet him during the next Hogsmeade weekend.

"You're looking better," Harry said.

The shrieking shack hadn't changed much since the last time he'd been in it except for the addition of additional years' worth of dust.

Sirius was dressed better than he had been and he'd been filling out and gaining weight. He looked healthy and tanned, nothing like the disheveled shell of a man he'd been when Harry had first seen him.

"I'm doing important things for Dumbledore," Sirius said. "We're on the verge of something big...very big."

Harry stared at him inquiringly, but Sirius shook his head.

"It's all top secret. No offense, but someone could pluck it right out of your head if you weren't careful, so there's only so much I can tell you."

"What can you tell me?" Harry asked.

"The headmaster of Durmstrang is a former death eater," Sirius said. "He was captured by the Ministry but was released after naming a lot of names. Many Death Eaters went to Azkaban because of him, and its thought that he isn't particularly popular in those circles."

"I'm surprised he's still alive."

"It's probably because nobody knows where Durmstrang actually is, which may have been why he took the job. He has to want this TriWizard Championship pretty badly in order to come out of hiding like this."

"So I may not be the only one Voldemort is out to kill," Harry said. "Great."

Being accidentally killed was just as painful as being intentionally killed. Being caught in the middle of a war between two sides sounded a lot like his entire life.

"There's also the possibility that he's made a deal with the group in order to get them off his back. That may be why he's here, to throw a spanner in the works."

"We'll see how he judges me," Harry said. "I'm pretty sure Voldemort wants me to win this thing, so if he grades me high he's probably working with him. If he grades me low to give his own champion a better chance of winning, then he probably isn't."

"Either way, watch out," Sirius said. "He's not someone you want to cross. You don't get to be headmaster of any magical school by being weak."

Harry nodded.

"I was only able to find out the first task," Sirius said. "Security is pretty tight around the others because they don't want reporters ruining the spectacle."

"It's dragons, right?" Harry asked.

Sirius stared at him, then nodded. "How did you know?"

"I just thought of the worst thing I could imagine that spectators could actually watch, and I asked them." Harry said. "Dumbledore is good with a poker face but the others aren't."

Basilisks would make for a poor viewing experience to say the least, and cockatrices had attacked the judges at the last event. Dragons seemed like a close third.

"I can't believe that they want us to kill dragons in front of spectators," Harry said. "That seems a little bloodthirsty, even for the Ministry."

Sirius shrugged. "I don't know exactly what they plan, but I've got a few ideas about how to approach it."

"Ones that don't involve me blowing up half the stadium, I hope," Harry said.

"About that," Sirius said. "Did you bring the map?"

Harry nodded and pulled it out, opening it up. He could see the headmasters together in Dumbledore's office. Moody was with Snape in the dungeons.

He looked carefully for any names he didn't know. He'd begun doing it on the night of the Goblet ceremony, and he had continued doing it on a sporadic basis. The last thing he needed was to have his throat cut by one of the porters who'd carried the cup then had never left.

"There's a special room that we never found until the last year of school," Sirius said. "Long after the Map was made. You've been having trouble finding a place to practice?"

Harry nodded.

"This room can be anything you wish for, if you know how to open it."

That could prove to be very useful. Harry had almost gotten caught on two occasions during his experiments on the Astronomy tower, once by a sixth year couple out to enjoy some romantic time together.

The fact that neither of the other champions looked surprised at the announcement that it was dragons suggested that someone was cheating.

On the other hand, only needing to get past the dragon to get the golden egg meant that half his strategies were suddenly useless. The last thing that anyone would want to see was him slaughtering a dragon in front of a crowd of thousands.

Harry reached his hand into the bag and grimaced. It fit his luck; he'd gotten the Hungarian Horntail, the most vicious of the three dragons featured.

Krum gave him a sympathetic look.

After that it was just waiting and listening to the roar of the crowd as Krum went out and did whatever he was doing to deal with the dragon.

It was reassuring that he didn't hear any screams of horror. Harry was certain that if things went horribly wrong he'd be able to hear it long before anyone came to inform them.

Fifteen minutes seemed like an eternity as the crowd roared and then gasped over and over. Harry kept waiting for the screams of horror that never came.

The enthusiastic clapping that finally ended it was an enormous relief.

Fleur had been sitting across from him the entire time, wincing every time the crowd gasped. She was pale and trembling, but when she was called she stood with her head held high and she stepped out into the light.

The fact that she took only ten minutes probably had something to do with the fact that her dragon was easier than Krum's. It might have also been because of whatever strategy she was using.

Finally the applause came, followed by the scoring.

Harry's turn finally came. As he stood, his legs felt like jelly. He knew what it felt like to die, but he didn't know what it felt like to burn alive or to be chewed up and swallowed. He wasn't particularly looking forward to learning either thing.

Stepping out into the arena, Harry saw hundreds of faces staring at him. The fact that any one of them could be planning to attack him while he was busy with the dragon occurred to him, but the fact was there wasn't anything he could do about it. Planning only took him so far, and after that you had to deal with the situation as it changed.

More important was the dragon, which was bigger than he'd thought. It looked angry; it was gouging the ground with it's claws and staring at him with its yellow eyes.

It thought it was protecting its eggs, which made it much more dangerous than it usually would have been. The fact that it usually would have been a wizard killer wasn't encouraging.

Harry squinted, hoping to get a good look at the egg. He couldn't see it because the dragon was crouched too low over the eggs with her wings outstretched.

He'd have to get the dragon to move if his primary plan was going to succeed.

Pulling out his wand, Harry took a deep breath. He'd been practicing the charm he was about to use almost constantly since Sirius had taught him to do it. It hadn't helped Adrian against a troll, but it was presumably going to do better for him.

"AVIS," Harry shouted.

The sound of a small explosion was followed by a stream of birds flying from his wand. It was an advanced transfiguration that was mostly useless in a real battle, but what Harry was facing wasn't a real battle. He was facing a beast that was chained down and he was out of range of its fire breath.

The birds began to flock around him.

"AVIS," Harry said again. Another explosion and another flock of birds.

Again and again he cast the spell, the flock around him growing and growing to become truly massive. Soon it filled the half of the arena that was out of the dragon's range.

The dragon looked as though it was growing more and more agitated.

Finally feeling that he had enough, Harry gestured, and the massive swarm flew at the dragon. It screamed and blew fire, but the swarm simply parted in the face of the stream of explosive death.

The birds flowed like a school of fish, subject to Harry's will. They flew at the dragon's eyes, and it screamed again as they pecked and pecked away at it.

They couldn't do any damage unless they impacted the eye directly, but the flock was doing an excellent job of agitating the dragon, which looked more and more upset.

It rose up on its hind legs to claw at it's face.

Harry could see the crowd staring at him. He hadn't moved a single inch from his original position. He had no intention of getting any closer to the thing than he had to.

Finally he saw his chance; a glimmer of gold in her nest as she shifted away from it.

"ACCIO EGG!" he shouted.

A moment later the golden orb flew through the air to smack into his hand.

The crowd was silent for a long moment, as though stunned at what had seemed perfectly obvious to Harry. There was no need to actually get past the dragon. All that was needed was to acquire the egg.

He dispelled the birds with a wave of his hands and they flew up into the sky, dispersing into all directions.

The crowd began to clap politely as they realized that he had actually completed the task he had been assigned. A lot of them looked disappointed. It probably hadn't been the spectacle they had hoped for, but it had been effective.

Winning the Tournament didn't really matter to Harry as much as simply getting through it. He wouldn't have minded winning except that he suspected that was exactly what Voldemort wanted. The fact that he'd had a dream like that once simply meant that his subconscious mind was telling him what he already knew.

Harry could see Scrimgeour scowling. He'd obviously hoped for something more flashy from the Boy-Who-Lived. After all, the primary purpose of the Tournament was to entertain and distract from the failures of the Ministry.

On an impulse, Harry held the egg up for the crowd to see, and he heard people cheering.

Unfortunately that wasn't the only thing he heard. The Horntail was staring at him and at the dragon in his hand. It screamed its anger and defiance; as far as it was concerned he'd stolen the egg from it.

The birds had already enraged it; now it lunged forward, the chains holding it creaking as it struggled to break free, to attack him.

Harry heard the screams from the audience and he realized that now was probably a good time to leave.

He turned to head back into the tents, but he heard the sound of metal breaking behind him and he whirled to see the dragon roar in triumph.

It was free and it was charging toward him, looking suddenly much bigger than it had from all the way across the stadium.

It suddenly occurred to Harry that a following plan that required enraging a dragon probably wasn't the brightest thing he'd ever tried.


Chapter Text

It was already too late.

The dragon was charging toward him, and although Harry could see the dragon handlers chasing behind it, there wasn't enough time for them to do anything.

Running into the tent wouldn't do anything but endanger the staff inside. If he could get to the stands there were protections that were designed to keep the audience safe. No one wanted a repeat of the disaster from the last Tournament.

However, the same protections that would keep the dragon away from him would also keep him from getting into the stands without leaving the stadium and coming in from behind. That would run the risk of the dragon escaping and attacking any stragglers who weren't actually in the stadium.

No matter what happened, he had to gain some mobility. If he didn't the dragon would push him into a corner and then either burn him to death or eat him.

Hoping that it would distract the dragon, Harry threw the golden egg. This didn't stop the dragon at all; if anything it only seemed to enrage it more.

"ACCIO BROOM!" Harry shouted.

It didn't matter whose broom or where it came from as long as it reached him.

Unfortunately, it would take time for the broom to reach him; time he didn't have. Harry stared up at the dragon as it approached him, and then he waved his wand.


The spell sent him hurtling straight up into the air even as the dragon pounced on the place where he had been. Harry pointed his wand downward and yelled, "ARRESTO MOMENTUM!"

He began floating instead of falling, although as he was floating down toward the jaws of an angry dragon that was leaping up to eat him, it wasn't much of a comfort.

"BOMBARDA!" he screamed, pointing his wand down at the gaped open mouth of the dragon below.

It had a sudden strange expression on its face as the beam of light went down its throat. A moment later there was a muffled explosion.

The dragon fell back, coughing convulsively as Harry continued to float downward.

He finally saw the broom. Just as the dragon was recovering, Harry caught onto the broom flying toward him.

The dragon had recovered faster than Harry found comfortable, and it was already spreading its wings ready to come for him.

Harry cast a Conjunctivitis spell, hitting one of its eyes, but that only angered it more. It flew toward him, and as he tried to hit its other eye it kept moving its head, making it harder to hit.

Forcing his broom down as a gout of fire flew over him, Harry found himself wishing he'd spent more time practicing flying. It was all he could do now to avoid the dragon and even as he cast the flame freezing charm on himself and his broomstick.

Just in time; fire washed over him and he felt his skin tingle. The fire tickled and he felt an uncharacteristic urge to laugh.

Seeing that the fire was having no effect on him, the dragon redoubled its efforts, flying faster now. Although Harry was more agile, the dragon was faster than the old school broom and he knew he didn't have much time.

Below, he could see Dumbledore struggling to get out of the crowd, which had inexplicably begun to panic. He was being crushed in the crowd, which probably made undoing the anti-apparation wards more difficult than it should have been.

It was getting closer, and the wizards below were struggling to maintain order. Harry didn't have any choice.

He pulled out a small amount of peanut butter that he'd stolen from breakfast and slipped into a candy tin that Neville had lent him. Pulling it out, he cast the flame freezing spell on it before he threw it behind him, flicking his wand at the same time.

It would have been terrifying, riding his wand without using either hand, but the specter of death rapidly coming behind him with an open maw made it a trivial consideration.

The peanut butter flew straight and true, led by Harry's spell. It landed in the dragon's gullet. The dragon didn't look as though it had even noticed.

"GEMINIO!" he screamed.

The geminio curse was a spell designed to cause objects to multiply exponentially. It was used in the vaults of some wizards to cause thieves to be crushed under the replicated weight of the very things they were trying to steal.

As long as whatever it was continued to be touched by a living thing it continued to replicate, within the limits of the caster's power.

The thick peanut butter, stuck to the dragon's mouth began to replicate, doubling in size and then doubling again.

Harry dodged the dragon, dropping straight down toward the ground in a dive. He'd be able to pull up more easily than the dragon would.

It was diving after him, apparently banking on its own ability to catch up to him and pull up before it smashed into the ground. Dragons were decent fliers and this one was better than most.

Harry grimaced as it snapped at him, it's fangs only three feet from the back of his broom. It was already dead but just didn't know it, but even a dead snake could still kill.

He dodged to the right, but it didn't make much of a difference. The dragon had his measure now, and as they approached the ground Harry knew he had to pull up.

"BOMBARDA!" he screamed, pointing the wand in the dragon's face.

The explosion didn't seem to do much damage, but the smoke it created was enough for Harry to slip under it and behind.

The dragon had to come around for another pass, buying Harry some breathing room. The dragon's demise was taking longer than Harry had thought it would, and his only option was to continue to buy time until it was over with.

A few moment's breathing room was all he would have.

"FUMOS!" Harry cast, and an explosion of smoke emerged from his wand.


A massive cloud of smoke suddenly surrounded him, obscuring his view of the ground below. It was a dangerous spell to use, because while it made it more difficult for the dragon to see him, it would be harder for him to see it.

He took a moment to cast the supersensory charm on himself. He could hear the sound of the dragon wings from below him and the sounds of its breathing, which was beginning to sound a little labored. The dragon was making a hacking, phegmatic sound deep in its throat.

It wouldn't be long, but Harry had to survive until then.

He dove to the very back edge of the cloud, and as the dragon flew up into it he dropped out of the crowd, diving for the ground.

The screams of the crowd made him gasp and want to hold his head. Instead he dismissed the charm. But it was too late. The dragon had heard the crowd and it was coming for him.

It dove, but as suddenly as it did it began hacking harder. It's entire body began to be engulfed by spasms, and it slammed into the ground rather than pulling up in time.

Hitting the ground shouldn't have been enough to do more than stun it slightly; dragons really were heavily armored.

However, it didn't get up.

It was struggling to breathe as the peanut butter in its mouth continued to double in size over and over again. The peanut butter was filling it's air passages, and Harry could see some coming from its nose.

Harry continued to float above it on his broom as the creature asphyxiated.

It took longer to die than he'd thought it would.

By the time Dumbledore and the dragon tamers reached the dragon, it was dead. Harry allowed his broom to drop to the ground.

"What did you do, my boy?" Dumbledore asked.

The crowd had finally stopped and people were standing in the stands. They were staring at the scene in stunned silence.

Harry decided that he would always have an exit from crowds; after the last time he knew they were a good way to get killed.

"I kept feeding it until it choked," Harry said. "I didn't have a choice."

There wasn't much to say after that, other than wait on the judges to confer. Killing the dragon had explicitly not been part of the challenge. However, Harry had accomplished the task as asked.

Harry could hear Karkarov arguing that the task hadn't officially been over until Harry had left the field. Once the dragon attacked him in the air, the task had continued.

The judges were arguing, and it suddenly occurred to Harry that it was unfair for the headmasters to be judging their own students.

Finally the deliberations were done. Madam Maxine raised her wand, and the number six emerged floating through the air.

Karkarov gave him a two, which probably meant he was not in Voldemort's camp currently, although Harry still couldn't be sure.

Bagman gave him an eight.

All in all, Harry had come in second, which was a decent showing given the disaster that had happened.

Part of him felt a little resentful that they had blamed him for killing the dragon. It was their responsibility for not having good enough chains.

He would have argued if he'd really cared about winning. It simply irritated him to be punished for something he couldn't help.

Sirius ran up to him; Harry hadn't seen him in the stands although he'd known he would be there. He was pale and there was blood running down his face. Apparently he'd tried to get out of the crowd to help Harry and had a hard time of it.

"I've never wished my animagus form was a bird instead of a dog until today," he said. "Are you all right?"

Harry grinned weakly. "Looks like I came out of it better than you did."

"There's got to be some way to get you out of this," Sirius said. "If this was the first task, what will the second one be like?"

Harry shuddered.

He wasn't sure whether the broken chain was due to sabotage or incompetence, but he hoped someone got sacked. Considering that he saw Rita Skeeter in the audience looking like she'd won the lottery, he suspected that it would be sooner rather than later.

After all, a well run Tournament was in the interest of the Ministry while a fiasco was not. Harry had a fleeting thought, wondering whether Voldemort's plan was to make the Ministry look incompetent as a way of swaying the vote on the new candidates.

Bagman called out to all the champions to gather around.

"That was a little more excitement than we all expected," he said, chuckling uneasily.

The other two champions were pale; apparently they'd gotten to watch his contest after finishing their own. Fleur was looking at him differently as well; she had always looked down on him as a child and she'd been open about it. Now both she and Krum were looking at him with more respect.

"The next task won't be until February 24th. We won't leave you as clueless as we did this time, but we won't make it easy either. If you'll look at the eggs we've given you you'll see that they have a hinge on them. Open them and interpret the message inside and it'll give you a clue to the next task."

He had three months before he had to bother with the second task. He felt a sense of relief. He'd have time to prepare, to get faster and better. The body of the dragon behind him proved that he was getting stronger and better, but Voldmort was more dangerous than any dragon.

Figuring out the screaming egg was harder than he would have thought. Harry had tried every spell he could think of, and other spells suggested by the other Slytherins. Nothing had seemed to work.

He wasn't allowed to get help from professors, not that this would have stopped him, but no one seemed interested in helping him.

Sirius had suggested that some animals sensed things differently from humans. Things that seemed high pitched to a human sounded low pitched to some animals. This was why Harry was sitting with a modified version of the supersensory goggles while the Weasleys, Hermione and Neville were sitting with the earmuffs used in Herbology to handle the mandrake roots.

These were adjustable; the twins were hoping to market them as ways to experience what it was like to be an animagus without having to go through all the trouble. See life as a dog! Experience the senses of an earthworm! They hoped to get actual animagi to calibrate the senses for their respective animal types.

So far they had only concentrated on modifying the sense of hearing. They'd added four knobs on the side of the visor and it had taken them more than a week of work to do so.

Harry grimaced at the wailing shriek of the egg. They were on the astronomy tower with permission, but he knew the sound was reaching everywhere.

"," Harry said. "It's getting a little closer. Closer...that's it!"

Instead of hearing things more intensely he'd had to actually muffle and deepen it, finally he heard the message.

He repeated the poem, which had been recited in mermaid's voices. He knew those voices intimately because he'd seen them outside the windows of the Slytherin dungeons. He'd heard their voices sometimes.

"It's a challenge under the lake," Harry said. "Probably has something to do with the mermen."

The possibilities for cheating were enormous. The first thing he needed to do was scout out the lake and its dangers. There was no guarantee that they wouldn't add more later, but the chances were that knowing his way around under the lake would only help him.

Besides, as he'd seen from recent events he really needed to work on his cardio. The next time he had to run from a dragon, there might not be a convenient broom around.

"Anybody up for a swim?" he asked.

The others looked alarmed.

"It sounds a little risky," Hermione said.

"If you can find a map of the lake I'll let you off, but I'm going to need to see what I'm getting into. It would be better to go as a group because then we'll be better protected."

The last thing he wanted to do was jump into a lake without knowing the possible risks.

"Didn't you already look up the creatures that are in the lake?"

"I didn't look up where they are," Harry said. He hesitated. "If you really don't want to go, that's fine. I don't want to endanger anybody for something that's really my problem anyway."

The Weasley twins were grinning. "Miss out on an undersea exploration mission? We've always wanted to have something to hold over our brother who likes to brag about exploring tombs and fighting strange mummies."

Harry grinned.

Harry's body ached.

He hadn't realized how out of shape he was until he'd begun exploring the lake. Fighting Grindylows hadn't been particularly hard, and finding the exact location of the Mermish village had been a matter of time and effort.

The swimming had been the most difficult part. Hermione had found a spell to keep them warm, saying they'd catch their death of cold jumping into a lake in Scotland in the middle of winter.

Harry wondered if he should see if the Room of Requirement could summon up a swimming pool. That would be a safer way to get the exercise he needed without having to be seen going out into the lake and risk being followed.

Their being there had upset the Mermish anyway.

"The Yule ball is approaching," McGonegall was saying. "A traditional part of the Triwizard tournament. It is an opportunity for us to socialize with the other schools."

"The ball will be from eight o'clock to Midnight on Christmas day," she continued. "It is only open to those of fourth year and above, although they may invite younger partners."

The Slytherins were all looking at each other.

"Unlike my own House, I have no reason to suspect that you will become too...spirited. I expect that everyone will represent this school to the best of their ability."

She dismissed the class, then said, "Mr. Potter, a word."

Harry stopped and waited for the other members of the class to file out of the room. Despite the fact that Slytherins were more composed and reserved than their counterparts in the other houses, he could sense excitement in the air. The girls were whispering together in ways he usually only saw in Gryffindors.

"Traditionally the Champions and their partners open the ball," McGonagall said.

Harry looked at her blankly. "Partners?"

Was there some part to the contest that he hadn't understood? He thought the entire point was for them to go it alone.

"Dance partners," McGonagall said.

If this was a joke, he didn't appreciate it. Putting him up in front of the entire school to be humiliated sounded like something from his first year, not now.

"I don't dance," Harry said flatly.

"I've seen you duel," she said primly. "And I'd beg to disagree."

It was a compliment from her; from what Harry knew about her she was a formidable opponent on the battlefield and a master of transfiguration.

"I don't know how to dance with girls," Harry corrected himself.

"There will be a chance to learn," McGonagall said. "But first you have to find a partner."

"What...ask someone out?" Harry asked blankly.

"Indubitably...and it needs to be soon."

Harry wondered why he was suddenly dreading this as much as he was. He had faced down death many times, fighting Death Eaters and Basilisks and dragons. None of those however had produced exactly the same kind of anxiety as being forced to ask a teenage girl out to dance.

Chapter Text

There was obviously only one person he could ask to the ball; the question was whether or not she already had a date. Harry had seen how some of the other boys had been looking at her since she'd changed her teeth and he suspected she wouldn't go long without finding someone.

"Hey, Hermione," he said catching up to her in the hallway. "Can I talk to you?"

He'd never felt awkward talking to her before; the truth was he'd never felt particularly awkward talking to anyone. Staying alive was much more important than worrying about what people thought, and he'd spent enough time having people look down on him that it shouldn't have mattered.

Somehow it did, this time.


Harry stared at her for a moment, unable to speak. He looked around to see if anyone else was listening, but it didn't look like anyone was.

"I've got something I want to show you," he said, feeling suddenly inspired. He'd been planning to show her and Neville the room for some time and this would make it easier to ask her.

"All" she asked.

He nodded. It made him a little uneasy just how easily she followed him. He'd read about Polyjuice potion and human transfiguration and it would be very easy for someone to lure her away to capture her.

She was one of the very few people that he cared about; he didn't have many friends, although he was slowly developing alliances.

Leading her up to the seventh floor, he checked to make sure than no one was looking, and then he paced in front of the Room three times, concentrating hard.

She gasped a little when the door to the room opened in front of them. He gestured for her to enter, and as she did the door vanished behind him.

"The castle has a swimming pool?" she gasped.

Harry had been experimenting with the room to see the limits of what it could do. He'd discovered that the room was limited by his imagination, and he was limited by the things he'd seen or read about. Fortunately he'd seen a swimming pool before during Harry hunts when he'd gone over fences to hide from Dudley and his friends.

The fact that there was a suburban house behind the pool and a blue sky over them didn't seem to register. When it did, she said, "Have we left Hogwarts?"

Harry shook his head. "It's the room. It can be anything you imagine when you walk in front of the door."

"And you imagined a rather poorly maintained swimming pool?" Hermione asked skeptically.

There was a green film over the surface, but Harry hadn't been sure if that wasn't something that was supposed to be there or not.

"I only saw one pool once," Harry said apologetically.

Hermione stared at him for a moment then shook her head. "Show me how it works."

He led her outside again, and coached her how to use the room. She walked back and fourth three times, and when the door opened they stepped into a rather normal muggle bedroom. It had a bed, a desk, two bookcases, a nightstand, a noticeboard, and framed wall hangings and a chair.

Hermione was staring at the notes on the noteboard. "They even got the notes right."

"I think it reads your mind and uses that to create whatever's in here," Harry said. "I'm thinking I might want to go experience some things with Sirius so I can imagine things that are a little more useful."

Hermione sat on the bed. "Why are you showing me this now?"

"Does there have to be a reason?"

"You always have a reason for everything you do. Either you need me to do something, or you are trying to butter me up for something."

Harry forced a smile. "Am I that bad a friend?"

"You're loyal," Hermione said. "And I think you'd protect me, but you haven't exactly been the easiest person to get to know."

"You know me better than anyone here," Harry said. "Even Neville, and he knows me pretty well."

Hermione looked up at him. "What do you want."

Harry coughed. " know this Yule ball thing...they're making the champions do the first dance."

"You want me to teach you to dance?" Hermione asked. "I can do that, but I thought McGonagall was going to teach everyone later."

Harry flushed. "That's not it...not really. You see, the thing is, I need someone to dance with, someone I can trust."

Hermione was silent for a long moment. "Are you asking me to go with you to the dance?"

She didn't sound as excited as he'd hoped.

"Yeah, I guess I am."

"It's not exactly a romantic proposal, is it?" she asked. "You know I've had several boys getting ready to ask me out...even Viktor Krum has been coming around."

"Krum!" Harry said, stiffening. "You can't go out with Krum! Karkarov is a former Death Eater, and there's a chance that Krum might be working with him!"

Hermione looked at him, and for once there was a look of disdain on her face.

"At least Krum wouldn't be going out with me because it's convenient," Hermione said. She sniffed. "In the past three and a half years you haven't noticed me once as a girl."

"I can't afford to," Harry said.

Hermione froze. "What?"

"I can't afford to notice you as a girl," he said. "Or anyone really."

Silence, at first a few seconds and then longer. Hermione stared at him and frowned.

"If you say it's because it'll put me in danger, I'm going to hit you."

"What? No! Just being my friend puts you in danger," Harry said. "Dating me might make it a little worse, but a lot of people think we're dating anyway."

"Then why can't you notice me as a girl?"

Harry stared at the floor. "Because I'm the one that it'll put in danger. You've seen what they're like, the couples. They fall in love and they get stupid. They can't think about anybody but the other person."

He'd seen it happen even to Slytherins who should have known better. They lost all sense of who they had previously been and they gave everything to the other person. It required a level of trust that left them open to being terribly hurt when it inevitably fell apart.

Some of them did it over and over, convinced every time that the next time would be different.

"You're a damaged person," Hermione said.

That should have been obvious to her a long time ago, Harry thought, even if she didn't know about the deaths and the resets.

He forced himself to smile."I'm a damaged person who needs a dance partner."

She shook her head. "I want better than to be the easiest choice. I'm still your friend, but I won't be going to the dance with you."

Standing up, she headed for the door. Stopping, she said, "Thanks for showing me the room, though."

He was left alone in Hermione Granger's room, mulling over the nature of women.

"And why should I go out wiz a little boy like you?" Fleur asked.

If he wasn't able to go with Herrmione, he might as well shoot for the other target every boy in school was after. He'd actually cared what Hermione had to say, but he didn't particularly care who else he took.

Besides, he'd made a bet with Malfoy that he would.

"Because I'm good with my wand?"

Malfoy was watching them from a distance, close enough to hear what was being said but far enough away to be unobtrusive. They were in the library and for once there weren't many other students around. For some reason Malfoy dropped his book when Harry made his comment and he looked as though he was trying not to laugh.

Fleur flushed, which made her look even more beautiful than she normally did. "While it is try that there ees much to admire about how you...handle your wand, it is not the only thing one looks for in a dance partner."

Shrugging Harry said, "What else do you want? I'm a quick learner, I'm ambitious and I'm occasionally funny."

Most of the people who thought Harry was funny didn't realize that he was perfectly serious about the paranoid things he was saying. Still, it might be a good selling point.

"Many handsome boys have asked me to the dance," she said.

"Do any of them know what it's like to face a dragon?" he asked. "I do. We're both champions and that'll give us plenty to talk about."

She stared at him appraisingly before finally nodding. "If you learn to dance I'll go with you."

Behind them, Malfoy knocked over a whole shelf of books. Harry grinned at him.

The nice thing about Fleur was that living in another country she wouldn't likely be targeted by Death Eaters. Everyone would know that the dance was simply a temporary thing of convenience. Also, as a half-human, she'd have been on the list of those the Death Eater's hated, and so she wouldn't be any worse off for dancing with him.

The last thing he wanted was to dance with someone and then find them dead the next day. It had been selfish of him to ask Hermione in the first place. This was much better.

Besides, Fleur smelled surprisingly nice from close up.

The Room of Requirement proved to be useful in more ways than Harry had expected.

Dancing with McGonagall was embarrassing and wasn't particularly educational, especially considering that the teachers seemed to think that a single session would be enough to teach them everything they knew to represent the school.

Fortunately, Neville turned out to be an expert dancer, and better yet, he had memories of ballrooms which the room could use to create places to dance. Apparently his grandmother had told him that alliances were made on the dance floor, and with the Wizarding world under constant threat he might need to make alliances.

She'd gotten him lessons from a young age, lessons which he was more than happy to share.

Dancing with Neville was almost as awkward as dancing with McGonagall, but at least it wasn't in front of the judging eyes of all his classmates.

It was strange; normally Harry didn't care what people thought of him. He'd been bullied enough and faced enough negativity from people that he was willing to stand up to anyone. However, he was confident in his own skills in most areas of his life. Put him in front of a Death Eater or a raging basilisk and he knew what to do.

This, however, left him feeling uncertain, and he hated that feeling. What would Fleur think of him? What would Hermione think of him dancing with Fleur? He found himself worrying about these things and it was distracting him from the truly important matters of who was planning to kill him.

Adding to everything was the stress of learning that Dobby had been working at Hogwarts for several months. Although Harry tended to like House Elves in general, he still remembered being hit with a bludger and he regarded the house elf as being more than a little unstable.

The house elf had even taken to wearing a jumper with a Slytherin crest on it; Harry suspected it was in honor of him, although it was possible that he'd simply gotten someone to shrink some preexisting clothes.

Despite being light on his feet, dancing simply didn't come natural to Harry, and he worried that he would not be able to perform adequately for Fleur.

Before he knew it, the day arrived.

She was radiant.

Harry knew the moment that she stepped out onto the top of the stairs that he should have worked harder to convince Hermione to stay and be his date for the evening.

The fact that she was beautiful was something that had always been on the periphery of her mind; mostly it was easy to not think about because of her teeth and the vast mane of bushy hair that covered her.

Now her teeth were a normal size and she'd done something to her hair, pulling it up in a complicated bun. She was wearing a dress of periwinkle blue, and she'd bothered to put on makeup. She was smiling, something that she rarely did, but it made her face light up in a way that made his heart ache a little.

Why hadn't he bothered to put a smile like that on her face more often?

She was breathtaking, and seeing her hurt his heart a little, even though the date next to him was brilliantly beautiful in her own way.

"Harry!" Hermione said.

Harry forced himself to smile. He glanced at Fleur, who was looking at Hermione with a calculating look in her eyes.

"You look amazing," Harry said as Hermione reached him.

She smiled again, this time a little less nervously. "Have you seen Viktor?"

"He's over there," Harry nodded in the direction of the Durmstrang students, who were still huddled together.

Nodding gratefully, she headed over in his direction.

"You have a theeng for her?" Fleur asked, leaning close and speaking softly in his ear. Despite himself, Harry found himself able to focus on nothing but how soft she was and how amazing she smelled.

"No...but she's my best friend," he said. Realizing suddenly that this was more than he wanted to admit to anyone, he said, "I'd kill anyone who hurt her."

Fleur smiled, although it didn't reach her eyes. "Ze others would zink you were exxagerating. But after seeing 'at you did to ze dragon..."

Harry shrugged. "It's never going to be particularly popular as a way of killing dangerous the time you are close enough to throw food in, it's generally too late."

Also, it took far too long to kill, at least a large beast. Killing something after it had eaten and swallowed you was worthless. Plus, he'd had to pre-prepare the peanut butter, and it had been a hellishly difficult spell to cast. It had taken him almost three days to get it right, and he still wasn't sure if he'd be able to replicate it.

Fortunately, he hadn't used all of the peanut butter.

She looked around. "Zis is nothing 'oo know. At Beauxbatons zey have ice sculputures zat sing while 'e dance by ze moonlight."

"I'd love to see it," Harry said.

He really would; the only way he'd have time was if he'd actually destroyed Voldemort and his men. Visiting Beauxbatons would be a sign that he had done what he'd set out to do and that he had the luxury of time...time to visit friends, time to go on vacation...time to relax.

For some reason she flushed slightly, a sight he found more enticing than he should have.

"Champions, gather round!" McGonagall said.

Harry took Fleur's hand in his and gingerly put his hand around her waist. He'd been morbidly uncomfortable doing that to McGonagall, and equally so with Neville, but this was surprisingly pleasant.

The music started, a slow and mournful tune by the Weird Sisters.

At first Harry concentrated on not tripping, and on the movements of his feet, but feeling Fleur's eyes on him, it grew a little easier. He became excruciatingly aware of her hand in his, and of his hand on her waist. It was as though the entire universe focused on those two spots.

By the end of the song he felt flushed, and not because of the exertion.

He was glad he'd practiced. If he'd only done the single perfunctory dance with McGonagall, he'd have undoubtedly quit after the first dance. But he could see the eyes of everyone on him.

The boys were judging him, because he was with the date that they'd all secretly wanted to have. The girls were measuring him, comparing him to their own dates.

Harry couldn't help but feel a slight sense of malicious pleasure at the fact that the girls with some of the boys who's bullied him in his first life during first year looked as though Harry was coming out in comparison.

Seeing Hermione dancing by with Krum, though, Harry felt as though he was the one who paled by comparison. She danced like a dream, spinning and moving like dancing was the most natural thing in the world for her.

"Darkness powder, Potter?" Moody asked as he stumped past, somehow managing to dance with one of the teachers. He was looking at him with his artificial eye. "And peanut butter?"

"I might get peckish," Harry grinned.

He'd have to figure out some way to get around Moody's eye, because if Moody had one there was a chance that some Death Eater had something similar somewhere.

Fleur shivered in his arms and it felt particularly delightful. "Zat eye of 'is should be outlawed."

Harry thought about it. Being able to see under the clothes of everyone, including teenage girls might seem a little perverse.

"I suppose if you see everybody naked all the time it stops being special," Harry said. "Kind of like having cake for every meal. Eventually you just start wanting a salad."

She sniffed. "I am not cake."

"A souffle maybe?" Harry asked. At her expression he said "I don't know anything about French cooking. Something sweet but strong maybe?"

Her expression changed; he saw the beginning of a genuine smile; it made her face light up in a way that was painful in a different way than Hermione's had been.

"You zink I am strong?"

"You volunteered for this, knowing what you were getting into. That's stronger than most of the boys I know...and even most of the male wizards."

Foolish as much as strong, but Harry didn't say that.

They had worked their way to the edge of the dance floor, and were now on the sidelines. Harry was grateful; he felt sweaty and a little sticky.

"Would you like to step outside?" Fleur asked.

Harry nodded. As cool as it was outside he'd feel much better shortly. Looking at Fleur, he didn't understand the expression on her face.

It was probably better to pretend that he did, though.

"Let's go," he said.

They worked their way outside the entrance hall and they stepped outside. The cool air felt good on Harry's overheated skin, and he took a deep breath.

"Per'aps ze rose garden?" Fleur asked.

Harry nodded. The rose garden had been changed, filled with flickering fairie lights. It had winding paths, ornamental statues, and the occasional stone bench, which is where Fleur led him now.

"I zought you were a leetle boy," she said. "But I was wrong."

Harry forced himself to smile. She was sitting close to him; closer than was comfortable actually. Ordinarily he would have found an excuse to get up, to move away, to keep himself out of the possible grip of someone who could trap his wand arm.

Now, though, for some reason he didn't mind.

She was leaning closer to him, and he didn't know what was going to happen exactly, but he couldn't look away from her lips.

"I..." he began.

Harry felt a hand on his shoulder and he instantly went for his wand. He had it pointed at the person behind him before he even registered who it was.


"Harry!" Sirius said. He was grinning. "Big news...that thing I was working on...we rounded up forty Death Eaters tonight...fifteen of them are dead. That's almost ten percent of Voldemort's inner circle."

At Harry's speechlessness, he said "We've got them on the run!"

Harry was silent for a long moment, trying to process what Sirius was saying. He'd spent most of the time since his first death envisioning the Death Eaters as a faceless, unbeatable enemy. The thought that they could be defeated en masse was mind-blowing.

Sirius suddenly seemed to realize that Harry wasn't alone.

"Did I interrupt something?"

Chapter Text

Scrimgeour trumpeted the arrests of twenty five Death Eaters and the deaths of fifteen more as though he'd accomplished them all himself. For the next week, all anyone could talk about was the arrests and the fear that Voldemort's organization would retaliate.

It drew attention away from the Triwizard tournament in a way that nothing else could. Every page of the Daily Prophet had articles about the Death Eaters who'd been captured and speculation about what was going to happen in the future.

Apparently, current estimates were that Voldemort had approximately four hundred Death Eaters, but that he had a larger number of people who were affiliated with his organization without being trusted enough to be actual members. How anyone knew that Harry didn't know; he would have thought if they were close enough to take count that they'd be close enough to do something about them.

While ten percent of Voldemort's people was a lot, it didn't seem like a crippling blow to Harry. None of Voldemort's true inner circle...his most trusted lieutenants had been caught. Some were still in Azkaban, but the others were still out in the world directing the low level skirmishes that chipped away at the Ministry.

Everyone acted like Voldemort had practically been defeated, an attitude that Harry didn't understand at all. There was a celebratory mood among three of the four houses of Hogwarts, and even his own house was simply quiet about the matter.

The Slytherins were smart enough not to celebrate however. Many of them had relatives who were Death Eaters, and those who didn't had classmates who did. More importantly, everyone was waiting for the hammer to come down.

There was a small article about Hagrid being a half-giant, but in the excitement of the other news it was quickly buried. No one took much notice, except for a few unkind comments from other Slytherins. Harry was surprised; he hadn't realized that everyone hadn't know Hagrid was a half-giant. What did they think he was?

It was as obvious as Flitwick being half-goblin. Harry wondered how wizards could be so willfully blind.

Hagrid was missing for a few days, but after seeing that no one seemed to care about his heritage, he re-emerged.

Harry himself kept his head down and didn't say anything one way or the other. He simply tried to go back to having a normal life.

He didn't see Hermione or Neville for the next week; apparently they both went home after the ball. That made it a little easier in a way; Harry still wasn't sure how he felt about Hermione's rejection.

After all, Harry wasn't sure he'd ever be in a position to love anyone. She'd called him damaged, which was appropriate as far as he was concerned. After all, didn't falling in love require a level of trust that Harry wasn't sure he'd ever be able to give anyone?

Even if Voldemort and all his men were dead, Harry had developed habits that would be difficult to overcome. Paranoid thinking kept him alive, but in a post-Voldemort world it would have him jumping at shadows.

Reaching for another book on nonverbal casting, Harry was startled to hear Hermione's voice from behind him.

The fact that she'd been able to sneak up on him was troubling. The fact that she was back shouldn't have been.

"Harry?" Hermione asked.

Looking up at her, Harry forced a smile. "Hello, Hermione."

Her hair was back to its usual frizzy self, but now that he had seen just how beautiful she could be, there was no way he could unsee it. She was no longer just the friend who had happened to be a girl.

Harry was deeply uncomfortable with that, and he wasn't sure what to say.

"Nonverbal casting?" she asked.

"I'm working on nonverbal, wandless transfiguration," Harry said. "It's not going that well."

The rest of the library was empty. Most of the students hadn't returned yet; everyone had felt like celebrating the Ministry coupe with their families.

"Most people wouldn't even try," she said.

She didn't bother to ask why he was trying something that most wizards would think wasn't worth the effort put into it. Wandless spells were weaker than their counterparts, and nonverbal spells were somewhat weaker.

Hermione looked for a moment as though she didn't know what to say, which felt wrong for Harry. She'd never been at a loss for words; if anything she talked a little too much. Now, though she looked as though she was struggling to figure out what she wanted to say.

The fact that Harry himself suddenly had no idea what to say to her was equally troubling. He'd never had to worry about what he said around Hermione. It was one of the things he'd always valued about her. When he was a first year being judged by everyone, Hermione had been there to keep him reasonably sane.

"We need to talk," Hermione said finally.

Harry felt a sudden knot in his stomach. He'd heard Aunt Petunia say those words to Uncle Vernon on rare occasions, and they'd never led to anything good. Typically they preceded an argument which had Harry cowering in his cupboard, happy to have a place to hide.

"O.K.," Harry said reluctantly.

"When I turned you down," Hermione said carefully, "I wasn't in a particularly good place."

Harry stared at her. He had no idea what she was talking about.

"All the other girls were thrilled about the dance...all they could talk about were dresses and makeup and boys."

"I thought you didn't care about any of that."

Hermione flushed a little. "I didn't think so either...but it turns out I did. I listened to them talking and talking and talking, fantasizing about what it would be like to be a princess for just one night...and I wanted that."

"It looks like you got it," Harry said. "I don't think anybody didn't notice you."

He certainly had. He still was, in a way that was actually a little annoying. He knew better than to say anything about that, however. The last thing he wanted to do was damage their friendship any further than he already had.

Sometimes, he almost hoped for a reset, simply so he'd have a chance to avoid this awkwardness he was feeling now.

Her cheeks grew even redder. "I didn't think you noticed."

"Everybody noticed," Harry assured her. "I think you were the most hated girl in the room, at least by the other girls. Even Fleur noticed, and she hardly has anything to worry about in the looks department."

"How have you and Fleur been doing?" Hermione asked quickly. There was an expression on her face that he couldn't decipher.

Harry shrugged. "I've seen her here and there. It was just a dance; nobody was declaring true love or anything."

"Are you sure she feels that way?" Hermione asked.

"I'm sure she was taking mercy on me, accepting," Harry said. "After all, to her I'm still a little boy, no matter how good I am at magic."

"I wouldn't be so sure," Hermione said.

"It's not like I'm the greatest candidate for a boyfriend anyway," Harry said. "I'm scrawny, got a weird scar and I've got a bounty on my head. It makes it a little difficult to go out for an ice cream and a walk around Hogsmeade."

"You shouldn't put yourself down," Hermione said.

"I don't even speak French," Harry said, barely listening.

The few classes he'd had in grammar school didn't count, especially as he hadn't kept up with it. Hogwarts really should have included foreign language classes.

There was a long, awkward silence as they stared at each other. Finally Hermione just said, "I just wanted you to know that I'm sorry."

Harry shook his head. "No...I'm the one who should have said I'm sorry. I never should have asked you. You deserve more than I can afford to give you."

She looked disturbed by that, but there didn't seem to be much more to say.

With things as awkward between them as they were, Harry had to do his own research for the second task. That involved a trip to Hagrid's hut and then multiple visits to the library.

Hagrid seemed extraordinarily grateful that Harry was visiting him, almost as though he expected to be ostracized because of his half-human nature.

The fact that Harry hadn't bothered to visit him after the newspaper article shamed him a little once he realized just how deeply affected Hagrid had been by it. Harry realized that he'd been so self absorbed with his own problems that he'd barely noticed that Hagrid was in pain.

That was another reason that he wasn't good boyfriend material; he was so self absorbed and so self-centered that he barely noticed the people around him. He noticed whether they were useful or not, and a few people broke through that veil but for the most part he didn't care much about anyone.

He wondered for a moment if something hadn't broken within him when Adrian died, or maybe when Colin had. After all, he'd let himself care about them, and then the pain of losing them had been damaging.

Channeling grief into rage would only work for so long, after all. Harry wondered if numbness was one of the stages of grief; he'd vaguely heard that there were stages but he wasn't really sure what they were.

Discovering what he needed to know from Hagrid hadn't been hard. Finding it in the stacks was much more difficult. It wasn't a spell that was used much anymore; there were better spells out there, and wizards had better means of transportation in general.

However, eventually he found the spell and he practiced it, finding it to be easier than he'd thought it would be.

The harder part was learning the transfiguration that he needed for his plan. It didn't have to be pretty; in fact it was almost better that it wasn't. After all, since he suspected that Voldemort wanted him to win this thing, maybe it was better that he didn't.

At the same time he couldn't help but gloat at the thought of Scrimgeour's face at the challenge. The man had been getting far too smug and complacent after the imprisonments.

His appointees to replace the assassinated Wizangamot members had finally been approved, in part because of a rising tide of popularity in the wake of the arrests.

The trials were going well, although none of the Death Eaters had turned evidence in return for reduced sentences. After everything they probably thought that it was safer in a Ministry cell, even in Azkaban rather than what would happen to them if they talked.

Now that the positions were filled, Harry no longer felt any loyalty to Scrimgeour, and he looked forward to tweaking his nose a little.

He only hoped that the rest of the Hogwarts' student body wasn't as angry with him as he suspected they might be.

Harry was one of the first to arrive at the event, early enough to see the Ministry employees setting up massive screens beside the lake.

It took him a moment to recognize the screens; he'd seen them used during the Quidditch World cup. Apparently the Ministry was reusing things in an effort to save funds now that the Triwizard tournament was no longer as important.

"They won't turn those on until the contest begins," Moody said from behind him. "You won't be getting any kind of an advantage by looking."

Harry shrugged. It had surprised him at the Quidditch world cup seeing the screens. If Wizards could create television images, why didn't they have television? They had a magical version of radio, after all.

Maybe it was a cultural thing.

"They'll have split screens," Moody said. "Showing the important parts. That way the crowd won't miss a thing."

Harry shrugged. He'd wondered how a contest where no one could see what was happening would be exciting. It seemed like someone else in the Ministry had had the same thought.

He looked out at the lake. He'd re-examined the lake only the week before, and he had a decent idea where on the surface everything important was. That was going to be critical.

"You ready for this?" Moody asked.

Harry shrugged. "As ready as I can be."

He watched carefully as the chairs were set up and the crowd began straggling in. While there wasn't much he could do about any traps that were set during the challenge itself, he wanted to make sure no one was doing anything suspicious above water.

Aurors were already everywhere, and Harry suspected that they'd have multiple undercover aurors in the crowd as well. After all the second task would be the perfect target for a counterattack. There would be a large crowd of people that no one knew, Ministry officials in the crowd, concerned parents and reporters. It would be the perfect venue to make a statement.

Hermione and Neville finally showed up. Neville waved at him while Hermione gave him an awkward smile.

Harry forced himself not to grimace. He still hadn't gotten over the awkwardness between him and Hermione and he hated it.

Hopefully after the event he'd have a chance to talk to her, assuming he wasn't beaten by the student body of Hogwarts.

He became a little concerned when Dumbledore came and spoke quietly with Hermione and Neville, leading them both away. He could only hope that they'd be back in time for the contest. As an hour passed and they did not return he became increasingly concerned.

Had there been a kidnapping. Had that actually been Dumbledore?

It wasn't until Dumbledore returned and Harry questioned him about it that he was reassured. Apparently they had a task for Dumbledore.

He checked the map secretly before handing it off to one of the twins; it really was Dumbledore he'd been talking to. A quick scan didn't show anyone who shouldn't have been there.

It did show both Hermione and Neville out in the center of the lake, around the location he'd scouted out as being the Mer-village.

Harry scowled. Apparently they hadn't been comfortable taking just one of the people he'd valued. They'd taken two.

The other champions arrived, as did Bagman and Scrimgeour. Scrimgeour smiled genially out at the crowd. His participation was part of the reason for the visible heavy Auror presence, Harry was sure. The fact that protecting him along with the champions and audience members would put a undue strain on the aurors didn't seem to bother him.

"When I blow the whistle," Bagman said. "You will have one hour to recover what has been taken from them."

A moment later, the whistle was blown, and the second task began.

Harry saw Fleur casting the bubble headed charm. She glanced at him, her look something he couldn't quite interpret. He hadn't really talked to her in the month since the Yule Ball, and he had the sense that she was irritated at him.

Krum was doing a complicated spell, transfiguring his own head into that of a shark. That was risky; not the sort of thing Harry would attempt at all unless he absolutely had to. Transfiguring into an animal ran the risk of gaining the mentality of that animal, which would of course make transfiguring back impossible.

Harry wondered how Krum would be able to speak as a shark. Maybe he wouldn't and would depend on his classmates to change him back.

They both plunged into the water.

Harry watched as they vanished out of sight. He stood, stretching.

It was almost five minutes before Bagman and Scrimgeour stalked up to him; apparently they'd been hoping that whatever method he had for going underwater simply took a long period.

"Look," Bagman said. "You've got to get going. We can't start the screens until you're on your way."

"Why not?" Harry asked. "It's not like seeing what's coming will make much of a difference now. Even if it did, the time I'm losing would make it all moot."

Bagman scowled. He stared at Harry and then turned and stalked toward the screens. He argued with the technicians, who did something.

A moment later, they flickered to life. Instead of the promised split screens, they only showed Krum and Fleur, each on their own screen moving powerfully through the water. Krum looked like the better swimmer, but Fleur was doing better than he had expected.

"What are you doing?" Scrimgeour hissed. "You've got the honor of Hogwarts to uphold."

"And your re-election?" Harry asked. Since Scrimgeour hadn't actually been elected, but had been appointed he supposed it was a misnomer.

Scrimgeour's face turned red. "There's a's magical and binding. You know what happens if you don't compete."

"I'll compete," Harry said. "I just have to stretch a little first."

He made an exaggerated show of stretching, which made Scrimgeour turn even redder. He looked as though he wanted to shout, but a sudden flash of a camera from behind Harry reminded him that they were both in front of an audience.

The contract stated that Harry had to compete. It didn't say that he had to win.

Scrimgeour stalked over to the judges' table where he could be heard whispering at them in a loud voice.

Harry watched as the scene on the screen changed. Krum was now fighting Grindylows and doing very well.

Fleur seemed to be having a lot of trouble though. She was caught in seaweed and was making very little progress in getting free.

The third screen, which presumably was to cover what he was doing was still blank.

Harry could hear a growing, angry muttering behind him. The crowd was confused. What was he doing? Was he not going to compete?

Finally, at the thirty minute mark, Harry decided it was time.

He stood up and walked to the edge of the shore. Reaching down he began gathering mud from the side of the shore into a solid glob.

A moment later he pointed his wand at the glob and spoke the words of the transfiguration spell he'd been working on for more than a week.

The mud morphed and changed, eventually turning into a small boat. It wasn't particularly attractive; it was still the color of mud and it looked crude and rough on the outside. Harry doubted that his grade from McGonagall would have been particularly good.

However, it was seaworthy, which was all he needed.

He pushed the boat out into the water, and then he began casting the second spell. Finding the spell that the school used to propel the boats used to transport first year students to their sorting had been harder than he'd thought, but he'd found it, and he cast it now.

The boat moved silently out through the water, able to move faster than even Krum with his shark head and fins could manage.

Distances were difficult to estimate from the surface, but Harry had practiced on multiple occasions. Fortunately they didn't have to be exact.

He cast the bubble headed charm on himself, and he plunged down into the water.

Chapter Text

The water hadn't been this cold the week before, when Harry had last scouted. The bubble head charm did nothing to keep him warm, but fortunately after several trips where he felt so cold he'd almost reset he'd finally discovered a spell that would keep him warm.

He cast it now, and he immediately began to feel better. He wondered if being so cold was part of the reason Fleur was struggling so much with the Grindylows.

As he sank through the silt, visibility dropped.

When he was able to see again, he could see the edge of the merpeople village. His estimate at the surface had been off; he'd intended to land right in the middle.

Harry scowled and shot forward, past the large rock marker that sat at the edge of the town, and among the stone dwellings that sat at the bottom of the lake. The dwellings were crude, but probably served to protect against the giant squid while they slept.

Moving as quietly as he could, Harry slipped through the empty village. He could hear the sounds of the merpeople singing, drawing the champions toward them.

He could see faces at the dark windows. If he'd been a Gryffindor those faces would have been unfamiliar to him, but he'd seen them swimming past the Slytherin common rooms for the last four years, often enough that they almost seemed normal.

Their grayish skin and long green hair, yellow eyes and yellow, broken teeth almost seemed prosaic to Harry. He was careful to avoid being seen by them, however. Given the nature of the first task he wouldn't be surprised if the second was to fight his way through the entire village to get to Hermione and Neville.

He was conscious of the time that was elapsing. Had he spent too much time taunting Scrimgeour? Should he have left earlier?

He reached the buildings at the center of the village. An empty space lay beyond; their version of a village square. A crowd of mermen surrounded the hanging, unconscious forms of Hermione, Neville, and a young child who had to be related to Fleur.

Harry scowled, grabbing for his wand. Someone would pay for doing this; it looked a little too much like some of his nightmares.

After the dragon, Harry suspected that actually killing the merpeople would be frowned upon. Besides, after seeing them swim by for years he didn't feel particularly angry with them. They were doing the Ministry's bidding after all.

Harry swam straight up, then when he was almost to the surface he swam forward. The water was murky enough that they'd have trouble seeing him from this distance. He began to swim downward.

Most humans rarely looked up, but Harry knew that merpeople lived in a three dimensional world. They wouldn't be as oblivious as regular humans.

Some of them were already looking up toward him, and Harry pointed his wand downward. "BOMBARDA!" he cast.

The merpeople were too close to Hermione and Neville for him to cast the spell close to them, and he didn't want to seriously hurt them in any case. But experiments had shown him that bombarda had some interesting properties underwater, properties that he could use now.

The spell flew past the merpeople to impact the floor of the lake a dozen yards away from them. The water intensified the power of the spell, but the distance reduced it. The merpeople at the edge of the spell would be stunned, at least for a time. More importantly, a massive cloud of silt exploded upward.

From his research Harry knew that merpeople didn't depend on their sense of sight as much as humans did; after all they lived in a murky world filled with silt and sand. Their sense of hearing was particularly acute however. The sound of the explosion would have their ears ringing. With their vision and hearing taken care of, they would have difficulty in pinpointing him.

Harry cast a supersensory charm, and the world suddenly came into focus around him. He could hear the breathing of the merpeople, of Hermione and Neville and the girl. He knew where everyone was, and that was important.

A moment later he was among them, casting stunners right and left. The advantage of the bubbleheaded charm was that it let him actually speak his spells clearly, which was an advantage even though wand work was a little more difficult due to the resistance of the water.

The disadvantage was that he couldn't smell them even with the Supersensory charm; he had to rely on his sense of hearing to pinpoint where they were. Fortunately he'd had a lot of practice fighting like this ever since the time he'd fought the basilisk.

"STUPEFY, STUPEFY, STUPEFY," Harry cast the spell as quickly as he could move his wand and aim, hitting merperson after merperson.

The merpeople weren't as stunned as he had hoped either; he might have cast the spell a few yards closer for better results.

Enough of them were confused and in disarray that they interfered with the more alert and competent ones however, and Harry worked on attacking those first. Taking care of the most dangerous enemies first was basic strategy.

They were getting their act together, but it was already too late. Even as the silt began to disperse, more and more of their people were falling.

The others were coming after him, however, Harry assumed with spears outstretched. He felt something fly by him in the water; some of them were starting to throw spears.

He cast a shield spell, then continued methodically stunning the merpeople one after another.

It wouldn't have worked against wizards, but against a people who didn't have magic it was almost a foregone conclusion. Their only hope would have been to rush him and grab his wand hand, but in the darkness and confusion they had lost their organization and ability to coordinate and attack.

As light began to filter in, Harry looked dispassionately down on dozens of stunned merpeople laying in a circle around Hermione, Neville and the girl.

Unable to decide who they'd intended to be his valuable person...probably Neville, with Hermione as Krum's, Harry decided to take them all. After all, the last thing he wanted was for Hermione to think that he didn't care for her, especially after their recent problems.

"Diffindo! Diffindo! Diffindo!" It was nice to cast his signature spell for something other than killing and maiming. The vines holding the three of them snapped, and a quick levicorpus spell had them all floating behind him as he began to swim upward.

He could see Krum swimming toward them from the edge of town; stealing Krum's target would be a good way to rub Karkarov's nose in it anyway. The former Death Eater had cheated Harry on the last evaluation, and while he didn't particularly care about winning, he was irritated by it.

A moment later, he reached the boat and the three levitated behind him.

He pushed his way onto the boat and a moment later the boat was rushing over the water, the three dripping figures floating three feet over the surface of the water.

Behind him he could hear he three coughing with their exposure to air. Apparently whatever spell kept them sleeping ended when they were out of the water, or possibly at the expiration of the hour.

As he reached the shore he could see the crowd staring at him silently.

He helped the three down from where they were floating. Neville and Hermione seemed confused for a moment, but helpers were already running forward with heavy towels for them all.

As Dumbledore and Bagman and Scrimgeour stepped forward, Harry looked up. "I assumed you didn't want me to kill them."

"You weren't supposed to attack them," Dumbledore said. "Reaching the center of town within the time limit was deemed challenge enough."

"After the dragon what was I supposed to think?" Harry asked irritably. "They had spears pointed right at me. They're lucky they aren't chum in the water."

Dumbledore looked mildly alarmed at the idea that Harry might have decimated the relatively peaceful community that lived beside Hogwarts. If he'd really known Harry he'd have probably looked considerably more alarmed.

Harry stared at Scrimgeour. "I don't appreciate having my friends being held hostage either. Don't do it again."

Scrimgeour stepped forward, face flushed with anger. Apparently Harry'd earlier message had irritated him just as much as Harry had hoped it would.

"Who do you think you are?" he hissed. "I'm the Minister for Magic, and no one talks to me that way."

Harry shrugged. "I just did...and as for who I am, I'm the savior of the Wizarding world. I'm the Chosen one...what are you going to do...put me in Azkaban? Good luck with Voldemort then."

Scrimgeour winced at the mention of Voldemort's name.

"If you don't believe the prophecy, then leave me the..."

Dumbledore put his hand on Harry's shoulder before he could complete the sentence. "That's enough, Harry. The final task will not endanger your friends or family, I swear."

Harry nodded irritably.

The Ministry was lucky he didn't decide to go rogue and scarper off to France or Australia or something to go in hiding. Harry had to wonder if the Trace had a range limitation or whether it would follow him everywhere on Earth.

Was the Trace on his wand, or on he himself. He'd tried looking into it, but it was apparently a Ministry secret. No one wanted to say, even among his Slytherin spies.

"Gabrielle? Gabrielle? Is she alive? Is she 'ere?" Fleur emerged from the water looking panicked.

"She's over here," Harry said.

He wondered if Fleur would be even more angry at him for stealing her chance to save her sister. Krum was staring at him with undisguised anger after all.

Hmmm...his head was already back to being human. Harry had hoped to see how he'd untransfigured himself.

Madam Pomprey was trying to pull him away to wrap him in a towel and force the same warming potion on him that she was giving the others. He waved her off irritably. The warming spell he'd used was still keeping him toasty even in the chill Scottish air.

Fleur was hugging her sister as though she'd almost lost her.

"It was ze Grindylow...they attacked me...I thought I'd lost you."

The screens began to show replays of the champions deeds; Harry assumed using the same magical technology that allowed omnioculars to do the same.

He saw Krum fighting his way past the Grindylows even as Fleur struggled to deal with them.

His screen was dark as he saw the other two fighting their way past several different trials. Finally, his screen lit.

He'd never seen himself during combat; it was interesting to see the look of concentration on his face as he flitted from one hut to another, trying to keep out of sight of the merpeople inside.

He swam up, out of the view of the camera, and then shortly afterwards downwards.

His expression really was intimidating; as intimidating as possible from a teenage boy anyway. A cloud of silt rose, and for a long fifteen minutes all that could be seen was the cloud.

When the cloud vanished enough to see what was happening, harry was the only one left standing.

"Zank you, zank you," Fleur said, coming up to him and grabbing his hand.

Before he could do anything, she grabbed his head and kissed him.

Harry suddenly found that he couldn't breathe. His heart was racing in his chest and he suddenly found himself aware of every sensation. He'd released the supersensory charm before reaching the surface for fear that the noise of the crowd would overwhelm him. However, for a moment he wondered if he'd forgotten. Maybe kissing a Veela was a little like a supersensory charm.

Or maybe kissing a beautiful girl really was as amazing as everyone seemed to think it was.

Harry saw flashes of light, and it took him a moment to realize that it was cameras in the audience. This would be in the newspapers tomorrow.

As the kiss ended, he felt dazed and drained. His legs felt rubbery, and the exhaustion from the fight finally seemed to catch up to him.

He allowed Madam Pomprey to lead him away, trying to ignore the smug look on Fleur's face.

The judges called out the numbers. Fleur received twenty five points out of fifty because even had Harry not stolen her hostage she wouldn't have reached her in time.

Viktor Krum received thirty five points for using an incomplete transfiguration; he didn't collect his hostage only because Harry had already taken it.

Harry received forty points...he apparently hadn't been supposed to attack the merpeople or take the other hostages but his display of magic had impressed everyone. Harry suspected that they'd taken points off for his being a jerk in the beginning, but the points still put him in first place.

He'd hoped not to be in that position; he'd have to figure out a way to throw the third task. He could see irritated looks on many of his classmates and he suspected that he was going to hear about it for the next several weeks.

What he heard about the next day was the kiss. It was on the front page of the paper, in constant, animated motion, and Rita Skeeter had written a salacious article about a romantic quadrangle between Harry, Hermione, Fleur and Krum.

Supposedly Harry couldn't decide between Hermione and Fleur, and Hermione couldn't decide between Harry and Krum. Skeeter made Fleur and Krum out to be the blameless ones while Harry was made out to be fickle in love.

Harry suspected that she still resented his not going to her with his first story that had toppled Fudge's administration. He'd gone to the first reporter he could find, and he hadn't even met her until the tournament had begun.

He would have taken it all with a grain of salt, except that it seemed to bother Hermione. Every time she saw him she flushed and made an excuse to be somewhere else.

It wasn't until he talked to Neville that he learned that she'd been getting nasty notes and letters owled in; she even received a letter filled with a toxic chemical and had to go to the Hospital wing.

As enraged as Harry was by this, there wasn't anything he could do. The perpetrators were anonymous, and the impression Harry got from the letters that Neville showed him was that they were being sent by members of the outside community who had read Rita Skeeter's articles.

He felt helpless, and feeling helpless always left him feeling irritable.

Most things made him feel irritable these days. Objectively he knew that the kiss from Fleur had just been a thank you for saving her sister, but he couldn't stop thinking about what it had felt like. More importantly, he couldn't help but want it to happen again.

Fleur, however was ignoring him in the wake of the Skeeter story. It seemed as though she was wanting something from him, but he wasn't sure what it was. He ignored her back, and she kept looking increasingly irritated.

Skeeter bothered him a great deal. She'd reported on private conversations between him and Hermione, and from what Neville said between Hermione and Krum, and he'd never noticed her anywhere around. It was possible that she'd had an invisibility cloak, but he'd asked Moody, who hadn't seen her anywhere around the lake when Hermione had been talking to Krum.

Harry thought about it obsessively; it was easier than focusing on his relationship issues with Fleur and Hermione. Eventually he came to the conclusion that she was wither using some kind of evesdropping magic, or she was an animagus.

The best way to determine which was which was to cast a muffliatto spell and start talking about something seemingly salacious. If she heard it, then she was an animagus, probably something very small. If she didn't then she might simply be using something like a modified supersensory charm.

However, in the crowd they'd been in, a supersensory charm would have overloaded the senses. It would have been impossible to have made out one voice from the many in the din. After all, hearing the sounds of nine hundred people talking, breathing and shifting in their seats would have drowned anything else out. It had to be something more focused.

Harry wondered if she'd found a way to create a magical bug, like in the James Bond movies. He'd seen part of one from his cupboard when he was younger and for a little while he'd wanted to be James Bond.

He felt a little like James Bond now sometimes, with the Weasley twins subbing in for Q. Voldemort would make a perfect Bond villain.

The day finally came when Bagman summoned them all out to what had been the Quidditch field. There were now long, low hedge walls stretching in every direction.

Bagman smiled at them and said, "I suppose you can all guess what the final task will be."

"A maze," Fleur said, glancing at Harry. When he didn't respond, she glanced away quickly, a faint blush on her cheeks.

If Harry hadn't been a Slytherin, trained from the beginning of first year to hide his emotions, he'd have let her know just how affected he was by her presence. It was almost all that he could think about.

He wondered if there was some sort of an antidote to Veela magic. If there was, he'd gladly take it; it would be the only way to know whether the obsession he'd had with her was real or something manufactured.

"In a month, these walls will be twenty feet tall. We'll leave obstacles along the way. In the center of the maze will be the cup...whoever reaches it first will win the Tournament."

If that was the case, why have the other events?

Harry forced himself to think about the current task. There were places where the towers overlooked the maze. He still had the omnioculars from the Quidditch World Cup. He could use those to take a picture of the field from above and map out the maze. It wouldn't be particularly hard, although it might be a little time consuming.

"Hagrid's supplying the monsters, I guess," Harry said.

Bagman nodded.

That meant he'd be dealing with Skrewts at the very least, and those that had survived had grown alarmingly large.

Harry wondered if he was naturally competitive, or if maybe he wanted to show off in front of Fleur. Winning the Tournament wasn't something that he needed to do; he just had to look like he was working very hard to win it even if he lost.

He wouldn't even have to use the onmioculars. He could simply sneak out after dark and map the maze invisibly.

"The maze will shift around once you get inside," Bagman said, almost as though he was reading Harry's mind.

Harry grimaced. Maybe not winning would be easier than he thought.

Chapter Text

The counterattack that everyone had feared happening didn't happen for another two weeks. Harry woke to find everyone already talking about the attacks that had been made on several Ministry outposts over the night.

The Daily Prophet showed pictures of buildings burning, of bodies on the ground on Diagon alley. The number of dead was unknown, but the important thing was that in the midst of it, Azkaban was attacked and the prisoners released.

The most deadly of the former Death Eaters were out, and the third task was suddenly on no one's minds at all.

Over the next two days the rolls of the dead trickled in. Only twenty Ministry employees had been killed, most of them aurors working in Azkaban. Most of the dead in the pictures were passers by or people who were in Ministry offices with business there. Another sixty had been killed there.

In the space of an evening, all the goodwill that Scrimgeour had gathered had vanished. No one felt like celebrating, and everyone was suddenly gloomy.

Harry, strangely felt almost at home in this new world. Suddenly everyone was thinking like he was, and the things he'd been saying for years were finally coming true.

His confusion over his strange, physical feelings for Fleur cleared up. He'd been a fool to even contemplate feelings like that. Instead, he had to redouble his focus on what was important. Voldemort was coming, and if he'd allowed himself to forget that he'd been a fool.

If he sometimes found himself looking in Fleur's direction, it wasn't a sign of regret. It was simply the acknowledgment of a fellow champion.

After all, he wasn't a normal teenage boy. He didn't have the luxury of falling in love or of having a girlfriend. That part of his life would have to wait until everything was over.

As he began to ignore Fleur, Hermione began to become more friendly toward him again. A little of their former easiness together began to creep back into their interactions, although it still wasn't what it had been.

Over the two weeks following, there were no follow up attacks. It was thought that Voldemort was consolidating his ranks, gathering his new soldiers and readying them for battle.

The general consensus was that a massive attack was coming. The only question was when.

There was even talk of delaying or canceling the third task; however, the champions were all magically bound and it was decided that the third task had to go forward. The consequences of breaking the contract were too grave for them not to go forward.

The sounds from the crowd were different now than they had been during the second task. The excited chattering and murmuring was gone. During the second task there had been a feeling of anticipation that was entirely absent now.

The stands were beginning to fill, and there was only a low, anxious murmuring. People were worried, and Harry suspected that everyone was hoping the task would be over with as soon as possible so that they could return to the safety of their homes.

All this despite the fact that there were twice as many aurors patrolling as there had been during the last task. There were enough that Harry had to wonder where they'd found them all. He worried a little that they'd pulled too many from other tasks, leaving the Ministry undefended.

The stands were half empty even as the task was about to begin. Many people had decided to stay home rather than risk an attack that many people were beginning to assume was coming.

Ludo Bagman stared at the crowd, then sighed out loud. Harry suspected that he wanted to wait, hoping that more people were going to arrive, but no one wanted that.

The sooner this was over and done with, the sooner everyone could go home.

At least the stands had been magically elevated so that the crowds could see what was happening in the maze. A one way wall of mist had been erected so that the audience couldn't give the champions suggestions or advice, and the sounds of the crowd were magically muffled as Harry stepped out onto what had once been the Quidditch pitch.

Now it was covered in twenty foot hedges with no way to see what was inside.

Considering that Hagrid was supplying the monsters, Harry suspected that he'd have an edge in dealing with them. However, he didn't actually want to win.

Harry would have simply sat by the entrance in his invisibility cloak waiting for Krum to find the trophy if the entire school wasn't watching. He'd gotten enough anger from his fellow students over his last stunt that he decided that he needed to at least look like he was trying.

He had to find a way to throw the contest while looking as though he was doing his very best.

Trying to anticipate how his winning the contest would benefit Voldemort had been maddening. Harry's best guess was that the winning cup was booby trapped to kill him the moment he touched it.

He wasn't sure if it would kill the first person to touch it, or only Harry. In any case Harry had no intention of actually touching the thing. He'd leave that to Krum.

Or maybe he'd simply "accidentally" destroy the cup and no one would win. It would infuriate Scrimgeour, but a tie was almost as historic as an actual win, and there wasn't as much of a chance that Krum's body would end up making Hermione cry.

McGonagall was standing next to Bagman. "We will be watching from places where we can reach you. If you wish to be rescued, simply send up red sparks."

At least they were learning from past mistakes. No longer would the people who were needed to rescue the hapless be trapped behind magical shields, unable to reach the very people they had to help.

Harry nodded.

"Is everyone ready?" Bagman asked.

Harry looked at the others, who reluctantly nodded. He smiled at Fleur who looked away.

Bagman pointed his wand at his throat and said, "Ladies and Gentlemen...the third and final task of the Triwizard tournament is about to begin. Harry Potter will go first, as he is in first place. Viktor Krum will follow behind, and Fleur Delacour will be allowed to enter the maze last."

"On your mark, Harry...get ready...get set...go!"

Harry stepped into the shadowy expanse of the maze. He didn't run; first because he suspected that there would be traps, and monsters waiting, and second because reaching the center too quickly would make it clear he was trying not to win.

Everyone would understand his being paranoid; it was part of his public persona. If he lost because he was too cautious people would just attribute that to his personality.

Harry moved forward fifty yards; the interior of the maze had been magically expanded. Normally this would have been a third of the entire size of the pitch but he could tell he hadn't gone nearly that far.

Everyone was probably expecting some creative way of wining this; cutting his way to the center maybe using some spell, or finding a way to leap over the maze or simply walk across the top of it. Harry had considered these things and decided against them.

For one thing, the Weasley wall walking boots didn't work on hedge walls. For another he was trying not to win.

The sound of the whistle letting Krum into the maze told him that the time advantage for being first in the first two tasks wasn't particularly long. What was the point then?

"Point me," he whispered, holding his wand in his hand. It spun like a compass pointing toward the center of the maze. He had to go northwest.

As he turned a corner he stumbled; Hagrid's blast ended skrewts were now ten foot long, and their upper hides were spell resistant. He'd suspected that they would be used for the Tournament; why else would the school tolerate his growing them?

Their undersides were vulnerable.

"Bombarda!" he yelled, pointing his wand at the earth underneath the Skrewt.

The blast was strong enough to flip the skrewt over but not enough to kill it. Harry rushed closer to it and cast a full body bind on it's unprotected underside before rushing by it. The spell wouldn't last long, not against a monster that size, which would mean that the monster would serve as an impediment to whoever came after.

While he didn't mean for it to work, it had to look like something he would do to those watching.

Right...left...right again...the disadvantage to a maze was that it might take forever to find the right route. He was already tired of the endless foliage, the never ending green.

He stopped as he saw a nasty pinkish mist ahead of him.

Glancing around, Harry saw a rock, which he transfigured into a Hedgehog. The hedgehog wasn't a very good one; it still largely looked like a rock. However, it walked and it had skin, which was good enough.

Sending it in to the mist, Harry heard it scream as massive blisters rose on its skin. He returned it to stone before it had time to be in too much pain.

He grimaced. Was this a legitimate part of the trial or was it a trap by Voldemort?

He turned and blasted a hole in the foliage beside him. Moving through the wall, he saw that the pink mist hadn't followed and didn't extend through the wall. However, as he moved through the hole the foliage regrew behind him leaving the wall unblemished.

Harry checked with the point me spell, and then altered his course. Without that spell he'd have been lost here forever, at least until he decided to blow his way out. He really needed to convince Sirius to teach him apparition, not that it would work on Hogwarts grounds.

Ten minutes passed, and Harry heard Fleur scream. He froze, but a moment later saw red sparks flying up. Aurors on brooms were already in the air, and a moment later he saw Fleur being flown away, massive blisters covering her body.

Apparently she'd encountered some of that red mist. Harry wasn't sure of what method would help against it. The bubble headed charm only covered the head.

He hoped she wasn't in too much pain, but that meant that the victory was going to have to be given to Krum, which irritated him. Why he wasn't sure. He'd thought Krum seemed decent enough earlier in the year, but now he found him grating.

As he turned yet another corner, he felt the world spin. Suddenly the sky was below him and the earth was above him. Fortunately he'd had experience with the Twins wall walking shoes; he moved confidently down the pathway even though he was running on top of the bushes.

The world spun again and he fell, bruising his palm.

He grabbed his wand, thankful that it hadn't been damaged and he continued on.

He realized that he was getting close when even through the shielding he heard the sounds of the crowd. He wondered if he needed to start slowing, giving Krum a chance to get ahead of him.

Turning a corner, he saw a sphinx.

She began to speak, but Harry was already moving forward. "STUPEFY, STUPEFY, IMPEDIMENTA."

He was already moving past the Sphinx before it occurred to him to wonder what it had been trying to say. Probably some kind of riddle. Sphinxes were mad for riddles.

A moment later he stumbled into the clearing with the cup. Harry stumbled to a stop. Krum wasn't here yet, and there was no reason not to take the cup, from the sound of the screaming crowd.


Turning, Harry saw Krum coming from behind him. He had apparently bypassed the stunned Sphinx without any problem.

Krum said, "What are you to Herm-on-ninny? She talks of you all the time."

"This is hardly the place for that," Harry said. He gestured upward at where the crowd presumably was. "We've got a game to win."

An ugly expression crossed Krum's face and he lifted his wand. Harry immediately snapped out with a shielding spell.

He waved his wand, but cast nonverbally. It took Harry a moment to realize what it was.


As the Triwizard cup slammed into the back of Harry's head, he felt the distinctive feeling of a portkey activating.

Harry woke, and it took him an uncomfortably long time for him to figure out where he was or what was going on. His thinking felt foggy and the back of his head hurt. His head ached and his vision was blurry. He was seeing two of everything.

Trying to move his arms Harry realized that ropes were tied around them. He was tied against something; a quick look around showed that he was in a graveyard, so it was probably a gravestone. For some reason his arm hurt; looking over he could see a splotch of red blood staining his arm.

A man stood in front of him. His face was lined and wrinkled, but Harry had the sense that he was younger than his face would seem to present. His tongue slipped in and out of his mouth, and Harry wondered if he was an animagi with a frog form.

He seemed occupied with a large cauldron in front of Harry.

"Have to get this right," he was muttering. "Important to get the Master as perfect as possible."

The man seemed completely focused on the task in front of him, something that Harry hoped to use to his advantage.

He focused on a spot near the man and began to wandlessly and wordlessly transfigure the dirt. For a moment he thought that nothing was happening, but then he saw a little smoke rising from the dirt. He'd managed to change a few grains of dirt into a silvery liquid. The smoke fizzled after a moment, and Harry focused on creating more and more of the liquid metal.

"Whas going on?" Harry asked. He slurred his words more than he had to because looking weak I this case would only help keep him alive.

As he did so, he continued to change the dirt a little at a time. It was difficult work; he was sweating heavily. Fortunately the transmuted particles was concealed by the smoke from the fire under the cauldron.

The man didn't look at him. Instead he just whistled a jaunty little tune as he prepared ingredients.

"Bartemius," a whispered voice came from nearby. "My most faithful servant. Is it ready?"

There was something on a the ground; it looked like a pile of rags but something was moving inside of it. Harry grimaced, dreading seeing what was within.

Finally seeming to pay attention, the man turned and smiled. "Tonight you will be restored, Master, and your reign will begin."

Harry continued to transfigure piece after piece of dirt, even as the man turned and bent down.

A snake, larger than any that Harry had ever seen slithered through the grass toward them. He'd seen that snake before took him a moment to realize that he'd seen it in a dream.

The man turned and bent down, and from the rags he pulled a monstrosity. It was the size of a baby, but it wasn't like any baby Harry had ever seen. Instead it was hairless and slimy, a dark reddish black. It looked a little like a human baby that had been badly transfigured, turned partially into a snake and partially into something else.

It was moving feebly and it was whispering something Harry couldn't hear.

"It will be so, Master," the man said.

Gently he placed the thing into the water. Harry hoped that it would drown, but he doubted that it would be so simple.

Raising his wand, he intoned, "Bone of the father, unknowingly given, you will renew your son."

The surface of the grave to which Harry was bound cracked and split. Harry was horrified as dust emerged and flew into the cauldron.

For a moment he was worried that the cracking of the grave would disturb the growing pile of material he was making. Fortunately the dust settled without any problem.

"Flesh of the servant, willingly given," the man said. He had an almost maniacal look in his eyes, but even so, he hesitated a moment. "You will revive your master."

A moment later Harry gasped as the man cut off his own hand and dropped it into the water. The man staggered and almost fell into the fire, but he managed to grab his wand and use it to seal the wound. The man's face was slowly bleaching white as he screamed in agony.

He screamed for what seemed like forever, although it could have been only a couple of minutes.

Harry waited for him to come over to him. He knew exactly what he was going to do; it would stop him and prevent Voldemort's resurrection all at once.

Instead, the man simply reached behind the cauldron and pulled out a bloodstained dagger. Harry realized that this was why his arm was bleeding; apparently the man hadn't trusted his own ability to cut Harry after cutting his own hand off.

"Blood of the enemy, forcibly taken, you will resurrect your enemy."

The man was having to force the words out, as though he was on the verge of unconsciousness. Harry had a momentary hope that he would pass out and fall into the cauldron before the spell was actually complete, but his luck wasn't that good.

Sparks and steam rose from the cauldron. Terrified, Harry redoubled his efforts at transfiguration. Piece after piece. He'd never dared to transfigure this much, not within the castle, but this was Voldemort. Too much was better than not enough.

A tall, skeletally white figure rose from the cauldron.

"Robe me," he commanded the man beside him, who looked as though he was about to fall over.

The man did his best, but he fumbled as he did so. Voldemort stood and he examined his own body. He pulled his wand from his pocket and he gestured with it. Something like molten silver emerged from it, shaping itself into something like a human hand. The man Bartemius screamed as it molded itself to his arm.

"You will be first among all my servants for your loyal service," he said.

He turned to Harry, who was still silently creating more and more of the substance. He walked forward, not noticing as he stepped right through the puddle of liquid metal Harry had just created. He didn't seem to notice even though his feet were bare.

"Your body will be the proof my followers need," Voldemort said. "Proof that I am death incarnate."

Harry scowled. "How did you even get me here?"

He continued to cast, making the pile of metal larger and larger. He had to keep Voldemort talking if he was to have a chance.

Voldemort smirked. "Bartemius imperiused Bagman, and Bagman imperiused the other two champions."

"How'd you know I'd even be selected?"

"If you are to be my opponent, how could you not?"

Harry continued to make the puddle behind Voldemort grow. It had almost reached the fire, which Harry didn't want. That would be a disaster.

Harry scowled. "You think you've won."

Channeling his inner Gryffindor, he hoped Voldmort would continue not to notice what was right behind him.

"I have," Voldemort said, reaching up and grabbing his face. "I am now flesh of your flesh, and your mother's protection no longer burns me."

He reached for his wand. "It's time to end this."

Harry realized this was his only chance. "Accio Cauldron!"

The cauldron was made of heavy stone and filled with water. Harry focused on only pulling the top of the cauldron toward him. It tipped and tottered before it spilled.

Voldemort to his credit had time to turn and see the water spill across the puddle Harry had created.

It was a metal alloy of sodium and potassium, two elements that exploded in water, and Harry had just spent the last five minutes creating a massive amount of it.

How massive became clear a moment later as everything exploded and his entire world was fire.

As Harry died, he felt a sudden sensation of wrongness, a twisting that had never been there before. He'd never been aware of the process of dying; he'd always simply awoken, but now he felt himself being pulled back. It was almost as though something was holding him back, as though he was being twisted between two timelines.

A moment later he woke up screaming.

Chapter Text

Bodies lay on the ground below him, blood pooling them. It took Harry a long moment to realize where he was and what had happened.

His voice was raw and he felt as though he'd been screaming and would never stop. He felt a touch on his shoulder and he whipped around, wand still in his hand only to face Sirius.

"We need to get out of here," Sirius said, "Before the aurors come."

Harry stared at him. Somehow he'd lost an entire school year and it didn't fit the pattern. He should have woken up after defeating the dragon, or maybe after defeating the merpeople, although he suspected they hadn't really been dangerous enough to create a reset point.

Instead he'd lost more time than he ever had before, and he had a sense of impending doom.

Harry nodded finally, and he followed Sirius quickly through the woods. The nausea and confusion from the concussion were gone at least. His mind was clear whereas before it had been all he could do to cast the spells that he'd been working on all term.

His original plan had been to create the flammable alloy, then blast Voldemort or whoever came for him with water from his wand. That would have set off the reaction from a distance. Unfortunately, as concussed as he had been he'd been unable to realize that the alloy was too close and he'd created too much of it.

Fire hurt, in a way the crucio hadn't.

Harry moved swiftly behind Sirius, noting that a year had made a great deal of difference in how he moved. The Sirius he had gotten used to was assured and healthy. This man still had some skittishness to him.

It made Harry wonder. If he'd snapped back all the way to first year, would he even recognize Hermione or Neville? They were completely different people now than they had been when it all began.

They'd seem younger than Colin Creevy's younger brother.

Harry couldn't help but worry about what had changed. Something was different, and that wasn't something he could be comfortable with.

It was possible that the spell that had created his resets had broken, in which case he was now living his final life.

There was no way to know whether that was true until he died and didn't come back.

On the good side, Voldemort would have lost his body. All Harry would have to do was find out where Tom Riddle's father was buried, and he'd be able to eliminate a vital component to the spell.

He decided that the one person he could trust to help him with that was moving through the forest right in front of him.

"There's nothing left," Sirius said, staring at the gravestone.

The gravestone was cracked, and whatever had been inside was gone. This was entirely wrong; the last time they'd waited almost an entire year before breaking into the tomb for the bones of Tom Riddle's father.

Things only changed when Harry changed them. That was the one thing he'd been certain of for the last years of his life. People did what they did, and nothing changed until Harry exerted his influence on it.

Harry glanced at Sirius. He'd convinced Sirius that he'd learned of a spell by which Voldemort could be resurrected using the bones of his nearest living relative. It had taken Sirius two days to find the gravesite and another to bring Harry here by night.

"This isn't right," Harry said. "They shouldn't be moving so fast."

"Does the spell have to be cast by the full moon or something?" Sirius asked. He was staring at the grave. He'd been performing spells that Harry didn't know, confirming that the grave was completely empty.

Harry shook his head. "I don't know...this just doesn't seem right somehow."

"I'm going to have to tell Dumbledore about this," Sirius said. He looked at Harry. "He'd probably going to have a few questions for you."

Harry nodded grimly. He didn't know what he was going to say, but whatever it was couldn't be worse than whatever had just happened.

The sound of a footstep behind him was Harry's only warning. He turned, grabbing for his wand, but it was already too late.

A dozen figures in black robes were moving out of the mist, and their wands were pointed at Harry.

"Grab onto me," Sirius said, his eyes never leaving the men. His hand was on his wand.

Harry grabbed Sirius's arm, but nothing happened.

"Anti-apparition jinx," Sirius said. He grimaced. "On the count of three dive behind the gravestone. I'll distract them."

"One," he said under his breath, but it was already too late.

Before either of them could move, green light lashed out, hitting him both.

The strange twisting sensation happened again, although this time not as intensely. Harry was aware of being pulled backward.

The bodies of Death Eaters lay before him. Harry stared down at them and shuddered. Voldemort had known he was coming and he'd prepared for it. That shouldn't have happened unless Sirius's questions had alerted Voldemort's people.

Someone that Sirius had talked to had to work for Voldemort.

That was the simplest explanation. Harry had convinced Sirius to go digging for information and that had led to Voldemort learning what he was looking for. It fit everything he knew about the resets much better than some strange theory that things had changed.

Harry felt a sudden surge of relief. He understood this and he could work with it.

That meant that Harry had to go to Little Hangleton on his own this time, before Voldemort had a chance to be alerted and move his father's bones.

He'd have to ditch Sirius; there wasn't any time to explain to him what was happening. Even though Sirius was more open-minded than any of the other adult wizards harry had known, he'd still had questions.

"We need to go," Sirius said. "The aurors are coming."

Harry nodded and they began to move through the forest again. If he managed to get the bone before Voldemort, he'd be able to stop the entire plot before it started. Voldemort might not even know it was impossible for months until he had someone check on the gravesite.

He'd be careful though; if he was wrong and something else was happening, it was entirely possible that Voldemort would still have people waiting.

As they reached the part of the forest outside the anti-appariton wards, Harry decided again that he really needed to learn to apparate on his own.

Sirius grabbed him and a moment later Harry felt like he was being pulled through a toothpaste tube. They ended up on the front step of his house and they slipped inside.

"Are you alright, Harry?" Sirius asked. "I know it's never an easy thing to kill a man, much less several."

Harry was confused for a moment, then realized that Sirius was talking about his killing the Death Eaters.

"They were coming for us," Harry said. "There wasn't any choice."

He'd had this conversation with Sirius the first time, and it had lasted longer than he liked then. Now he felt a certain sense of urgency. Getting to the bones either wasn't time sensitive, or it was, and for the moment he wasn't certain which.

"You were right to do it," Sirius said. He shook his head. "I don't think I could have done something like that at your age."

Harry sighed. If he let this conversation go on, it could last for a couple of hours, time he might not be able to afford to lose.

"It might be better if I go home," Harry said. "And make sure that my aunt and uncle stay inside. There may be other attacks and I'd hate for them to be hurt while I'm off enjoying myself."

Sirius stared at him for a moment before saying, "All right, but we will have this talk later."

The fact that Harry literally knew how it was going to go wasn't encouraging. Still, it was a little heartwarming to know that Sirius of all people actually cared enough about him to lecture him.

Sirius stood.

"I can go myself," Harry said. "I think I just proved that."

Sirius was apparently alert enough to know that Harry wasn't being honest with him. He stared at him for a long moment.

"I'd feel better if I went with you," Sirius said.

Harry considered his options for a long moment. He could simply allow Sirius to escort him across from Arabella Figg's house and end up having to try to sneak back across to get into her Floo terminal. However, she'd lock her door, and because of the Trace he'd be unable to get back inside.

He could try to summon the Knight bus, but that would leave a record of where he lived unless he left himself vulnerable by finding other ways to get across town, none of which would be easy at this hour of night.

"We need to make a side trip," Harry said.

Sirius watched him without speaking.

"There's a ritual that can resurrect Voldemort," Harry said. "Part of it involves the bones from his father, which are in a graveyard in Little Hangleton."

"How do you know this?" Sirius asked.

Harry hesitated. Whatever he said now could have serious consequences for his future. Was there a lie that he could make Sirius believe?

Finally he said, "I sometimes have glimpses into the future. It's not always reliable, but when it is, I know I have to follow through."

"Most Seers don't remember what they see," Sirius said. "And true prophecies are impossible to see."

"What I see can be changed," Harry said stubbornly. "Sometimes."

Sirius was quiet for a long moment. "You haven't told any of this to Dumbledore?"

"He works for the Ministry...I've heard about what the Unspeakables do to people who have unique abilities."

"Dumbledore wouldn't turn you in," Sirius said, looking shocked. "He's pinned his hopes on you and the hopes of an entire generation."

"Still," Harry said. "We need to go."

Sirius nodded.

"If you want to go graverobbing, let's go. It'll be like old times with your dad."

Harry moved to the fireplace and grabbed a pinch of floo powder. "I don't suppose you have a broom? if you don't it's going to be a long walk."

Sirius shook his head. "I mostly apparate."

"You should teach me sometime," Harry said. "I don't care what the Ministry says, it's something I need to know."

Sirius didn't hesitate. "I'd be happy to. I'd be happier knowing you could get away if more than six Death Eaters come after you."

Harry threw the floo powder into the fire.

"Let's go," he said.

By the time they arrived, the grave had already been looted.

"The Triwizard Tournament!" Dumbledore said.

Harry scowled. He'd been in a foul mood for days ever since coming across Tom Riddle's father's recently opened grave. They'd only missed it by minutes; the dust was still settling from where the grave had been cracked open.

Sirius had insisted that he had to tell Dumbledore, and Harry knew there would be questions. It was only a matter of time before he had a discussion with the Headmaster that he really didn't want to have.

The excitement of the children around him wasn't something Harry could share. He couldn't help but feel that he was being railroaded, forced to do something he didn't want to do.

The fact that he was going to have to repeat another year wasn't helping any either. He'd enjoyed the previous year, at least the parts that didn't involve terror and the risk of death.

Going through the same classes was becoming less and less tolerable. He was growing tired of it all, and part of him couldn't help but wish it was all over.

The weirdest thing had been seeing Hermione on the train. The hesitance that had dogged his relationship with her over the past few months was completely gone. To this Hermione the Yule ball had never happened.

It was the only good thing about this reset.

He'd had most of a year of training with Moody, but the man looked at him as though he'd never seen him before. Harry hadn't ever really been able to get the man's trust, but he'd felt that they were kindred spirits.

The only question was how much Voldmort knew. Had he really come back with Harry, or was he simply having visions from Harry's life. The second case would be bad enough, while the first would be a disaster.

Voldemort had all the advantages; power, troops and the advantage that every attacker had in that he knew when he was planning to attack while the defender had to try not to be surprised.

If only Harry had been given a little more time; he was good enough to kill several Death Eaters if he had the advantage of surprise or of one of his tricks, but he doubted that he'd be able to stand up against any of the more powerful members of Voldemort's circle.

As Dumbledore ended his speech, a Slytherin prefect came to Harry as everyone was rising to their feet, ready to head back to their quarters.. The First years were being gathered together as a group by the Slytherin head boy.

"The Headmaster wishes to speak with you," he said quietly. "The password to his office is Chocolate Cockroach."

Harry nodded grimly.

Every step toward the Headmaster's office felt heavier than the last. Harry hated the fact that he was having to deal with this, but there wasn't any choice. He'd considered obliviating Sirius, but the man had been watching him too closely and it would be a gross violation of the trust that was beginning to grow between them.

"Chocolate cockroach," Harry said to the gargoyle guarding the Headmaster's office. He slipped through the passageway, and a moment later he found himself facing Dumbledore.

"Headmaster," Harry said.

"Harry," Dumbledore said. "Take a seat."

Harry sat reluctantly and shook his head when the Headmaster offered him a piece of candy. He suspected that if it wasn't for wizarding medicine the man would have lost his teeth long before, even if he wasn't over one hundred years old.

"Sirius has given me some disturbing news," Dumbledore said. "As well as an intriguing claim about an ability of yours that you haven't chosen to share."

Harry stared at the table in front of him. "It's not a claim."

He'd read enough about legilimency to know better than to look the man in the eye. He suspected that both Dumbledore and Snape could read minds; he'd asked Moody about it and the man had been conspicuously taciturn about it.

"It seems a little's unlike the usual abilities we see in seers."

"Why don't you test me?" Harry asked.

If it wasn't for the fact that there had been an opened grave he'd have claimed he was lying about his ability. Now he needed to convince a man with ten times the life experience he had that he was telling the truth. The only way to do that was to include as much truth as possible into the lie.

"What can you tell me about the future?" Dumbledore asked.

"I can tell you that the three tasks for the Triwizard tournament will involve dragons, mermen and a maze," Harry said. "There will be a Yule ball."

"Exceptional," Dumbledore said, leaning forward. "Is there anything else you can tell me?"

"You're planning a major offensive against the Death Eaters," Harry said. "Planning to attack maybe forty of them. It will happen somewhere around the time of the second task."

"And how will this work out?"

"Well," Harry said. "But there will be retaliation."

"I would imagine so," Dumbledore said.

"The dementors will defect afterwards and Azkaban will be emptied while the Death Eaters use attacks on the Ministry as a distraction."

Dumbledore suddenly became very still. "Are you sure about this?"

"But the thing is, the visions I have of the future aren't set in stone...they can be changed."

It was important for Harry to emphasize that. True prophecies couldn't be changed, and Harry had noticed a sort of resigned acceptance about them from wizards who had studied them. The last thing he wanted Dumbledore to believe was that it was hopeless.

"You've done this?"

Harry nodded. "A few times, although there were some things I wasn't able to change."

Colin and Adrian flashed across his minds eye, along with a flash of regret. It was easier now with the passage of time to accept that they were gone, but part of him couldn't help but hope for another anomalous reset, one that would take him back farther than the others.

"And you've had dreams from Voldemort's perspective?"

Now it was Harry's turn to stop moving. He hadn't told Sirius about the dreams he had occasionally. He hadn't told anyone, unless he spoke in his sleep and Malfoy or one of the others had been listening.

"How did you know?" Harry asked.

"There is a link between you and Voldemort," Dumbledore said. "One that leaves you both vulnerable to seeing inside the minds of the other."

The sudden horror on Harry's face must have communicated itself to Dumbledore because he rushed to explain that "I am not certain that he knows about this; if he does he learned about it only recently."

Harry nodded. It would explain the sudden changes in Voldemort's activities, and it was a much more palatable explanation than what he feared deep in his soul was more likely to be true.

"Why is this connection there?" he asked.

Dumbledore hesitated. "I would prefer not to answer that question until you have mastered Occlumency. Professor Snape is an expert in the field."

"Professor Moody is even better, I suspect," Harry said. "And if professor Snape is actually your spy, teaching me occlumency wouldn't endear him to Voldemort."

Dumbledore nodded. "Tell me about this ritual you foresaw him using. Perhaps we can find another way to forestall his ascension."

For a moment Harry almost felt optimistic. Although there were unsettling developments with Voldemort, at least now he had Dumbledore and his people more on his side than they had been before.

If they believed he was actually a seer, they'd listen to him, and that would give him the power to steer things in a way that a boy his apparent age normally would never have.

Chapter Text

Nothing changed in the days that followed.

Harry had somehow thought that things might. After all, Voldemort's actions had changed. What else might change? The third option that he hadn't considered was that something was changing everyone and that the world itself had been set off its predetermined path.

It was only a thought; nothing he saw suggested that it might actually be true. Maybe he hoped it might be true because the only alternatives were that Voldemort was digging around in his head, or that Voldemort had been pulled back with him.

Learning Occlumency was a priority now, even if it risked Moody learning his secret. Harry suspected that he could obliviate Moody if he had to; he'd had a year to learn the man's moves and he wasn't the powerhouse he'd once been. Age and infirmity had slowed him down.

Even if his full secret got out, Harry wasn't sure it would be an entirely bad thing. After all, they already thought he was a seer and hadn't reported him to the Unspeakables. It might be that knowing the full truth would make them even more useful to him than they were already proving to be.

Still, part of him had a certain reluctance to reveal the secret. He'd held onto it for a good portion of his life, and it had been an ingrained habit to hold onto it.

A word from Dumbledore had him sitting in a classroom waiting for Moody.

Harry heard the distinctive sound of Moody's artificial leg thumping against the floor. He readied his wand. The man had attacked him several times during their training in the last year in an effort to teach him to always be prepared. He'd been surprised that Harry had never been caught off guard.

"Dumbledore thinks you're ready for me to dig around in your head," Moody said. "Seems to think you have a natural talent for it."

That was a surprise to Harry. Dumbledore had never said anything to him about it to him. He wondered if that meant Dumbledore had tried to look inside his head and failed, or if it was a general assessment about his personality.

Harry shrugged. "I'm a Slytherin. He probably thinks we're all good at hiding things."

Moody chortled. "He'd be right, too. The lot of you do enough scheming that you pretty much always have something to hide."

Harry grimaced. He had more to hide than most people; he hoped he was as good at this as Dumbledore thought he might be.

"So how do we do this?"

"You've read the book I gave you last week?" Moody asked.

Although it had been on top of his other assignments, it wasn't like Harry actually had to study any of those. He'd been through them before, and in actuality the only grades that mattered for graduation were his OWLS. That assumed he actually survived to graduate.

"Read it three times," Harry said. "I'm still not sure I understand it."

"Good. Give it back," Moody held his hand out. "That book really isn't supposed to leave auror custody. You didn't let anyone else see you reading it?"

"I charmed the outside to look like another book," Harry said. "I was careful, you can depend on that."

He reached into his bag and handed the book to Moody, who examined it for a moment before slipping it into his own bag.

Pulling a flask from his pocket, he took a swig from it. Harry caught a whiff of something alcoholic from the flask, and it didn't smell like firewhisky.

He'd asked Moody once why he drank, and Moody told him that even with all the magic wizards had to offer, he was still in constant, chronic pain. There were muggle drugs that might have helped him, but they tended to cloud the mind, which would leave him vulnerable to attack.

Alcohol dulled reaction times as well, but he'd developed a tolerance for it. It didn't really dull the pain, but it made him pay less attention to it.

"The book said that Legilimency wasn't really about reading minds, but I didn't really understand how it isn't. If you can see someone's thoughts, isn't that reading their mind?"

"If you'd ever looked into someone else's mind, you wouldn't think so," Moody said. "People don't think like you'd think they would. They don't even think like you think. Some people have well organized minds, and other people have minds that are all jumbled up."

"Are the organized people better at occlumency?"

Moody frowned. "Not always. Organized minds are much easier to sort through. I've dealt with criminals whose minds jumped from thought to thought so quickly that there was no way to get a grasp on what they were thinking in the moment, much less what kinds of memories they had."

Harry wondered if his mind would be considered ordered or jumbled. With nothing to compare it to, he had no way of judging.

"In any case, people don't simply think in words. They have flashes of memory, sudden feelings, and images"

"Will you teach me legilimency too?" Harry asked.

Moody chortled, as though the idea of teaching Harry legilimancy was the funniest thing he'd ever heard. While it was true that most boy's Harry's age couldn't have learned something like that without taking horrible advantage of it, Harry wasn't actually the age everyone thought he was.

"I need every advantage I can get," Harry said defensively. "Voldemort has an army."

Moody was silent for a moment. "I'll talk to Dumbledore about it. I think he should have some say in whether some of his students can go around staring into girl's heads."

"I'm not interested in what's in girl's heads!" Harry said, slightly offended. "Unless they're potential Death Eaters."

"Not interested in girls, yet, Potter?"

Harry shrugged. "Well, the Beaubaxtons champion is going to be quite the looker, but I'm pretty sure I won't have anything that she wants."

He was fairly sure that the only reason she'd given him the time of day the first time around had been his performance in the first task, his status as a champion and his fame as the Boy who lived. If he'd missed out on any one of those she wouldn't have given him a single thought.

This time he wouldn't ask either Hermione or Fleur to the dance. It had been too damaging to his relationship to his oldest and best friend, and it had been too confusing with Fleur.

"That could be an educated guess," Moody said. He still wasn't on board with Harry's claims of being a seer.

"She's part Veela," Harry said. At Moody's expression, he said, "Just wait."

"Well, I suppose I'll be seeing whatever you think you saw soon enough," Moody said. "How often are you wanting to go through this? I promise you it won't be pretty."

"I think you'll find that I'm used to it," Harry said. "We need to get this as fast as possible. If you've got time every day, I'll be happy to try it."

At Moody's expression, Harry said, "If I think it's too much I'll tell you...or I guess you'll know, won't you?"

"There are slower ways to learn it," Moody said. "Ways that involve a lot of time and a little pain. Dumbledore doesn't think we have that much I'll have to teach you in a way that involves a little time and a lot of time. Most boys your age wouldn't be able to take that kind of pain."

Harry smiled grimly. "You'd be surprised what I can tolerate. What do I need to do?"

"I'll try to break into your mind. You'll try to defend yourself. When we're done, I'll give you some suggestions about what you did wrong and we'll do it again."

Although Moody didn't know it, Harry had been through Moody's training before, and he had a pretty good idea of what Moody didn't consider torture. That meant that this was going to be pretty bad.

"The book says I'm supposed to clear my mind of all thoughts and emotions," Harry said.

Moody nodded. "That's the basic version. If you manage to master that we'll try more advanced variations."

"Where you can lie by only showing legilimens what they want to see," Harry said. He was excited about learning to do that.

He was excited about a lot of what this training could potentially do for him. If he mastered it well enough he would be much more resistant to the imperius curse than he already was. He might be able to resist veritaserum, which was one reason it wasn't always admissible in Wizarding court.

It would even help him resist being possessed. One of Harry's nightmares after first year was that he would kill Voldemort only to find him sticking out of the back of his own head.

"Let's get started," Harry said.

"At first I'll let you know when I'm trying to get into your mind," Moody said. "But later, once you get good enough, I'll start attacking you in secret until you learn how to close your mind off without thinking."

Harry nodded.

"You might want to sit down," Moody said. "This could be painful."

Harry sat down carefully and put his hand on his wand. Even though he knew Moody, the man had attacked him before in the interest of proving the need for Constant Vigilance, and he wouldn't put it past him to mix his legilimense attacks with physical ones.

"Is that a threat boy?"

Harry was shaking his head when he felt a piercing pain in his head. He groaned and tried to clear his mind, but images were already flashing through his mind.

He was five and Dudley was holding him down and hitting him. Even at that age Dudley had been almost twice his size, and Harry remembered the pain and humiliation. The memory was vivid, much more than it usually was.

Ripper the bulldog was tearing at his leg as Harry stumbled over himself trying to get away. He could hear laughter and approval from Aunt Marge, and he felt a moment of strong hatred for her.

The sorting hat was on his head and he was arguing with it about which house he belonged in. It was telling him that the door to Gryffindor had closed long before, that he was damned because of what had happened to him.

Harry felt a sudden surge of interest from Moody; he'd caught a whiff of something while Harry was talking to the hat. He wanted to know what Harry was hiding, wanted to know what had happened to him to change him from a potential Gryffindor to something less trusting and less happy.

Moody was pushing in harder, and Harry felt a sudden, deep sense that he didn't want Moody to know. Even if he'd thought about telling Dumbledore, it was his secret. No one should force him to reveal it against his will.

He found himself on his knees, back in the classroom.

Moody was slumped up against the wall, and chairs and desks were scattered everywhere.

Harry rose to his feet and rushed over to the other man, who was trying to get to his feet. It was harder because he was missing a leg and looked half stunned.

"I suppose I'm lucky you don't really consider me an enemy," Moody said. "I saw that much in your head."

Harry hadn't realized that Moody had gotten that much. He wondered just how much else he had gotten.

"I'd be a red splatter on the wall if you did," Moody continued.

Harry helped him to his feet.

"It's a good thing we're friends, then," he said, forcing a smile.

"Are we, Potter?" Moody said. "I barely know you, but you seem to know me much better."

"My visions," Harry said. It had the benefit of being partially true. "I saw you training me in the future, so I feel like I know you."

Hopefully that was enough of a deflection to keep him off the trail.

"I've got to give it to Dumbledore, he knows his occlumens," Moody said. "You've got the kind of mind that tends to be good at it."

"What kind of mind is that?"

"You're good at compartmentalizing your life and your feelings," Moody said. "Good at shutting down emotions...which is exactly what an occlumens needs to do."

Harry shrugged. He'd had to learn to reign in his emotions, or the constant trauma that was his life post reset would have driven him insane.

"There's secrets buried deeper down that you actually protect fairly well...I'm guessing that's what Dumbledore noticed in the first place."

He was probably talking about the knowledge of the resets. It was a relief that this wasn't something that Dumbledore or Snape had been able to just pluck out of his mind.

"I'm a Slytherin," Harry said. "We're pretty good at keeping secrets."

Hopefully Moody would think his secret was something innocuous, like spending time in a broom closet with another student or cheating on his tests.

"I think this time you should put you wand away...not out of reach, but somewhere where it'll be a little harder to get to," Moody said. "And I'll start from behind you."

Harry disliked having Moody behind him, but after he'd almost put the man through a wall, he could understand why he would require that. If it was anyone else, he wouldn't have allowed it though. It was too easy to be attacked from behind before you could react.

"Clear your mind," Moody said from behind him. "Blank out your emotions."

A moment later he felt the sharp pain again.

Suddenly he was on his broom, fleeing the dragon, watching its open mouth gape below him as he tossed the peanut butter that was going to kill it. He was looking at the Mirror of Erised and seeing Voldemort and his minions dead before him.

Voldemort was rising from the cauldron, pale and horrendous in his majesty.

Harry felt himself hit the floor, and the sudden pain jarred him out of whatever Moody had been doing to him.

"What the hell was that?" Moody asked. He seemed a little shaken by what he'd seen, which was unusual for him because Harry had thought he'd seen everything.

It took Harry a moment to realize what he was talking about.

"Visions," Harry said.

"Those didn't feel like visions," Moody said. "They felt like memories."

"Unless Voldemort had already risen, it's hardly a memory," Harry said. "Just something that's going to happen if we don't stop it."

Moody stared at him for a long moment, and Harry suspected that he wanted to question him further...probably with Veritaserum. However, the realization that he was in the best position to find what he wanted to know much have struck Moody again.

"Again, Potter," Moody said.

Harry struggled back to his feet and back into the chair. It took him a moment to realize that he was clutching his wand; apparently he'd pulled it out of his pocket without thinking while being attacked.

It was a little comforting to realize that the reflexes he'd worked so long and hard to develop were worth something.

As Harry looked back at Moody, he realized that this was probably going to be exactly as unpleasant as Moody had suggested it might be. Even worse, he might have to work at it for weeks or months, depending on how talented and dedicated he was at getting it.

The pain started in his head again.

Three weeks of occlumency lessons hadn't made them any less painful. Harry felt exhausted and his head ached after each session, and sometimes he wondered why he was putting himself through all of it. After all, the thought that Voldemort was looking into his head was only a theory, it wasn't proven.

After all this time, Moody still hadn't broken through to his secret. According to Moody, Harry was getting stronger as an occlumens; it was just that as Harry got stronger, Moody set the bar a little higher and attacked with more strength.

Harry had predicted that Durmstrang would arrive by ship and Beuxbatons would arrive by flying carriage. He could see Moody glancing at him as the Durmstrang students stepped out of the boat. This was exactly like the vision that he'd shown him only last week; the first confirmation that his visions were based in reality and not simply vivid imaginings of a fevered mind.

Dumbledore spoke to Karkarov, and a moment later everyone headed back inside the castle.

Harry couldn't help but feel a pang as he saw Fleur. It had been more than a month since he'd seen her in his personal timeline, and even though he'd decided that it was safest for everyone if he didn't pursue her, it was still upsetting.

Moody looked surprised to see Fleur; he'd seen the kiss between them in Harry's memories.

Harry found himself going through the motions of the feast, barely speaking to Krum or anyone else. He was about to be selected again to go through the farce of a tournament, and there wasn't anything he could do about it.

"It is time," Dumbledore said. "For the Goblet to choose the champions for the contest of champions!"

He'd been informed of what Harry had seen in the future, of Harry being forced to compete and of what might happen afterward.

His plan was that he would be waiting beside the cup, and whenever Harry touched it, Dumbledore would touch it at the same time.

Bringing Dumbledore to...wherever Voldemort was holding the ritual now would make everything almost too easy, especially with Voldemort as a baby and not at full power. This might be all over in an instant.

For once Harry was entirely behind this plan. It was simple and he could imagine the horror on the Death Eater's faces as Dumbledore chewed through them

"Viktor Krum!"

It took Harry a moment to realize that Fleur Delacour had already been chosen and was exiting the room through the appointed door.

He closed his eyes, ready for his name to be called out and ready for the gasps of the crowd. This was the step that would start the plan to capture Voldemort once and for all. Harry doubted that baby Voldemort would be able to do anything dangerous.

"Cedric Diggory."

The third and final name was called out, and Harry's eyes blinked open. This wasn't what had happened before; this wasn't what was supposed to happen at all.

He waited, thinking that maybe a fourth name would come out of the cup, but it never did. Harry was out of the tournament, and what bothered him was that he didn't understand why.

Chapter Text

It doesn't make sense," Harry said.

He was pacing back and forth in Dumbledore's office, agitated in the wake of learning that he was not going to be one of the Triwizard champions. There had been a time when this would have delighted him, but now that it had ruined his plan with Dumbledore he was upset.

"I'd think you'd be pleased," Dumbledore said mildly. "After all, you foresaw your death and now it won't happen."

"That way," Harry said, scowling. "It ruins our plans though."

"No plan survives first contact with an enemy, or so I have heard the muggles like to say." Dumbledore was remarkably composed for someone who had just learned that Voldemort was changing his plans in unpredictable ways.

It occurred to Harry suddenly that Dumbledore was calm because he'd never assumed he could predict Voldemort in the first place. He hadn't had the benefit of advanced knowledge for much of his life and so had never come to depend on it.

Harry though felt as though his entire world had upended. He'd assumed that Voldemort would continue to hold the ceremony, only not in the graveyard since he already had the bone he needed. Now he felt helpless because there was no way to predict when Voldemort was going to come for him

At least he didn't have to worry about portkeys. The Hogwarts wards specifically prohibited them, just as they did apparition on the Hogwarts grounds. It was only the special nature of the task that had caused Dumbledore to allow an exception for the champion's cup.

"He may have decided that he doesn't want me dead, that any champion will do for his resurrection."

Dumbledore shook his head. "The spell you described to me is very old and dark magic. He'd need someone who has actually opposed him in the past. Unfortunately, after the last war that could number in the hundreds of wizards and witches. We are attempting to get the word out, but there is no way to protect them all."

"You think he's going to try it without me at all?"

"Possibly," Dumbledore said. "But be prepared just in the case that I am wrong."

"I'm always prepared," Harry said. He'd had years of terror that had proved to him that not being prepared only led to pain and death.

Dumbledore's lips quirked. "Did I not know better, I'd have thought Moody to be your father."

Harry smirked. He really did get along with Moody, even if the occlumency lessons were getting more and more painful as he was actually learning to resist having his mind invaded.

"Constant vigilance," Harry said. "I think I'll change the Potter family Motto to that."

Dumbledore's eyes were twinkling as he reached out for a lemon candy. If Harry wanted to kill Dumbledore, poisoning the candy would be one of the first things he would try. It was a little arrogant of the man to be so predictable.

He hesitated. "Do the Potters even have a family motto?"

Dumbledore said, "It was inscribed on your parents' tombs...The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death."

Harry froze.

That seemed a little too apt to be coincidence. Had some Potter seer seen what was going to happen and sent this as a message to him? Or had his mother been inspired by it when she'd placed her protections on him?

"I think I'll keep it as it is," Harry said finally.

"What's going on with you?" Malfoy asked.

For once he didn't have Crabbe or Goyle with him; it was unusual for him to be without his bodyguards. They normally followed him everywhere.

"I don't know what you mean."

Malfoy scowled. "You looked as though you expected to be picked for the Tournament, even though you are clearly underage."

Harry shrugged. "That's usually what my luck is like. Something is dangerous, I tend to be pulled into it."

He wasn't sure why Malfoy was bringing this up. Malfoy's policy for years had been to keep his distance, ever since Harry had practiced the diffindo in their room. Why change now?

As a Slytherin it was possible that he was working both sides, the same way as some of Harry's contacts in Slytherin. Was he being prompted to do this by his father, or was he doing this on his own?

"There's a rumor going around from some of the upper years," Malfoy said. "I don't know whether it is true or not."

"What rumor?" Harry asked. Involuntarily he looked around. They were in a deserted hallway, the exact kind of place that would be perfect for an attack.

"Some people's parents told them that anyone who put your name in the cup wouldn't live out the school year," Malfoy said. "And their families wouldn't either."

Harry stared at Malfoy. This was valuable information; not the sort of thing Malfoy would normally choose to share.

"Why are you telling me this?"

Malfoy leaned against the wall. "I just have to wonder why the Dark Lord cares whether you enter a school contest that you couldn't be a part of by the rules anyway."

Harry knew why. Whether Voldemort had come back with him or simply glimpsed what was going to happen, the results were the same. He didn't want Harry to reset and have an opportunity to reverse whatever he did.

The best option for him, of course was to simply make sure that whatever he did wasn't obvious, at least until he had Harry in custody.

Harry knew what he'd do if the situation was reversed. If he was a psychopathic villain with a time traveling opponent, he'd capture him, have his tongue and hands cut off so that he wouldn't be able to use magic, and then he'd have him petrified. He'd probably transfigure the body and hide it somewhere.

It was a brutal and cruel plan, but Harry suspected that it's work. His fear was that Voldemort had thought of something similar and was simply waiting for an opportunity to make it happen.

That way, even if he was revived he wouldn't be a threat, and if the amputations were done with curses, there would be no way to reverse them.

Malfoy was staring at him as though he was actually going to answer the question honestly.

"Dark lords are crazy," Harry said finally. "Next thing you know, he'll be fixing Quidditch matches."

Of course, that was probably the one thing he wouldn't do. Wizards were almost as crazy for Quidditch as muggles were for soccer, and getting involved in cheating at Quidditch might lead to an insurrection.

Harry had a momentary thought about framing him, but quickly dismissed it. If he was caught, his own death would likely be painful.

The last thing he needed was more dying.

Sitting in the stands while the Triwizard Tournament was going on was eerily strange. Harry had warned Dumbledore about the chains that had snapped when his dragon had attacked him, and when they'd been checked they'd been found to be substandard.

Dumbledore had also taken steps not to be in the stands, just in case another disaster happened and he was caught up in the panicked crowd. Harry had shown him a pensieve of the memory and he'd agreed to heightened safety standards.

Harry was sitting with Hermione and Neville. The first time he'd been on the Quidditch pitch facing a dragon he hadn't noticed much about the audience. Now he noticed that for once the audience wasn't segregated by house. Adults and children were sitting together, and there was no rhyme or reason to where anyone sat.

Harry, of course had sat as close to the exit as possible. He'd been trampled to death before and he hadn't enjoyed the experience at all.

Hermione was sitting close enough to him that he could feel the warmth of her arm. It annoyed him that he was as aware of this as he was. He'd promised himself that he'd have nothing to do with either Hermione or Fleur, and that should have been that.

The crowd gasped as Krum hit the dragon with the conjuntivitis curse and it began staggering back. Dumbledore had taken steps to magically protect the eggs after seeing Harry's "vision" and now as the dragon stepped on them they were visibly unharmed.

Harry felt a little uncomfortable with all the strangers in the crowd. Security was a little different in the Wizarding world, because every wizard carried a weapon. It was a wonder that assassinations didn't happen more often, especially given wizards' ability to apparate away.

"This hardly seems safe," Harry said.

"I'm sure that they've taken care of everyone's safety," Hermione said. "The dragon can't get past the shields."

Harry had seen how well they'd taken care of safety. Even with his suggestions for how to improve safety, this seemed imprudent.

He couldn't help but look at the chains that held the dragon. Dumbledore had assured him that the chains had been checked this time and they were good.

Still, he didn't like the way the dragon was straining at the chains as Krum approached. The dragon was lashing out blindly, trampling back and forth as Krum ran for the egg.

Krum was moving well, keeping an eye on the dragon and staying well out of its way as it roared out its rage and pain. In the original timeline, he'd had marks off for destroying the eggs, but he'd made it out just fine.

Trying to relax, Harry reassured himself that everything would be fine. After all, Krum had made his way through this before without any problems; there was no reason for anything to change now.

Still, Harry couldn't help but have an uneasy feeling deep in his gut. Too many things had changed this time around, and this was making him feel distinctly uneasy. After all, there had been concerns the first time that Voldemort would attack the Tournament.

He probably hadn't the first time around because the whole point was to lure Harry in so that he could kill him and use him to create a body. Now he didn't have that incentive, and given that the Ministry was using this as a way to shore up their popularity it was an obvious target.

The realization made Harry distinctly uncomfortable. He wasn't sure if wizards had magical versions of bombs, but a bomb in the stands would send shock waves throughout Wizarding society.

Harry looked around and realized that there wouldn't be any way to detect a magical bomb in the middle of the crowd. He focused instead on the action in front of him.

Krum was having to duck and weave as the dragon lashed out blindly. It was already starting to recover, and it could smell him, so Krum was going to have to move quickly to get the egg if he was going to get out.

Krum lunged forward, and he grabbed the egg, lifting it in triumph.

Leaning forward, Harry found himself cursing under his breath. It was when you thought you'd won that things were the most dangerous. Krum needed to be particularly careful now that he had the egg, because the dragon believed the egg was hers. The dragon would become even more aggressive and dangerous in this moment.

Krum ducked around the dragon and began to run. Harry held his breathe, then sighed in relief as Krum passed the outer range of what the dragon could reach while enchained.

Harry was probably the only one in the audience watching the chains instead of the dragon, and so he was the only one who saw a spark of light. A section of the chains vanished, and a moment later the dragon was free.

Krum didn't realize it at first. He was running, egg held overhead to the appreciation of the crowd. His first clue was when the cheers of the crowd turned into screams.

The dragon breathed fire on him from behind. Krum turned to face the dragon, the expression on his face showing that he knew he was in trouble. He lifted his wand to defend himself, but it was going to be useless because dragons were largely spell resistant.

"Dodge!" Harry found himself yelling, but his voice was drowned out by the voices of hundreds of others screaming out in terror or apprehension.

Humans didn't have a hundredth of the mass that a dragon did, which meant they could duck and change directions much more easily. Krum had extensive Quidditch experience, so he should be able to keep out of the dragon's way long enough for the dragon handlers to reach her, unless she trapped him against a wall.

He'd cast a flame freezing spell beforehand, and so he was unharmed as the fire washed over him, but the fire obstructed his view of what was happening until it was too late.

The dragon handlers were running forward, trying to stop what everyone could see was about to happen, but it was too little and too late.

Blood splattered against the shields, although thankfully none of it penetrated. The crowd began screaming, and Harry felt Hermione grab his arm.

Was this the first time she'd seen someone die?

Harry winced as he saw that the dragon was actually eating Krum, even as the dragon handlers were trying to drag it off.

He hugged Hermione as she turned her face into his chest, and he wondered why this was happening.

"The chains were sabotaged," Moody said. "It was clearly meant to happen at the worst possible time for the champion."

"I'm surprised that Mr. Potter didn't foresee this with his...visions," Snape said. The look he was giving Harry was unfriendly.

He'd been the one person who hadn't seemed to believe Harry when he'd claimed to be a prophet. Harry wasn't sure how much the man had guessed, but he didn't see how he could have possibly seen the truth.

"I didn't see it," Harry said. "This isn't what was supposed to happen."

They were in Dumbledore's office; the second and third trials had been postponed because of questions about what had happened. Aurors were investigating. Moody, Dumbledore, Sirius and Snape all looked grave and concerned.

"This might be a message to Karkarov," Sirius said. "He's a former Death Eater and the message might be that he's not as safe as he thought he was."

Moody shook his head. "I think this is an effort to discredit the Ministry...a high profile, low risk attack."

Scrimgeour had to be apoplectic, Harry thought. He'd put a lot of political capital into the success of the Tournament, and this was going to tarnish everything he had done.

"Does it matter why he's doing it?" Harry asked. "The question is whether he's going to keep on doing it. Are Fleur and Cedric going to be safe if they continue with the contest?"

"We could cancel the Tournament," Sirius said.

Dumbledore shook his head. "The consequences for the surviving champions would be too grave."

"Is there any way to break the contract?" Harry asked. In his experience magic wasn't absolute. There were always workarounds.

Dumbledore shook his head. "The Goblet of Fire is a thousand years old, and the magic that created it is beyond anything we can use today. To break the power of the cup would require someone more powerful than its creator...and I can tell you that I am not up to the task."

If Dumbledore couldn't do it, then no one could.

"Change the tasks to something not dangerous?" Sirius suggested.

"That might actually work," Dumbledore said. "If the Ministry wasn't determined to go on with the contest. I've already spoken to Scrimgeour and he's determined to push forward."

The adults in the room scowled at that, clearly uncomfortable with Scrimgeour's decision.

"He's going to get those kids killed," Moody said.

"There will be a strong auror presence from now on," Dumbledore said. "Checking for every sign of an attack. It may be that Voldemort won't attack like this again."

"The question is whether you'll even be able to get the champions to compete," Harry said. "The penalty for breaking the concrete may be less important than dying."

Harry wondered what kind of courage it would take to step out onto the field after you knew that someone else had already died. He doubted that many of his classmates would have that kind of courage.

"Has anyone thought that this might be a distraction?" Sirius asked. "Keep us focused on this while something else is going on that we don't know about?"

Snape glanced at Harry. "There's some indication that he's involved in something. He has been moving Death Eaters away from their normal haunts. He's keeping his own council about his plans."

If Snape knew where Voldemort was, Harry wondered why he didn't simply kill him. As a baby, Voldemort could hardly defend himself.

He had to be working from the background through Death Eaters he trusted more than Snape. He'd been with Crouch during his resurrection, after all.

Someone who knew what they were doing could spread disinformation among the ranks, claiming to be Voldemort and leaving them open to more attacks. Harry stared at Snape speculatively.

The man looked back at him with a look that wasn't friendly. Fortunately Harry was good enough at occlumency that he'd be able to detect an intrusion even if he didn't know how to stop it. Moody said he had about a month left before he'd be ready. Two months had seemed like an extraordinarily long time, but Harry was proud of the progress he'd made.

Harry was tired of always defending and leaving the advantage to Voldemort. He wanted to find a way to strike at him in a way that the man would remember.

Chapter Text

The Durmstrang students left overnight.

It shouldn't have surprised anyone; with their champion dead there was no longer any reason to stay. If the message had been to Karkarov, it had been received. He was now retreating back to the secrecy of Durmstrang, hopefully beyond Voldemort's influence.

The message to the rest of Wizarding Britain was less clear. The Ministry had decided to declare the failure of the chains as a result of mismanagement rather than sabotage. It had apparently been decided that it was less damaging to look incompetent than unable to contain yet another attack.

In the end, the Wizarding papers still screamed, and from what Sirius told him, the average wizard on the street was unhappy with the incident. From that perspective the sabotage was very effective. It made Scrimgeour look weak, which was presumably at least part of the plan.

Harry had thought that Cedric and Fleur might refuse to continue with the contest, despite the penalties called for by the magical contract. However, three days later they were on the field again, facing their own dragons.

Fleur was first. She looked beautiful, but was pale. Despite this, she looked relatively composed, and Harry found himself admiring her courage. She was facing death without any reassurance that she'd be able to reset if things didn't go her way, and she wasn't particularly powerful either.

It had to take everything she had to stand tall in front of an audience of hundreds and not flee, but she did.

Harry had found a seat on the other side of the stands, close enough to the exit that he'd be able to slip out and around onto the pitch if anything should happen. He wasn't going to let anyone else he cared for die, not if he could at all stop it.

He had a plan to take care of Fleur's dragon. He had the vial of peanut butter in his pocket; he'd bought more darkness powder, and he'd even bought some of the Weasleys' fireworks, all of which he was hiding under his robes.

As the dragon rose onto it's haunches, Harry tensed up, ready to leap down the steps and run out onto the field.

Fleur, though, began to dance.

It was hypnotic, and Harry found himself starting to relax almost in spite of himself. It wasn't anything like the dancing they'd done at the Yule ball; this was slow and sensuous and Harry could see that every male in the audience was transfixed.

The crowd was utterly silent. After the disaster that had happened only three days before, it wasn't surprising, but her dance made sure of it.

The dragon seemed almost as transfixed as everyone else; it shouldn't have been, as it was female, but Fleur was moving her wand as she danced; that might have had something to do with it.

It took Harry a moment to realize that Fleur was moving forward slowly as she danced, moving side by side but incrementally forward with each pass, closer and closer to the dragon with each step. Harry found himself barely able to breathe as she moved into the dragon's range.

Any misstep now would end in disaster. The crowd held its collective breath, but the dragon simply sat and watched her with the intensity of a cat watching its prey.

Fleur spun and Harry wondered how she was going to get the egg, but she made it part of her dance. This should have been enough to pull the dragon out of its trance, but it didn't.

She didn't make Krum's mistake either. She continued dancing even after she was out of the dragon's range. She continued until she was at the very edge of the field, when she stepped into the champion's tent.

There was a long moment of silence after she vanished from view, and then the crowd roared with approval. It wasn't at all the performance anyone had expected, but it had been performed expertly.

Cedric was going to have a difficult time beating that performance; even though Dumbledore had now replaced Karkarov on the judges' panel Fleur's performance had been flawless.

There was a delay as the judges conferred, and a moment later they raised their signs indicating her score.

She had received full marks.

Harry saw her standing flushed with victory; she was sweating, but on her it looked beautiful and she was swarmed with well wishers. Part of him wanted to go over to her, congratulate her on her performance.

Unfortunately, in this reality she didn't know him. Harry suspected that seeing her indifference to him would be more painful than he'd realized, and it was better to stay away. That had been his plan all alone anyway.

It was twenty minutes before the crowd had calmed again enough for Cedric to have his turn. He hadn't participated the last time, and so Harry had no idea what to expect from him.

Cedric stood, and even though Fleur had survived it still took courage to stand before the dragon. People thought Hufflepuffs were weak and had nothing to offer, but the Goblet had chosen Cedric over everyone who had applied in every other House.

He stood for a moment, and then began pointing his wand downward at rocks on the field. He waved his wand and spoke words that Harry couldn't hear over the murmuring of the crowd. A moment later the rock shifted and changed, becoming a full sized wolf.

Cedric didn't stop there. He changed another rock and another; by the time he seemed to be satisfied he had changed six rocks into wolves.

He sent the wolves racing forward to attack the dragon.

The dragon breathed fire, but the wolves were quick and dodged out of the way. They quickly surrounded the dragon, those in the back attacking while those in the front stayed out of the reach of the dragon's teeth and claws.

Cedric, in the meantime walked as close to the wall as he could. He did his best to be quiet and unobtrusive.

The dragon didn't seem to notice him. It was occupied with the irritating pests that had surrounded it. It managed to turn and grab one of the wolves which yelped as it was thrown against a wall. It fell and lay still, unmoving as the other four continue to attack the dragon.

Cedric was almost within the range of what the dragon could reach at the limit of its chains.

Harry didn't know Cedric particularly well, but he wasn't about to let him die either. He wasn't sure he'd be able to do much from this distance though. He could only hope that the dragon handlers were better prepared than they had been when Harry's own dragon had gotten loose.

Dumbledore had replaced some of the crew based on the memory Harry had shared. He hadn't told anyone why, but Harry hoped that this group was at least a little more competent than the last group had been.

Cedric made a subtle gesture with his wand, and the wolves began to attack more intensely. Cedric stepped into the dragon's range, and he began to casually make his way toward the eggs.

The dragon didn't seem to notice him at first; it was occupied with the wolves. As Cedric grabbed the golden egg, however, it stiffened and turned toward him.

Fire blasted over him and the eggs, but he'd cast a flame freezing charm. Having heard of what had happened to Krum, Cedric didn't stop moving, however. He used the cover provided by the flames to start running, and by the time the dragon had finished he was halfway outside of her range.

She lunged forward, and Cedric dodged. A transfigured wolf leapt in front of him, and the dragon's teeth bit down on it instead.

The dragon spit it out, trying to get to Cedric before he could get outside the range of the chain, but it was too late.

He didn't stop running until he reached the champion's tent, but the crowd was already roaring.

Whatever his score was, he was a champion in the eyes of the school. There were flashes of light from the cameras, and Harry knew that Cedric was going to make the front of the papers.

Fleur and Cedric were both champions as far as Harry was concerned.

Hermione shifted in her seat beside him. She'd been uncharacteristically quiet since the disaster three days ago. According to Neville, she'd been having nightmares about Krum's death.

Harry wasn't certain if Krum had already been making advances toward her in this timeline or not; he suspected that he had. That being the case, seeing someone she'd started to get to know had to have been a shock to Hermione's system.

Harry knew from experience just how difficult it was to lose someone you cared about, but he wasn't sure how to comfort her. He had no real experience at that at all.

She didn't seem to want to talk about it, which was something Harry could understand, and so he didn't press her on the issue. He suspected that she didn't even know that she'd been talking to Krum; in this timeline he had no reason to know about it.

It was easier to say nothing and see how things played out, although he was worried that this might not be the best decision. Not everyone had his experience with trauma, and not everyone could handle it as well as he had.

"We ought to go," Harry said to her quietly.

She simply sat without speaking for a moment. She looked as though she was lost in thought. Finally she looked up at him and took his arm.

"I was afraid it was going to happen again," she said.

Harry nodded. "I think everyone was."

There was a palpable sense of relief in the crowd. People were chatting excitedly, and Harry suspected that Cedric was going to be treated like a king this evening, no matter what his score.

The judges were conferring, and a short while later they came up with their score. It wasn't as good as Fleur's but it was still high.

The crowd cheered for Cedric nonetheless.

Hermione clutched Harry's arm as they made their way out of the stands and onto the Hogwarts grounds.

The announcement of the Yule ball was taken with the same excitement that Harry had remembered, although the missing Durmstrang students meant that some of the couples Harry had remembered had to reorganize themselves.

As girls who had gone out with Durmstrang students were asked out for dates, this meant that the girls who would have been asked out had to find other partners, which resulted in a strange kind of ripple effect that Harry had not expected.

Harry had expected to be able to skip the ball; after all, he was no longer one of the champions, and wasn't actually required to attend. He thought it might be a little painful to watch Fleur and Hermione dancing with other people, and his first impulse was to avoid the event altogether.

However, he hadn't reckoned with Hermione.

"I can teach you to dance," she said.

"I'm not going," Harry said. "And I know how to dance."

"Where did you learn to dance?" she asked. "It doesn't exactly seem like the kind of thing you'd be interested in."

Harry shrugged. "I learn things here and there."

"Your aunt and uncle don't seem like the kind who'd shell out for lessons," Hermione said.

Harry hadn't told her much about his family life at home; it wasn't a subject he particularly cared to dwell on. But he'd told her a little and Neville a little more and they'd talked. Hermione had read between the lines and had made some fairly astute guesses about what his aunt and uncle had been like.

If it wasn't for Harry's advantages, she'd be the smartest in their year. It frustrated her that he seemed never to study.

He couldn't exactly tell her about her satisfaction when he finally seemed to be lagging behind on those occasions when he was experiencing a year for the first time.

"I'm good at everything," Harry said, and then grinned at her.

He was happier with her irritated with him than quiet and mopey the way she'd been for the last several days.

"Prove it," she said.

"What, here?"

"Wherever you like," she said. "In the middle of the Great Hall if you want."

Harry hesitated. He was entering dangerous ground here, and he knew it. Despite that, he found himself wanting to put a smile on her face. The crinkle around her eyes that had never gone away since Krum died was bothering him more than he wanted to think about.

"I've got a better place," he said. "I'll show you after dinner."

It was a rare opportunity that Harry got to show someone a wonder of magic not once but twice. This time he was going to do it right, and with any luck he was going to put a smile on her face.

He found himself unusually excited as the day wore on. He had ruined the reveal of the Room the last time with his clumsy date request; this time he had no intention of doing so.

After dinner, Harry found Hermione and he led her up several sets of stairs to the seventh floor.

"It's across from the painting of Barnabas the Barmy," Harry said, gesturing. "Just watch."

He walked back and forth three times, concentrating on what he wanted. It took him a moment, but the door appeared.

He took her hand and they stepped into the Great hall as Harry had remembered it. The walls were covered in silvery sparkling frost, with garlands of mistletoe and ivy crossing the starry sky on the ceiling by the hundreds.

There were a hundred lantern lit tables, each with seats for a dozen people.

The main difference from his memory was that they were alone; there were no other dancers. It was a little eerie, now that Harry was actually in the room.

"What?" Hermione asked, looking astounded.

"This room can be anything you want it to be," Harry said. He gestured. "You wanted me to prove that I could dance."

As she stepped through the portal, it vanished behind her.

Harry reached into his robes and pulled out a music box..

"The Room doesn't do living things,, so I had to bring my own music," Harry said. "I borrowed this from the twins."

Hermione looked suddenly uneasy. "Are you sure you shouldn't have gotten it from someone else?"

Harry shrugged. "I've mostly broken the twins out of the habit of pranking me; if they do anything too terrible I'll make them regret it."

Hermione conspicuously stepped away as Harry set the box on a table.

He opened the box, ready to step away if exploding dye or some other monstrosity came out of the box. Happily, there was nothing but a ballerina inside. He began to crank the box with a little lever on the side. Apparently they'd just modified a muggle music box, which harry suspected was illegal.

As he stepped away from the box music began to play.

For a moment he was afraid that the Weasleys would have put some sexual music as a way of teasing him. He hadn't told them what it was for specifically because he didn't want them to tease either him or Hermione.

Fortunately, he recognized the tune; it was Wizarding music that had played during the first Ball by the Weird Sisters. He offered his hand to Hermione.

Even though it had been several months in his own personal timeline, Harry discovered that he hadn't forgotten how to dance. His memories of Fleur were too intense for that. So when he took Hermione's hand in his and began to move around the room, he enjoyed the look of astonishment on her face.

Although he was a little uncertain at first, the steps came back to him and became more natural the longer he did it.

It seemed more natural to dance with Hermione as well. Maybe it was the fact that he didn't have hundreds of people staring at him, or maybe it was the fact that he wasn't overwhelmed by Fleur's natural charisma.

It was relaxing and maybe even a little fun, which was something Harry hadn't gotten to experience much of during his life.

He grinned at her as the song ended. "See? I told you I was good at everything,"

"Where did you learn how to dance?" she asked.

Harry shrugged. "I picked it up here and there."

"Why?" Hermione asked. "You don't learn anything that won't make you a better fighter."

Harry stared at her. "Are you calling me lazy?"

"Yes," she said. "If it's about fighting or something you think you can use, you are one of the hardest working people I've ever seen. If it's something you don't think you can use, you're as lazy as Ron Weasley."

"Hey!" Harry said, a little hurt. "Don't compare me to him!"

The truth was, he sometimes admired what he'd heard of Ron's legendary sloth. The boy never seemed to crack open a book, and he seemed to know how to enjoy life in a way that Harry couldn't remember ever having done.

It would have been nice to have been that free of worry, that free of thought. Harry was often so worried about the future that he didn't really get to live in the moment.

"Pay attention in History of magic or Astronomy and I might change my mind," Hermione said.

Harry grimaced. "I'm not sure I can stand another goblin rebellion or another look at the moons of Jupiter."

It was worse than she knew. History of magic was boring the first time through. The second time was excruciatingly boring. The same was true of Astronomy.

Hermione hesitated. "Go with me to the ball."

"What?" Harry asked, astonished.

"I don't have anyone to take me, and I really want to go."

Harry felt himself speechless for the first time he could remember. He'd tried a similar tactic when he'd asked her to the ball, and she'd rejected him. Now she was here saying the same thing, and he couldn't even comment on the hypocrisy of it because she didn't remember the first time.

"I was planning on going home over the break," he said. "You won't have any trouble finding someone to the dance. Trust me, I've seen how some of the boys look at you."

"You don't even like your family," she said, "Not really. You're just going home to avoid the ball. Why?"

She knew him well enough to see right through him, on this issue at least. Harry realized that he should have come up with a better excuse.

"Anyone I dance with will be in danger," Harry said. "So it's best for everyone if I just stay away."

"I've already got a target on my back, three times over," Hermione said. "I'm your best friend...I'm a muggleborn, and I beat every pure blood and half blood in the school except for you."

Harry stared at her. He'd always thought she humored his paranoia as much as anything.

"Since Viktor...I've started thinking a lot about the times you've been right," Hermione said. "You were right about the dementor attack, about the troll...about most of it really."

"While I'm the first to admit that I'm always right," Harry said, "Why bring this up now?"

"If you're right about all of it, what happens if you leave school and I'm still here?" she asked. "Wouldn't that be the perfect opportunity to kill one witch with two stones?"

As a manipulation it was masterful. Playing on his paranoia and his sense of loyalty. The truth was that she was probably in more danger at home than at school, with him or without him. The problem was that Harry didn't understand what kind of game Voldemort was playing, and there might be a grain of truth to what she was saying.

"All right," he said reluctantly. "I'll go with you."

He had a feeling he was going to regret this.

Chapter Text

Harry's greatest fear about the ball was that it was going to complicate things again. After all, he'd spent the last few months of his last life dealing with awkwardness and a strained relationship with Hermione, all because of a single moment.

What did she expect of him? Did she think this meant they were dating, or was this really the friendly dance that she was making it out to be. The question plagued him over the next two weeks, even as Hermione was inscrutable.

He couldn't even ask her about it without revealing his own fears. He feared that asking about their relationship becoming awkward would make their relationship become awkward.

There wasn't much he could do other than hope for the best. He chose the same dress robe as he had the last time, and he practiced dancing on the sly; while he remembered the steps he wanted to impress Hermione and dance more naturally than he had before.

Fleur chose Cedric, to no one's surprise. Harry suspected that she had a thing for champions, or it may have been the fact that they bonded over the death of Krum. For whatever reason, every time he saw them together he felt a pang of envy, but it was getting easier over time.

Christmas morning came before he knew it.

As Harry woke, he felt something at his feet. He grabbed his wand and pointed it before he was even awake. He saw a familiar set of ears over the side of the bed.

"Dobby?" he asked, finally remembering.

The house elf had shown up the last time with a gift of socks; Harry hadn't gotten him anything and had felt bad about it. Even though he didn't fully trust the little House elf, knowing that his idea of what was proper wasn't always the same as that of everyone else, he had felt guilty.

One advantage of resetting was that sometimes the things that caused guilt could be undone. Harry had looked for the perfect thing to get Dobby, and eventually he'd found it.

"Dobby is here with your presents, sir," Dobby said. Dobby was carrying a pile of presents as tall as he was; if anything the pile was even larger than before the reset.

"Put them down at the foot of the bed," Harry said. "I've got something for you."

Dobby's eyes grew wide, and he took the small package Harry handed him as though it was made of the finest crystal. He opened it carefully, careful not to tear the paper.

As he opened it, he gasped. Harry had had a small outfit made for Dobby; even though Dobby had had his own Slytherin outfit made, it was still ill fitting. This outfit came with a spell that permanently sized it to the first person who wore it. He'd bought it from a shop in Hogsmeade that mostly specialized in clothing designed for toddlers, but it was custom made with a Slytherin crest. The entire outfit was in Slytherin colors.

Dobby gave a shriek and immediately threw his arms around Harry's knees, something that Harry felt weirdly uncomfortable about. A moment later Dobby began to throw off his clothes and Harry had to turn his head for a moment before he saw something he didn't want to see.

Harry heard a gasp from the doorway. He saw Malfoy standing in the door, presumably looking at Dobby in whatever state of undress he was now in. The expression of horror on his face struck Harry as being unusually funny, even as he heard the pop of Dobby vanishing, along with his clothes.

"Do I have to ask why you have a half dressed house elf in the middle of the room?" Malfoy asked.

"I gave him clothes," Harry said casually.

Apparently Malfoy hadn't recognized Dobby from behind, because he looked impressed.

"I didn't know you even had a house elf; they're hard to get these days. My father was really upset when we lost one of ours."

"I'm sure," Harry murmured. "Can you hold these?"

He shoved his pile of packages into Malfoy's hands and then began to do his usual round of diagnostic checks on them.

"What are you doing?" Malfoy asked from behind the packages.

"Checking for traps and explosives," Harry said. "Poisons, snakes, scorpions...the usual."

Malfoy turned quickly and set the packages on Crabbe's bed. He stepped away, looking a little pale.

"It looks like they're all clean," Harry said. "I've been a lot more careful with my mail since Hermione got bubotuber pus in an envelope."

Harry had actually always been careful with his mail. He simply wanted to remind Malfoy of the danger Malfoy's father had put everyone in. He wasn't sure that Malfoy knew of his father's role with the basilisk during second year, but he knew Malfoy had some knowledge of his father's actions. was possible that he'd spent a little too much time with the twins. He enjoyed teasing Malfoy, who tended to be a little too uptight, even for a Slytherin.

"At least if it leaks Crabbe will barely notice," Malfoy said after a moment.

Harry snickered in spite of himself.

"Let's see what you've got," Malfoy said.

The first package was from Sirius. Harry carefully opened it, and he saw a small mirror inside. He'd gotten this the last time, and he had treasured it.

"Your Godfather gave you a mirror?" Malfoy asked incredulously.

"Sometimes a mirror isn't just a mirror," Harry said, smiling inscrutably.

He hadn't understood the first time around either until he'd tried it; it was a lifeline to a similar mirror possessed by Sirius. No more need to wait on owls; he'd be able to see him face to face, and he'd be able to affect things in the outside world through Sirius much faster.

Despite Malfoy's curiosity, Harry didn't explain the mirror's function. Secrets were only valuable if kept secret.

Harry had a present from Hagrid; it was a muggle jacket with a special pocket hidden inside for his wand. He'd been grateful for it the first time, and he was grateful for it now. In the first place, he didn't have a jacket, and Britain could get cold. It was nicer than most of his muggle clothes, and the wand holder might save his life some day.

Neville had bought him a wizard's chess set. Neville had taught him how to play, although he reportedly wasn't the master player that Ron Weasley of all people was. This set was small and could be folded away to the size of a small book, the figurines inside vanishing into otherspace.

Hermione's box, however was completely different than it had been the last time. The last time she'd bought him a Wizarding book called "A Hairy Heart: The guide to Wizards who won't commit."

It had been a rather pointed commentary on the status of their relationship at the time.

This package wasn't shaped like a book at all. Harry opened it carefully, and inside was another small mirror.

"People think you're really full of yourself, I guess," Malfoy said. He blinked. "Hang on, I've seen those before."

"What is it," Harry asked.

"It's a foe glass. It shows your three greatest enemies in it; the closer they are, the more clearly they appear."

"How much did she spend on this?" Harry asked, checking the mirror for traps with his wand.

He'd bought her Peruvian darkness powder and he planned on teaching her to use a supersensory charm to get around. If this was a whole lot more, then he'd feel guilty as well as wondering what message she was trying to send.

"That's a cheap one, and small," Malfoy said. "She could have bought it used for thirty galleons."

Harry felt somewhat relieved. The darkness powder was worth more than that, although one hundred and fifty pounds was a lot of money for a girl her age to spend.

He picked the mirror up gingerly and looked into it.

The familiar figure of baby Voldemort appeared in the mirror; his figure was misty and vague. The mirror didn't show what he was doing at the moment; something like that would be worth a thousand times thirty galleons, even used. Instead it was a rather generic picture.

"That's your greatest enemy?" Malfoy asked, looking over his shoulder.

"That's what Voldemort looks like right now," Harry said, glancing at him. "He's looking for a new body and so he's not exactly himself at the moment."

The expression of disgust on Malfoy's face wasn't something Harry had expected. He'd thought Malfoy would have seen worse things in his household. Perhaps his father shielded him from the worst of what he did.

"He's barely human," Malfoy said. "And who is that?"

The woman Umbridge appeared in the mirror; her figure was much sharper and closer than Voldemort's had been. She smiled pleasantly, but it didn't reach her eyes.

"A woman in the Ministry...I almost got her sacked."

The third figure was that of a woman he'd never seen before, with wild hair and an insane look in her eye. She was closer than Voldemort, but further away than Umbridge.

"Auntie Bellatrix," Malfoy breathed.

"Your aunt is my third worst enemy?" Harry asked. His fingers strayed toward his wand.

Malfoy lifted his hands. "She's everybody's worst enemy. Besides...we're all related, the purebloods. My great great aunt was Dorea Black, who was your grandmother. I'm probably related to Longbottom and Weasley too, though nobody will ever admit it."

"We're relatives?" Harry asked.

Malfoy scowled. "I looked it up first year. It doesn't mean anything."

"Well, I don't particularly like the rest of my family, so why should you be any different?" Harry said, but he grinned as he said it.

"It's a really nice present from a poor girl," Malfoy said. "It's almost like she's declaring for you."

Harry shook his head.

"She knows what I'm like, and this was just the best thing she could have gotten me," Harry said. "And if I ever look in it and see her face in it, I'll know I'm really in the doghouse."

Malfoy smirked.

There was one last present on the bed, one that had no name on it. It was in plain, brown paper, and Harry had an immediate sense of foreboding. All his friends knew better than to send him presents without a name on it. Worse; this present hadn't been there the last time.

"You think Goyle would open it if I gave him a galleon?" Harry asked.

Malfoy had picked up on his sense of unease, because any sense of humor drained out of his face. After a glance at each other, they both took a long step back.

Harry used a small diffendo to make a tiny rip in the paper. Nothing came billowing out, and so he used wingardium to levitate the paper off the front of what turned out to be a book.

Lifting the book magically, Harry rotated it so the title was visible. He ran more tests on the book; everything he could think of, but none of them panned out. Malfoy seemed impressed that he could continue to levitate the book while running the tests.

"Ars moriendi," Harry read the title in some confusion. The book looked very old and worn, almost as though the pages would turn to dust if Harry actually tried to read it.

Draco peered at the book.

"My father has a copy of that book in our library, but our copy is a lot newer," he said. "That looks like it might be an original copy...early fifteenth century. If it is, it's worth as much as a house. Original copies were hand written. It might be a later reproduction; it was one of the first Muggle books that were actually printed. My father's copy was from the seventeen hundreds and this one looks older."

Accepting books from Lucius Malfoy was never a good idea, but Malfoy hadn't even shown up on the foe glass. Harry had a sinking feeling that the book wasn't from him. Malfoy would never send him something that expensive.

Malfoy said, "Even early sixteenth century reproductions are worth six thousand galleons.

As much as Malfoy's bragging about money normally bothered Harry, this time it was actually useful.

"What is it about?" Harry asked.

"The English translation is The Art of Dying. It's something about how to die well," Malfoy said. He looked at Harry and must have seen something in his expression.

There was only one person Harry knew who would spend that kind of money just to make a point. It was a message, one that only Harry would understand.

Voldemort knew, and he was taunting Harry with that fact.

Harry felt a chill go down his spine. The foe glass had been wrong.

Voldemort had never been closer.

"Draco was wrong," Harry said. "After we had Dumbledore check it for traps, he said it was a 1642 version, only worth about 500 galleons."

"That's still a lot of money to spend without leaving a note," Neville said. "Do you have any idea who sent it?"

"No idea," Harry said.

Technically, he didn't know who had sent it. However, his suspicions were chilling. It had colored the rest of his day despite Dumbledore's assurances that there were no poisons, curses or other traps in the book at all.

He hadn't even been able to enjoy the snowball fight in the afternoon because he'd been busy brooding about what kind of message he'd been sent. He could only hope that he didn't brood throughout the dance; he didn't want to ruin Hermione's evening.

They were waiting together for their dates. Neville was taking the Weasley girl, and Harry was waiting on Hermione. He knew she'd look stunning in her periwinkle blue robes, and while he'd have seen it before he'd look suitably impressed. She deserved it after all for having put up with him for all these years.

Even now, when she'd finally realized the danger she was in, she was still by his side. This meant more to Harry than he would have thought.

He hadn't remembered the entrance hall being this packed before; possibly he'd been distracted by worrying about dancing with Fleur. He looked for Hermione, trying not to look anxious.

As casual as he'd kept things between them, Harry suspected that a great deal rode on how the evening went. He hadn't enjoyed months of awkwardness, and he had no intention of going through that again.

Hermione was possibly the most important person in his life. It was important to keep her happy.

How he was going to do it he wasn't sure. It would be a delicate balance between keeping her far enough away to keep her safe without driving her away and damaging their friendship. Harry felt more anxious about this than he should have been.

After all, he'd been to the ball before.

Of course, the lack of Durmstrang students was going to change things. He couldn't afford to assume that everything was going to be the same as it had been last time. Changes tended to ripple outward, like the huge changes that twenty missing Durmstrang students had made in who was dating whom.

When she finally stepped out, he froze. The periwinkle blue robes were gone; in their place were burgundy robes that looked more like a dress than robes. Her hair was still sleek and shiny, but the complicated knot was different. It was somehow even better looking than her hair had been for the first time.

She was looking around the room for him, and when she finally saw him, she smiled.

How had he not seen it? Her face lit up the room when she smiled. He'd always known that she was a pretty girl in a vague sort of sense, but now, feeling the full impact of it, he wondered if she too was part veela.

He smiled, and for once it wasn't something that was forced.

He suddenly found himself looking forward to the evening instead of seeing it as a obligation. He'd enjoyed dancing with Fleur, after all. Surely dancing with his best friend couldn't be anything but better.

As she approached he took her hand and he bowed slightly. Although there was a crowd around him, he felt like they were the only two people in the room.

"I see that you've stolen a little of Fleur's veela magic," Harry said. At her confused expression, he nodded in the direction of the people around them. "Look at them looking at you and tell me what you see."

She looked around. People were staring at them both and whispering. Normally this would have thrown Harry into a fit of suspicious thoughts but not tonight. Tonight he knew exactly why they were whispering, and he felt proud for her.

He'd heard from Neville how she'd been teased about her teeth when she was younger. She'd been bullied almost as much as he had, if in less overt ways. Sometimes Harry thought the more subtle techniques were more emotionally damaging.

After all, it was easy to defend against a punch or even a spell. A whisper, however, or a rumor, a subtle comment...all were almost impossible to fight against.

So he was proud now that she had her day in the sun.

Her smile brightened, if anything, and she linked her arm in his.

"Let's go in," she said.

He nodded, and with that they headed inside for the Great Hall.

As they stepped into the Great Hall, every wall festooned with sparkling silvery frost, Harry could hear gasps from everyone around them. Beside him, Hermione stiffened before relaxing.

McGonagall called for the champions to dance the first dance, and Harry took a half step toward the dance floor before he managed to stop himself.

Hermione gave him a strange look as Fleur and Cedric began to dance.

It should have bothered him, seeing Fleur dancing with someone else, but strangely it didn't. Harry glanced at Hermione beside him and reflected that for tonight at least, he was the one dancing with the most beautiful girl at the ball.

As the dance ended, and the rest of the dancers were allowed to move out onto the dance floor, Harry escorted Hermione. He put his hands around her waist, and as the music began they began to dancer.

It felt nearly effortless, dancing with her. It was much more natural than dancing with Fleur had been, although that might have been because he knew what he was doing now.

She leaned forward and whispered in his ear.

"How did you know?" Hermione asked.

Harry looked at her, unsure of what she was saying. He continued dancing, but he felt a sudden sense of anxiety.

"The Room of Requirement," she said. "You made it look exactly like this. How did you know?"

Chapter Text

Harry stumbled as he realized what she'd just asked.

"I've spent some time with the Room while you weren't there," she said. "Trying to figure out how it worked."

He should have realized that she'd have been obsessed with understanding how the room worked. She was as obsessed with understanding things as he was with surviving.

"You can ask the Room for something generic and it'll give it to you," she said. "But it doesn't predict the future. You had to know exactly how the Great Hall would look and have had it in mind to have it come up with this."

Harry hesitated, his mind racing.

He'd spent the last several years learning how to conceal his emotions and lie like the best of the Slytherins. However, Hermione knew him as well as anyone, better than his own aunt and uncle possibly. She was good at seeing through lies.

"There are some things I can't explain now," Harry said finally. "Secrets that I have to keep. Have you ever heard of occlumency?"

Hermione nodded.

"There are people who are legilimens in this school," Harry said. While he was referring to Dumbledore and Snape, he suddenly realized that it was possible that some of the older Slytherins had learned as well.

"They know we talk," Harry said. "So they'll be looking through your mind to see if there's anything they can use against me."

"Why can't they just look in your mind?" she asked. Her expression said that she didn't believe what he was telling her even though it happened to be true.

Harry shrugged. "I'm learning Occlumency. According to Moody I've only got a couple of weeks left until I'm good enough to resist most people."

Of course, he had to be better than that. Voldemort was a better than average legilimens, and he was the yardstick Harry had to judge himself against.

"So teach me," Hermione said. "And Neville."

He stared at her, aware suddenly that they'd been dancing all this time and he hadn't even noticed. It made sense in a way; having their minds open was leaving a blind spot in his defenses. He'd dealt with it by limiting the information he'd shared with them.

If they mastered occlumency, he'd be able to share his secrets with them, assuming he trusted them. Occlumency would make them more resistant to the impirius spell as well, although not completely impervious.

Harry had always feared that someone would impirius one of them to attack him. His guard was somewhat lower around them than with anyone else, although he'd never really lowered his guard with everyone.

The question was, did he really want to share his secrets with them? Knowing what he'd been through would change their opinion of him irrevocably. The thought of seeing that look of pity in Hermione's eyes was almost painful to him.

Worse still was the thought that it would change her. She had been his compass for normality throughout his time in school. As far as he had strayed from being a good person she'd always been there to remind him that there would be life after Voldemort, should he survive to see it.

Maybe he could find a middle ground. It would be good for them to learn occlumency, and he could share a little; maybe as much as he'd shared with Dumbledore and the others. It would be a show of trust and it would help them act more strategically should he need them to.

"I'll teach you," Harry said finally. "And I'll tell you. Just try not to think about it too much."

She stared at him for a moment.

"You're asking me not to think? How long have you known me?"

He'd better get to teaching her occlumency, although given that Voldemort seemed to know a large amount of it anyway he wasn't sure how important the secret was anyway. The last thing he wanted was for Snape or Dumbledore to find out, not if they didn't have to.

Really, although he'd had a justified fear of the Unspeakables, Harry had to admit that an equal fear was that people he cared about would somehow look at him as being even more different than he already was.

He'd experienced things no one else had, and there was no one who could really understand what it was like. They'd try to empathize, but deep down all they'd feel was pity.

Harry mostly dealt with it by not thinking about it. It didn't make sense to worry about things he couldn't change. Instead he tried to focus on the things he could. He suspected that his avoidance of thinking about the difficult subjects had been part of what had kept Dumbledore and Snape from reading his darkest secret on the very first day. They'd have had to deliberately go in deeper, and eleven year olds rarely had anything worth looking under the surface for.

"Think about something else," Harry said. He swung her around and said, "This is your night, isn't it? We're dancing. Live in the moment."

She stared up at him for a long moment, her feet moving automatically as she almost visibly processed the thought. Finally she nodded.

She smiled, although it was a little less bright than the smile she'd given when he'd first seen her.

"You should take your own advice," she said.

He was suddenly aware that they were pressed together uncomfortably closely. He felt his cheeks growing warm, and he found himself mildly irritated by the self satisfied look on Hermione's face.

"Of course, I'll hold you to your promise," she said, whispering in his ear.

Harry suspected that he would regret ever having said anything, but he hadn't had much of a choice. It seemed that relationships were a gamble, whether they were friendships or something more, but the stakes seemed higher now than they ever had before.

He only hoped they'd be able to remain friends after this.

Feeling flushed, Harry was pulled out of the Great Hall by Hermione. Once they'd gotten over a feeling of awkwardness that had lasted a couple of dances, they'd both loosened up. Dancing with Hermione was surprisingly fun.

They'd lasted a lot longer than he had with Fleur, and now they were both flushed and sweaty.

Sirius should have come looking for him already, but things had obviously changed, and harry suspected that he'd finally have the evening to himself.

The air felt as good on his overheated skin as he remembered; better in fact. He was more comfortable with Hermione than he had been with Fleur. Fleur had been an ideal woman, older, mysterious and unobtainable.

Hermione, on the other hand was as familiar as a well worn pair of shoes. They had adapted to each other over years and they seemed to fit.

Hermione pointed toward the rose garden. "They've done a good job with that."

The faerie lights really did make the place look magical, in a way that Harry had rarely allowed himself to appreciate. He suspected that part of the reason he liked being around Hermione and Neville was that they still experienced things in a way that he couldn't allow himself to.

He could live vicariously through them, and seeing the faerie lights reflected in her eyes now gave him a sense of wonder.

Walking toward the rose garden seemed natural; Harry was halfway there before he had a sudden sense of deja vu. His feet stumbled. He'd enjoyed what had almost happened there with Fleur, but kissing Hermione wasn't on the agenda at all.

If just asking her out had made things awkward before, what would actually kissing her do?

Hermione glanced at him and said, "We'll just walk. Don't worry."

With a single look she'd figured out what he was worried about. How had he not realized how observant she was?

How much else did she know?

Harry hated the part of him that had to ask that question. He admired Hermione, but there was always part of him that questioned everything. The fact that he'd been able to live in the moment, even for forty five minutes dancing was a minor miracle.

Arm in arm they entered the Rose garden.

Hermione had even taken his left arm. That was traditional of course, but among muggles it had arisen so that the man's sword arm would be free in case of danger. Harry felt the same about his wand arm.

He practiced left handed, of course, but it was awkward and not nearly as fast as working with his right hand. It wasn't much better than casting wandlessly, except that he could cast any spell left handed but could only cast spells he'd actually practiced wandlessly.

Hermione led him to a bench, and the sense of deja vu grew stronger. Harry wasn't certain which would be worse; kissing her or rejecting her. His stomach clenched. Either path led to danger, and he wasn't sure how to reject her without damaging their relationship.

"Harry," Hermione said as she sat on the bench, patting it as a gesture for him to follow.

Harry sat and said, "Hermione..."

"There can't be that many legilimencers in school," Hermione said. "And they are hardly looking in my head all the time. Not telling me sounds like you don't trust me."

Harry blinked. He'd thought he'd settled things with Hermione on the dance floor, but she just hadn't wanted to have an argument in front of the entire school. Letting her lure him out to a place where they could talk uninterrupted had been a mistake.

He should have known she wouldn't be willing to let it go.

"I trust you," Harry said. "Probably as much as I trust anyone."

"Which is hardly any at all," Hermione said. "Harry, I've been watching you for years, and I've always known you had secrets."

"You never said anything," Harry said quietly.

"I always thought you'd come to me when you were ready," Hermione said. "But I've been starting to think that you'll never be ready."

Harry shook his head. "I was serious about the occlumency. I'll be able to tell you more after you learn it."

"But will you?" Hermione asked. "Or will you lie and keep lying even after there's no good reason to do so?"

"I haven't lied to you," Harry said. "I just haven't told you everything."

"Lying by omission is still lying," Hermione said.

They were both silent for a long moment as Harry tried to think of what to say. He could feel things unraveling and he felt helpless to stop it. Somehow this felt worse than the damage a kiss would have done.

"Is it always bad to lie?" Harry asked.

The look she gave him was one that made him wince.

"I'm serious," Harry said. "Let's say you knew something that put you in danger. As long as your friends are ignorant they're safe...but the moment they know they're in danger too."

"I'm already in danger," Hermione said. She leaned forward. "I've always been in danger, even if I didn't always realize it."

Harry was silent for an even longer moment. She wasn't going to let this go.

He slipped his wand out of the pocket of his wand and cast a quick muffliato spell. Hermione's eyes widened as she saw him do it, and she leaned forward, as though she was certain he was finally going to share a life altering secret.

"Suppose someone had a way of knowing things," he said finally. "Not always, but better than what most seers can do. How dangerous would that be to them?"

He'd been telling Hermione for years that authority figures and governments couldn't be trusted. She hadn't believed him for a long time, but he'd gotten the feeling recently that she was starting to believe him.

Hermione stared at him. "Something like that could win the war."

"How would both sides react if they knew about that power?"

"They'd want him dead," Hermione said slowly. "or captured so they could find out what was going to happen."

"And what about that person's friends?" Harry asked.

He knew she was bright enough to see the implications. It was important that she come to the conclusion herself instead of him telling her what to think, because she'd never believe him otherwise.

Hermione reluctantly said, "They might kidnap them to use for leverage against him, just in case he refused to talk and couldn't be forced by magic."

"Think about that," Harry said "And ask me again why I'm not ready to talk about things."

Hermione sat for a long moment, frowning. "Are you saying you are that person?"

"Ask me again after you learn occlumency," Harry said.

Harry heard footsteps coming toward them; fortunately the muffliato spell didn't muffle his own hearing.

He saw Sirius coming toward them, and for once he was relieved. He wasn't sure whether Hermione would have kept arguing or not, and this was the perfect excuse to get out of the conversation.

The expression on Sirius's face wasn't at all like what it had been the last time. Then it had been excited and joyous. Now Sirius looked tense and grim. He looked deeply tired in a way that Harry found alarming.

"There's been some...developments," Sirius said, glancing at Hermione. "The Headmaster wants to see you in his office."

"I'll be up there as soon as I take Hermione back inside," Harry said.

Unspoken was the fact that leaving Hermione alone on the grounds probably wasn't a good idea. The fact that Sirius seemed to get what he was saying without having it explained was a sign of just how potentially bad things had gotten.

Sirius nodded. "We'll be waiting."

Harry stood and held his hand out for Hermione.

"Does the Headmaster know?" Hermione asked, standing.

"I only told him some of it this year," Harry admitted. "With the promise that he'd keep my identity secret and not make me some kind of political pawn...more than I already am anyway."

"And he's consulting you now?" Hermione asked.

Harry shrugged. "I may have told him a few things that were helpful. The Headmaster is more involved in the war than most people realize."

Hermione kept staring at him as Harry led her back into the ballroom. Hopefully this would convince her of the importance of secrecy.

"It all went wrong," Sirius said. "We tried to convince the Ministry to at least hold off on the attacks until we could be sure that the information wasn't compromised. They refused."

Dumbledore said, "They wouldn't believe that we had a seer with the kind of specific information we claimed to have had. They demanded that we bring him forward, for examination by the Unspeakables."

Harry felt a chill up his spine. He'd feared the Unspeakables for years; images of being held in a cell unable to even kill himself having been one of his non-reset related nightmares.

"When we wouldn't bring you forward, they went forward with the plan," Sirius said.

"How bad was it?" Harry asked.

In the first time around they'd captured forty Death Eaters in a single, massive sweep. It had led to retaliation, but at the time it had been a massive victory for the Ministry.

"Twenty seven aurors dead," Sirius said. "With eighteen more injured...some badly enough they'll have to retire. The Death Eaters were waiting for us...they ambushed us even as we were trying to ambush them."

Harry closed his eyes. He hadn't been able to remember the names of all the Death Eaters who'd been captured, and he certainly hadn't known where they would be caught. Voldemort had apparently known much more about it than Harry had.

"It would seem that the Death Eaters had better sources of information than we anticipated," Dumbledore said. He was looking directly at Harry, and for once his eyes weren't twinkling.

Harry felt a pressure on his occlumency shields. He redoubled them, thankful that he'd put the same effort into studying occlumency than he'd put into everything else related to survival.

Dumbledore had to be suspicious that he hadn't been telling the entire truth; the man was as smart as Hermione, and he had a hundred years of experience to back that up.

Harry wondered just how long the man would tolerate Harry's half truths before he would demand to know just what was happening.

Harry was glad that Snape wasn't here. He'd thought that Snape had suspected his story from the moment he'd told it, and this would only confirm that.

"What does all this mean?" he asked.

"There's been some calls for Scrimgeour to resign," Dumbledore said. "Although I think he'll keep his office. It will be close, though."

Sirius slumped, leaning against the desk. "It'll give the pure blood faction leverage in the votes to replace the empty Wizengamot seats. They've been claiming that Scrimgeour is too weak and that a strong leader would have already beaten the Death Eaters."

Harry scowled. Half the pure bloods were likely Death Eater sympathizers, but they couldn't say that in public; it'd be political suicide.

"So what do we do?" Harry asked.

"That depends on you," Dumbledore said. "Have you seen anything else that might be of use to us?"

It was the question Harry dreaded. Having them depend too much on him was going to get people killed...but not telling them when he knew something important was out of the question as well.

It was getting to the point that Harry was going to have to tell them the truth; not the partial truth they already knew, but the full unexpurgated truth. He didn't look forward to doing that.

For a moment, Harry considered coming clean now, but although he opened his mouth to say it, he found that he couldn't. He shook his head finally. "It's not something I have any control over. It just happens sometimes."

"We'll just have to wait then," Dumbledore said. "And see what the Death Eater's next move is."

Whatever that was, Harry knew it wouldn't be good.

Chapter Text

The thought that his secretiveness had gotten people killed began to weigh on Harry over the next few days. He avoided the papers, although he couldn't avoid hearing his classmates talking about what had happen endlessly.

Whatever goodwill that had existed in the wake of the Yule ball vanished overnight as people became palpably more anxious and worried. Many people chose to go home for the holidays for the rest of the session.

This was the first year that Harry chose not to go home. He had the feeling that the last thing Voldemort would want to do was erase his success; he was probably safer than he had been since he'd first come to Hogwarts.

It horrified him, and his sense of guilt grew day by day as he realized that many of his classmates were relatives of the aurors who had died. Seeing the horror on their faces as they received owls and had to return home for the funerals was painful to him.

The fact that Hermione kept looking at him didn't help either. He wished he'd been taught legilimency so he'd know what she was thinking. Her looks seemed sympathetic, which made him feel even worse.

On his advice, she didn't return home for the holiday, even though she usually did. Dumbledore promised that wards would be set to alert the aurors if her parents were attacked. They couldn't watch them, of course because their resources were spread thin.

Harry had nightmares about the spirits of the dead calling out to him, asking why he hadn't saved them. The worst part as that Adrian and Colin were at the front of a line of faceless people, all of whom had died because of him.

His fear was that these were only the first. Voldemort had learned enough the last time to make him much more effective; the problem was that Harry didn't even know half of what Voldemort knew. Most of what he had done had been done in secret.

Voldemort's war was a war of shadows, with most of the action happening where the public never saw it. It was an iceberg, with the tip being the only thing most people ever heard about even as the vast mass of it passed below.

There was too much that he didn't know. Even if he reset, Harry wasn't sure how much more he'd be able to tell Dumbledore and the others.

He began to have a growing conviction that he needed to tell them. They were keeping as many secrets from him as he was keeping from them, and it was getting people killed. If he knew about the things happening behind the scenes he might be able to stop them during the next iteration.

Harry did convince Moody to help him start training Hermione and Neville in occlumency. The man had grumbled and warned Harry about trusting anyone too much, but he seemed to be of the opinion that teaching friends to protect themselves was a wise decision.

If it wasn't that it would make aurors' work more difficult, Harry suspected that Moody would have preferred occlumency to be a core subject at Hogwarts.

Harry's only consolation was that the retaliatory attacks that had happened before hadn't happened yet. It was only a matter of time; the breakout at Azkaban was an inevitability, which he tried to emphasize to Dumbledore.

Dumbledore swore that he was working with the Ministry to avert the attacks that Harry had seen before. The only problem was that Voldemort could easily change targets the moment he saw that security had been beefed up, and there was no way to know when he would choose to attack.

The aurors were understaffed as well, damaged by the losses in their ranks and demoralized by the defeat. The persistent criticisms from the public didn't help either. The papers didn't only criticize Scrimgeour, they questioned the competence of the aurors as well.

Harry knew this all played into Voldemort's hands. He made his enemies afraid, and he wore them down, all without having to actually expend any resources.

It was the waiting that was driving everyone crazy.

Watching the screens from the stands by the side of the lake was something Harry had done before. This time, though, there were only two contestants, and they both looked anxious.

Harry knew that the aurors were watching this very closely; after the debacles over recent weeks the last thing the Ministry needed was another death on their tally.

He'd considered giving hints to Fleur or Cedric about what was coming, but Dumbledore had assured him that the hostages would be well treated, and were in no danger.

Fleur didn't know him anyway, and she wouldn't appreciate any attempts he made to help her. She'd likely assume that he was attempting to sabotage her in attempt to give Cedric an advantage in the Tournament.

The fact that Harry didn't really care about the Tournament anymore, except to worry about what was going to happen next wouldn't make a difference to her.

Cedric, of course wouldn't need any help. After all, he'd done fine in the first task, and when Harry had asked discreetly, he learned that Cedric already knew the bubble headed charm. Harry had considered giving him some help anyway; there was no harm in getting someone to owe him.

He'd finally decided not to. Cedric deserved his moment in the sun, and Harry helping him cheat would only taint it.

If it had been a matter of survival Harry would have cheated without thinking; that was actually his preferred method. He didn't believe in formal duels with people when he could attack them from behind or in the dark or with some other advantage.

After all, the enemy had him outnumbered and many of them were still more powerful than he was. He needed every advantage he could get.

"I feel a little sick," Hermione said, staring at the screens.

Their relationship had actually improved a little since the ball. The little bit of truth he'd given her had seemed like a massive sign of trust, and she was taking to occlumency with leaps and bounds. She was actually learning it faster than Harry had, which surprised him.

He grabbed her hand and said, "It'll be fine. There are aurors everywhere and they've double checked everything."

As always, his biggest fear was the crowd. It was harder to provide security among wizards than Muggles because every wizard carried a weapon; some of them didn't even need wands to be dangerous. There were all kinds of things that could be dangerous that weren't obvious; Harry was carrying some on his person at the moment.

He'd prepared himself more than usual just in case there was an attack on the audience. He'd been training Hermione in using the supersensory charm in darkness and he'd been teaching Hermione and Neville how to fight.

It was actually making him a little better as a fighter; having to explain things made things clear to him that hadn't been before.

"It just feels like something horrible is about to happen," Hermione said.

Harry smirked.

"So it's like any other day."

She hit his arm. "I'm serious. After what happened to Viktor, I can't believe that they are continuing on with all of this."

"They had deaths back in the old days," Harry said. "Sometimes even judges."

Hermione grimaced. "They enjoyed bear baiting and cock fighting back in those days too. We should be better than enjoying blood sports."

"My uncle likes boxing," Harry said. "And my cousin likes to play games where he kills things, even if the graphics aren't all that good."

"And your aunt likes to hit you in the head with a frying pan," Hermione said. "Don't hold them up as an example of muggle taste."

Harry had long regretted mentioning that to her; he'd joked about it during one of the rare moments when his guard had been down, and the look of horror on her face had made him feel strangely ashamed.

Despite everything that had happened to him, Harry didn't feel like a victim. He always had a sense that he had the power to change things, even if he wasn't always able to follow through on it. That might be one of the blessings of the reset.

But seeing Hermione's expression when he told her about the frying pan had made him feel weak and powerless, and he'd hated that. It was part of the reason that he was reluctant to tell her about his resets even now, occlumency or no occlumency.

If a simple swipe of the frying pan had seemed like the end of the world to her, how would she take his being thrown under the wheels of a train? Being crushed by a troll? Blowing himself up while trying to kill Voldemort?

He wasn't sure she'd be able to handle it, and if she could, the level of pity would be far beyond anything he'd experienced before.

Yet what if not telling her put her in more danger. Harry felt a sudden sympathy for Dumbledore. The work he did undoubtedly meant keeping the secrets of dozens of people all at the same time. Revealing a secret might save one and doom others. Harry would hate that kind of job; he already felt guilty enough.

Watching Cedric Diggory and Fleur plunge into the water was a little surreal. They didn't turn the cameras off this time, and so he saw the first parts of their journey as they moved deeper into the lake.

"Fleur's going to have trouble with the Grindylows," Harry murmured, leaning to whisper in Hermione's ear.

She looked at him sharply, and Harry shrugged. Telling her would cement his being able to see the future, while at the same time would make her think he was confiding in her.

They watched as Diggory forged ahead. He was the better swimmer, and when he came to the Grindylows he fought them competently. It wasn't as good as Harry could have done, even without the benefit of surprise, but it was almost as good.

Harry judged Diggory as being a competent duelist, but he didn't have Harry's reaction speed. That was extremely important in real fights, although the ability to aim was a close second.

Fleur was close behind, but Harry grimaced as she got caught in seaweed. She panicked as she struggled, and that gave the Grindylows a chance to attack her from all sides.

"She should have practiced diffindo," Harry said. Even though he'd left it behind as an attack spell, at least usually, he still found it useful for all sorts of other things.

Harry glanced at the screen. It was hard to believe that he'd really been worried about the hostages last time. He should have known that no one would let them actually be at...

Blinking, Harry leaned forward. The portion of the screen that was on the village was set long distance so that the champions could be seen in the field of view. Each champion had their own screen; the third screen had been removed in respect for Krum's death.

Still, he spotted movement where there shouldn't be movement. His vision was quite good; he rather suspected that he'd have made a good seeker if he hadn't been worried people would murder him from the stands.

Harry pulled out his wand and murmured the supersensory charm. He'd been working on the charm to be able to isolate one or more senses over the others; that would make the charm useful in situations like this where the crowd would have overwhelmed his hearing.

It was oddly more difficult to do one sense than all of them, possibly because he was casting the spell and suppressing the senses he didn't want.

His vision sharpened. He blinked as he realized what he was seeing.

"The hostages are awake," Harry said. "And they can't breathe. Tell the Headmaster."

He was at the edge of the crowd, of course, and so he stood and began running toward the shore, throwing off his robes. He pulled out his wand, and he could see aurors already running and coming toward him with orders to stop.

As he was in a hurry, the boat he transfigured wasn't much more than a board floating in the water. He jumped on the board and cast the boat spell, putting everything he had into the spell.

He could hear Hermione shouting at the aurors behind him, but he couldn't hear what she was saying. The propulsion spell that Hagrid used to propel his boat wasn't nearly as fast as he needed. Harry felt impatient; the time across the water felt interminable.

It seemed to take forever, even though objectively he was moving quickly. The shore retreated rapidly.

Glancing back, Harry could see that aurors were racing around like bees in a beehive.

He reached the spot where the merperson village was..A quick bubbleheaded charm and Harry plunged into the water. The cold water shocked him as he plunged into the water.

Fortunately, Harry had judged better this time. He could see that he was in the merperson village and had only missed the center pole by a small amount.

The merpeople were in a circle around the two...Fleur's sister and Cho Chang, which had to be a slap in the face to Fleur since she'd taken Diggory to the ball. Although they were struggling weakly no sound emerged. Someone had intentionally done this so the merpeople wouldn't know what has happening.

"Diffindo!" Harry said, pointing his wand and hoping his aim was good. He missed the first time even as the merpeople swam toward him with their spears.

"Diffindo, Diffindo, Diffindo!"

He was swimming forward the whole time, but he finally managed to hit the vine holding Fleur's sister and she began to float upward even though she was still wrapped up and wouldn't be able to get herself out.

Some of the merpeople had noticed what was happening by now and they were struggling to release the vines holding Cho chang while others swam after Fleur's sister.

Harry gestured and the ones swimming toward him looked back and stopped, milling about in confusion. Harry swam forward as quickly as he could, reaching Cho Chang.

Her eyes had rolled up in her head and she'd stopped struggling.

Harry saw that the merpeople were holding Fleur's sister above water, so he leaned forward so that his face and Cho's were almost touching. The bubble around his head enlarged to encompass her head as well.

He'd come across a spell recently while looking up spells about how to heal himself if he was injured. It was difficult to practice those spells because even he w2asn't crazy enough to repeatedly injure and then heal himself over and over.

This spell was used to help the mentally ill, although how well it worked was debatable.

Harry put his wand against Cho's thigh, and he cast a shocking spell. Her body spasmed, but Harry barely noticed because his body was doing the same. Apparently casting a shocking spell in water wasn't the smartest thing he'd ever done. He almost dropped his wand.

Putting her mouth against hers Harry breathed into her mouth as hard as he could. He wished suddenly that he'd learned CPR, but other than occasionally seeing glimpses of medical shows watched by the Dursleys he had no idea how it was done.

Water spewed from her nose, so Harry reached up and pinched it, blowing even harder. He prepared himself and then shocked her in the thigh again.

She spasmed again, and a moment later, the contents of her stomach sprayed against his face. Harry grimaced as his glasses slipped off his face and fell to the bottom of the lake and he fought his instinctive reaction, which was to pull away in disgust.

The spew settled in the bottom part of the bubble, and Harry found himself hoping that she didn't so it again. She was retching now, and he was afraid it was going to happen again.

He held tightly to her, because if he didn't she'd pull away without meaning to. She clearly wasn't in control of herself.

Before he could do anything else, there were explosions in the water all around him. Harry saw aurors appearing all around him; he hadn't realized that it was possible to apparate into water.

Hands grabbed him and her, and a moment later he felt himself being pulled, as though through a tube.

He fell onto the floor of the Hospital wing, Cho Chang beside him. She was coughing and apparently the shock to her system had restarted her breathing.

A moment later Fleur's sister was beside them, being held by four aurors.

Pomprey rushed over to them; Harry waved her off; he'd suffered no damage except that his hand was still spasming from the shock.

The world was blurry around him, and the smell of bile all over him made him want to spew himself. Harry grabbed for his wand and cast a cleaning spell.

His sense of relief was great as it all vanished, although it had