“He's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.”
― Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights
It was so dark in Bellatrix’s vault that even with all three of their wands lit, Harry couldn’t make out anything in the distance. His eyes swept over many piles of gold and saucer-like objects but Hufflepuff’s cup wasn’t one of them. It was becoming harder and harder to avoid touching anything. Several times, he felt a sharp blister of pain as the objects underneath his feet multiplied.
He shone the wand further, and the light bounced off something that glittered. It stood out from the diamonds, the great pearl necklaces, like a brilliant beam of sunlight.Harry was moving forward without being aware of what he was doing, through the piles of expanding objects without even feeling them.
It was a pocket-watch.
Surprisingly heavy, the watch face seemed to shine, like a luminous clock.
‘Hermione,’ Harry said, turning it over so its light flickered off the gold underfoot. ‘What do you think of this?’
But it wasn’t Hermione who came up beside him. It was Ron.
‘That’s not the Horcrux,’ Ron said.
Harry barely heard him. The clock-face was too mesmerising to look away from. A tiny voice at the back of his head was saying this was wrong . . . They had to find the Horcrux right now . . .
The hands of the clock were spinning, so fast it was a blur.
“Harry! Quickly!” Hermione’s voice sounded like a distant echo. ‘Put it down, Harry. Put it down right now.’
She was beside him, and her voice had risen in high hysterics. Gold was multiplying around them, glowing red-hot. Griphook was a tiny shape in the distance.
Hermione lunged for the pocket-watch, intent to bat it from his hands. Ron reached at the same time and there was a great flash as all their hands touched.
Light – brilliant, dazzling white light – seemed to burst from it. There was a noise, high, like the sound of the train. It was a humming, building louder and louder. Harry felt like he was spinning – falling – everything was a haze and the vault seemed to disappear. It was apparition and floo powder – the squeeze of movement, like he was going to be crushed. His lungs were bursting – he was squeezing Hermione’s hand so tight bones were bound to shatter –
White, blinding light, that was far from brilliant -
And then it cleared.
Harry landed on something hard. His hands hit the ground and immediately began to sting. His head was still spinning but the squeezing sensation disappeared. When he regained his balance, he was up on his feet, wand out.
This had to be an illusion.
Ron and Hermione were already standing up, their wands out also. ‘We’re back here?’ Ron said. ‘What the bloody hell?”
Harry’s heart was still pumping with adrenaline and the sheer fear of sneaking into Gringotts. It felt impossible. They were in Bellatrix’s vault. Not here.
Not with the grass and the trees – they had been underground, for God’s sake – and the great, dark Lake. That hut – Harry would recognise it anywhere.
‘How are we at Hogwarts?’ he said, squeezing Malfoy’s wand tighter. ‘Hermione – ‘
Hermione was very white. “Griphook,” she said, in a moan. “Harry he’s still there!”
Harry felt a sick sensation in his stomach. He was still in the vault, amongst the piles of multiplying treasure. “He’ll get out,” he said. Would he? “The minute we left.”
Hermione looked like she was ready to cry. Bellatrix’s robes had many holes in them, the ends completely cut off, so the tatty remains ended at her knees. She and Ron were both covered in red, blistering cuts and Harry supposed he had similar.
“If You-Know-Who finds out we’re at Hogwarts,” Ron said. “Then we’re done for. You can’t apparate out.”
They were meant to be in Gringotts but, right now, they were the most wanted people in the Wizarding World in a place Voldemort controlled.
‘The forest,’ Harry said firmly. ‘Let’s wait in the forest and figure something out.’ They backed into the dark trees, away from the Lake and the pathways. The silhouette of Hogwarts grew fainter.
‘It’s that stupid clock,’ Ron said. ‘Riddled with dark magic.’
‘Why did you pick it up anyway, Harry?’ There was an edge to Hermione’s voice – her fear coming out in annoyance. "We would still be there if you hadn’t.”
Harry swallowed. ‘It was like . . . I was under a spell. Like the Imperius. But I couldn’t fight it.’
He couldn’t describe the need to pick it up, how it would have killed him to fight it, how he wanted that stupid object more than anything else in the entire world.
His hand unfolded around the pocket-watch and Hermione gasped.
It was burnt.
The metal surrounding the face of it had melted out of the shape and the glass had shattered. Large cracks ran up it, the entire thing blackened, like it had gone through an explosion. Even as it sat in his hand, Harry felt like it was ready to crumble apart. The hands were no longer ticking, instead stuck in a fixed position of 8:32.
And it had never felt more ordinary.
‘Just – put it in your pocket,’ Hermione said. ‘It must be a Portkey.’
‘A trap,’ Ron said.
And Harry had brought them right into it.
They went further into the forest, until the trees overhead formed a thick canopy. The only sunlight that appeared was in slivers. Harry tripped over several tree roots before they eventually stopped. Only then did Hermione stop glancing back. She winced every time they stepped on the leaves underfoot and the harsh crunching sound they made.
Harry’s feet felt hot and blistered. He wished more than anything for the Dittany he knew was in Hermione’s bag. To feel it soothe his tender skin . . . perfectly cool.
For a minute, he panicked, checking inside his jacket. He breathed in relief. The cloak was still there. He had his wand, his cloak and his mokeskin pouch. They were ok.
They reached a clearing. It was dark and eerily silent. There were no birds; no trees rustling. Everything was still, like the forest itself was holding its breath.
‘What are we going to do?’ Ron said. ‘We can’t go near the castle. Or Hogsmeade.’
‘What’s at the other side of the forest?’ Hermione said.
‘A herd of Acromantula,’ Ron muttered.
‘Spiders aren’t called a herd – ‘
Their whispering sounded like shouting; Harry was half expecting centaurs, or Death-Eaters, to come bursting into the clearing at any moment.
‘When it’s night-time,’ he said. ‘We sneak out of the grounds and Apparate away.’
He hoped Voldemort wouldn’t have people patrolling. Snape, of course, was headmaster—the thought filled Harry with such an intense, burning anger that he gripped Malfoy’s wand so hard green sparks spat out.
‘Harry,’ Hermione said.
At first, he thought she was disapproving on the sake of the wand. But she was staring off into the greenish gloom, fingers on her lips. And then Harry heard it.
Twigs snapping, leaves crunching. Trampling footsteps.
They stood there, no-one making a sound. Harry had never been more aware of his breathing, or his heart hammering. The noise got closer, something getting nearer.
And then through the trees was the silhouette of a person. His eyes must have been playing tricks on him, or the trees had shrunk, because the person seemed unnaturally large. And then they began to hum.
Softly, in a rumbling voice. Harry heard the words Hippogriffs and Nifflers. It almost sounded like a nursery rhyme. His fear melted away.
‘Hagrid,’ he said, and then louder, moving forward, striding across the clearing.
The humming stopped.
‘Is someone ‘ere?’
The voice was wrong. It was higher, younger, without the deepness or any of the warmth Harry had been accustomed to.
He stopped in his tracks and finally, the person came into the light. Tall, twice as tall as Harry. A mane of tumbling brown hair and dark eyes. But his face –
Harry couldn’t help it. He gasped.
It was Hagrid alright, if he had been shrunk down to a teenager. There wasn’t a hint of a beard on his smooth, pink cheeks. Not a wrinkle, not a line. To Harry, he looked like a gigantic baby.
‘What – ‘he began to stammer.
‘Who are you?’ Hagrid took a few steps back. In his hand was a bucket of raw meat. ‘I don’t mean no trouble.’
He looked scared.
‘Hagrid, what happened? Why are you – ‘Harry waved his hand.
But there was no recognition on Hagrid’s face. ‘I’ll need to report this to Dumbledore. This is Hogwarts property. No-one’s meant to be ‘ere.’
Dumbledore? But Dumbledore was dead.
A cold feeling spread through Harry’s stomach.
‘Would you mind telling us the year, please?’ Hermione’s voice was high and nervous. ‘We’re lost, you see.’
‘Lost? Here? It’s – er - 1944”
Hagrid, if anything, looked even more troubled. Harry’s head spun, just as bad as it had in the vault.
That wasn’t possible.
‘Dumbledore,’ Ron said. ‘We need him. I mean, can you take us? Please?’
‘Professor Dippet’s the headmaster,’ Hagrid said.
He was shuffling uncomfortably on the spot, taking in their dishevelled appearances. ‘You’ll be needing him, I’d reckon.’
‘No, Dumbledore,’ Harry said. His chest constricted as he said the word. ‘There seems to have been a mistake.’
Hagrid took them back through the forest and onto the grounds. It seemed to take longer than it had the first time, or maybe that was just the dread. This could still be a trap. They were being lured into a false sense of security and then Voldemort would appear.
A trap, a trap, a trap.
None of them talked on the way there. Hermione was clutching her beaded bag, like it was the only thing she had.
A part of Harry knew this wasn’t a trick. His hand went into his pocket, absent-mindedly tracing over the pocket-watch.
Why had he picked it up anyway? Why couldn’t he fight whatever curse came over him?
As they reached the edge of the forest, the spaces between the trees got wider and sunlight flooded in. Harry kept his eyes on the ground yet he still managed to trip. The roots were hidden under all the freshly-fallen leaves. Only . . . why were there fallen leaves?
It was May.
‘Are there students in the castle, Hagrid?’ Harry said, struggling to catch up with his long strides.
‘It’s September,’ Hagrid said, and laughed. ‘Course there is.’
They reached the edge of the forest. Hagrid turned around to look at them curiously. 'What are your names?’
‘Harry. Just Harry.’
Hagrid raised his bushy eyebrows. ‘I’m Rubeus, myself. But it’s Hagrid. Always has been. Course, you knew that.’ His eyes narrowed. ‘How did you know that?’
‘That’s why we need Dumbledore.’
Even saying it, Harry couldn’t believe it. Here, Dumbledore was alive.
‘We’re – not supposed to be here.’
Awful things have happened to wizards who meddled with time.
Fourteen-year-old Hermione’s words came back to him. Eighteen-year-old her looked like she was thinking the exact same thing. They went up the stone steps and Hagrid pushed open the great oak doors.
Wouldn’t it be just great, Harry thought, if supper was over and the swarm of students saw them being marched in?
Hermione was still dressed as Bellatrix and that was certainly a sight. They looked like they had just been in a duel. Maybe it would scare Dumbledore so much he would immediately find a way to bring them back.
The doors opened and the corridor was empty. There were voices coming from the Great Hall but Hagrid led them up the stairs to the Headmaster’s Office.
‘We need Dumbledore,’ Harry said. He gave the stone gargoyle a mistrustful look. ‘Not . . . ‘
‘Dippet,’ Ron supplied.
Hagrid scratched his head. ‘How about Dumbledore and the headmaster? You still haven’t said what yer doing here.’
He grumbled a password that was too quiet to hear. They followed the spiral steps into the office.
It wasn’t the same as when Professor Dumbledore had owned it. Gone were all the trinkets, the spindly table. There was no Pensieve; no perch holding a Phoenix. Behind the desk was a small man smoking a pipe. His head was almost entirely bald, only a few wisps of hair remaining. He seemed to sink down in the seat, swallowed by it.
‘Headmaster,’ Hagrid said, and gave a sort of awkward half-bow. Harry thought he looked like a tree trying to snap itself in half. ‘Found these in the forest. Wanted to see you.’
He put the pipe down and looked at them through small eyes, sunken into his face. ‘You found them in the forest? How do you know they aren’t with Grindelwald? Merlin, was there a fight?”
‘Sorry, sir,’ Hermione jumped in. ‘We’re running from him. And we really need Professor Dumbledore.’
‘You see, we’re not supposed to be here. It was a portkey – ‘
‘Portkeys can’t access Hogwarts.’
‘This one did. We were in trouble and it brought us here – ‘
Harry wasn’t sure if Hermione was acting but her voice was climbing higher and higher, wobbling, like she was beginning to –
‘Rubeus,’ Dippet said. ‘Will you please bring Professor Dumbledore up here?’
Hagrid looked like there was nothing he wanted better than to flee the office. Harry couldn’t blame him.
Would they tell Dumbledore the truth? They would have to, if they wanted to get back. He couldn’t help feeling frustrated. Dumbledore had sent them on the Horcrux hunt. He was the one who hadn’t told them anything. But that Dumbledore was dead.
The man who entered the office was fifty years younger. His long auburn hair was swept back with a green ribbon and his beard fell to his shoulders, not his waist. Harry felt like someone had punched him in the stomach.
It was Dumbledore. Alive in the office.
His mouth seemed to dry up, something inside him seemed to burst--a tumour, his insides filling up with poison. 'Sir,’ Harry managed to say. He closed his mouth again before he managed to say something like, ‘I missed you.’
‘I don’t know how we got here.’
Behind half-moon spectacles, those blue eyes surveyed them. 'You wanted to see me?' A frown. 'And how did you get here? The wards - '
'We didn't apparate,' Harry said. He looked at Hermione.
Could they tell him?
A voice whispered in his head. If you can't trust, what will you ever accomplish?
They would never leave here. They would have to do everything in secret. And Dumbledore - Harry didn't know if he could lie to him. He wanted answers, and the line between this Dumbledore and his Dumbledore (dead) was blurring.
He took one look at Dippet and said the most dangerous sentence he had in his entire life. 'We got here by a time-turner.'
So they told him. Dumbledore took them to his office, a small room with bookshelves in the walls. Fawkes was on his perch, only a small chick. Harry kept the story short, but occasionally Hermione and Ron would butt in.
'Horcruxes. You left us a task, you see. Find them all and destroy them.'
Dumbledore's face seemed to fall when Harry said that. The twinkle disappeared from his eyes and even though Harry had never seen him younger, he looked like he had aged a century.
'You had to,' Harry said quickly. 'This war - 'he shuddered even thinking of it. 'Voldemort - '
'He's killing everyone,' Ron said. 'And he can't die.'
'We have to go back, sir,' Hermione said. 'You must understand. If we stay here too long everything will change. We might erase our own existence. Or cause millions of deaths. So, if there's anything you can think of - anything at all - we'll do it.'
Even spend half a year trooping through forests, Harry thought. Eating scraps and living in a tent.
'Show me this device, please.'
Harry took the pocket-watch from his pocket. It looked just like a piece of rubbish, an old, broken, blacked clock that should be tossed in the bin. He didn’t know what he was expecting Dumbledore to do - maybe some strange chant, some explosion of light that would send them back.
Instead there was nothing.
Dumbledore turned it over in his hands several times and tried about a dozen spells. There wasn’t even a reaction. A “Scourgify” didn’t remove any of the dirt, the “Reparo” didn’t fix anything. Whatever Dumbledore’s spells were meant to do, did not work.
He handed the pocket-watch back and Harry reluctantly took it. He didn’t want the stupid thing. It was only a reminder of his own mistake.
“Right now, I have no answer for you,” Dumbledore said. “We have no means of sending people into the future now, like you do.”
“That’s the thing,” Hermione said. “We don’t either. The furthest a person can go back is five hours without any serious harm. Not fifty years.”
“And you found this Time-Turner in the Lestrange vault? After you . . . broke into Gringotts.”
“We needed to find the Horcrux,” Harry said. “Voldemort - “
“He’s the most powerful Dark Lord of all time,” Ron said. “And caused more destruction than Grindelwald ever did.”
Dumbledore’s face went through about a dozen expressions at once before settling into a grim resolve. “I won’t ask about Grindelwald,” he said. “Awful things can happen if we let the future influence our choices. But I’m afraid you are stuck here until we find a solution.”
He smiled. “Of course, time could naturally revert itself and one moment you will find yourself here and the next, right back where you left off. It’s the most mysterious thing.”
“You mean we could be here forever?” Ron’s mouth was half-hanging open. ‘What about our families?”
“I will do my very best to help you, Mr - “
“We have a Weasley in sixth year. Septimus. He looks just like you.”
Ron’s eyes widened. “That’s my grandad.”
Dumbledore’s smile was warmer this time. “And I trust you won’t inform him of this fact?”
“Of course not.”
“Good, very good. I promise I will try and find a way to send you back to your time. But in the meantime, I think it would be best if you finished your schooling. This is your seventh year, correct?”
They nodded. Harry opened his mouth to protest - but what was the point?
Hermione got there before him. “How can we prevent something from changing?” Her hands were wringing anxiously together. Harry knew she was restraining from tearing at her hair. “Our simple existence could send the whole future into disaster.”
“What would you suggest then? The very fact you managed to travel this far indicates that was not a normal time-turner. Perhaps you were meant to be here.”
“No,” Harry said. “No way.”
The future was chaos. It was war and blood and green light that you could see when you closed your eyes. But it was the Weasleys. It was Ginny. What happened when they disappeared? Every moment they were here Voldemort was killing more people; hunting Harry down like a dog after a scent.
“That’s where we belong.”
Ron nodded grimly. The Weasleys were his family more than Harry’s. Hermione had her parents in Australia.
I have to get them back.
Dumbledore looked between the three of them and Harry wondered what he saw.
Was it soldiers? Clothes all but rags, faces hard and set, determined to go on?
Or children? In need of a good wash, still wild-eyed and awkward-limbed? Covered in painful red burns, with faces too young to have seen horrors, bones sticking out from every meal they had missed?
“I thought that after Grindelwald, the Wizarding World wouldn’t see another Dark Lord for centuries.” He sighed, his hand moving to his beard, which he stroked.
Harry wanted to ask. Rita Skeeter’s book was at the forefront of his mind. The picture in Godric’s Hollow. Had he suspected? Deep down somewhere, had he known?
He wanted to ask about the Deathly Hallows.
But here, in this time, Grindelwald has already caused so much death and pain. It was unpreventable. And for Dumbledore, the wound would be open, not scabbed over by time.
Grindelwald was the past or soon would be.
But what if -
Hermione talked about not changing the future. The butterfly effect. Mass destruction that wizards couldn’t even comprehend.
Perhaps you were meant to be here.
But Harry couldn’t let the same thing happen again.
“If we could stop Voldemort now,” Harry said. “Before he’s even born. There’s a muggle man, Tom Riddle. And Merope Gaunt feeds him a love potion and they have a son. If we could stop that happening he wouldn’t even exist. “
The hand in the beard froze. And Harry knew something was wrong - knew he was forgetting something important.
“Tom Riddle, you say? I suppose I should have known.”
Harry nodded. Uncertainty filled his stomach. He didn’t like the look on Dumbledore’s face one bit.
“Tom Riddle is our Head Boy.”
Harry didn’t know how he had forgotten. 1944. Of course.
After so many memories he had seen of Voldemort's childhood, how had he forgotten? If Voldemort was Head Boy that meant he had already made one Horcrux, the diary. Myrtle was already dead. Hagrid has been framed.
“It wasn’t Hagrid,” Harry blurted out. “That killed Myrtle. It was him.”
“If you can prove that, Harry, is the question. I always knew Tom had something to do with those attacks and I’ve been watching him closely even since.“
Keeping an annoyingly close eye on me, the diary had said.
“The other teachers are most enamoured. Tom Riddle is not someone you want as your enemy.”
“You mean we’re meant to let the tosser just grow up and kill everyone?” Ron said, forgetting for a moment who he was talking to.
“Leave it to me. For now, you are ordinary students. I don’t see the need for false names as no-one will recognise you. Now let’s see . . . “
“Mr Potter, you and Miss Granger were brought in by Mr Weasley when you were very young. You were home-schooled in Ireland but a recent attack by Grindelwald killed your family and you were forced here, where he has not conquered. The severity and freshness of this accident should stop the students from pressing with questions. And it’s not as if transfer students are something foreign.”
“So we just pretend . . . everything’s normal?” Harry said.
“Until we figure out a solution to this problem, I think that’s best. You will be sorted later this evening at supper-time. I will introduce you - and make sure the students don’t think anything is awry - and you will continue on as normal.”
“While trying to find a way home,” Ron said.
“Quite. Now, we can work on this backstory more. It wouldn’t do to antagonise Tom Riddle. No matter what he is and becomes in your future, he is not your ordinary seventh-year student. When I say he excels at magic that would be putting it mildly. He mustn’t find out anything about the future or things will be devastating.”
He held Harry’s gaze.
“He may be more of a monster than a student but I cannot help you if you’re in Azkaban. Do you understand?”
Harry understood. But perhaps not how Dumbledore intended. He had to find that diary and destroy it. His purpose here was exactly the same as the future. Isn’t that what Dumbledore wanted of him?
The Chosen One?
Wasn’t this what he had been raised for?
The longer they sat in that office the more Harry itched to move. He wasn’t used to sitting around anymore, being on the run he felt like he had a constant target on his back and that he had to check behind him every couple of minutes. For Death Eaters. Snatchers.
While he sat, he kept his hand in his pocket, curled around the time-turner. He had hoped something would happen, that it would heat up or start to glow. But it didn’t. Hermione wanted to rehearse their story a dozen times and Harry and Ron exchanged looks. Ron inclined his head as if to say nutter.
‘What if something about the future accidentally slips out? Like - a Quidditch match score.’
Ron sat up. ‘1945 the Wasps win the World cup. If I had galleons to bet with. We’d be loaded!’
‘But what would be the point in the money?’ Harry said. ‘When we go back everything will be pointless.’
‘Exactly, Harry,’ said Hermione, glaring at Ron.
He muttered something under his breath about pretending to be a Seer. ‘Trelawney does it.’
Dumbledore cleared his throat and they turned around. “You’ll need to see our matron. Those are some nasty burns. And of course, the time-travel could have any effects on your bodies.”
Hermione agreed readily. She had a look on her face like she suspected they would all explode at any moment.
They followed Dumbledore through the castle and spent at least an hour in the Hospital Wing. Their cuts were healed, several scans were performed and Dumbledore transfigured their tatty clothes into simple black robes with the Hogwarts crest.
‘I believe it’s supper-time,” he finally said. “And time to re-join your houses.’ His eyes twinkled. ‘As Head of Gryffindor I must say it would be a pleasure to have you three.’
They left the Infirmary and went down the flights of stone steps. The castle hadn’t changed much. There were some portraits missing and the stone interior looked fresher, like it had been given a proper scrub. Maybe it’s because Filch wasn’t about, Ron had said. And they had a better caretaker.
When they reached the Great Hall, Harry, Ron and Hermione shared a look.
‘Anyone feel like a first year?’ Hermione said.
Ron grinned weakly. ‘At least we don’t have to fight a mountain-troll. We’ve done this before’
The doors pulled open and they stepped inside. Immediately, there was a hush.
Harry should have been used to attention by now but instead, he couldn’t think of anything better than the ground opening up and swallowing him whole. It didn’t sound too bad. Quiet and safe, without hundreds of gawking eyes and whispering voices.
‘I’m very pleased to introduce our new seventh-year students who have sought sanctuary here after the devastation Grindelwald has caused. I hope you will do your best to make them feel at home. We all deserve a little comfort in these dark times.’
The sorting began.
Hermione was first. Her legs wobbled as she sat down on the spindly chair, and for a horrible moment, it seemed like she would fall over.
Minutes passed. What was keeping the bloody hat?
The Gryffindor table began to clap. When Hermione pulled the hat off her head, her face was full of relief.
‘Tried to put her in Ravenclaw, I bet,’ Ron said, but his face was pleased.
He was called next. It went far faster than Hermione’s sorting. The hat covered his head one second, and the next –
It was only Harry now. He glanced over at the Gryffindor Table. Ron gave him a thumbs up. He looked at all the unfamiliar faces, and then the ones he recognised at the staff table.
‘Harry Potter, please.’
He sat on the stool.
Gryffindor, he thought, as Dumbledore placed the sorting hat on his head. It didn’t cover his eyes like it had as a first year. He closed them just the same.
Another little time-traveller, the sorting hat said. But oh, you have ambition. Lots of it. A strong determination.
I need to be in Gryffindor with Ron and Hermione, Harry thought.
Gryffindor? But we’ve tried that already, haven’t we? You have bravery and Gryffindor would benefit you well. But if you really want to end things, then you need Salazar’s house. You need cunning.
I need my friends, Harry thought. Gryffindor.
If you truly want to achieve your plans, what you need is SLYTHERIN.
The last word had been spoken out loud.
Harry took the hat from his head and his eyes immediately went to Ron and Hermione. They were both bug-eyed. Ron had that same look on his face as when Harry had kissed Ginny in the Common Room. Like he didn’t know what to think.
The applause from the Slytherins was far more muted. Ron and Hermione had warm and welcoming Gryffindor and Harry had a bunch of mistrustful slimy snakes.
When he reached the table, he froze. Nothing could have prepared him. It was like a punch straight in the stomach.
Sitting there, posing as a schoolboy, was Voldemort himself. He was the first thing that caught Harry's eye. Between acne-marred teenagers, with messy hair and uniforms-- features too big or too small, ties out of place, rumpled jumpers---Voldemort was something unnatural.
He was Fleur at the Triwizard Tournament. And Harry stared, unable to look away, no matter how much he wanted to. His skin was pale, so much that it seemed luminescent. His black hair fell in a tidy curl over his forehead. The hollow beneath his cheekbones flickered in the candle-light. His dark eyes --
Red, snake-like, inhuman
--followed Harry until he sat down in a space between some younger girls. He didn’t care if he was at the younger end of the table. All he needed was to get away from Voldemort. Far, far away.
Preferably the other side of the hall with the Gryffindors.
“Don’t look so shocked,” a girl said. “We don’t bite, you know.”
Harry raised his eyebrows. He was sure they were on their best-behaviour, like Voldemort’s very own pets. Through the rest of the meal, he kept sneaking glances at Ron and Hermione. What would happen if he just got up and moved table? If only for a chat.
'So, why did you really come to Hogwarts?' a boy said. He was about Harry's age, with a very hooked nose.
'What do you mean why did I really come? '
'You get home-schooled for six years - you and those two Gryffindors - then your parents just decide to send you here? For safety?' Beneath the curiously, there was a glimmer of something cruel in the boy's eyes.
'You can dig them up and ask them if you like.'
His mouth fell open and someone beside him snickered.
'Very subtle, Edwin,' a voice said. 'You know just how to make people feel welcome.'
Harry would know that voice anywhere. It wasn’t the high, cold one he remembered, but it was Voldemort nevertheless; dark and smooth and poisonous.
Harry turned around and met Voldemort's eyes. It took his greatest effort to sit still. His hands were shaking and he gripped his cutlery so hard the metal began to bend. Right there, only half a dozen seats away, was the monster who had killed his parents.
'I'm sorry,' the boy muttered, looking down at the table.
Harry turned away and didn't speak to anyone for the rest of the meal. He finished as fast as he could - the Hogwarts food was painfully good after months on the run - and glanced back over at Ron and Hermione.
He had stood up to go over to them - students were beginning to break away and mill out of the hall - when someone grabbed his wrist. Harry spun around, wrenching it back.
It was a girl. Her eyes widened at his force and she rubbed her hand. “I’m sorry,” she said.
She looked vaguely familiar, though Harry didn’t know anyone with pale eyes and curly black hair. It was something in the indignant expression on her face; the way her lips curled up in a way that made her look superior. Harry knew someone else who had pulled that exact face without meaning to.
“And you are?” He said, just managing to keep his voice even.
“Lucretia Black. And you’re lucky I do second chances.”
His head thrown back in laughter. The look of surprise as he went through the veil.
Bellatrix. Matted hair and maniac eyes. Laughter that seemed to rattle - like bones knocking together.
‘We’re going to the Slytherin Common Room,’ she said, watching Harry with a funny look on her face. He couldn’t tell what she was thinking. ‘You should come. Introductions are in order and Slughorn will want to talk to you.’
Harry had forgotten. He was meant to have never been to Hogwarts before. ‘Right,’ he said. ‘Of course.’
Lucretia’s suggestion hadn’t sounded like a suggestion at all – more a demand. And the eyes of the people at the table, like a pack of wolves staring at a deer, never left him.
Was he acting weird? Suspicious?
He looked back at Voldemort but he had turned away, in conversation with one of the others. Death Eaters.
Harry would pull it off as traumatised. Stupid, even. His guardians had been killed by Grindelwald and now Harry was just the idiot boy who didn’t speak. Then he would fix the Time-Turner
and go back to the present.
Moments later, Headmaster Dippet signalled the end of supper.‘If everyone could go back to their Common Rooms, please. Finish off any homework you may have. And please do your best to show our new students around.’
There was a screeching of chairs as everyone stood up.
“You heard him,” a boy said. He was pale in a way that made him look unwell. Blonde hair, almost the same colour as his skin, fell into his eyes. He spoke in an unmistakably lofty voice.
“I’m Abraxas Malfoy, by the way. A seventh year as well. The Common Room’s this way.”
They went to the dungeons. Harry didn’t have to fake his wonder at the castle - even though it wasn’t the same, this was still Hogwarts. And god had he missed it.
They went down several corridors, which all looked identical. When they reached a wall, the Slytherins inched back. Voldemort made his way forward, and the crowd of people parted.
“The password is serpent-tongue,” he said, turning to tell Harry. “Very creative, you know.”
Harry didn’t answer. He turned away, missing Voldemort’s frown.
His strange attempt at sarcasm just reminded Harry of how unnatural this whole situation was - here he was, going to school with the man who’d killed his parents.
He followed the rest of the Slytherins into the Common Room. It was almost exactly as it had been in second year.
Darker than the Gryffindor Common Room, the whole room was bathed in a green light coming from hanging circular lamps. The flame flickering in the fireplace was emerald, like someone was ready to use to floo. There were several circular windows that reminded Harry of portholes on a ship. Through them was the dark, murky water of the lake.
‘The boy’s dormitory's on the left of that staircase,’ Voldemort said.
Harry looked down at the carpet, which was patterned with snakes.
‘Seventh years are at the end of the corridor. There’s one dorm so you shouldn’t get lost.’
Harry didn’t trust himself to raise his eyes from the carpet so instead he focused on the ugly snakes and nodded. It was better the Slytherins think he was a weak, nervous fool than have Voldemort suspicious.
‘One dormitory?’ he said. ‘Won’t it be crowded?’
He was not sleeping in a room with Voldemort. He wouldn’t – he couldn’t.
Voldemort smiled but there was no warmth. ‘We’ll manage,’ he said. ‘And Harry?’
Harry looked up.
‘There’s traditions in this house. Rules you’ll come to discover.’
Like, muggles are dirt. And don’t get caught.
‘It will all make sense. After all, you were sorted here for a reason.’
He couldn’t take it anymore. Every word from Voldemort’s mouth had several layers. The others seemed to be holding their breath as he talked and it was taking everything in Harry to not start firing curses. ‘I’m going to the dorm,’ he said. ‘You know, get settled it.’
He went up the stairs two at a time, dozens of eyes on him. And within them, Harry felt Voldemort's searing through his back the whole way, even when he reached the dormitory and closed the door tight.
Down in the Common Room, the occupants watched Harry's quick departure. Sitting beside the fireplace, so close she seemed to become part of it, a girl narrowed her eyes. 'Paranoid sort, isn't he?' she said.
Tom Riddle moved to stand beside her, entirely blocking out the firelight. 'Quite. And perhaps for good reason.'
She grinned. Her teeth were straight and white but against the flickering light, she gave the impression of a shark. ‘He’s a Slytherin, though.’
Tom Riddle shrugged. ‘And his friends are Gryffindors. Did you see the way he was staring back at them?’
‘Like a lost puppy.’
‘He could be a threat. Or an ally. If you gain his trust, Belinda, and let him spill his little heart, we won’t have any problem.’
She frowned. It contrasted sharply with the smoothness of her face. ‘Of course, m’lord. Wouldn’t you be the best for that, though? Gaining his trust?’
The intensity of Tom’s dark eyes made Belinda shiver.
‘He doesn’t seem to like me. And don’t underestimate yourself. If he’s an imposter, he’ll slip up eventually.’ His hand reached over and touched hers, ever so slightly.
‘And if he’s just a pathetic little mudblood?”’
‘Then he won’t be a problem.’
The dormitory was the same but different. Gone were Dean’s West Ham posters and Neville’s mimbulus mimbletonia. There weren’t any clothes thrown on the ground or trunks half open to trip over in the dark. But Harry did spy some socks peeking from under someone’s bed and Quidditch gear stacked in the corner. Six beds formed a semi-circle. Harry went through each of them but it was obvious which one was his. The bare one, with no belongings, no trunk, no alarm clock on the side table.
He read the names on each of the trunks. Harold Avery … Edwin Rosier … Alphard Black … (he was the boy with the socks) … Abraxas Malfoy …
His bed was right beside Harry’s. Perfect.
Wouldn’t any of the Death Eaters want to swap? Get close and personal with their Lord?
He drew the curtains and sat down. At least it was beside the door. That way he could sneak out in the night and no-one would know.
He didn't know how long he stayed there but hours seemed to pass. In Harry's head he was thinking of plans. How to kill Voldemort. How to get home. When he heard the door open and people begin to shuffle around, he lay down in the unfamiliar sheets and willed sleep to come.
The darkness, along with the green velvet curtains, gave the impression of branches overhead. It reminded him of all those nights he fell asleep keeping watch outside the tent and woke up to the cold air and the stars.
He was still wearing the robes Dumbledore had made and he reached into them, taking out the pocket-watch. It was an unusual shape: the jagged glass of the face dug into his skin. He clutched his wand in one hand, the time-turner in the other, and hoped that maybe, by some miracle, things would be back to normal in the morning.
Staring into the blackness, sleep finally came. Harry dreamed of nothing at all.