“Ah, it’s you,” Harry said, torn somewhere between triumph that he’d been right—it wasn’t Snape, so take that, Ron and Hermione—and a sort of resigned disappointment. There, at the front of the room, standing before that damned Mirror of Erised, was Professor Quirrell.
Harry wasn’t surprised, of course. For months now—really, from that very first moment in Quirrell’s classroom when his déjà vu brain had urged Harry to kill the man—he’d known it would come to something like this. Because if it wasn’t Snape, there was only one other person it could have reasonably been, especially after the confrontation Harry had witnessed over winter break.
It would have been a shame under any other circumstances for Harry’s favorite professor to be Voldemort’s accomplice. Except that Harry had been counting on it.
Quirrell whipped around, and for a split second, some unidentifiable emotion flashed across the man’s face before it settled into a blank mask.
“Potter. You shouldn’t be here.”
Harry couldn’t help a wry smile. “I could say the same to you, though I suspect neither of us had much of a choice in the matter.”
It took Quirrell less than a second to grasp his meaning. “Dumbledore.”
How refreshing to not have to spell it out to the man, Harry thought.
“Yes. He must think he’s quite clever, leaving clues about the philosopher’s stone and having the staircases take me to Fluffy, having me ‘stumble’ across the Mirror of Erised.” Harry stepped forward, descending the last of the stairs until he was only a few paces away from Quirrell. “Though he’ll be disappointed to have caught you instead of Voldemort himself.”
Well, Harry’s déjà vu brain said, and an image of Quirrell’s turban unravelling flashed in Harry’s mind.
“Oh. Oh. You’ve got Voldemort back there,” Harry said tiredly, gesturing at the turban, “haven’t you?”
Quirrell stared at him for a moment, mouth slightly agape. He shook his head, something like a laugh falling from his lips as he did so. “You are remarkable, Potter. Infuriating, but remarkable.”
“I get that a lot, sir,” Harry said cheekily.
The other man hummed. “But you are not quite correct.”
Harry frowned as Quirrell slowly unwound his turban, the purple fabric falling to the floor in a heap as the professor’s bald head was revealed. Only it was not just the professor’s head, for at the back there sat another face, older and pale and strange. It was as horrific as it was fragile—almost like a blind person had tried to craft a face out of papier-mâché and stuck it to the back of Quirrell’s skull—and almost entirely immobile except for the barest flaring of nostrils and fluttering of eyelids.
“That’s…huh.” Not what Harry was expecting, honestly.
Quirrell turned back to face Harry directly, watching him intently. “Are you not afraid, Harry?”
A little, he could admit to himself. The inherent wrongness of one person sporting two faces was making him a bit uneasy, and yes, the idea of being in the same room as Voldemort was cause for some concern. And yet…
“I’m more curious, actually. You said I was not quite correct. Could you explain?”
Quirrell huffed a small laugh. “I see something of myself in you, Harry. Always so eager for knowledge, with more magical talent in your finger than most of your peers have in their whole bodies. Perhaps it’s overly sentimental of me,” he said almost mockingly, “but I confess I was not too disappointed when you survived the little quidditch accident I had planned for you.”
Harry could not muster up any amount of surprise at the fact that Quirrell had been the one to bewitch his broom. It made a twisted sort of sense, he supposed. Anything Ron and Hermione had accused Snape of could most certainly be attributed to Quirrell, couldn’t it?
“Hermione will be disappointed she lit the wrong person on fire,” Harry said blandly instead, enjoying the way Quirrell’s brow quirked at that. “But she and Ron were so convinced Snape was behind it all.”
“He does seem the type, doesn’t he?” Quirrell mused. His expression turned thoughtful a moment later. “But not to you.”
It wasn’t phrased like a question, but Harry could hear the curiosity behind the words.
“No,” he admitted. “I never truly suspected Snape.”
“You suspected me,” Quirrell said, seeming to just now realize it. His gaze was sharp, calculating, and Harry couldn’t begin to guess what the man was thinking.
“You still haven’t answered my question, professor.”
Quirrell laughed again.
“I almost wonder if you could figure it out for yourself,” he murmured. “You see, Harry, for months Voldemort was little more than a leech: aware but not in control. Not a true possession, which takes more energy, more strength, more magic. Even so, the human body is not made to hold two people. It’s a tremendous strain, both physically and magically.”
“That’s where the unicorn blood comes in,” Harry guessed.
Quirrell nodded. “It’s a cursed life the moment it passes your lips, so they say. But I have two mouths.”
“And Voldemort wouldn’t…not if there was another way. Not if he could make you drink it,” Harry said, thinking out loud. He frowned suddenly. “Except you seem…”
“Perfectly coherent? Fully alive?” Quirrell smirked. “Think, Harry.”
He said Voldemort was a leech, but what if by drinking the unicorn blood, Quirrell became weak enough for Voldemort to truly possess him?
“Quirrell is…half-dead or something like it,” Harry guessed. “And you’re Voldemort.”
The man before him clapped slowly. “Well done, Potter.”
Harry thought back, trying to pinpoint a moment when their interactions had drastically changed. But aside from bouts of stuttering, which in hindsight were likely completely fake, there was little difference in “Quirrell” that Harry could truly catalogue from the beginning of the year until now, especially not in their private conversations. If he didn’t know better, he’d think he’d been talking to the same man all year.
“How long?” Harry asked, finally giving up. Aside from that one time Quirrell—or probably Voldemort—had been crankier than usual, he couldn’t tell when his professor had been taken over by the Dark Lord.
“I have always been the one in charge during our private conversations,” Voldemort said with a knowing look. “But it was after your delightful display with the troll that I decided a more…involved approach was needed. By the end of the first term, I was possessing Quirrell almost constantly.”
Harry nodded as he processed that information. What Voldemort said lined up well with the increase in unicorn deaths, and “Quirrell” had looked much more worn down during the second term, especially towards the end—undoubtedly due to the strain of the possession. Even now, the man looked a bit sickly.
That’s why he needs the philosopher’s stone, Harry realized. Unicorn blood or not, he’s not doing well.
And he won’t want to be trapped in Quirrell’s body forever, his déjà vu brain said.
But what to do? Harry had genuinely liked Professor Quirrell even though he hadn’t trusted the man, but now knowing that he’d been talking to Voldemort this whole time…it was strange. On a logical level, Harry knew that the man before him had killed his parents, had probably killed a lot of people and was considered the most terrifying Dark Lord of the century at least.
But Harry knew him best as he’d been while playing Quirrell: a bright man who listened to Harry, who had guided Harry’s studies, who had sent Harry a Christmas present for Merlin’s sake. It was all sorts of screwed up, but Harry felt like Quirrell—or rather, Voldemort—had been more helpful to him than Dumbledore had.
He literally admitted to trying to kill you during your quidditch match, the déjà vu brain said, unimpressed.
Ask the information you wanted to ask, Harry told himself. And then decide.
“I’ve been wondering,” Harry said slowly. “Why can’t I find any information on you or your Death Eaters in the library? You see, no one will tell me anything about the war, aside from my own alleged role in your supposed defeat.”
“Dumbledore,” Voldemort sneered the name, “has always been a fan of policing information to suit his own agenda.”
Harry snorted. He could’ve guessed as much. “What I don’t understand is why it isn’t to his benefit to be open with that particular information? Unless he has something to hide? I don’t even know what the war was fought over.”
“Magic, of course,” Voldemort said, smiling wryly. “My supporters and I are proponents of the old ways, most of which are classified as ‘dark’ by the incompetent fools in the ministry. I believe, Harry, that all magic is worth knowing. Light and dark, good and evil. They are constructs designed to limit the powerful so that the weak need not admit their own shortcomings.”
(For a moment, Harry could see himself standing in this same room, only the face on the back of Quirrell’s head was speaking to him. There is no good and evil, only power and those too weak to seek it, the twisted version of Voldemort hissed. Harry blinked and the image was gone.)
Harry carefully hid his frown. It sounded…it sounded too good, if he was being honest. Because Harry could agree with what Voldemort said on a surface level. Magic is magic, a tool. It had occurred to him on several occasions just how dangerous simple first-year spells could be in the wrong hands. How a levitation charm could be used to drop something heavy on a person’s head, or to drop a person from a great height. How a tripping jinx used at the top of a staircase could prove fatal.
And yes, perhaps the Killing Curse was insidious in the sense that it could be used for nothing else.
But there are crueler ways to die, Harry thought. So how do you decide what magic is good and what magic is bad? He had circled back to Voldemort’s point. Perhaps magic itself could be neither good nor bad. Perhaps light and dark were biased categorizations.
It couldn’t possibly be so simple. People did not fight wars where thousands died over a philosophical debate of good and evil. Though, Harry conceded, people did fight wars for power, and it seemed that was what was in question here.
He’s appealing to your intellect, the lizard brain said. He knows what you will value most in his cause.
Never forget he’s a master manipulator, the déjà vu brain said. He’s the ultimate Slytherin.
“Is that all?” Harry asked, knowing damn well that it wasn’t.
Voldemort’s gaze narrowed, his voice a shade too casual as he asked, “Is that not enough?”
“No.” Harry smiled sharply. “Some of your compatriots might be content with such a limited explanation, or maybe they only care for your goals which directly benefit them. But I won’t be picking sides until I know your full platform. So, if you want me as an ally, an honest answer would be to your benefit.”
“The Boy Who Lived, the Light’s darling savior, considering switching sides,” Voldemort mused, raising a brow.
Harry raised a brow to match. “Babies, to my understanding, don’t usually have political affiliations. For the time being, you can consider me an independent party.”
The other man laughed. “You continue to surprise me, Potter. But unfortunately, we lack the time to adequately get into all my policies. If you were hoping to stall me—”
“Not at all.” Harry waved his hands in a go-ahead gesture.
“Then I do hope you’ll forgive me,” Voldemort said smoothly, and his words put Harry on high alert. “But it seems I’ll be needing your assistance in getting the stone. Albus’s little mirror trick is, I loathe to admit, ingenious.”
Ah fuck, the déjà vu brain said as Harry’s legs moved against his will so that he was standing directly in front of the mirror. It’s bad form to say, “I told you so,” but I told you so.
Harry ignored his inner ramblings for the time being. He couldn’t afford to be distracted now, and if his sixth sense wasn’t going to be helpful, then it needed to be quiet.
Like before, when Harry looked into the Mirror of Erised, he was met with a vision of his older self. Harry’s chest ached, and the Older Harry in the mirror smiled.
“What do you see?”
“Myself,” Harry answered honestly.
“And?” the Dark Lord said impatiently. “Is that all?”
As with Dumbledore, it felt wrong to tell the truth, to reveal what could possibly be some key to manipulating Harry that he did not yet fully understand. Maybe it was part of the mirror’s magic that made Harry so unwilling to say what he saw there, or maybe it was Harry’s own fear that it couldn’t be, his own longing.
“I’m with my parents. I—”
“Don’t lie,” Voldemort hissed out between his teeth.
Harry frowned. Then, and only because he focused, he noticed a slight pressure at his forehead. Remembering his occlumency self-study, he focused on clearing his mind completely. He had no illusions of pushing Voldemort from his mind, but at least he could try not to make it so easy on the man.
“That was rude.” Harry shot a sideways glare at Voldemort.
“It’s rude to lie,” he countered. “Now, what do you see?”
Harry returned his focus to the mirror with a sigh. “I see myself, but older. I’m in my 30s, maybe older. That’s it.”
Even as he said it, though, the older Harry in the mirror reached into his pocket, pulled out a ruby-red stone the size of his palm, winked, and then slid it back into his pocket. At that exact moment, a weight settled at Harry’s own hip, and he knew without a doubt that it was the philosopher’s stone.
Voldemort, observant as he was, was not to be fooled. “You have it, don’t you?”
Harry turned to the man and considered him for a moment.
He could just give Voldemort the stone and be done with it. He’d gotten some of his questions answered, though not nearly enough, but Harry had no interest in the stone for himself, and he certainly had no interest in doing Dumbledore’s job for him.
But Voldemort had been evasive about some of Harry’s questions, and there was no doubt in his mind the man was hiding some pretty crucial facts. Giving Voldemort the key to immortality and vast wealth had a tremendous potential to end poorly.
Perhaps more importantly, there would be questions. If Voldemort absconded with the stone, Dumbledore would wonder how the man had gotten it out of the mirror. And Hermione knew that Harry had gone in after Quirrell, and it had been some time already, so he couldn’t just say he’d missed the man entirely. Which would also leave the question of why Voldemort had allowed Harry to live.
At best, Voldemort wouldn’t do anything too terrible, but Harry would still be grilled to hell and back, and it would likely come out that Harry had helped the Dark Lord, and then who knew what would happen to him.
Wizard prison, the déjà vu brain said. Or they’d just kill us.
Not good, the lizard brain said.
At worst, Voldemort would return to power and destroy the wizarding world, and Harry would still catch the blame for it.
Also not good, the lizard brain said.
“I can’t let you have the stone,” Harry said apologetically.
“I thought you were a smart boy.” Voldemort’s eye twitched, wand twirling in his hand. The threat was obvious. “We need not be enemies, Potter.”
“I know.” Harry shrugged. “But I can’t have Dumbledore second-guessing my loyalties. If I let you leave with the stone, it’ll be too obvious.”
“I could protect you—”
“Don’t lie,” Harry said, repeating the Dark Lord’s words from earlier. “As long as I’m at Hogwarts, Dumbledore will always have the advantage.”
“Join me, then,” Voldemort said. “Let me teach you, Harry. Let me show you magic you’ve never dreamed of. You have so much potential for greatness. Imagine what we could do together.” He stepped closer to Harry. “And I could give you your heart’s desire. You want to live—don’t think I don’t know what the image you see in the mirror means. I can give you more than the chance to grow old; I can give you eternity. All you have to do is give me the stone.”
Damn he’s good, the déjà vu brain said reluctantly. I mean, I know what his worst looks like, and even I’m a little tempted.
But at the end of the day, they were just pretty words that Harry didn’t know if he could trust. Yes, he found Voldemort far more pleasant to be around than Dumbledore—and that was weird in and of itself—but for all that Harry was a reckless Gryffindor, he was also a Slytherin. And he wasn’t about to jump all in with a man whose past was murky at best, whose ambitions were layered under palatable deceptions.
There is a reason he’s considered a terrorist, Harry reminded himself. And I’m not going to fall prey to recruitment propaganda.
“We have a couple of options,” Harry said, meeting Voldemort’s eyes with a level expression. “I’m not letting you leave with the stone. Eventually, you will come to thank me for this.”
“Will I?” Voldemort asked, voice cold.
“Aside from the suspicions that would fall on me, do you really think Dumbledore would just let it go? Do you think he wouldn’t go after you with a vengeance? In your weakened state, I don’t know that you can risk it.”
“How dare you—”
“So I can keep the stone and you go your merry way, and that’s that. Since we’ll be parting amicably, I’ll even tell Dumbledore I was able to defeat you. Since that is what he seems to be expecting me to do by sending me here, isn’t it? You have to admit that if everyone still thinks you’re dead, you’ll have more of an advantage.”
“Or I could kill you and take the stone.” Voldemort sneered. “It would be a waste, Harry, but I won’t allow you to stand in my way.”
Before he could speak, Harry’s sixth sense flooded through him with a strength that nearly had him staggering, so strong that for a moment he had no idea what was happening and half wondered if Voldemort had forcefully breached his mind. Except it wasn’t painful, just a flood of images and information that blurred together in a nearly incomprehensible whirl.
(The philosopher’s stone, ruby red in his hand. Quirrell lunging at him, Harry throwing his hands up. Skin crumbling beneath his fingers and a scream. Hissing steam as skin turns to ash. Voldemort, a spirit, rushing through Harry. Darkness.)
Harry inhaled sharply as the strange alternate conversation with Quirrell—who was less Voldemort than the man in front of him now—settled into his brain alongside his actual memory.
“Or,” Harry said, voice surprisingly steady even as his hands shook by his sides, the feeling of burning skin too fresh in his mind. “You could try to take the stone, and I could disintegrate you with a touch and just be rid of this problem.”
“You dare think—”
“I don’t think I could kill you,” Harry said sharply. “I know I can. I have this…sixth sense if you will. It’s never wrong: not about the troll, not about the stone, not about you. It’s how I knew you had Voldemort’s face on the back of your head, how I knew it would be you here instead of Snape. And I know that if I wanted to, I could turn you into a pile of ash.”
Voldemort eyed Harry curiously, a flicker of uncertainty crossing his face.
“But I’ll be honest. Against all odds, I rather like you. I’d prefer not kill you if it’s all the same.” Harry raised a challenging brow. “But that’s really up to you.”
There was a moment where Voldemort seemed to be warring with himself, but it was over quickly.
“Let’s say hypothetically I agree to your terms,” the Dark Lord drawled. “What would you have me do about this decaying form? Quirrell won’t be able to hold me much longer and I would have used the stone to aid me in gaining a new body. I will not leave empty-handed, Potter. Give me the stone, or somehow, with that sixth sense of yours, give me another option.”
Honestly, the fact that he’s even considering this is kind of blowing my mind, the déjà vu brain said. I mean, he’s probably bullshitting you, but still. He was always a shoot first, ask questions later kind of guy.
Yeah, well how the hell am I supposed to know what kind of shit will help him regain a body, Harry asked, frustrated. I’m 11.
Don’t ask me, the déjà vu brain said. The only thing I’ve got is like 12% of a ritual that involves our blood, some bones, and a whole ass hand.
Hard pass, said the lizard brain.
It wouldn’t have to be our hand, the déjà vu brain said. But he’ll turn into a snake-man with no nose.
What the—god no. Let’s not do that. That sounded horrible and he absolutely did not want to know how his déjà vu brain knew this.
Harry tried not to panic but he was coming up absolutely blank. I’m going to have to kill him, aren’t I? Dammit.
(Harry made a side note that his déjà vu brain had been an absolutely horrible influence on his language, and he’d have to be especially careful not to slip around Aunt Petunia this summer unless he was suddenly craving the taste of her lavender hand soap.)
Harry blinked. That had definitely not been his déjà vu brain or his lizard brain, and considering he didn’t know what the hell a diadem was, he knew it wasn’t his own normal thoughts.
Tell him to use the diadem, the new, unnamed part of his brain said, it’s voice close to a hiss. It’s been in the castle this whole time.
“Uh,” Harry wasn’t sure whether or not to say it, but really, what did he have to lose? “You could use the diadem?”
Voldemort froze, body rigid as Quirrell’s eyes flashed red. “What did you just say?”
The motherfucking diadem, Harry’s déjà vu brain shouted angrily. How did I forget about the horcruxes?
How did he forget about the horcruxes? the part of the brain that had originally suggested the diadem said dryly. They’re made for this express purpose.
“What’s a horcrux?” Harry accidentally asked out loud, then covered his mouth immediately. He’d been so good about not responding to his brain out loud, god, and now he’d picked the worst possible time.
“How do you know about the diadem?” Voldemort snapped, magic flaring angrily around him. It was oppressive, the weight of it, and a sizzling, snarling thing that was almost tangible. In their whole interaction, the Dark Lord had never been this uncontrolled, and it scared Harry.
“I don’t know what a diadem is.” Merlin, but it must be something bad to make Voldemort that angry.
“Did Dumbledore tell you? What does he know?”
What? What does Dumbledore have to do with this? Harry wondered.
“Dumbledore doesn’t tell me anything.”
Fucking preach, the déjà vu brain said. Now that’s what you need on a t-shirt.
“Then how do you know?” Voldemort hissed.
“I don’t know how I know anything!”
“Very well.” Voldemort pointed his wand at Harry’s face.
God this was it, wasn’t it? Voldemort was going to kill him way ahead of schedule—
Ahead of schedule? Harry thought. What the fuck does that mean?
Harry felt the pressure splitting his head and he was helpless to stop it, only grateful for the pain because it meant he was still alive. No amount of deep breathing would clear his mind even if he could breathe, he knew, and Harry fell to his knees, a scream piercing the air.
Ass. Hole. Asshole, the déjà vu brain shouted, then let out a string of much, much more offensive curses.
This lizard brain hissed violently and wouldn’t stop.
Forgot about his own horcruxes, the mystery brain said. Fucking dumbass.
Voldemort reared back, the spell ending suddenly, and Harry could finally breathe. He gulped down air like he was starved for it, fighting the urge to dry heave, stomach roiling. His head still pounded miserably, but the knife-cut sting of Voldemort’s careless rummaging was gone at least.
“I accept your terms,” Voldemort said after a moment, and Harry took some vindictive pleasure out of the man’s breathlessness. “I’ll be in touch.”
Then, with an almost-deafening crack, the man apparated.
He’s not supposed to be able to do that, the déjà vu brain protested mildly, though it didn’t really sound surprised.
Harry allowed himself to sag to the ground, purple dots spotting his vision as he leaned back, gently lowering himself until his head was resting against the stone floor. He wasn’t about to have survived an encounter with Voldemort just to crack his skull open by fainting.
At least it’ll be convincing for Dumbledore, Harry thought dimly, and then everything went black.
The hospital wing was almost miserably white, like they wanted him to be in more pain. Harry blinked his eyes open as slowly as possible, but even then it barely helped. His mouth felt like cotton had been stuffed in there while he slept, and there was a bitter, sulfuric taste on the back of his tongue.
“Ah, Harry. You’re awake.”
Harry nearly jumped out of his skin at the sudden sound, hand automatically reaching for his wand. A wave of panic slammed into him when he realized he couldn’t find it. He scrambled back automatically only to find he couldn’t go very far at all, a wall blocking his way.
“Harry,” and then Dumbledore came into his line of sight, dressed in an oddly muted blue-gray robe. Harry took a breath, but the sight of Dumbledore did little to calm him otherwise. “It’s alright, my boy. It’s over now.”
Right. Voldemort, Harry thought, and there was a small easing of tension in his shoulders. It had been a success, though it hadn’t gone quite the way he’d imagined. Still, the stone was safe, Voldemort hadn’t tried to kill him, Harry hadn’t had to kill Voldemort, and all that was left was to sell the story the way he wanted.
“A calming draught, Poppy, if you will,” Dumbledore said.
A moment later, Madam Pomfrey appeared with a small cup of sweet-smelling liquid. She stood and watched him swallow it, and then returned to her office. The calming draught was as sweet as it smelled, and it worked immediately. The tightness Harry hadn’t even known was sitting in his chest loosened, and he slumped back against the hospital bed.
“I’m sorry to have to ask you, Harry, but I need to know what happened last night,” Dumbledore said. “Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger were only able to tell me so much—”
“Ron and Hermione,” Harry sat up suddenly. “Where are they? Are they okay?”
“They’re fine,” Dumbledore soothed. “A few scratches and bumps, but nothing Madam Pomfrey couldn’t fix.”
Harry leaned back against the cot once more. “It was Voldemort. Ron and Hermione, they thought Professor Snape was going after the stone, but it was Quirrell. Only it wasn’t really Quirrell. He had…he had Voldemort on the back of his head, sir.”
“I see.” Dumbledore looked very grave indeed. “That is worse than I feared.”
“He wanted the stone, and he made me get it for him because he couldn’t get it out of the mirror himself.” Harry looked down at his hands. They were cut to pieces because of the keys, and he wondered idly why the shallow cuts hadn’t been healed. “I didn’t want to, but the stone appeared in my pocket anyway. He…he tried to convince me to give him the stone, said that I could join him.”
“Voldemort can be very persuasive,” Dumbledore said, nodding. “I’m sure he promised you great things.”
It was phrased as a question, clearly something Dumbledore wanted him to expand on. For a moment, Harry wasn’t sure what to say, not wanting to tell the truth lest he accidentally reveal just how tempted he truly was. But the second set of memories—the ones that he hadn’t lived and yet his brain seemed to think he had, the ones where he’d killed Quirrell—gave him the answer he needed.
“He…he said he could bring my parents back,” Harry said in a small voice.
Dumbledore sighed deeply, peering at Harry over his half-moon glasses. “I trust you know how impossible that would be. No magic can reawaken the dead, Harry.”
“I know. I…I called him a liar.”
The headmaster huffed an amused laugh. “I cannot imagine he took that well.”
“No, sir. He lunged at me, trying to get the stone. And I…I held up my hands.” Harry paused, making sure to look appropriately confused and horrified. It wasn’t difficult given how clearly he could visualize it as if it had actually happened, how distinctly he remembered Quirrell’s face crumbling at his touch. Harry shuddered. “His face just burned away when I touched him. Why would it do that?”
“I believe that your mother gave you a special protection the night she died,” Dumbledore said. “Her love and her sacrifice meant that Voldemort could not harm you.”
“It saved me last night,” Harry said. “If I hadn’t…if I hadn’t killed him, he would have killed me.”
“I know, Harry. I know.” The old man smiled sadly. “It is a terrible burden to carry, doing the right thing.” Dumbledore hesitated a moment and then leaned forward tiredly. Most of the time, he did not carry himself like an old man, but now his age was apparent. “I want you to know how sorry I am for putting you at risk. If I had known that Voldemort himself would come for the stone, I would have never brought it to the school.”
Harry was not sure he believed the headmaster—in fact, he was almost positive the trap had been for Voldemort and Harry both—but the regret seemed genuine.
He’s sorry, the déjà vu brain said with certainty, but he would do it again in a heartbeat, even knowing the outcome.
“It’s probably for the best,” Harry said, only half lying. “He’d have come after me eventually anyway, wouldn’t he?”
Harry took a deep breath. “Then I’m glad it’s over with, even if it…even if it was awful.”
The look on the headmaster’s face, however was enough to make Harry pause.
“He won’t…he won’t be able to come back again, right?” Harry asked. He knew he was pushing, maybe too far, but he needed to know if Dumbledore was suspicious.
The headmaster hummed thoughtfully. “Voldemort is a man of mystery. I do not know if he will stay dead, Harry, but it is best not to linger on such thoughts.”
What a non-answer. Harry resisted the urge to roll his eyes.
“Of course, sir.”
“Rest up, Harry,” Dumbledore said cheerfully. “And by this afternoon, I suspect Poppy may be persuaded to release you to your eager friends.”
The headmaster patted Harry’s leg, then stood, straightened his robes, and turned to leave. Harry nearly let him, but at the last moment, a thought occurred to him.
Dumbledore turned back to Harry, brows raised in question.
“What happened to the philosopher’s stone?”
“Ah.” The older man smiled sadly once more. “Nicolas and I agreed it would be best to destroy the stone.”
Harry’s brow furrowed as he thought. They were probably right, he reasoned. A magical artifact that powerful would never be truly safe now that so many people knew about it—Harry wasn’t dumb enough to believe his exploits on the third floor from last night (at least, what he’d told Dumbledore) would remain secret. Half the school probably already knew Ron and Hermione’s side of the story. It would only be a matter of time before the rest came out.
“But, he’ll die, won’t he?” Harry asked.
“Nicolas and his wife have enough of the Elixir of Life to get their affairs in order.” Dumbledore sighed. “But yes, he will die. He is 665 years old. It’s time.”
Harry nodded mutely, lost in thought as Dumbledore took his leave.
665 years was a long time to live.
Voldemort seemed like he wanted to live forever, or at least thought he did. Harry couldn’t even fathom what that long would look like. Now that he thought about it, the older version of himself that he saw in the Mirror of Erised wasn’t even middle-aged by wizarding standards. Merlin only knew how old Dumbledore was—some rumors around school claimed the man was already over a hundred—and though he was old, he seemed healthy and spry enough.
Would you rather have too much time or not enough, Harry’s déjà vu brain asked, it’s tone suggesting that it spoke from experience, and really, when it was put like that, Harry didn’t even have to think about it.
“Mr. Potter,” Madam Pomfrey interrupted his train of thought, appearing at his side with a tray of food and two suspiciously odorous potions. “If you can keep this down and don’t pass out again, I’ll let you go in an hour.”
He immediately scarfed down the food and forced the potions down under Madam Pomfrey’s watchful eye, ignoring the bitter tastes and the way his stomach objected to the influx of sustenance. Ron and Hermione had waited for him long enough.
The end of year feast had been both raucous and subdued in equal measure, though how that was possible, Harry didn’t know. As he’d expected, rumors about Harry’s confrontation with Quirrell had circled around the entire school, though like all gossip, the truth was distorted to varying degrees.
(Of course, Harry had been the cause for the initial spread of misinformation, so he couldn’t judge them too much.)
Some rumors claimed Harry had killed Quirrell with only his mind. Some claimed that Quirrell had tried to cast the killing curse, and it had bounced back onto him just like the first time Voldemort had tried to kill Harry. Some claimed that Quirrell was already dead by the time Harry found him, and Harry was just an attention-seeking fame-hogging braggart who took advantage of the situation (that rumor was most popular in Slytherin, to no one’s surprise.)
Even Ron and Hermione didn’t know the whole truth of what happened. It was too risky to tell them everything, especially in the castle where anyone might overhear, and because their minds were unguarded—though Hermione had been working hard on occlumency. (And because Ron sometimes let things slip when he was worked up enough even though he didn’t mean any harm by it.)
Well, and because Harry wasn’t entirely sure they would be happy with him. Voldemort was the bad guy to them. They didn’t know him like Harry did, hadn’t had the same experiences or conversations with him that Harry had. And while Hermione would approve—to some extent—of Harry seeking out more information before casting judgment, neither of his friends would likely be pleased with the specifics of how Harry’s conversation with Voldemort had gone. Especially the various threats that had been made on both sides.
He could admit that he was scared of losing them. Terrified even.
But they’d been there for him, supported him even with his suspicions about Dumbledore, and so it hadn’t felt right to lie. They knew enough to know that what Harry had told Dumbledore wasn’t what really happened—though it held grains of truth—and that Voldemort had been Quirrell pretty much all along.
“I trust you,” Harry had told them, and he was surprised by the strength of his conviction on the matter. “But I don’t trust what other people might do to get the information out of you if they suspect anything, through legilimency or otherwise.”
Ron had been grumpy about it at first, though he could admit it was a smart strategy. If anything, it furthered his determination to master occlumency as well, something he’d been off and on about in terms of motivation all year.
The excitement of rumors aside, though, there had been a last-minute shift in house points which resulted in Gryffindor stealing the House Cup right out from under Slytherin’s nose thanks to Dumbledore. Harry still wasn’t sure what the man was trying to accomplish with that—he’d let the Slytherins think they won first, after all, and though Harry was happy for Gryffindor to win, it all seemed just a bit…intentionally cruel.
Which meant Slytherin had been sulking over their loss in addition to the strange tension most of them had already been holding—Harry’s sixth sense assured him it had to do with Voldemort’s supposed defeat at Harry’s hands, though the specifics for that were a little vague.
And Harry himself had been in a dour mood despite winning the House Cup because the end of the school year meant only one thing: he would be returning to the Dursleys. No matter how much Harry tried to enjoy the meal—one of the last real meals he’d have until he returned in September—he kept getting bogged down with thoughts of Dudley’s shouting and having to mow the lawn and getting up early to make everyone breakfast that he wouldn’t be allowed to eat.
His friends had noticed, of course. Even now as they sat in their own compartment on the train, counting down the hours until they arrived at King’s Cross, the atmosphere was quiet and muted.
“You’ll both write, yeah?” Harry asked when they were down to the last stretch.
“Of course we will,” Ron said. “At least once a week.”
Hermione nodded, and then her face lit up the way it always did when she had an idea. She grabbed a scrap of parchment from her bag and muggle pen—they were practical, she said, and used them often for quick notes when getting out her inkwell and quill would have been a hassle.
“Here,” she said, scribbling down a number on the parchment. “It’s my telephone. If you get the chance—I mean, I won’t call if your relatives would be upset, but…”
“But I could call you,” Harry said brightly. “When I get a moment away from them or they’re out. Thank you.”
“It’s just two months,” Ron said, trying to be reassuring. “And then we’ll be back.”
Two months, Harry told himself, trying not to feel like that was an endless summer stretching before him. It would be different this time, knowing he wasn’t stuck at the Dursleys forever. Knowing that magic was real, that Hogwarts was waiting for him, that he had friends who cared.
And there were still so many questions yet to be answered that he could occupy himself with. He would be okay.
When the train stopped, Ron and Hermione both hugged him for a long moment, both as unwilling to let go as Harry was. He warmed at the thought.
Yes, he told himself. I’ll be just fine.