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Resurrection

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Waking up to a sure, undeniable sense of wrongness was never a good sign.

It wasn’t an entirely new phenomenon—living at the Dursley’s had instilled an ever-present sense of impending doom that seemed to linger constantly at the edges of his consciousness—but this was different. It wasn’t a “Dudley and his friends are going to play Harry Hunting again” kind of itch. It wasn’t an “Aunt Marge is coming to visit” sort of nausea.

It was a bone-deep almost-ache when he opened his eyes and spotted the light flitting through the slats of his cupboard, both a familiar sight and at the same time distant like an old memory. It was a twist in his chest when he sat up, expecting—strangely—to hit his head on the sloped ceiling only to pause when he realized, of course, that he was far too short for that to happen.

Harry was struck with a strong sensation—which had no apparent reason at all—that he should not be here.

It persisted through breakfast when he nearly burned Uncle Vernon’s bacon, through the morning as he weeded Aunt Petunia’s garden—and nearly flooded her sweat peas with the garden hose—and even into the early afternoon. Nothing he did seemed to loosen the tightness he carried in his shoulders or soothe his jumpiness.

Not until the mail came, at least. He picked up the stack of letters mechanically, sorting through them out of habit. Spam mail and, specifically, letters asking for money donations were second on Uncle Vernon’s list of “things wrong with this country,” right after “abnormal people” and just above “unions”. Harry had gotten in the habit of removing those sorts of letters before handing over the mail, if only to save himself the headache of one of Uncle Vernon’s rants.

He was only half paying attention when his fingers slid across a heavy, expensive-feeling envelope. Glancing down, he saw his name written in an elegant script in thick black ink, below it an address that started, “Cupboard Under the Stairs.”

A wave of unaccountable relief swept through him. It’s here, he thought for a single instant, and then frowned. For a moment he’d thought…it had almost been like he’d known what the letter was. Like he’d been expecting it.

Except he hadn’t, had he? He flipped it over, thumb brushing reverently over a strange crest on the back, just above a red wax seal.

Who still seals their letters with wax? Harry thought, frown deepening. Parliament? He shook his head as if that would clear the ridiculous thoughts. Nobody from Parliament was going to send him a letter. Nobody from anywhere ever sent him letters.

He was in the midst of prying off the wax when the entire letter was snatched unceremoniously from his hand.

“Mom, Dad!” Dudley shouted, waving the letter in the air. “Harry’s got a letter!”

Uncle Vernon’s head snapped up from the TV. “Who’d be writing to you?”

That’s what I’d like to know, he thought but didn’t say. That was a good way to get locked in the cupboard for the next 12 hours, and frankly, he tried to avoid that as much as possible. Besides, he wanted his letter back.

But then Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia peered at the crest on the back, faces pale and eyes wide as they shared a look that Harry had never seen on them before: some strange mix of terror and disgust and determination. And when Uncle Vernon tore the letter up right there in the kitchen, not even glancing at its contents, all Harry could think was, Not Again.

Then—

 Again? What the hell does that mean?

 


 

He wasn’t sure how he knew there would be more letters. He just did.

It wasn’t like he could predict when they were coming or how they would arrive. But when another letter showed up with their mail the next day, he wasn’t surprised. When three more came the day after that, he didn’t even blink. When a barrage of owls flooded Privet Drive and hundreds of letters spewed out of the fireplace like some sort of lotto machine payout, Harry thought he probably should have been utterly mystified because none of this made sense.

Instead, he grabbed a handful of the letters as he ignored Uncle Vernon’s irate shouting. On instinct, Harry tucked one of the letters discretely into the waistband of his pants where it would be hidden by the loose material of Dudley’s hand-me-down t-shirt. For all that it seemed Uncle Vernon wouldn’t be able to ignore the letters this time, Harry was certain the older man would find a way to stay in denial just a bit longer.

Which was how they’d ended up on some island accessible only by boat. Harry hadn’t had a moment alone since Uncle Vernon had hauled him up by the collar, forced everyone to pack a bag, and shoved them all into the car to drive them to this seaside hellscape.

There was only one bedroom and Dudley had taken the couch, leaving Harry to a spot on the floor in front of the fireplace. Dudley’s wrist-watch said it was nearly midnight, Dudley himself was snoring soundly, and Harry finally felt safe enough to open the letter he’d managed to smuggle out of the house.

Dear Mr. Potter,

We are pleased to inform you that you have been accepted to the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry.

He froze, staring down at the words. He reread the line a second time, and then once more for good measure.

The words “Witchcraft and Wizardry” stared back at him plainly no matter how many times he looked.

This has to be some sort of trick, Harry thought out of habit, because magic wasn’t real. Except that he couldn’t reasonably explain the literal owls that had delivered those hundreds of letters otherwise.

And now that he thought about it, there was a lot he couldn’t explain. How that one time, Dudley and his friends had been chasing Harry all over the school-yard, and Harry had been running—he’d been certain he was going to get caught and end up with more bruises and dirt in his clothes and probably have his glasses broken again—and the next moment he’d been on the roof. He didn’t remember how he’d gotten up there, and when he’d said as much the teachers had accused him of lying. But to Harry, it had happened in the span of a single blink.

Much the way the snake incident at the zoo had happened less than a week ago. Much the way many inexplicable things had happened over the course of Harry’s life, all of which he had been punished for, all of which he’d been told to never do again.

But maybe at Hogwarts there would be others like him. Maybe they would teach him how to make the strange things happen when he wanted them to. Maybe, if it wasn’t all some tremendous mistake—

The wrist-watch chimed midnight, a small ping that pulled Harry from his thoughts. His birthday. Amid the excitement over the letter, he’d forgotten. There was no cake, no candles—not that there ever had been that Harry could remember—but he drew eleven lines in the soot.

“Make a wish,” he whispered to himself, eyes squeezed tight as he blew out the imagined candles.

Before he’d even fully finished the thought, there was a loud bang at the door. Dudley jerked awake mid-snore, bolting upright. Harry might’ve said that Dudley looked rather dazed, but then Dudley always sort of looked like that.

There was a second bang. This time the whole house shook with the force of it. Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia had been roused from sleep as well, and now stood halfway down the stairs, a shotgun—where on earth had Uncle Vernon gotten a shotgun, Harry wondered—in hand and aimed at the door.

On the third bang, Aunt Petunia shrieked.

On the fourth, the door finally gave way with a crash. Lightning illuminated the tallest, broadest man Harry had ever seen. The light was still too dim for detail, but there was no mistaking the shape of a wild head of hair and even wilder beard. He ducked his head as he passed through the entry-way and lumbered inside, each step heavy enough that Harry wondered if he might bring the whole house down around them.

And yet, curiously, Harry was not afraid.

Not even as Dudley scrambled off the couch and backed towards a window on the far-side of the wall with such speed that Harry was half convinced the momentum of it would carry his cousin straight through the pane of glass and out onto the hard earth of the island Uncle Vernon had stranded them on. Not even as Aunt Petunia screamed louder than before, as she clutched Uncle Vernon’s shoulders, as Uncle Vernon clutched the shotgun and pointed it at the tall man.

And the tall man? The tall man said, “Sorry ‘bout that,” and picked up the door, leaning it against the frame.

See, Harry thought. He’s polite. Nothing to worry about.

“I demand that you leave at once! You are breaking and entering,” Vernon shouted, because he was not polite.

The tall man thudded over to the stairs, right up until he was in Uncle Vernon’s face. For all his bravado, Uncle Vernon was plastered against the wall, trying his damnedest to get away from the practical giant.

“Dry up Dursley, you great prune.”  

Harry wished he’d had a video camera so he could record the single greatest moment of his life thus far. The tall man gripped the end of the shotgun, bent it upwards mere seconds before Uncle Vernon pulled the trigger and blasted a hole in the ceiling.

And this is why you need a special permit to have guns, Harry thought.

The stranger, for his part, merely walked further into the room.

“I haven’t seen you since you was a baby, Harry,” the tall man said, voice cheerier now that he wasn’t looking at Uncle Vernon. He was also distinctly not speaking to Harry, but to Dudley. “I’d’ve thought you’d look a bit more like your parents, but, well—”

“I-I’m not…I’m n-not Harry.”

“No.” Harry pushed off from the wall where he’d been only-sort-of hiding. “I am.”

The stranger took one look at him and smiled broadly. “Of course you are!” Abruptly, he patted down his own coat—a long, ragged brown thing that looked in desperate need of a wash—and procured a white box. “I’ve got something for you. ‘Fraid I might’ve sat on it a bit, but I figure it’ll taste good just the same. Baked it myself. Words and all.”

Harry took the box gingerly. He knew what he would find even before he lifted the lid. A cake sat in the middle, not too squished despite the stranger’s warning, the lettering horribly misspelled but distinguishable as an attempt at “Happy Birthday, Harry!”

“Thank you,” Harry said, unable to take his eyes off it.

“Not every day you turn 11, now is it, eh?” The tall man helped himself to a seat on the couch. He pulled out an umbrella and with a single tap, shot a fire into the fireplace. Harry stared at the flickering yellow light for a moment.

Magic is real. The flames danced happily as if agreeing with him. My birthday wish worked.

“Excuse me.” Harry laid the boxed cake down on the end table and approached the stranger. “But who are you?”

“Rubeus Hagrid. Keeper of keys and game at Hogwarts. Of course, you know all about Hogwarts.”

Warmth like nothing Harry had ever known spread throughout his chest, heart pulsing against his ribs, and for a single moment, Harry almost said yes. Because when Hagrid had said it, had said Hogwarts, Harry had felt like he was saying home. And he couldn’t explain it: how he knew home meant stone walls and courtyards, meant chilly northern air and the smell of pumpkin, meant smudged ink and callouses between his thumb and forefinger. He couldn’t explain how he could almost imagine the outline of a castle against the skyline, with a lake and mountains and grass so green it couldn’t be real.

It was incredibly disconcerting, to think he had all these associations and no reason to have them.

They won’t let you in if they think you’re crazy, Harry thought in something of a panic. How many times had the Dursleys threatened to send him to a school for special children—when something’s just not right with them, as Aunt Marge liked to say. Maybe Harry was crazy. Why else would his brain feel like someone had come in and scooped out something terribly important and he was only just now becoming aware of it? Why else would he think—feel so certainly—that he knew things he couldn’t possibly know?

No one can ever find out.

“Sorry,” Harry said with a shake of his head. “No.”

“No?” Hagrid was incredulous. Harry wasn’t sure this was a good thing or not. Maybe he was supposed to know what Hogwarts was? “Blimey Harry. Didn’t you ever wonder where your mom and dad learned it all?”

“Learned what?”

“Magic, of course!”

“My parents had magic?” Harry asked. “But…but they were normal. They died in a car crash.”

Even as he said it, he knew it wasn’t true. Again, something tickled at his memory that he couldn’t quite catch. There was some commotion—Hagrid yelling and Aunt Petunia yelling back—but Harry ignored it. His parents had died, and not because of a car crash. His parents had died, and his aunt and uncle had lied about it. For eleven years.

“And then they went and got themselves blown up!” Aunt Petunia was screaming.

“That’s an outrage!” Hagrid shouted. “Lily and James Potter—” He trailed off as soon as he caught Harry’s gaze and took a deep breath. “The point. The point is that your parents were magical, Harry. And you’re a wizard too.”

YOU’RE A WIZARD. YOU’RE A WIZARD. YOU’RE A WIZARD, one part of his mind thought.

The other, quieter part said, I know.

So while in one timeline—that Harry knew about but didn’t remember—he had tried to refute this, had tried to say that he was just plain old Harry, this time something inside him just knew that it was true.

“And Hogwarts is where I go to learn?” he asked, already knowing the answer.

“Best school in the world,” Hagrid said with a firm nod.

“Great.” Harry held up his contraband letter and ignored the indignant gasps of Petunia and Vernon. “When do we leave?”

Vernon took that as his cue to speak up. “Absolutely not!”

 


 

When it was all said and done, Dudley had a pig’s tail protruding from his rear, Uncle Vernon looked like he was going to have an aneurism, and Aunt Petunia…well, Aunt Petunia had been too busy fussing over the two of them to give Harry much thought.

And that was all before he’d gotten to ride on a flying motorcycle.

Best. Day. Ever.

Eventually, Harry and Hagrid had arrived at a hole-in-the-wall pub in London called The Leaky Cauldron where Harry had been accosted by adoring fans who wanted to thank him for something he had the distinct feeling was entirely undeserved.

(That part hadn’t been so fun, but once again, Harry had found himself almost expecting it. Sure, he’d still blundered his way through the jostling and hand-shaking and weirdly earnest gratitude with all the grace of a newborn giraffe, but he had the instinct that it would have been far, far stranger if no one had noticed him at all.)

(Harry was resolutely ignoring all signs of his newly discovered madness lest Hagrid catch on and take back the invitation to Hogwarts, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t still supremely unnerved by his comfort with fame.)

However, all of that was forgotten shortly thereafter because there was more magic to be had.

Diagon Alley was the magical equivalent of Tesco as far as Harry could see. There were clothing shops and book stores, window-fronts filled with brooms and cauldrons, signs with unusual words like “Apothecary” and “Owlery.” It was positively bustling, too. Everyone must have come for back to school shopping, Harry thought.

“Stick close.”

Hagrid’s height was an advantage. Crowds tended to part for the man, and Harry grabbed on to the edge of his rugged coat so as not to get left behind. The down-side was that Harry couldn’t see where they were going, and so when Hagrid came to an abrupt stop, Harry ran head-first into the man’s back.

“This is Gringotts, the wizarding bank,” Hagrid said. “Safest place in the world, ‘cept for Hogwarts.”

A bank, Harry thought, a fresh wave of unease washing over him. Of course he’d need money for his school things. Maybe even for tuition to Hogwarts as well. He hadn’t thought of that when he’d agreed to leave the Dursleys behind. How am I going to pay for all of this? I haven’t any money.

He was about to say as much to Hagrid, but something stopped him. It was that blasted weirdness again. Déjà vu, he was starting to realize. Because he was almost 100% sure he’d had that exact conversation before. Only that was impossible. Wasn’t it?

Before Harry could sort through his thoughts, let alone figure out the right questions to ask, they were already inside the bank. It was large and marbled and beautiful, and of course, the tellers were monsters.

“Goblins,” Hagrid said when he noticed Harry looking. “Shrewd and clever creatures. You’re not likely to make friends with them, what with how they feel about wizards even on the best of days, but you’d be best not to piss them off.”

A ringing endorsement. He continued to watch as Hagrid brought them to one stand in particular.

“Mr. Potter is here to make a withdrawal for his school supplies,” Hagrid said. The goblin atop the desk leaned over, eyes peering from the top of his small glasses as he gave Harry a thorough once-over. The goblin looked supremely unimpressed.

“And does Mr. Potter have his key?”

“Ah,” Hagrid said, somewhat sheepish as he began patting down his large coat again. “I’m sure it’s in here somewhere…”

“Check your left breast pocket,” Harry said automatically, and then froze as the goblin’s eyes landed on him. It was like being seen-through completely, like having the essence of his very being laid bare. Is that a power goblin’s have?

Hagrid did and instantly pulled out a small but ornate gold key, surprise evident.

“How’d ya know that, Harry?”

“Oh.” Think, think, think, think. “It…just seemed like the place to keep it, I suppose.”

“Hmmm.” The goblin was still watching, as if waiting for Harry to mess up. “Very well.”

“And,” Hagrid lowered his voice and leaned in. “I’ll be withdrawing from the vault on the Headmaster’s order. You know the one.” He passed over a thin note that was not too dissimilar from Harry’s Hogwarts letter.

“I see,” the goblin drawled. “Griphook will see to you.”

Griphook turned out to be another goblin no friendlier than the first. But he was extremely efficient and wasted no time in taking them on a terrifying cart ride through underground caverns to what Harry learned was his vault.

He had a vault. His parents—who, less than 24 hours ago, Harry had thought to be completely average people with no magical ability whatsoever, and who he had believed to have died in a car crash (which was clearly not the case, though no one had yet explained what had actually happened)—were apparently loaded. Ergo, now Harry was loaded.

Not just, “I can actually afford to go to a magical boarding school,” kind of money. Not even, “I could afford my own house, now,” kind of money. Genuine, honest to God, rich. Yacht Club, rich. Untaxed Swiss bank account, rich. Chalet on the Mediterranean, rich.

There was a lot of gold there.

Harry knew what it was like to go without. He’d slept under the stairs for eleven years while Dudley had two bedrooms. He’d cooked the Dursleys breakfast and often dinner ever since he could be trusted not to burn the house down, and he’d only ever been allowed to serve himself last.

(Which meant sometimes he got very little at all, if Dudley was in one of his moods to take an excess amount just so there’d be nothing left.)

He’d worn nothing but hand-me-downs for as long as he could remember, always two or three sizes too big for him. He’d been shuffled off to Mrs. Figg while the Dursleys had gone to see movies or on vacations.

He stared at the piles of coins. Now he could buy his own food. He could buy his own clothes. He could take himself to the movies. Would it be ridiculous to buy himself a pony just because Dudley didn’t have one? He could—

“Let’s hurry on, Harry,” Hagrid said. “We’ve got lots to do.”

They had one more vault to visit, for starters.

“Vault 713,” Griphook said.

It was complex, far more secure than Harry’s own vault had been. That alone might have filled him with an anxious anticipation. But there was something more. Something like an itch at the back of his mind. Something that felt like his instincts, the ancestral, lizard-brain he still retained some parts of, if muggle science lessons were to be believed.

Please just be empty, his lizard-brain wished against all reason.

It wasn’t. A small, poorly wrapped lump sat alone in the center of the vault.

Oh, but for fucks sake, he’d forgotten about the stone. What bloody stone, Harry wanted to scream at the part of his brain that was telling him, “We’ve seen this. We know this.” Or, more accurately, he wanted to ask how he knew. How could he be so sure and yet know so little?

Hagrid pocketed the package.

“Hagrid,” Harry asked, keeping his voice carefully neutral. “What is it?”

“Can’t tell you that, Harry.” He was perfectly serious, far more grim than usual. “Top secret Hogwarts business.”

Danger, screamed the lizard-brain.

Danger, agreed the déjà vu brain.

“I understand,” Harry said, resolving not to pry further and already failing at convincing himself. “Let’s get the shopping done, then, shall we?”

 


 

After being fitted for robes and buying his schoolbooks and purchasing a cauldron—who knew they came in pewter?—Harry had only one thing left that he absolutely needed. A wand. Hagrid, on the other hand, apparently had a few other errands to run.

That’s how he’d ended up here, alone, in Ollivander’s wand shop being watched like a bug under a microscope by a pair of glassy gray eyes as Harry tried wand after wand with disastrous results.

“I think not,” Ollivander said, hurriedly plucking the still-smoldering wand from Harry’s hands and carefully laying it back in its box. The older man watched Harry for a few seconds more and then, “I wonder.”

He returned no more than a minute later with a dusty box that looked like it hadn’t been opened in several decades. “Eleven inches, holly, and with a phoenix feather core. Give it a whirl.”

It was instantaneous. The moment Harry’s fist closed around the sturdy wand, a bright, golden glow radiated from the tip. Warmth flooded through him and for the first time since stepping into the shop, Harry felt like her could finally breathe.

“Curious,” Ollivander said, looking troubled rather than relieved, as Harry had thought he’d be. “Very curious.”

“What? What’s wrong?” He knew he was panicking, but if Ollivander said this wasn’t the right wand—if Ollivander tried to take this one back, Harry wasn’t sure he would be able to.

“Nothing is wrong, per se.” The older man hummed, seemed to debate himself for a moment, and then sighed. “The wand that has chosen you has a twin. The phoenix whose tail feather rests in your wand gave a second feather. Just one other feather.”

Harry had a sinking feeling in his stomach. “And the twin wand?”

Ollivander nodded. “Gave you that scar. It is curious, as I said. One wonders if destiny is at work.”

Oh he hoped not. He really, really hoped not.

But if Ollivander knows the wand that gave me this scar, then maybe….

“Mr. Ollivander, I was wondering what you know about my parents’ deaths,” Harry asked.

He was not prepared for the way the old man paled further at the question, nor the way he tightly gripped his desk and sank into the chair behind it.

“Everybody knows about what happened that night,” Ollivander said in such a way that implied that would the end of it.

So it must be terrible. That was just as he had expected, seeing as his aunt and uncle hadn’t told him the truth and even Hagrid had stopped himself from saying anything too telling back at the house. It obviously has something to do with my being famous, and most likely the scar too.

“I don’t, sir.” Harry stared the man straight in the eye. That had always worked on the teachers who pretended not to notice Harry being bullied. Maybe it was harder not to care when they had to humanize the victim of their negligence. “No one ever told me what happened, so I don’t know.”

Ollivander took a deep, shuddering breath. “On Samain night, while you and your parents slept, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named—”

“I’m sorry—” Harry noticed Ollivander flinch “—but who is that?”

“A great and terrible dark lord. The darkest magical Britain has ever seen.” There was a pause before the older man continued. “His reign of terror was such that we do not speak his name. May I continue?”

Harry had so many more questions, but he could already imagine—he could already guess at where Mr. Ollivander’s story was headed.

“On that night, the Dark Lord came to your house, your parents’ having been betrayed by one in their closest confidence. Your parents, it is said, fought to defend you, but they could not withstand his power. But—”

“I did,” Harry finished.

“It is so remarkable, Mr. Potter, not only because none had ever escaped You-Know-Who’s clutches,” Ollivander continued. “But because you survived an unsurvivable curse. We call it the killing curse because it kills without fail. Yet you lived, the only evidence a scar on your forehead.”

Harry frowned. “And You-Know-Who?”

“Destroyed. By you.”

Oh good. It’s worse than I thought.

Get used to it, his déjà vu brain said.

“Right. So.” Harry pushed the money for his wand—7 galleons—onto the table. “I’ll just be going now, I think.”

He’d made it nearly to the door when Ollivander called out once more.

“I think we can expect great things from you, Harry Potter.”

The next bit, Harry wasn’t sure he was supposed to hear, for Ollivander’s voice had lowered quite significantly.

“After all, You-Know-Who did many great things. Terrible, yes, but great.”

Harry didn’t wait around to hear anything else he definitely didn’t want to know, but probably should have been told at some point by someone with more authority than a kind-of-batty wand-maker. He just pushed through the door, intent on finding Hagrid as soon as possible, and possibly as far away from here as he could manage.

Which is why it was only fitting that Harry should immediately crash into the very man he was looking for. The crash itself was accompanied by a sharp screech, and when Harry looked up, he saw that Hagrid was now carrying a beautiful snowy owl in a cage.

“Hagrid! Hedwig! Sorry, I—”

Hagrid was frowning even as he helped steady Harry. “S’alright. No need to worry.” A pause. “How’d ya know the owl’s name?”

How did I know the owl’s name?

This plan to hide that you’re going absolutely mental isn’t going to last if you can’t lie faster than this.

“I…uh…” He spotted, then, like a blessing from a god he had better learn to worship soon, that the name was engraved in the bottom of the golden cage. He pointed at it. “It says so right here.”

“Oh. Didn’t see that there.”

If only Harry would be able to accept such a plausible solution. He might have been able to trick himself into thinking he really had seen the name on the cage first, might have been able to rationalize that he was really losing it, his brain was just processing things faster than he consciously could.

Except that didn’t explain the wretched ache in his chest when he looked at the beautiful owl. How when he’d said, “Hedwig,” it had felt as natural as saying, “This is my left arm.” She was his, or had been, or would be, or was in a parallel universe, or whatever it was his brain was doing to him. And he had the horrible, awful, miserable feeling that she’d died.

“I got ‘er for ya,” Hagrid said, holding the cage out to Harry. “Every wizard ought to have a familiar, and there ain’t no better one than an owl.”

“Thank you,” Harry said, desperately trying not to tear up for a number of reasons as he gingerly took the cage. In a softer voice, he murmured, “Hello Hedwig.”

She hooted back.

He wasn’t doing a good enough job of not crying, though.

“What’s wrong?” Hagrid asked, suddenly panicking. “I thought you’d like an owl. Having a pet. Some people don’t, I s’pose. Never thought to ask—”

“She’s perfect, Hagrid.” Hedwig hooted again, and this time Harry couldn’t be bothered to stop a smile from taking over his whole face. “I’ve just…nobody’s ever given me a gift before. Thank you.”

Hagrid had nothing to say to that, so he hugged Harry instead. And if Harry cried a bit more into Hagrid’s awful coat, nothing was said on the matter.

Chapter Text

Hagrid left Harry standing at King’s Cross Station with a ticket that had an impossible platform on it, alone, with a trolley that had a caged owl strapped on top. Any muggle with half a brain was going to look at him and see a very young child with a very weird pet all alone at a high-traffic area and call the authorities.

Harry would be damned if he let that happen before he’d made it to magic-school.

Which meant the only thing to do was to figure out how to get to platform 9 ¾ without drawing too much attention. It stood to reason that it would be somewhere between platforms 9 and 10, and if it was for magical people only, then it must be hidden in some way.

Run straight at that wall, his déjà vu brain said. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.

Like hell, his lizard brain said.

“Every year, packed with muggles.”

Harry’s head snapped at the sound of that voice, neck whipping so fast he felt something pop. And he didn’t care one bit.

“Keep up. Platform 9 and ¾ this way.”

A woman with bright red hair who’s appearance fit the definition of “motherly” to a T marched around the corner, five children and a harried man who could only be her husband in tow. They stopped right next to Harry, facing the very wall his déjà vu brain had just tried to convince him to run into.

He was getting a bad feeling about this.

“Hello dear.” The red-haired woman smiled in his direction. “First-year?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“Bit nervous?”

“Definitely.” Harry swallowed. “And, um, I’m not quite sure how to…”

“Get to the platform?” The woman nodded, as if this was a sensible question, and Harry let out a breath. “Not to worry. It’s Ron’s first year, too.”

She gestured over to one of her children, a boy clearly Harry’s age and bearing the same trade-mark red hair and freckles of the rest of his family. The boy smiled at Harry, and something else eased in his chest.

Friendly, the lizard brain said.

Best friend, corrected the déjà vu brain.

Harry was going to need to get this under control.

“It’s best if you go at it at a bit of a run,” the woman was saying. “Might help to close your eyes the first time. Percy, show him, would you?”

The eldest child did little more than walk a bit faster than usual straight at the wall. Harry half expected a horrible crash and half expected what actually happened: that he walked seemingly through the wall, disappearing entirely.

“Fred, George, you’re next.”

“I’m not Fred, he is,” one of the tall, lanky, identical redheads’ said.

“Honestly.” The other one shook his head, tutting. “And you call yourself our mother.”

“Oh, alright. George, Fred—”

“I’m only kidding,” the first one said, “I really am Fred.” And then they were running one right after the other through the wall the same way Percy had.

“Go on then,” the woman said, only now she was looking at Harry. And Harry looked at Ron, who was just looking rather queasy.

At least it’s not just me, Harry thought. Still, he knew—or suspected, at least—what waited for him on the other side of that wall, so he ran.

When he opened his eyes, the train station had changed. It was, in short, chaos: parents loudly saying goodbye to embarrassed children, students already in their school robes arguing about prefects, owls hooting and cats yowling, and a conductor shouting out instructions that no one seemed to be listening to.

But Harry only really had eyes for one thing: the Hogwarts Express.

 


 

Ron had sat with Harry on the train. Excellent.

Ron had a pet rat named Scabbers that Harry had instantly wanted to chuck out the train window with the hope that a) Scabbers would be far, far away from him and b) might die upon impact.

Less excellent.

He’d met Hermione Granger, felt a bizarre surge of happiness when she’d entered their compartment to criticize them, and then an even more bizarre surge of wrongness when she’d left again. Harry had looked to Ron with the hope that the other boy was feeling something similar—maybe this is just a wizard thing, Harry had been hoping—but no. Ron mostly just seemed put out by the whole encounter.

Then there’d been the boat ride and seeing Hogwarts for what was technically the first time but already felt like returning home.

(Harry was pointedly not thinking about how his imagination of what Hogwarts would be was eerily spot on. He was not.)

And now they were standing just outside the Great Hall waiting to be sorted.

“Red-hair, hand-me-down robes,” came a condescending drawl as a blond boy placed himself in front of Ron. “You must be a Weasley.”

“Up-turned nose, seemingly incapable of polite conversation,” Harry said, entirely unable to stop himself. Ron’s face had turned red in embarrassment and Harry wasn’t about to let the him fend for himself. The blond boy’s attention had already snapped to Harry in any case. “You must be a prat.”

There was an audible intake of breath from the students around them and Harry was suddenly aware that he was maybe in the middle of causing a scene.

“Don’t you know who I am?” the blond boy managed once he’d picked his jaw off the floor.

Harry did have the strange feeling that, yes, he did actually know this wanker, but he couldn’t well explain how that was, so instead—

“See? That’s exactly what a prat would say.”

The blond boy’s mouth fell open again, his own face reddening. “How dare you insult the house of—”

“Don’t you know who I am?” Harry asked, cutting the other off.

The blond shook his head a little helplessly. “No!”

“Hm.”

“Well then?” Now the blond was getting impatient, but Harry was having too much fun.

It was probably for the best that Professor McGonagall returned from the Great Hall at precisely that moment. Her narrowed eyes darted between the three boys: Ron, who had taken a defensive stance, the blond, who was clearly trying to loom over the other two and failing, and Harry, who couldn’t see his own face but suspected it looked incriminating.

“What’s going on here?” Professor McGonagall demanded.

Harry needed to salvage the situation before they all got detention on the first day.

“We were just doing some introductions, Professor.”

“No we weren’t!” The blond glared at him. “He won’t tell me who he is!”

“Oh.” Harry widened his eyes in a way he hoped looked suitably innocent. “You hadn’t asked.” He stuck out his hand. “I’m Harry Potter.”

“WHAT?”

Harry could have sworn he heard Professor McGonagall mutter, “Merlin, help me,” just before the chatter among the first-years rose to an unholy level.

“Silence,” the professor said, and a hush fell over them. “Mr. Potter, Mr. Malfoy—”

Malfoy. That name, like every other damned thing that Harry had come across since the morning he’d gotten his first Hogwarts letter, was familiar. If you’d asked him a minute ago to tell you the boy’s name, he’d have never been able to summon it. Now, though, he was certain the blond was Draco Malfoy—he couldn’t possibly have ever been anyone else.

“—please make an effort to wait until you are sorted into your respective houses before antagonizing each other. We have a long evening ahead of us, and if I must deduct house points, I would like to know which house I must deduct them from first.”

The two boys nodded.

“Good. If you’ll all follow me, then.”

The Great Hall was spectacular. Floating candles and a ceiling which looked like the night sky made this room scream of magic. The professor’s table sat at the front of the room on a raised dais, and in front of it sat a stool, and on the stool sat a hat.

And Harry was having another bad feeling about this.

He hardly listened to the names being called, was barely aware of the sortings aside from Hermione going to Gryffindor—of course—and Malfoy going to Slytherin—of course. It felt as though he’d blinked and now, now—

“Harry Potter.”

Bollocks.

He ignored the excited chatter of the students, the interested eyes of the professors, as he sat upon the stool and felt the hat settle on his head.

Well, isn’t that…interesting,” the hat said. In Harry’s mind.

“Not Sly—”

Not Slytherin. Yes, I know. You’ve always been quite adamant about that.”

Harry frowned. “Have we met before?”

The hat chuckled. “Yes, of course, but not at all.

That really cleared things up. Great.

Have patience. Patience is a virtue. Lighting ancient magical hats on fire is how you get expelled.

“Right. So, not Slytherin, as we’ve agreed—”

We’ve not agreed on anything.” The hat still sounded amused. “I’ve said repeatedly that you would do well in Slytherin. You’ve repeatedly denied it. But how well did you really do in Gryffindor if you’re back again? Hmm?

“Back again?” Harry said. “So I have been here before.”

Yes, obviously you’ve been here before,” the hat said slowly, as if explaining to a small child. Which Harry supposed he was. “It’s also your first time.

I’m not going to scream. I’m not going to scream.

“Well, if I’ve already done all this and it went poorly, as you seem to think, and I’m back to try again—” God, but Harry didn’t even understand what he was saying, he just hoped it sounded convincing “—then wasn’t it incredibly brave of me to make that sacrifice?”

That was the most Slytherin way of trying to get into Gryffindor that you could have managed.”

That’s it. Harry was going to scream.

“I need to be in Gryffindor. I don’t belong anywhere else.”

The only house you absolutely do not belong in is Ravenclaw.”

Okay, rude.

Harry took a steadying breath. “Perhaps I can admit that maybe, maybe, I am a good fit for Slytherin. But Slytherin is not a good fit for me.”

Oh?

“Yes. Maybe I have some cunning. And yes, I suppose I must have some ambition if I’ve…if I’ve somehow ended up here a second time, because there has to be a purpose to all of this.”

Hell, Harry didn’t know if he believed the sorting hat, or if he should even trust his déjà vu brain, but it made a weird sort of sense in a way. He certainly had no other explanation.

“But I need to choose to be brave and I get the feeling that’s not going to be easy most of the time. If you put me in Gryffindor, that doesn’t mean my Slytherin traits go away. But if you put me in Slytherin, do you really think they’ll let me be anything more than that?”

The hat was quiet for a minute.

I’ve changed my mind.”

Tension eased out of Harry’s shoulders. Finally.

That was the most Slytherin way of trying to get into Gryffindor I have ever heard in my entire life.”

“WHAT?”

But you’ve convinced me, Mr. Potter, yet again.

GRYFFINDOR.”

Harry wrenched the cursed hat off his head and tossed it onto the stool. He was never going to do that again if he could help it. Applause filled his ears but Harry hardly noticed as he made his way to the Gryffindor table and the empty seat next to Hermione Granger.

Moments later, Ron Weasley joined him, the headmaster gave a speech, the feast started and for a single blissful moment, all felt right in the world.

His scar started burning, which it had never done in the course of his life, as far as he could remember. It wasn’t pleasant by any means, but Harry had the distinct impression he’d had much, much worse. So much so that he barely even flinched.

Harry looked around towards the professors’ table on instinct and found a pair of dark eyes boring into him. Now that brought to surface a mix of confusing emotions that seemed to boil down to, “He’s a complete dick, but not totally evil.”

A glowing recommendation.

“Percy,” Harry asked, seeing as the prefect was sitting across from him. “Who’s that?”

“Professor Snape.” The older boy’s mouth pressed into a thin line. “He’s an extremely competent potions master, but he’s strongly biased towards his own house.”

“Let me guess. Slytherin.”

Percy raised a brow but nodded.

“Any idea why he’s staring at me?”

“I suppose it might have to do with you being Harry Potter. Plenty of people are going to stare.” Percy’s frown deepened. “But if he gives you any particular trouble, be sure to tell one of the Gryffindor prefects, or our head of house, Professor McGonagall.”

Harry nodded. “Thanks.”

But even when Professor Snape finally looked away, the stinging of his scar carried on.

Harry was having a really, really bad feeling about this.

 


 

He and Ron had been late to transfiguration and Professor McGonagall had been a cat.

Ron had said it best. Wicked.

Harry couldn’t say the same of the rest of the classes he’d had, though. History with Professor Binns should have been fascinating—after all, Harry had a lot to catch up on when it came to wizarding history, even the parts he’d been personally involved in—but as it turned out, Professor Binns was a ghost who spoke in a monotone and sometimes phased out of the room mid-sentence.

Herbology was just plants as far as Harry could tell, and he’d had plenty of practice with those in Aunt Petunia’s garden. Professor Sprout had promised that they’d be getting to more interesting, magical plants soon enough, but that everyone had to learn the basics of gardening first.

Now he was headed to potions, and that meant Professor Snape. This promised to be interesting, at least.

Harry had barely sat down at his potions bench when the dark-haired professor swept into the room.

“There will be no foolish wand-waving or silly incantations in this class,” the man said, his voice deep and gravelly. “As such, I don’t expect many of you to appreciate the subtle science and exact art that is potion-making.”

Professor Snape turned to face the class, eyes sweeping over them in distaste. “However, for those select few who possess the predisposition…” He smiled, or what passed for one. “I can teach you how to bewitch the mind and ensnare the senses. I can tell you how to bottle fame, brew glory, and even put a stopper in death.”

Harry—much to his own horror—found himself mouthing along to the words as if he knew this speech by heart and ducked his head.

Oh, no, no, no. Please let him not have noticed.

“Then again, maybe some of you have come to Hogwarts in possession of abilities so formidable that you feel confident enough to not pay attention!”

This is not happening. Not again.

“Mister Potter,” the professor drawled with a sneer. “Our new celebrity.”

Harry took a deep breath.

“Potter, tell me, what would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?”

From the corner of his eye, Harry watched Hermione’s hand shoot up. He merely shook his head.

“I…I’m not sure that was in our reading, sir.”

The professor’s eyes flashed. “Five points from Gryffindor for back-chat.”

Harry’ mouth snapped shut to keep him from saying something far worse.

“Let’s try again.” Snape walked around the edge of his desk to stand in front of Harry. “Potter, can you tell me where I would find a bezoar?”

If the sorting hat was right and I’ve done all this before, shouldn’t I know the bloody answers to these bloody questions?

GOAT, shouted his déjà vu brain.

“Goat,” Harry blurted, then flushed and tacked on, “sir.”

Harry took an inordinate amount of pleasure in watching the professor’s teeth gnash together.

“Only half correct, Potter. But I’ll give you another chance.”

Please don’t, Harry wanted to say.

“What is the difference between monkshood and wolfsbane?”

I don’t know!

Hermione clearly did, though, since her hand was so high in the air it looked as though her arm might come detached from its socket.

This feels like a trap, said the lizard brain.

“Uh…they’re…the same?” Harry said.

“Is that a question or an answer, Potter?”

“An answer?”

Snape’s left eye twitched. “Correct. What is another name for that same plant?”

Harry’s entire brain was dead quiet. Damn.

“I don’t know, sir.”

The professor sneered. “Fame isn’t everything, I suppose.” He returned to his desk to the soundtrack of the Slytherin first-years snickering. “For your information, Potter, asphodel and wormwood make a sleeping potion so powerful it is known as the Draught of Living Death. A bezoar is a stone taken from the stomach of a goat and it will save you from most poisons. As for monkshood and wolfsbane, they are also known by the name of aconite.”

Snape glared at the class. “Well? Why aren't you all copying that down?”

It’s going to be a long year.

 


 

Professor Quirrell was…

Well.

Professor Quirrell was freaking him out.

Harry couldn’t pin-point what it was about the man or what had changed. He’d met him before no problem in Diagon Alley. But the second Harry had walked into defense class, his déjà vu brain said, We should kill him, and Harry promptly tripped over a desk and fallen face-first on the floor.

First Scabbers and now a Professor. Maybe he’d made a mistake by not telling anyone about his sixth-sense, especially if his intrusive thoughts were going to continue to be so violent.

The sorting hat was wrong, Harry thought dismally. Because if he had been sent back in time to relive his school years, that meant his déjà vu brain—that meant that a part of himself—was okay with murder. And he’d never—

(Okay, a handful of times, he’d maybe wished that Dudley would fall into traffic, or that the snake from the zoo would eat him. And sometimes, yes, he’d thought that life would be better if Uncle Vernon choked on his morning bacon, or wondered if he could hide Aunt Petunia’s body by burying her under her rose-bushes. But really.)

He’d never though of himself as a killer.

You are only 11, you know.

He wasn’t sure which part of his brain had been responsible for that thought, but he knew he probably shouldn’t listen to it.

“Mr. P-P-Potter!”

Professor Quirrell came running over, hand fluttering nervously about as if he couldn’t decide whether to call for a mediwitch or let Harry be.

“Are you q-q-quite alright?”

“Capital.” Harry pushed himself up. “Just a bit clumsy, Professor.”

“Falling down already, Potter?” Malfoy’s snooty voice drifted through the classroom. “We’re not even dueling yet.”

Fight this one, he’s easier, said the lizard brain.

Merlin, but Harry shouldn’t listen to either of them. Him. They were both him. Probably.

It was too much to think about and he was getting the most horrible headache.

“Ah, Professor, actually,” Harry said, holding his head. “I think I might have bumped something.”

“Yes. B-b-best to go to the-the infirmary.” Professor Quirrell glanced around. “M-m-miss Granger. Take Mr. P-P-Potter to see Madam Pomfrey.”

For the first half of the walk, they were entirely quiet. Harry always felt weird around Hermione: like they should already be best friends—her and Harry and Ron—but the knowledge that they weren’t. His déjà vu brain—his evil brain, he was going to call it if it didn’t stop suggesting murder—insisted that Hermione was trustworthy. And Harry figured at this point, he had little to lose.

“Hermione,” Harry started, and the frizzy-haired girl turned to look at him. “You read a lot.”

“Yes?”

“Have you ever….have you ever read about a wizard knowing things he has no reason to know? Like, he meets someone for the first time and already knows they’re going to be great friends?”

She squinted. “Like intuition?”

“Well, sort of.” Harry frowned, trying to figure out how to explain. “But more than that. Not just a gut feeling, but a certainty. They don’t just think they know, they’re sure of it.”

Hermione thought on it for a minute. “Well, there are plenty of wizards and witches who think they’re seers. I don’t believe that anyone can see the future, myself, but there’s loads of rubbish in the library about seers claiming to have made true prophecies. And they teach divination here, with tea-leaf reading and looking into a crystal ball. So, I suppose there must be some witches and wizards who have an…advanced intuition. Or at least think they do.”

Harry wasn’t altogether sure that was any more reassuring than the idea that his future self had been sent back in time the way the sorting hat had implied. Because that still meant his all-knowing inner voice—his intuition—was seeing murder in his future. And he was not particularly a fan of that.

“Why do you ask?” Hermione said, eyes trained on Harry. Observing him. Looking for the truth on his face.

“Oh, uh,” he tried his best for a sheepish smile. The best lies always held a grain of truth. “It’s going to sound a bit strange. But when Professor Quirrell asked you to take me to Madam Pomfrey, I had the strangest feeling that, well, that you and I were already quite good friends. Except then I couldn’t remember if we’d ever spoken. Aside from the train, that is.”

Hermione stared at him a bit harder. “I think you’ve really bumped your head.”

“Yes, probably.” Although, now that they were at the doors to the infirmary, Harry noticed his headache was entirely gone. “I’ll be fine from here. You should get back to class.”

Hermione watched him for a few seconds longer. “Alright.” She turned to go, then paused. “I’ll see you around, Harry?”

The way she phrased it, like a question, tickled at Harry’s mind. He was struck with a realization that was part observation, part instinct, that Hermione didn’t have many friends, if any at all. She was smart—too smart compared to her peers, really—and had a bit of an uppity, know-it-all attitude at times, and didn’t seem to leave the library except for class and meals. He should have seen it before: Hermione Granger had no one.

That just wouldn’t do.

“Of course.”

 


 

Harry loved breakfast.

Harry loved food at Hogwarts in general. He got to eat, for starters, and that in itself was something worth celebrating. He’d only been at Hogwarts a week, but with three regular meals a day, Harry was starting to think he might one day look like a proper, healthy child.

But breakfast. Breakfast—with bacon, and muffins, and eggs—was divine. Pumpkin juice, too, was an unexpected favorite. He didn’t even mind getting up early, unlike some of the other Gryffindors in his year. Ron, to Harry’s left, looked as though he might fall into his plate at any moment.

With the sound of dozens of flapping wings, the mail came, dropped unceremoniously onto the table regardless of the food. Hermione—whom Harry had given a standing invitation to eat with them, even though Ron had whined a bit at the beginning—sat across from them, unwrapping the Daily Prophet.

Harry was content to ignore the mail. Much like his life at the Dursleys, nobody every wrote him any letters, and he usually had little interest in the news. Today wouldn’t have been any different if not for the startled gasp Hermione gave before slapping the newspaper on the table.

“Look at this. Gringotts has been broken into.”

Oh look, the bad feeling was back again.

“Apparently, there was nothing there. The vault had been emptied earlier that week.”

The sinking in Harry’s stomach intensified.

“Vault—”

“713,” Harry finished for her. Hermione stared up at him, wide-eyed, and even Ron had woken up enough to be a bit awed.

“How in the bloody hell did you know that?” the redhead said.

“Because—” Harry knew that stone was trouble. He knew it. “—Hagrid took a package out of there the day he took me to Diagon Alley. Said it was top-secret Hogwarts business. Ordered by the Headmaster himself.”

“That’s…it’s…you don’t just break into Gringotts,” Ron finally said. “You’d have to have a bloody death wish. Goblins aren’t known to be particularly forgiving. Not to mention the place is a fortress.”

“So whatever the stone is, it must be important,” Harry said.

Hermione narrowed her gaze on him. “Stone? How do you know it’s a stone?”

Stop. Being. So. Careless, Harry snapped at himself. There was nothing to be done about the slip up now, and at least it was only Ron and Hermione, whom he felt on a bone-deep level that he could trust.

“I don’t know anything for sure,” Harry said, and wished he could stop there. He wanted that printed on a t-shirt. “I can’t…I can’t explain how I know it’s a stone. I just do.”

Ron’s mouth twisted. “It’s not that I don’t believe you, mate. It’s just...who’d break into Gringotts for a rock?”

“That’s the wrong question,” Hermione said absently. She was still looking at Harry as if she was trying to see through him, and Harry half-wished she could. Maybe then someone could tell him what the hell was wrong with him.

“Oh yeah?” Ron snorted. “And what’s the right question?”

But Harry and Hermione must have been thinking the same thing, because they spoke in tandem.

“What sort of rock needs to be locked in a maximum-security vault?”

Ron looked between them with wide eyes. “Don’t ever do that again.”

Chapter Text

Hermione had been dreading the mandatory flying lesson all week and would not stop panicking about it. Ron, who was just pleased that there was finally something the prodigious witch didn’t know anything about, hadn’t helped the issue by needling her about it whenever he could.

“It’s not like real magic,” Hermione had cried out at one point.

Ron had raised a brow. “Flying,” he said dryly, “isn’t real magic? I’d love to hear this one.”

Perhaps it was a bit cruel, but Harry refused to intervene. He liked them both tremendously, but he wasn’t willing to play mediator. He wouldn’t always be around to stop Ron from putting his foot in his mouth. It was better if the two of them figured out their dynamic between themselves rather than rely on Harry to do it for them.

Besides, Harry had too many of his own problems to deal with. There was the issue of the stone, which he just knew was going to pop up again at an inconvenient time, and probably ruin his life if the feeling of dread was anything to go by. Then he had his murderous impulses to worry about, which he still hadn’t told anyone about, but definitely needed to get a handle on. Quickly.

That was tied in with his sixth-sense—as he’d taken to calling it in his head because he had no other way of explaining it—of which the causes might be time-travel, precognition, or possibly, just losing his goddamned mind. Was it better or worse that he almost preferred the last option? At least, then, he wouldn’t feel inclined to listen to his déjà vu brain when it told him to “accidentally” lock Scabbers in Hedwig’s cage.

Less importantly, he had his growing rivalry with Draco Malfoy, schoolwork to attend to, and a little side-project he’d been working on in his spare time—namely, finding out as much as he could about the last wizarding war and the man who’d killed his parents.

There was shockingly little information on Voldemort. It was mostly limited to the fact that the man was a dark lord, that he’d been gaining tremendous power since the late 70s, and that he was at the height of his power when Harry had supposedly defeated him. Any further information, Harry figured, would be in the restricted section, but given how unwilling the adults in his life had been to provide Harry even the barest of details, he suspected no one would be willing to write him a pass.

Ridiculous. As if Harry didn’t have a right to know. As if he had to be protected from it.

No matter. I’ll just have to find a way to get the information myself.

But until then, he had a flying lesson to attend.

 


 

Harry wasn’t sure how it went wrong so quickly. One moment, they were all saying, “Up,” and Ron was getting smacked in the face with his own broomstick, and everyone was fine. And then Neville’s broom ran away with him, dragged him across the campus and back, dropped him unceremoniously on a statue on the roof. Neville had fallen, of course, broken his wrist, and had been taken to the hospital wing.

Malfoy had taken Neville’s Remembrall.

“Harry, don’t,” Hermione was saying.

Harry, yes, his déjà vu brain countered. Or maybe it was just his normal brain. That he couldn’t tell seemed like an indicator that this was a good decision.

“You don’t even know how to fly.” She had latched onto his arm with an iron grip and wasn’t eager to let go. “You’re going to get yourself killed.”

Harry hadn’t believed her. Not even when he was nearly 20 meters in the air. Not even when Draco had thrown the Remembrall, or when Harry had sped after at a break-neck pace. He’d caught it within a broom’s-length of the castle wall itself, so close he’d been at a very real risk of flying straight through the window if he hadn’t managed to stop in time.

(The Remembrall had turned a bright crimson the moment his fingers wrapped around it, brighter even than it had that morning in the Great Hall when Neville had first held it. The smoke swirled and swirled, and Harry glared at it.)

No. Harry’d only truly believed he was going to die once he was back on the ground, Professor McGonagall striding purposefully towards the group, saying, “Harry Potter. Come with me.”

Voldemort may have failed to kill him, but Professor McGonagall would not.

She led him through the castle and anticipation pooled in his stomach. Would she take him to the headmaster to have him expelled? Or could she do that herself?

They stopped outside the Defense classroom. What would we need Professor Quirrell for, Harry wondered. The man barely had control over his own classroom half the time, and it’s not like McGonagall needed Quirrell’s permission to cast Harry out.

“Professor Quirrell,” McGonagall said, her lilting Scottish accent rising above the horrid screech of whatever creature was currently wrapped around the Defense professor’s shoulders. “I wondered if I might borrow Mr. Wood for a moment.”

Oliver Wood was a 5th year student nearly as tall as Professor McGonagall. Despite Wood clearly being a Gryffindor, Harry hadn’t ever spoken to him. Couldn’t even really remember seeing him around at all, actually.

“Wood, I’ve found you a seeker.”

Oliver Wood eyed Harry critically, the warmth of his brown eyes replaced by something that Harry could only describe as a bit manic. When he turned to look at Professor McGonagall, there was a similar look in her eyes as well.

“You think he can take Charlie’s place?” Wood asked McGonagall. She nodded firmly.

“Today, during what I am certain was his first attempt on a broom—” and at this, she shot Harry a stern look “—Mr. Potter managed a maneuver Charlie Weasley couldn’t have done at his best.”

At this, Wood was definitely intrigued. “Well, he does have the right build for it.” Wood smiled at the Transfiguration professor. “And I know you want Gryffindor to win the Quidditch cup as much as any of us, Professor.”

“You need a seeker, Wood, and you won’t find better than Mr. Potter.”

“If he’s even half as good as you say, we’ll be grinding Slytherin to dust in no time.” Wood held out his hand to Harry. “Welcome to the team, Potter.”

Harry shook the older boy’s hand, feeling strangely like he’d just made a pact with a devil.

“Thanks.”

 


 

Harry didn’t know what he’d done to get summoned to the Headmaster’s office.

Maybe he’d finally been caught out for flying when he wasn’t supposed to in Madam Hooch’s class? Though it had been several days since then, and surely if anyone was going to give him hell for it, Professor McGonagall would have already done so.

Maybe he was going to get in trouble for breaking Neville’s Remembrall—though Harry had sworn up and down that he hadn’t done it on purpose, and Neville had told him not to worry about it. By design, the smoke wouldn’t clear until you remembered what it was you’d forgotten, or the issue itself had been resolved. But the smoke had stayed bright red the past four days, and Harry had no idea what he couldn’t remember.

(That was not strictly true. He had the sneaking suspicion that it was all to do with his sixth-sense and the hat’s cryptic words. But he was already worrying about that in any case, so having a Remembrall nagging at him wasn’t exactly helpful.)

Maybe—and this would by far be the worst case scenario—maybe someone had somehow gleaned Harry’s murderous thoughts towards Professor Quirrell and had reported him to the Headmaster. Though how anyone would know—aside from Harry rather obviously distancing himself from the man—was beyond him.

Mind reading, the déjà vu brain said helpfully, successfully sending Harry into a full-blown panic right outside the entrance to the Headmaster’s office.

Merlin, he was so screwed. He was so, so screwed. One look inside his head and any sane person would know something was wrong. He was going to be sent to a ward. Scratch that, he was going to be sent to prison. Did wizards have a special wizard prison? He got the sense that yes, they did, and Harry very much never wanted to go there.

Breathe, Harry, breathe.

He could do that. He inhaled deeply. Exhaled. Inhaled. Exhaled.

Pull yourself together.

Right. Right. It was going to be…no, he wouldn’t lie to himself. He didn’t know if it would be alright. But he also couldn’t put it off any longer or else the Headmaster would definitely know something was up.

“Lemon Drop,” he said, reading the password from the bottom of the very short note he’d been given.

The large stone griffin twisted abruptly and rose, a hidden staircase following behind it. Harry hurried to step on and let the magic carry him up.

The Headmaster’s office was…well. It was simultaneously incredibly strange and exactly what Harry had expected. Bits and baubles cluttered every available surface, most of them moving with a whiz, ting, shhhh. The walls were lined with bookshelves packed to the brim, overflowing even, and a large globe in the corner was projecting constellations onto every available surface. Heavy, red-velvet drapes hung from the ceiling, but even as Harry watched, they turned purple before his eyes, then blue, before going back to red.

“Ah, Harry, my boy. There you are.” The Headmaster was seated at a desk in the middle of the room. He was dressed as oddly as the office was: bright green robes embroidered with moving, dancing hats. It hurt Harry’s eyes a bit to look at it for too long, so he focused on Dumbledore’s face instead. The older man motioned Harry to take the seat across from him. “Sit, please.”

Harry eased into the well-worn leather hesitantly. “Professor? If you don’t mind my asking…why am I here?”

The older man hummed. “A truly excellent question. Why are any of us here?”

“Uh…”

“Candy?” Dumbledore offered forth a bowl of assorted hard-candies, not unlike the selection that Mrs. Figg had, and which Harry had fond memories of. It was the only time he’d been allowed anything sweet, since the Dursleys weren’t around to swat it from his hands.

Don’t. The part of his brain responsible for his sixth-sense had been quiet since the hallway, but Harry was keenly aware of the sharp-sting of mistrust running through him now. It was not quite the level of violence he’d felt upon seeing Professor Quirrell, but it was anger. A horrid sort of…betrayed feeling, if Harry had to put words to it. It was making his stomach churn.

“I’d better not, sir.” Harry offered what he hoped was a sheepish smile. “My friend Hermione says it’s bad for my teeth.”

“Ah.” Dumbledore returned the bowl to its spot. “Miss Granger is, perhaps, wiser than us both. And I’ve heard you’ve made friends with Ron Weasley as well.”

Harry fought to keep a frown from his face. “Yes, I’m very fond of them both.”

“Good. Good. I always worry, a bit, about how the first-years are settling in.”

“You meet with all the new students, then?” Harry asked. As soon as he’d spoken, he knew it was the wrong thing to say. He was meant to be playing along, letting the Headmaster guide this conversation until Harry could discern what the older man wanted. He was not supposed to be prodding at what was obviously a flimsy half-truth.

The Headmaster’s smile grew heavy. “If I could, it would put my old mind at ease. But alas, there are not enough hours in the day. You, Harry, are something of a special case.”

“Because I’m the Boy-who-lived?”

Dumbledore nodded with a sigh. “I suppose by now you know much of what happened that night.”

Not nearly enough, Harry thought. He wasn’t about to ask Dumbledore for more information though, not when he felt like he couldn’t trust a word that came from the man’s mouth.

“I had hoped to spare you from the horror of it as long as possible, but nothing can be avoided forever.”

See how he admits to planning to lie to you, one of Harry’s inner voices said, though he wasn’t sure which. See how he wants to keep you ignorant?

The sick feeling in his stomach was only growing stronger by the minute, and still he said nothing.

“Just because Voldemort was destroyed does not mean that his followers fell too. Many did, and many were sentenced appropriately. But some escaped. Some claimed they had been threatened or bribed or manipulated into doing their master’s bidding. Others did not bear the dark mark, and so it could never be proven.”

“They’re still out there,” Harry realized. “And they must hate me.”

The Headmaster pursed his lips. “There are many who are dark sympathizers. Some of the children in this school have been brought up that way. You will be safe here, Harry, but I thought it best to keep a close eye on you, just in case.”

“I see.” And then, because it would be rude not to—though Harry certainly didn’t like the idea of being specially watched by Dumbledore—he said, “Thank you, sir.”

Albus Dumbledore peered at Harry over his half-moon glasses. “I hope you will feel comfortable coming to me if you have any problems, my boy. If there’s anything you wish to tell me…” The older man trailed off expectantly.

Don’t meet his eyes.

Harry stared at a spot on the wall just to the left of Dumbledore’s head. “Not at all, sir, but I’ll be sure to speak with you directly should anything change.”

Before the Headmaster could respond—thankfully, since Harry wasn’t sure whether or not he was about to be called out on being a liar—the door to Dumbledore’s office sprang open and the caretaker, Mr. Filch, hobbled through.

“Did a sweep of the third-floor corridor like you said, Headmaster,” Mr. Filch said. “Nothing’s been tampered with, far as I can tell. Nobody’s getting through with that beast—”

The man cut off abruptly, having finally spotted Harry, and glared.

“Harry, I do think we’re done for today.” Dumbledore smiled genially. “Unless you had something to say?”

“No, sir. I’ll just—” Harry stood and backed out towards the door, inching around Filch “—be going now. Thank you.”

Harry sped down the spiral staircase, ignored the students milling about the halls, and found a nice empty alcove to duck into.

Breathe. Inhale. Exhale.

“What,” Harry said to himself a few moments later, still slightly breathless, “the bloody hell was that about?”

 


 

All of Harry’s side-projects had taken the back-burner: figuring out how to quell his killer-instinct, trying to make sense of his déjà vu brain, investigating the mystery of the package Hagrid had taken from Gringotts, and even his research on Voldemort’s reign of terror.

None of it was anywhere near as important as learning to block any mind-reading attempts as fast as possible.

The fact that you don’t want anyone knowing what you’re thinking makes you seem like a villain, Harry thought. Which led to the twenty-minute existential crisis of, oh God, am I actually evil?

He so did not have time for this right now.

Harry turned back to his utterly useless book. He’d finished his potions essay almost an hour ago and had dedicated the rest of his free time before dinner to searching for any clues on how to defend himself. It was difficult, though, when he was only half-aware of what he was looking for, had no idea of if it was a common practice or not, and wasn’t sure if there would even be any books on mind-reading in the library.

It didn’t exactly seem like the kind of thing you’d want just anyone to be able to do, in Harry’s opinion.

Of course, if anyone would know something about a potentially forbidden piece of magic that just seemed, conceptually, like it would be classified as dark, then it was Professor Quirrell, who just so happened to be walking into the library at that very moment.

“Professor Quirrell, sir, may I have a moment?” Harry asked as he approached the man.

Look at me, being all friendly and non-murdery towards my teacher, he thought proudly. Getting information on mind-reading AND working through whatever subconscious anger I have towards this man in one go. 10 points to Harry.

The man in question stopped, smiled in that shaky, quivering way of his, hands still fluttering though they were pressed to his chest.

“A-anything you need, P-Potter?”

“I had a question, actually, and I think you may be the best person to answer it.”

A dash of flattery for flavor.

“Go on,” Quirrell nodded.

“I was wondering, that is, I’d heard that some wizards can read minds.”

The professor’s eyes narrowed. “That is called legilimancy, and it is very, very illegal. I hope you were not planning to peruse your classmates’ thoughts.”

WHAT?

“Oh Merlin, no!” Harry rapidly shook his head, hard enough that some of the wilder, curlier strands flew into his eyes. “Trust me, Professor. I’ve got enough thoughts on my own as it is.”

Good heavens, he couldn’t even imagine. He already had to deal with his déjà vu brain, sometimes his instinctual lizard brain, and his own normal, standard thoughts. He had enough crazy going on for a lifetime, thank you very much, and he certainly didn’t need to know what kind of absolute hellscape was going on in, say, Hermione’s head.

“No,” Harry reiterated. “I was curious if there was a way to block someone from getting into my head. Like a shield charm, of a sort.”

He hadn’t thought it possible, but that earned him an even more severe look from Professor Quirrell.

“Mr. Potter, do you believe someone has violated the privacy of your mind?”

I mean, yeah, the chances seem pretty high at this point.

“No, sir. That is, not yet. But I don’t like to be caught unaware.”

Professor Quirrell chuckled. “Hiding something, hmm?” His eyes were bright, and there was unmasked curiosity lacing his tone. “Most people, even famous people such as yourself, never have a need to learn the mind arts.”

There was something…off about Professor Quirrell. Harry couldn’t quite place it, and so he shoved it to the back of his mind. It was probably nothing, anyway, just that cursed sixth-sense of his acting up again.

Besides, he needed to focus on the conversation at hand. Specifically, a plausible reason for wanting to learn to shield his mind that didn’t make him seem like he’d completely lost the plot, and also didn’t make it seem like he was accusing Professor Dumbledore of breaking the law.

“It’s…well, you’ll probably think it’s a bit silly,” Harry started, because that was always a good way to sell something to adults. In his experience, most of them wanted to seem like they were taking kids seriously, and they felt good when kids trusted them enough to tell them something.

“If it bothers you, Potter, it’s not silly.”

Sucker.

Harry nodded anyway and made a show of steeling himself.

“See, growing up I didn’t have anything that was mine, really, except for the cupboard, but that doesn’t count—”

Quirrell’s eyebrows had raised steadily over the course of the sentence and were now hidden beneath the purple turban wrapped around his head.

It was going perfectly.  

“Everything else was my cousin Dudley’s first. Except I always had my thoughts, and they were mine—the only thing that was mine and not anyone else’s. Only now I learn that some wizards can look into my head and see my thoughts and who knows what else, and I know I’m only 11 and these kind of seem like adult problems, but I just—I don’t—I can’t—"

Alright, so maybe it wasn’t entirely for show, Harry thought as he put a name to the sickening anxiety clawing at his chest. It was tight, like a belt around his lungs, and he was finding it increasingly difficult to breathe.

“I understand completely,” Professor Quirrell interjected, perhaps sensing that Harry was on the verge of a panic-attack. “There is a counter to legilimency. It’s called occlumency. Both are extraordinarily complicated, but at least with occlumency, there’s little harm in you learning the basics now. I’m sure Madam Pince can guide you to an appropriate book.”

There’s a counterspell, thank God. Some of the tightness loosened, just a fraction.

“Thank you, sir. Really.”

“Not a p-p-problem, Potter.”

It was only after the professor had walked away, and Harry himself was halfway to the Great Hall for dinner that he realized what, exactly, had been wrong about his talk with Professor Quirrell.

For most of their conversation, the jittery, nervous, stuttering side of the professor that Harry was used to seeing had been completely absent.

 


 

Harry was on edge the next few days. It seemed like bad omens were piling up: first with Neville’s Remembrall, then his borderline-terrifying meeting with Dumbledore, and capping off with his absolutely bewildering conversation with Professor Quirrell.

He’d kept the last two to himself, already sure of his two friends’ reactions without even having to ask. Ron would tell him he was over-reacting, that Dumbledore was generally considered to be a bit bonkers and Quirrell clearly had a screw or two loose himself. Hermione would be appalled by Ron’s callous appraisal of their professors and would end up railing on them both for not respecting authority properly.

All in all, talking about it would add nothing to Harry’s understanding of what was going on, and besides, he’d have to explain so many other bizarre things just so they’d have the proper context to understand why he thought any of this was weird.

It just wasn’t worth it.

On the bright side, he’d acquired a book from the library that covered the basics of occlumency and had devoured it within two days. All that was left was practice, most of which he couldn’t do without a trained legilimens, as it turned out. Which left him with meditation as his new morning and evening routine.

It was hard to tell whether or not he was making progress, but he’d give it time. If it helped him feel a little less like he was going to implode from anxiety during the day, that was just an added benefit.

But meditation or no, there was an undeniable edginess to the air today. He’d made it through classes with no tremendous tragedy, though he’d lost a quill and an entire roll of parchment at lunch when Seamus Finnegan had somehow managed to explode a goblet of water while trying to turn it into rum.

Dinner trudged by slowly. Harry found himself jumping at every little thing: a too-loud laugh from the Hufflepuff table, the clang of a plate being dropped, Ron’s hand brushing against the sleeve of Harry’s robe.

Hermione had noticed, of course, and kept shooting him questioning looks, but Harry didn’t know what to say. Even his sixth-sense—which usually gave him some clue about what bad thing was going to happen—was utterly silent. His lizard brain had offered nothing more than a displeased hiss.

Afterwards, they’d gone to the library to finish up a potions essay—a foot and a half on flobberworm uses that Harry finished quickly, almost as fast as Hermione, and which he’d barely put any thought into. Like everything else in his life, it felt like a repetition of an old memory.

“You’ve been out of it all day, Harry,” Hermione finally said once the three of them were on their way back to Gryffindor tower. “What’s wrong?”

“I’ve just been having a rough week, that’s all.”

Ron and Hermione exchanged a glance that suggested they’d spoken about this behind Harry’s back already.

“Look, mate.” Ron stopped at the base of the stairs and crossed his arms. “There’s Malfoy’s been a twat again kind of bad week, and then there’s an I’m in a state of crisis kind of bad week. And it kind of seems like you’re in a crisis.”

For a moment, Harry thought he might burst into a fit of hysterical laughter, which would only solidify Ron’s argument. It’s just that he’d forgotten how perceptive Ron could be.

(Or hadn’t realized that he’d known all along that Ron was perceptive until now. Or maybe he’d forgotten that he knew he would think Ron was perceptive in the future. Or—)

It was easy to meet Hermione and know she would always pick up on the small things. You couldn’t hide anything from her. Not for long, at least. But Ron, who was often unassuming, who seemed preoccupied with quidditch and cool spells and food. Harry had underestimated Ron, hadn’t he?

“I—”

“You’ve got secrets,” Ron said with a shrug, as if that was no big deal. Harry’s heart was clenching and unclenching in a way that couldn’t possibly be healthy. Maybe he was having a heart attack. “And you can keep them, if you want.”

At this, Ron gave a pointed, harsher look to Hermione. Ah, so she must’ve wanted Harry to spill the beans. He couldn’t say he was surprised.

“But you’ve clearly got a lot on your mind. Snape—”

Professor Snape,” Hermione corrected.

“Snape—” oh, and now Ron was actively glaring at Hermione. At least their rivalry hadn’t abated entirely and the world was still spinning, “—took five points from you today for not paying attention and you thanked him!”

“Did I?” He supposed that was a little concerning.

“Harry.” Hermione touched his arm very gently. Harry still jolted. “We just wanted to say that we’re here for you. If you want to talk.”

Unlike when Dumbledore had expressed that same sentiment, Harry believed her. Ron, too. God, why did he think he had to do this alone? He swallowed past the lump in his throat. He was not going to cry. He refused.

“I’ve been an idiot, haven’t I?” he admitted.

“Well—”

“A bit, yeah.”

Harry laughed a little, and then grew serious again. “I promise…I promise I will tell you what’s been going on, or as much as what I understand. But not here. I don’t want anyone to overhear.”

Another shared look between his two friends. Yeah, they’ll be alright, he thought fondly.

“Alright.” Hermione looped her arm through Harry’s and all-but dragged him forward. Ron hurried to fall into step beside them. “But you will tell us, Harry?”

It was almost not phrased as a question.

“Yes, I—”

The stairs moved beneath his feet—not a gentle slide, but a shift of stone that left Harry clinging desperately to the railing. Hermione’s grip on his arm was iron-tight, and Ron too had grabbed on to Harry’s robes as if that would be enough to stabilize him if he started to fall.

“What in the devil—” Ron started.

“Let’s just go before the staircases decide to move again.” Harry’s stomach—which had already been knotted with worry all day—wasn’t fairing too well. He wasn’t sure he could take another abrupt movement.

They hurried to the top of the stairs and into the corridor. With the exception of that first time to McGonagall’s class—which Harry maintained was Ron’s fault—Harry had never once gotten lost in Hogwarts. He had felt an almost intuitive understanding of the castle’s layout, though whether that was thanks to his sixth-sense or to the fact that Hogwarts itself just seemed to like him, he didn’t know.

But now, he stood in a part of the castle he knew he hadn’t been to before. A part that felt both familiar and awful in that same bone-deep way Harry knew could only mean trouble.

Ron stiffened. “Does anyone feel like—"

“—we’re not supposed to be here? Yeah.” At least it wasn’t just him this time, Harry thought.

“That’s because we’re not.” Hermione’s face was pinched. “This is the third-floor corridor. The one—”

“Dumbledore said we shouldn’t go to unless we wanted to die an extremely painful death.” Ron paused. “Blimey. What are the odds the staircase would bring us to the one place we’re not supposed to go?”

Harry and Hermione both froze.

What were the odds, indeed?

The very same third-floor corridor Filch mentioned in front of me while I was at Dumbledore’s office, Harry thought, the memory surfacing easily. Slowly, like water dripping drop by drop into a bucket, an idea came to him that was almost incomprehensible, and yet—

Dumbledore wanted Harry to be here. But why?

Hermione was staring at him, and who knew what she would discern from his expression this time.

“You don’t think—” she started, but Harry wasn’t about to have this conversation now, when he was fairly certain they were headed into some sort of a trap.

“We need to leave. Now.”

They turned, quickly, back to the stairs, but a cat stood in their way: ratty tabby fur, wild yellow eyes. It yowled at them, a horrific sort of screeching that seemed to belong more to a dragon than to a cat.

“Oh, bugger, it’s Mrs. Norris.”

“Run!”

There was nowhere to go but through the door at the end of the hallway. Harry didn’t want to go—he’d rather get caught by Filch, and if Dumbledore was really behind this, then Harry doubted he’d get into too much trouble—but his feet carried him anyway.

Ron yanked on the door handle. “It’s locked.”

“Oh, move over.” Hermione bodily shoved the redhead out of the way and poised her wand at the handle. “Alohamora.”

It slid open with a click, and Harry was yanked inside.

I don’t want to look. I don’t want to look.

An already-faint snoring tapered off and Harry forced himself to stare down a large three-headed dog as it woke up. The first head snarled a warning, but it was the second and third that immediately lurched forward, jaws snapping little more than a hairsbreadth from their necks.

They screamed. Ron ripped the door open and they tumbled out, throwing their bodyweight against the door just in time to feel it shudder under the assault from the Cerberus.

With quick wand-work, Hermione re-bolted the door. As soon as the metal clicked into place, the three of them sprinted for the tower, uncaring now of who might see them. Harry didn’t stop—hardly even breathed—until the Fat Lady’s portrait was closed behind them.

“What was that thing doing in the castle?” Ron heaved.

Hermione turned on him. “Isn’t it obvious?”

No.”

“I’m guessing you didn’t look at its feet.”

Harry sighed. It was like she was asking for an argument.

“I was a little preoccupied with its heads!” Ron snapped. “There were three of them, in case you didn’t notice.”

“It was standing over a trap door. It was guarding something,” she said primly. Curious brown eyes shifted over to Harry. “What are the odds—”

“The Gringotts package,” Harry said tiredly. “I’ll eat my hat if it’s anything else.”

For a moment, Hermione looked as though she might say something else, but shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. Either way, we should stay out of it.”

“Oh that’ll be easy,” Ron said with a roll of his eyes. “There’s a bloody killer dog in the school. I guess I’ll just not think about it.”

She glared at him harshly. “I’m going to bed before either of you gets us all killed. Or worse, expelled.”

After she had stomped off, Ron turned to Harry. “She needs to sort out her priorities.”

He hummed in agreement. “She was right, though. We shouldn’t get involved.”

The other boy shrugged. “If you say so. I’d be happy to never see that thing again.”

If only we could be so lucky.

Chapter Text

After the whole three-headed-dog debacle, Harry never quite got around to telling Ron and Hermione about everything that had been bothering him. There hadn’t seemed to be the time, really. Snape had started dumping potions essays on them, some even up to three-feet in length. Herbology had picked up, too, as Professor Sprout had promised, and now Harry had quidditch practice to balance on top of his course-load, not to mention his occlumency training.

Somehow, it got to be Halloween in the blink of an eye, and Harry only noticed because that feeling of dread was back with a vengeance.

That alone might have served as an adequate reminder for Harry to talk to his friends about his sixth-sense, but Ron and Hermione were feuding worse than ever. Tensions had been ramping up over the past month to the point where they often refused to be near each other outside of class for more than half-an-hour. Whenever Harry was left with one of them alone, it was a never-ending stream of complaints.

Ron hated how uppity Hermione could get, how she seemed to despise anything that wasn’t strictly intellectual, and especially that she had no problem getting up on her high horse.

“She’s just so…so condescending,” Ron had said. “Like she thinks no one else can be smart but her. Or worse, like she thinks that’s the only thing that matters.”

Hermione, for her part, couldn’t stand the way Ron never took her seriously, how he rolled his eyes more often than not whenever she spoke, how she felt like no matter how hard she tried to relate to him, it was never enough.

“I’ve even tried talking about quidditch with him,” she had said, despairingly. “It was hopeless. He started yelling at me two minutes in. Two minutes. I got a better result with potions theory!”

The thing was, Harry couldn’t say or do anything to fix this rift between his two friends because they were both right. He knew that prolonged exposure and shared experience would help bind them together, that they would eventually see that they didn’t have to be the exact same person in order to get along. They just needed the right set of circumstances.

Unfortunately, before that could happen, they were probably going to make things infinitely worse.

It came to a head charms class. For some cursed reason, Flitwick had thought to seat Ron and Hermione next to each other, with Harry at a desk next to Seamus Finnegan and far enough away that he couldn’t run interference if things got tense.

“Swish and flick,” Flitwick said, demonstrating over the feather in front of him. “The incantation is wingardium leviosa.”

The class filled with the sound of dozens of students repeating the incantation. Harry lifted his wand over his own feather and repeated the incantation with the proper wand movement. As had become his habit over his two months at Hogwarts, he expected the spell to fail the first time and work perfectly the second. This, too, had to do with his sixth-sense. Each spell was like-new to him when the professor taught it, but as soon as he tried it himself, it was as if he could suddenly feel his own mistakes: how his grip on his wand was just slightly off, how his wand movements were too flourished, his pronunciation not clear enough.

He was still no match for Hermione, whose commitment to perfectionism put her at the top of every class except potions. A large contributor, though, to why no one thought him particularly prodigious was that he was careful. So, so, so careful—once he’d figured out the pattern—to never let spells seem too easy for him. He already had enough attention as the Boy Who Lived; he didn’t need another reason for Dumbledore—or anyone else—to watch him closely.

Like clockwork, his feather floated easily on the second attempt, but Harry kept it low enough to the table to hide it from Professor Flitwick’s view.

“You’re going to take someone’s eye out.” Hermione’s distinct voice rose just above the hum of background noise. “Besides. You’re not even saying it correctly.”

Harry briefly considered banging his head against his desk. There was only one person she could be talking to.

“If you’re so smart—” Ron’s teeth were practically bared “—you do it then.”

And, of course, Hermione did.

 


 

“It’s levi-o-sa, not levio-sar,” Ron mocked, exaggerating the pitch and tone. He rolled his eyes. “Honestly. It’s no wonder she hasn’t any friends.”

It would have been a terrible thing to say regardless, worse still to be overheard by the very person to whom it was directed. But that Hermione thought of Ron as a friend despite all their differences made it impossibly, horribly cruel.

“Do you think she heard me?” Ron asked after Hermione knocked his shoulder out of the way, rushing past them.

“Yeah,” Harry said, entirely unimpressed with Ron and more than a little frustrated. “I think she did. You need to apologize.”

“Apologize? Why—”

“Because you were an utter arse just now.”

“But she—”

“I don’t care.” Harry was so very tired, and he had a feeling the day was just getting started. “The two of you need to fix this.”

 


 

The afternoon was free for homework and studying, and Harry took full advantage of the fact that both of his friends were nowhere to be seen. He supposed he could have looked harder, or chosen a more visible spot in the library, but he was enjoying the solitude.

He’d finished his homework ages ago, had already tried and failed to practice his meditation, and was finally, finally giving in to something he’d been putting off since his arrival at Hogwarts. It was the worst possible day to do it, but maybe that’s why he couldn’t ignore the urge any longer. He was going to look up his parents.

James and Lily Potter. Two people he didn’t have a single clear memory of. Two people who had died to protect him, who must have loved him so much that the idea of living without him was unbearable.

He found the first shred of evidence of them in an old Hogwarts record from the 70s. No pictures, but there were their names: James Potter and Lily Evans, prefects. Harry ran his thumb over the ink as if it would tell him something more, though it was a child’s hope. He dug further, looking for any mention of their name.

He knew already that his father was a quidditch player, had been a seeker just like Harry. But what about his mum? There was little mention of her anywhere, it seemed. Really, little mention of either of them, considering what they had done for the fight against Voldemort. Even in the history books, it was only mentioned that they died Halloween night, and sometimes not even that.

Sometimes the books wrote about Harry as if he had sprung fully formed from magic herself, ready to fight off the evil dark lord. As if he hadn’t had parents at all—young parents who were barely out of Hogwarts, who were barely even parents.

And now the school was decorated for Halloween. Just another holiday. There would be a feast and special desserts. Many would celebrate Voldemort’s downfall today, too. Some of the older students had already approached Harry and thanked him personally.

No one seemed to remember that Harry’s parents had died, that this wasn’t a happy day for him.

Eventually, he dragged himself to dinner, let himself be pulled into conversation by Ron, let himself enjoy the roast-turkey and cauldron cakes despite the ever-growing tightness in his chest. The longer the day had gone on without some miserable tragedy, the worse his anxiety got, like it knew the universe was stockpiling bad luck and planned to dump it on him all at once.  

“Where’s Hermione?” he had to ask, because half an hour into the meal, Gryffindor’s resident bookworm still had yet to show. Come to think of it, he hadn’t seen her since the incident earlier in the day.

Neville leaned over. “According to Pavarti, she’s been in the girl’s bathroom all day, crying.”

Harry cut a sharp look at Ron. At least the redhead had the decency to look a bit guilty.

“I thought I told you to fix it.”

Ron shrugged helplessly. “I couldn’t find her. I tried, I swear—”

The doors to the Great Hall slammed open violently and Professor Quirrell ran down the center aisle, robes fluttering behind him.

“TROLL!”

Harry froze.

“TROLL,” Professor Quirrell shouted out again. “In—”

“—the dungeon.” Harry’s lips moved of their own accord, his voice little more than a whisper but sure, perfectly timed with the professor’s own words.

Not anymore, though, he thought, once again unsure how he knew this with such certainty. His sixth-sense had been right again. A small handful of times was a coincidence, but this? Harry shook his head and tried not to drift too far away in his thoughts, tried to stay focused on the present. The inevitable introspection-induced existential crisis would have to wait.

“Thought you ought to know.” And the Professor Quirrell collapsed.

The Great Hall erupted into chaos, students caught between rushing out to seek safety elsewhere and staying put. Some were shocked silent, but most were screaming or babbling or near tears.

“SILENCE.” Albus Dumbledore’s voice cut through the air like a killing curse. “Would everyone, please, not panic. Prefects will lead students back to their dormitories. Teachers will come with me to the dungeons.”

It was a sensible plan, perhaps the only time in Harry’s two months at Hogwarts that he hadn’t immediately doubted the Headmaster. Except—

“Hermione,” Harry said, stopping dead in his tracks, pulling Ron to halt as well. “She’s in the girl’s bathroom. She doesn’t know.”

To his credit, Ron hadn’t needed to be persuaded. They’d ran to the bathroom as fast as their legs could carry them. At the last second, Harry grabbed Ron by the shoulder and wrenched them both into an alcove.

“What—”

“Shh.” Harry held up a finger and waited.

Danger, hissed the lizard brain.

Danger, agreed the déjà vu brain.

“Harry, really—mmph.”

Harry clamped a hand over Ron’s mouth. A second passed, then another, and then—

Something heavy thudded against stone, first a little muted, then again, louder. Ron’s eyes were wide as saucers. The thudding grew nearer and nearer. Harry motioned for Ron to stay put as he peeked around the corner.

There was the troll: large and ugly, lumbering directly into the girl’s bathroom.

Choose courage, Harry.

Merlin, he knew today was going to be miserable.

“Bad news,” Harry said, turning back to face Ron. “The troll’s left the dungeon.”

Ron made a displeased sound that bordered on a whimper.

“It just went into the bathroom. We’re going to have to go after it.”

“Somehow, I knew you were going to say that.” Ron sighed and drew his wand. “Ready when you are.”

They charged the bathroom together. The troll looked even larger up close, more gruesome. Its skin was mottled and lumpy, its paltry clothing stench-ridden. It held its club high above its head, then brought it down in an arc, smashing the tops of the bathroom stalls to splinters.

Hermione was on the floor of one of those stalls, crouched low to avoid being hit.

“Hermione, move!” Harry called out.

She scrambled forward on hands and knees, no doubt scraping her skin against the ragged cut of the broken wood. The troll struck again, and again, each time missing Hermione by an increasingly narrow margin.

Things were going to end very badly if he didn’t do something soon.

The troll swung his club back, gearing up for a big swing at where Hermione was now seated under the sinks. Without really thinking about it—with only the fleeting thought of well, it worked last time—Harry grabbed on and allowed himself to be flung onto the troll’s back.

It only took a moment for the troll to realize that it had an unwanted visitor and took Harry less than that to realize that he had no idea what to do now.

First-year spells, he remembered from Professor Quirrell’s lectures, were generally useless against creatures like mountain trolls, whose own magical nature and thick skin kept all but the most vicious of curses from taking hold. Dark magic could do the job easily enough, but in terms of what was legal, well…Harry didn’t know of any spells that would do anything other than bounce right off.

Which left him with the muggle way of doing things.

Harry took his wand, the only even remotely weapon-like thing he had on him and jammed it into the troll’s face. Specifically, its eye. There was a horrid squelching sound, almost immediately drowned out by the troll’s deafening scream. He pushed his wand a little further, further, ignoring the wetness gathering under his fingers until the troll staggered back.

Then they were tipping fast, and it occurred to Harry that he was going to get crushed. He was going to die, only just 11, because he’d been stupid and reckless and…

And at least Hermione was safe, which meant that it was worth it.

“Ron, your wand,” Hermione was screaming, though it sounded distant to Harry’s ears. “Use your wand! You can do it! Swish and flick!”

He was slipping. Falling. Crashing.

He landed with a dull thud onto the stone floor, the troll just above him and coming down fast. This was it.

If you die now, I’m going to be so pissed, his déjà vu brain said. Don’t you know what I’ve been through? What I’ve done? You idiot. You moron. You—

The troll…the troll definitely should have hit him by now.

Instead, it was floating, held less than a meter above Harry’s body. His head whipped around and there. There was Ron, wand raised, sweat beading at his brow. A perfect levitation charm.

Harry scrambled out from under the troll, ignoring the aches of his body. As soon as he was clear, Ron let the creature drop, and the troll fell hard enough to crack the stone tile.

Merlin, he was glad not to have been under there.

“Thanks,” Harry croaked to Ron, eyes wide as he took in the absolute mess he’d made of the troll’s face. His wand, mercifully, looked unharmed. The troll on the other hand…

“Ron, you were brilliant!” Hermione was limping a bit, and the skin of her palms and knees were scraped badly, but she was alive, eyes bright and smiling nonetheless. “Positively brilliant! And Harry—” her eyes landed on the troll and she froze “—oh my god.”

Before Harry could say anything—or throw up his dinner, it was a toss-up—Professors McGonagall, Snape, and Quirrell turned the corner and stopped dead in the doorway.

“Oh my goodness.” McGonagall stared at the troll, then at the three students. “What happened here?”

“I…uh…”

“We were…it’s just…”

“It was my fault, professor.”

Harry and Ron turned to stare at Hermione, who stood tall, face a perfect mix of sheepish and earnest. There was not a single hint that Harry could see that she was lying, and yet...

“I’d read about trolls, you see, and thought I could bring one down on my own.” Her eyes slid over to the troll for a moment, and then back to McGonagall. “I was wrong. If Harry and Ron hadn’t come to find me…I’d probably be dead.”

“Be that as it may, it was very foolish of you, Miss Granger,” the Gryffindor head of house said. “Five points from Gryffindor. I trust the experience itself will serve as adequate punishment.”

Hermione nodded vigorously.

“As for you two—” McGonagall turned to face the two boys, mouth pinched “—what you did was reckless and foolhardy and—Mr. Potter, is that your wand?”

“Ah.” Harry reached down and pulled the wand from the troll’s eye. It was slick with blood and some other eye fluid that Harry didn’t care to think too much about. His nose wrinkled as he wiped his wand off on his robes—they’d probably have to be thrown out after this. The whole time, the troll didn’t so much as flinch. “Yes, professor.”

All three professors watched him with varying degrees of horror and speechless shock.

“You…you put your wand in its eye?” McGonagall finally asked, though the answer was obvious. More than likely, she was asking why.

And, well, Harry knew he couldn’t say the truth: that he’d wanted to kill the mountain troll for threatening his friends, that he’d thought it being dead would be the most efficient way of stopping the threat, or worse yet, that he’d barely considered any other option at all. He knew he couldn’t say that, knew that they wouldn’t understand.

Instead, he said, “I was aiming for its nose, professor. Honestly. But it started moving around and my hand slipped and…I just…”

He gestured helplessly at the troll.

“Is it...is it dead?” Hermione asked once it became clear that Harry was done talking.

McGonagall made a sort of helpless gesture, then turned to Snape and Quirrell.

“It a-appears so. W-well done, P-P-Potter.”  

There was a moment where Snape and McGonagall both gave the defense professor the exact same look, one that said: are we really going to congratulate an 11-year-old for killing a mountain troll by stabbing it in the eye?

“Um, well, thank you, professor, but I’d be dead too if Ron hadn’t caught the troll before it fell on me.”

All three professor’s heads swiveled back to Harry.

“Mr. Weasley…caught a troll?” Snape raised a single brow.

“With a levitation charm,” Hermione chimed it.

“Merlin’s beard,” McGonagall muttered under her breath. In the next moment, though, her composure was returned: stern and unyielding. “The three of you will need to see Madam Pomfrey immediately. No complaints.”

The three of them nodded.

“And Mr. Potter, Mr. Weasley,” the transfiguration professor added. “Five points each. For sheer dumb luck.”

 


 

Madam Pomfrey didn’t mess around. She’d put them each in a hospital cot and told them to stay put until morning under threat of further pain.

Hermione’s scrapes weren’t so bad, but she did have a sprained ankle and had had “quite a fright.” Ron was possibly suffering from magical exhaustion after his stunt with the mountain troll. And Harry?

Harry wasn’t nearly as shaken as you’d expect of someone who had just brutally killed a troll, so he must be in shock, they reasoned. Best observed overnight.

Eventually, though, Madam Pomfrey went to sleep herself, and the three of them were left in relative solitude in the hospital wing.

“I’m sorry,” were the first words Ron said, rasped out in a whisper that was still so loud in the absolute quiet of the night. “I didn’t mean it, Hermione. What I said this morning. I was mad at you, and I was being stupid, and I’m sorry.”

It was quiet for a moment.

“I’m sorry, too.” Hermione’s whisper was quieter, but her voice was rough from a day spent crying. “I know…I know I can be a bit much sometimes. And everyone says I’m too pushy and rude, and I shouldn’t have talked to you like I did, either. I’m going to try to be better, I promise.”

Most of the day’s tension had eased out of Harry after the fight with the troll, but the last, final knot loosened.

“Good. Then we’re alright, yeah?” Ron asked, and Hermione smiled.

“Yeah. We’re alright.”

Chapter Text

The day after the troll-incident—which had gone around the Hogwarts gossip mill at a frankly alarming rate—was the first quidditch match of the season. Gryffindor against Slytherin.

Fred and George had already spread the word to the Slytherin team that they had better watch out unless they wanted a wand in their eye too. Most of the school took this in stride. Some of the Slytherins actually looked a bit wary.

Harry thought he probably would have been a bit nervous about his first match anyway—“What on earth is there to be scared of?” Ron had asked. “You took down a mountain troll. You’re a legend.”—but then Professor Snape had said something vaguely cryptic about Harry getting enough to eat, and Professor Quirrell was low-key watching him from the high table, and Harry was just a little weirded out.

A hoot resounded from above, and Hedwig swooped down, a large package in her claws.

“It’s a bit late for mail, isn’t it?” Hermione asked.

“I never get mail.” Harry stared at the long package, its shape unmistakable. Still, he didn’t dare breathe until he’d unwrapped the brown paper, revealing a sleek Nimbus 2000.

“Woah.” Ron’s eyes bugged out of his head. “Who could’ve sent you that?”

Harry scanned the Great Hall, suspicions confirmed when he found Hedwig perched next to McGonagall at the high table.

“Someone whose love of quidditch is rivaled only by her love of transfiguration,” he said, smile tugging at his lips. The Slytherins were going to pitch a fit about this, Harry knew. He ran his hands over the smooth wood of the broom handle. Merlin, this was an expensive gift—150 galleons or more.

Why would she do that? Harry couldn’t help but wonder. There was generosity and then there was spending over 1000 pounds on a student you hardly knew.

Dumbledore’s plan? Or maybe she’s projecting my parents onto me?

He didn’t have time to figure it out. The game would start soon. He grabbed another piece of toast and washed it down with pumpkin juice, barely tasting either.

“Potter.” Wood’s hand came down a little heavy on his shoulder. “Best get to the pitch.”

“Right.”

You’ll be fine, he told himself.

Well…the déjà vu brain said, and Harry imagined that if his subconscious could, it would be holding a hand out, wiggling it in the way muggles did to show that things were iffy at best. Probably.

 


 

Oliver Wood’s quidditch pre-game speech was something of a disaster, particularly the bit where he’d told Harry bout his own first match: getting hit in the head by a bludger and waking up a week later in the hospital wing.

Truly inspiring.

But once Harry was in the air, all his worries eased. This was familiar, comfortable. He was entirely in his element up here, the Nimbus 2000 sturdy beneath him. Madam Hooch blew her whistle to start the game, the bludgers and snitch released, the quaffle thrown, and the teams flew off.

It was a brutal game from the get-go. Fred and George were mean beaters, not to mention entirely in-sync with each other, and that meant that more often than not, they both had a bludger flying off their bats. Slytherin was adept at dodging, but it also meant they had less focus on the quaffle, and that’s how Gryffindor scored their first 10 points, then 10 more immediately after.

Not that Slytherin wasn’t throwing their weight around, too. Their chasers had a habit of boxing in Angelina and Katie whenever the Gryffindors had the quaffle, all but running them to the ground. Still, the two girls were vicious in their own right. Angelina kicked one of the Slytherin chasers into the path of a beater, ducked down to avoid a stray bludger, and then stole the quaffle out from under the other Slytherin chaser.

“Another 10 points for Gryffindor,” Lee Jordan called out, commenting the game. “They thought they had her, but Johnson pulled a quick maneuver and scored. The Slytherin keeper may have speed, but what you need is skill, Warrington! And Flint’s stolen the beater’s bat—now that’s not legal, but what can you expect from the snakey bastards—”

“Mr. Jordan,” McGonagall sighed.

“Right, sorry. Flint’s taking a swing, and the bludger goes straight into Wood’s stomach. I’m not allowed to tell you all how wrong that is, apparently, nor am I allowed to say that any sane referee would’ve taken points, but you know how it is. What I can tell you is that it looks like the Gryffindor keeper may be having some performance issues—you heard it right, folks: Gryffindor’s Wood is down, and he might not get up again.”

“Mr. Jordan!” McGonagall was thoroughly scandalized. “Keep your comments on the game only.

Harry had no idea what Lee’s reply was, however—his focus was entirely on the Nimbus 2000 beneath him as it sputtered and then jerked violently to the left.

His déjà vu brain let out a string of impressive cursing.

The broom whipped from side to side at increasing speed, spun and dipped and tried its damnedest to unseat him. It pulled suddenly to the side and zipped along the perimeter of the field, Harry hanging on for dear life as it plummeted and turned.

What’s happening?

The broom spun of its own accord, taking Harry upside-down for a harrowing moment, before righting itself again. He only had a momentary reprieve before it continued its spastic movements, yanking him here and there, and nearly into the path of an oncoming bludger. Harry ducked at the last second, dodging the bludger by little more than a hairsbreadth.

Your broom is bewitched, moron, his déjà vu brain said.

And I suppose you couldn’t have warned me sooner, could you, he snapped back.

The broom gave a particularly violent swivel, going vertical before flattening out again, and only Harry’s firm grip on the handle kept him from being flung dozens of meters to the earth below. His legs slipped loose from the broom handle, leaving Harry dangling.

If you would bloody pay attention, the déjà vu brain said back, twice as snippy, maybe you’d actually hear me when I say, “Harry, your life is about to be in danger.”

Harry imagined throwing a rude gesture at his inner self.

The broom swayed, and Harry swayed with it. His arms ached from the effort of holding himself up. For all that he’d been able to put on some weight during his two months at Hogwarts, and for all that quidditch had helped him get into better shape, he was still a scrawny eleven-year-old with a history of malnourishment. He knew he wouldn’t be able to hold on much longer, let alone pull himself up.

A commotion in the stands visible in his peripheral vision caught his attention at the same moment his broom stopped fighting his control.

Brilliant timing.

Focusing his magic, Harry urged the broom to plummet. It dropped, dragging his body behind it, and Harry used the opportunity to reorient himself over the broom and lock his legs around the handle once more. Fully in control of his broom again, Harry flew by the Gryffindor section of the stands to their triumphant cheers.

Not too far in the distance, a small, golden orb buzzed around the Slytherin seeker’s head as if it was taunting the boy, though he didn’t notice.

Harry grinned.

He had a quidditch match to win.

 


 

“It was Professor Snape,” Hermione whispered. They were seated in a corner of the Gryffindor common room, late enough that most people had retired to the dormitories. Out of the students left, none were close enough to overhear their conversation. “I saw him casting the curse. He was making eye contact. It had to be him.”

Harry shook his head. “He wouldn’t. I know he seems a right git most of the time, but—”

“Harry, it had to be him. The curse broke once I…diverted his attention.”

He was going to regret asking this but, “How’d you divert his attention?”

Hermione’s eyes darted around the common room, and then she leaned closer. “I may have set him on fire. Just his robes,” she hurried to add when she saw the boys’ expressions—half awe, half horror.

“Glad we’re friends, Hermione,” Ron said.

“Look.” Harry waited until he was sure they were paying attention. Now was as good a time as any to come clean about a thing or two. “It’s not…I mean, I’m sure my broom was being cursed. Just as I’m sure Professor Snape wasn’t responsible.”

“Harry—”

“No, just wait a second.”

Hermione nodded and motioned for him to continue.

“There are some things I’ve been meaning to tell you for a while now. I’ve got this…this sort of sixth sense. Ever since my Hogwarts letter came, I’ve been able to know when bad things are going to happen, to know things I just shouldn’t be able to know. It’s hard to explain.”

He turned to Hermione. “You remember the day of our first lesson with Professor Quirrell? How I asked you if you’d read anything about wizards having an advanced sense of intuition?”

Hermione nodded, eyes wide. “And you said you’d had a feeling we were going to be great friends.”

“Right. I had that feeling about Ron, too, the very moment we met.”

Ron still looked skeptical. “Okay, so you’re a good judge of character.”

“It’s more than that,” Harry pushed. “Muggles have this thing called déjà vu. It’s where you feel like you’ve already experienced something, like it’s familiar even if you’ve never done it before.”

“You’re saying you feel as though you’ve lived all this before,” Hermione said, understanding dawning on her. “It’s not just a…a gut feeling for you. You already know what’s going to happen as it’s happening, don’t you?”

Harry nodded, thankful for Hermione’s quick mind. Ron still looked a bit confused, though, so Harry continued on.

“My sixth sense is the reason I went looking for Hermione when the troll was attacking. It’s how I knew what vault was broken into at Gringotts without reading the paper. How I just know that the mysterious package Hagrid picked up was a stone of some sort. It even tried to warn me today, before the quidditch match, that something bad was going to happen. And it warned me right before we ran into that three-headed dog. It’s…so far it’s never wrong.”

He hadn’t wanted to admit that to himself, hadn’t wanted to think about what it meant. Because if his sixth sense was as accurate as it seemed, then he was in way over his head. It meant there was a reason for those violent impulses he’d been having, and Harry suspected he wouldn’t be pleased when he found out what the cause was.

“Professor Snape may not like me much,” Harry continued. “And the feeling is mutual. But he’s not trying to kill me. I’d know if he was.”

“Alright,” Ron said. “If not Snape, then who are you being warned away from?”

Harry braced himself; neither of his friends were going to like this very much.

“Professor Quirrell.” He chewed on his bottom lip. “And Dumbledore.”

“The headmaster?” Hermione asked incredulously, likely wondering if she’d misheard him.

“Dumbledore?” Ron said at nearly the same time. He shook his head. “But he’s famous for being a light wizard. He’s practically a hero. He can’t be…I mean, it’s not possible.”

“I’m just telling you what my instincts are telling me,” Harry said. “There’s more.”

“Great,” Ron muttered. “Go on then.”

“I think he’s a legilimens—”

“A what?” Hermione asked.

“It’s mind magic. Dad says You-Know-Who was brilliant at it. He could pluck any thought from your head just by looking at you.” Ron only looked pleased at knowing something Hermione didn’t for a moment, before his face fell again. “You don’t really think…I mean, Dumbledore?”

Harry nodded. “Pretty sure. And he’s definitely trying to get me to investigate the third-floor corridor. Filch came in talking about it while I was in the Headmaster’s office, and then only a few days later, the stairs took us right there. It’s too much of a coincidence.”

What are the odds the stairs take us to the one place we’re not supposed to go,” Hermione said slowly, repeating Ron’s words. “Oh my…but why?”

“You said the dog was standing on a trap door. Guarding something,” Harry prompted.

“The package from the vault.” Ron’s face was pale. “That would explain why Dumbledore had Hagrid pick it up the same day he went to Diagon Alley with you. So you would see it.”

A low, steady anger simmered in Harry’s stomach. Dumbledore was playing with him, trying to manipulate him into doing something Harry could only imagine. And worst of all, Harry seemed helpless to stop it.

“Perhaps it’s not so nefarious as it seems?” Hermione offered, but it was clear how little she believed it herself.

“Then why be so sneaky?” Ron asked rhetorically. “There’s something off about all of this.”

Hermione leaned back heavily in her chair. “If Dumbledore’s in on it, then we can’t tell anyone, can we? Anything we’d say would just go straight back to him.”

“No,” Harry agreed. “We’re on our own for this.”

That would make getting information that much harder, he supposed. Not that it seemed likely any adults would tell them anything even if it wasn’t all some elaborate trap for him—

“Wait a minute.” Harry tried to breathe past the weight settling in his chest. “If we’ve figured out this much, what are the chances whoever broke into Gringotts will be coming here next?”

His two friends paled further.

Harry hated being right.

 


 

Harry sat cross-legged on his bed in the Gryffindor boy’s dorm, heavy red curtains closed firmly around his bed. It was early, early morning, but Harry was awake—a habit developed from living with the Dursleys, when Aunt Petunia would shout at him and drag him out of the cupboard if he wasn’t up in time to fix breakfast.

His eyes stayed closed, and he focused on his breathing. In. Out. In. Out.

Meditation was difficult, he’d found, not least because he always seemed to have so much going on in his mind. It was hard to keep his head empty, to let thoughts flutter through without sticking. It also seemed that the more he tried to force his mind to stay blank, the harder it was.

Focusing on his breathing helped. In. Out. In. Out.

He focused on his lungs expanding, the way his chest filled until it felt like it would burst. How releasing the breath took some of the pressure in his chest with it, flushed it out down through his stomach, tension releasing inch by inch down to his toes. He breathed in again, let the air slide through his nose down the back of his throat. Breathed out through his mouth, noted how it whistled faintly as it escaped his lips.

Harry reached out once he felt his mind was sufficiently cleared of stray thoughts, feeling around in his head. He had read in the occlumency textbook that it was possible for someone to have sectioned off parts of their own mind both purposefully and not. It was one of many occlumency techniques, recommended because it would help you more easily hide information from those who invaded your mind.

For those who did it accidentally, though, it was often a sign of repressed trauma, a coping mechanism to avoid painful memories.

Harry wondered if perhaps his déjà vu brain was a separated portion of his own mind, and if so, could he unlock it? It had told him to listen, to pay attention, but Harry could hardly do that when it only seemed to speak up in moments of imminent danger.

There.

He was pulled towards something unidentifiable, but clearly different from the rest of his consciousness. It seemed to whisper at him, though Harry could not make out words, particularly.

Perhaps if I get closer, he thought, and let his mind drift nearer to the strangeness. The whispering was louder, though no more intelligible, but it was almost like it was calling to Harry. He had the strange urge to poke at it—or at least, as much as he could considering it was an intangible thing inside his mindscape—but even as he drifted nearer, the sense of wrong-ness came back.

Harry felt himself yanked back and away from whatever the bloody hell that thing in his mind was.  

Don’t touch that, his lizard brain warned.

Idiot, his déjà vu brain added.

Now that he was focused inward, however, he could sort of sense them, the extra parts of himself that had been present in his mind these past few months. The lizard brain was not separate exactly, just a particularly talkative—for lack of a better word—aspect of his consciousness. But his déjà vu brain was a winding, silvery presence that touched every part of his mind yet lingered nowhere. It was too unsettled for him to get a grasp on, constantly in motion but not disruptive. It reminded him of smoke, in a way: something you could see, be aware of, but never hold.

That explained a lot about the nature of his sixth sense, he supposed.

But then what was the other thing, the strangeness that whispered?

Danger, his entire consciousness seemed to say, and Harry’s eyes flew open.

He had a very bad feeling about that, and given the way things had been going for him lately, he was sure that would come back to bite him in the ass.

 


 

The weekend passed quickly in a flurry of homework, meditation—though Harry was very careful to avoid the ominous thing in his mind—and extra-curricular research. Upon learning Harry’s suspicion that Dumbledore was a legilimens, both Hermione and Ron became keen on learning occlumency, and Harry was happy to guide them to the book he’d used to get started.

His own studies delved further into the mind arts in an attempt to find an explanation for what he’d seen in his own mindscape the other night, with little success. Most of the literature explained what it felt like to have someone invade your mind, which typically resulted in a blur of memories as the invader searched through them and a massive headache. Only the most masterful of legilimens could skim surface thoughts without being noticed, and Harry would now be paying attention for when he felt the slightest pressure in his head.

But there was nothing that was even remotely similar to the silvery presence he’d identified as his déjà vu brain. And in regards to the malignant, whispery spot, there were a handful of theories, though Harry had no way of determining which he was afflicted with. It could be a compulsion placed by an experienced wizard—Harry immediately thought of Dumbledore—and it would eventually unravel either over time or once the goal was completed. It could also be an obliviated memory, removed from his brain and left empty.

“Experienced legilimens and those proficient with memory charms can create false memories to replace ones that are removed,” Harry had read with no small amount of horror. “False memories, with perhaps the exception of those created by the most prodigiously talented, can often be identified by their lack of detail, or incongruent details.”

He’d decided to stop reading after that. It was only freaking him out more, and the truth was that he could do nothing about it in either case. He wasn’t anywhere near skilled enough to remove a compulsion or recover a lost memory himself, and he didn’t trust any of the adult wizards around him to do it either.

Harry rather hoped it would go away on his own, but that seemed unlikely given his luck.

Tuesday found him in defense class paired with Draco Malfoy of all people to practice the counter-spell finite incantatem. The blond reluctantly stood next to him, arms crossed and sneering unpleasantly as he was wont to do while Professor Quirrell wrapped up his lecture.

“This s-spell is extremel-l-ly useful.” The stuttering had been back full force since their one conversation on legilimency and occlumency, and Harry often wondered if it was as fake as it sounded. “All your f-f-first year spells can be c-c-countered with this, as well as m-m-many others.”

Quirrell waved his hand, signaling that they should begin.

“I know of at least one that doesn’t have a counter-spell,” Malfoy taunted, voice low so only those nearest to him could hear. Crabbe and Goyle—his loyal guard dogs—snickered.

“Seems I’ve already survived it, though, haven’t I?” Harry tilted his head just far enough to the side so that his curly hair parted to reveal his lightly-prickling scar. From the corner of his eye, he saw Professor Quirrell watching them. “Think you can do better than You-Know-Who?”

Draco clenched his jaw. “Let’s see you get out of this one, Potter. Locomotor mortis!”

The spell wrapped his legs together, but Harry merely raised an eyebrow and flicked his wand at his own legs. “Finite.”

They came unstuck immediately, and Harry grinned.

Petrificus Totales,” he said, wand aimed at Malfoy, and the blond dropped like a stone.

“W-w-well done, Mr. P-Potter.” Quirrell clapped his hands once. “Though p-perhaps in the future, you might use a s-s-spell that Mr. Malfoy could attempt to u-undo himself.”

Harry smiled. “Slipped my mind, professor.”

Quirrell’s mouth quirked as if he was fighting off a smile of his own. “I’m sure.”

Harry cast a quick finite on Draco. The blond boy groaned dramatically from the floor, and Crabbe and Goyle rushed to lift him upright. Draco batted their hands away once he was standing.

“Oh, you’ll pay for that one—”

“Five points to Gryffindor for excellent spell-work,” Quirrell interrupted. He scanned the class. “And five p-p-points to the next person to s-successfully cast the c-c-counterspell.”

Harry gleefully shot another leg-locking curse at Draco and watched the boy wobble as he tried to keep his balance. Eventually, his finite worked too, but by then Hermione had already petrified and un-petrified Neville, earning Gryffindor another five points.

“P-Potter, a word,” Quirrell called at the end of class.

Draco shot Harry a glare on his way out, and there was no doubt retribution would be forthcoming at some point. I can handle it, Harry thought. Draco Malfoy was, after all, still just a child, and Harry had bigger problems to deal with. Hermione and Ron lingered a moment by the door, but Harry waved them on.

“What can I do for you, professor?” Harry asked, ignoring the sense of unease pooling in his gut at being alone in the classroom with Quirrell. Relax. It’s broad daylight and he hasn’t put up any silencing charms. He probably isn’t going to be a threat right now.

“J-just checking in.” Quirrell sank into the chair behind his desk and steepled his fingers. “I w-wondered if you’d made any p-progress on your occlumency.”

Be casual, Potter. It’s not weird of him to ask about an extra-curricular project he guided you on.

“It’s going well sir,” Harry gushed. “Thanks for helping me get started. I think it would have taken me ages to find the right book on my own.”

“N-no need to thank me, Potter. Always happy to h-help an eager student.” The older man smiled, and it was strange how charming it seemed, how ill-suited to Professor Quirrell it was. “I m-merely wanted to say that you should feel free to ask me any other questions you m-may have.”

Despite his déjà vu brain’s insistence that this man was, well, kill-worthy, he’d done nothing so far to harm Harry. In fact, the man had been beyond helpful, really, so it wouldn’t hurt to ask. And if it did come down to them being adversaries later—Harry dreaded to think so, but his sixth sense was yet to be wrong—at least he’d have gotten his money’s worth out of Quirrell, so to speak.

“Actually, sir, I was curious about compulsion charms,” Harry said carefully. “I’ve read that mastering occlumency gives you a certain amount of protection against them, but I was wondering if there was another way. For the meantime, while I learn.”

Professor Quirrell eyed Harry with interest. “Do you believe someone has used a c-compulsion charm on you, Mr. Potter?”

The boy shrugged.

“Well, you have to admit I’d be a good target for one. Eleven-year-olds are young and impressionable enough as it is. Eleven-year-old orphans with no one to protect them and a fair amount of social status are even more vulnerable, wouldn’t you say professor?”

Quirrell stared at him for a moment before laughing.

“Merlin, P-Potter, are you always this paranoid?”

Harry laughed. “Worse, sir. But I try to limit it to the realm of possibility. And, well, problems I can do something about.”

“I suppose that’s reasonable enough, given your particular history.” Quirrell hummed to himself, seemingly lost in thought for a moment. He snapped back to attention just as quickly. “There are p-protective enchantments you can have placed on a talisman or piece of jewelry, if you so wish. T-though I would recommend searching the P-Potter vaults first. M-most of the old families have such trinkets.”

Harry nodded. “Thank you, sir. I’ll keep that in mind.”

He turned to leave, all too aware of how soon his next class would be starting, when Quirrell called out to him once more.

“Mr. P-Potter.”

“Yes, professor?”

“If you do s-suspect that someone has put a c-compulsion on you, or invaded your m-mind, or some other such offense, you’ll be sure to tell me, w-won’t you?”

Harry forced an easy smile. “Of course, sir.”

Quirrell hummed, mouth twitching, and Harry had the distinct impression that Quirrell didn’t quite believe him.

He felt the professor’s eyes follow him the whole way out.

Chapter Text

On the first Saturday of December, Harry, Ron, and Hermione made their way down to Hagrid’s hut at the bequest of the man himself. It was mid-afternoon, cool, and Harry had been happy to accept the offer of cocoa and a visit. He’d hardly spoken to Hagrid since their trip to Diagon Alley, only greeting him in passing. Harry felt a bit guilty about it. After all, Hagrid had been his first introduction to the wizarding world, had rescued him from the clutches of the Dursleys.

It was just…

It was just that Hagrid was Dumbledore’s man, through and through. He’d sung the headmaster’s praises right from the beginning, talked about him like he hung the stars, like he was the second coming of Merlin himself. That hadn’t been off-putting back then, when Harry hadn’t met Dumbledore and hadn’t known to be wary of the man—before Harry had gotten that awful gut feeling that he shouldn’t trust Dumbledore, not with anything.

Now it was likely going to be awkward, and if Dumbledore was brought up, Harry was going to have to lie. He didn’t mind lying, usually, but he liked Hagrid.

Oh well.

Hagrid’s hut was small but sturdy, and warm. The furniture was well-worn but comfy, and the three of them fit easily on his large tartan couch. Harry took a sip of his cocoa and hummed. It was rich and spiced with a dash of cinnamon.

“This here’s Fang,” Hagrid said, motioning to a large, drooling dog. “He won’t bite none, I promise.”

Ron eyed the beast warily.

“Thanks for having us, Hagrid.” Harry gave Ron’s arm a reassuring squeeze. The redhead eased back into the couch, though he didn’t take his eyes off the dog. “I’d have visited sooner, but between classes and quidditch, I’ve had a lot on my plate.”

“Not to worry.” Hagrid’s smile was large and utterly genuine. “I figured you’d be kept busy. Liking all your classes?”

“Tremendously,” Harry said and meant it. “Magic is wonderful.”

“I only wish I could learn it faster,” Hermione said wistfully.

Ron snorted. “If you learned any faster, you’d be graduated by end of year.”

“I’m just trying to keep ahead of Harry,” she protested.

Harry just shrugged. “Someone’s got to keep you on your toes.”

“Good, good,” Hagrid chuckled. “Not gettin’ into any trouble, eh?”

“Only with Professor Snape.” Ron was still sulky about his most recent detention, which he’d only gotten because his and Neville’s potion had exploded. “He’s a bit of a shady character, isn’t he?”

Ron.” Hermione swatted his head.

“I’m just saying.”

“Well,” Hagrid said. “I s’pose I can see where you’re comin’ from. But Dumbledore trusts him. If he wasn’t safe to be around, Dumbledore wouldn’t have let ‘im teach here.”

Harry’s déjà vu brain burst into laughter, and it took every ounce of his self-control to keep from snorting out his cocoa. That bodes well, Harry thought resignedly.

Ron clearly thought the same thing, though, because he rolled his eyes. “Oh please, there’s a bloody three-headed dog in the castle. There’s nothing safe about that.”

Harry sighed. Ron was no good at keeping secrets in the heat of the moment. That was something to keep in mind.

Hagrid frowned. “How do you know about Fluffy?”

“Fluffy?” Ron’s nose scrunched. “That thing’s got a name?”

“’Course he does. I raised him myself.”

Of course you did. Somehow, it didn’t surprise Harry in the slightest.

Hermione caught Harry’s eye for a split second, lips pursed, and he knew she was going to do something a bit risky.

“What’s he doing in the castle, then?” Hermione said. “We know he’s guarding something.”

“Now, listen,” Hagrid said, his voice stern. “You three best leave that alone. It’s got nothing to do with you.”

Like hell it doesn’t, Harry thought. Merlin, he wished he could have nothing to do with it at all, and yet somehow, he thought that was going to be unlikely.

“What Fluffy’s doing in the castle, that’s strictly between the headmaster and Nicolas Flamel.”

Hermione’s eyes grew wide, lips firmly pressed together to keep from smiling. It seemed she’d gotten what she wanted after all.

“I should not have said that,” Hagrid realized as he took in the three kids in front of him. “I should not have said that.”

Probably not, Harry thought, stamping down on a smile of his own, but thank you.

 


 

The end of the term was blessed with the first snow of the school year, a pleasant sight to wake up to. It was thick enough to blanket the ground entirely and coat the nearby trees, giving the Forbidden forest a gentler appearance. The lake had not frozen over entirely, but ice collected at the shallow edges.

Students took advantage of the change in scenery as soon as classes let out for the day, and Harry, Ron, and Hermione were no exception. They’d joined fellow Gryffindors for an in-house snowball fight, which eventually deviated into utter madness when the two Weasley twins took the liberty of spelling a number of snowballs to hit the back of Professor Quirrell’s turban. The normally meek professor had looked downright thunderous, and the Gryffindors had scattered.

A sense of contentment fell over Harry as the trio made their way into the Great Hall for dinner. The snowball fight and the cold had left him tired and happy, cheeks still flushed red and slightly breathless. And really, things had been good despite all his concerns. He’d had no more surprise visits with Dumbledore, thank Merlin, and even Draco Malfoy’s attempts at establishing a rivalry were more amusing than cause for irritation—the blond boy was hilariously easy to wind up and, better yet, couldn’t seem to get the same reaction from Harry.  

He was also finally getting used to his sixth sense, to the point where only the strangest of feelings elicited any amount of surprise from him now. It was still dead-useful, especially when it came to classwork, but even the murder-vibes were content to take a backseat for now. His occlumency was partially to thank for this new ease of connection, since he seemed more attuned to his déjà vu brain now that he could sense it.

“Mum and Dad have changed their plans,” Ron was saying as he piled potatoes onto his plate. “They’re going to visit Charlie in Romania for Christmas.”

“That’s too bad,” Hermione said. “But at least you won’t be alone here. Harry’s staying too.” She eyed them both. “Try not to get into too much trouble while I’m gone.”

“Who? Us?” Harry teased.

She leaned over and mussed up his hair. It didn’t do much; Harry’s hair was always something of a bird’s nest. Utterly untamable.

“I’ve got something, by the way,” she said, voice lowered to a whisper. She slid a small slip of parchment over to them across the table. “Best to not say any of it out loud. Burn it in the common room after.”

Harry unfolded it and held it between himself and Ron. Hermione’s delicate script was scrawled across, reading: Nicolas Flamel, famous alchemist, creator of the philosopher’s stone, rumored to turn any metal into gold and to provide the elixir of life, which grants immortality.

“It fits,” she said when they both looked up at her again.

“It fits,” Harry agreed. Not long ago, they’d wondered what kind of stone needed to be locked up in maximum security. Now they knew.

But there were still so many questions.

Who wanted it badly enough they’d risk breaking into Gringotts?

Why keep the stone in the school?

Why was Dumbledore pushing Harry to investigate it?

Harry had a feeling these wouldn’t be so easy to answer.

 


 

More students left for the holidays than Harry had anticipated. Out of the boys in Gryffindor in their year, only Harry and Ron had stayed behind, and it seemed none of the girls did. The Great Hall was often depressingly empty, and Harry missed the chatter of all the students, but there was a certain amount of freedom to it as well. With no classes, Harry was content to spend his mornings playing wizard’s chess with Ron and his afternoons either wandering the grounds with Hedwig or in the library.

With his occlumency training well under way and his search for more information on the first wizarding war put on hold until he could get into the restricted section, Harry had resigned himself to absently reading through books on seers in an attempt to figure out his sixth sense in a more official capacity. So far, it was mostly rubbish.

He’d never used a crystal ball in his life, nor had he looked at tea leaves, or slipped into a trance. Besides, he only seemed to know what was going to happen as it was happening, not far in advance. If seers were real, he highly doubted he was one.

“P-P-Potter. Didn’t expect to s-see you here.”

Harry’s head jerked up from the book he was reading. Professor Quirrell was directly across from him, watching him with undisguised humor.

“Oh?” Harry looked around. Was it past curfew? Was he somewhere he shouldn’t be?

“At school, I m-mean.” Quirrell smirked.

“Ah, um, I didn’t fancy going back to my aunt’s, sir.” Harry grimaced. “And I’m sure they’re as glad to be rid of me as I am of them.”

I’d be happy to never see them again.

The professor raised a brow but thankfully didn’t push the conversation in that direction. Instead, he peeked at the book Harry was reading and both eyebrows rose to hide beneath the turban.

“Taking an interest in-n telling the future now?” he asked drily. “P-Perhaps you hope to divine whatever threats are headed your way?”

Harry laughed. “Not likely, sir. I think I’ve decided anyone who claims they can see the future is full of shi—I mean, they’re probably cracked in the head.”

‘Course, I’m probably cracked in the head, so who knows.

“N-not even prophecies?”

Wouldn’t you like to know, his déjà vu brain said, and Harry imagined that if his consciousness could sneer, it would be.

Harry shrugged a shade too casually. “I suppose there must be some merit to them, but honestly what’s the point? I’ve just read a handful of the most famous prophecies from the past five hundred years or so, and the wording is so vague, any one of them could have half a dozen different meanings. And how does anyone know if the prophecy actually refers to them? I mean, they never use names, and some of them refer to birthdays, for Merlin’s sake! The child born at the dawn of May,” he said mockingly. “Do you have any idea how many kids are born in one day? So many!”

I did not realize I had such strong opinions about this, Harry thought idly.

Prophecies are fucking garbage, his déjà vu brain said.

Annnnnd that’s probably where all these feelings came from.

“Also, what if a prophecy only happens because you expect it to happen?” Oh good, he was still going. Poor Professor Quirrell didn’t sign up for this. “Like the story about Oedipus, where his family left him to die because some seer told them he’d kill his own father and marry his mom. But the only reason that even happened is because they abandoned him. This is why you can’t trust prophecies! It’s like they’re some cosmic joke designed just to screw over your whole life.”

Harry took a deep breath and gave Quirrell a rather sheepish smile. “Sorry sir. I’ve no idea where all that came from.”

Quirrell’s returning smile was strained. “I won’t f-fault you for having very d-decided opinions, Potter. But p-perhaps keep an open mind until you actually take d-divination, hmm?”

“You’re probably right, professor.” The least he could do was agree with the man after unloading his spur-of-the-moment opinions on him. “I’ll do my best not to be too harsh.”

Quirrell left soon after, but Harry’s déjà vu brain was still on high alert.

That was weird, right? it asked, and the fact that it was asking was unnerving on its own.

Definitely weird, the lizard brain agreed.

 


 

Harry woke on Christmas morning by grabbing someone’s arm, pushing them against the wall, and digging his wand into their neck.

“Bloody hell, mate!” Ron shouted. “Relax! It’s me!”

Harry dropped his wand immediately. “Sorry. Sorry, Merlin. Ron. What the hell?”

Ron’s hands were held up, nonthreatening. “I was just trying to wake you up.”

“Sorry,” Harry said again. “I…I don’t know why…”

Ron sighed, muscles relaxing. Then he laughed. “You’re mad quick with that.” He slung an arm around Harry’s shoulders and tugged him close. “Merry Christmas.”

“Shit,” Harry breathed, half laughing himself. “Merry Christmas.”

Beneath the Christmas tree in their common room, two piles of presents sat unwrapped. It seemed whoever else had stayed behind had already gone through theirs.

One pile had Ron’s name. The other, Harry’s.

“That’s…” He stared at them, uncomprehending for a moment. “They’re for me?”

The first of many Christmases, his déjà vu brain said warmly.

“Well, yeah.” Ron tossed him a package. “This one’s from mum.”

He opened it carefully, treasuring even the wrapping paper. Inside was a bright red and gold sweater, a letter “H” knitted perfectly in the center.

“Your mum knit me a sweater?” The fabric was especially soft, and it stretched easily over his head and fit a little perfectly over his pajama shirt.

“I know it’s not much—”

“I love it,” Harry said earnestly. “I’ve never really had a Christmas before.”

“Well mum’s all but adopted you, so you’d better get used to it.”

From Neville he’d gotten some chocolate frogs, Hermione had left him a more advanced book on occlumency, and Oliver Wood had gifted him some nice quidditch gloves along with a note telling him to be ready to up the training regimen next term. The last two gifts were unsigned, but Harry had his suspicions about who they were from all the same.

The first was a slim book titled “Magicks of the Mind” and a cursory glance at the table of contents suggested it might not be all that legal to possess. Not only was there a section for “Legilimancy as Offense and Defense,” there was also a section on the Imperius curse—one of the three unforgivables Harry had learned about during his quest for knowledge on Voldemort.

That was not to say the book was entirely dark-oriented. An entire quarter of the book was devoted to different occlumency techniques, and there was a chapter on alternative preventative measures in the form of wards and potions. It was perfectly suited to Harry’s studies, and there was only one person who would know that.

But why Professor Quirrell had bothered to send Harry a Christmas gift was beyond him.

This is different, his déjà vu brain complained. I don’t like it.

Why is this the part that weirds you out and not the murder vibes? Harry wondered.

Because it’s him.

That was apparently all the explanation he was going to get.

There was a note with the second gift which merely read: Your father left this in my possession when he died. It is time it was returned to you. Use it well.

It was a cloak, long and soft and when Harry wrapped it around himself, his body disappeared.

“That’s an invisibility cloak,” Ron said, wide eyed. “They’re incredibly rare. It doesn’t say who it’s from?”

“No, but three guesses who,” Harry said drily.

Ron’s eyebrows shot up even higher. “Dumbledore? You think?”

Harry shrugged. “Most likely. Could be McGonagall, but I think she’d have given it to me already if it was her. No, the timing of this is too particular. I bet this is just another piece to his plan, whatever that is.”

“Still, it is a nice gift.”

“Oh, I’m not going to turn it down. This’ll be dead useful, I imagine.” Harry spun the cloak around, watching as it turned his legs invisible, then his arms. “The trouble we can get up to. Hermione will probably kill us.”

They both considered it for a moment before matching grins took over.

“Worth it.”

 


 

The invisibility cloak proved it’s worth not two days later when Harry took it for a spin after curfew to the restricted section of the library.

He waited until Ron started snoring to get moving; the redhead wasn’t the most subtle even at the best of times, and Harry didn’t want to risk getting caught on his very first night out. Harry borrowed Neville’s slippers that the boy had left behind: a pair of soft brown loafers lined with fur, with a soft rubber sole. As he’d expected, they were quieter on the stone floor than his own shoes would have been.

It was strange seeing Hogwarts after hours, almost like the castle itself was asleep. The halls were empty, portraits dozing, and the only light came from the sporadic placement of magical torches lining the walls. Harry didn’t dare try for a lumos even if the light would have made his trip easier, especially on the stairs; there was still a good chance professors would be on rounds, as well as Filch and Mrs. Norris.

Does the cloak work on cats? Harry wondered. Obviously they couldn’t see him, but their enhanced hearing and sense of smell might be problematic. He’d have to see if he could find some sort of spell that would hide him beyond just sight.

But that could wait. Tonight, his goal was simple: search the restricted section for as much information on the First Wizarding War as he could. The only information he’d been able to find on it in the rest of the library had largely been about how Harry had defeated Voldemort. Other scraps of details indicated that the Dark Lord’s followers had been called Death Eaters—a ridiculous name—and that Voldemort was so feared from his “reign of terror” in the 70s that almost no witch or wizard dared to speak his name, instead referring to him a You-Know-Who or He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.

Which, yeah, not all that useful.

The man and his minions were largely portrayed as vicious terrorists, but Harry couldn’t seem to find out what, exactly, they’d done. Aside from murdering his parents, of course. And why had Voldemort gone after the Potters in the first place? It seemed like they’d been specifically targeted, though none of the texts would say why. What was the Death Eaters’ mission statement, their beliefs, their policies? What were their “dark deeds”, as the history books said?

Because saying, “They existed. They were bad. They were really, really scary. Most of them are in prison or dead now.” That wasn’t going to cut it.

Harry was curious.

Who was Voldemort before he was Voldemort, because surely the man didn’t just spring into existence fully formed in 1970, did he? And with that name? The very idea was laughable. And if he was so bad, monstrous even, how did he convince so many people—esteemed witches and wizards of high social standing and political influence—to follow him, serve him?

There were so many questions, so many things Harry just didn’t know, and it bothered him. Why was Binns wasting time on the bloody Goblin Wars that nobody cared about anymore instead of explaining the wizarding world’s more immediate history? Maybe wizard-raised children knew enough already, though Harry hadn’t gotten that impression from Ron.

It was annoyingly confounding. He could understand people not wanting to discuss painful memories, but how could they ever hope to learn from their past if they were so intent to ignore it, block it out?

(And how dare they expect Harry to gleefully play the role of their savior when he had no idea what he’d even saved them from.)

The library was dead silent, absent even of the usual, crisp turning of pages or the scratch of a quill against parchment that Harry was used to. It was dark, too, with just a hint of moonlight peeking through the windows. Too dark to read, Harry thought dismally, and reluctantly grabbed one of the lanterns hanging by the library door.

The restricted section was pitifully guarded: a small gate blocked it off from the rest of the library, and only the fact that Madam Pince had a clear view of it from her desk kept it from being easy pickings. It became clear why, however, when Harry noted that all the books were chained to the shelves. Disappointment curdled in his stomach. He’d only be able to skim the books since he couldn’t take them with him.

Still, best not waste this opportunity, he thought, eyes glancing over the spines, looking for a title that had even the slightest promise of being useful. Several of the texts piqued his interest—“Magical Mysteries of Medieval Ireland,” “Rowena Ravenclaw: 943-951,” and “Death Magic in Theory” for starters—but only one seemed relevant to his current search.

Dark Wizards of Britain: A History.

Harry set his lantern on a nearby shelf and carefully removed the book. It wasn’t as old as the others looked, and a cursory glance at the copyright page revealed that it had been printed only five years ago. He frowned at it and flipped to the table of contents.

Merlin, Morgan le Fay, Salazar Slytherin. He skimmed down further. Ekrizdis, Owle Bullock, Gormlaith Gaunt.

At that last name, Harry’s déjà vu brain gave a faint nudge of recognition, but Harry brushed it aside. It wasn’t what he was looking for tonight.

Finally, at the very end of the list sat the name he was looking for: Lord Voldemort.

He flipped to the end of the book and held it near the light.

“Lord Voldemort, better known to most as You-Know-Who or The Dark Lord, is largely considered by historians to be the greatest dark wizard of modern history, surpassing even his predecessor, Gellert Grindelwald. Though You-Know-Who’s reign of power lasted only eleven years and was restricted to wizarding Britain—compared to Grindelwald’s hold on both the European continent and dabblings in America which occurred over the course of several decades—the wizarding world’s most recent Dark Lord is fearsome because of his unpredictability, violence, and sheer magical power.

Adding to the sense of terror and mystery that surrounded Lord Voldemort is the fact that his true identity is unknown to all except perhaps his most loyal followers. During the Reign of Terror (1970-1981), it was common to suspect that anyone might not only be a Death Eater, but Voldemort himself. The randomness of the attacks against muggles, muggle-borns, and so-called blood-traitors only increased paranoia.

Death tolls are estimated to be in the upper thousands range, primarily consisting of muggles. While that number may be small to the estimate tens-of-thousands who died during Grindelwald’s revolution (aided in part by the Muggle World War), Lord Voldemort and his Death Eater’s are considered the deadliest covert terrorist group in Britain’s history.”

There was more—another three or so pages that detailed the most prolific attacks attributed to the Death Eaters, the most famous Death Eaters, information on the post-war trials, and even a blurb at the end that mentioned Harry’s role in ending the war—but Harry barely got to glance at it before he heard Mrs. Norris’s tell-tale meow.

He shoved the book back where it came from and threw the cloak back over his head, but in the hurried motion, his elbow caught the edge of the lantern he’d been reading by and knocked it to the floor. The glass shattered.

Harry squeezed his eyes shut. Please let it go unnoticed. Nobody heard it. Nobody suspects I’m here.

“Who’s there?” Filch’s creaky voice called out into the empty air, and Harry silently cursed.

The man sounded far enough away that Harry risked making a break for it. He bolted past the gate that guarded the restricted section, not bothering to hide the broken lamp. There was nothing he could do about it now, in any case. He walked as quickly as he could without making a sound, silently blessing Neville’s slippers for their softness. He’d have to invest in a pair himself if he was going to continue sneaking out.

Mrs. Norris was nowhere to be seen, thank Merlin, but Harry rushed out of the library and made a beeline for the Gryffindor common room in any case. Filch would discover the lantern soon enough and send out an alert that a student was out of bed.

Harry was turning the last corner before the staircase that would take him up towards Gryffindor tower when he suddenly yanked himself into the nearest alcove. Voices drifted towards him, terrifyingly close. And familiar.

“I don’t know w-what you think I’ve d-done—” Quirrell was saying.

Don’t lie to me.” That was Snape without a doubt. “You’ve been sneaking around lately, Quirrell, and I intend to find out why.”

“Is that why you’re f-following me, then?” the other professor said, voice icy despite his stutter. “Or p-perhaps you’re worried I’ll turn you over to D-Dumbledore. You’re a little t-too interested in the stone, Severus. S-Someone might start to wonder w-what you’re up to.”

There was the sound of someone being bodily slammed into the wall and a pained grunt.

“You would dare to threaten me?” Snape hissed. “Someone might start to wonder where your loyalties lie.”

Whatever Quirrell might have said to counter that was lost. Filch rounded the corner, far too close to Harry’s hiding place for his comfort.

“Sorry to interrupt,” the caretaker said. He was holding Harry’s shattered lantern. “But I just found this in the restricted section. It’s still hot. Which means there’s a student out of bed.”

“We’ll finish this later,” Snape said, and Harry could practically hear his sneer.

He poked his head around the corner in time to see Filch and Quirrell heading in opposite directions while Snape, unfortunately, was climbing the very stairs Harry needed in order to get back to his dorm.

Bugger.

The cloak might be good, but he wasn’t willing to test it against Snape just yet. Especially when the man was in a bad mood.

(Now that was something to think about. Were they both after the stone? Quirrell, for some reason, wasn’t all that surprising, but Harry had been so sure Snape wasn’t the bad guy Ron and Hermione thought he was. Could he have been wrong?)

There was a door not too far away, tucked innocuously at the end of a corridor, and Harry whispered a quick alohamora, breathing a sigh of relief as the lock clicked open. It was an abandoned classroom, empty except for a large gilded mirror which was tall enough that even Hagrid would have been able to see himself in it without difficulty.

Harry wandered closer to it without thought, as if a fish-hook hand lodged itself around one of his ribs and pulled him towards the mirror. Harry clenched his fist around his wand; he hated the feeling of his legs moving without his permission. The urge to run in the opposite direction rose steadily from stomach to throat, and yet he walked closer still.

Inscribed across the top of the mirror were the incomprehensible words, “Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi.”

I show not your face but your heart’s desire, the déjà vu brain said.

Harry couldn’t quite identify the rush of emotion he felt: something between longing and bitterness. Half joy, half ache. He almost didn’t want to look into the mirror. His heart’s desire. What would it be? Something terrible that he’d buried within himself? Something impossible, something he could never have?

Go on, the déjà vu brain said, resigned.

Harry lowered his eyes from the frame to the glass slowly and his breath caught.

It was him. Not him as he was now, no, but older. Maybe in his 40s, or late 30s at least.

Older than I’ve ever been, the déjà vu brain whispered mournfully, and the ache in his chest grew though Harry didn’t understand what that was supposed to mean.

The man in the mirror was tall—not like the looming stature of Professor Snape, to be sure, but a respectable height still—and his face was bearded, his hair longer and pulled back into a loose bun. It looked less rumpled like that, or at least the unruly mess was contained. His glasses were the same, bright green eyes the same though there were crinkles at the corners now. Laugh lines. The scar was there, too: jagged white lightning strike on his forehead just above his right eye. This older Harry didn’t hide it underneath his hair; he probably didn’t hide from anything.

The older man smiled, soft, and his eyes bunched up with it. He reached forward, and it wasn’t until Harry’s fingers brushed against the glass that Harry realized he’d been the one reaching out. He pulled his hand back, clutched it against his chest, took a deep shuddering breath and ran.

Back in the Gryffindor dorms, Harry tucked his cloak safely back into his trunk, slightly damp where his face had been.

Chapter Text

It was chaos.

Hogwarts crumbled around him, stone crashing and shattering. He dodged left, then right, turned a corner and nearly tripped over a body—whose he couldn’t say. Spells flew past his head: red and purple, gold and green. He never stopped moving, though. Never stopped flinging spells over his shoulder, half out of breath but carrying on. His feet pounded against the stone floor, stumbling as the whole building shook. An explosion. More people dead, no doubt. Students. Children.

He skidded into the Great Hall and there was Neville, blood caked to one side of his face. Harry blinked and the boy shifted before his eyes, younger now.

That’s not right, a part of his mind called out, though Harry couldn’t tell what was wrong. He jerked as someone grabbed his arm. Ginny, his mind supplied, though as soon as he thought it, the girl beside him shrunk to the body of a child—the redhead girl from Ron’s family—and even though he’d been looking at her the whole time, he couldn’t remember what she had looked like a moment ago.

He shook his head. The roar of battle raged around him, but everything stilled. He could still hear the curses being thrown, could hear the screams, the sounds of destruction, and yet his eyes saw only the Great Hall, filled to the brim with students dressed in black, eating breakfast. A flash of bright green caught the edge of his vision, but when he turned, it was only McGonagall walking down the aisle in her emerald robes.

“Harry, move!” someone was shouting, and he felt his body shoved forward, but when he looked up, he was in a forest, moss beneath his cheek. Leaves and sticks crackled as someone approached, and bile rose in his throat, though Harry didn’t remember why he was scared. Couldn’t remember why he had to lie so very still.

They were getting closer.

Closer.

Closer.

Harry Potter, 11 years old, woke with a sharp gasp, heart pounding fast enough he could feel it pulsing in his arms, his legs. His wand was already in hand, having grabbed it while still half in the throes of his nightmare.

Lumos, he thought, breathing too hard for the word to pass his lips, and his wand lit up the thick red curtains surrounding his bed.

The dream itself had already slipped away from him, nothing lingering except for the fear. It churned in his stomach, and he leaned his head between his knees to quell the nausea.

A quick peek through his drapes revealed that it was still dark outside, no hint of the sun or even the thin gray light that heralded early morning. Harry sighed and slipped out of bed. He toed on Neville’s slippers—he really would have to order a pair for himself—and grabbed his cloak. There was no use trying to go back to sleep now when his mind was trying desperately to recall anything from his dream and his body had already jolted awake from the adrenaline.

He crept out of the tower, down the hallways, and slipped into the room with the mirror. It had only been a few days since he’d discovered the thing and though this was the first time he’d come back to the room, Harry had hardly stopped thinking about what he’d seen.

Himself but older. Happy. Someone who’d had a chance to live, and who’d enjoyed it.

Merlin, he hadn’t realized how little he expected to live past his teens until he saw himself older. How the image of a man with laugh lines and a beard was so…so unexpected. So unfamiliar to even his déjà vu brain. How every part of him had ached with the wanting of it.

As Harry entered the room this time—partially because he was already on edge from his nightmare, partially because he was already wary of the mirror’s power—he felt the barest tingle of spell wash over him. He froze.

When, after a moment, nothing happened, some tension eased from his body and Harry moved towards the mirror cautiously. The lizard brain was hissing at the back of his mind, but since it didn’t seem to have anything useful to contribute, Harry ignored it.

The image in the mirror was the same as last time, though seeing it again was almost as shocking.

He wasn’t sure how long he looked, how long he wished to one day become the person he was seeing, but the door creaked and Harry was no longer alone.

“You are not the first to be enamored with the Mirror of Erised,” Dumbledore’s voice carried across the empty room.

Harry cursed his luck. Of course it was the old man. Of course this was just another test, another trap.

“Sorry, sir,” Harry started, but the headmaster waved him off genially.

“Not to worry. Not to worry.” Dumbledore eyed the mirror somewhat wistfully. “I understand the temptation. To see your heart’s desire…it’s worth breaking curfew for, I think.”

Harry hoped his grimace could be passed off as something sheepish.

“If I may ask,” Dumbledore said carefully. “What is it you see in the mirror, my boy?”

Lie, the lizard brain hissed urgently.

Well, duh, Harry thought. Whatever the point of this was, Dumbledore had wanted him to see the mirror, wanted to know Harry’s deepest wish. And Harry didn’t know, didn’t trust what Dumbledore would do with that knowledge.

Tell him you see your parents, the déjà vu brain said.

“It’s…it’s my parents, sir.” Harry let a small wobble enter his voice. “They’re hugging me. They’re…they’re proud of me.”

The headmaster smiled a bit sadly, a twinkle in his eye. “So then you know already what you wish can never be.”

Wow, harsh, Harry thought, though he was careful not to let his thoughts show plainly on his face. If that had been his greatest wish, he’d be crushed to hear that. Sure, his parents were dead, and he knew, logically, that there was no getting them back. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t have a family, or that he couldn’t imagine that they’d be proud of him, love him.

“Yes, sir.”

Dumbledore sighed. “Many foolish witches and wizards have wasted their lives away in front of this mirror, desperate for even a glimpse of their desires. That is why, tomorrow, it will be moved to somewhere safe.”

Why was it even here in the first place, Harry wanted to ask, though he suspected he knew the answer.

Dumbledore looked at Harry over the top of his half-moon glasses, meeting his eyes head on, and Harry immediately cleared his mind, focused on the movement of breath through his body. Just in case.

“I must ask you not to go looking for it again.”

“Of course, sir,” Harry said. Dumbledore seemed convinced of his answer—or perhaps didn’t really care, Harry wasn’t sure—and so let the boy go.

Spitting mad would probably be a good way to describe how Harry felt as he trudged his way back to the Gryffindor tower. Who did Dumbledore think he was, moving Harry about like some pawn in a chess match, no clear goal in sight?

Go check out this three-headed dog that could kill you, Harry. Have you seen this mirror that will tell you your deepest wish, my boy?

And for what? What was the bloody point?

It was giving Harry a headache.

But if there was one good thing to come out of the whole mirror ordeal, Harry supposed it was a renewed will to live. Not that he’d been suicidal before—at least, he didn’t think so—but the idea of growing old resonated deep within him.

Not to live forever, heaven’s no. But to live for a while.

A good long while.

 


 

The return of students for the spring term was more of a relief than Harry had expected. Not that he hadn’t appreciated the break, but it was strangely comforting to go back to classes and homework and a sense of routine. It helped that Dumbledore seemed content to go back to ignoring Harry’s existence most of the time—at least, as far as he could tell.

“I can’t understand it,” Hermione had said when Harry told both her and Ron about the mirror incident. “You’re sure Dumbledore meant for you to discover it?”

I’m not sure of anything, Harry wanted to say yet again. Maybe he really should get that t-shirt made.

“It’s too coincidental, isn’t it?” Harry said instead. “For Christmas, I anonymously get a cloak that lets me be invisible, and the very same week, I come across a special mirror in an empty classroom, and Dumbledore also finds me there so we can discuss my heart’s desire?”

Ron shrugged. “I don’t know. It might’ve happened to anyone.”

But even he didn’t sound too convinced, and in the end they all decided it was best to be wary for now. Just in case.

“I wonder what I’d have seen in the mirror,” Hermione said wistfully.

Ron snorted. “Books, no doubt. As far as the eye could see.”

Hermione rolled her eyes but didn’t disagree. “Oh, and I suppose you’d see yourself as a famous quidditch player, wouldn’t you? If we’re sticking to clichés.”

Talking about what Harry had seen in the mirror had gone over about as well as he could have expected.

“That’s it?” Ron had asked incredulously. Harry didn’t miss the worried look his friends shared. “Just you but older?”

“Growing up, I guess…you don’t understand what it was like at the Dursleys. I never thought about surviving beyond each day. I couldn’t,” he’d said, trying to explain. It was more than just the Dursleys, truthfully, but Harry didn’t fully understand why the image of Older Harry was shocking even to his déjà vu brain—especially considering his sixth sense never seemed to be surprised by anything.

He was trying not to think about it too hard. He wasn’t sure he’d like the answers he’d come up with if he did.

Luckily, he had other things to occupy his mind, like the conversation he’d overheard between Quirrell and Snape. This he didn’t mention to Ron and Hermione, certain that it would strengthen their suspicions of the potions master.

And, well, Harry had mixed feelings about the whole thing.

For starters, he absolutely could not stand Snape despite being sure that the man was no threat to him. On the other hand, Quirrell was in all likelihood a pretty serious danger, yet Harry found himself reluctantly liking the man. He wasn’t a half-bad teacher despite the stuttering, and certainly didn’t bully and deride kids the way Snape did.

(There was also the small matter that Quirrell had been monumentally helpful in Harry’s quest to learn occlumency and protect his mind—had taken Harry’s worries seriously in a way that was wholly unfamiliar to him—whereas Snape seemed the type to set off celebratory fireworks at Harry’s funeral.)

There was also the undeniable truth that if he told Ron and Hermione about his suspicion that one or both of the professors was after the philosopher’s stone, they’d immediately want to do something about it. Their sense of righteousness and fairness would demand they try to put a stop to the hypothetical theft, and Harry—

Well, Harry was tempted to let Snape and Quirrell have at it. It was Dumbledore’s problem if the stone was stolen, not Harry’s. Dumbledore had brought the damned thing into the school, let him be responsible for its well-being.

Harry was eleven, for Merlin’s sake. This was way above his paygrade.

 


 

What wasn’t above his paygrade, apparently, was his ridiculous rivalry with Draco Malfoy. Or rather, Draco’s rivalry with him.

The blond idiot had upped his game after returning from winter hols. Harry now had to watch out for spontaneous tripping jinxes being thrown at him in the hallways—frequently just outside the potions classroom where Snape conveniently didn’t see a thing unless Harry drew his own wand. He’d lost fifteen points just for having his wand out in the hallway, which everyone in Gryffindor agreed was bullshit, but no one could do anything about.

This, Harry thought pettily, is why I prefer Quirrell even if I have the strange instinct to kill the man sometimes.

For his own part, Harry was determined not to retaliate because that seemed to piss Malfoy off the most. Oh sure, Harry would happily trounce him in every class bar potions—and Quirrell seemed to take some amount of pleasure in pairing the two of them up for practical demonstrations—but outside of academics, Harry shrugged off Draco’s every attempt to embarrass him. Even—

“Potter,” Professor Quirrell said tiredly, though there was a small quirk of his mouth that indicated he wasn’t entirely exasperated yet. “Why on earth are you bald?”

Harry patted his bare head with a grin. “Hair loss curse, sir. Draco’s hair’s a little thin, you see, and he was feeling self-conscious—”

“I was not,” the blond whined as he entered the classroom right behind Harry, wand still stupidly in hand.

Quirrell raised a brow. “Have p-points been taken already?”

“There’s no need, really, Professor,” Harry said cheerfully, which in turn only made Draco’s scowl deeper. “No harm done, and if it helps dear Draco feel a bit more confident about his receding hairline—”

“Watch it, Potter, or I’ll—”

“Enough,” Quirrell snapped at Malfoy.

Harry frowned—usually Quirrell had more patience than this. He certainly wasn’t often bold enough to snap at students. And, Harry noted, the usual stutter was once again all but gone.

“Attacking a fellow student is usually grounds for a detention.” Quirrell leaned heavily against his desk as he eyed the two of them. “But s-since Mr. Potter is being rather gracious about the ordeal, I’ll o-only take twenty points from Slytherin.”

“Twenty?” Draco protested, though his mouth shut a moment later under Quirrell’s withering gaze.

“To your seat, Mr. Malfoy,” the professor said. “Unless you want to m-make it thirty.”

Harry ignored the steady glaring he received from Malfoy and his goons the entirety of class, despite the fact that they were all supposed to be quietly working on an essay about the theory behind binding spells. Harry had worked through his rather quickly, though he was sure it was not as thorough as Hermione’s would be. But it gave him plenty of time to observe Quirrell.

The man looked more worn down than usual, dark circles under his eyes and a taught pulling at his mouth. He was sagging in his chair, not the stiff upright posture Harry was used to seeing from him, and even as he was grading essays from the upper year students, he leaned his elbows on the desk. He looked, frankly, exhausted.

When class ended, however, Quirrell asked him to stay behind a moment.

“It won’t always be tripping jinxes and hair loss curses, you know,” the man said once the room had cleared.

Harry frowned. “Sir?”

Quirrell hummed. “Eventually, you will have to…discourage people from cursing you. Playing nice—” he practically spat the word “—will only get you so far.”

Oh. Oh.

Harry laughed. “Sorry, but I think you have the wrong idea, professor. See, Malfoy—he wins if I get upset about it, or even if I get angry. That’s what he wants.” Harry shrugged. “Nothing gets him more agitated than when I don’t act the way he expects.”

“And what will you do, Potter, when it’s a slicing hex or an incendio fired at you?” Quirrell’s voice was strangely calm, restrained, but his eyes were intense. “I wonder if you will laugh it off so easily when you are bleeding.”

He was angry, Harry realized. Angry on Harry’s behalf, perhaps a bit. Angry, certainly, that Harry didn’t seem to be taking these attacks seriously. But why?

Because he thinks we’re weak for not striking back, the déjà vu brain said. Because he would have already hit back twice as hard if he was in your place.

Well now Harry was angry, too.

“I think you’ll find, professor, that when I’m adequately threatened, I have no problem responding in kind,” he said, trying to keep a firm grip on his temper. “But I highly doubt Draco Malfoy deserves the same level of response as, say, a mountain troll. Unless you care to disagree?”

Was that too far? He was probably going to have detention every night for a month. It wouldn’t be as bad as detention with Snape, but still—

Quirrell’s mouth twitched. “No, perhaps eye-gouging is a little much for a schoolyard spat. Still, at the very least, you might consider better protecting yourself. The shield charm, protego, is technically a second-year spell.” He raised a challenging brow. “But somehow I think you’ll have little difficulty with it.”

Argh, his déjà vu brain shouted. I don’t understand him.

“Thank you for the recommendation, sir,” Harry said, unnerved by both the professor’s shifting moods and his déjà vu brain’s confusion. “I’ll take that under advisement.”

Professor Quirrell nodded and shooed Harry towards the door. “Good. Now run along before you’re late.”

“Right.” Harry booked it down the hall towards History of Magic, not that Binns would notice if Harry was late—or if he even bothered to show up. He sank into his seat just seconds before class began, shaking his head at Ron and Hermione to show that he wasn’t in trouble.

For once, Binns’ dull lesson was welcome, and Harry ignored the ghost’s droning speech in favor of reflecting on how very odd Professor Quirrell had been.

The déjà vu brain was tense. Very odd indeed.

 


 

Harry’s efforts to avoid getting Ron and Hermione involved with the philosopher’s stone’s protection were ultimately for nothing because Snape was probably the most unintentionally suspicious person in the entire universe and Hermione was nothing if not doggedly persistent.

Regardless of Harry’s claim that Snape was innocent, Hermione had held to the idea that it was Snape who had cursed Harry’s broom, and Ron was happy to bond with her over their shared hatred of the gloomy professor. Harry would have put up more of a protest, but really, the man wasn’t doing himself any favors and Harry wasn’t inclined to save his least favorite professor’s reputation.

He should have known, though, that Ron and Hermione would get it in their heads to create a whole conspiracy theory involving Snape, the stone, and who knew what else.

The corkboard of evidence is kind of impressive though, his déjà vu brain complimented. It was, hilariously, like something out of a muggle crime drama. A detailed list of Snape’s “suspicious activities” were written out alongside a few hand-drawn pictures, most notably of Harry flailing about on his broom and Fluffy holding Snape by the leg like a chew-toy.

(It was worth noting that all the people were stick-figures, and Harry strongly suspected that the “photographic evidence” had been Ron’s contribution.)

The worst part was that Harry couldn’t even definitively say that Snape wasn’t going to do exactly what Ron and Hermione suspected he would do because, dammit, the conversation between Snape and Quirrell had been pretty damn incriminating.

“He even had a limp the morning after Halloween,” Hermione was saying enthusiastically. “And we know he didn’t get it fighting the troll, because we were doing that. And it looked like a bite mark. Who else could have done it but Fluffy?”

Harry didn’t remember Snape limping, but then again, he’d been pretty out of it with nervous energy that morning.

He sighed. “Alright, let’s say—hypothetically—you’re correct. What do you want to do with this information? We don’t have any concrete proof, just suspicion. We can’t take our concerns to Dumbledore, who might even believe us, because clearly he has ulterior motives. So what?”

Hermione chewed on her bottom lip for a moment. “Well…I think we should go see Hagrid.”

“Hagrid,” Harry repeated drily.

“Well, he was so helpful last time.”

Dammit, Harry thought, even as he agreed to go. This was going to be a disaster.

 


 

Gods above, was it ever.

Hagrid, bless his heart, had a bloody dragon egg. That hatched. On the table of his kitchen. And whose name was apparently Norbert.

Within thirty seconds of being alive, Norbert lit Hagrid’s beard on fire.

In and of itself, a baby dragon plus Hagrid—plus the fact that it was a secret—was never, ever going to end well.

Of course, Draco Malfoy showing up like the little sneaky twat that he was also didn’t help.

“I don’t understand,” Hermione whispered as they re-entered the castle. “Is that bad?”

As if on cue, Professor McGonagall appeared from around the corner, Draco Malfoy smugly standing behind her.

“Oh. It’s bad,” Ron said.

 


 

The loss of fifty points a piece and the detention with Hagrid was sweetened a bit by Malfoy’s expression of total uncomprehending incredulity that he’d be receiving the same punishment as well.

Snitches get stitches, Harry thought gleefully.

Fuck. The Forbidden Forest, his déjà vu brain said much less gleefully.

Harry, having vowed to listen to his sixth sense more closely, was rightly concerned.

There’s a reason it’s forbidden, isn’t there, he thought to himself.

The déjà vu brain hummed. Rumored werewolf packs, wizard-hating centaurs, acromantula—

Acromantula? Harry questioned. It sounded familiar, but he couldn’t quite place it…

Big ass spiders, his déjà vu brain confirmed. Man eaters.

Bloody hell. Merlin, he really wasn’t going to make it to his 30s, was he?

And they’re the least of your problems. For right now, at least.

“Punishments aren’t like they were in the old days,” Filch said as he led them down to Hagrid’s hut the following evening. “They used to hang students by their toes in the dungeons. Ah well. The Forest may take a piece of you yet.”

“Wait.” Malfoy clutched his cloak tighter. “You mean we really are going into the Forbidden Forest? I thought that was a joke.”

Filch laughed and muttered something under his breath that Harry thought might’ve been, “You’ll be the first to go.”

Not for the first time, Harry wondered what kind of absolutely nuts school was this? How had nobody shut Hogwarts down for child endangerment already?

“Evening Hagrid,” Filch called out.

The half-giant sniffled. “Evening.”

“Oh you’re not still on about that bloody dragon, are ye?” Filch rolled his eyes. “Pull yourself together man.”

“Norbert’s been shipped off to Romania,” Hagrid explained miserably.

“That’s good though, isn’t it?” Hermione asked, flinching back when Hagrid let out another loud snuffle. “He’ll be with the rest of his kind there.”

“What if he don’t like the other dragons?” Hagrid said.

Better than burning down your house, Harry thought but didn’t say.

Ten minutes later, they were marching through the Dark Forest, lanterns held high and cloaks snug. Malfoy, the coward, had shelved his usual disgust for his present company and was staying plenty close. Not that it mattered a moment later when Hagrid stopped them all.

“Someone’s been killing unicorns,” he said, dipping his fingers in a pool of silvery goo that was apparently unicorn blood. “Past couple weeks or so. We’re here to figure out who.”

Because that seems like an appropriate task for eleven-year-olds, Harry though bitterly.

“Looks like one’s been injured pretty badly. Ron and Hermione, with me. Harry, Malfoy, you go have a look around.”

You cannot be serious, Harry thought. You want us to go traipsing about alone? In a forest full of things that could kill us? The one they specifically say students shouldn’t go into?

Draco, for once, seemed to be on the same page. “Is that…safe?”

Hagrid waved dismissively. “You’ll be fine.”

Fat chance, the déjà vu brain said. Hand on your wand, Harry.

Solid advice if he’d ever heard it. Gods he hoped this wasn’t about to get him killed.

“Fine. Then I want Fang.” Malfoy motioned to the dog.

The dog was a coward. He stuck close and whimpered as they delved deeper into the forest. It was distracting.

“This absolutely mad,” Draco hissed. He sneered down at a tree stump as he stepped over it. “What were they thinking, sending us in here?”

Harry nodded, but didn’t give too much of his attention to the blond. His eyes swept the forest in front of them, catching every swaying branch, every snapping twig. His anxiety had skyrocketed and his lizard brain was curled up, tense and waiting.

“My father—”

“Shhh.” Harry held up a hand, and Malfoy surprisingly fell quiet. The forest was utterly silent for a single moment, and then he heard it: a faint, pitiful whinny. “There.”

They closed in on the sound warily.

Be ready, his déjà vu brain said, but for what, Harry didn’t know.

Except as they finally spotted the unicorn, Harry already anticipated the cloaked figure leaning over it. The unicorn was either dead or very close, the figure drinking greedily from its slit throat.

Beside him, Fang let out a horrid whine and Draco froze. At the sound, the cloaked figure rose and turned towards them, face hidden by shadows cast from his hood and the already dim light. It took a single step towards them and Draco screamed. The blond boy turned and ran, Fang already several paces in front of him.

Harry stumbled back a step and the hooded figure matched him by stepping forward once more. His scar burned enough to blur his vision for a moment.

Voldemort, the déjà vu brain said, confirming Harry’s suspicion.

Yet the cloaked figure did not come nearer, just stood watching for a moment.

Why isn’t he attacking? Harry wondered, both the lizard and déjà vu brain equally curious.

Hoofbeats thundered, gaining steadily closer, and the cloaked figure turned towards the sound for a moment before turning and racing away, gliding like some imagined apparition.

Harry leaned back against a tree, wand still tight in hand.

“Harry Potter,” a centaur said as he came into view. He scanned the area quickly, frowning at the dead unicorn. “I see he has gone.”

“Voldemort,” Harry clarified, though he already knew in his heart he was right.

The centaur nodded. “A man pushed to desperate measures, if he is willing to drink unicorn blood. It can keep you alive even on the brink of death, but from the moment it passes your lips, you will live but a half-life. It is a pitiful existence.”

Harry frowned. Something tickled the edge of his mind, though he’d have to come back to it later when he had more time to think, to process.

“Thank you,” Harry said. “He heard you coming and ran off. I don’t know what he might have done if you hadn’t.”

The centaur smiled. “We were fated to meet, Harry Potter. It is not often that centaurs—even with our long lives—have the chance to meet énas fílos tou thanátou. Nor one with so great a destiny.”

Fate. Destiny. Great. Harry’s smile grew pinched. “Uh…thank you?”

The centaur laughed. “There’s much you know but cannot see. In time, you will understand.”

Harry nodded. “I’m looking forward to it. If I might ask without causing offence—” because Harry had a strong inclination that centaurs weren’t ones to make enemies of “—what’s your name?”

“Firenze.” The centaur squinted at into the distance for a moment. “Hagrid draws near. You must go, Harry Potter. The centaurs will not harm you, but many others in the forest will not see you for what you are. It is not safe here.”

Before Harry could thank the man—centaur—again, Hagrid appeared over the ridge, Ron, Hermione, Draco, and Fang in tow.

“Firenze,” Hagrid greeted. “You alright there Harry?”

“Alive and in one piece,” he called back.

“This is where I leave you.” Firenze nodded and Harry nodded back.

Though the centaur had saved him—or at least, had scared Voldemort off—Harry couldn’t help but feel a little relieved when Firenze was gone. The weight of the centaur’s gaze had been unnerving, and he seemed to know quite a few things that Harry didn’t.

And what had Firenze called him? It wasn’t a language Harry recognized.

More mysteries to figure out, Harry thought as he let Ron and Hermione and Hagrid and Draco usher him back to the castle. Why can’t it ever be easy?

 


 

“It was Voldemort in the forest,” Harry told his two friends once they were back in the common room.

“But he’s supposed to be dead!” Ron looked deathly pale. “How?”

“I get the impression he isn’t exactly easy to kill,” Harry said drily. “But now I think I know who the stone is a trap for.”

“It makes sense. Unicorn blood isn’t the most sustainable method of prolonging your life.” Hermione pursed her lips. “But he’d never get into the castle with Dumbledore around.”

“What if Snape’s getting the stone for You-Know-Who,” Ron said. “He’s already in the castle. He’d just have to wait for the right moment.”

Harry still didn’t think Snape was worth worrying about, but his friends seemed set on it. There was no use arguing with them about it now.

“Firenze said something to me tonight. He said we were fated to meet, and then he called me…” Harry frowned and tried to repeat what the centaur had said, though he wasn’t sure he got it right. “I don’t know what that means.”

Ron merely shrugged, but Hermione looked thoughtful. “It might be Latin. I’ll have to check the library.”

Eventually, they all went to bed, citing the late hour and the fact that they’d still have classes tomorrow. But Harry stayed awake for hours, unable to shake his encounter with Voldemort from his mind. It was weird, how he’d felt both scared and not. Weird, how Voldemort had merely watched him, not attacked.

Was he weakened? Harry wondered. Or was it something else?

Chapter Text

Despite Hermione’s dedication to the library and her seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of just about everything, even she was stumped by the words Firenze had used to describe Harry that night in the Forbidden Forest.

“Are you sure you remembered it correctly?” she asked for the hundredth time. “Because the only thing I can find in Latin that sounds even remotely similar means swan filler, and I really doubt that’s what Firenze meant.”

Which, yeah, that probably wasn’t what the centaur had said. Harry had told Hermione to let the subject drop, because really, what did it matter? He could tell she wasn’t entirely convinced—Hermione hated nothing so much as a puzzle she couldn’t solve—but with the end of term growing ever closer, the need to focus on revising for final exams took precedence.

Harry wasn’t particularly worried. He’d been acing most of his classes all year with minimal effort—with the exception of potions, because Snape might not be evil according to Harry’s déjà vu brain, but he sure was a massive twat—and what studying Hermione had talked him and Ron into had proved to be boring in its simplicity.

Besides, Harry had bigger problems to worry about. Dumbledore had left him well enough alone since the mirror incident back in December and even running into Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest hadn’t warranted a face-to-face meeting like Harry had almost expected. It was making him nervous: partially because of all things, it seemed that would be the one Dumbledore would want to stick his nose in, and partially because his sixth sense seemed to be constantly warning him that something big was coming.

Harry knew it had to be something with the damned stone.

Voldemort, or more likely an accomplice of his, would be going after it soon, what with the school year coming to an end. The window of opportunity was rapidly closing, and Harry was conflicted.

A strong part of him wanted to stay out of it. Like he’d been saying for months now, it wasn’t his bloody problem what happened to the stone. It wasn’t his to guard, for starters, and the only times he’d had anything to do with the damned thing, it hadn’t been his choice. If Voldemort and whomever he’d enlisted as his accomplice were clever enough to outmaneuver Dumbledore, then shame on Dumbledore.

On the other hand…

Voldemort had killed his parents. Had tried and failed to kill him. If the man was any other dark lord, Harry’d be content to say, “I’m eleven. It’s not my job to stop a grown ass adult.” But there was history here. It was personal.

And. Well. Harry wanted answers.  

Dumbledore had already practically admitted his unwillingness to share information with Harry, and his own research had been less than satisfactory. Plus, there were some things he suspected only Voldemort or his followers could tell Harry. Could he trust them to be honest? Probably not. But if there was anything that Harry had learned in his life—which the déjà vu brain agreed with—it was that you could learn almost as much about someone from what they lied about as you could from their truths.

Still, no matter how…tempting the idea of a true confrontation might be, there was little he could do to bring one about on his own. He could only wait. Watch. See if there was even an opportunity before he could really decide what he would do.

Some of his best decisions, after all, had been made impulsively.

 


 

More bad dreams had Harry rising early on a Saturday despite the fact that the quidditch season had ended—with Gryffindor in a measly 3rd place at that. The content of the dreams was again a blur, but fragments of images clung to his mind: blood on his forearm, footsteps echoing in a seemingly endless chamber, his wand in pieces.

Everything felt so real, Harry thought as he indulged in a walk around the grounds to clear his head. Summer was already nearly upon them, and the morning air was dewy. It was quiet, everyone asleep except for perhaps some teachers and the students most dedicated to their studies, though the latter was surely in the library. Harry’s eyes traced over the lake, admiring the fog curling low over the water, when he suddenly had an impression of cold water around him, an itch at his neck, a flash of scales.

It was enough to make him turn around and head back to the castle.

He shook his head. Visions of the future? Or of other realities? Or were they memories?

Whatever it was, it was becoming more frequent. His connection to his sixth sense through his meditation had seemed to make his déjà vu brain all the more talkative, and with that, the dreams had also come. He didn’t know what they meant, but he was sure they were important.

If only everything could be clear, Harry thought, frustrated. But of course everything has to be goddamn puzzle.

Speaking of puzzles.

“Professor,” Harry greeted Professor Quirrell, who he’d nearly bumped into turning the corner to head to the Great Hall. Harry hadn’t failed to notice how the man seemed to be growing increasingly pale as the semester neared its end. He’d also noted how tired the man seemed lately, though whether that was a result of end-of-year stress or something else, he couldn’t say.

“Ah, P-Potter.” The man’s smile was small and weary. “Up early are we?”

“Lots on my mind, sir,” Harry said easily. “Though I suppose the same is true for you, between prepping for exams and planning ahead for next year.”

Quirrell laughed humorlessly. “I rather d-doubt I’ll be back next year, I’m afraid.”

At that, Harry frowned. Quirrell hadn’t been that bad of a teacher; in fact, the man had been shockingly competent once you got past the stutter and general nervousness. Surely he wasn’t expecting to be fired, was he?

Harry was a tad surprised to find how…not upset, but perhaps…disappointed he was by the idea of Quirrell not coming to teach again. It’s not as if he and Quirrell were particularly close for all that the man had bothered to send him a Christmas gift, but…well. Out of all Harry’s professors, he liked Quirrell the most despite not trusting the man in the slightest.

(Then again, how many people could Harry honestly say he trusted at all? Ron and Hermione, sure, though even they weren’t infallible. But beyond that? No one came to mind.)

“But why not?” Harry asked, well aware that he sounded a little too much like Draco Malfoy when the blond had something to whine about.

“The defense position is rumored to be under a curse.” Quirrell sighed, shrugging. “I fully expect s-something will prevent me from returning n-next year. After all, there hasn’t b-been a consecutive defense professor in f-fifty years.”

And next year’s professor hardly deserves the title, Harry’s déjà vu brain spat.

Excellent. One more thing to not look forward to.

“That’s too bad, sir.” If next year’s professor wasn’t going to be competent, Harry would have to compensate for that somehow. Hopefully he wouldn’t feel the urge to murder that one, at least.

Quirrell looked at him oddly for a moment before humming. “Y-yes. Well. As much as a pleasure it has b-been to teach you, P-Potter, I cannot say the same for many of your classmates. Perhaps I am not cut out f-for teaching after all.”

“Or perhaps they’re not cut out for learning,” Harry joked. Quirrell’s mouth curved into one of his small half-smiles.

“M-more the reason to go. You may have to s-suffer their incompetence the next six years, b-but I do not.”

“In that case,” Harry said with faux seriousness, “maybe I’d better look into getting a similar curse placed on myself.”

Quirrell actually snorted. “I’m s-sure you’ll manage, P-Potter.”

“Speaking of which.” Harry saw Hermione rounding the corner just down the hallway, parchment all but spilling out of her rucksack. “I’d better get going to breakfast, sir. My friend Hermione has a rigorous study schedule planned for me, and I’d rather not get on her bad side if I can help it.”

“N-not that you n-need it,” Quirrell said and Harry couldn’t help but shrug. “I’ll be d-disappointed if you g-get less than an Outstanding on m-my exam.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it, sir.”

 


 

Exams were exactly as easy as Harry had thought they might be, though that clearly wasn’t the case for everyone if his friends were anything to go by.

“I swear, half the things on Snape’s exam were things we never covered in class,” Ron said miserably. “Do you think he gave the Gryffindor students a different test than the Slytherins? Because Malfoy was done awfully fast.”

“Professor Snape wouldn’t do that,” Hermione said, though even she wasn’t sure how well she’d done, as evidenced by the extra frizzy-ness of her hair from where she’d been running her hands through it.

Despite being fairly confident that he wasn’t going to fail out of any of his classes, Harry’s sense of unease only continued to grow as the week progressed. He kept trying to tell himself that whatever happened to Nicolas Flamel’s stone was beyond his control—that anything any of the adults did was beyond his control, really—but it didn’t do anything to help his anxiety.

His dreams were getting worse, more violent. Flashes of fire and ash under his fingers. Of screams and death. Waking up tangled in his sheets, breathing hard because for a moment he’d thought they were wrapping around him, constricting him, suffocating him. His déjà vu brain was strangely quiet in the wake of the dreams, but there was always a sense of urgency he felt, a sense of importance that made him certain the dreams were trying to tell him something.

The term is almost over, Harry tried to reassure himself. There was less than a week left, during which he had no obligations other than his own studies and enjoying the post-exam peace. Older students were still finishing exams, specifically in their elective courses, but first-years were left mostly to their own devices.

Harry was on his way to the library for some extra-curricular research, just thinking that perhaps he’d be lucky enough to escape any sort of involvement with the stone after all, when he ran straight into Dumbledore.

“Ah, sorry sir,” Harry said as he hurriedly put a little space between them, a sinking feeling in his stomach.

“My fault, I’m afraid.” The Headmaster righted his pointed hat, this time a bright magenta patterned with silver suns. “I’ve just received an owl from Minister Fudge. Apparently there’s some issue at the ministry he needs my advice on, and I was in quite a rush to inform Professor McGonagall I’d be out until tomorrow.”

“I certainly won’t keep you, then, professor,” Harry said, happy to step out of the headmaster’s way.

“Thank you, my boy.” And then Dumbledore was gone, likely headed off to an apparition point.

Harry’s stomach churned. Dumbledore was going to leave the castle, which meant the opportune time to steal Flamel’s stone had come. No matter how much Harry had told himself he could leave this alone, deep down he’d known for weeks now what he was going to do.

But he didn’t have to do it by himself.

 


 

They waited until after curfew, because truthfully, Harry couldn’t imagine that Voldemort’s accomplice—Snape, as both Ron and Hermione still insisted—would be dumb enough to try for the stone in broad daylight. Well, that, and also because it was far easier to sneak out to do something highly questionable when there weren’t hundreds of students and teachers wandering the halls.

That wasn’t to say there wasn’t someone waiting for them.

“Neville,” Harry sighed as the boy stood between them and the portrait hole.

“You’re sneaking out again, aren’t you?” the usually quiet boy said. His voice shook slightly, but Harry was still rather impressed. Neville didn’t seem like he had it in him. “I won’t let you. You’ll get Gryffindor in trouble again.”

“Neville, I’m really sorry,” Hermione said, though she didn’t sound so in the least. She flicked her wand. “Petrificus totalus.”

The boy thudded to the ground, and the three remaining children winced.

“You know,” Ron said conversationally as they exited the tower. “You’re really scary sometimes. Brilliant, ‘course. But scary.”

Hermione grinned for a moment before her thinking face came back full force. “I still have no idea how we’ll get past the do—Fluffy.”

“Don’t worry,” Harry said with confidence he didn’t quite believe in, yet felt in his gut all the same. “We’ll be fine.”

Whether it was pure luck or just another strange thing Harry had known, he wasn’t sure, but Fluffy was fast asleep when the three arrived in the 3rd Floor corridor, a harp playing gently in the background.

Music puts him right to sleep, the déjà vu brain explained. But you’d better hurry. And, uh, when you drop, don’t panic.

“Right, quickly then,” Harry whispered, and the other two helped him shift Fluffy’s paw off the trap door. “And don’t panic, just go.”

One by one, they dropped down into the darkness beneath the trap door, freefalling for no more than a second or two before magic caught them and then dropped them the last foot onto a pile of thick, leafy vines.

“Bloody hell.” Ron grimaced. “What are these?”

“Devil’s snare,” Harry answered automatically, even as the vines began moving, wrapping around their ankles, up their legs. The feeling was awfully familiar, and Harry was reminded of his dream.

Already Ron was fighting against the vine as it restrained his midsection, pulled at his arms.

“We need to relax,” Hermione said, trying her best to sound calming. “If you don’t, it’ll only kill you faster.”

Soothing is not her strong point, Harry noted.

“Kill us faster?” Ron said incredulously, wriggling even harder. “Yeah, now I can relax.”

You need sunlight, Harry’s déjà vu brain said.

His wand, mercifully, was still gripped firmly in hand, and he moved it almost without thought. “Lumos solem.”

A bright, near-blinding light exploded from the tip of his wand, and the vines withered away from it, releasing the three students and unceremoniously dropping them to the floor below.

“Ow.” Harry winced as he pulled himself to his feet, then offered Ron a hand. Hermione was already up and dusting herself off.

“Brilliant thinking with the sunlight,” Hermione said. Then she frowned. “I hadn’t considered what might be beyond Fluffy. I suppose there are probably more traps ahead.”

Harry grimaced. “I’d expect so.”

The next room was simple enough: flying keys that he’d have to catch on an old broom. Perhaps not just anyone could have done it, Harry acknowledged. Hermione, certainly, if she’d been by herself probably couldn’t have given how much she hated flying. But in terms of a defense system to protect probably the most valuable magical stone in the world, it seemed a little weak.

It only furthered Harry’s theory that this was a trap of sorts, one designed for both Voldemort and himself. After all, what sort of defense could be beaten by three first-year students? Not a very good one, in Harry’s opinion.

But then, this wasn’t really meant as a defense system, Harry thought. At best, it just slows down a potential thief.

The giant chessboard standing in front of them now confirmed that. A chess game could take anywhere from 10 minutes to a full hour. It would cost them valuable time, but it was necessary.

And, Harry thought smugly, we brought a chess prodigy of our own.

Ron took the position of the knight, placed Harry as a bishop and Hermione as a rook. Then, through a series of convoluted moves that Harry only half-understood, Ron proceeded to win them the game.

It wasn’t without cost, though. Ron’s knight was struck down, the redhead boy tumbling to the floor, barely avoiding being hit by pieces of shattered clay.

“Ron!” Hermione took a hesitant step forward.

“No!” Harry shouted, causing the girl to freeze. “We’re still playing, remember?”

Carefully, Harry walked a sure diagonal path until he was in line with the king. “Checkmate!”

The king’s sword wobbled, then dropped, and Harry nodded to Hermione.

In an instant, they were both at Ron’s side.

“He’s breathing,” Harry said, relief flooding through him. “Looks like he’s got a bump on his head, a couple scratches.”

“I thought for sure…” Hermione trailed off after a minute, dangerously pale. “He’s lucky he didn’t get stabbed himself, the moron.”

“I want you to stay here with him,” Harry said, grabbing Hermione’s wrist to get her attention. “Eventually, professors are going to come, and Ron needs to go to the hospital wing.”

“What about you?” Hermione asked. “What if there’s another puzzle ahead—”

“There’s not.” He held up a hand when Hermione opened her mouth to ask. “I just know.”

“Will you be alright? It’s going to be dangerous. Anyone who works for You-Know-Who isn’t going to be thrilled to see you.” She squeezed his hand. “I know you’re tougher than you look, but Snape could still hurt you.”

“It won’t be Snape.” He was sure of that, though Hermione still looked skeptical. Harry grimaced. “And I’m hoping it won’t come to a fight.”

She raised a brow. “I’m not sure how you think you’ll manage that. We might be waiting a while on help since Dumbledore’s out of the castle.”

“How about this? I’ll let you know how I do it when I get back, alright.” Harry stood and brushed dust from his robes.

“That sounds an awful lot like winging it,” she said disapprovingly. “Harry—”

“I know you’re worried.”

Hell, he was more than a little worried too. He had a half-formed plan in his head that would depend on several factors going precisely the way he wanted them to. Factors that depended entirely on his sixth sense being completely right. It was blind faith in a way he wasn’t used to, wasn’t comfortable with. But it was the only thing he had working for him.

“But everything is going to be okay.”

“Is it?” Hermione whispered. “This all felt…well, too easy, didn’t it? Even with chess game. I can’t help but feel you’re walking into a trap.”

“I know I am,” Harry agreed seriously. “Dumbledore’s been pushing me towards this moment since the beginning of the year. It all feels rather inevitable. But if I’m going to be used and pushed around without my say, I’m at least going to get something out of it.”

“Just be careful.”

Harry nodded but didn’t promise anything. He couldn’t.

The passage on the other side of the door was a long flight of stairs that led down, down, down, deeper into the castle, but a warm glow lit up the end. Harry took a steadying breath and descended to the final room.

Chapter Text

“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.

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.)

The diadem.

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?

“Um.”

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?

Legilimens.”

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?”

“Probably, yes.”

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.

“Sir?”

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.