Actions

Work Header

Tip of Your Tongue

Chapter Text

Harry was in a dark hallway lined with shelves bearing glass orbs. They stretched endlessly towards the ceiling, endlessly out in front of and behind him. The only source of light came from the wand in his hand, a pale white-blue glow at the tip. Lumos. The darkness encroached from all sides, empty and vast. It crept closer as if it wanted to snuff out the light, as if it wanted to wrap itself around Harry and never let him go.

He shuddered.

A soft, barely-there hiss somewhere at his back had his spine stiffening, and then there was the thick, heavy slide of scales against the marble floor, distant at first but getting closer. A snake, and a big one too if the sound was anything to go by. Harry moved forward on instinct, his gut shrieking at him to run. But he knew he had to be quiet—if he wasn’t quiet, the snake would find him anyway.

This isn’t right, he thought as he moved as swiftly as he was able down the hallway. It stretched on and on, never once coming to an intersection or a turn. The snake was getting closer, it’s hissing loud in his ears, but he dared not look back to see how close it had gotten. The snake doesn’t belong here.

Then, rising up in the midst of the hallway, stood a statue carved out of black stone in the likeness of a grim reaper. Graveyard, Harry thought instinctively, stumbling back from it. It too was out of place, but Harry had little time to think on it before the statue moved, swinging its scythe down in an arc. He shut his eyes, the hissing louder than before, and threw up his arms in a feeble attempt to protect himself. It would be useless, he knew. He was going to die. He was going to die, again, and there was nothing he could do about it.

Harry Potter, 12 years old, bolted upright in his bed, hair damp from sweat, his nightclothes clinging to him unpleasantly. He blinked the sleep from his eyes and reached for his glasses, settling the ill-fitted frames on the bridge of his nose. The world slid into focus: pale blue walls, light filtering in from the window, Hedwig watching him with golden eyes.

He was, unfortunately, still at the Dursleys, albeit in slightly better conditions than he was used to. The letter from Hogwarts which so clearly knew that Harry had previously slept under the stairs had prompted Vernon and Petunia to give Harry Dudley’s second bedroom. It was terribly, hideously ironic: the Dursleys were perfectly happy to keep Harry in a cupboard, feed him their table scraps, put him to work with the cleaning and gardening and cooking, but god forbid anyone know about it.

For so long, Harry had thought his life was the normal way of things, or at least, it couldn’t be all that awful. The fact that the Dursleys wanted to keep their treatment of him hidden was proof that they knew how they raised Harry was wrong, and Merlin if that didn’t piss him off.

Hedwig hooted from her cage, drawing his attention. Just a few more weeks until Hogwarts, he told himself as he procured a dead mouse for her to eat. It was already August and he was beyond ready to go back to school. He’d even gladly take Snape’s homework assignments and condescending sneers over the Dursleys any day.

And he missed his friends. He hadn’t had any letters from Ron or Hermione, which had been odd and truthfully a bit hurtful—at least until he’d had a chance to call Hermione up on the phone where she’d insisted she’d been sending him one a week, and by the way how come he hadn’t written her any letters? To which Harry had complained that of course he had.

Obviously someone was controlling his mail. The Dursleys? No, they didn’t know how to keep owls from delivering mail, and Vernon would have taunted Harry by destroying the letters in front of him if he could. Voldemort was equally unlikely since they were on somewhat decent terms—a sentiment Harry’s déjà vu brain conceded to with no small amount of incredulity—and because it just felt sort of beneath the Dark Lord to tamper with Harry’s mail.

(“I’ll be in touch,” Voldemort had said, but a month and a half later, there hadn’t been so much as a peep from him.)

Of course, the obvious choice was Dumbledore, but Harry couldn’t figure out what the man would gain from stopping his mail.

At least his friends hadn’t forgotten him.

He glanced at the calendar tacked to his wall, a series of x-marks counting down the days. 2 weeks until September 1st, Harry thought. Just 2 more weeks.

 


 

Where would Harry be if his life was easy, he wondered, staring at the house elf standing on his bed.

“Dobby,” he said with a sigh, his déjà vu brain pushing the name forward with a mix of fondness, grief, and no small amount of exasperation.

The house elf stared at him, eyes wide and growing teary. “Mister Harry Potter knows Dobby’s name?”

Well that’s going to be impossible to explain, he thought.

“Um. Yeah,” Harry said eloquently. “It’s a long story.”

That I don’t know.

The house elf squealed happily. “Oh, Dobby heard you were a great wizard. But he never imagined this.”

Harry tried to smile. “I don’t know about all that. Why…why don’t you sit down?”

“Sit down?” Dobby stared. “No wizard has ever asked Dobby to sit down.”

Yikes.

“Well, you mustn’t have known many good wizards.”

“No,” Dobby chuckled. “I haven’t.”

And then proceeded to hit himself on the head with Harry’s lamp while chanting “Bad Dobby.”

The sinking feeling in Harry’s stomach was back with a vengeance.

“Shhhhh,” Harry tried to soothe, carefully wriggling the lamp out of the house elf’s hands. “We have to be quiet, or else my relatives are going to come up.” When Dobby nodded, thank Merlin, Harry offered another weak smile. “Now. Why don’t you tell me what you’re doing here?”

Which is how Harry learned about some vague evil plot destined to plague Hogwarts this year—no surprise there, said the déjà vu brain bitterly—as well as the fact that it had actually been Dobby who stole Harry’s letters.

“Harry Potter must not go back to Hogwarts,” Dobby was insisting, holding the letters hostage.

“I have to. I can’t stay here. My relatives…” Harry didn’t have words for how awful it would be to stay here, away from magic, away from everything that made him feel alive. He couldn’t even consider it.

“The danger is too great!”

This is getting us nowhere, the déjà vu brain said. And it’s going to get worse unless we can convince him that we’re either not going back to school, or that we’ll be fine if we do.

Harry fought back a grimace. It was a shame; Dobby seemed like a good sort, disobeying his master’s orders to protect Harry even if it was annoying. Harry hated lying to good people. But there was nothing else for it.

“I know, Dobby,” Harry whispered conspiratorially. The house elf froze. “I won’t say it out loud, so you won’t get in trouble and they won’t think you told me, okay? But I know.”

Dobby eyed him suspiciously for a moment. “Mister Harry Potter…knows the evil plot?”

Harry nodded. “I do. I have a special sixth sense that warns me about things like this.” Not nearly often enough, in Harry’s opinion, and he would be having words with his déjà vu brain for not tipping him off about whatever this impending doom was. “And it also tells me how to win.”

Dobby’s already large eyes were wide as saucers. “Is this how Harry Potter knew Dobby’s name?”

“Yes,” Harry said eagerly. “Yes exactly.”

“And—” the house elf was frowning, clearly trying to re-plan with this new information “—if it is at Hogwarts, Harry Potter must be at Hogwarts to destroy it.”

Oh good, Harry thought. I’m going to have to destroy something by the sound of it.

“That’s the plan,” he said. Could house elves tell when they were being lied to? He sure hoped not.

Dobby was silent for a few moments, and Harry briefly thought he’d succeeded. He should have known better. He really, really needed to stop being surprised when things didn’t go his way.

“Harry Potter is too young,” the house elf eventually decided. “Harry Potter should not do jobs meant for adults.”

Which, yeah…Harry had been of that opinion for a while now. But damn was it inconvenient right at this moment.

And that was before Dobby dropped the cake on Vernon’s boss’s wife’s head.

 


 

Bars. Bars on his windows.

Fuck.

“You’ll never see those freaky friends of yours again,” Vernon had said right before bolting Harry’s door from the outside.

It took less than an hour for the trapped feeling to settle under his skin, wriggle in between his rib cage and wrap poisoned fingers around his heart. He wasn’t sure why the bars on his window made such a difference; he’d been trapped in this hell house for the past six weeks and it wasn’t like his situation was all that different now. He’d never once used the window as an escape route before—for fucks sake, it was on the second story. He was liable to break his neck jumping from this height.

But despite not making any rational sense, he felt like he’d been shackled, caged. It made him want to scream—which he did into his pillow so Vernon wouldn’t come back and make things worse. It made him want to cry in frustration. Made him want to tear down the whole damned house.

He didn’t, but it was touch and go there for a few hours, magic pooling under his fingertips as if it was just waiting for him to give his permission.

The only thing that kept him from unleashing it was the knowledge that he had nowhere else to go.

 


 

Getting rescued by a handful of Weasleys in a flying car in the middle of the night felt so much like a bizarre fever dream that even Harry’s déjà vu brain couldn’t convince him with any certainty that it was real. As he stared at the headlights, blinking, he considered for a moment that this was a hallucination he’d drummed up in order to escape the hopeless reality of living with the Dursleys.

Get in the fucking car already, the déjà vu brain said.

When a door slammed down the hall not half a minute later, the lizard brain hissed an urgent, Run. And Harry did, chucking his school trunk into the back of the car and handing Hedwig’s cage much more gently to Ron through the backseat window. If there was even a chance that this was real, he had to take it.

Getting grabbed around the ankle at the last second by a screaming Uncle Vernon? Not great.

Kicking Vernon in the face while Fred shouted, “Floor it!”, thus resulting in the Dursley patriarch falling out a window?

Genuinely a top 10 moment in Harry’s life.

If there’s any sense of cosmic justice in the world, Harry thought unkindly, the fall will kill him.

The drive—er, flight—back to the Weasleys’ home passed in a blur of city lights and cool night air, with the twins bickering over the radio station and Ron’s softly chattering voice going on about his summer hols and quidditch and letters from Hermione.

(“So many bloody letters,” Ron said, holding his hands an exaggerated distance apart. “I don’t know if she’s done anything but write all summer.”)

Somehow, despite the absolute rush of breaking free of the Dursleys, Harry found his eyes drifting shut. Not quite sleeping, but at ease for the first time since he’d gotten off the train at the end of June. Even George shouting “FUCK I forgot we’d have to land” as car careened towards the ground couldn’t totally shatter Harry’s newfound peace.

The Burrow was nothing like Number 4 Privet Drive. For starters, Harry had never seen a house so tall and crooked and delightfully, obviously magical. The pans washed themselves in the sink, socks knitted themselves by the fire, and the whole house creaked as if to say hello when they walked in. But the thing that was the most different was, of course, the people. Despite her yelling, Mrs. Weasley doled out hugs and ushered everyone to the kitchen table where they all sat and had the same food to eat and talked loudly. Mr. Weasley chatted on about work, and the twins laughed at Percy’s hair which was sticking up at odd angles, and Ginny—well, Ginny was blushing and trying not to get caught staring at Harry but it was only slightly weirding him out, so that was okay.

Harry, too, got a hug and a biscuit with eggs, Ron’s arm thrown around his shoulder when the twins challenged them to a two-on-two backyard quidditch match. And for the first time that he could remember, he felt something like a normal kid.

 


 

Harry stumbled out of the floo at Flourish & Blott’s, half-tripping over his own feet but, mercifully, in the correct store and in one piece. He straightened, brushed the dust from his robes, and waited for the rest of the Weasleys to appear. Why on Merlin’s green earth they’d had him go through first was a mystery.

“Throw the powder down and speak very clearly,” weren’t exactly great instructions. If he hadn’t had his déjà vu brain whispering that it was going to be fine, telling him not to panic, he might’ve screeched when the green flames swallowed him whole.

At least we didn’t end up in Borgin & Burke’s, his déjà vu brain said, sounding a little too relieved for Harry’s taste. He didn’t know what Borgin & Burke’s was, and by that tone, he figured he probably didn’t want to.

His mystery brain—the part which had known about the diadem and which Harry had an uneasy inkling was connected to the murmuring dark spot in his consciousness—sniffed and said, Borgin & Burke’s is a fine establishment.

Yeah, the déjà vu brain drawled, for a rising dark lord maybe.

It was strange to have arguments inside his head like this—ever since the mystery brain had made itself known, it had decided it liked sharing its opinions every now and then. His déjà vu brain and his lizard brain often agreed on things, but if Harry didn’t know better, he’d say this other part of himself disagreed just to be contrary, provocative. He was reminded of a cartoon he’d seen a glimpse of once while he was vacuuming the sitting room, where a little angel and a little devil sat on the character’s shoulders, arguing with each other and trying to sway the character to do good or evil.

Except in Harry’s case—with all the violent, sometimes homicidal urges flooding him from all sides—he was pretty sure he had two devils.

A moment later, Ron came through, the rest of the Weasley clan not far behind. They made a big crowd—seven of them in total, counting Harry—and a rowdy one at that, and so it was with little surprise that Arthur was left with the four youngest kids while Molly, Percy, and Harry went off on a quick trip to Gringotts.

It was only when Harry entered his vault once again that he was reminded of his conversation with Quirrell—or Voldemort, rather—last year about family artifacts that could limit the effect of compulsion charms. A brief glance around the impressive vault revealed what Harry had already guessed: he simply didn’t have time today to do a search himself, nor would he know what to look for even if he did. Aside from the money itself, there were a few full bookcases, some portraits, and a not-insignificant amount of clutter towards the back.

With some reluctance, he grabbed more than enough galleons for his school supplies and put them in the pocket of his robes, nodding to the goblin as he returned to where Mrs. Weasley and Percy were waiting. He would have to wait until he was at Hogwarts—where no one would hover over his shoulder in a well-meaning bid to mother him—to write Gringotts about getting an inventory of his account. As much as he genuinely liked Mrs. Weasley, she had very firm opinions on what was and wasn’t appropriate business for children, and Harry suspected that almost all of his…independent research projects would fall under the category of the latter.

By the time they made it back to Flourish & Blott’s, the crowd had doubled in size and the Grangers had managed to find the Weasleys. Harry had only just spotted the familiar bushel of brown hair before it was barreling towards him through the mass of people. He barely managed to brace himself before he had an armful of Hermione.

“Oh, I was so worried about you,” she whispered, holding him tighter. Then she pulled back, eyes scanning him from head to toe, lips pursed. Harry blinked and there was a wand in his face. “Occulus reparo.”

“It’s good to see you too,” he said, laughing as she hooked an arm through his and dragged him back over to where the main group was.

“I can’t believe our luck. I mean, I hadn’t known at all that Gilderoy Lockhart himself was going to be here. You know, his whole collection of books are required for defense this year,” Hermione babbled. “I hear he’s absolutely brilliant. He took down a banshee all on his own, so I suppose he’d have to be.”

Harry had mostly stopped listening after Gilderoy Lockhart.

Oh, fuck that guy, the déjà vu brain said vehemently, and the sheer disgust that flooded through Harry had him freezing mid-step. What a fucking moron. Wouldn’t be surprised if he couldn’t even bloody tie his own shoelaces. What was Dumbledore thinking, letting him teach defense?

Of course he’s teaching defense, Harry thought tiredly.

Still, the déjà vu brain had wanted to kill Quirrell and Harry had rather liked the man. Maybe it wasn’t always right.

Though, of course, Quirrell had turned out to be Voldemort, so what did Harry know?

There was no mistaking Lockhart, once Harry, Hermione, and the Weasleys were close enough to see the dais they’d sat him at. He was probably considered a handsome man: wavy golden blond hair and an almost delicate nose, a pale blue eyes and a media smile. He waved at the crowd, grinned for pictures, winked at the flustered women in the crowd. Harry grimaced as he took the man in, reminded too much of a used-car salesman.

And then, because Harry was cursed probably, Lockhart’s eyes landed firmly on him.

“Harry Potter.” The man did little more than mouth the words that made up Harry’s name before a reporter grabbed Harry by the elbow and forcibly hauled him up to the makeshift stage. Lockhart’s arm wrapped around his shoulders, and Harry fought not to immediately shrug him off, rip himself away from the man’s grasp. Lockhart’s hand was cool and a little clammy, but Harry shook it anyway and hoped his own smile didn’t look too strained.

He was barely paying attention, too focused on counting backwards from 100 in his head so he didn’t accidentally curse Gilderoy Lockhart in public, only vaguely aware of talk of books and signing and then Lockhart loosened his grip. Harry had a fleeting thought that he could make a break for it, but then Lockhart was back, setting a hefty stack of books in Harry’s hands before grabbing him by the shoulders again. Another barrage of camera flashes assaulted them, and then finally, Harry was released.

“Mr. Potter.” A blonde woman stepped in front of him before he could make it two steps, blocking his way back to the Weasleys. A quill and notepad floated by her face, red lips curled in what she probably thought was a genial smile. She held out her hand. “Rita Skeeter.”

One look at was all it took for his déjà vu brain to let loose another stream of curses, its commentary even more scathing for her than it had been for Lockhart. The rant was accompanied by a scatter of half-formed images that felt like memories: a broom cupboard, a front-page article in the Daily Prophet, anger and bitterness and…shiny green?

Just my luck, Harry thought—because he never got so much from his sixth sense unless it was important, and usually bad—but he shook her hand anyway. “A pleasure.”

“I write for—”

“The Daily Prophet,” Harry said, trusting his sixth sense and the random bits of information that settled into his brain as if he’d always known it. “Yes, I know.”

She tittered at that. “It’s always nice to meet a fan.”

His déjà vu brain snorted, but Harry didn’t bother to correct her, not wanting to spend a moment more in her presence. “Well, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to my friends.”

“Just one thing,” she said, grabbing his arm as he tried to pass, her fingernails sharp through the thin fabric of his robe. “Would you consider Gilderoy Lockhart something of a role model? He is, after all, one of the most accomplished wizards of his generation, and with having defeated You-Know-Who as a baby, the people want to know if you’ll be aiming for a similarly notable career.”

Harry forced what he hoped was a pleasant smile. “I’m afraid I don’t know him well enough to say.”

The quill next to her head scribbled, and then kept scribbling line after line of who knew what.

Lies, his déjà vu brain spat.

Let me guess, Harry thought dryly. We should kill her too.

The lack of response from any of his internal voices was…telling.

“And your own career?” Skeeter pressed, eyes gleaming in a way that reminded Harry far too much of a starved, wild animal.

“I’m twelve, Miss Skeeter,” Harry said, pointedly taking a step back. “I don’t have any particular plans just yet.”

Before she could drag him into another undoubtedly double-edged question, Harry dodged around her and found Mrs. Weasley waiting for him. She took his books from him with some difficulty, and then urged him to head over towards the exit where the others were waiting in a less crowded area.

Harry wasn’t exactly sure what he missed, but he caught sight of the Weasleys just in time to watch Mr. Weasley full-on tackle a tall, white-blond man that bore such a striking resemblance to Draco Malfoy that it could only be his father. Harry could only stand, staring, as Mr. Malfoy proceeded to grapple with Arthur on the floor, neither of the grown wizards bothering to draw their wands.

It took less than a minute for a disgruntled Flourish & Blott’s employee to break them apart with a forceful flick of their wand, and then Mr. Weasley was being pointed towards the door, his children and the Grangers following after. In a twist that should surprise no one, Mr. Malfoy was receiving a thousand apologies for being attacked, though Harry supposed that wasn’t entirely unfair since Mr. Weasley had been the one to lunge first.

Not my business, he told himself firmly. Now, if Harry could just sneak out—

“Mr. Potter, a moment if you would.”

He turned, suppressing a sigh, and came face to face with Mr. Malfoy, Draco at his side sneering. His luck today was just miserable.

“Ah. Draco. Mr. Malfoy.” He smiled tightly. “I’m in a bit of a hurry, so—”

The top of the elder Malfoy’s cane came down hard on Harry’s shoulder. He refused to wince even as it dug into his skin.

“Now, now. There’s no need to be rude.” Mr. Malfoy stepped forward, encroaching just a little further into Harry’s space in a way which Harry did not like at all. What was with all these adults cornering him? “I only wanted to congratulate you.”

“Congratulate me?” Harry repeated incredulously.

“On your second defeat of the Dark Lord, of course.”

Harry narrowed his eyes. He knew Mr. Malfoy’s story well enough from when he’d researched the first wizarding war: a marked Death Eater who was acquitted because he claimed he’d been under the Imperious the whole time. That kind of claim was difficult to disprove—the Imperious was impossible to trace once it had been lifted, and unlike the Cruciatus, didn’t leave behind any nasty side effects—but popular opinion was that it was all a sham to keep out of Azkaban. Not that that seemed to matter, seeing as Malfoy senior had managed to lay claim to a prestigious Ministry position and keep his Wizengamot seats despite his extremely dubious past.

Hell, if Mr. Weasley was to be believed, Mr. Malfoy had the Minister of Magic all but eating out of his palm.

Harry almost would have been impressed, except the man seemed just as self-important and prat-ish as his son. He wondered if Mr. Malfoy could be rattled just as easily as Draco. And frankly, Harry had reached his limit for being held hostage by strangers.

“I don’t think you really believe that, Mr. Malfoy.”

The older man froze. “What?”

Harry raised a brow and repeated, slower, “I don’t think you really believe that. That I defeated the Dark Lord back in June.”

“I—” Mr. Malfoy struggled to find words, mouth opening and closing, his brow furrowed as he stared hard at Harry. For his part, Harry only smiled pleasantly, and then leaned in a bit closer so that he could speak softly.

“Do give him my regards when you see him.”

Without another word, he batted the cane away and turned swiftly towards the door, leaving a flabbergasted Mr. Malfoy behind him, satisfaction burning pleasantly in his chest.

 


 

An imposing wall of brick that sat between platforms nine and ten was the only thing standing between Harry and another ten blissful months at Hogwarts. Never mind what warnings Dobby had for him, or the unsettling gut feeling that he was forgetting something massively important. Hogwarts was home and Harry had missed it.

Don’t go through last, his déjà vu brain warned, so Harry ducked his head and asked Mrs. Weasley if they minded if he and Ron went through before them.

“I know it’s silly, but I have this fear that I’ll miss the gate,” he said, not lying in the slightest. He’d had a horrible feeling this morning when he woke, a cycle of “what ifs” that revolved around missing the train back to Hogwarts and a bone-deep certainty that something would go wrong. He’d learned by now not to discount those warning signs.

“Of course,” Mrs. Weasley said, gently pushing them forward, and Harry’s déjà vu brain breathed a deep sigh of relief when he passed through the wall with no problem.

The train ride was a mostly quiet affair. Ron and Harry had found an unoccupied compartment easily, Hermione joining them just minutes before the train took off, and Harry spent a good portion of the first hour recounting what had happened with Dobby. Along with the ominous warning he’d been given.

“Whatever it is, it’s got to be pretty bad,” Harry said. “I mean, this house-elf really didn’t want me coming to Hogwarts.”

“Well, we can’t do anything about it until we know what the problem is,” Hermione reasoned. “And until then, we might as well focus on our studies. Speaking of, how’s everyone’s occlumency going? I know it’s hard to test without a legilimens, but I think I’ve got the basic organization down.”

And so the conversation drifted on, from occlumency to quidditch to Hermione’s summer with her parents. Which inevitably led to Harry’s living situation.

“Bars on his windows,” Ron said, waving his arms about as Hermione gave Harry a sharp look. He hadn’t mentioned that bit to her. “And I know they’ve not been feeding you enough.” Ron raised a brow as if daring Harry to contradict him.

There was a part of him that wanted to push back, to say that it wasn’t that bad because it wasn’t as though Vernon ever actually hit him. That the bruises he’d had from being gripped around the arm or ankle didn’t really count. That Petunia making sure he only ate after everyone else had been served, making sure he could only go to sleep after his chores were done wasn’t all that unusual. That Dudley chasing him and pushing him down and shoving him into walls was just kids being kids.

(And that wasn’t even counting the Harry Hunting or the time when Dudley had kicked him so hard Harry had cracked a rib.)

Fuck that and fuck them, Harry’s déjà vu brain said. This summer was bad and it’s only going to get worse. Let’s not go back.

And wasn’t that an idea.

A very, very tempting idea.

“I know,” Harry said. “I know. I’ve got all year, though. I’m sure I’ll figure something out.

 


 

There were no boats for second-year students, but carriages instead, each pulled by two horrifically beautiful, skeletal horse-like creatures: leathery skin stretched thin over bone, broad wings folded along their sides. And every single one of them was staring at Harry with their white, pupil-less eyes.

What the hell?

Thestrals, hid déjà vu brain answered. They can only be seen by those who’ve seen death.

Okay, but why are they looking at me?

No idea, the déjà vu brain said, sounding almost as perturbed as Harry was. They didn’t do that before.

Before. Again. Last time. It was things like this that his déjà vu brain said—that the sorting hat had said—that made Harry wonder. He tried, most of the time, not to think too hard about why he knew the things he knew. It only made his brain hurt when he tried to apply logic to his sixth sense. And yet it was like an itch that kept coming back, one he was forced to pick at if he wanted to keep what little sanity he had left.

They smell death, the lizard brain hissed, interrupting his thoughts.

As if agreeing with his internal thoughts, the thestral nearest to Harry reached out and nuzzled his arm with its almost-reptilian snout. Hesitantly, Harry patted it on the nose, jumping when the creature let out a sound that was halfway between a whinny and a purr.

“Harry?” Hermione was frowning at him, already seated in the carriage next to Ron.

“Sorry. Got distracted.”

He hopped in, ignoring the feeling of dozens of milky eyes following his every move, the lizard brain’s words echoing around in his head: they smell death, they smell death, they smell death.

Yeah. That wasn’t foreboding at all.

Chapter Text

Hermione slapped the Daily Prophet down on the table, sending a few stray pieces of scrambled egg skittering off Ron’s plate.

“What a miserable hag!” she spat. “I can’t believe they actually published this rubbish.”

On the second page of the paper, there was a large picture of Gilderoy Lockhart, arm tossed carelessly across Harry’s shoulder, shaking his hand. Lockhart’s smile was just as slimy in print as Harry remembered it being, but he was pleased to see that at least he didn’t look as uncomfortable as he’d felt in the moment. And then he saw the title.

The Boy Who Lived off the Fortune of his Parents and the Fame of Others?

Oh we’re definitely killing her now, the déjà vu brain snarled, not even needing to see the name of the author to know who’d written it. Fucking harpy.

Unsatisfied with his spectacle at the end of June which yielded unconfirmed, fear-mongering rumors that He Who Must Not Be Named was at Hogwarts, Harry Potter (right) seeks out the spotlight again by taking advantage of renowned wizards like Gilderoy Lockhart (left),” Hermione read aloud through her teeth, her fury tainting her cheeks red. “When asked whether Mr. Potter will put in the effort to make a name for himself, the savior of the wizarding world confessed, ‘I don’t have any plans.’ Dear readers, it seems our boy-hero is content to coast on the laurels of his fame.”

Hermione cut herself off. “There’s more, but that’s the gist of it. It’s ridiculous. This is a newspaper, not a…a bloody gossip rag. And what does she think she’s doing, targeting you like that?”

“Bloody hell,” Ron muttered, wide-eyed.

Harry couldn’t find it in himself to be surprised, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t angry. It was probably for the best that he not read the rest of it, especially if Skeeter was going to talk about his parents. Besides, there was nothing to do about it for now and he had bigger issues to deal with than a reporter with an undeserved vengeance against him.

“Potter.”

Harry sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. He didn’t feel like dealing with Malfoy and his mocking right now either.

“Piss off, Malfoy,” Ron said.

“I wasn’t talking to you, Weasel,” the blond snarled in return, and Harry could see that this would devolve into a whole thing if he didn’t step in.

“What do you want, Draco?”

“A word, Potter. In private.”

There was something oddly serious about how Malfoy was holding himself, none of the usual sneering present as he stood in front of Harry. Harry doubted it was an act; Slytherin or not, Malfoy wasn’t good at hiding his emotions or his intentions. Nothing about the blond boy suggested that Harry was about to get hexed or mocked.

Strange.

“Harry’s not going anywhere with you, you—”

“Alright,” Harry said, standing and throwing his bag over his shoulder. He gave Ron and Hermione a small smile, though he suspected it did little to soothe their nerves. “I’ll see you in Charms in a bit.”

When they were out in the hallway—empty since most students were still at breakfast—Malfoy stopped, frowning at Harry like he was a puzzle. His usual shadows, Crabbe and Goyle, were notably absent.

“What did you say to my father?” Draco asked, or rather, demanded. “That day in Flourish & Blott’s. What did you say?”

Harry fought back a smile. So, he had rattled the elder Malfoy. Good.

“I just told him didn’t need to congratulate me,” Harry lied. “Why?”

“Why? WHY? Because suddenly he wants to know all about you,” Draco complained. “What classes you like and who your friends are and your favorite professors. Father even asked if I thought you’d accept an invitation to our Yule Party!”

“Your father wants to invite me to a party?” Harry was confused. Or maybe not confused, exactly. It seemed Mr. Malfoy had taken an interest in Harry, probably trying to figure out what Harry’s connection to Voldemort was. But the way he was going about it…that was interesting.

Draco turned up his nose. “The Malfoy Yule Party is not just a party, Potter. Honestly. And people like you don’t just get invited to it, so what did you really say to him?”

Harry raised a brow. Perhaps he should give Draco more credit.

“Nothing that would warrant this level of attention,” Harry lied again, pasting what he hoped was a clueless expression on his face. “It’s kind of creepy, to be honest.”

Draco squinted at him. “You’re lying. You’re hiding something.” And look, the sneer was back. “Keep your secrets, Potter. I’ll find you out eventually.”

With that, the blond stalked away, leaving Harry alone in the hallway, wondering if he’d accidentally made a mistake.

 


 

Three minutes into the first Defense class of the year, and Harry was ready to maim Lockhart. On the desk in front of him was a sheet of paper—a pop quiz, allegedly—filled with the most inane questions imaginable.

What is Gilderoy Lockhart’s favorite color?

Which issue of Witch Weekly was Gilderoy Lockhart on the cover of?

What is Gilderoy Lockhart’s secret ambition?

Harry, frankly, didn’t give a damn about any of it and refused to write down a single thing. If he got a Troll for his grade, so be it. To his right, Ron was grimacing at his own paper, droplets of ink falling over the line where the answers were supposed to go. To his left, Hermione’s quill scratched against the parchment endlessly.

“Let’s see what we have then,” Lockhart called only a few minutes later, scooping up the papers and sifting through them. “Ah! Miss Granger is the only one to know my favorite color is Lilac. Well done.”

Hermione smiled as she always did at praise from teachers, but even she looked a bit confused. From the front row, Lavender and Parvati were shooting death glares over their shoulders.

“Now, pull out your book, Year with the Yeti,” Lockhart said. “And…let’s see. Harry, would you come up to the front? Bring your book.”

Harry grimaced, but did as he was told, only cringing slightly when Lockhart clapped him on the shoulder.

“Excellent. Yes. I thought, today, to give you an idea of what it’s like to face real danger, we’d reenact my defeat of the infamous yeti,” Lockhart said excitedly. “Go on and turn to page 137. And Harry, dear boy, you’ll be the yeti, if you would.”

The man cannot be serious, Harry thought.

He absolutely is, Harry’s déjà vu brain drawled. Get ready to learn nothing of use this year.

“Get back, foul beast,” Lockhart was saying with no small amount of dramatic flair, wand waving dramatically in Harry’s direction.

Harry glanced down at the book, noted that he was supposed to roar and charge towards Lockhart with “an unmistakable intent to kill in its eyes.” Well, that part at least wouldn’t be too hard to fake.

“No, no. More enthusiasm, Harry.” Lockhart gave an encouraging smile and waved him on. “Let’s try again.”

This is humiliating, the mystery brain said as Harry lunged forward, doing his best impression of a yeti—though that was especially difficult as Harry had no idea what a yeti sounded like in the slightest.

An excruciatingly long moment later, Lockhart “slayed” him, and Harry gratefully faked a collapse onto the floor to the sporadic clapping of his peers. If he could just stay here on the cool stone floor for the rest of class, he was sure it would be more productive than whatever Lockhart had planned.

“Up you get, Potter.” Lockhart’s voice was like finding a fly in your pudding. “I’ve not actually killed the yeti just yet. We have three more scenes to go.”

You’ve got to be fucking kidding me, the mystery brain said.  

“Now, picture this. I’m stranded, alone, on top of a frigid mountain. Not another human soul around for miles. I’m freezing—desperately close to losing my toes—and I’ve just eaten the last of my food. Death is imminent.”

If only.

“Harry, this time, you’ll be sleeping in a cave—”

He took a deep breath to calm the rage that permeated every aspect of his consciousness. It was going to be a long year.

 


 

Harry dreamt of the troll from first year, of flinging himself onto the troll’s shoulders, of shoving his wand up the troll’s nose.

That isn’t how it happened, Harry wanted to say, but he couldn’t move his mouth.

The destroyed bathroom shifted around him until he was in the room with the Mirror of Erised, standing there in his pajamas. Behind him stood a dark-haired man who looked so much like Harry but nothing like the older version of himself that he’d really seen in the mirror. Next to him was a red-haired woman, bright eyes matching Harry’s. His parents, he realized, recognizing them from the few photos he’d seen.

The room shifted again, and suddenly Harry was across from Quirrell, from Voldemort. But again, it was wrong, not quite the man he’d known, and this one reached for Harry as if to strangle him, and flesh was burning under Harry’s hands, and the philosopher’s stone clattered to the ground, and there was fire everywhere.

Then it was cool. Damp. Water splashed under his shoes and his eyes could barely see through the dark.

“She won’t wake,” a voice said, both familiar and not, and Harry knew if he could just stay in the dream long enough to see who it belonged to, everything would make sense.

“Soon, Harry Potter,” a different voice said, this one completely foreign to him, but soft, gentle. “But not yet.”

And then he was awake, eyes staring blankly up at the red canopy hanging over his bed. The dreams were coming more frequently now, each one leaving him more and more confused. He could recall them with perfect clarity, but they also left him feeling…empty somehow. Not totally, but it was as if he was missing half of himself. As if he’d forgotten everything that had made him Harry, left only with the finished product.

It was like arriving at the grocery store without remembering the drive there.

Infuriating.

Harry dragged himself out of bed, knowing that no matter what he tried, he wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep again. He dressed quickly in the dark of the dorm room and headed down to the Great Hall. It was early, but not so early they hadn’t started serving breakfast yet.

In fact, Harry wasn’t even the first student there. The Ravenclaw table was fairly crowded, though at least a third of those students looked less like they’d woken up early and more like they just hadn’t bothered going to sleep in the first place. The Slytherin and Hufflepuff tables both had a few early risers, but in Gryffindor, there was only one person that Harry recognized.

Ginny Weasley sat alone at the far end of the table, scribbling furiously with her quill, breakfast hardly touched in front of her.

Forgotten homework, Harry thought, recognizing the frantic way she tried to get her words down as fast as possible. Something tickled at the back of his mind—a weird urge to go say hi, to ask about her assignment—but he ignored it. He didn’t want to disturb her, and besides, Harry felt…odd about Ginny.

It was conflicting. On one hand, there was a part of him that expected her to be as loud and fierce and commanding as her older brothers, that expected half the time to turn and find her laughing right along with Ron and the twins. It was weirdly disappointing, therefore, that Ginny was quiet and kept to herself so much she could be a ghost, and even more frustrating to have her blushing and lowering her eyes every time Harry so much as glanced in her direction. It didn’t seem right.

He had no way to reconcile what his brain expected with the actual reality of the situation, so Harry had begun to avoid her whenever possible. It was incredibly easy to do so, since—as mentioned—she was so quiet and isolated.

Does she have any friends, Harry wondered briefly. He hadn’t noticed her hanging around anyone, though of course it was only the first week of school. Maybe she just needed some time to adjust.

“Harry,” Hermione said as she sat down, startling him. She observed him with narrowed eyes. “How are you?”

“Fine.”

Hermione raised a brow as if to say, “Really?” But with a sigh, turned to her breakfast anyway. 

“And you?” Harry asked.

She rolled her eyes. “I can’t believe I thought Professor Lockhart was—well. Anyway, Lavender and Parvati were up late gushing over him. I’m going to have to look up silencing wards just to get a proper night’s sleep.”

“You’ve seen the light, have you?” Harry teased. Hermione’s infatuation with Lockhart had been mercifully short-lived. One example of his teaching was enough to assure her the man was a complete loon.

“Oh, shut up.” She tossed a biscuit at his head, but he grabbed it right out of the air with a smile.  

“Nice catch, Potter. Better save it for the pitch, though,” Malfoy said, strolling up to the Gryffindor table even though it was on the opposite side of the hall from the Slytherin table. “I have a feeling you’ll be having tougher competition this year.”

Just as fast as he came, he was gone, leaving both Harry and Hermione utterly bewildered.

“Is…is Malfoy being…nice to you?” Hermione asked, tilting her head as if this was a complex potions theory she couldn’t quite grasp. “Because that seemed…”

“Strangely complimentary?” Harry supplied. “Weird. I think his father wants him to befriend me.”

“Whose father?” Ron said, plopping down next to Harry.

“Malfoy.” Hermione’s voice was still dazed. “He just told Harry, nice catch.” She blinked. “Wait. Why would his father want him to befriend you?”

Harry grimaced as both his friends turned to look at him expectantly. “I may have, uh, implied to Mr. Malfoy that a certain former defense professor was not as…ah, dead as he seemed to think.”

In any other circumstance, the matching looks of shock on his friends’ faces would have been hilarious.

“Harry,” Hermione hissed, recovering first. “What were you thinking?”

“When the bloody hell did you talk to Malfoy’s dad?”

“Diagon Alley,” Harry said, answering the easy question first. “And I don’t know. I guess I thought it wouldn’t do any harm, since the man was a Death Eater. It’s not like he’s going to go around telling the Minister about it.”

Ron swore colorfully.

“Anything else you’ve been meaning to share with us?” Hermione asked dangerously, and Harry knew she was waiting on an explanation of what really happened with Voldemort and the stone and Harry last year.

(Harry also knew he couldn’t keep the truth from them for much longer. Their occlumency was decent enough that nobody would be able to skim their surface thoughts, at least. And he was tired of hiding things from his friends. But this was neither the time nor the place to talk about it.)

“Later,” Harry said, and something in the seriousness of his expression must have convinced Hermione to drop the issue.

For now.

 


 

Between classes and the insane amount of homework that Snape had assigned for potions, Harry didn’t have the chance to meet privately with his friends until the end of their first week. Using the invisibility cloak, they snuck out well past curfew to an empty classroom, and Hermione used the new silencing ward she’d just learned to doubly ensure their privacy.

In a castle where the walls could listen and talk, they could never be too careful.

“No one, and I really mean no one, can know what I’m about to tell you,” Harry said.

Ron and Hermione both nodded solemnly, so Harry took a deep breath and recounted everything he could about his encounter with Voldemort at the end of June. He talked about how he felt like so much of the war was being kept from him, how Dumbledore’s manipulations made him feel like he was being used as a pawn in a fight he didn’t understand. He told them how bizarre it was that Voldemort treated him with more regard than Dumbledore had. How Harry felt understood, and how rare that was.

And sure, the man wasn’t good. Harry didn’t try to pretend otherwise. He told Ron and Hermione about how Voldemort confessed to cursing Harry’s broom. How Voldemort used him to get the stone from the mirror, and his anger when Harry wouldn’t give it to him. Voldemort’s fury when Harry mentioned the diadem—and horcruxes, whatever those were—and the terror, the agony of having his mind invaded.

How Harry would do it all the same if he had to do it over, even now, even seeing the other option of turning Voldemort to dust.

For a long while, they were quiet and Harry waited, wondering if this was how he would lose his two best friends.

“He killed your parents,” Ron said eventually, not angry like Harry thought the redhead’s words would be, but the conviction was there all the same.

“I know.” It was an unavoidable truth, one Harry hadn’t lingered on too long. Afraid the sorrow, the longing, would be too much. More afraid that it wouldn’t be there at all. “And I have to know why.”

Hermione watched him closely. “What if there is no reason?”

“Then I’ll have my answer.”

Maybe Hermione was right. Maybe Voldemort killed Harry’s parents and tried to kill Harry because he was a madman who slaughtered without care or cause. But if that were the case, then why was Harry alive now, having faced Voldemort once more? His instincts told him there was more to it.

“All my life,” Ron said, staring off into space, “He—Voldemort has been like…like a monster in a story. He’s not just a bad guy; he’s the bad guy. My mum tried to shield us—didn’t want us young ones hearing about the war—but Charlie and Bill…they kind of remember what it was like. And it wasn’t good.”

Harry closed his eyes. If Ron was going to end their friendship here, Harry wasn’t sure he could bear to watch it.

“But.” And here, Ron took a ragged breath. “But in those stories, Dumbledore was the good guy. The hero, you know. The only one who’d take a stand against the mad dark lord. But I also know he set you up with the stone, lured V-Voldemort to the school with the hope that you’d face him, maybe even kill him. Doesn’t seem so much like a good guy to me.” He paused. “Makes me wonder: what else is a lie?”

“Yeah,” Harry said, because that’s exactly what he was thinking. He looked to Hermione, who was chewing on her lip. She met his gaze.

“What you did was incredibly dangerous.”

“I know.”

“He could have killed you.”

“I know.”

She nodded, eyes drifting as she thought. “They don’t tell us much, do they? When we enter the wizarding world, I mean. I looked in the library, found a couple books, a few old newspapers that mentioned the Death Eaters and not much else. I didn’t even know Voldemort’s name until you told me, Harry.”

“Wait,” Ron said. “Really?”

“It’s rubbish,” Harry agreed.

Hermione wet her lips. “I…I know a lot of them were…pureblood supremacists.”

Harry grabbed Hermione’s hands and made her look at him. “And if that’s what the platform is—if that’s what Voldemort is advocating for—we’ll burn him and his followers to the ground. I promise you, Hermione. I don’t want to live in a world where you’re not welcome.”

She nodded, blinking rapidly to rid her eyes of moisture.

“I don’t give a damn about light versus dark,” Harry said, looking each of his friends in the eye. “It’s…I feel like I’m running blind here. Like I’m being lied to and played and led around by the nose. I don’t want to let other people decide my life for me.”

“Here, here,” Ron said.

There was another pause as they all sat with their thoughts for a moment, and then Hermione spoke.

“Muggles have a saying: history is written by the victors.” She smiled slowly. “Let’s find out what they don’t want us to know.”

 


 

Harry started the next week feeling much lighter, having finally told Ron and Hermione not only about his meeting with Voldemort, but also about the thestrals and his fear that it was a bad omen to have creatures associated with death so drawn to him. They’d been quick to reassure him in their own ways.

(Ron, of course, thought it was rather wicked, especially since the thestrals hadn’t seemed hostile. “What if you’re, like, they’re overlord?” he had teased, and Harry had shoved the other boy’s shoulder. Hermione, for her part, had vowed to do some research.)

With the start of the week came the beginning of quidditch practices. Oliver Wood was a brutal captain, and while he’d apparently been forbidden from holding early morning practice the first week of school “due to regulations,” Wood had gladly had the Gryffindor team out before dawn Monday morning. Even Harry, who was by practice an early riser, couldn’t seem to get his arse out of bed fast enough for the crazed captain.

Unfortunately, the Gryffindor team wasn’t the only one up and at ‘em this early in the school year. The Slytherin team seemed determined to book as much time on the pitch as possible, and it became clear why by the end of the week. As Harry could have predicted, Draco Malfoy was Slytherin’s new seeker. That his acceptance onto the team came with a set of Nimbus 2001 brooms for every player only made him seem more obnoxious.

Though Harry doubted it was really a bribe. Slytherins were cutthroat players, Flint as dedicated to quidditch as Wood was. Anyone with experience would know that no fancy broom could make up for lack of skill. They’d have picked Malfoy because he was the best for the position. The new brooms were just a showy bonus.

“Had to upgrade just so you could have a fighting chance?” Harry taunted. The Gryffindors behind him and the Slytherins in front of him all bristled, readying for an all-out brawl, but Malfoy just smirked.

“You wish you were that good, Potter.”

Harry quickly fell into a schedule: wake up absurdly early to do quidditch drills, shower and dress, grab a quick breakfast and then spend all day in classes, try not to kill Lockhart for his incompetence, homework with Ron and Hermione, meditate before bed, and then sleep restlessly with indecipherable dreams. It kept him plenty busy, though like his first year, classwork hardly took any effort. Spells still came easily to him on the second try and most of the time—if he didn’t think about it too hard—it was like he already knew the subject matter. Second-nature, instinctual.

(It frustrated Hermione to no end that Harry was “naturally gifted” and that he refused to showcase his talents in class. He repeatedly tried to assure her that there was nothing natural about it, but that was just a technicality to Hermione.)

Near the end of September, Harry finally heard back from Gringotts—and specifically, the Potter account manager, Griphook—and had a thorough list of the contents of his vault. And some things outside his vault, too, like the house in Godric’s Hollow where his parents had been killed, and an old manor house that had presumably belonged to his grandparents. As for money, Harry hadn’t known exactly how much was in the vault but seeing the figure on paper was enough to make him sit down hard, and that was after already knowing he was rich.

Enclosed with the letter, however, was the very thing Harry had hoped to find: a small gold signet ring bearing the Potter family crest, the underside inlaid with runes. Griphook wrote that it was customary for the head of house to wear it, and as such was designed with a basic protection against mild compulsion charms; it would not do, after all, to have the head of a rich and prestigious family so easily swayed.

But the ring was not infallible, and with the type of magic Harry suspected he’d find himself up against, it was only a temporary solution.

There is no shortcut when it comes to personal protection, Mr. Potter,” Griphook wrote. “To stop powerful magic, you must yourself wield powerful magic.

 


 

Harry knew this weird almost-truce thing with Malfoy was too good to be true. He’d been enjoying it: not having to worry about tripping jinxes in the hall, not constantly fending off Draco’s snide comments or dealing with his arrogance in class. But of course, no one changes overnight, and just because Draco wasn’t being hostile to Harry didn’t suddenly make the blond boy nice.

Exhibit A.

“Being a know-it-all doesn’t make you one of us, Granger,” Malfoy said, sneer firmly in place, standing haughtily in front of the table where Hermione sat in the library, several other Slytherin second years snickering unkindly behind him.

(Harry, watching this unfold from only a handful of meters away, mentally noted their names too: Parkinson, Davis, Goyle, Crabbe.)

“Pretend all you want. You’re still a mudbl—.”

Later, if Harry thought it would’ve worked to get him out of trouble rather than sent to a mental hospital, he would have said he was possessed. The moment the foul word started past Malfoy’s lips, Harry’s body acted on instinct alone. He whipped his wand out and flicked it in the blond boy’s direction, not even saying the spell aloud, not even sure how he knew the spell.

His aim landed true, and Malfoy found that he couldn’t speak.

Silencio, his déjà vu brain provided.

Draco’s wide, angry gray eyes landed on Harry only for an array of emotions to flick through them, confusion and disappointment among them.

He’s not the one who has any right to feel betrayed, Harry thought bitterly. Not that Harry did either when he thought about it. What had Draco done to prove that he wasn’t exactly who Harry thought he was?

“Mr. Potter!” Madame Pince was right there, arms planted firmly on her hips. “There is no dueling in the library.”

“I—”

“Potter attacked Draco,” Pansy Parkinson cut in. “Unprovoked.”

Madame Pince glared harder. “To the headmaster, Potter. At once.”

 


 

Off the top of his head, Harry could only think of two, maybe three things more unpleasant than going to see Dumbledore.

  1. Going back to the Dursleys next summer
  2. Having Lockhart as a Defense teacher for five more years
  3. Mucking out Hagrid’s chicken coop

Harry rode the stairs up to Dumbledore’s office anyway and knocked on the door.

“Come in, my boy. Come in.”

“Hello sir,” Harry said, aiming for friendly. As per usual, Dumbledore waved him into a seat and Harry reluctantly took it.

“What brings you by, Harry?” the older wizard asked. Today, his robes were the most shocking shade of blue, little embroidered clouds drifting across the fabric as if on a breeze. Harry tried to avoid looking at them while still not meeting the headmaster’s eyes directly.

“Well,” and Harry tried to sound abashed. “I’ve hexed Malfoy, sir. In the library.”

Dumbledore’s white caterpillar eyebrows rose. “Oh? May I ask why?”

“He called my friend Hermione a—” Harry paused “—I don’t want to say it, if you don’t mind. But a rather nasty word for muggle-borns.”

“Ah.” The headmaster sighed heavily. “Prejudice is a terrible thing, Harry. Try to remember that we cannot change hearts with our wands, but with our words.”

Harry stared dumbly at the older wizard for a moment.

Use your words, Harry, the mystery brain mocked, distaste for the headmaster evident in the bitterness of its tone.

He took a deep breath, certain that nothing he wanted to say would be particularly helpful at this moment.

“I’ll try, sir,” Harry said, though it sounded strained to his own ears.

“Good. Now, there is still the matter of punishment. Attacking a student is a serious matter.” Dumbledore gave Harry a small smile. “But since you were acting in defense of a friend, it’ll only be Saturday evenings for the month. With Professor Lockhart.”

If there is a god, Harry thought, he hates me.

“The man sings your praises,” Dumbledore continued happily. “I do believe he’d like to make you his protégé.”

Harry smiled thinly. “Very kind of you sir.”

If the headmaster noticed Harry’s lack of sincerity, he didn’t comment, just waved the boy out with another reminder to practice compassion. Harry left as quickly as possible, ignoring the itching of his wand hand.

 


 

Detention with Lockhart was hell on earth. Harry would have preferred to scrub out cauldrons by hand while Snape bitched about his work ethic rather than sit for hours at a time answering Gilderoy Lockhart’s fan mail. Honestly, the kinds of letters the man got were a mix between hero-worship and revolting semi-explicit offers.

It should be illegal for me to read this, Harry thought as he swallowed back his bile, hastily scribbling a generic reply on the back of one of Lockhart’s photos, passing it over to the stack for Lockhart to sign. If I can help it, I’ll never get detention again.

At least this was his last one. Halloween had snuck up on Harry, and he’d only even known it was today by the nervousness that had gripped him when he first woke. It had left him on edge all through breakfast and his classes—a terrible warning that was all too familiar—and Harry kept expecting another troll to be loose in the castle with how sick he felt. His déjà vu brain had been quiet, but when Harry had done a mid-afternoon meditation in an attempt to calm himself, he’d seen just how twitchy the winding, silvery presence of his sixth sense had been.

Poking at it had yielded nothing, and the mystery brain had been equally tight-lipped. Which meant that Harry was left waiting for disaster to strike.

His mind had drifted, wondering if he could sue for emotional damages, when it was suddenly snapped back into focus by a quiet whispering.

Let me rip you,” the whisper said. “Let me tear you. Let me kill you.

What the fuck, Harry thought, stiffening in his seat, ears straining to catch more, but the whispering was already fading.

Hide, hissed the lizard brain, while the déjà vu brain spoke for the first time all day, letting out a string of curses.

“Professor,” Harry started, and Lockhart immediately looked up, startled, as if Harry had pulled him from a daze.

“Good heavens,” the professor said before Harry could say anything else. “Look at the time. You’d best be going, Harry, if you still want to catch the feast.”

Grateful for any excuse to leave, Harry grabbed his things and all but ran from the classroom. He started to head towards the Great Hall, but his sixth sense stopped him.

This way, it said, and guided him instead towards the second floor, the very bad feeling in his gut only getting worse.

“Harry?” Hermione and Ron came around the corner to his left, startling him. “We were just looking for you. What’s—”

“Something’s wrong,” Harry said in lieu of a greeting, and then kept following his déjà vu brain’s directions, only peripherally aware of his friends following closely behind him. His feet carried him faster and faster, and then there was water splashing under his shoes.

He froze.

Mrs. Norris was hanging by her tail from a torch on the wall, body stiff as a board. Her eyes were wide open and blank. She looked dead, but that wasn’t the worst part.

There, on the wall beside her, was a message written sloppily in blood.

The Chamber of Secrets has been opened. Enemies of the heir, beware.

From behind him, Hermione gasped, but Harry barely heard her. A torrent of images—Memories? Visions?—flooded through his mind at an impossible speed, the force of it knocking Harry off balance. His sight blurred and then completely whited out.

(Blood on the walls. Dead chickens. Water under foot and sinks sliding open to reveal a hole in the floor. The stench of death. A stone-carved face, and Ginny, pale and lifeless on the floor. She won’t wake—that voice again, familiar. A handsome, dark-haired boy twirling Harry’s wand. A snake as large as a building and fear so strong Harry could taste it. Pain—no, agony. A diary, blank on the inside. I knew I had to meet you, the boy’s voice was saying. Spiders the size of a car. Hagrid, and Mr. Malfoy, and the Minister, and Dumbledore, and—and Hermione, frozen and pale as death on a hospital bed. Blood. Blood on the walls, on the floor, spilling from Harry’s arm, spilling—)

Someone was calling his name, and there were footsteps, and Harry blinked as the world came into focus for a split second. Just long enough to see Hermione’s worried face in front of him, Ron right beside her. And beyond, McGonagall, Snape, Filch, Dumbledore, the students.

And then Harry was falling, falling, falling into bottomless black nothing.

Chapter Text

First, there was only the nothingness.

And then agony.

It was a pain so terrible Harry felt as though he was splitting apart and being rearranged all at once. He couldn’t move, couldn’t scream, couldn’t even think beyond the pain. It was worse than any crucio he’d ever felt, worse than the basilisk fang in his arm, worse than Voldemort pressing his finger directly to Harry’s scar.

There was a quiet, rasped, “Fuck,” that felt like it came from Harry’s mouth, but most definitely was not his voice.  

And then pain was fading, fading, gone.

Harry came back to himself slowly, like he was rising from deep under water, or drifting through a thick fog. Everything about his body felt sluggish, and even when the world around him became clear enough for him to make sense of the thin sheets under his fingers, the faint mumbling of someone talking, he still felt entirely disoriented. For a long moment, he couldn’t remember where he was or what had happened.

Voldemort, the forest, a green light. The images dissipated as fast as they’d come, suddenly irretrievable. Like waking up from a dream only to have the memory of it slip through his grasp.

“It cannot be a coincidence,” a voice was saying, low and whispered, but close enough to Harry’s bed that the semi-conscious boy could still hear.

“Severus, there is always a chance—” Dumbledore, Harry recognized, and the other must be Snape.

“You are a fool,” the potions master all but hissed. “Can you not see? His mark has darkened once more, and on the very night that the Chamber opens. He is back, Albus. And the boy—”

The Chamber of Secrets, Harry remembered, and with those words it was as if the memories bumping loosely in his brain settled into place. He would have bolted upright—the bloody diary, Merlin’s beard, he had to get the diary and stop this—if not for the headmaster’s next words.

“We do not yet know the full effects of the connection Harry shares with Voldemort.” Dumbledore sighed. “Until we find out what the boy has to say, it would be unwise to presume anything.”

Connection with Voldemort? A wave of anger rushed through him. More secrets Dumbledore is keeping from me.

How long did he know? the déjà vu brain said, almost muttering to itself, some mix of shock and fury and fresh betrayal burning low and strong as it settled inside Harry. How long was he planning for me to—and just when I thought nothing he did could surprise me. How fucking dumb am I?

“Harry?” A hand fell on his shoulder, jolting him out of his own thoughts, and Harry’s body moved of its own accord, scrambling away from the hand.

Dumbledore and Snape were both standing next to Harry’s bed, and a further glance around the room revealed he was in the hospital wing. It was dark, too, only a few dim candles near Harry’s bed and moonlight coming in through the window. He frowned, wondering how long he’d been out.

“Easy, Harry. You’re safe,” Dumbledore said.

Harry wanted to snort. He was in Hogwarts; was he ever going to be safe here?

“We have questions, Potter,” Snape said, and despite the coldness in his tone, Harry found the potions master’s voice to be far less abrasive. “You will answer them.”

Harry nodded.

“Where were you tonight during the feast?” Snape asked.

“Detention. With Lockhart.”

“And where were you going when you came upon Mrs. Norris?”

Saying, I heard the voice of a huge ass snake and decided to follow it, would probably not do him any favors. The idea of telling Snape and Dumbledore exactly what was going on was but a passing thought; Harry didn’t trust either of them as far as he could throw them, and besides, how would he explain it? They’d think he’d suffered a head injury at best, or worse, send him straight to a psych ward.

“Back to Gryffindor tower, sir. I wasn’t hungry.” Though he certainly wished he’d eaten now. His stomach felt as though it was going to eat itself.

“Harry, tell me the truth,” Dumbledore said, looking straight into Harry’s eyes. He hastily did his best to clear his mind, and his paranoia was rewarded a moment later when he felt the barest brush of pressure against his consciousness. “Have you ever heard of the Chamber of Secrets?”

“Not before tonight, sir,” Harry said, sticking as close to the truth as possible. Yesterday, if he’d been asked, he could have said ‘no’ honestly. Now with the rush of memories that had bombarded him—from a past life, an alternate universe, or visions of a future still to happen, he couldn’t be sure—he was fairly confident he knew more about the Chamber than either teacher standing before him. “What is it?”

There was a pause, short enough it might be brushed off, but Harry knew his audience. They were deciding how much to tell him, how much Harry could be trusted with.

“A myth,” Dumbledore said. “And apparently, someone’s idea of a very bad prank.”

More lies, he thought, not surprised in the least.

Imagine if he had sent the students home now, his déjà vu brain said bitterly. Yet he will risk all our lives. And for what?

It was harrowingly true. It seemed from those memories that no matter how many students were petrified, Dumbledore did nothing.

We’ll get the diary, Harry promised himself. We’ll stop it before it has a chance to begin.

 


 

As predicted, the school was abuzz with gossip come Monday morning, each speculation wilder than the last. Not that it mattered much; aside from Harry—who now had nearly a year’s worth of memories that had never happened rattling around in his brain—no one knew enough about the Chamber to even get close to guessing what was really going on.

The teachers were unanimous in their claim that it was all some fucked up prank, though only a few of them seemed to genuinely believe the lie. And of course, there was at least one professor who wasn’t taking the incident seriously at all.

“Never fear,” Gilderoy Lockhart had said with his dazzling media smile and an exaggerated wink. “With me around to protect you, none of you are in any real danger.”

Harry knew for a fact that wasn’t true, considering he distinctly remembered Lockhart threatening to obliviate him. Of course, that hadn’t happened yet, and wouldn’t happen—probably—and it was all terribly confusing. If Harry thought having multiple brain personalities speaking to him made him seem a bit crazy, it was nothing compared to this. If he didn’t figure out a way to organize these new memories soon, he was going to have difficulty remembering which reality he was living in.

Just make it through Transfiguration and then you can go meditate, he thought as he sat down in McGonagall’s classroom, scooting into his usual seat beside Ron. Harry had been off all day—thankfully his professors were chalking it up to his fainting spell the other night—and he was more than ready to hole himself up in his dorm room away from people.

“Today we will be practicing transfiguring animals into water goblets,” Professor McGonagall said. With a flick of her wand, the chalkboard filled with a diagram of a bird shifting into a cup. “The spell is vera verto, and the wand movement is exceptionally simple.”

She went on to demonstrate, and then lecture on theory, but Harry could barely focus, barely pay attention. He had too many other things to think about and it felt like there wasn’t enough space in his head to think them. Besides, it wasn’t as if he hadn’t already had this exact lesson before.

“Mr. Weasley,” McGonagall called, grabbing Harry’s attention. “Go on.”

Harry glanced over to see Ron placing Scabbers directly in front of him, clearing his throat. The mere sight of the rat was enough to draw Harry’s ire, and his wand hand twitched.

If there’s one person who deserves a killing curse, his déjà vu brain thought viciously.

Person? Harry wanted to ask, but then Ron was casting the spell, drawing Harry’s attention.

Vera verto,” the redhead spoke clearly. Scabbers transformed slowly into the shape of a goblet, though it was still furry and squeaking. And it had a tail.

“Keep trying, Mr. Weasley,” McGonagall said, grimacing at the absolutely revolting looking goblet.

Harry frowned. Ron’s transfiguration was the same as in his memories. Except…except in those memories, Ron’s wand had been broken from crashing into the Womping Willow.

“I said it right, didn’t I?” Ron asked Hermione, who was also frowning at the misshapen goblet. “And I thought I had the wand movement…”

“It was nearly perfect,” she agreed, brow furrowed.

Ron’s spellwork wasn’t as instantly flawless as Hermione’s, to be sure, and he didn’t have Harry’s sixth sense to guide him, but his wand had never half-performed a spell before. In fact, out of the three of them, Ron was the only one to grow up with magic. Magic should have been—and often was—as natural as breathing for him.

So if the problem wasn’t Ron, or Ron’s wand….

Harry’s gut twisted unpleasantly.

Maybe there really was something wrong with the rat after all.

 


 

“Who do we know who’s a slimy git, who hates muggleborns, and would be thrilled to see them all run from the school?” Ron said, voice low but passionate as they left the transfiguration classroom.

With no small amount of prompting, McGonagall had shared the legend of the Chamber of Secrets with the class. Including Salazar Slytherin’s blood-purist agenda and the supposed monster he’d put into the school to serve as population control.

Hermione raised a brow. “You’re talking about Malfoy.”

“Who else?”

“You give him too much credit.” Harry rolled his eyes. “Malfoy? The Heir of Slytherin? He’d have blabbed to the whole school by now if he was a descendent of one of the founders.”

“Harry’s right,” Hermione said, and even Ron nodded in agreement. “Which means we’re back to square one. I don’t buy that it’s a prank. Whatever’s happening is only going to escalate from here.”

Unbidden, Hermione’s petrified form lying still and lifeless flashed in Harry’s mind and he pushed it from his head. That wasn’t going to happen this time. He’d make sure of it.

“What if I told you it’s none of the students?” Harry said. “Not even a real person, exactly.”

Both his friends frowned at him.

“It’s a diary,” he said, voice low so as not to be overheard. “A magical diary that contains the memory of a teenage Voldemort that’s capable of possessing people. And we’re going to steal it.”

For a moment, they could do nothing but stare at him, open mouthed.

“Is that…a good idea?” Hermione eventually questioned. “It sounds like it’s dangerous.”

“It is. But we’ve got to stop it before it starts petrifying students, and frankly, I’d like to talk to him, which I can do through the diary.”

Ron glanced around the hallway and then, before Harry could stop him, tugged all three of them into an empty classroom. “Are you mad? You’ve just told us the diary can possess people, and you want to talk to it?”

“It’s a direct source for the kind of information we want,” Harry pointed out. “Since the current Voldemort hasn’t gotten in touch yet, I might as well ask his younger self.”

“Right.” Ron rolled his eyes, throwing his hands up. “What could possibly go wrong?”

“Hermione?” Harry asked, fingers crossed that she would see the merit to his plan.

She was chewing on her lip again. “It’s incredibly risky.”

“See!”

“But—” she continued a moment later “—we may never get an opportunity like this again. Do you really think you can get answers out of him? Without him possessing you?”

Harry nodded. “He’ll be fascinated by me, enough to distract him from his current goals. I’ve seen it. In memories, or…or visions. My sixth sense…it’s getting stronger.”

“Stronger?” Hermione asked. “How?”

“I’m seeing more. Knowing more.” He shook his head. “It’s...it's a lot. But I know we need to get ahead of this.”

“Alright.” Hermione gave a firm nod. “What do you need?”

 


 

Harry sat on his bed, curtains drawn around him, eyes closed as he focused on his breathing. His plan was set into motion: Ron was off finding out Ginny’s schedule, Hermione was researching spells that could mimic the diary’s ability to consume ink, and Harry had owl ordered a look-alike diary, complete with the name Tom Marvolo Riddle stamped across the front in gold. Which meant he could finally, finally get some peace and quiet.

With every inhale, he felt lighter. Every exhale released tension he hadn’t known he’d been holding. Before long, he was in his mindscape.

The dark, whispering mass of his mystery brain was more active than the last time he’d looked, wriggling about and occasionally brushing against the silvery stream of his déjà vu brain. The latter was still winding about his head, only now a long thread of it seemed to have unraveled, a single tendril of the silver light slowly separating from the main consciousness. Hesitantly, Harry reached out and touched it, surprised when it felt solid in his hand.

Immediately he was hanging out the window of the flying Ford Anglia, the Hogwarts Express chugging beneath him. Ron’s hand, clammy and sweaty, was held out to him, trying to pull Harry back into the vehicle. Harry blinked and he was in the Chamber, Tom Riddle standing before him with a smug, self-satisfied expression twisting his handsome face into something mocking, cruel. The letters of his name written in the air, rearranging themselves to say, “I am Lord Voldemort.” Harry blinked again, and there was the diary in his hands, wet from being half-flushed down the toilet, Moaning Myrtle leaning too far into Harry’s space.

Harry pulled his hand away. Instinctively, he knew that he could take this thread and push it back into the main stream if he wished, that the memories that were so helpful and yet confusing could be shoved back into his déjà vu brain. Harry could forget them again if he wanted, relegated to only getting the occasional hint of a memory, left to feel the sensation of having done this before but not understand why.

Or, he thought as he wrapped his hand around the loose tendril again, he could pull.

The flood of memory wasn’t as overwhelming this time, all of them already familiar to him and perhaps eased since this was an intentional unravelling. He pulled until the thread was completely detached from the rest of the silvery presence. For a moment, he was afraid of what would happen if he released it, but he let it slide from his fingers anyway because he trusted his mind, trusted his instincts.

Instead of floating off on its own, or even reattaching to the main body of his déjà vu brain, the silvery thread dispersed and settled over his mind as if it had always been there. As if it was back where it belonged. The response was instantaneous: the disoriented, confused, wrong-footed feeling Harry had been experiencing all day evaporated. And though he was still curious—still didn’t understand what was happening, really—he felt as if some unknown wound had been healed.

He eyed the ever-moving slivery presence more closely, wondering what would happen if he could get the entirety of his déjà vu brain to settle and disperse as that single loose thread had.

 


 

The decoy diary arrived Thursday evening at dinner, and the three intrepid heroes snuck off to a quiet part of the library afterwards to apply the spell Hermione had found. It was a surprisingly simple charm that really only made the ink invisible. Ginny would be able to write to the diary, and it would look as if the words were being absorbed, but even Hermione couldn’t figure out how to make the decoy diary “write back” in less than a week.

(“I bet I could do it if I had…oh, a month,” she’d said, put out that she hadn’t made more progress.)

It would work, nonetheless. As long as they were careful and Ginny didn’t see any of them with the real diary, she would probably think that Tom was just ignoring her. At least for a while.

The only thing left to do was to switch the diaries, and really, after going through the trouble to make the fake, this should have been the easy part. Except that Ginny didn’t show up for breakfast on Friday morning, and at their second interception point—in the hallway just outside the charms classroom, where Ginny’s schedule was supposed to overlap briefly with theirs—they learned from another first year that she’d been running late and had gotten caught by some fourth year Slytherins with a buck-tooth hex. Ginny would be spending the next few hours in the hospital wing.

They didn’t see her again until dinner, and even that was quick. She had returned to the Gryffindor tower and was up in her dorm before any of them had half a chance to make the swap.

“We’ll do it tomorrow,” Harry decided tiredly. “After the quidditch match, Gryffindor common room is going to be chaos, especially if we win. It’ll be the perfect time.”

If you don’t get hit by any bludgers, his déjà vu brain reminded him. And if you can avoid Lockhart’s “healing.”

Well…that was a mild concern. But Harry was prepared. He knew what was coming. He’d be fine.

 


 

He was not fine.

Apparently, it was one thing to know that he’d have to dodge a rogue bludger while trying to catch the snitch before Malfoy, and quite another thing altogether to actually do it.

Of course, he hadn’t gotten hit on his arm like he was supposed to. No. He’d managed to dodge that one, having expected it. Instead, he’d been blindsided approximately two second after catching the snitch and had taken a bludger to the side with enough force to knock him off his broom. He’d hit the ground hard and presumably blacked out for a few seconds because when he blinked his eyes open again to a new searing pain in his leg—a second hit from the cursed bludger—Hermione was standing over him, blasting the damned ball from the sky.

And Lockhart was already waving his wand over Harry’s clearly broken leg.

“No, no, no, no, no,” Harry tried to say. He also tried to push Lockhart’s wand away, but moving caused an awful, sharp pain down his side, and really, Lockhart wasn’t going to stop anyway. Three seconds later, Harry had no bones in his leg.

“Well,” Lockhart said a bit nervously. “That can sometimes happen. But at least you’re no longer in pain.”

Harry glared at the man and spoke through gritted teeth, “Somebody get me to Madame Pomfrey.”

Which was how he ended up with another overnight stay in the hospital wing, grudgingly choking down skele-grow. His three cracked ribs had miraculously not punctured anything, and Harry thanked Merlin and whatever gods existed that at least Lockhart hadn’t vanished his entire ribcage. As Madame Pomfrey promised, she had healed them in a heartbeat.

Not that that would save the man.

He should be killed for his incompetence, the mystery brain said. Feed him to the snake. He deserves it.

Harry could picture it all too easily, and he was slightly disturbed by the mere fact that the idea wasn’t as nauseating as he knew it should be. Not that Harry was seriously considering it. He wasn’t. No, really, he wasn’t.

Or we could take a more hands-on approach if you’d prefer, the mystery brain suggested gleefully.

God damned murderous impulses, Harry cursed.

And speaking of people he had half a mind to kill…

Dobby, appearing silently in the way that only house-elves could, was now sat on the end of Harry’s bed.

“Keeping me safe by trying to kill me,” Harry said dryly before the elf could get a word out. “How unorthodox.”

Dobby didn’t look the slightest bit repentant. “Not kill you, sir. Never. Dobby only thought Harry Potter would want to leave the school if he saw he was in danger.”

Harry tried to rein in his temper. “But I’m in more danger now than if you hadn’t sent the bloody bludgers at all! I was this close—” he held up his thumb and forefinger “—this bloody close to having the diary. And now, because of you, I’m stuck in the hospital wing, and because of that, some kid is going to be petrified tonight, Dobby. Do you understand?

Dobby, whose eyes had been growing wider and wetter with every passing word, suddenly let out a wretched sob and lunged at the bedside table. He grabbed the bottle of skele-grow and smacked it repeatedly against his head.

“Bad Dobby!” he cried rather loudly.

“Shhh!” Harry hissed, grabbing the bottle from the house-elf’s hands. “Stop this. You don’t need to punish yourself.”

“But I’ve hurt Harry Potter,” Dobby sniffled. “I was only trying to help, but I made it worse.”

Harry sighed softly and reminded himself that it wasn’t entirely Dobby’s fault. He had good intentions. He’s just a bit insane.

“If you’re going to help me, Dobby, we have to trust each other,” he said. “That means no more trying to get me to leave the school. You have to trust me when I say I have a plan.”

Dobby nodded eagerly. “Dobby will be trusting you.”

“Good. And please don’t get yourself in trouble with your…masters.” Harry cringed at the word and nodded down at Dobby’s heavily bandaged hands. He’d ironed them if Harry’s memory was correct.

Dobby looked as though he was about to protest, but just then footsteps and voices drifted in from the hallway, and Dobby blinked out of the room. Harry flattened himself on the bed and did his best impression of “boy who is actually asleep, I promise.”

“Bring him in, quickly. Quickly,” Madame Pomfrey said, voice hushed and urgent.

“Oh dear.” Thick Scottish accent—had to be McGonagall. “Colin Creevey. He’s one of my lions. What is this, Albus?”

The headmaster’s rumble was quiet, but Harry was still close enough to hear. “Nothing good, Minerva. Let us check the boy’s camera—perhaps it will tell us more.”

A moment later, there was a faint hissing followed by the smell of smoke.

“Merlin’s beard,” McGonagall whispered. “What does it mean?”

A pause.

“Hogwarts,” Dumbledore said, “is no longer safe. This…this is very dark magic.”

“Then we must tell the students. We must send them home—”

Dumbledore cut McGonagall off. “No, no. We mustn’t cause a panic.”

“It would be well-deserved.” That was Pomfrey again, voice stern. “If staying would put the students in danger, then Minerva is right.”

“If we close the school now, it will never reopen. The attacks must be stopped.”

“And in the meantime?” McGonagall demanded. “What do we tell the students?”

“Nothing yet,” Dumbledore said. “Perhaps…perhaps it is not as serious as I fear.”

Whatever else was said, Harry did not hear as the professors left the main hospital room. Colin was petrified. Dumbledore was being willfully ignorant, and Harry knew the old man would do little to actually stop the attacks himself. No, that would be up to Harry.

The déjà vu brain sneered. As per fucking usual.

 


 

Harry was released late afternoon Sunday, the bones in his leg finally having regrown. If Harry hadn’t already been determined to snag the diary and put an end to the attacks, the sight of Colin Creevey’s pale, statue-like body lying deathly still on the hospital bed would have done it. Merlin, he was angry. Angry at Lucius Malfoy for putting the diary in Ginny’s cauldron in the first place. Angry at Dumbledore for not doing enough—for never doing enough—to protect the students. Angry at himself for being arrogant, for being too slow to stop the attack.

There was nothing to do but continue on with the plan. No more excuses.

Monday brought a half-arsed Defense lesson with Lockhart. The lecture portion was—as was becoming habit—utterly useless, and it was only made worse by the reveal of pixies. Cornish Pixies, to be exact. Harry knew where the lesson was going as soon as he spotted the rattling cage, and he quickly tucked his bag and belongings more securely under his desk.

“Let’s see what you make of them!” Lockhart said, nearing the end of class.

Why the man would release wild magical creatures into the classroom when he had no means of controlling them would forever be confounding to Harry.

It was exactly as disastrous as his memories had warned him of—pixies flying everywhere, shredding books and nicking Lockhart’s wand. Neville had a pixie at each ear, ready to lift him up when Harry had had enough. He nudged Hermione to grab her attention, and as if they were of one mind, they moved their wands in sync.

Immobulus,” they called, each aiming at opposite ends of the room. The world of chaos froze, pixies and papers and quills floating harmlessly in the air.

With a few careful flicks of his wand, Harry sent the little monsters careening back into their cage. The rest of the floating disaster fell to the floor as Hermione released her part of the spell. Lockhart was, unsurprisingly, nowhere to be found.

“Thanks,” Neville said as they exited the classroom. Already, first years were beginning to gather for their Defense class. Harry scanned the hallway, searching for bright red hair. There. “Thought for sure they were going to get me.”

“No problem, Nev,” Harry said cheerfully, turning to walk backwards so he could face Neville and so he was better angled towards Ginny. “Don’t know what Lockhart was thinking, bringing them in to the classroom—”

“Harry, watch out,” Hermione called even as Harry was tipping backwards, having walked straight backwards into Ginny.

They fell onto the hard stone floor, Ginny’s belongings tumbling out of her half-open bag. Perfect.

“So sorry. ‘Spose my leg isn’t quite healed up,” Harry said hurriedly. “Here, let me help!”

It was a miracle the girl was barely paying attention—Harry idly wondered if she seemed so out of it because of the diary’s…persuasion—and so it was easy for Harry to slip the real diary into his bag and replace it with the fake one.

“Again, really sorry,” Harry said, helping the youngest Weasley off the floor. He returned her bag to her, all of its contents seemingly in there. She grabbed it and clutched it to her chest.

“Thanks,” Ginny muttered before running off towards Lockhart’s class.

“You alright, Harry?” Neville asked.

Harry grinned, the real diary securely tucked away in his bag.

“Never better.”

 


 

The black book sat on the bed in front of him, as innocuous looking as any other book. But even without his sixth sense showing him what danger it held, Harry would have been able to tell.

It called to him.

Nothing too obvious, not at first. But in the silence of his dorm, late at night and with nothing but the occasional shifting of the other boys in their sleep, the muffled snore or two from Ron, Harry could hear the book whispering. He could feel the magic of it: dark and shadowy and bold.

And bizarrely, worryingly familiar.

This can’t be good, he thought.

The mystery brain was being tellingly silent.

One of you is going to explain this shit right now, Harry said because he had no illusions that any part of his brain was as in-the-dark as he was.

Danger, hissed the lizard brain rather unhelpfully.

It’s a horcrux, the déjà vu brain said eventually. Voldemort split his soul with the darkest of rituals in order to ensure his immortality. He put the bits in different containers. The diadem, which you suggested he use to get his body back, was one of them. This diary is another.

Why does it feel like the dark shadowy spot in my mind? Harry asked, though he had a sinking feeling already.

His brain was quiet, none of the three parts wanting to confirm what he already suspected.

I’m one, then, aren’t I?

Yes, the déjà vu brain said quietly.

Is it possessing me? That was the primary concern. What if Harry…wasn’t himself? What if he’d always been part someone else—part Voldemort? God, he felt like he couldn’t breathe.

No, the déjà vu brain urged. No, Harry it doesn’t affect us like that. It’s a rather small piece.

A bloody accident, the mystery—no—the horcrux brain said bitterly. The moron was so fucking unstable he didn’t even realize he’d done it.

How? When? Harry had to ask.

The night he tried to kill you, the déjà vu brain said, and then seemed to be waiting.

For a moment, all was quiet, and then—

To split one’s soul, the horcrux brain said grudgingly, you have to provide…an offering.

You have to kill someone, the déjà vu brain said sharply.

Usually there is a complex ritual involved—just killing the offering isn’t enough. But Voldemort’s soul was fractured and pitiful, and whatever happened that night, a miniscule sliver of his soul was transferred to you, the horcrux brain explained.

How many did he make? Harry asked.

The horcrux brain hesitated.

The déjà vu brain did not. Seven. Or, well, six, I suppose since he hasn’t made Nagini yet.

Six horcruxes. Six murders. At least.

Harry had known, of course, that Voldemort was not some innocent, moral, hero type. He’d known the man had killed Harry’s parents, had tried to kill Harry himself. Still, he felt a bit ill. It was one thing to kill in a war—you’d have to be naïve to think lives wouldn’t be lost in battle—but six people dead for what? The sake of ensuring Voldemort’s immortality? For his fucking vanity? His selfish, arrogant, god-complex?

Oh please, the horcrux brain sneered. There’s at least six people you’d be happy to kill.

Harry had a protest half-formed on his lips but stopped. Who had he already wished death on? Vernon. Lockhart. Rita Skeeter. Scabbers. He’d contemplated—however briefly—killing Voldemort. And Dumbledore; Harry could admit he wouldn’t shed a tear over the headmaster if he dropped dead tomorrow.

Harry closed his eyes. What kind of person did that make him?

So this is my connection to Voldemort, Harry thought, and then thought back to what he’d overheard in the hospital wing. And Dumbledore knows. Or at least suspects.

He does, the déjà vu brain confirmed. More than I thought at this point.

It didn’t take much to piece it together.

Dumbledore…he’d do anything to stop Voldemort. To kill him.

He would, the déjà vu brain said.

And to really kill Voldemort, to make him stay dead, you’d have to destroy all the horcruxes, wouldn’t you?

You would, the horcrux brain said, an edge to its tone.

Harry swallowed back his bile, chest tight and constricting further with every second. He didn’t want to be right, but he had to be sure. He had to hear it.

Including me.

The déjà vu brain was more gentle than usual. Yes.

Harry was almost surprised when his magic didn’t lash out violently at the confirmation. Instead, something settled hard, like a stone in his stomach.

Is that what all this is? First with the philosopher’s stone and now with the Chamber? He’s trying to kill me.

You’d think that, wouldn’t you, the déjà vu brain said with a humorless laugh. But no. It’s worse. He wants you strong—strong enough to destroy the other horcruxes. He wants you to die last. After you’ve lost everything, given everything you have, then he’ll send you to walk to your death.

I won’t do it, Harry vowed, more sure of this than anything else in his life.

No, the déjà vu brain said proudly, you won’t.

Chapter Text

Harry was used to strange dreams.

Hell, he couldn’t even remember the last time he’d had one that wasn’t exceedingly weird, between the bizarre memory dumps and the half-remembered, nonsensical ones where people kept shifting ages and places meshed together. Dreams where Harry sometimes swore he was dying.

But this was something different altogether.

It was almost like being awake. He was walking through the lobby of an unfamiliar building: shiny marble floors, a ceiling stretching up dozens of levels, natural light streaming in from a full wall of windows. His shoes—leather—clicked against the short flight of stairs, long strides cutting smoothly through the not-insignificant bustle of other witches and wizards milling about.

He slid effortlessly into a lift, and spoke, “Department of Records,” in a deep, elegant voice that definitely did not belong to Harry. It wasn’t his only indicator that he wasn’t himself in this dream. He was too tall, for starters, and dressed in a clearly expensive suit and robe set that was much finer than anything Harry had ever worn in his life.

(The fabric was blissfully soft, and Harry thought that perhaps he should splurge on some nicer clothes the next time he was in Diagon Alley. It’s not like he didn’t have the money for it.)

With a ding, the lift let him out into a dimly lit hallway and Harry—or rather, whatever body Harry’s dream had put him in—strode forward confidently until it reached the door at the end. Without knocking, he entered. The room beyond was huge: aisles of shelves as far as the eye could see, manila folders flapping high above like birds as they filed themselves. There was a single desk at the front, and sitting behind it, idly flipping through a magazine called The Western Witch, was a young blond woman who looked desperately bored.

She looked up at the sound of the door and immediately flushed, her whole face starting to resemble a peach. She dropped her magazine, stood hurriedly, scraping her chair across the floor, and smiled.

“Sorry, I don’t usually get visitors,” the woman apologized, her words coming out flat and nasally, the “R’s” harder.

American, Harry recognized; Dudley had quite liked a few American films, and with the volume turned up as loud as it was, Harry had often heard them even through the door of his cupboard.

“Quite alright,” not-Harry said, and before the woman could ask what he wanted, he had his wand out. The sight of it was instantly familiar—pale as death and the handle carved to look like bone—and though Harry knew he had not ever seen it before, he was certain it belonged to Voldemort. “Imperio.”

Unsurprisingly, the woman submitted to the spell without a fight.

“Take these and file them,” not-Harry-but-presumably-Voldemort said. He unshrunk a folder from the pocket of his robes and passed it over. The woman nodded dumbly, opened the folder and tapped her wand over each individual paper, not bothering to watch as they all went zooming off in different directions.

Smug satisfaction that did not belong to Harry coursed through him.

When the woman turned back to him, his wand was once again raised.

Obliviate.”

Harry woke with a gasp, sitting upright in his bed in Gryffindor Tower.

What the hell was that? he thought. Sweat clung to his forehead and back, his pajamas sticking unpleasantly to his skin.

Horcrux connection, his déjà vu brain said simply. It’s a real bitch and a half.

You mean…that was…I was seeing through Voldemort’s eyes? Harry asked, already guessing at the answer before the questions was half out. And then: What is he doing in America?

Sightseeing? Tax evasion? Harry’s déjà vu brain would have shrugged if it had a physical form. How the fuck should I know?

Harry frowned at that. Voldemort, it seemed, was becoming increasingly unpredictable. And yes, technically Harry was partially to blame for that since he was pretty sure other Harry—what he had taken to calling the version of himself from the memory-vision-thingies he received from his sixth sense—had just killed Quirrell and Voldemort last year rather than bargaining with him and sending him off with a horcrux. Of course, other Harry hadn’t been friendly with Quirrellemort beforehand, so Harry was pretty sure the decision was a little less complicated for him.

Is this going to happen often? Harry asked. It would be just his luck to have to deal with Voldemort’s extracurricular activities on top of everything else.

The déjà vu brain snorted. Oh yeah.

 


 

The first few days after nicking the diary, Ginny Weasley looked absolutely distraught. Harry, Ron, and Hermione watched from a safe distance as she showed up to breakfast paler than usual with dark circles under her eyes. The next day, they were rimmed red from crying. The day after, she stared listlessly at the food in front of her without blinking. The girl had been withdrawn since coming to Hogwarts—since getting the diary, really, though nobody had noticed at first—but she seemed to pull into herself even further now.

Harry, perhaps being a bit overly cautious, not only kept the diary locked away in his trunk where there was no risk of Ginny seeing it, but also put off writing in the blasted thing. He wasn’t sure if it would be able to draw Ginny back in even from a distance, and after everything they’d done to get the diary away from her in a first place, Harry didn’t want to chance it.

And. Well.

And Harry was a bit nervous to write in the diary.

Not because it might kill him—though he knew it could, that it might. Harry had memories of diary-Tom sending his huge killer snake after him. (Memories he had very specifically not mentioned that fact to Ron and Hermione, worrywarts that they were.) But Harry could destroy the diary if he had to. Easy? No. But certainly doable.

Nor was he concerned about how the horcrux in his brain might react, that it might betray him and team up with the diary to sacrifice Harry for their mutual benefit.

You’re a perfectly comfortable vessel, it had told him. I’m content to stay where I am.

Which hadn’t been entirely comforting, exactly, but it hadn’t made him feel worse either.

No. The real concern—and gods, it was a childish fear—was that the version of Voldemort in the diary…well, it wouldn’t be quite the same person that Harry knew.

Sure, he had mixed feelings about Voldemort as an entity, a political standpoint, a figurehead. But as a person? Harry had quite enjoyed him, even with the painful legilemency attack and the threats.

(It had been quite thrilling, in its own way.)

And there was a doubt that simmered quietly in his gut, too.

What if whatever Voldemort had seen in Harry that had made it worthwhile to keep him alive…what if the diary didn’t?

 


 

By the weekend, Harry could no longer reasonably put it off. It was late—way past curfew—and everyone else was asleep. The diary sat before him on his bed, its whispering magic just as unsettling in its familiarity as always. He had already opened it to a blank page, smoothed the paper flat with the palm of his hand. Its magic hummed at his touch, but Harry ignored that.

There was nothing to do but push forward now, and Harry wasn’t in Gryffindor for nothing.

“Hello,” Harry wrote, using one of Hermione’s very convenient muggle pens so as not to spill ink on his bed. “My name is Harry Potter.”

For a split second, the whispering magic encasing the diary grew louder before calming itself. Good, Harry thought, he recognizes my name. He had known that Ginny talked about him to Tom—enough to catch the diary’s interest—but he hadn’t known when she’d done that.

“A pleasure, Harry,” it wrote back. “My name is Tom Riddle. If I may ask, how did you come by my diary?”

It was oh so tempting to say, I stole it off Ginny Weasley to stop you from possessing her and using her to open the Chamber of Secrets. The shock value alone would almost be worth it—Harry could so clearly remember Quirrell’s face, slack-jawed in surprise when Harry guessed that he was Voldemort, the incredulous almost-laughter he’d pulled from the most feared dark lord in recent history. He wanted to do it again, pull the rug out from under diary-Tom’s metaphorical feet.

But.

But that was valuable information, the kind of thing you’d only get to reveal once. And as satisfying as it would have been to provoke diary-Tom, it would give away one of Harry’s most useful advantages. The Gryffindor in Harry was aching to just drop that bomb on diary-Tom, but the Slytherin in Harry wanted to know: how would Tom treat him if the diary didn’t see Harry as a threat?

“Found it in the girl’s bathroom,” Harry wrote back, drawing from his extra set of memories. “It looked like someone tried to flush it down the toilet, so I thought it might have something interesting written in it. When it turned out to be blank, I figured I’d keep it to use myself.”

The key, Harry had learned, to making someone think you were trusting and friendly and malleable was to always offer a little more information than necessary. Answer their question and then some. Not too much—too much detail could kill a lie faster than looking a basilisk in the eye. But done right, it would give the appearance that you either had nothing to hide or were too stupid to realize you should.

“The girl’s bathroom, Harry?” diary-Tom teased, though Harry was not blind to the horcrux’s flare of irritation at the indignity of allegedly being found in a toilet. “Whatever were you doing in there?”

There were surely other, more pressing questions diary-Tom would want to ask, but he was choosing to go slow, building a rapport with Harry the same way Harry was building a rapport with him.

Lulling you into a false sense of security, the bastard, Harry’s déjà vu brain said.

Trying to, Harry corrected. Not that it would work.

After all, Harry knew his newfound pen-pal was playing him. Diary-Tom didn’t.

Because he’s an arrogant child and a moron, the horcrux in Harry’s brain said scornfully. It was, apparently, of the opinion that every other soul piece aside from itself was completely useless.

“I was hiding,” Harry wrote the diary, proceeding to spin a tale of being chased by Peeves and seeking sanctuary in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom because nobody could stand Myrtle, not even the resident poltergeist. It was just the sort of thing a normal twelve-year-old boy might find exciting.

That is, if said twelve-year-old boy hadn’t previously killed a full grown troll, confronted Voldemort over the philosopher’s stone and won, escaped his house in a flying car, and now had memories of killing a basilisk with the sword of Gryffindor.

Harry grinned.

Diary-Tom wouldn’t know what had hit him.

 


 

Harry had said it before and he’d likely say it again: you could learn almost as much about someone from what they lied about as you could from their truths. And over the course of the next few weeks, Harry learned a lot about diary-Tom.  

“You didn’t seem surprised when I wrote you back,” Tom had probed a few days into their correspondence.

“Well,” Harry had answered. “Magic can do a lot. I’m hardly going to draw the line at a book that can talk back to whoever writes in it. But I suppose you are unusual. You seem very alive for a book. Are you a real person?”

“A memory of one, yes,” diary-Tom said. “It’s quite a bit like the magic that makes portraits seem alive.”

Liar, liar, pants on fire, the déjà vu brain sang.

“Ah, I thought so,” Harry had written, and left it at that. He hadn’t really expected Tom to admit to being a horcrux, so that wasn’t a surprise.

Neither was his half-arsed explanation of Moaning Myrtle’s murder.

(Try saying that five times fast, the horcrux brain said.)

“It was terrible,” diary-Tom had written in late November. “Hagrid was keeping a baby acromantula in the castle, and it had been petrifying students. And then Myrtle was killed, the poor girl. I thought they were going to close down the school—I could show you the memory, if you want?”

Harry had already seen it—or, well, other Harry had seen it—but he said yes anyway. And he was glad he did. He had the memory of it but seeing Tom Riddle in person was…an experience. He was incredibly handsome: dark hair, a sharp jaw, defined cheeks. Pretty, almost, though not in a feminine way. More like art. Like seeing colors that complimented each other well, or a complex sculpture that captured a person so perfectly in stone that you’d almost think it was real.

But more than that, Tom Riddle was excellent at manipulating people. As he’d moved through the memory, Harry kept a close eye on the other boy’s face, marveling at the way he bore a flawless mask of innocence as he lied to Dumbledore’s face. And marveling at the cracks in his composure, too. The way Tom’s eyes flashed—just briefly—when Dumbledore said the school would have to shut down. The twitch of his mouth when he confronted Hagrid, when he tried to kill the spider. The sneer that twisted his handsome face into something ugly when the spell missed.

“I feel partially responsible,” diary-Tom confessed once Harry was released from the memory. “I’d known about the acromantula, you see, but rather than turning him in, I gave Hagrid the chance to get rid of the spider himself. My…negligence cost that girl her life.”

It was utter horseshit, of course. Harry doubted the other boy felt any guilt over murdering Myrtle and framing Hagrid for it at all. In fact, if anything, he seemed proud of it.

Potentially a psychopath, Harry noted.

Potentially, the déjà vu brain snorted.

Oh fuck off, the horcrux brain snapped. It’s not like you felt any guilt over killing the troll. Besides, you’ve met Myrtle. Can you honestly say I didn’t do everyone a favor?

Harry wasn’t getting into that can of worms right now.

“It’s not your fault,” Harry wrote back, playing along. “You couldn’t have known she’d die.”

Not that Tom lied all the time. Harry had mentioned the Dursleys at one point, and Tom had responded in kind by telling Harry a little about the orphanage. He’d made his utter disdain for muggles abundantly clear, along with his hatred for Dumbledore—which was apparently mutual.

“From the moment we met, when I was eleven, it was like I couldn’t do anything right,” Tom said. “He’s been suspicious of me ever since, and I can’t for the life of me figure out why.”

Well, okay, that last bit was definitely a lie, because obviously Dumbledore had seen through Tom’s pretty words and practiced smiles, and Tom clearly didn’t like that one bit. Though Harry was equally sure that Dumbledore wasn’t helping his own case, given that he was a manipulative old codger himself.

(Harry had pointedly tried not to think too much about Dumbledore in regard to his own situation. Every time he lingered too long on the fact that the headmaster was planning Harry’s death—planning ways to make Harry into a weapon that would be discarded once it had served its purpose—things tended to explode around him: lanterns, ink-bottles, windows. He could safely say he’d mastered the reparo charm by now.)

The more Harry learned, the more he was starting to think he’d like to sit the war out entirely. It seemed like Voldemort and Dumbledore had some long-standing personal issues with each other, and Harry had half a mind to just leave them to it.

Except he had no illusions that either of them would leave him alone now. Dumbledore wanted his savior of the wizarding world too badly, wanted to string Harry up like a puppet to move at its master’s whims. And Voldemort wanted…well, Harry wasn’t sure what Voldemort wanted with him, if not to kill him. To make a puppet of him, too? Turn him to the dark side just to spite Dumbledore?

God, he felt old and weary sometimes.

Maybe I’m having a midlife crisis, he thought bitterly.

You don’t even know why that’s not funny, his déjà vu brain said.

With a pang of longing, the image of himself reflected in the Mirror of Erised flashed through his mind, older but not yet old.

Yeah, Harry said. I think I have a pretty good idea.

 


 

On the first of December, an owl that was not Hedwig landed in front of Harry at breakfast. A small envelope was attached to the owl’s leg, green wax stamped on the back. For half a minute, Harry’s heart thudded rapidly in his chest. He never got mail, even in the wizarding world, and almost everyone else he knew was at Hogwarts. Except for the one person who said they’d be in touch but hadn’t.

Harry tried not to examine why he felt terribly disappointed, therefore, when he opened the letter to find not a letter from Voldemort, but an invite to the Malfoy’s Yule Ball. Draco had warned him about this, but he’d forgotten amid the influx of memories and having Dobby try-but-not-try to kill him and discovering that Dumbledore was actually planning to kill him and the Chamber opening and getting Tom’s diary and—

Harry had a lot on his plate.

Aside from the standard script describing the date, time, and location, there was an additional note that read: Family is precious. We must hold on to those we have left. Your cousin, Narcissa.

That’s unexpected, Harry thought, staring down at the last line with a wrinkle between his brow.

“Bloody hell,” Ron said, gaping at the invitation. “You’re not going to go, are you?”

That was the question, wasn’t it?

As amusing as it had been to rile up Mr. Malfoy in Diagon Alley, he wasn’t sure he actually wanted to spend his Christmas evening acting chummy with whatever kiss-ass bottom-feeders the Malfoys associated with. It would be one power-play after the other, veiled insults and back-handed compliments. Plus, Harry would likely have to deal with other children—specifically Malfoy and his circle.

Even if that’s not the case, you’ll still be surrounded by people who are either fame-hungry leeches hoping to influence an impressionable young boy for their own benefit, or secret Death Eaters who might try to kill you in a misguided bid for Voldemort’s favor, the déjà vu brain said.

But think of the benefits, the horcrux countered. You’ve been invited to the biggest social event of the season, bumping shoulders with the Minister of Magic and every head of department you can feasibly imagine.

Political and social climbing? Harry asked, both incredulous and yet not surprised. That’s your selling point? You don’t know me very well.

Plus you’ll have a chance to make an impression not as Dumbledore’s golden boy, but your own person, the horcrux said, voice soft and tempting. Introduce yourself to them now, when it’s in your control, before Dumbledore paints an image of you that you might not like.

Harry couldn’t deny how nice that sounded, and neither could his déjà vu brain.

And, the horcrux continued, overly casual, Voldemort might be there.

Harry couldn’t believe he hadn’t considered that. Well then, that was decided.

You know, the déjà vu brain complained, that used to be a deterrent, not an incentive.

“I’ll accept,” Harry said aloud to his friends. “Consider it recon.”

Ron looked scandalized, but Hermione only sighed. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

Harry pursed his lips. “Me too.”

 


 

Harry knocked on the door to McGonagall’s office and it swung open easily.

“Mr. Potter,” she greeted, sitting at her desk with a stack of essays, a red inkwell, and a tin of biscuits. “Come in.”

“I’m not bothering you, am I Professor?” he asked. “I could come back later.”

She shook her head and set aside the essay she was currently grading, red slashes dotting nearly every line. Harry suppressed a wince. He hoped that wasn’t one of his assignments.

“What can I do for you, Potter?”

“It’s about the upcoming break. I’ve got a bit of a problem I was hoping you could advise me on.”

She gestured for him to sit in the chair across from her. “Go on.”

“I’ve been invited to the Malfoy’s Yule Ball,” he said, not expecting McGonagall to choke. He frowned as she coughed. “Professor? Are you alright?”

“Quite.” Professor McGonagall cleared her throat and took a sip of tea. She looked at Harry carefully over the rim of her glasses. “I did not think you and Mr. Malfoy were on good terms. Did you not receive a month of detention for hexing him in the library?”

“Ah. Yes, Draco and I are currently suffering from…ideological differences,” Harry said with a grim smile.

McGonagall blinked. “I see.”

“No, actually, the reason I was considering accepting the invitation was because of Draco’s mother,” Harry continued smoothly. Bless Narcissa for giving me the perfect excuse. “She is, I have recently learned, a distant cousin of mine. I don’t—” and here, he paused a moment to take in a shuddering breath that was only half faked “—I don’t have a lot of family, especially ones who actually like magic.”

Harry passed the invitation over to McGonagall for her to examine. She took it gingerly, holding it up to better read the scrawling cursive, eyebrows rising as she reached the end.

“Which brings us to the crux of the issue.” Harry took the invitation back when she offered it to him. “I would prefer not to return to my aunt and uncle for the duration of winter hols. I’m not sure they’d let me come back if I did.”

McGonagall’s head shot up at that. “What?”

Harry frowned as if he were confused. “Well, it’s just that they put bars on my window this past summer and told me I wouldn’t be going back to—and I beg your pardon, Professor, but this is a direct quote—that thrice-damned school for freaks. If Ron and the twins hadn’t come to get me, I’d probably still be there now.”

By the time he’d finished talking, Professor McGonagall’s fists were clenched tight on top of the desk, knuckles white. It spoke to her level of shock and anger that she didn’t reprimand him for his language either.

“I see,” she said again, though this time the words were hissed out between gritted teeth. The professor took a deep, soothing breath which didn’t seem to help much. “Not to worry, Potter. I’ll mark you down for staying here for the holidays and arrange for you to floo to the Malfoys and back.”

Harry smiled brightly. “Thank you, Professor.”

“You’re dismissed,” she said, some small amount of tension seeping from her shoulders. It was only once Harry was at her door that she called out again, “And Potter. We’ll be discussing those relatives of yours later.”

He ducked his head. “Yes, Professor.”

When the door shut firmly behind him, he grinned. That really couldn’t have gone more perfectly.

Chapter Text

Harry only went to the newly instigated dueling club to laugh at Gilderoy Lockhart. There was a solid chance that Snape was going to send the incompetent defense professor hurtling across the room, and that was one memory Harry could definitely stand to witness a second time.

Expelliarmus,” Snape called clearly, barely moving his wand.

Lockhart didn’t even try to block, and the spell hit him squarely in the chest with a force that nearly put him through the wall.

Beautiful.

“Perhaps,” Snape drawled with a barely concealed eye-roll, “we should first teach students how to block unfriendly attacks?”

“Excellent idea. A demonstration.” Lockhart scanned the crowd, eyes landing firmly on Harry. “Potter, Weasley, get up here.”

Harry sighed, but headed up towards the platform. He figured this would happen, but at least Ron’s wand wasn’t broken the way it was in his memories, and he thankfully wouldn’t have to duel—

“Why don’t we give Potter more of a challenge?” Snape said, stopping Harry in his tracks. “Say…Malfoy?”

Shit, Harry thought as he glared at Snape. He should have known the man would have it out for him. Not that Harry was afraid of dueling Malfoy—compared to some of the shit Harry had been up to lately, Draco was hardly a blip on his radar. But if memory served him right, this could potentially cause some complications.

Nothing for it now, the déjà vu brain said resignedly.

“Scared Potter?” Draco taunted as they faced each other on the platform.

Harry raised a brow, glancing over the other boy dismissively. “Of what?

Ignoring the blond boy’s spluttering, Harry turned and put several paces between them.

“On the count of 3,” Lockhart said, though Harry knew he wouldn’t even get that long. Malfoy, if he was anything at all like the boy from other Harry’s memories, would cheat.

“One.”

Harry tightened the grip on his wand.

I will not stand for us being defeated by a twelve-year-old, the horcrux brain hissed. You will—

What, the déjà vu brain interrupted dryly. Should we kill the boy? That is your usual method, isn’t it?

Shut up, Harry snapped.

“Two.”

Malfoy shouted some spell that Harry could not quite make out, but it didn’t matter. Last year, Voldemort—as Quirrell—had told Harry he ought to learn a shield charm, and he’d taken that suggestion to heart. His body responded automatically, flicking his wand as if he was merely going to bat away the spell.

“Protego,” Harry murmured, the subtle movement of his lips the only sign he’d spoken at all.

Malfoy’s spell glanced off, and Harry fought back a grin. He had to focus.  

All it takes is a split second to win or lose, his déjà vu brain had told him during the hours he’d spent perfecting his shield charm—among other things.

Good advice, that, because Malfoy was casting again, the determination on his face a sure sign that he’d mistaken Harry’s perfect shield charm for a stroke of luck.

Rictusempra,” Malfoy shouted, and Harry didn’t bother casting his shield again because it was still up.

This one hit Harry’s shield and bounced back, returning to Malfoy. The blond was too surprised to dodge it, and the tickling jinx slammed into him, sending him to the floor in barely restrained laughter. It didn’t last long, not even long enough for Harry to cast the disarming charm, because Malfoy snapped, “Finite incantatem,” at himself. And then Snape—always butting in where he didn’t belong, especially when it came to Harry—grabbed Malfoy by the collar and dragged him to his feet.

The sneer on Malfoy’s face was vicious, and Harry knew what was coming.

“With how you’ve fainted in the hallway, Potter, someone might think you’re scared Slytherin will come after you next. Let’s see you handle this! Serpensortia,” the other boy practically snarled.

With a flare of light, a shockingly small, black snake landed on the platform between them. It was thin—about the width of Harry’s thumb—and small enough that it could probably fit in his palm if it curled a bit.

“What?” Malfoy was saying, lip curled as he stared at the unintimidating snake, but Harry hardly noticed.

Pretty, the lizard brain said, cooing over it.

It’s a black adder, the horcrux brain said. A newborn, by the look of it. Vipers are born live, did you know—

Oh good, you’re a snake encyclopedia now, the déjà vu brain drawled.

The horcrux ignored him. Idiot boy probably summoned it straight from its mother’s nest.

Harry felt a little tug in his chest at that but stamped it down. He was not going to talk to the snake. He wasn’t. Even if it had been stolen from its mother and was probably just scared and confused.

“Allow me, Professor Snape,” Lockhart said stepping forward, wand raised. “I’ll get rid of it.”

Harry’s brows raised in alarm. “Um…sir, I don’t think—”

“Alarte ascendale,” Lockhart shouted.

That’s not a real spell, both the horcrux and déjà vu brain said at the same time.

Regardless, the baby snake went flying into the air with a frantic hiss, only to fall back down hard on the platform. Right in front of Harry.

Hurts, hurts, hurts,” the snake hissed, wiggling pathetically and probably making whatever injury it had worse.

Stop,” Harry hissed back before he could stop himself. The snake froze, and turned slowly, tongue flicking in the air as it sought out Harry. “You’re hurt. You’ll make it worse by wiggling around.

The snake tilted its head. “You are snake?

Uh…no—

Big snake. You are mother,” the snake declared, slithering closer.

“Step back, Potter.”

Harry looked up to find Snape standing over him, wand aimed at the snake, eying Harry warily. (Of course he was, because Harry was fucking speaking to snakes in public again. Fuck.) But Harry was close—too close, apparently, for Snape to cast the spell without risking hitting him.

Was it really even a choice?

Harry placed his hand, palm up, directly in front of the little snake. “Come, and I will take you to be healed.

And fed?” the snake asked. Harry laughed, quietly reveling in the growing alarm on Snape’s face. The damage was done now; all Harry could do was try to enjoy

And fed,” Harry promised. The snake slid forward, cool scales warming against his palm. He vaguely remembered somewhere that snakes needed external heat. The poor thing must have been so cold.

“Potter, put the snake down before it bites you,” Snape said.

“No.” Just to be safe, he brought his hands closer to his chest. As if anyone was going to try to take her from me now, he thought dryly. “She’s injured, and she’s a baby, and she thinks I’m her mum. So I’m taking her to Madame Pomfrey.”

The chatter from the surrounding students was like white noise to Harry as he strode from the Great Hall, leaving a dumbstruck Snape behind him.

Here we go again, his déjà vu brain said.

Warm,” the snake hissed happily, curling further into Harry’s palm. He smiled down at her. It was worth it.

 


 

Harry returned to Gryffindor tower with a contented newborn snake still in the palm of his hand.

Had Madame Pomfrey freaked out a bit when Harry asked her to heal a snake? Yes.

But she had done it nonetheless, and when Harry had passed on that the snake—now named Eden, because calling her ‘the snake’ was just unacceptable—was very grateful to the mediwitch for stealing the pain, Madame Pomfrey had looked oddly proud.

“What the hell, Harry?” Ron said the instant he was through the threshold to the common room. “You’re a parselmouth?”

Ah, shit, I forgot to tell them, Harry remembered much too late. Truthfully, he’d kept quite a bit secret lately. It was one think to tell your mates that you often had feelings déjà vu which led you to know things you probably shouldn’t. It was another thing to tell them you had a whole other set of memories from what was probably a parallel universe.

There was only so much insanity you could lay claim to before people started locking you up for it.

“I didn’t know it was going to happen until it did,” Harry said, which was at least partially true. He had planned on not saying anything. “Meet Eden?”

“Harry! Salazar Slytherin was a parselmouth,” Hermione continued. “He was famous for it because not many people can do it.”

“The whole school’s going to think you’re his great-great-grandson or something,” Ron said.

Wait, am I, Harry asked. Because that wasn’t in the Year 2 welcome packet.

Nope, the déjà vu brain said. The whole parselmouth thing is snake-boy’s fault.

The horcrux brain bristled. And the whole paranoia thing is repressed-trauma boy’s fault.

You can fuck right off out of here seeing as a good 67% of it was a direct result of your actions, the déjà vu brain snapped back.

Only 67%? the horcrux said almost sweetly. I clearly wasn’t trying hard enough.

“Harry,” Hermione said, drawing him away from his thoughts. “People are going to think you were behind the Chamber incidents.”

No shit, he thought. But he couldn’t quite bring himself to regret it, looking down at the small black snake in his hand fondly. His lizard brain agreed with Harry’s assessment of Eden if the steady stream of pretty shiny smooth was anything to go by.

Seamus snickered from an armchair in the corner. “Not bloody likely with Harry going around saying the snake calls him mum.”

Before Harry could think to respond—some mix of gratitude and indignation, probably—the door to the common room opened again, McGonagall’s tall form standing in the portrait hole.

“Potter,” the woman said as prim and unruffled as ever. “You’ve been called to the Headmaster’s office.”

Ah fuck, he thought but followed McGonagall out anyway. He’d done a damned good job of avoiding Dumbledore ever since Harry had found out he was a horcrux. Just seeing the headmaster sitting up at the head table at every meal was difficult enough now that he knew Dumbledore was counting on Harry’s death to win the war.

He’s a threat, the horcrux brain whispered. He needs to be dealt with before he kills us.

It was telling that neither Harry nor his déjà vu brain could bring themselves to disagree on that matter, even knowing what the horcrux meant by “dealt with.”

But not today, Harry thought, calming himself. Today, his only objectives were to convince the headmaster to let Harry keep Eden and try to alleviate at least some of the suspicions that he was responsible for the Chamber incidents. It was unrealistic to expect to stop all the speculation, but public opinion could be influenced, and starting with the headmaster was as good a place as any.

The walk to the gargoyle staircase was mercifully quiet, giving Harry the opportunity to collect his thoughts and sketch out a vague game-plan. As always with the Scottish professor, the silence didn’t feel too strained. Not that she wasn’t eying Eden warily from her periphery, but at least she didn’t seem intent on interrogating Harry herself.

The same could not be said for the two people waiting for him in the headmaster’s office.

“Ah, Harry, please sit down,” Dumbledore said, his usual cheer dimmed. As if his robes were reflecting his mood, they were a duller shade of cranberry and not as offensive to the eye as usual. “We have much to discuss, it seems.”

Snape, looming slightly off to the side, just sneered while Harry took a seat.

“Now, Harry—oh.” The headmaster peered down at Harry’s hand. “Is that the snake?”

“This is Eden, sir,” Harry said with cheer he didn’t quite feel, but he had a feeling that appearing more subdued would only put the professors more on edge. He kept his eyes away from Dumbledore’s, just over the headmaster’s left shoulder—it wouldn’t do to tip the man off, and Harry’s imagination was quite vivid at the moment. “She’s a black adder.”

Snape’s eye twitched.

“Eden? You’ve…named the snake?” Dumbledore asked uselessly, discomfort evident.

“It must be released immediately,” Snape cut in. “It’s a danger to the students.”

Harry scoffed. “Adders are barely even venomous—”

“I’m afraid I agree with Professor Snape,” Dumbledore said. “And besides, the creature will be better of in the wild, where it belongs.”

“I doubt that very much, sir.” It was almost surprising to Harry—now that he’d talked to the snake and named her and held her in his hand—how unwilling he was to let Eden go. But then he’d always bonded quickly with animals. “She’s a newborn. I don’t think she’s ever even seen another snake before because she thinks I am one. And it’s winter; she’ll freeze to death if you make her go outside now.”

“Then let it die.”

“Severus,” Dumbledore chided, and then sighed. “There’s still the issue of the threat…Eden poses to the students.”

“She’s not really any more dangerous than a kneazle, sir,” Harry argued. “Or even an owl. Have you seen that beast of a thing Malfoy uses for post? It could take my eyes out with its talons.”

“Harry—”

“Eden’s even safer, actually, since I can talk to her and make sure she knows not to attack anyone. Can you say that about anyone else’s pet?”

“And we’re supposed to trust that you won’t set her on students?” Snape drawled.

“Why would I?” Harry resisted the urge to roll his eyes—it wasn’t worth detention. “Even if I wanted to, everyone would know it was me. And besides, it seems inefficient when I have a wand. Sir.”

Snape’s teeth gnashed together. “The letter clearly states you may have a cat, owl, or toad. Not a snake.”

“But Ron’s got a rat. Susan Bones in Hufflepuff has a puffskein. And there’s a Ravenclaw kid who keeps an ant farm.” Harry paused for a moment, ducking his head while he forcibly made his eyes water. He sniffled before meeting Dumbledore’s eyes—just for a second—before returning his gaze to the floor. “Is it…is it because speaking to snakes is bad?”

His voice wobbled at the end, and he could see Dumbledore cracking, his face twisted into some complicated mix of concern and distaste and sadness. Just another little push would do it.

“Because I heard some of the other students whispering that only dark wizards talk to snakes, but I’ve been able to for as long as I can remember.” The words came out rushed, almost panicked, and it was easy to squeeze his eyes just a little, enough to make a single tear drip over the edge. “I thought everyone could do it, I swear.”

“Oh please,” Snape muttered—the man just couldn’t seem to help himself—and Harry put on his best “oh no, my insecurities were right and everyone hates me” face. Accompanied, of course, by a wretched half-sob that was stifled when Harry bit on his bottom lip. His face was undeniably splotchy, eyes red and watery, nose sniffling.

I should get a BAFTA for this, he thought.

He knew he should feel bad about lying, but he didn’t and he hadn’t for some while. Maybe if he hadn’t grown up with the Dursleys where the truth would often get him in even more trouble than whatever lie he spun. Where he’d had to lie to teachers about having a delicate stomach when they asked why his lunch was so sparse—because if he brought suspicion on his aunt and uncle, it would only get worse. Where he’d feigned interest in Mrs. Figg’s six ugly cats and humored her with games of rummy so that she might give him a sweet before sending him back to Number 4.

And now, knowing that the headmaster who was supposed to protect him was planning to send him to his death once he’d worn out his use, Harry figured he didn’t owe the man a damned thing. Not honesty or respect or obedience. And sure as fuck not his life.

Dumbledore shot Snape a look. “Severus, leave us.”

The potions master was eager to go—no doubt pleased to be away from crying children—and a moment later, Harry was left alone with Dumbledore. Well, not quite alone, because a brilliant red bird swooped in from some other part of the office to land on a perch beside the headmaster’s desk.

Dumbledore’s familiar, the déjà vu brain said. A phoenix.

“Sir?” Harry sniffled, making a show of wiping his still-wet eyes on the sleeves of his robe.

Dumbledore smiled fondly at the bird. “Fawkes is a phoenix. I have an affinity for strange creatures myself.”

For a moment, neither of them said anything: Dumbledore because he seemed deep in thought, and Harry because he was waiting for the headmaster to make his next move.

“One act does not make us evil,” Dumbledore said after the silence had stretched almost unbearably. “Nor does one act make us good. We are not defined by a single moment of right or wrong, Harry, but rather the sum of all our choices.”

Save it for a fortune cookie, the déjà vu brain snapped.

Harry shoved down his anger and frustration. He had to keep his focus because this game he was playing against the headmaster—even if the old man hadn’t realized it yet—was as dangerous as any duel. A single mistake could ruin everything. So he had to stay calm.

Dumbledore sighed heavily as he turned his attention back to Harry, and particularly, Eden. “I will permit you to keep the snake, Harry—”

Harry straightened in his seat, his excitement not entirely fabricated. “Oh, thank you sir!”

“—on the condition that she does not attack another student.” Dumbledore leveled him with a severe look. “So much as one incident, accident or not, and you’ll have to get rid of her. I cannot allow my students to come to harm. Is that clear?”

Harry nodded vigorously. “I promise.”

“Good.” Dumbledore’s focus drifted for a moment before he shook his head, a twinkle returning to his eyes. “Well, you’d better run along. I hear the elves are making their famous shepherd’s pie for dinner.”

“Of course, sir.”

Harry stood gracefully, Eden still sleeping in his palm, and exited the office as quickly as he could without making it obvious. Only once he was out in the hallways and far enough away that the gargoyle was out of sight did the tightness in his chest loosen once more. It didn’t, however, alleviate the strange urge he was feeling to just scream.

Fuck, I hate talking to him, Harry thought, even though it had gone well, even though he’d managed to get what he wanted. He’d never felt safe with Dumbledore before, and now…now it was a thousand times worse.

He’s a prejudiced bastard, the horcrux brain spat. You’ll notice that he didn’t try to dissuade you that parseltongue is evil.

Harry had noticed, and if he had truly been a kid worried about whether or not he was going dark, he’d probably try his best to never use that ability again. He’d be ashamed of it and what it could mean, and in turn, that self-loathing and fear would push him right into Dumbledore’s trap: desperate for approval, for someone to tell him how good he was.

Wanker, the déjà vu brain agreed heartily. Then, softer, But don’t worry. We’re not going to let that happen.

Harry took another deep breath and released the last of the tension in his shoulders. His sixth sense would keep him safe. His friends would have his back. And one day, when he was strong enough, he’d make sure Dumbledore got what he deserved.

 


 

Harry couldn’t bear the Gryffindor common room that evening. The whispers were too loud and eyes seemed to follow his every move. It didn’t help that he had carried Eden around. He didn’t trust the other students with her, especially not in the house that boasted its hatred of snakes.

Ron, Harry, and, somewhat surprisingly, Neville had all retired to their dorm early on and had eventually agreed on a game of exploding snap. It was…it was actually really nice. Ron was as loud as usual, and though Neville was shy, he opened up more as the game progressed. And neither of them were treating Harry differently than usual.

“She’s lovely,” Neville said, complimenting Eden a bit hesitantly. Harry had gotten a mouse from the owlery for her, and she was now lounging on a pillow, stomach bulged with her recent meal and happy. The other boy paused a moment more, and then seemed to steel his nerves. “Could…could you ask her not to eat Trevor?”

Ron’s eyes widened. “Bugger. I forgot…and Scabbers?”

Harry tried not to grimace at the rat’s name, but he wasn’t sure how successful he was. Still, he nodded and turned to the snake on his arm.

Eden,” Harry hissed to catch her attention. Her head poked up in his direction. “You are not allowed to eat any of our nest mates. That includes a toad and a rat that live in the room with us.

I already ate,” she hissed back, confused.

You can’t eat them later either.”

She bobbed her head. “Good choice, mother. The toad is too big. I would choke. And I would never eat the rat. It smells wrong and bad, not like the yummy mouse.

Harry froze. “What do you mean the rat smells wrong?

A rat should smell like a rat,” Eden said. “I do not like how this one smells.”

Harry wasn’t sure whether this was another case of Eden’s lack of experience in the world, or if he should be concerned.

Although, considering he had an urge to throw Scabbers off the astronomy tower, perhaps he already was concerned.

I don’t like the rat either,” Harry finally said. “We should keep an eye on him.”

This confused her. “Why do we stalk it if not to eat?

To that, Harry had only one answer.

In case it is a threat.”

 


 

Friday morning, less than 24 hours after the disastrous dueling club, the entire school was buzzing with news about Harry Potter, snake-speaker. Every pair of eyes seemed trained on him as he entered the Great Hall, and Harry could only be glad that at least the winter hols were coming up. Most of the students would return home for 2 weeks, and if he was very lucky, rumors about him would die down by the start of next term.

Of course, that did nothing for the rumors circling about him now. And they were truly absurd.

“I heard it was a two-meter king cobra,” one of the Hufflepuffs said not very subtly, Harry catching the gossip as he passed. “And that he threatened Professor Snape with it.”

“Potter’s an unregistered animagus, and he’s got a snake form. That’s why he can talk to them.”

“Parseltongue is a family trait. What if Potter is You-Know-Who’s secret son?”

One, at least, was a little too close to the truth.

“Harry Potter won some of You-Know-Who’s power through conquest when he defeated him as a baby,” a Ravenclaw girl with white-blonde hair was saying, her voice light and airy. No one seemed to be paying her any mind, though the girl didn’t appear to notice. Wide, silvery-blue eyes locked onto Harry for a moment, and she smiled.

Friend, the lizard brain said.

Luna. The déjà vu brain’s voice was fond.

Keep an eye on that one, the horcrux brain added.

Unsurprisingly, the Slytherin table was quiet for the most part, their watchfulness more reserved and discrete than some of the other houses. What was surprising, however, was how much Draco’s superiority complex and one-sided rivalry with Harry was actually benefiting him right now.

“Potter?” Malfoy said loudly enough to be heard halfway across the hall. “The heir of Slytherin? As if. No way could he pull it off. And besides, he’s a blood traitor. You see the sort he wastes his time with. No one could tolerate pretending to like Weasley and Granger for so long.”

“Is Malfoy…accidentally clearing your name?” Hermione had to ask once they were seated at the Gryffindor table.

“Wonderful, isn’t it?” Harry said cheerfully, smearing jam over his toast. “I’m sure he thinks he’s slandering me, but I’m not going to tell him.”

Ron and Hermione shook their heads in agreement.

“I mean, he fainted at the first sight of blood.” Malfoy kept going, unaware of the unimpressed looks the rest of his house was giving him. “You seriously think he—” and here he gestured with both his hands at Harry, drawing a truly unnecessary amount of attention “—is going to attack anyone? He wouldn’t even duel me properly.”

“How he got into Slytherin…sometimes I wonder,” Harry mused. “Anyway. Since Herbology’s going to be cancelled because of the blizzard, what do you want to do this morning?”

 


 

Despite the high he’d been riding from a cancelled Herbology class and playing in the snow, Harry’s good cheer didn’t last through lunch because Justin Finch-Fletchley had been found petrified in an empty hallway.

This was worrying on two counts.

The first being that in other Harry’s memories, Sir Nicholas had also been found petrified alongside the Hufflepuff, but this time Sir Nicholas hadn’t even been in the same part of the castle. Justin should have been dead without having a ghost to diffuse the basilisks glare, but he wasn’t.

The second issue was, of course, the fact that nobody should have been attacked at all because Harry had the bloody diary.

What the fuck, the déjà vu brain said emphatically.

Harry couldn’t help but agree.

 


 

He didn’t know if he was more relieved or concerned to find that the protective spells he’d put on his trunk hadn’t been tampered with, and that Tom Riddle’s diary was exactly where he’d left it. On one hand, that meant that Ginny hadn’t gotten her hands on the diary again, and neither had anyone else.

On the other hand, this could be really, really bad news.

Would I even know if I was being possessed, he wondered. He suspected not, or at least that it wouldn’t be obvious.

You’re not being possessed, you twit, the horcrux brain said, exasperated.

That was possibly worse news. Because at least with the whole possession thing, he could just not write in the diary anymore, send it off to his Gringotts account for safekeeping. He could fix that.

But what if the diary could control the basilisk without needing to possess anyone?

No. He disregarded the idea almost immediately. Because if that were true, Tom wouldn’t have needed Ginny to write to him. He wasn’t corporeal until he’d almost killed her. I doubt he has the power for it yet.

But if you needed to be a parselmouth to control the basilisk, and preferably an actual heir of Slytherin, that really limited who could be responsible. Harry was the only parselmouth—aside from Voldemort—that he knew.

(It did occur to him briefly that Voldemort himself could be responsible, but since the man hadn’t utilized the basilisk at all when he was in the castle all of last year, that seemed unlikely.)

If they’re smart, they won’t go advertising the fact, the horcrux brain said pointedly.

So there could be another parselmouth, Harry reasoned. Maybe Voldemort did have a secret kid—

Absolutely not, the horcrux brain said, voice firm and unyielding.

No, but another horcrux could do the same, couldn’t it, the déjà vu brain said. Possess someone into opening the Chamber? Control the basilisk?

And now the horcrux brain was offended. If you’re suggesting that I would—

Well, you are part of the same soul, who’s to say you don’t want to finish what you started—

My 16 year-old self was an attention seeking little shit who wanted to impress the old families and be worshipped by his peers. Killing mudbloods was never a personal philosophy.

Harry had to cut in before it devolved into an unmanageable argument. I’m glad to hear that, he said, placating the extra soul-piece in his brain. But the horcrux idea is a good one. Was the diadem the only one in the school?

Yeah, but that means jack shit, the déjà vu brain said. One of the others could have found a way in just like the diary, though I don’t know how.

Ultimately, though, it wasn’t much help. Even with the déjà vu and horcrux brains identifying the three remaining horcruxes—with visuals, so Harry would know them when he saw them—the fact remained that if any of them were in Hogwarts, they could be literally anywhere in the school. Harry could only sense them in close proximity, and methodically searching from dungeon to tower wasn’t efficient.

He sighed.

He was going to need help.

 


 

“Let me get this straight,” Ron said, hours later (and past curfew) when he, Harry, and Hermione snuck out to their favorite abandoned classroom for a chat. “Voldemort blasted his soul to bits to make sure he couldn’t die and then accidentally put one into you when you were a baby. And then more or less died anyway.”

“Yes.”

Useless, the horcrux brain sneered as it always did when confronted with his downfall.

“And Dumbledore already suspects this,” Ron continued, “and knows there’s a good chance you’d have to die if he wants to permanently kill Voldemort. Which he fully intends for you to do, according to your sixth sense.”

“Yes.”

“And on top of that, the attacks are still happening, possibly because of a different horcrux, which will be incredibly difficult to track down if there is one in the castle.”

Harry nodded gravely. “That about sums it up, yeah.”

“Fuck.” Ron dragged his hands through his hair. “Fuck.”

“Let’s not forget the fact that you apparently have a full set of memories for this year that are clearly not from our timeline,” Hermione pointed out, eyes narrowed in accusation.

Harry winced. He’d had to fess up about his memory flood to explain everything else fully, and his friends were a little upset. Not because he was a freak even by wizarding standards.

(“Harry,” Ron had said. “You survived a killing curse as a baby, centaurs think you’ve got some grand destiny, and you might be the thestrals’ overlord. I don’t think either Hermione or I are going to be shocked when normal doesn’t apply to you.”)

They were upset because he hadn’t told them. Because he hadn’t trusted them with this part of himself, hadn’t thought they would accept him.

When are you going to realize that you can trust them with everything? his déjà vu brain asked.

“It would be far easier to keep a watch out for anyone acting suspiciously, or differently than usual,” Hermione said after a moment. When both of the boys gave her blank looks, she rolled her eyes. “If the horcrux is possessing them, it’ll show. We all saw how withdrawn Ginny was. Now that we’re aware of the side effects, we should be able to narrow down the list of who’s potentially being affected.”

“It’s a start,” Harry said. It was certainly better than scouring the whole castle, but there would be a lot of guesswork involved. He just hoped they would find whoever was responsible before anyone else got petrified.

Or worse.