Professor Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts, had been looking forward to this specific sorting for the better part of ten years. From the moment he'd entrusted the freshly orphaned Harry Potter into his relative's care, he'd anticipated the time he would return to the wizarding world as one of his students. And when the boy entered the hall, he was not disappointed.
Harry looked to be a fine young man, he stood among the sea of first years with a quiet confidence, his green eyes surveyed the hall carefully and without a trace of the fear and anxiety the majority of his peers exhibited. He was in the company of a red-haired, freckle faced boy who could only be the youngest Weasley son, Ronald, the Longbottom heir, Neville, and an unfamiliar brunette young lady he presumed to be a muggle-born student. Harry's choice in companionship had the headmaster breathing a touch easier, one of his greatest fears had been that he'd befriend the wrong sort of student during the train ride, the last thing he needed was the Boy-Who-Lived aligning himself with a child of a known Death Eater.
Headmaster Dumbledore watched with no small amount of satisfaction as the young muggleborn, Hermione Granger, was placed in Ravenclaw while the Longbottom heir seemingly defied his own expectations when was sorted into Gryffindor. Ronald was sure to be in Gryffindor, as all of his brothers before him had been; they would be a wonderful influence on Harry.
When it was finally time for Harry to be sorted, the entire hall straightened in interest; the boy ignored the flurry of excited whispers his name elicited as he approached the stool and allowed the Sorting Hat to be placed over his head. He gave a barely perceptible start, no doubt when the Sorting Hat first spoke to him, every student who went into the sorting ceremony blind found themselves startled by the extent of the hat's sentience. As the minutes slowly passed, Dumbledore catalogued every minute flicker in the boy's expression and every shift in his body; at one point, the little bit of his face that could be seen beneath the hat hardened, at another point he gripped the edge of the stool hard enough to whiten his knuckles.
Finally, after nearly five minutes, the rip at the brim of the hat's mouth opened and it spoke one word. "SLYTHERIN!"
Harry wasn't entirely certain he liked the sorting ceremony, it felt the slightest bit invasive to have a seemingly sentient hat look into his mind and trawl through his thoughts and memories. The thing had uncovered the secret of his heritage within seconds of being on his head, and though it had assured him it had no intention of telling anyone, he didn't feel all that comfortable knowing an outdated, witch's hat knew one of his greatest secrets.
In the end, there was nothing much he could do; the hat declared him a Slytherin and he moved to seat himself beside a smug Malfoy. The rest of the sorting passed quickly after that, Ron joined Neville in Gryffindor, while the last person to be sorted, Blaise Zabini, was put in Slytherin. Zabini was nice enough, a bit entitled, but nowhere near as gratingly pompous as Malfoy had been during their first encounter; he had an admirable knowledge of the workings of Slytherin house, despite having just being sorted into it, and he seemed to have no problem sharing this knowledge with Harry.
"Majority of Slytherin house will see your addition as the golden opportunity it is, this is their chance to prove that this house is made up of more than just Death Eaters in training. However, not everyone is of the same mindset. The actual Death Eaters in training will want to see you gone as quickly and permanently as possible."
"How do I know the good from the bad?" Harry asked, casting a hooded glance down the length of the table.
"Sit tight, they'll make their move soon enough. When they do, you'll be able to pick out whose side everyone is on."
"Brilliant," Harry snorted. "I've been here five minutes and already I'm making enemies."
"I don't see why you're so surprised," Malfoy pointed out, "you've had a talent for making powerful enemies since you were a year old."
"I'm not sure any of our housemates could really qualify as powerful enemies," Blaise said. "A few may come from old families, but many of them have lost their influence since the fall of You-Know-Who and the outing of many of his Death Eaters. They may prove to be a nuisance, but, as of right now, none of them are truly dangerous."
"It still won't do to underestimate them," Harry sighed. "Or to let them think they can get away with harassing me because of who I may or may not have defeated when I was only a baby. I've had more than my fair share of bullies this lifetime, I won't stand for any more."
Blaise tilted his cup at Harry in acknowledgment, before turning the conversation to lighter topics, such as what to expect from their first day of lessons. When the feast ended and the headmaster dismissed everyone for the night, two of the older students, the male and female fifth year prefects, gathered up the first years to lead them to the common room. However, before they could even exit the hall, a mean faced teen who didn't look to be more than two or three years older than them, sidled up to the male prefect's side.
"You sure you want to take them all to the common room?" the boy challenged. "We haven't yet had the chance to weed out the weasels hiding amongst the bunch."
The prefect, Higgs, made it a point not to look in Harry's direction. "There will be no need for any weeding," he said acerbically. "The Sorting Hat has been sorting students for centuries, it's yet to make a mistake and I doubt it's started now."
"On your head be it," the teen said before departing just as quickly as he'd appeared.
Higgs shook his head in disgust before returning his attention to the group of assembled first years. "The Slytherin common rooms are in the dungeons, beneath the Black Lake. There's a sizeable distance between the common room and the classrooms, but we'll show you the best routes to take tomorrow, time it right and you'll be just fine making it to class on time."
As they filed from the hall, Draco stepped closer to Harry's side so that he was able to speak to him without being overheard by the prefects. "That was Adrian Pucey, he's a third year. His father was one of the Death Eaters caught after You-Know-Who's fall and locked up in Azkaban."
"So I suppose it's safe to say he's among the group that's not all that thrilled I've been sorted into Slytherin."
"I would say so."
Harry sighed wearily. He'd hoped that coming to Hogwarts would allow him a fresh start, he'd hoped he'd be able to surround himself with people who didn't hate him for things he had no control over. But it seemed he was just a really easy person to unjustifiably hate.
Higgs and his female companion led them through the castle's halls, pointing out which staircases moved when one was halfway up, which doors needed to be asked politely to open and which just needed a solid kick to the frame, and which routes to take to avoid being late for class. By the time they reached the common room and explained how to enter, it had been nearly a half hour since the end of the feast, but before they were allowed to head up to their dormitories the prefects set them beside the fire for what was meant to be a short discussion on what they should expect from the impending school year.
The female prefect, Amare Farley, smiled kindly at the first years as she settled down on the couch directly opposite him. "Welcome to Slytherin house, for the next seven years we," she gestured to herself and the collection of older years still milling about the common room, "are your family, your mentors, your guides. Slytherin has long since had a reputation for producing not anything other than the dark wizards who have proved to be nothing more than a stain on our society, it is our job to dispel that notion, to show them that cunning doesn't mean deception, ambition will not lead to a desire to rule the world. If we find you have a need for it, we will instruct you on how to conduct yourselves both in and outside of classes in order to earn the respect our house deserves."
"What if there are some among is who are unteachable?" a pretty blonde, first year queried.
"No one is unteachable," Higgs said. "Only the lazy and uninspired hold such a belief."
"No, she's right." The third year from the feast, Adrian Pucey, was lingering just outside of the ring of first years. "Not everyone can be taught."
"Before you is a prime example of such a lazy and uninspired person," Higgs drawled. "I'm growing tired of your interruptions, Pucey. If you have something to say, say it."
Pucey shrugged the older Slytherin's insult off as if he hadn't even heard it. "It's only, we've received one or two students this year that quite obviously don't belong. It doesn't matter how good the teacher is, a weasel can't be taught how to be a snake, he will, in the end, always only be pretending."
Harry heaved a quiet sigh and cut Higgs off before he could formulate a response. "I think it's high time you stopped attempting to talk your way around what you're really trying to say. You have an issue with me being sorted into Slytherin, I can hazard a few guesses why, so why not say it and be done already?"
"Potter…" Farley said warningly.
Harry shook his head at the older girl. "I'd like to hear this, if it's all the same to you. I intend to be here for the next seven years, so I believe it's only prudent to get this all straightened out now." He turned back to Pucey. "What issue do you have with me being sorted into Slytherin?"
"You don't belong. Slytherin has a reputation to uphold, having you as a member of our house would only tarnish that."
"I thought it was the exact opposite," Harry countered. "Prefect Farley said not even five minutes ago that it is our job to dissuade the belief that Slytherin is a breeding ground for Dark Wizard. What better way to achieve that than to have the Boy-Who-Lived himself join your ranks?"
"Yes, there's that," Pucey said dismissively. "But even with the shadow of some of our alumni's…poor choices hanging over us, Slytherin house is still known for producing some of the most clever, capable, and ambitious wizards of our world. Can you honestly say you possess any of those traits?"
"In spades," Harry said without a moment's hesitation. "Can you? Because, looking at you I see…mediocrity. At best. From our first encounter in the Great Hall, I found myself rather underwhelmed by your presence. From your horribly unsubtle digs and graceless attempts to insert yourself in the conversation I can tell that your opposition to my placement in Slytherin runs much deeper than you claim. Perhaps it's because my defeat of Lord Voldemort saw a relative of yours put in Azkaban? Was it a grandparent? Maybe even a parent? My guess would be your father." Pucey twitched agitatedly. "If that's so maybe you should turn your blame to a more deserving party, like the man who so foolishly aligned himself with the so called dark wizard who couldn't even kill a one year old without being blasted from existence."
"I would watch my tongue if I were you," Pucey said dangerously, his fingers caressed the handle of his wand. "You know nothing of what you're talking about, so unless you wish to end up cold in the ground like your blood traitor father and mudblood mother, you best be quiet and learn to respect your betters.
Just like that, any traces of civility Harry had been clinging too disappeared; the moment the slurs left the older boys mouth, his face turned to stone and his eyes glinted with a frightening emerald fire. "Listen to me, you repulsive, inbred excuse for a wizard," the raven haired boy said, words so sharp and cutting and laced with such an intent to hurt, those all the way at the far side of the common room flinched away from him, "you came here hoping to prove your dominance over me, to show the puny first year Harry Potter just who exactly is in charge, maybe even try to scare me away from Slytherin. Well, you gave it your worst, now it's my turn.
"You called my mother a mudblood as if I was supposed to be offended, as if I was supposed to leap to her defense when, in truth, I would sooner be a muggleborn, a mudblood, before I had to bear the shame of being a pureblood."
"And what do you mean by that?" Pucey growled.
"I mean that there are some pureblood families who are so obsessed with blood purity they would gladly screw their own mother if only to keep their lines pure. You are obviously an example of such a family, you inbred chauvinist."
The insult proved to be the final straw in provoking Pucey into drawing his wand. Unfortunately, Harry was far quicker, before the other teen even had a chance to raise his wand, he shot off a stinging spell that had Pucey reeling back in stunned pain.
"I may be small," Harry said as he cast his would be opponent a disdainful sneer. "I may only be a first year, but do not mistake my size for weakness and do not mistake my youth for ignorance or you will find yourself sorely wishing you hadn't. I am stronger, I am smarter, and I am far more powerful than you could ever hope to be."
Pucey gripped the edge of a couch in an attempt to regain his balance as he fumbled to get a better grip on his wand. "You arrogant little-"
"Be quiet, this conversation is over, you are not fit to lick the bottom of my boots let alone speak to me as if you were my equal, and quite frankly I'm sick of hearing you attempt to butcher your way through the English language. Now, if you don't mind, it's getting late and I have classes tomorrow. Draco, Blaise, will you be joining me?"
His two year mates exchanged hesitant glances before nodding. "Of course. Lead the way."
When they were in the relative privacy of the first year, boy's dorm room, Draco turned to him with a look of wide-eyed, astonishment. It was the first human expression Harry had seen on the haughty blonde. "You know you just made enemies out of Pucey and all of his friends, right?"
"And I've only been here an hour," Harry grinned. "Exciting isn't it?"
Blaise chuckled and shook his head incredulously. "That's one way of putting it. I'll have to keep an eye on you, Potter. I'm already beginning to get the idea that, wherever you'll be, trouble will follow."
He couldn't have been more right.
The shortcuts Higgs and Farley had provided the night before proved to be invaluable when it came to getting to class on time, not only because Harry, Draco, and Blaise knew they would be absolutely lost without them, but because even if they had known of a secondary, more widely used route, it would have taken them twice as long to get to where they were heading and they most certainly would have been late. Even with the prefects' advice, they made it to their first class of the day, Defense Against the Dark Arts with Professor Quarrel with only a few minutes to spare. Unfortunately, the very first lesson of their very first year at Hogwarts proved to be an absolute disappointment.
Quirrell was a nervous little man who had the absolute worst stutter and seemed terrified of his own shadow. His classroom reeked of garlic and anytime he looked in Harry's direction, his scar throbbed painfully.
History of Magic, taught by the ghost Professor Binns, was just as bad. Binns's monotonous voice and complete lack of enthusiasm regarding his subject succeeded in making what should have been the fascinating topic of goblin rebellions more tedious than reading the back of a cereal box.
Fortunately, both Transfiguration and Charms more than lived up to Harry's expectations. While Potions left Harry feeling the slightest bit puzzled. Harry's first impression of his Head of House, Professor Severus Snape was that he held an intense dislike toward him; he was careful not to display his hostility outright, likely because Harry was one his snakes and it would have only give Slytherin house a bad name. But, more often than not, Harry was able to catch a gleam of distaste in the man's eyes whenever he was looking in his direction. Instead of being cowed by the somewhat intimidating potions master, Harry went out of his way to mollify his displeasure; the few times Professor Snape spoke to him, he made sure to keep his tone even and respectful, he did his best to keep the conversations between Draco, Blaise, and himself to a minimum, and he paid the assigned potion and the written instructions that went along with it especially close attention to ensure it came out as near perfect as possible. And while Snape may not have been showing him the same favor he exhibited toward some of the other Slytherins, Draco most notably, by the end of the lesson he was at least no longer looking at him as if he were something he'd scraped from the bottom of his cauldron.
By the end of his first day, Harry was exhausted and looking forward to a warm meal to replenish his waning energy. However, when he reached the Great Hall, he veered off of the course that would lead him to his house table and headed in the direction of the Ravenclaws.
"Where are you going, Potter?" Draco asked. "The Slytherin table is that way."
"I knowwhere the Slytherin table is, Draco," Harry replied. "And how many times do I have to tell you to call me, Harry. Not this Potter nonsense?"
"How many more times do I have to tell you that I have not given you permission to refer to me by my first name?"
"At least once more, as always,"
"If we're not going to Slytherin table, Potter-Harry," Blaise amended when he saw the petulant glare aimed his way, "then where are we going?"
"To the Ravenclaw table, of course. We're going to sit with Hermione."
"But we're not in Ravenclaw," Draco protested.
Harry looked pointedly at his silver and green tie. "I'm well aware of that, Draco," he said, "but Hermione is. I did say we were sitting with her. It's not against the rules, is it?"
"Good." The raven haired boy crossed the last few feet to the Ravenclaw table and plopped down on the bench next to his bushy haired friend. "Hello, Hermione."
The brunette, who had been engrossed in a thick textbook before his abrupt arrival, startled in her seat. "Oh, hello Harry, Draco, and…"
"Blaise," the dark skinned boy introduced himself. "I'm Blaise Zabini."
"Pleased to meet you, Blaise, I'm Hermione Granger. What are you guys doing here? The Slytherin table is over there."
"So I've been told," Harry sighed. "Has it not occurred to you that we're here because of you? You're my friend aren't you? And friends usually sit together during meals."
"Oh," Hermione flushed lightly, "I've never had a friend before."
"Neither have I," Harry grinned. "Isn't it exciting?"
"Are we still friends?" Now it was Harry's turn to startle and turn in his seat; he hadn't even heard Ron and Neville's approach over the general bustle of the Great Hall.
He cocked his head curiously at Ron, the one who had spoken. "Why wouldn't we be?"
Ron nervously shuffled where he stood. "Well, you know Slytherin and Gryffindors don't usually get along. They've got a bit of a rivalry going."
"Do you want to be rivals?" Harry frowned.
"No! No, I…I just wasn't sure you didn't want to be."
"We're still friends Ron. Will you and Neville be joining us for lunch?"
The redhead visibly wilted in relief as both he and Neville hurried to seat themselves among the small group. "Yeah, of course."
"Brilliant. Now I believe introductions are in order…"
Harry broke away from his group, sometime after dinner and less than an hour before curfew. He was careful to avoid being spotted as he crossed the grounds and ducked into the Forbidden Forest, where Loki was waiting only just past the treeline.
"You managed to get past the wards without any problems?" Harry asked as he accepted a hug from his father.
Loki snorted, amused by the mere notion that any wards could keep him out for long, especially those erected by mortals. "None at all," he said. "Your first day of classes was today. How did it go?"
Harry's face immediately lit up and he launched into a minute by minute retelling of his day. Loki oohed and awed at all the right points, genuinely interested in his son's words but unable to remain completely focused when faced with Harry's brilliant smile and infectious happiness. He wasn't sure he'd ever seen him so full of light, not even when they'd met in their hiding spot at the abandoned grocers, the reminder that he'd be returning to the Dursley's where he was quietly loathed in only a few hours' time never failed to dim the spark in his eye.
Every reminder of the tragedy that was Harry's childhood drove a spike into his heart, made even worse with the realization that the hard times were far from over. Harry had much in his future, not all of it good; there would be death and betrayal and pain, so much pain. Loki wanted nothing more than to take him to Asgard, where he would be happy and loved and safe. But he couldn't, not while the question of Harry's mortality remained unanswered. Harry's blood sang of the strength and longevity of an Asgardian but with all of the fragility of a mortal, the way Loki read it. Harry could live for thousands upon thousands of years or he could die within a hundred; still just a babe compared to the years he had endured. But just the mention of his boy dying brought his heart to his throat and made him feel as if he were slowly suffocating, it was not a thought he could dwell upon for long.
Never had he deluded himself into believing that, of all the children he'd birthed and sired, Harry was his favorite. He loved Harry the most only because he was the only child he'd been given the chance to know and raise without his father's influence clouding his judgement. Perhaps if he'd been given the chance to know the others for more than the scant few years he'd had, he would have felt the same depth of emotion he felt for Harry. But he hadn't, and so the only thing he felt in regards to his older children was a detached sort of wistfulness and deep regret. He would not allow the same fate to befall his son.
"It seems you've had quite an eventful first day," Loki smiled once Harry had run out of things to talk about. "Play your cards right and those children you've befriended will be friends for a lifetime."
"You think so?" Harry asked hopefully. He'd never had any real friends, even after Dudley had stopped tormenting anyone who had shown an interest in being his friend, none of the children had seemed all that eager to befriend him. They could likely sense that he was different, more than human, and so wanted nothing to do with him.
"Oh, I know so. They're well suited for you."
"Especially Malfoy. You said it yourself, all he needs is the chance to grow into his own and he'll prove to be the very best sort of friend."
"I suppose I wouldn't mind that," Harry acquiesced, he'd take whatever friends he could get. "He's a bit of a pompous git, but it's starting to grow on me. Ron hates his guts though."
"Give them time, they'll learn to tolerate each other. But, onto different matters, now that you've been given the chance to settle in and I've found a way around these wards, I believe we should begin discussing where and when we will be conducting your lessons on how to wield your dagger."
"How about here?" Harry gestured to the forest around him. "Students are forbidden from wandering the forest because there are supposed to be dangerous creatures roaming about, but you could find us a nice spot to work in and put up some wards to keep the creatures out."
"I suppose I could," Loki considered. "I'll have to take a look around, I'll need to know what creatures this forest is home to in order to put up the proper wards but it shouldn't be too much of a task. That will be done after you've returned to the castle. When I visit next, we'll meet here and I'll lead you to wherever I've found."
"You don't want any company while you look?"
Loki shook. "I'm more than capable of handling whatever dangers lurk these woods, but you are not yet ready. I'd feel best if you waited for me to find out just what we're up against."
"All right," Harry sighed. "I suppose I should head back up to the castle then."
"I suppose so." Loki pulled Harry into a tight hug. "Goodnight, Little Trickster. I'll see you again, soon."
Harry murmured his own goodnight in response, then slowly made his way back to the castle where curfew was now in full affect. He made it to his dormitory without being spotted by any of the patrolling staff or their cats and slid into his bed with a grateful sigh.
It had been the first of many long days; his body ached from traversing the winding corridors and steep staircases and his magic had never been used quite so much in one day, and yet he'd never been happier.
It wasn't until several months into the semester that Ron Weasley finally came to the hard earned conclusion that being friends with one Harry Potter was…odd. He'd grown up on stories of the Boy-Who-Lived and all of his magical exploits, but nothing could have ever prepared him for the real thing. It had started when Harry was sorted into Slytherin of all places, but instead of honoring age old tradition by swearing off anything to do with Gryffindor house, Ron and Neville included, Harry risked the scorn of his housemates to, not only keep them on as friends, but sit with them several times a week at meals.
Ron had always known Harry would be talented magically, he had to be considering he'd defeated a dark lord at only fifteen months, but not even he was prepared for the ease with which he picked up spells. If he hadn't already known Harry had been raised among muggles, he would have suspected he'd been learning magic even before Hogwarts as many of the children from the older, pureblood families were wont to do.
One thing the stories had got right was how absolutely fearless he was. Zabini had told him, Neville, and Hermione all about how one of his older housemates, Adrian Pucey, had been openly scornful of Harry being sorted into Slytherin only to be verbally beaten to a pulp by Harry's surprisingly razor tongue, but he hadn't believed it until Fred and George, who seemed to have ears everywhere, confirmed the rumor. He'd been surprised and the slightest intimidated by what his brothers had described to him right up until he'd caught sight of Harry in the Great Hall the next morning stuffing himself with food as he looked to be teasing Malfoy mercilessly about something or the other.
Ron had been a bit hesitant about sharing Harry with the blonde prat, he'd heard nothing but bad things about the family from his oldest brothers and their rough meeting on the train did nothing to change his opinion. But, with them both being friends of Harry, he'd been forced to spend a disgusting amount of time with the Malfoy heir; he still hated almost everything that had to do with him, but, after being in his company for so much time, he'd been able to differentiate Malfoy's moods and pick out when his near constant barrage of insults were serious and when they were bordering on teasing.
Harry didn't seem at all bother by their supposed enmity, he only seemed happy to have them as friends, which made Ron try his best not to intentionally goad Malfoy into a fight. For Harry's sake.
He got along well enough with the others; due to the fact that they were in the same house, he and Neville were closest, but he still found Hermione and her never ending store of knowledge helpful and a bit admirable, and he thought Zabini was all right for a Slytherin, he was civil and often funny even if he didn't mean to be.
All in all, he found the beginning of his first year at Hogwarts to be quite enjoyable; even with that minor incident with the troll wandering into the castle during the Halloween feast.
The whole debacle with the troll had been minor; none of the staff explained how it had managed to get into the castle or even where it had come from, but Blaise had presumed one of the students had left the main doors open when returning from the grounds and the sounds and smells from the Halloween feast had lured the troll from the Forbidden Forest. The creature had been found almost immediately, drinking from the toilet in the girls' loo, where it was subdued and returned to where it was meant to be.
It was fortunate that everyone had been at the feast when the troll wandered in; if it had been in the middle of the school day, the incident may have led to some serious injuries. Because of their serendipity and the quickness with which the staff had taken care of the troll, Blaise hadn't had much to say on that. It was the Cerberus he had a problem with.
Harry, who Blaise was quickly beginning to learn was a magnet for trouble, had been running from the mischievous poltergeist, Peeves, and his spitball projectiles when he'd ducked into the corridor they'd been warned they were forbidden to enter at the very start of the year and found himself face to face to face to face with the massive, three headed hell hound.
Blaise and the others had been understandably unimpressed; the troll had been one thing, it had been an accident and no one had been hurt, but there was no way the headmaster didn't know the Cerberus was being kept in the castle, he'd warned the students not to wander into its residence at the very beginning of term after all. Honestly, it was only a matter of time before a student stumbled upon it, Harry was lucky his encounter had ended in disaster.
Of course, the green eyed Slytherin didn't see it that way, as a matter of fact, he wanted to go back. He claimed the Cerberus had been guarding something, a trap door from the looks of it. Wouldn't it be exciting to find out what was being hidden beneath the Cerberus?
Blaise had most emphatically told him that it would not, in fact be fun, it would be the exact opposite of fun; Ron, Draco, Hermione, and Neville had agreed with him immediately. Harry gave in easily enough, but Blaise promised himself he'd keep an eye on his housemate anyway; he was the slipperiest of sorts. It was no wonder they got on so well.
To Neville's undying relief, Harry dropped all matters regarding the Cerberus and the trapdoor and didn't bring it up again. Though his gaze did take on a particularly dangerous glint every now and then, most notably when they were close to where he knew the creature was hidden. The thought of intentionally returning to where the Cerberus resided just to find out if there really was a trap door, and if there was, what lay beneath it, didn't exactly sound like a good time to Neville. However, he hadn't wanted to be the one to go against Harry, he'd never had so many friends at once, or really any friends for that matter, and he hadn't wanted to muck it all up by being a coward. Fortunately, Blaise had no such problem and had managed to dissuade Harry with an admirable quickness and, for a time, things were good.
The first term ended and Neville returned home to visit his Gran and a few of his other relatives; they'd been overjoyed both by his placement in Gryffindor and because he'd found himself a nice collection of friends, of which Harry Potter himself was a part of. Gran was a bit hesitant about him associating with a Malfoy, but Neville managed to convince her that he was different from his father in every way that mattered. He wasn't crazy enough to call himself Malfoy's friend, but they could be considered associates at best and he liked to think that, between himself, Ron, and Hermione, Malfoy found him the least intolerable. He often found himself mediating the arguments between those three when Harry wasn't around and Blaise couldn't be bothered.
The second term started off fairly quiet, outside of a few confrontations with one of the older Slytherin's, things were calm. But then, of course, Harry had to go and make friends with the half giant groundskeeper, Hagrid, who had a particularly unhealthy love for creatures with sharp teeth and razor talons and was, unfortunately, a bit lacking in the common sense department. The man had thought it would be a good idea to attempt to raise a dragon in his tiny cabin on the outskirts of the castle's grounds, his tiny wooden cabin to be exact. Harry and Ron had teamed up on that one to convince Hagrid that the dragon would be happier living on a reserve with other dragons like him. It'd taken a fair bit of time to persuade him, but eventually he gave in and the six of them had risked a lifetime's worth of detention to smuggle the dragon off of the grounds and too one of Ron's older brothers.
With all of the commotion surrounding Norbert the baby dragon as well as the quickly approaching end of term exams, Hermione, Draco, Blaise, Ron, and Neville himself had almost forgot all about the Cerberus. But of course, Harry hadn't.
If he was being entirely honest, Neville would have to lay the blame of reigniting Harry's interest in the Cerberus on Hagrid. In the half giant's desperate attempt to persuade him and his friends that he was perfectly capable of caring for Norbert, he confided that he'd been the one to raise the Cerberus, Fluffy was its name. One just needed to know how to calm it; which was with music apparently.
The moment the words were out of Hagrid's mouth, Harry's eyes took on that gleam they'd all fairly quickly learned to associate with trouble.
"No, Potter," Malfoy said immediately.
"What do you mean, 'No, Potter?'" Harry protested. "All I was going to say was that that was an interesting piece of information that I have absolutely no use for."
Neville, Draco, Hermione, Neville, and Blaise exchanged exasperated glances whilst silently coming to an agreement that they wouldn't leave Harry alone for a single moment.
But then came exams in which they all found themselves too distracted ensuring they passed to keep a close eye on Harry. And that was, of course, when he gave them the slip.
Harry had only meant to check in on the Cerberus, maybe play him a bit of a tune to see if what Hagrid had said was really true, but when he found out that he'd been right all along, there really was a trapdoor beneath the Cerberus, he couldn't help but take a quick peek.
That quick peek ended up taking him through a labyrinth full of an assortment of booby traps and tricks. After fighting off an overgrown patch of weeds who seemed to struggle with the concept of personal space, hunting down one specific key in a flock of winged keys, acting as quite literal pawn in an oversized, homicidal chess set, slipping past an ugly, smelly creature that could only be a troll, and figuring out a riddle that allowed him to walk through a wall of black flames, he found himself in a cavernous chamber, empty save for the enormous golden mirror standing in its center.
"Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi," Harry murmured, reading the inscription along the border of the mirror. "Erised…desire. I show not your face but your heart's desire." He snorted to himself."Oh, I get it. It's backwards because it's a mirror. Clever."
He could see himself in the mirror, but it wasn't the same him he was used to seeing; he was older and there was a sort of glow to his skin he'd never seen before. He was immortal and in the company of his father, his uncle, and grandparents, and they were on Asgard.
It was a neat trick, but he didn't need a mirror to tell him what his heart's desire was. He'd long since figured it out.
Was this what the Cerberus had been guarding? Why go through all the trouble of setting up such elaborate security measures to hide a mirror? And why hide it in the school for that matter?
"Is the headmaster an idiot?" he questioned himself. "Did he honestly think this would remain safe and secret down here forever?"
"My thoughts exactly." Professor Quirrell, in all of his purple turbaned glory, appeared soundlessly in the entrance to the chamber. There was an uncharacteristic smirk on his face as he slowly descended the staircase and Harry noticed that his words had been devoid of his usual stutter.
"Fancy seeing you down here, Professor." Harry scratched at the back of his head nervously. "I know the third floor corridor is supposed to be off limits, for obvious reasons I see now. But I have a good reason for being down here, you see there was a kneezle-"
"Save your excuses, you nosy boy."
Harry blinked, momentarily taken aback by the usually timid man's sudden confidence. "Right, well I'll just be going then…"
Quirrell raised a brow and remained where he stood, directly in front of the only exit and entrance. "I think not. You're going to help me."
"Help you with what exactly?"
"To retrieve the stone."
Harry shook his head. "I…am completely lost. Professor, are you feeling all right?"
Just then, a third, chillingly cold and seemingly bodiless voice spoke up. "He knows nothing. Kill him."
Quirrell didn't even hesitate before raising his wand and shooting an ice white cure in Harry's direction. The teen yelped and rolled out of the way, when he was once again upright, he had his own wand drawn in preparation to defend himself.
"I didn't know rule breaking was punished so harshly!" He ducked out of the way of another deadly looking spell, then shot off one of his own. He swept his wand in a violent slash and watched as Quirrell staggered back as if he'd been struck by an invisible fist.
"Wha-?" Harry slashed his wand again and Quirrell fell back another step.
"Stop that!" His turban was askew and his cheeks were flushed a mottled red.
"Stop what?" Harry asked innocently as he struck him once more. "I'm not doing anything."
"Incarecerous!" Harry easily sidestepped the coil of ropes and shot a cutting hex back.
"Diffindo! Confundus! Crucio!" Harry managed to easily dodge the first, but when sidestepping the second he stepped directly into the path of the third. The moment the curse hit, Harry felt a pain like no other ripping through his veins, boiling his blood and melting his bones. He fell to his knees, gasping in pain.
"Not so tough now, are you, Potter?" Quirrell taunted, but his voice sounded different, more sibilant, and cruel. "Go on and scream for me boy, I know you want to. It's a pity no one is around to hear the lovely sound you'd make."
Through the agonizing pain, Harry managed to tighten his grip on his wand and, with a great effort pointed it at Quirrell. "Diffindo."
The curse shot out in a streak of white light and hit his target. As the man fell back with a strangled shriek, the curse lifted and the pain disappeared, allowing Harry to slowly catch his breath and regain control over his limbs.
It took several failed attempts to climb to his feet, but eventually he managed and staggered over to where Quirrell lay sprawled on the ground. The severing charm had hit Quirrell directly in the neck, leaving his throat a mangled bloody mess.
"Oh no," the eleven year old boy gasped. In that moment he forgot that the man had just been trying to kill him, he forgot the horrible pain inflicting curse he'd put him under, all he could think about was that the man was dying right in front of him, and it was all his fault. "Oh no, Professor hang on, I can fix this. Just-just hang on and don't die." He reached for his wand, desperately thinking of anything he could use to heal the man, but for all his training he was unable to think of a single one.
"Dammit!" Harry tore a strip from the bottom of his shirt and pressed it against the bloody wound in hopes of staunching the bleeding. "Just give me a second, Professor," he whispered, unaware of the tears wetting his cheek. "Just give me a second. I can fix this. I can. I know I can,"
As he moved to press the strip of cloth against Quirrell's neck with violently shaking hands, Quirrell wrapped a hand around his wrist, halting his movements. "No," the man choked. "Leave me."
"Are you mad!" Harry cried, swiping a hand across his eyes to clear them up a bit. "You'll die!"
"He's still…inside me. Might…be able to…k-kill…"
"What? Who? Who's inside you? Who can you kill?"
"Voldemort?" Harry gasped incredulously.
"I was…to be host…until St-st-stone…elixir brings him back."
"Professor, you're not making any sense. What stone? What elixir?"
Quirrell's breath grew more ragged as blood flowed into his lungs. "So…sorry," he managed to choke, before he took one last gasping breath then fell still.
"Professor?" Harry whispered. "P-professor Quirrell?" He reached out to grab the man's shoulder's, intent on shaking him back to life, but the moment he touched him a black mist suddenly surged from Quirrell's body and slammed into Harry's chest. He only had a second to wonder what in the world had just happened before he fell to the ground, unconscious.
Harry didn't know how long he remained unconscious; it could have been minutes, hours, days, maybe even weeks, he had no way of knowing. All he knew was that waking up after being knocked unconscious by an evil entity that may or may not have been the murderer of his mother and stepfather was not at all like how it was in the movies. There was no slow waking up to find himself surrounded by loved ones, only a sudden jolt back to awareness complete with heavy bouts of dizziness and nausea and no company but that of the stern school nurse and the creepy headmaster.
Groaning, Harry leaned back against his pillow in hopes of getting the world to stop spinning and coaxing his stomach from where it was wedged in his throat.
"What happened?" he rasped after several minutes spent recovering.
"You had quite the run in, it seems, with Professor Quirrell and the spirit of Lord Voldemort."
Harry felt his body tense. "I killed him," he whispered.
"I and all of the proper officials can assure you that it was in self-defense. Quirrell had cast the Cruciatus on you, it was perfectly justifiable."
"No it wasn't." Harry snapped. "He was being possessed by Voldemort-"
"No, he was carrying Voldemort's soul." Dumbledore corrected. "He was not being possessed. Quirrell's actions were his own."
"Possessed or not, I still killed him. He was a human being and I took his life."
"My dear boy-"
Harry cut the Headmaster off before he could irritate him further with his meaningless attempts at comfort. "What was Quirrell after?"
Dumbledore looked surprised. "You did not know?"
"If I did, would I be asking?" Harry knew he was being disrespectful to his headmaster, but he could hardly bring himself to care.
"No, I suppose you wouldn't. As you already know, Professor Quirrell was hosting the soul of Voldemort in his own body; in an attempt to regain a mortal form and, in turn, immortality, he ordered Quirrell to retrieve the Sorcerer's Stone, an object created by the famous alchemist Nicholas Flamel, the stone has the ability to-"
"Turn normal metals into precious metals and give the drinker of its elixir immortality. Yeah, I've heard of it. What happened to the stone?"
"The Flamel's and I have made a few new arrangements in order to ensure the stone's absolute safety," Dumbledore said vaguely.
Harry nodded. "Voldemort's going to try a different way to come back."
"I daresay he is." Dumbledore agreed. "Do you think he will succeed?"
"I think it's less a matter of if he will succeed, and more of a when. And when he does, will we be ready?"
Not long after his, in Harry's opinion, rather profound question, Dumbledore left the hospital wing with a deeply contemplative expression marring his wrinkled face. But his presence was soon replaced with the much more welcome ones of his friends, all of whom piled into the hospital wing only moments after his departure and crowded around his bed.
"Oh, I'm so glad you're all right, Harry," Hermione cried pulling him into a rib crushing hug. "When Dumbledore told us what happened we were so worried, especially when he wouldn't let us come and see you right away."
"Well there's no need to worry anymore." Harry assured. "I'm good as new."
"Are you sure? Nothing hurts? You're not dizzy or nauseous? Maybe I should get Madam Pomfrey, just to be sure-"
"He's obviously speaking the truth, Granger. So quit your harping as it's getting quite bothersome," Draco turned a critical eye on Harry. "But you still need to be more careful," the blonde scolded, "and learn to mind your step, you could have been seriously hurt."
Harry's brow furrowed. "Mind-mind my step?" he repeated. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"Do you not remember what happened?" Blaise asked worriedly.
"I…" Harry trailed off as he recalled the events of the previous night. Had he forgotten something?
"You fell down the stairs and hit your head," Neville explained. "The Bloody Baron found you and told the professors."
I didn't fall down the stairs!" Harry cried.
"But Dumbledore said-"
"Dumbledore lied. I went back to the Cerberus."
"Of course you did!" Draco cried. "What are you a witless Gryffindor?"
"Watch it, Malfoy," Ron warned.
"Shut it, Weasley. What in Merlin's name possessed you to go back there?"
"I was curious, the Cerberus was guarding something and I wanted to see what. I was just going to take a quick peek."
"But…?" Blaise prompted.
Sighing, Harry recounted his experience, detailing all of the tasks, what he had to do to get past them, and what happened after he did. He watched as their faces morphed from admiration, to shock upon finding out about Quirrell, to horror when he explained the horrible curse the professor had put him under.
"The Cruciatus." Neville whispered. "That's what he put you under." The boy looked sick. "Using it, or any of its sister spells, the Imperius or the Killing Curse, will land you in Azkaban for life."
"And it'd be nothing more than the miserable bastard deserves" Ron said furiously. "Where is he anyway? Have the Aurors already carted him away?"
The room fell silent as everyone turned to look at Harry who suddenly held an intense fascination with his hands.
"Dead?" Hermione repeated. "How?"
"I killed him," Harry's voice shook lightly. "The curse was horrible, it hurt so bad I could barely even breathe, but somehow I got hold of my wand, and I shot the first spell I could think at him. The severing charm hit him right in the neck. He-he died while I sat there and did nothing."
"Oh, Harry, it was self-defense," Hermione tried to comfort him. "He was torturing you, it wasn't your fault."
"He was being influenced by Voldemort." At his friends' horrified and confused looks, Harry elaborated further, explaining the man's death and his final words in detail, as well as the event that had led to his ending up in the infirmary.
"So Voldemort's not dead," Ron said tonelessly.
"No, and he's going to get a body eventually, and when he does he's going to come after me. So I…I'd understand if you guys don't want anything to do with me. Being my friend will only put you in danger."
"Are you mad?" the redhead cried. "You're my friend, Harry, and no crazy dark wizard is going to change that. Besides, it's not me you should be worried about."
All eyes turned to Draco who puffed up in offense. "What, you think because my father was a Death Eater I'll become one as well?" He glared at Harry. "Well you're wrong, all of you. When I shook your hand on the train, Potter, I made my choice. Whatever happens, whether it be crazy groundskeepers with a soft spot for dragons, or megalomaniacal dark lords who have you on the top of their kill lists, I'm with you. And no amount of whining is going to change that. So…so you might as well suck it up and get used to it, because I'm here to stay."
Harry stared at the blonde in awe, and even Ron gaze just might have held a hint of respect. "Thank you, Draco, you don't know how much that means to me."
"He's not the only one," Blaise said. "I don't plan on giving you up anytime, Harry."
"Me neither," Neville said.
"Nor I," Hermione added.
As his friends declared their intentions of sticking by his side come hell or high water, Harry felt the tight knot in his chest ease just a bit. He wasn't all right, not by a long shot, but just being in the company of his friends assured him that, in time, he would be.
A/N: Over on Archive of Our Own, Akuma_River and I have decided we're going to team up and take over the world. Anyone who would like to apply for the position as our followers please leave a comment in the little box below.