Sine Qua Non
Disclaimer: All of this is based upon the lovely J.K. Rowling's work.
Warnings: A somewhat canon-compliant AU, Language
This has been sitting on my hard drive for years, but it wasn't until I read The Prince and the Professor by the_supreme_mugwump over on AO3 that I finally decided to get it finished.
Harry isn't sure when his life changes or even why. Even decades later, he can't quite put his finger on the exact moment things shift.
It's like one day the Dursleys wake up to decide that Harry isn't a complete waste of space and drain on the economy. Thereafter, he's less an unwanted house-elf and more like an unfortunate boarder, one they have to take in to pay the rent and now keep lest the money stop. After that, there's no more swats to various body parts, no more harsh words, not even Harry Hunting anymore. There are still chores. For surely, Petunia would have to have a brain transplant for those to stop, but they're much fewer, easier, and almost relaxing truth be told. Dudley even gains a few, much to everyone's surprise. Most of all his own.
Harry isn't sure what caused this miraculous change and probably never will, but he really doesn't want to question it too deeply. He can live with three square meals a day, his own room – small though it may be – and new if very basic clothes. Even if answers remain elusive.
And if some nights, right before sleep claims him, Harry remembers a man's voice. A flash of light. A whisper of air. And then, gentle hands that tuck him into bed.
Well, it's probably better if he never mentions it.
He receives his letter the first part of July, and while it makes his relatives turn interesting colors, they do little more than grumble to each other. The Dursleys do, however, take a holiday right before his magical escort arrives. Which means that Harry's left to his own devices when Hagrid shows up to take him to London.
The Leaky Cauldron is both exciting and disappointing, and after shaking hands with all and sundry, meeting a professor with an unfortunate speech impediment, and managing to elbow their way to Diagon proper, Harry's a bit put out. That quickly fades though as they make their way down the street, and one whirlwind trip to the bank later, Harry's still goggling when he realizes that Hagrid has stopped just in front of the apothecary. It's by a miracle alone that Harry doesn't run into him, but he still stumbles and nearly falls until a firm hand on his elbow keeps him upright.
Harry turns then to see a smiling man with pleasant eyes and a calm demeanor. The introductions are short. Since really, Hagrid's still looking faintly green in the face. But he does seem to genuinely like the newcomer. Who, in Harry's humble opinion, doesn't look nearly old enough to be a professor. He's far too young appearing for one, and he's the polar opposite of Quirrell for another. Not to mention Aunt Petunia would most certainly lift her nose at the long dark hair he has tied back at the base of his neck. She certainly wouldn't approve of his wizarding robe over Muggle clothes or the boots that look to be made of scaly skin. Much less the easy smile he gives Hagrid or the clap on the arm, likely the only place he can reach.
Whatever the reason though or maybe a combination of the above, Harry decides that he likes this man immediately. Especially when Hagrid introduces them and he doesn't start, stutter, or stare at the scar.
Instead, Professor Prewett offers him another grin.
The conversation is short. To the point, as introductions go. And the professor gives a jaunty wave before heading off towards Gringotts.
Harry watches him go with a strange feeling that he can't quite put his finger on.
"What does he teach?" he asks curiously as they turn back to their own shopping.
"Ah… Muggle Studies." Hagrid actually gives a frown at that. "Dumbledore asked 'im originally ta take the Defense post, seein' as how he's got a mastery an' all. But Prewett wanted Muggle Studies instead. Said it was more important or sumthin'." He shakes his head and gives a half-shrug.
Harry thinks it rather peculiar that the study of normal people needs its own course – or even that normal people need to be studied in the first place – but he politely keeps that to himself. Harry makes a noncommittal noise in the back of his throat even as he turns to see the professor leave.
But Prewett has already disappeared from the street.
Hogwarts is a strange place, but Harry very quickly decides that he loves it here. The castle is oddly homey for all its large size and strange habit of randomly changing staircases and doorways. The classes are interesting if difficult. The food is excellent and served in large quantities. The students are slowly getting used to his presence and don't quite stare as much anymore. The faculty… well…
McGonagall is stern and unyielding, but Harry's caught her giving the students fond glances when she thinks nobody's looking.
Snape swoops about like an overgrown bat, scowls at everyone, and is the whisper of fear amongst many. Harry already dreads his first Potions lesson tomorrow.
Flitwick is friendly and excitable. Spout is much the same though far more grounded. Quirrell, he of the purple turban, stutters constantly and seems afraid of everything from his own subject to the students themselves.
Professor Prewett is the odd one out amongst them. It isn't his robes, a proper cut in a deep blue, or even his long dark hair that's pulled back from his face. It isn't his age – youngish but with wizards it can be so hard to tell. It isn't even the fact that out of all the facility he seems the most normal and approachable of the lot.
There's just something about him that draws Harry's eyes. That begs for him to pay attention. That seems so oddly familiar. Like a forgotten favorite song. Or the words to a book he'd once loved.
It's a strange feeling. But not an unpleasant one.
And if Harry happens to look at him more at mealtimes or to catch his eye in the hallway, nobody has to know the reason why.
"There was a break in at Gringotts," his tablemates whisper amongst themselves as Harry goes down to breakfast one day. And truly, even only a week or so in, Harry has already learned that the students – Gryffindors in particular – are all hopeless gossips.
"Really?" the girl to his left – Lavender, if he remembers correctly – says back.
"Yeah," answers an older boy Harry doesn't know. "But it was stopped by somebody."
"Who?" another girl questions from further down the table.
"Gringotts won't release his name," the first boy puts in. "They say that their patron wants his anonymity."
Harry can tell that's a direct quote. He bends down to peer at the upside down newspaper across from him. The moving picture on the first page shows a very disgruntled looking goblin out front and a slew of other ones mingling about behind him.
"Whoever it was didn't even ask for a reward," a second-year comments with obvious surprise as she skims her own copy of the paper.
"My da told me the goblins were practically besides themselves," someone else says from her left. "Especially when the Ministry bungled it."
"Like usual then," a seventh-year mutters, but they all hear.
Harry tunes them out as the people around him start to argue about the intelligence of the Ministry. Or the lack thereof.
As is quickly becoming his habit, his gaze travels to the professor's table. Dumbledore and McGonagall are both gone, but Flitwick's in his seat. At least Harry assumes he is, but it's hard to tell with the enormous newspaper blocking him from view.
Further down, Snape and Prewett are in their usual seats next to each other. But they're leaned forward, speaking so quickly that Harry can't even begin to read their lips. Though he does see Snape roll his eyes before saying something that earns him a wicked grin. Snape has pained expression on his face as he leans back, and it's so surprisingly human that Harry nearly gapes.
Prewett just laughs.
School continues on in much the same manner as it started. Flying lessons go much better than expected, and through a strange series of events, Harry somehow ends up on the Quidditch team. Which isn't quite something he wanted, but it's still better than the alternative, and he even earns a nod of approval from McGonagall.
His housemates take the news very well indeed. Others not so much.
Naturally, and truly Harry does have both the best and worst luck, Prewett's the one to overhear Malfoy challenge him to a duel and Ron accept on his behalf. But the detention he gives the three of them isn't much of a punishment at all. They don't have to write lines or scrub cauldrons or even get lectured. Instead, it's little more than a study hall. With Prewett willingly answering any and all questions Harry has. Even Malfoy's on his best behavior and spends most of the three hours either ignoring them or reading quietly.
The only one who really complains is Ron, but Professor Prewett is nice enough to pretend he can't hear the grumbling as he helps Harry through the wand motions of his Transfiguration homework. The man even stays after to keep helping, taking the time to explain each concept step by step. Beaming when Harry successfully makes multiple matchsticks turn to needles and back.
"I hold a study time every Tuesday and Thursday evening after dinner and Sundays in the afternoon," Prewett says as he helps Harry pack up. "You're more than welcome to come. We can work on anything you want."
"You'd do that for me?" Harry questions, honestly surprised.
The Dursleys aren't exactly mean anymore, but they aren't helpful either. Aside from Hagrid asking him to tea, no adult has ever shown true interest in him.
"I'd do that for anyone," the professor corrects, and his voice is soft. Like he knows exactly what Harry's thinking.
Harry droops a bit, but that earns him a hand to the shoulder that gives a gentle squeeze.
"But I'm inviting you personally and not them. So no worries."
Harry beams then and keeps beaming all the way back to his dorm.
He doesn't miss a single study hall all year.
Harry's guilt sits heavy in his stomach all day, and he brushes off Ron after their last class and says that he'll meet him at the feast. Ron shrugs, heading back to the dorms, and Harry watches him go before squaring his shoulders and heading the opposite direction. He'd heard from Parvati earlier that Hermione has spent the better part of the afternoon in the girl's toilet, and it seems like she's even planning to spend the rest of Halloween there, too.
Harry feels his insides squirm at that thought. Just as they had when he'd originally decided to do something about it. Apologize. Or grovel. Or… just something to make it better.
If he could.
He makes it all the way to the second floor and is just coming down the stairs when he sees them. Hermione's voice is too soft to hear as she dabs at her eyes, but Harry does catch the reply.
"Don't pay them any mind," Prewett tells her as she blows her nose into a handkerchief. "No matter what they say, it's only words in the end. It doesn't make any of it true. They can only hurt you if you let them."
Hermione says something back as Harry inches forward, properly coming around the corner. Both she and the professor are turned away, and he can see that Hermione's hunched forward and sniffling as she whispers something.
"Yes, going home might be an option. But it's rather final," Prewett responds softly, reasonably. "There's also the choice to stay here. To try again."
Hermione clenches her fingers around the handkerchief. "But I… But I don't have anyone here. Nobody cares about me. They all think I'm a friendless know-it-all. Some poor little Muggleborn who doesn't fit in."
"You know that isn't true, Miss Granger. And no, I don't just mean the faculty," he interrupts before she can open her mouth. Prewett turns then, and there's a smile on his face as he tilts his head towards Harry. "See. You've got at least one other person that worries for you."
Hermione blanches as she finally glances up. Her eyes are red and huge, and she seems ready to bolt. But Prewett's hand keeps her in place.
Harry swallows hard as they look at him. He hesitantly steps forward.
"I just… I wanted to…" Harry feels himself flush as he tries to collect his thoughts but somehow finds the strength to continue. "I'm sorry. About what we said. I know you were only trying to help."
"About what Ronald said," she corrects automatically but stops when Prewett nudges her.
"But I didn't stop him," Harry insists, tone stronger as he moves even closer. "I should have, and I should've apologized earlier."
Hermione bites her lip and glances at Prewett. He gives an encouraging nod. It grows even more encouraging as Hermione squares her shoulders and lifts her head.
Things are sorted out in very short order after that. Harry is forgiven, and Hermione gains a new friend.
Both of them are already at the feast, sitting together and well into dessert when Snape enters the hall through a side door and comes up to the headmaster. He whispers something in Dumbledore's ear that makes the old man practically jump from his seat. Both he and McGonagall leave less than a minute later, but their departure is so swift that only the teachers and very few of the students even notice.
Harry does because he was looking. Of course, it's only then that he notices that neither Prewett nor Quirrell are present.
The Muggle Studies professor quickly becomes the prime topic of gossip as the weeks pass and the grounds grow too cold for most to brave going outside. Even the recent excitement – read, troll break-in on Halloween – is forgotten.
Fred and George, Ron's older twin brothers, are among those fortunate enough to have Prewett's class. They've spent most of their meals fielding questions from the rest of the house. Something that surprises Harry since he would've thought everyone used to Prewett by now.
"No, this is only his second year here," Fred informs him as he hands over the basket of rolls, "but I'm not sure the first one counted."
"Didn't count?" Ron questions around his pork chop, even as Hermione elbows him for talking with his mouth full.
"Well, he only came in after Christmas," George chimes in. "The teacher last year was Quirrell, and he took a sabbatical on the continent for half the time."
"Quirrell taught Muggle Studies?" Harry asks and tries to imagine the man in his purple turban talking about something as mundane as a car.
The thought alone is laughable.
The twins blink as Harry laughs. Fred shakes his head, even as George rolls his eyes.
"I'm still amazed that Dumbledore managed to bag him," Lee Jordan puts in from Fred's other side.
"Why?" Harry asks, honestly confused. Since really, this whole magic thing's still in the process of sinking in, and of all the people he's met so far, Prewett seemed the most normal and unremarkable of the lot.
"He's famous," George replies from around a bite of potato, and were it anyone else, Harry'd say his voice is gushing. "Not as famous as you, mate. But famous enough. Has his own frog card and everything. Hear it's worth a lot, too."
"Travels all over the world, hunting nasty beasties," Fred continues at Harry's blank look, and he almost seems star-struck as he casts a glance at the head table.
"That thing with the Nundu made international headlines," Lee adds after taking a drink of pumpkin juice.
"Not to mention that time with what's-his-name," Fred says. "What was it, George?"
"Flophard?" his twin suggests.
Both of them snicker.
"Lockhart," Percy grumpily corrects from across the table. "Gilderoy Lockhart. He was a very well-known author. Wrote all sorts of books about battling monsters," he adds for Harry's benefit. "Until that nasty scandal."
Harry isn't sure he wants to know, but he asks anyway. Percy makes a face, but it's George who answers.
"Well, that's the trick of it." He runs a hand over his red hair. "All that stuff that Lockhart wrote about… Other people did it. Not him. He just stole their memories and took credit."
"Nobody even knew it was him," Fred adds, and the star-struck tone is back. "Until Prewett that is."
George gives a grin. "He tried the same trick on Prewett apparently. But our professor was too quick for him. Beat Lockhart at his own game. Heard the poor bloke's off in some hospital now. Drooling on his chin."
Harry blinks and casts a glance at the head table. Where Prewett is smiling and engaged in a very animated discussion with Flitwick and Sprout. Even Snape, on his other side, is joining in.
Harry looks back at the twins.
They nod emphatically.
"Mum cried for nearly a week when she heard," Fred leans in to confide. "She loved Lockhart. Used to have his books."
"But now, she collects the newspaper clippings about Prewett," his brother adds with a smirk. "She convinced that we have to be related. Her maiden name was Prewett, you know."
Harry tilts his head. Looks at the twins. Then, Ron. Followed by Percy. Back to Prewett. He just doesn't see it.
Both of them sigh. So utterly disappointed.
His first Quidditch match is just as ridiculous as it's exciting. For months afterwards, Ron and Hermione are convinced that Snape's trying to murder him. Harry thinks that they're taking it way too far; it's far more likely his broom is simply defective. Especially after his Flitwick and McGonagall examine it and place new safety charms.
It all starts when his broom gives an unexpected lurch mid-flight. It isn't really a big deal, not even enough to move him from his seat. Just unexpected.
Harry wonders about it for all of two seconds before a bludger flies at him and he has to swerve out of the way. He continues on after that for several minutes when his broom suddenly jerks again.
It's stronger this time. Shifting him forward an inch or so before he can right himself. But it again subsides.
The third time, his broom lurches twice in a row. Hard enough that his teeth clack together.
Things continue in this vein.
Several minutes of normal flying. Followed by a bucking broom for a second. Then back to normal.
Harry isn't the only one to find this peculiar. Especially when he casts a glance at the Gryffindor stands. Only to find Hermione, Ron, and Hagrid gaping at him in horror.
His broom jerks a few more times just as his eyes meet Hermione's. But she's driven from his mind when the snitch chooses that moment to zip by his head. Harry's off in close pursuit then, managing to keep it in sight even as his broom bucks again. Which actually works out in his favor since it happens at the exact same second that the snitch changes direction. It does everything but fly into his hand as he's jerked forward.
He lands immediately after that. He looks up in just enough time to see that Hermione has accidentally knocked Quirrell from his seat and is in the process of furiously apologizing to him. Snape and Prewett are just behind her, exchanging glances with each other and then staring straight at Harry.
His team swarms him then, and Madam Hooch confiscates his broom sometime later. Harry dodges questions and concerns for days afterwards, and he's only saved by Hagrid when they go down the following weekend for teatime.
Bless the man but he can't keep a secret. And he only sets Hermione on an obsessive path looking for someone who may or may not actually exist.
At least it serves as a distraction. And it does keep Harry otherwise occupied reading through textbooks instead of sleeping during Binns' class. It also keeps Hermione and Ron focused on something else for the time being, and in the end, Harry counts that as a win.
The last study hall before winter break is held on a Thursday evening. Friday is the final day of classes, which naturally means that all the professors are piling on assignments before the holiday. Harry's already started because he knows how hard it'll be to work since all of the Weasleys are staying over, too.
Prewett is the only other person present. Even Hermione skived off to finish packing since she's catching the train right after classes let out tomorrow. Ron has only been to two study halls total, and one was for detention. Neville's the only other first-year who shows up more often than not, but he's fast asleep on his bed when Harry leaves the dorm. Harry doesn't want to wake him, and to be perfectly honest, it's nice to have the professor to himself. Nice to have him looking over the last minute assignments that are all coming due.
Though he does have to revise that opinion a little when Prewett makes a face while reading his Potions essay. Harry knows he needs as much help as he can get in that subject, especially since Snape is a harsh grader, but he's hesitant when Prewett stands and comes around his desk to Harry's seat in the front row.
"Is there are problem with my essay, sir?" he asks uncertainly.
"The argument itself is sound, and the conclusion is at least second-year level," Prewett informs him kindly. "I also like that you're citing your sources now."
Harry perks at that. However, he can sense that there's a but coming. Doubly so when he's handed back his essay and Prewett points to the ink smears in the margins and between the lines.
"I'm not very good with a quill," Harry explains sheepishly and dips his head.
"I can tell," the professor replies dryly.
He wrinkles his nose in apology immediately afterwards. Then, he pauses for a long moment before reaching out to adjust Harry's grip.
"Hold it like this," he instructs. "It'll make the quill more secure, and you'll be less likely to break the tip."
He guides Harry's hand as he writes several lines on an extra piece of parchment. The letters flow smoothly, and the ink doesn't blotch when he moves between words.
Harry blinks at that and blinks again when he does it unaided and the writing is just as good, if a little wobbly. He grins at Prewett, who winks and proceeds to show him a number of other pointers. Not to mention a very helpful spell that removes any stray ink. Harry manages to get about half of the drops from his Potions essay, and it's actually rather legible now.
"That's much better, Harry," Prewett tells him. "After all, we wouldn't want to give Professor Snape eye-strain, would we?" He offers the edge of a wicked grin.
"He'll just find another way to take off points," Harry grumbles before he can stop himself.
Prewett snorts, but he does give Harry a serious look afterwards.
"Professor Snape is very passionate about his subject and expects that same mindset from his students." He taps the essay, and the remaining ink blots disappear immediately. "He's also a stickler for his instructions. Not to mention that he likes to see if his students are truly paying attention. If he says for you to do something, he wants it done exactly to the letter. No short-cuts. No laziness."
Harry is silent as Prewett gazes at him.
"He isn't a bad man, Harry. Just strict. Potions may not seem like it, but it's among the most dangerous material taught here," Prewett says then. "It's so very easy for a potion to go horribly wrong with a single missed step or ingredient. There's room for innovation or improvisation but not at your current level. It isn't unheard of for people to become seriously injured or even die during a potions accident."
Harry sucks in a breath.
"Really?" he whispers.
Harry suddenly sees Snape's hovering and watchful eyes in a new and very horrifying light.
"Yes, really." Prewett purses his lips for a moment. "I had a friend when I was younger. Her mother was renowned for experimenting. Thought she'd found a new way to combine ingredients, but she died when a cauldron exploded in her face."
The professor's face softens then, and he sighs.
"I don't want to scare you. I just want you to understand."
"I do, sir," Harry insists, even as he stomach roils inside him.
He's still queasy long after study hall has ended and Prewett has wished him a good holiday. How dangerous magic can be tickles in his head for days afterwards, and he doesn't think of Potions the same after that. He doesn't look at Snape the same either.
His cloak is amazing. It's quite literally the best gift he's ever gotten.
It makes him invisible. Helps him dodge Peeves. And it's something his dad had. Something his dad used even. The first thing he's ever really had of either parent.
The fact that it saves him from being eaten by the three-headed dog on boxing day is a definite bonus. It's all Ron's fault, really. Insisting that they use the cloak to explore the forbidden corridor, but Harry knows that he could've said something. Could've refused.
He's just as much to blame. Doubly so when Ron cons him into exploring two nights later and they find the mirror.
Ron looks first. Harry lets him because he's too busy studying the inscription. Thinking it frontwards and backwards and suddenly getting it.
He looks at the mirror differently then. Hesitant. Almost afraid. More so as he notices Ron staring like he's seeing every single hope and wish come true all at the same time.
Harry calls his name, but Ron doesn't answer. He doesn't even respond as Harry starts to tug him away. He finally snaps out of it when the reflection is out of sight, and it's like he's coming too from a very good dream.
He insists that Harry look then. Practically shoves him forward. Harry doesn't want to. Not really.
But at the same time he does. Even if he already suspects what'll be there.
And he's right. It's there in front of him in all its terrible glory. Making his chest hurt and his breath catch and his eyes water before he can turn away. He breathes hard then, and his hands shake. It takes everything in him to walk to the door. To ignore the calls after him. To keep walking all the way back to the dorm.
He never tells anyone, not even Ron, what he sees in the mirror.
It's too silly. Too pathetic.
Too heartbreakingly impossible.
He cries himself to sleep that night and every night for a whole week after. Harry doesn't search for the mirror again.
He's in a mood for some time after that, and Harry knows it.
Hermione doesn't ask – read, interrogate – him, but he knows that Ron had to have told her. Both of them walk on eggshells around him. As does most of Gryffindor after he hexes Fred during Quidditch practice. Oliver nearly gets it too when he turns to berate Harry for interrupting drills, but he quickly wises up.
The only person who treats Harry normally during that time is Prewett. Offering smiles and encouragement and being all too insufferably nice.
That really makes it all the worse.
Harry finally shakes it off towards the end of January, and with his professor's help, he orders chocolates for his friends as an apology.
Things are as normal as they get after that point.
They're on their way to visit Hagrid, hoping for more hints about Nicholas Flamel and how the three-headed dog plays into this, when they spot both Dumbledore and Prewett outside the door to his cabin. Hagrid's been acting peculiar the last few times they've come by to see him, so it really isn't a surprise that the faculty's also noticed.
Ron's all for going over regardless, but Harry and Hermione hang back when they notice how Hagrid jumps at seeing just who's at his front door. They exchange a glance and simultaneously grab the back of Ron's robe, all but dragging him to the castle.
The next day, Hagrid isn't at breakfast or lunch. They head back to his cabin as soon as classes let out, and after knocking hurriedly on his door for almost ten minutes, Hagrid finally answers. Harry glimpses red and watery eyes before Hagrid all but falls on the three of them, and he still isn't sure how they manage to manhandle him back inside and into his chair. It's even harder to figure out what's going on through the sobs.
Harry has no idea who Norbert was, but he must've been a really good friend to make Hagrid this upset.
The next Quidditch match goes better than the first. His broom doesn't try to dislodge him for one. Harry catches the snitch in less than five minutes for another.
Beforehand, the twins hear a nasty rumor that Snape's going to referee, but it's fortunately false. Not that it really would've mattered with how quickly it's over, but Harry breathes a sigh of relief nonetheless.
Either way, Potions class goes much better in the spring. A combination of Harry studying and preparing well ahead of time, more legible and neater essays, and sheer determination to do his absolute best.
Snape is naturally suspicious at first, but he gradually – grudgingly – seems to realize that Harry's being sincere. That isn't to say that he stops swooping around like an enormous bat or that he no longer hoovers over the students. As if daring them to mess up.
But his tone isn't quite a harsh when he asks Harry questions, and he actually gives a nod when each is answered correctly.
Hermione huffs a little when she sees it but doesn't comment. Ron calls him a git when he knows Snape can't hear. But at least both of them lighten up and seem to forget about the whole thing when Harry distracts them by recalling where he's seen the name Nicholas Flamel before.
He even grins triumphantly when he shows them his chocolate frog card. The very first he ever receives. Albus Dumbledore.
Hermione immediately squeaks and races off. Only to return with a ridiculously oversized book that she dumps in his lap. Flipping through pages and babbling about philosophers and alchemy.
At least they know what Fluffy the three-headed dog is guarding now.
Times passes. It's the end of the school year.
Hermione fumes as they leave McGonagall's classroom one fateful day. Harry's never seen her so angry or out of sorts. Not even when she got points taken off her Potions exam for going over the length limit. Snape had told her not to do more three inches per question, and she'd done double that.
But even Ron's furious now, where he just laughs before. Both of them are all but ready to run off and get the Philosopher's Stone themselves.
Harry's actually being the sensible one here. He thinks that they should still tell someone. They just picked the wrong teacher.
"Wait here," he tells both of them as they huddle in the corridor down from the Transfiguration classroom, trying to decide what to do.
"But Snape could already be going for the Stone," Ron whispers heatedly.
Harry still isn't convinced that it's him, but he's tired of arguing that point. He just waves them off and races down the hallway and stairs. The path he uses is so familiar he could get there in the dark, and the door opens immediately.
Prewett asks all the appropriate questions, gets all the details. From Hagrid's hints to Fluffy to Nicholas Flamel to Dumbledore now conveniently gone.
Despite how utterly ridiculous it sounds, he doesn't once look as if he doubts. Doesn't once act as if he thinks Harry's lying.
He stands after Harry's finished. His face is cheerful as ever, but his gaze is unusually fierce, determined. He moves in front of Harry before bending down on one knee and looking him right in the eye.
"Thank you very much, Harry," he says then, "for coming to me with this. For not trying to go after the Stone yourself."
Harry swallows hard then and nods.
"Thank you, professor," he whispers right back, steadily staring past his professor's shoulder.
He doesn't say it's for believing him. Or for all those hours spent helping him. Teaching him. Listening to him.
Prewett seems to understand anyway.
Harry doesn't find out what really happened to Quirrell. Not for years.
There are rumors, of course. A million of them.
Everything from a vampire attack to spontaneous combustion to alien abduction. Seamus insists that he's eaten by a zombie, but Dean elbows him in the side before he can go into much detail. Lavender and Parvati think maybe he ran off with a Veela – whatever that is. Neville is the only one with a sensible theory; Quirrell was fired or got into trouble for something.
Naturally, nobody really listens to him.
The last day of the school year comes quickly.
Harry passes all of his classes with excellent marks. Even Potions. He gets a note back from Snape with his final that he had the highest exam score in his year. Of course, Snape also writes that he shouldn't let it go to his head and that he'll be held to an even higher standard than before.
Gryffindor wins the cup.
It isn't hard to figure out why. Not with the fifty points that get added to their hourglass the same day that Harry tells Prewett about the Stone. Of course, nobody even notices since they're all too busy speculating about Quirrell.
But Harry knows, and Prewett knows. And that's more than enough.
The feast is especially excellent, and Harry goes to bed that night satisfied but quietly dreading the next day. He doesn't want to leave. Hogwarts is the closest thing to a home he has, and he hates even the idea of being with the Dursleys over the summer.
But dawn still comes despite his wishes.
The ride back is quiet, and Harry spends most of it looking out a window. He steps off the train with a heavy heart and heads toward the portal to the Muggle world slowly. The Dursleys are easy to spot. Vernon by his girth and propensity to resemble a walrus. Petunia by her horse-face and stuck up nose. Harry's almost over to them, but a voice calling out his name brings him up short.
Harry turns then to see Prewett striding over. He's shed his normal wizarding robe, and the clothes underneath are perfectly Muggle; they don't even earn him a raised eyebrow from the Dursleys. Not that they're really looking at him.
"Heading home, Harry?" he asks, but it isn't truly a question so much as an observation.
"Ah… yes, professor."
His hand squeezes Harry's shoulder as Harry notices his relatives finally spot him and come over. Petunia's face is drawn and narrowed, as if annoyed to be kept waiting. She stops just in front of him without a care to whoever might be watching and opens her mouth but abruptly closes it. Her face drains of color, and her eyes go huge. Beside her, Vernon looks over, too. His reaction is much the same. Only he seems even closer to fainting than his wife.
Harry belatedly realizes that she's looked past him to Professor Prewett. He's smiling now. It's all tooth.
"These are my relatives, sir." Harry nods to Petunia and Vernon in turn. "And this is my professor," he introduces.
Prewett turns to them. "It's a pleasure to meet you both." He offers his hand.
Vernon stares like he would at a snake. After a minute, he mutters something in place of shaking and immediately quiets afterwards. Petunia is still, white as a sheet, barely breathing.
Prewett doesn't even blink at their rudeness. Instead, he turns back to Harry.
"I hope you have a very good summer. Don't forget to keep on your studies." His eyes flicker to Vernon for a split second. "I'll know if you don't."
Harry blinks but purposefully ignores the strange undercurrent.
"Certainly, sir. I promise." He looks up at his teacher.
"Good, good." Prewett nods at him and steps back. "Feel free to owl me if you need anything, Harry. I'll see you soon." His smile is blinding as he turns.
Harry waves as he goes and keeps waving until he's out of sight. Vernon and Petunia don't dare move until then. They trade a shaking glance that Harry barely notices as he starts walking to the exit. He's smiling, too, he realizes. And then laughs.
He can't wait for school to start back.