Disclaimer: Nothing is mine; everything is J K Rowling's.
The obligatory warning for those of fickle faith in fanfiction.
I will point out here that using single quotations instead of speech marks is perfectly legitimate, it's the standard format for the agency I submit my actual manuscripts to and since I'm not using double quotes for anything I doubt it's particularly confusing for anyone. I'm not changing between the two styles when I write fan fiction or original, as that will end in chaos and errors everywhere.
Most of the warning comes here. There is a certain level of immersion required at the beginning of this fic. It doesn't technically just continue on from canon third year like every other GoF divergence fic on the site, this is a bit of an AU/divergence hybrid. In other words that AU in the summary is there for a reason, but I didn't want to write out an almost identical version of canon for his first three years.
For the purpose of explaining the key difference - Harry wasn't inexplicably resilient to the Dursley's treatment of him, but rather developed into a very introspective, internalised individual, as I believe you would if your only real company for your entire life was yourself. So while the events of canon happened without change, and Harry's canon-like surface personality is real, beneath it lies the incredibly introverted product of his upbringing and it has very slightly affected all his relationships. That's really the only change that justifies the AU marker and all I have to say. You can read and judge for yourselves!
Additionally, as of October 2015, since I write fast, don't have a beta, and find it hard to find my own errors, anyone who is particularly offended by the scattering of mistakes and wants to help is more than welcome to do so. I'm not sure exactly how, and most my readers don't seem to mind too much, but suggestions are appreciated.
The delighted, if still slightly strident, tone of the female third of the golden trio cut straight through the rather pleasant absence of thought he had been enjoying.
'Hermione,' he smiled. She hadn't changed over the summer at all.
Harry had heard, overheard technically, since his piggish cousin had been talking to his lackey Piers Polkiss, that girls suddenly turned into beautiful women in their teens. It had sounded rather like Dudley expected it to happen overnight like some odd, human caterpillar. There was little doubt in Harry's mind that his understanding was based off an extremely limited experience of girls and one too many adult magazines.
Hermione certainly did not conform to Dudley's theory of female puberty. Her hair was every bit as unmanageable and bushy as before, rather like his own if he was honest, and all the sort of personifying flaws his moronic cousin had assured his equally stupid friend would vanish - from her worried lip to her slightly disproportionate teeth - still existed. She would not be Hermione without them, just as Ron would not be himself without freckles and Harry could not be Harry without his glasses.
'How has your summer been? Have you started studying? What are your classes? Have you dropped divination yet?' Harry blinked. A summer at the Dursley's hadn't prepared him for the sudden burst of attention. For all their disgust at anything abnormal his aunt and uncle had been quite content to simply ignore him of late. It was a vast improvement from previous summers and the eleven years beforehand, but he had grown used to being his only source of counsel as the months had passed.
'It was okay actually,' he admitted, trying to keep track of the other questions streaming at him.
Perhaps I've spent a little too long in my own company, he decided.
Being the focus of attention had never been particularly attractive to him, especially when he was younger. Over a decade of being ignored had left him withdrawn and resigned to the permanence of the distance, until a letter had come that offered hope of something more. Harry had leapt at the chance, but his newfound fame had left him as unnoticeable has he had been in the normal world. Only a handful of people had grown close enough to be trusted with his innermost thoughts, amongst them he had done his best to be open, and for a time he had forgotten that he had once been nobody at all.
This summer had reminded him, no matter how much of his time he had spent studying in an attempt to forget.
'And your classes? Divination?' Hermione pressed insistently. Harry tried not to physically retreat from the onslaught of attention.
'Runes, arithmancy and yes, I dropped divination.' She gave him a questioning glance. 'Trelawny was starting to run out of original predictions for my death,' he shrugged in explanation. He didn't mention his interest and summer study of wards; that would have started Hermione off on a tirade.
'You can't take fourth year runes or arithmancy without knowing the third year course,' Hermione explained with an all too familiar mix of concern and condescension. 'You'll have to study to catch up or join the third years. You should have studied in the summer,' she stressed. He had to suppress a laugh at the horror with which she contemplated being in a class with the year below.
'I'm sure I'll find a way,' Harry answered casually. Most of the time he had spent on his own - all three months of it - had been devoted to those very subjects, as well as the magic that he should have already known. Having caught up and even surpassed the level of knowledge he was supposed to have Harry was quite shocked he had ever been able to perform half the magic he had. The fact that he had had to learn a basic definition of casting magic itself was proof enough that he was nowhere as great a wizard as Dobby professed. It did not matter how much of his magic he poured into a spell if his focus and intent were lacking.
'Where are the Weasleys?' Hermione asked again after a moment.
'Attempting to pack, I think,' Harry answered sharing a knowing glance with his friend.
'Ron,' she sighed.
'Harrikins.' The enthusiastic cry of one - seemingly nobody could really tell which - of the twins came from the stairs of the Burrow behind him and then the entire family was around him chattering excitedly.
It was quite loud and everyone suddenly felt quite close. Harry shifted uncomfortably.
'Is everyone here?' Mrs Weasley bustled around, pausing only to attempt to convey some semblance of some tidings on a bleary-eyed dishevelled Ron. 'Honestly, Ronald,' she sighed in passing, 'Percy was ready before you and he's not even interested in Quidditch.'
There was a murmur about the divine crouch and some passing reference to the slipping standards of cauldron bottoms from the twins behind him, but the sudden, disorientating whirl of motion and noise only seemed to end when they were seated again.
Magical transport was certainly one of Harry's least favourite forms of travel, ranking second only to the unpleasant taxi service provided by his uncle. Thankfully such occasions were few and far between as the nauseous feeling caused by the portkey was only beginning to fade now he was sitting still.
To one side of him he had the twins and Ron locked in argument and the other belonged to Hermione and Ginny the latter of whom was trying to explain the rules of the sport to the muggleborn girl.
'Bulgaria will win,' Ron confidently declared as Harry leant in to at least appear to be joining in one of the conversations around. 'Krum is brilliant.'
'We disagree Ronnikins. Far be it from us to dispute the talent of the mighty Krum -'
'-but our money is on the Irish.'
'Technically, George, our money is on the Irish and Krum,' the other twin, presumably Fred, corrected.
'Very true, George, very true. Ireland to win, but Krum to catch the snitch.' Apparently they were both George today and Harry briefly wondered if they even considered one of the names as their own at all, or just used both.
'I still think Bulgaria will win it,' Ron argued stubbornly. 'Krum will get the snitch long before the Irish can score that many points.'
'Stop fighting,' Ginny hissed across the front of them all, 'the teams are coming out.'
She spoke in front of me.
Harry blinked. Evidently her crush had faded at least a little. He smiled for the first time since touching the portkey. It had been unbearably awkward spending time near Ginny when his very presence seemed to cut off all higher brain function.
The Bulgarians had the sort of cheerleaders Harry was used to seeing in the American high school drama shows Dudley gawped at in his room when he thought his parents weren't watching. Those cheerleaders hadn't moved with the ethereal grace of these ones. They didn't have silver hair that made you want to run your hands through it, lips so obviously soft, eyes so lustrous and bright, or curves quite so perfect.
He peered closer, entranced, and was suddenly gripped the fervent desire to seize their attention, to do something, anything, that would attract their eyes to him.
But I hate attention, a little voice in the back of his head reminded him.
It would be nice for them all to respect you, though. The voice's second statement sounded uncomfortably like Tom Riddle and the charming, intelligent innocence he had portrayed so perfectly in his diary.
Harry's desire to be seen vanished abruptly.
A glance around him showed that the majority of the wizards around him were still enthralled by whatever that sensation had been. He leant back into his seat, suddenly rather tired, and waited for the actual match to begin.
The Quidditch World Cup final commenced in a blur of motion that, without their previously purchased omnioculars, would be completely lost to them.
Harry really rather preferred playing quidditch to watching it. Above the game as seeker he was set apart from everyone, free to drift, move and act as he willed, but this was still spectacle enough to get his blood racing.
The crowd roared and something caught him on the cheekbone. The jerk of his head from the blow knocked his glasses from his nose.
The omnioculars were lost into the rows below.
Peering under the chair he caught a glimpse of reflected light from his much abused lenses. It was too far for him to reach sitting down. As swiftly and unobtrusively as possible he summoned them back to his hand with his wand. They were, inevitably, scratched, so he repaired them with a wordless tap of his finger. The mending charm was the first and only spell he had managed to cast both wandlessly and silently; he had been forced to learn to do so after falling asleep reading in bed and rolling over his glasses. It had taken him almost two days.
Slipping his wand back into his sleeve rather than standing to return it to the pocket of his jeans he replaced his glasses and shot a wary glance at Hermione. If there was one person he didn't need to see him performing silent spell craft it was her. Her admiration and pride would last only as long as it took her to realise that she couldn't yet perform them. Harry imagined that his friend would disappear into the library for weeks to correct things and he would prefer to be able to spend time with both her and Ron. It was unbalanced without both of them there.
Fortunately both Hermione and Ginny were busy fixing something with disgusted glares and so hadn't noticed his unexplained prowess.
A brief glance showed the victim of their distaste as the referee who had, rather embarrassingly for him, stopped to dance in front of the Bulgarian cheerleaders.
He's a terrible dancer.
Harry laughed quietly to himself at the poor wizards antics. When he realised what he had done, mid-game no less, he would be mortified.
'They're veela,' Hermione whispered to him. 'I haven't really read about them, but I did come across a reference in a potions books about amortentia.'
'Isn't that a love potion?' He asked amusedly, raising an eyebrow suggestively.
Hermione flushed scarlet and Ginny, who had been listening from the far side of her looked away, flushing as red as her hair. 'Harry, be serious,' the bushy-haired witch hissed angrily. 'Veela have the ability to charm most men. They look like very attractive women, but they're not completely human.'
Harry threw another, longer glance in the direction of the Bulgarian team's cheerleaders and was again struck by the same compulsion as before, but, unlike last time, he ignored its suggestion immediately.
'Interesting,' he remarked. 'I'm still curious why you were reading about amortentia, though.'
The scarlet returned to her cheeks and Hermione huffed, turning her back to him to speak to Ginny instead. She seemed quite upset over something so small, but Harry knew better than to press her on the issue.
He leant back in his seat again, allowing the lights and noise of the crowd to drift away as he focused on the mind-clearing techniques that were supposed to help him focus his intent for magic. Without the aid of the omnioculars he could only make out blurs and the drifting figures of the seekers.
His concentration was broken a moment later by a massive roar from the crowd and he had to clap an arm to his face to prevent an ecstatic Ron from clipping his glasses once again.
The reason for the noise soon became clear. Viktor Krum, Bulgaria's prodigiously young seeker had caught the snitch. His strong jaw and brows were set in a determined frown as he hung, one hand raised above his head, over the stadium.
Harry fancied he could just make out the twitching wings of the snitch within his grasp, but the seeker himself seemed rather unimpressed with the ending of the game.
The scoreboard explained why. Despite the points earned for his catch, Bulgaria had still lost.
The veela cheerleaders had not seemed to realise as they danced victoriously, drawing the attention of many wizards in the stadium, and it was only when the booming voice of Ludo Bagman announced the result that they stopped to look up at the score.
Their reaction was instantaneous and shocking. Feathers sprouted along the arms of many, their eyes grew dark and wide, lips and chins elongating into cruel beaks.
Not completely human at all.
Despite their new, dangerous appearance they somehow still retained their grip on the men near them and Harry couldn't deny that they were still attractive. It was something he found slightly disturbing, feathers and beaks really should not call to him in such a way.
'Time to head back to the tent, Arthur,' Mrs Weasley suggested. Her husband nodded, one eye still on the veela, half-enraptured, half-concerned about the conjured, blue flames in the hands of the more irate of the former cheerleaders.
There were a lot of steps down, the stadium was steep and high, and Harry was sure he hadn't walked up any where near as many on the way. He voiced as much to Hermione who turned, the glint of knowledge in her eye.
'It's a very clever space manipulation spell,' she enthused. 'You put your feet on a step and the space is stretched upwards so you actually go up much farther than you think. It's like a tiny magical escalator for each step really.'
'Means an awful lot of different sets of steps for different levels though,' Ron added grumpily. His attitude had deteriorated rapidly after the twins prediction of the result proved true, but he was right. There were almost ten times as many sets of stairs as he would have expected.
'It's brilliant, Ron,' Hermione began again, looking to be moving straight into her lecturing tone. Sure enough within moments she was explaining the runes and arithmetic principles behind the idea. Harry did, quite surprisingly, understand most of what she was saying, so it was with some relief that he could tune her out and leave Ron to weather the barrage of her intellect.
The tent was far more comfortable than he had expected. In the brief visit he remembered between separating from Cedric Diggory and his father and making their way to the top box he had only glimpsed the interior. Most of the journey had been spent trying to ignore the sickness caused by the portkey travel and Ron's incessant complaining about the perfect student that was Cedric Diggory. Cedric had seemed perfectly agreeable to Harry. The well known Hufflepuff was kind, intelligent and modest. His only flaw seemed to be proud parents, something Harry could hardly begrudge anyone as an orphan.
Well, maybe Malfoy, he decided. Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy really had very little to be proud of in his opinion.
More interesting than the surprising comfort, or the increasingly frustrated attempts of Hermione to explain her references to Doctor Who as down to the same sort of spacial manipulation they had used on the tent, was the abundance of gold galleons that the twins seemed to be in possession of.
'Look at all this, Harrikins,' they grinned. 'Bagman bet against our prediction, gave us good odds too.'
'It ought to be enough now, Fred,' the twin wearing the jumper emblazoned with the letter F crowed triumphantly.
'Indeed it should, George,' his twin replied hurriedly shovelling armfuls into their trunks. 'Best get it out of sight before mum comes and sees we've been gambling, though.'
They both knelt down and started scooping the pile away. Harry snorted, and moved in the direction of his bed. It was still loud, fireworks were constantly exploding above the tents as the Irish celebrations began and he begun to grown uncomfortable with it again.
Harry passed a still arguing Ron and Hermione, Ginny had vanished into the girls' side of the tent and Mr and Mrs Weasley were quietly talking by the entrance. The three elder Weasleys had all vanished. Bill and Charlie, who he had yet to exchange more than a greeting with, had disappeared off to join the party and Percy had taken to trailing after Mr Crouch, his boss, like an adoring puppy. Percy seemed unaware that not only did Crouch not know his name, but most of their one-sided conversation was about the missing official, Bertha Jorkins. Mr Crouch did not seem overly upset she had vanished.
The part of the tent that he would be sharing with Ron was blessedly dark and far quieter than the rest. Settling himself down on the cot designated his he waved his wand over his clothes, transfiguring them into something more comfortable to sleep in. This was the sort of magic that Harry had come to appreciate of late. The everyday spells and enchantments that made everything so much easier even if they weren't as spectacular as a corporeal patronus or the more dramatic applications of conjuring and transfiguration seen in wizards' duels.
It was early for him to be sleeping, normally he would stay up into the early hours of the morning reading, but all the noise and action around him had inexplicably tired him out and there was nothing he wanted more than to sink into blissful sleep.
Something shook at his arm and he stirred, instantly alert in unfamiliar scenery. 'Harry,' Mr Weasley hissed. 'We need to leave now. Get Ron and Hermione and get out of the camp. Stay together.'
It took a long moment for the seriousness of the situation to sink in, but he nodded, rubbing at his eyes and fumbling for his glasses on the table next to him and his wand.
Ron was by the entrance of the tent with Hermione. They both looked slightly pale as they peered out into the camp through the door.
'Come on, Harry,' Hermione whispered urgently tugging at his arm. He frowned at her, pulling his arm away long enough to re-transfigure his clothing, annoyed at her closeness. The sound of screams from close by in the camp quickly made him forget about Hermione's grip on his arm and they fled from the tent towards the woods through the chaotic crowd.
There was smoke in the air from the burning tents in the camps' centre. It drifted, thick and choking over them and Harry had to duck beneath it to breath and see. People were running all around him in every direction, screaming, shouting and crying.
Flashes of light cast eerie shadows against the veil of smoke and the dull echo of explosions rang over the roar of the flames. Somewhere in the chaos Hermione had lost her grip on his arm, but he could still hear her shouting at them to run to the trees he could glimpse across the next few lines of tents.
Something hit him hard in the side of the head and with a flash of white light everything vanished.
Harry's face was warm. Too warm. It was uncomfortable and he immediately tried to shift away from the heat. A wet, sticky something adhered his cheek to his shoulder, but it broke when he flinched back from the heat.
His glasses were still on his face. Harry was so surprised he could see he almost didn't notice the flames that were engulfing the line of tents no more than a few metres from him. He scrambled to his feet. Ron and Hermione were gone, but he hoped they had made it to the trees and were safe.
What caused this?
He doubted the fire had started naturally. It seemed unlikely in a camp full of magic users that a simple fire could cause so much damage and, being himself, he imagined there was probably a more sinister reason. This time, he hoped, it had nothing to do with either Voldemort or dementors. He had had enough of them for a lifetime.
Maybe a dragon, he decided. That would be preferable and explain the fires. Dragons were dangerous, but he reckoned he could distract a dragon easily enough and from what he knew they were only really dangerous when guarding their eggs. Harry had absolutely no intention of trying to steal a dragon's egg. He wasn't Hagrid.
It was horribly, unsettlingly quiet as he walked through the ruined camp. The fires had mostly died, but the ash and embers were still warm through the soles of his shoes and the charred remnants of furniture or worse crunched beneath his heels no matter how hard he tried to be silent.
There were shapes under the ashes and Harry tried very hard to ignore those that were vaguely humanesque. The fire had already passed over this part of the camp, anyone lying under the ash would be dead and uncovering them would only serve to give him worse nightmares.
There was a blinding flash of light and something hissed viciously over his head as he reflexively ducked.
Twisting about and slipping his wand from his sleeve he had just enough to throw himself out the way of two more sickly purple curses. He rolled in the ash, catching a glimpse of a thin, almost skeletal wizard, draped in black robes.
'Lacero,' the robed wizard hissed viciously and another purple curse flew at him. Instinctively Harry summoned one of the awful looking shapes out from under the ash into the path of the curse.
'I must remain unseen and behave,' the wizard muttered monotonously, seemingly to himself, but his wand snapped up to unleash another trio of curses that tore through Harry's makeshift shield and grazed his left arm.
'Expelliarmus,' Harry tried one of the few spells he knew that were useful for duelling. It ricocheted harmlessly of some kind of shield into the smoke.
'Stay unseen,' the wizard repeated more loudly, but in the same detached tone. His wand had trembled and his free hand came up to press against his temples so hard his knuckles turned white. 'No,' the voice of his attacker shifted suddenly, growing cruel again, 'the Dark Lord will reward me beyond all others.'
'Expelliarmus,' he repeated, hoping to catch him off guard. His opponent laughed with more than a hint of madness as the disarming spell failed again.
'Crucio,' he cried delightedly, releasing the crimson spell gleefully.
'I'm free,' he exulted as the curse tore past Harry's hair. 'When I take you to the Dark Lord I will be his most trusted servant, loftier than Lucius, greater than Goyle, better than Bellatrix,' his laughter warbled disturbingly.
He is utterly insane, Harry realised.
A second torture curse narrowly missed him, but the third caught him on the arm and he collapsed into the hot embers curling up around the pain.
'I am his most loyal follower,' the mad wizard laughed through a deranged grin. He raised his wand again, its tip glowing with sinister magic.
Desperately Harry slashed his wand at the Death Eater. His only desire to stop this madman from harming him again.
The ash swirled against the wind.
For a moment the laughing face of the mad wizard was unobscured, then a vast, ebony serpent lunged from the ash cloud, its fangs closing around the Death Eater's chest with a sickening crunch. The snake crushed the wizard into the ground beside one of the few lingering fires and vanished in an explosion of hot smoke.
The mad wizard didn't move.
Harry hesitantly approached, his wand outstretched and shaking.
The Death Eater's chest and robes were a ruin and Harry had to look away to avoid being sick. He gagged twice before stepping back and pressing his hand to his mouth. The ribcage of the wizard was shattered inwards on itself, bright, gleaming, points of bone poked sharply from the mess of black tatters and red something that the ash serpent had left behind.
Harry cast a desperate look around him hoping to glimpse another person in the smoke. A wizard or witch who would step up alongside him and reassure him by saying the snake was their spell.
Nobody stepped from the smoke.
He slumped down in the ashes facing away from the body, shaking but unsurprised nobody had come. The summoned ash serpent had looked far too familiar to be the product of any mind but his own.
After all, I'm likely the only person to see a basilisk since Tom Riddle and Moaning Myrtle. Tom Riddle would not have saved his life and the very idea of the emotional, weeping ghost casting such a spell was ridiculous.
Harry began to laugh. It came out unsettlingly high-pitched and wavered as his body trembled.
The fire beside the body burnt through something important and popped loudly. Startled, Harry's head snapped round instinctively to see the remains of the tent collapse across the body, shrouding it from sight.
There was nobody else around. No one had heard their duel and he dared not roam any further across the camp. He was cold and shaking too much to stand, even though he knew he should try and find Ron, Hermione and the Weasleys.
The ash was soft, and warm in an almost comforting way, so he wrapped his arms around his knees and hunched into himself.
I think I'll just stay here for a bit.