Welcome, dear readers, to "Knowledge Comes At A Price", a crossover between 'Harry Potter' and the 'Elder Scrolls' universe.
I hope you'll have a good time reading this.
Gaining knowledge is the first step to wisdom.
Let's Make A Deal
Hermaeus Mora was not a friendly Prince. Not that he didn't know the sentiment, but it was not in his nature to consider someone a friend, he only ever saw others as a mean to an end... namely, gathering more knowledge.
As a daedra, he was a genderless, amorphous, tentacled and immortal creature from the depths of Oblivion. As a Prince, he was the Keeper of Fate, Forbidden Knowledge and Memory. Not good, nor evil, he simply was... and so was his vast and evergrowing realm, Apocrypha.
As a matter of fact, the Prince was currently contemplating the most unusual expansion said realm had gained a few years back.
In exchange for her life, some woman had asked him to protect her child, and he'd done so, if only to understand how she'd managed to reach him from another dimension. The infant saved and a pitiful sorcerer mostly disposed of, the Prince had enthusiastically claimed the woman's soul as payment, stabbing her ghost with an acid tendril to the gut and draining her of her knowledge. What he'd gazed upon, what had laid in the soul of his new contractor, had fascinated him.
Lily Evans Potter, while not originating from Nirn or another realm of Oblivion, having never even heard of Aetherius or the concept of Magicka, had somehow still been a witch. She'd been raised in a rather advanced society where magic was hidden by its practitioners, and had been so brilliant that she'd managed to breach the frontier around her dimension with merely a bunch of outdated magical theories dating back thousands of years and a pattern drawn in her own blood underneath her child's crib.
Mora's fascination had lasted... five good minutes. Then he'd focused back on that annoying Dragonborn messing around with Miraak.
After all, he had no reason to look at this world any longer. The woman, now a denizen of his realm, had nothing more to offer, and he had no other contractors or followers in that yet unexplored dimension… none but the child.
If the mother had opened the threshold, it was to her son that he was now linked, and it meant that he still had a foot… huh, a tentacle in this world.
Sadly, said child, one Harry James Potter, had been utterly boring for ten long years – not that time meant anything to a Prince. The kid had slowly grown, starved, been beaten around for accidental magic, and had stayed in enough darkness that Mora had surprised himself once by comparing the suffering child with one of Nocturnal's Nightingales.
But things were changing now, as the child had stumbled upon an artifact that had caused a raised daedric eyebrow… or a couple dozen, when Mora's form was taken into account.
It was a full mirror, frame golden and ornamented, reflective glass covered in enchantments. The Prince instinctively knew the value of what the boy was looking at, but the spells were weaved so intricately that he couldn't understand how it had been created.
He wanted it!
So he did the only thing he had yet to do… he extended his existence across the other dimension and contacted his little contractor.
Harry was lost in time, but above all, he was lost in both joy and sadness. His family was just here, he could see them clearly… but he was still alone. He wanted to cry and smile at the same time… maybe was he already doing just that.
"Yes, you are."
The Gryffindor stumbled and began to frantically look around him, eyes filled with fear and heart hammering in his chest.
Someone had caught him, probably a teacher. The voice had felt… slimy, could it have been Professor Snape? He would be expelled, and his wand would be snapped, and...
"Don't worry mortal, your little incursion remains unseen so far… by all but me, that is."
Harry suddenly realized that those words weren't coming from anywhere around the room. Instead, he was hearing them directly in his head.
"Who… who are you?" he stammered, any thought of expulsion now gone and replaced by a visceral fear of the strange and unexplained phenomenon. "What do you want from me?"
"My, aren't you a curious little boy?" replied the voice in a chuckle. "You do know that asking questions can be dangerous, right? Especially badly formulated ones, and even more so if I am the one providing the answers."
"Wha... what do you want?" repeated the stuttering young wizard, his whole body shivering at those ominous words.
If he had to describe the voice, he would say that it sounded poisonous.
"And you would be correct."
Wait, that... person, was reading his thoughts?
"Indeed, I am, but it doesn't mean that you must fear me. After all, your mother made me your guardian."
Harry's brain shut down temporarily, rebooting some interminable seconds later before finally registering the voice's last words.
"My hearing is just fine, young Potter. There is no need to yell." calmly stated the voice.
Despite the extremely unusual situation, the wizard felt himself blush at his brief laps in manners.
"Sorry…" he apologies shily, his light tone hardening immediately after as he repeated his question. "What were you saying about my mom?"
"Ten years ago, your mother, Lily Evans Potter, made me your guardian."
Something broke in Harry and he yelled once again.
"THEN WHERE WERE YOU? If my mother wanted you to look after me, why did you leave me with the Dursleys? Why didn't you take me with you? ISN'T THAT WHAT A GUARDIAN DOES?"
"I am not that kind of guardian, mortal!" boomed the voice. "My only task was to prevent your death, which I did. Your upbringing wasn't part of the contract."
Prevent his death? A contract? And he'd called him mortal, as if he himself… wasn't.
"... what are you?" asked Harry in a whisper, voice trembling slightly.
"Now that is properly formulated."
Somehow, Harry saw a grin, and his imagination was telling him that it had way too many fangs.
"My name is Hermaeus Mora, Daedric Prince of Knowledge and ruler of Apocrypha. In your eyes, that would makes me something akin to a god or a demon." replied the voice. "As for the contract, your mother managed to contact me on the night of her death and made a deal to save you."
"Voldemort, you stopped him." breathed Harry, finally understanding why he'd survived his encounter with the dark wizard.
"Indeed, I dealt with that pathetic excuse of a sorcerer, if only temporarily."
"Temporarily?" gasped the boy. "He's still alive?"
"Yes, that man turned into a wraith of sort and managed to escape my grasp, which is why I am still watching over you."
That worried and reassured Harry at the same time.
On one hand, Voldemort was still alive and would no doubt come after him. On the other hand, he was watched by a demon-god-thing under oath to protect him.
Suddenly, he saw the implications of that last fact.
"Wait, you said mom made a deal with you?"
The young wizard was terrified when he asked his next question, even more so than when he'd come face to face with Fluffy, Hagrid's cerberus.
"Then she… sold her soul for me?"
"In a sense, yes. Your mother provided me with the memories and knowledge she'd accumulated during her life, in exchange for my protection. I'm now your guardian, while she became a citizen of my realm."
Harry hadn't heard anything past the yes.
"She… sold her soul…to a demon…"
That was all he'd registered and all that mattered anymore.
What his mother had done for his sake was… horrifying. She hadn't just died, she'd gone as far as to strike a deal with an eldritch entity which had claimed her soul. She'd damned herself… for him.
"SNAP OUT OF IT, MORTAL!" boomed the thing.
Harry was temporarily startled, long enough for the voice to keep talking.
"What you're thinking couldn't be further from the truth that it currently is. I'm the Prince of Hidden Knowledge and your mother was lucky enough to contact me, instead of one of my siblings. She didn't merge with the shadows, her sanity is intact and I'm not torturing her either. She merely resides in Apocrypha and tends to the realm. Though she is a ghost, her afterlife is one many wizards and scientists would… well, die for, as she now has access to the infinite knowledge upon which I govern. Her act saved your life and offered her the afterlife she'd dreamed of since she herself received her Hogwarts letter. Don't you dare blame yourself, pity her, or demonize me."
The wizard was speechless. In fact, he felt as if he'd just been hit by a Bludger.
His mom had help him, and now she was… happy?
"Why would I trust you?" he asked warily.
For all he knew, that Hermaeus Mora character could perfectly be lying. Demons tended to do that, right?
"Well, I could tell you that I'm not Mephala, nor Boethiah, but that wouldn't convince you like it would Nirnians." replied the Prince. "So tell me, what would convince you?"
Harry didn't hesitate.
"Let me speak to my mom." he blurred.
"Of course, that would alleviate your doubts." said the Prince in an eerie voice, now sounding disturbingly happy with himself. "And you're lucky, I'm willing to let you speak with her. But before that, I must ask you to lend me your ear, for I have an… offer, for you."
"You see, making deals is rather unusual for me, as it is more Clavicus Vile's domain, but I make exceptions from time to time. Miraak, the Nerevarine, Septimus Signus, your mother and the Last Dragonborn are but a few examples among countless others. And now, I want to make another deal… with you."
Him? But why? He had nothing to offer, and wanted nothing anyway.
"Is it blackmail? You won't let me talk to my mom until I do what you ask for?"
"Nothing of the sort, no. The price for that is to hear me out and you are currently paying it. When this discussion will be over, you will speak to your mother, no matter your reply to my proposition. No, what I'm offering you is more of a win-win situation. Knowledge for knowledge."
"I want nothing of you."
"Oh, but you do. I can tell you who Nicolas Flamel is. And if it's not enough for you, I know what is stored on the third floor and who is trying to steal it."
"You do? But... how?"
"Does it really matter? After all, knowledge is knowledge, no matter where it comes from, right?"
Harry hated to admit it, but Hermaeus Mora was right. He needed answers, and he could have them… but at what cost?
"Such is the question, isn't it? No matter what you ask and what you receive, there's always a cost. And for this, it is fairly small… just give me the mirror."
He hadn't expected that.
"Yes, the one standing right before you. For ten years now, I merely watched over you in silence, so why would I suddenly manifest myself but to contemplate this wonder?"
He… hadn't thought about that either.
"That artifact intrigues me, I want it. Sent it to Apocrypha and I shall give you your answers."
"But… it doesn't belong to me. That would be a theft."
"What a terrible word. I prefer to see it as just a… borrowing. Once I'll understand its inner working, I will provide a perfect copy and nobody with ever notice that the original is gone."
Harry's conscience – strangely speaking in Hermione's voice – was screaming at him that it was wrong.
He was finding incredibly hard to listen to it, with such an opportunity presented to him.
"So that's it? The mirror for my answers and you're leaving me again?"
"Oh, but I'm never truly leaving you, mortal. I'm bounded by my oath, after all. "
Harry shivered. He didn't know why, but the idea of a higher being silently watching his every move was freaking him out… Okay, so he did know why, it was creepy enough just to formulate it like that.
Strangely enough, the wizard would prefer Hermaeus Mora to actively talk to him instead. It would give him someone… something, to speak with.
"I'm usually more of a silent observer, but I can bend that rule if that truly is what you desire. Though, as I stated earlier, everything comes at a cost. The mirror would be but a first trade. I'm willing to give you more, so much more… for as long as you pay the appropriate price."
Harry was hesitating now, and curious as to what he could receive.
"I'm the Prince of Knowledge, what would I offer but knowledge? Wandless casting, answers to your questions, spells and powers from my dimension, artifacts even… but always –"
"At a cost, I get it."
And now, Harry was no longer just curious, but feeling completely overwhelmed too. To cast magic without a wand, use spells never heard of before, and have all of his questions answered… the possiblilities seemed endless.
"And the cost for… more, what would it be?"
He had to ask.
After all, asking didn't mean that he had accepted yet, and he could always refuse if the cost was too high.
"Why, knowledge, of course. Thanks to our shared bond, your discoveries are instantly mine to use. Magical theory, physics, history, mechanics, computer engineering, even cooking, I'm not picky. For everything you can offer, that your mother hasn't already provided, I shall add… I guess you could call them brownie points, to your name. Every favor you ask of me will consume a number of points, depending of the size of said favor, obviously."
The wizard nodded, it seemed fair enough.
"Artifacts would be appreciated too." continued the daedra.
"And what exactly do you see as an artifact?" he asked.
"Any object that I can't, at the moment, understand nor recreate an equivalent of. The mirror is such an object, and shall thus grant you your answers." explained Mora.
"How long do I have to make my decision?" asked Harry in an uncertain voice, after quite a few seconds of hesitation.
"I am a daedra, mortal. Time is meaningless to me."
That was… convenient, and definitely too good to be true.
"So I can just give you my consent whenever and wherever I want?"
"That is correct."
Was it really? He honestly couldn't tell.
"Well, I heard you out. Can I talk to my mom now?"
"Of course. A deal is a deal, after all."
Harry's head was suddenly filled with static, making him want to throw up. Luckily, just when he was about to present every meals he'd eaten that day, the phenomenon stopped and he heard the most beautiful voice in the world.
The voice was sweet, caring… he could easily associate it with the face he'd seen in the enchanted mirror.
And all was well.
The reunion – more like an audio-conference, really – was tearful and lasted for nine minutes and forty nine seconds, the exact amount of time it had taken Hermaeus Mora to introduce himself and present his offer.
Lily Potter, nee Evans, shared a few experiences she'd lived through since her departure to the strange and perilous realm of Oblivion. Harry replied with experiences of his short time at Hogwarts. His childhood really wasn't worth mentioning.
In the end, the witch instinctively felt that their discussion was coming to an end. She berated him goodheartedly for sneaking out of his dormitory and urged him to return to his room. Mother and son wished each other a good night and, forcing tears out of the living speaker, concluded with a heartbreaking "I love you.".
Once the connection was broken, Harry, good son that he was, listened to his mother and hurried back to his dorm. Tired, but happier that he'd ever been, the young wizard entered his room and dropped like a stone on his bed. There, eyes shut closed, face pressed in his pillow, he whispered one last sentence.
"How do I send the mirror?"
As he fell asleep, the wizard managed to somehow hear the Prince's smile.
The mirror was send to Apocrypha in a bright emerald green light, using a blood ritual that his mom had designed herself. In fact, she'd guided him for the entire procedure. Hearing her voice for the second time in two days had achieved to convince Harry that it hadn't been a dream.
The fully working copy had been retrieved three hours later and left behind by a dumbstruck Harry who now had his answers, unbelievable as they may be.
Unbeknown to the young wizard, the swap had been done in extremis, as Headmaster Dumbledore checked on the mirror half-an-hour later… and saw nothing out of the ordinary. The Prince may appear to mortals as a slimy ball of ink, eyes and tentacles, but he still was a master when it came to understanding and applying knowledge. His fake mirror had just proven that.
But for the Gryffindor, those things didn't matter. What mattered was the crazy DADA instructor somehow reeking of Voldemort's magical aura and trying to steal a philosopher's stone belonging to one of the most famous alchemist of all time.
Thinking back to that time on the Express, when he'd read Dumbledore's Famous Wizard card, Harry couldn't help but feel really stupid. How had he managed to forget that?
Simple, he wasn't a daedra.
Anyway, he knew what, why, where and by who… now he just had to convince his friends, preferably without telling them how he'd figured it out. The hardest of all would be blaming Quirrell, because even knowing that the stuttering teacher was guilty, Professor Snape still made a better culprit.
Harry lazily floated around the Quidditch pitch, occasionally sparring a glance to Quirrell, Snape and his friends.
After Hermaeus Mora's revelation, remembering where he'd seen Flamel's name hadn't been that complicated, nor had it been to discover that Fluffy was guarding his philosopher's stone.
Pointing a finger not at the greasy potion master that everything seemed to accuse, but at the inconspicuous stuttering DADA professor with no apparent motive, was another matter entirely. He hadn't yet found a way to do it without revealing his connection to the Prince, which meant that Ron and Hermione were still watching the wrong person.
Bah, it didn't really matter. With Dumbledore around, Quirrell wouldn't do anything. He didn't have to check his back for a misplaced knife… or a killing curse. He could properly look for the snitch, win this match fair and square.
"For the love of Padomay, catch the thing already. It's on your six, by the western stands, three meters above the ground."
But whoever said that daedra cared about fairness?
"Stop it." hissed the wizard, despite himself throwing a discreet glance to confirm the deity's words.
The deity sounded so amused that Harry had to sigh. He'd been stupid enough to ask for a companion, someone to talk to, and Mora had accepted. The only payment required was proper conversations, else he would render them interesting by pestering his young contractor. Since then, the Daedra had profusely used that right, much to Harry's irritation.
Miffed beyond reason by the demon god's constant nagging and his own eyes that kept on turning back to the snitch, even if he didn't want them too, Harry caught the golden orb two minutes later, ending the match.
"You're loosing time, mortal." commented Mora, as Harry's teammates swarmed the Gryffindor common room to celebrate. "Read a book."
The daedra had a point, he needed to be ready to face Quirrell and whatever protections were layered around the stone. The victory felt hollow anyway, so Harry casually excused himself, claiming a headache, and returned to his dorm.
Curtains closed, soundproof spell up to shield him from the ongoing party, the young wizard dived head first into a defense textbook he'd… borrowed from the library.
He would pull an all-nighter.
"Akatosh must be so proud of you, little thing." said Mora, sarcasm evident in his voice.
"Shut up." hissed back his contractor, scratching the baby dragon.
"You said something Harry?" asked Hagrid, still trying to extinguish his burning beard.
Despite Hermaeus Mora's snarky comments, watching Hagrid hatch a baby dragon was a pleasant experience.
A bit less pleasant was getting caught by Malfoy, then McGonagall when the bloody ponce stupidly snitched.
A LOT less pleasant was being sent with his friends and the idiot into the Forbidden Forest to bust Quirrell during one of his unicorn hunt. The detention wasn't exactly formulated like this, but that was pretty much it.
Meeting face to hood with the possessed wizard was pretty horrible, the dark energy remaining in Harry's scar hurting through magical resonance from his mere presence. Sadly, not much could be done about Voldemort.
While Lily's sacrifice had given Mora enough power to deal with the sorcerer all those years ago, he'd done so at point blank range through a dimensional tear. Appearing now would require him to incarnate himself on this mortal plan, and while his foothold into the dimension was more than enough to utterly crush the wizard, the wraith would probably just escape again. The daedra didn't want to reveal himself to their enemy yet.
And so, he could only dim his contractor's pain, his essence seeping through their link and counteracting the dark magic.
"We need to bid our time." he later said, after a friendly centaur named Firenze had fought off the threat for them. "I won't strike unless I'm sure that it will bring his demise. Now, why don't you send me this unicorn while it's still fresh? I sampled an Nirnian one a couple hundred years ago, before Hircine had Sheogorath kill the last survivor, and I would love to look into their differences."
Harry tried his utmost best to ignore the Prince's words, unwilling to desecrate the pure animal by sending its corpse to a demon god.
As Mora's voice urged him to do it, he just smiled innocently to Hagrid when the gatekeeper asked about his health. Everything was fine, yes. After all, it wasn't like there was a black mage running around the school killing light creatures and bleeding them dry like a damn vampire, right?
"A vial of blood then? I'll teach you Sun Fire… or Life Drain, whichever you want."
There definitely wasn't a knowledge-junkie Prince bribing him into doing inappropriate things either.
Harry was seething.
Getting caught by Neville as they left the common room wasn't that troubling, nor was almost getting mauled by Fluffy, strangled by Devil's Snare and swarmed by murderous flying keys. Ron being thrown off his chess piece was equally inconsequential, much like the bloodied troll they'd discovered and Snape's stupid riddle. Hermione going back to their unconscious friend was completely understandable, and finding Quirrell standing in the last chamber totally expected.
But discovering that the precious stone had been stored inside Mora's duplicated Mirror of Erised, an artifact now linked to him through his daedric nature, meaning that the Prince had definitely known about it and could have easily retrieved the priceless gem at any given time…
Harry cursed under his breath as Quirrell followed Voldemort's order, forcing the boy to stand before the looking glass.
"Well? What do you see?" asked the man, his impatience showing in his tone.
Harry almost answered honestly.
He was seeing a Daedric Prince examining the priceless artifact. His mother was seating at a nearby desk, acting like a scribe and taking notes into an old grimoire. She even waved when she noticed her son and gestured toward his right pocket. The young wizard felt something appear in it, probably a counterfeit stone.
Then he realize that answering honestly would make him sound crazy. As interesting as Quirrell and Voldemort's reactions would have been, he instead settled for a half-truth.
"I see my family… watching over me..."
Close enough, even if his father wasn't exactly in the picture and the daedra couldn't be quite classified as family. Still, Harry managed to put enough emotion into it to fool Quirrell.
"You're lying! Where's the stone?"
Voldemort, not so much.
"Let him have it." whispered Mora, confirming by this mere acceptance that the stone was a fake.
In a real theatrical moment, Harry took a step back and put a protective hand over his pocket. It was perfectly interpreted and more than obvious enough for the dark wizard.
"In his pocket! Retrieve the stone!"
Quirrell didn't waste any moment, leaping forward and grabbing the boy by the neck. Harry began to struggle, more to put up a front than to prevent his maniac professor from completing his goal.
It proved way too efficient when Quirrell's skin began to roast upon contact. Whenever Harry's hands met his flesh, small arcs of lighting would leap across his face, slowly cooking him.
The possessed man began to shout in a mixture of surprise, pain and fear. He was toasted in seconds, reduced to smelly robes and ashes on the floor, his death unleashing Voldemort's wraith form into the room.
Harry's mind outrightly froze as it failed to register the impossible event, the wizard's eyes staring intently at his shivering hands. The shock was so great in fact, that he also failed to notice the ghost phasing through his body in an attempt to possess it.
Thankfully, bounded as they were by the oath, said body currently belonged as much to the Prince as it did to the wizard and Mora repulsed the parasite like one would a fly. The sorcerer met the unexpected resistance head on and was forced to flee the room, unable to grasp the true nature of his unseen opponent.
When Harry's brain finally unfroze, Voldemort was long gone.
The wizard's first coherent action was to yell at his guardian.
"WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?"
"A contact variant of sparks, a novice destruction spell." replied the daedra, sounding almost impressed. "You seem to have a natural affinity for lightning, mortal."
"I did this?" asked Harry, pointing a trembling finger at the pile of ashes.
"It… It wasn't your stone?"
"No, the stone was supposed to seal the wraith. By killing Quirrell, you allowed it to escape."
Hearing his ex-teacher's name and 'killing' in the same sentence, Harry had no choice but to acknowledge his recent homicide. He then reacted like any other eleven years old would.
Waking up to the headmaster's smile, listening to his soothing voice and caring words, didn't help alleviate Harry's feelings one bit. In fact, it only increased his guilt.
The man was comforting a murderer.
Dumbledore had to know that if, like he claimed, he'd been the one who had located him in the mirror chamber. He would have seen Quirrell's robes among the ashes and it didn't take a genius to understand that the boy who had survived the deadly encounter had done the deed.
Many visitors had come too, leaving gifts all around his bed. What would they say if they knew that he'd taken a life?
"Quit your whining, mortal. I reap new souls everyday and know for a fact that simply taking one miserable life doesn't deserve that amount of guilt and self-pity."
"Yeah, well excuse me for not being a freaking daedra and actually having emotions!" snarled Harry, pushing himself up to check around the room. It wouldn't do to be caught talking to himself by Mme Pomfrey.
"We all kill for a reason, our nature is irrelevant." said the Prince. "I kill to protect my realm, my interests or my reputation. Now tell me, why did you kill him?"
"It… it was an accident."
"Was it? Given the choice, you would have let him live?"
"That man tried to kill you for his master. Isn't his death a good thing?"
"Yes, but… I..."
"Good, then forget about him. His demise isn't yours to shoulder anyway, he was but a walking corpse, killing unicorns and feeding on their blood to survive the possession."
So... he hadn't really killed his professor, because he had been... what exactly? A ghost... no, a zombie? So he'd just... killed him again? Like an exorcism? In a sense, it had freed him? Thinking about it this way looked a bit more acceptable and the boy relaxed slightly.
But Hermaeus wasn't done talking yet.
"If not the man's own stupidity or unhealthy devotion –" continued the Prince. "– the wraith is to blame for this."
"Voldemort…" suddenly realized Harry. "He ran away."
"Let me guess, it isn't my fault either?"
"You sped up Quirrell's end, released the wraith and prevented the soul gem from doing its job. Of course it is your fault, mortal."
Harry was confused. Was he supposed to be relieved that someone was finally recognizing his responsibility in this mess, or totally mortified about it?
"But again, I can't really blame you for it."
"Are you FREAKING KIDDING ME?"
"He tried to possess you, to usurp your body. Whoever resorts to that sort of tactics doesn't deserve any sympathy. If someone tried to mantle me, I would kill that person too."
"So what? Because he used a dick move, it makes me innocent?"
"No, it doesn't. It merely makes your action more comprehensible."
With a halfhearted "Good.", Harry dropped back on his bed. Later that night, he would dream of crimson eyes and black wisps of smoke.
Harry's stay in the infirmary had only lasted until supper of the next day. He'd then been released from the nurse's hospitality and allowed to join his comrades for the end of term feast.
He'd walked into the hall, been applauded by three quarter of the school for supposedly besting He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named – Slytherin wasn't all that happy about this – and received additional points for doing so, winning the House cup – Slytherin wasn't all that happy about this either.
The young wizard had then spent the night lying, smiling while what he truly wanted to do was yell. They'd rewarded him with house points and smiles? Really? He'd killed Quirrell dammit... sort of. But most of all, he'd freed Voldemort. The wraith would come back one day, and probably kill a good chunk of the population. All of those deaths would be his fault, if just partially. What was wrong with them?
Oh, right. They didn't know. What he'd done, how he felt… they had no idea. Ignorance, that was their problem.
He kept on smiling.
The few remaining days were filled of just as much falseness, and the ride home wasn't any better.
The Hogwarts Express was supposed to be a happy place. The students were expected to forget what they'd learned, eat unnecessarily-sugary treats, talk about their love-interests, discuss their holiday and promise to write over the summer.
Harry did all that, just without the expected joy. He never once mentioned the emptiness in his guts, keeping it to himself.
Empty, that's how he felt ever since he'd allowed the darkest wizard of this century to escape. Oh, he didn't blame himself for Quirrell's death anymore, it had saved his life and probably his friends' too, he'd come to term with it. But justified or not, it had still enacted a chain of events that would undoubtedly result in more deaths... or worse, another war. The mere implication of what he'd done would give him nightmares for years. It would also fuel his growing insecurity and paranoia.
Voldemort was out there now, waiting for an opportunity. From what he'd read in the library, entire squadrons of his old followers were also laying low. The combined menace was just too much for a mere student, but by taking a life, he'd sort of ceased to be a mere student. He'd turned into a fighter, a survivor...
The eleven years old wasn't all that thrilled about it.
Sadly for him, Hermaeus had abruptly told him that, excited about it or not, he had no choice but to fight now. The Prince had already sent him a spell book for that sole purpose, sparks, the destruction spell he'd used by accident. It was just a novice shock spell, but it would be absolutely invaluable for him, even more since the thing would apparently consume his opponent's magic. Casting it didn't even require a wand.
The healing spells he'd been offered as payment for delivering the Sorcerer's Stone worked in a similar manner and he would now get to mock the Ministry's surveillance systems and practice over the summer despite being underage.
But if he was to trust the Prince, that summer would be quite profitable for both of them for another reason entirely. It sent a shiver down Harry's spine.
He wasn't sure if it was out of fear, or out of impatience.