A/N: Hello! Thanks for checking out Certain Dark Things! This is an eight-part AU retelling in which Harry Potter is born a girl and later Sorted into Slytherin House. The story explores a world in which various pieces of Voldemort's soul have gained sentience and exert their own influence over Magical Britain.
Pairings: Harriet / Snape in Part 8 (Harriet is 21 and no longer a student). Hermione / Draco. Sirius / Remus. Elara(OC) / Fleur. Parts 1-7 concentrate on plot (adventure, mystery, themes of sisterhood, House pride, coming of age) more than any romance.
Tags include: AU, Canon Divergence, Fem!Harry, Slytherin!Harry, Slytherin!Hermione, OoC!Neville, OFC, No Character Bashing, Violence, Angst, Horror, Necromancy, Pure-blood Politics, Child Abuse, Powerful!Horcruxes, Magical Theory. Later parts contain some darker themes.
- Now in Part Three -
1. THE PHILOSOPHER'S STONE
hell is empty and all the devils are here. - w. shakespeare
prologue. deathly reverence
The girl had barely begun to live before her life ended in a flash of green.
Caught in the space between here and there, she might have drifted until the end of time, when the world would shudder and smoke and snuff itself out with a final, seething hiss—if not for a peculiar twist of fate that brought the looming specter of Death to Godric's Hollow on a desperate October night in 1981.
You see, Death never needed to waver far from the side of the man who called himself Lord Voldemort. For all that the Dark Lord despaired and spat upon his inevitable end, he danced willingly enough with his invisible nemesis and delighted in sending soul after soul into Death's waiting hands. Death took what was given to him, he wouldn't turn away those who crossed the Veil, but with every life lost and every flicker of green light, Death came to loathe the spiteful monster just a little bit more. He watched the soul break piece by piece by piece. Voldemort didn't have sovereignty over the end; he had no right to feed Death like a corpulent cat nipping at his master's heels.
For his lack of reverence even in the face of utter terror, Death hated the man who was born Tom Riddle all the more.
It was on the night of Samhain, when the Veil drew taut between the two worlds and the looming specter could almost step out into the realm of the living, that Death followed Voldemort to Godric's Hollow. He took the soul of the father, watched him crumple upon the carpeted stairs as Tom stepped over the man's limp corpse. He took the soul of the mother, heard her beg for the life of a terrified, black-haired child clinging to the rails of a crib.
He heard the mother's soul whisper, "Spare her."
Then Voldemort raised his wand for the third time, his silhouette a gruesome sight in the watery glow of a nightlight, the sweeping motion of his arm practiced like a reaper hewing through the stalks of a summer harvest. Green light struck the crying infant and splayed across the crook of her neck in a sizzling mimicry of lightning—only for something to go wrong, some resplendent hitch of gold ambiance that blinded even Death himself stealing through the small nursery. The wall exploded outward. Another piece of Tom Riddle went flying away from the rest of his wretched being.
Death watched Voldemort flee, the man's pale visage shaken, his soul hemorrhaging—but ignorant Tom felt no remorse for what he had done, only a sick remnant of fear from witnessing the curse sling itself back in his direction, and so his soul found no respite as the Dark Lord fled into the night. Death didn't follow. Instead, he remained and looked down upon the still form of the infant with red seeping from her neck, her green eyes frozen, her being tangled in the net between this realm and the next.
Shadowy fingers slipped across the child's brow. Strange, Death mused as he plucked the girl's soul from the Veil. He knew this soul; had come across it in another time, another place, another world, and had called it Master. The bit of Tom that had splintered from the already ravaged whole had twisted itself about the girl, strangling her soul like a determined snake, but something of the mother remained in a vein of gold suppressing the parasitic fragment.
Try as he might, Death could not steal that piece of Tom's wretched soul. It clung with unrivaled ferocity to the girl's in an attempt to consume and subvert it—but the innocent soul did not give in. It persisted, burnished and brilliant despite the taint trying to tear it apart.
An idea occurred to him.
He returned the soul to the girl. A shuddering breath escaped fragile lungs, and then weeping split the air, the great, gasping sobs of a wounded child shattering the solemnity of Death settling upon the broken home. The girl had lost everything in but a handful of minutes.
Death sunk into the shadows spilled about the crib's base. Perhaps not everything.
i. the shadow of the serpent charmer
The Dursleys of Number Four, Privet Drive, liked to think they were as normal as normal could be.
Really, they turned normalcy into an art form; Mrs. Dursley fancied herself a model housewife, Mr. Dursley the consummate businessman, and their son a rosy-cheeked, boisterous lad. Petunia Dursley—tall, blond, thin and rather horsey in appearance—cleaned house, gossiped with their equally nosy neighbors, and always had supper on the table by five in the evening. Vernon Dursley was a heavyset man with a black mustache and little hair on the crown of his head. He worked as a director at Grunnings, a firm that produced drills, a career so thoroughly mundane even his office was painted a boring beige. Their son, Dudley, often returned from school with a note or two of reprimand from his teachers, but they put off his antics as examples of youthful enthusiasm.
Yes, the Dursleys were perfectly bland. By all expectations, a soul would be hard-pressed to ever find a family duller, more average, more ordinary than the Dursleys of Privet Drive.
They did, however, have a secret—a secret who lived in the cupboard under the stairs, a secret the Dursleys hated to acknowledge, a secret they denied and ridiculed and feared in equal measures.
Her name was Harriet Potter, and she was not a normal girl.
The sudden rapping of knuckles on the cupboard door jerked Harriet out of unsound dreams. Groggy, she rose from her nest of well-worn blankets—and whacked her head on the underside of a stair riser.
"What was that?" demanded the shrill voice on the other side of the door.
"Nothing, Aunt Petunia," Harriet slurred in response as she fumbled in the dark, her thin fingers curling around the cool metal of her wire-framed glasses. Her dream stayed with her like a filmy shroud of mist. She tried to wipe it from her skin, but the malignant sense of oozing dread remained, and when Aunt Petunia slid back the latch on the cupboard door, Harriet remembered that something had been there in her dream, something scrabbling at the handle trying to get inside. She shivered.
The door came open, and Harriet's eyes watered in the harsh brunt of morning sunshine. Aunt Petunia crouched at the entrance, wearing an apron already spotted with flour, glowering at the scrawny girl sitting in a dizzy heap atop her cot.
"Get up and get breakfast ready," she snapped. "And you'd best not burn the bacon."
"Of course, Aunt Petunia," Harriet said, because there was nothing else really she could say. Harriet watched as her aunt sniffed and rose, turning on the heels of her white shoes before pacing back toward the kitchen. Harriet swayed for a moment and weighed the repercussions of falling back into her pillow against Aunt Petunia's eventual wrath. The black shadows in the cupboard created by the narrowly focused sunshine curled and twisted in such a way that was not at all typical for shadows to behave. The tendrils solidified into a rather comical approximation of an arrow and jabbed toward the waiting hall.
Harriet snorted. "Yeah, alright, I'm up and going, Set."
In her own opinion, the strangest thing about Harriet Potter had to be her shadow—or, to be more precise, the creature who lived within it. He had been there for as long as she could remember, and she knew he was a he because of the vaguely looming, masculine shape he took when he stopped hiding underfoot. One of her earliest memories was of him making shadow puppets on the ceiling of her cupboard just to make her laugh. She knew nothing about him, really, and had only ever gotten three words out of the entity in the all the years she'd been testing him: "yes," "no," and "Set," which she later came to understand was his name.
Harriet was not like the Dursleys. She was thin-boned, green-eyed, and messy-haired—an ugly crow chick kicked too soon from the nest, short and skinny and pale from living in the dark for the better part of ten years like Gollum in her favorite storybooks. Her thick glasses had been picked from a bin at a local charity shop, and her hand-me-down clothes were stained and carelessly hemmed by her Aunt within an inch of their life. Whereas the Dursleys were fleshy and loud and red in color, Harriet was dry, quiet as the wind through winter trees and just as lackluster in hue. Her mum had been Aunt Petunia's sister, but Harriet just couldn't imagine coming from a woman related to anything Dursley.
She also had a scar upon her neck she had supposedly received in the accident that had killed her mum and dad ten years ago. A curious thing, it stretched from her right collarbone up around her throat and down part of her chest in fractal patterns, like branches of lightning spiraling through her flesh. The white color of the scarring stood out stark against even Harriet's pale skin, and her aunt often sneered whenever she caught sight of the strange marking. She wondered if the scar reminded Aunt Petunia of her sister Lily.
Sighing, Harriet shuffled out into the hall, feeling grubby and disheveled from sleeping in the stuffy dark of the cupboard. She ran her fingers through her short hair in a vain attempt to flatten the wilder spots, but nothing Harriet ever did tamed the mop on her head. Several times she'd pleaded with her aunt to let her grow it out, but Aunt Petunia had no time from her "scruffiness," and so every other month or so the woman took a pair of kitchen shears and hacked off Harriet's hair until it was only vaguely longer than a boy's. Her classmates often mocked her and called her "Hairy Harry." Harriet hated that.
The smell of vanilla and cinnamon invaded Harriet's nose when she walked into the kitchen and she sniffed in appreciation, glancing toward the oven to see Aunt Petunia moving a baked cake from its pan onto a cooling rack. Bowls of mixed frosting and little tacky decorations littered the counter. Harriet stifled a groan when she remembered it was Dudley's eleventh birthday.
Should have stayed in bed.
The boy himself came barging in not a minute after Harriet finished frying up three plates of bangers and mash and more bacon than a reasonably sized pig could provide. Dudley was blond like his mother and rotund like his father—more so, in fact. He had all the presence of a garishly colored beach ball, especially in his striped t-shirt already stained with what looked like chocolate on the collar. Harriet wouldn't have held his weight against him if Dudley hadn't of been such a terrible little monster. He and his gang of friends loved to chase her down, and though Harriet was often quick enough to evade him, Dudley had caught and sat on her once. Harriet broke two ribs and spent two days whinging about the pain before Uncle Vernon took her to the emergency room.
Dudley toddled over to the table groaning under the weight of wrapped presents with a gleeful expression on his face. "How many are there?" he demanded of his mother, ignoring Harriet's presence entirely as she slid plates of food onto whatever clear space she could.
"Thirty-seven, Diddykins," Aunt Petunia crooned as she came up behind her son and smoothed his combed hair. He looked a bit like a pig in a wig to Harriet, but she wisely kept her opinion to herself.
If Aunt Petunia expected Dudley to be grateful, she had another thing coming. "I only count thirty-six," he said, sullen color rising in his already pink cheeks. "Thirty-six. That's two less than last year!"
Aunt Petunia went about trying to mitigate the boy's oncoming temper tantrum and Harriet turned a deaf ear to the conversation, going back to the kitchen proper so she could pop a piece of bread into the toaster and slather on some peanut butter. She thought of her own eleventh birthday looming on the horizon, just a month away, and knew there'd be no celebration, no happy affection or hugs or warm kisses on the cheek. There'd be no presents for her, of course. There never were. The Dursleys abhorred spending any amount of money on selfish little freaks like Harriet.
She couldn't help being a freak, if that was indeed what she was. Sometimes odd things occurred around her, odd things that infuriated her aunt and uncle and terrified the daylights out of Dudley. Harriet didn't think it fair for them to blame her, especially since she couldn't explain why these things happened in the first place. Sometimes objects fell off the counter, and she had a sneaking suspicion Set was to blame, though she never caught him in the act. Once, Uncle Vernon's pant leg burst into flame when he stood over Harriet threatening to smack her upside the head for her cheek. Another time the television exploded while Harriet wasn't even in the room, though she had been fervently hoping someone would turn the roaring volume down.
They could hardly blame her for such oddities. It wasn't like someone could set people on fire with their mind.
Though, to be honest, Harriet rather liked the idea; she thought the Dursleys could benefit from having the seat of their pants set alight every now and then.
The phone rang and Aunt Petunia tutted about solicitors interrupting breakfast as she got up and went to answer the handheld. At the counter, Harriet polished off the last bit of her toast and looked glumly down at the crumbs on the plate. She'd go for a second piece if she didn't think her relatives would snatch it right out of her hands for being greedy.
"Bad news, Vernon," Aunt Petunia said as she returned, her face scrunched in a look of displeasure. "The old woman just called. She can't take the girl; something about a broken leg."
Harriet perked up. The "old woman" in question was Mrs. Figg, an elderly widow who lived the next block over on Wisteria Walk and had a mildly obscene obsession with cats. The Dursleys left Harriet with the woman whenever they went on vacation or somewhere exciting, not that Harriet minded much. She imagined even the best places would be atrocious in the company of her relatives, and Mrs. Figg was nice enough. She was odd, but Harriet liked off things and odd people. Sometimes she gave Harriet leftover cake.
As Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon argued, Dudley threw a right fit about "not wanting her to come," his voice ringing in the confines of the house. Apparently they had an outing at the zoo planned for today. Harriet loved animals and, for a moment, the thought of going to the zoo sounded fascinating—until she saw the look in Dudley's piggy eyes as he glared at her over Aunt Petunia's shoulder.
No, going to the zoo would be a bloody nightmare in the making.
"I'm supposed to do the garden today," she said aloud, raising her voice high enough to be heard above their yelling. The Dursleys stared, Uncle Vernon quickly approaching a shade near violet. "So I could, err, just do that while you're gone?"
Her aunt and uncle exchanged pointed looks, Uncle Vernon seemingly pleased with the idea, Aunt Petunia more suspicious of Harriet's motives. "We can lock her out in the garden," Vernon said softly, hand on Petunia's arm. "It's a pleasant enough day out, plenty of water—a day of chores will do the lazy runt some good."
Harriet almost—almost—rolled her eyes. Rolling one's eyes was quite high on the list of things one shouldn't do if they didn't want to get swatted.
Aunt Petunia fretted a bit more, Dudley's great, heaving sobs cutting off with haste when the doorbell rang and Petunia went to greet Piers Polkiss, Dudley's best mate. Uncle Vernon quickly ushered Harriet out the back door while Aunt Petunia was distracted. The lock engaged behind Harriet with a decisive snap.
A different little girl may have been terrified of being shut out in the yard for much of the day, but Harriet was quite enthused. She sat on the porch steps with the morning sun hot on her head, listening to the voices inside dwindle, then shift out into the front. She could hear Uncle Vernon's booming laugh, then the clap of car doors coming closed. A minute later, the engine to Uncle Vernon's brand new company car turned over, and the wheels rumbled on the asphalt as the Dursleys drove away.
Harriet's shoulders slumped. From the bushes came a rustle of broken twigs.
A voice rose from the bed of Aunt Petunia's prized violets. Harriet hopped off the porch steps and crouched in the grass, her arms around her knees as she peeked through the bright leaves and saw a slender body slide through the mulch. "Ssspeaker," the little grass snake said again as it raised its narrow head.
Ever since she was young, Harriet had been able to understand snakes. They sought her out for conversation and addressed her by the assumed title "Speaker." Harriet didn't know what a Speaker was—well, aside from the obvious. She didn't know why she was different in that regard and simply decided it was yet another odd factoid on the ever-increasing list of reasons why Harriet Potter was not normal. Next to having a sentient shadow and occasionally sparking accidental fires, Harriet considered chatting with snakes a rather tame quirk.
"Hello," Harriet said. "You have pretty scales." She had learned early on that the smallest snakes usually weren't overly bright and were only good for short bursts of conversation.
"Thank you, Ssspeaker," the snake replied, swaying as if mesmerized. Another snake moved in the bushes and addressed Harriet, their sibilant voices twining together as they hissed out that title again and again. Harriet wondered what it was like to be a snake. Would it be better than living here, at Privet Drive? Maybe. Maybe not. Harriet didn't think she'd much like the taste of mice or bugs, so she had better stay a little girl.
"There's some crickets in the hedge, you know," Harriet told the little snakes, pointing out the boxwood off by the locked garden gate. "Should be enough for both of you."
Both little snakes thanked her before zooming away like flickers of light in the parched grass. She was feeling rather maudlin about the day, as she always did around holidays and special occasions, but Harriet decided everything really wasn't all that bleak. In fact, she was looking forward to the start of the new school year; she'd be attending Stonewall High, a local state secondary school, and for the first time in her life wouldn't be in class with her bullying cousin. Dudley had gotten into Uncle Vernon's old public school, Smeltings. Harriet wouldn't have to see Dudley for almost ten months while he was away.
Smiling, Harriet stretched herself out on the lawn, feeling the warmth of the earth press into her back as her shadow stretched long at her side and one of the grass snakes returned, its hissing muffled by a mouthful of cricket. It wound about her ankles, and though the pressure of the thin body felt odd and ticklish, Harriet thought it comforting.
"Things are going to get better. I'm going to make friends and do my best and Dudley won't be about to stop me!" she said to no one in particular, though Set did spool around her in a great black circle. He spiraled in feathery coils not unlike those of a giant snake. "Everything is going to be alright."
Set pooled through the upturned blades of grass and seemed to go on forever.
Disclaimer: I do not own the Harry Potter franchise or any of its recognizable elements. This is a fan-made recreation of the original series made for fun, not for profit. Please support the official release.