Disclaimer; I don't own Harry Potter, nor do I advocate anything in this fic.
Albus Dumbledore looked out over the Great Hall and the students gathering within from his secret balcony high in the rafter and obscured by the sky light charm. If someone knew where to look they just might have spotted him, but the first years were too busy being entranced by the wonders around them, and the upper years rarely stopped to look at the ceiling. In a few moments he would have to go down and put on his barmy old codger routine, but before he did he wanted to observe someone.
When Harry Potter had left at the end of the spring term, Dumbledore had been very worried. The loss of his Godfather and the revelation of the prophecy had weighed very heavily on the boy's shoulders. The Order had asked that he send them a note every three days so that he could have some time and space to sort things out, while still being assured of his safety. At first the notes had been dreary and depressing, but almost two weeks into the holiday Harry seemingly surged to life. His notes were full of joy and hope and he could often be seen lying on his front lawn simply staring at the clouds.
It was not long after that when Harry dove into studying certain subjects with a passion. He had asked Dumbledore for the loan of a school owl because he felt that Hedwig was too distinctive to be used for owl orders. Moody of course took this as a sign that Potter was finally learning something and arranged for a different owl to be sent every three days with a reply to his letters. Over the summer, the Order members reported a great number of comings and goings from number 4 privet drive by owl order. Whatever Harry was up to, the Order hadn't figured it out.
But it was not a happy or studious Harry Potter that drew Dumbledore to his airy perch this evening. There was something off. From what he could gather, the young Malfoy scion had attempted to rile Harry and his friends on the train ride north. This was not too unusual, petty jealousies and grudges often manifested in verbal taunts; it was Harry's response that was cause for concern. Instead of flying into a rage and defending his friends' honor like he usually would have, Harry calmly raised his wand and said something no one had been able to understand. The results when the unknown spell had hit young Draco were nothing short of awe inspiring. The English language lacked the correct words to describe the transformation that overcame Malfoy, but visionary authors like Lovecraft might have been tempted to invent a few. Perhaps words like "squameous," "eldritch," or "bastard half breed of man and giant squid" could come close but they weren't quite right.
Kingsley Shacklebolt who had been riding the train as an extra precaution soon arrived on the scene. After dragging Harry bodily out of a conversation about imaginary beasts with Luna Lovegood, Kingsley asked him what spell was used. Harry told him the incantation, but it made no difference. According to Shacklebolt, he had never heard of the spell and before that moment would never have thought the human throat could produce those sounds. Kingsley used a portkey to take Malfoy to St. Mungo's Spell Damage Ward where he might one day be cured before coming to report the event to Dumbledore.
Harry walked into the Great Hall eager to start his sixth year of schooling at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He was feeling quite happy, everything seemed to be going his way recently. Oh sure, losing someone who might have been a family member if the universe didn't hate them both wasn't a great thing, and that prophecy was annoying, but everything else was just fine. He hadn't heard his relatives yelling at him all summer, but perhaps that was the result of the ear plugs with built in silencing charms he had bought the previous year to block out Ron's snoring. Yes, things were definitely looking up. Even Malfoy was out of the way.
While he walked to his place Harry admired the ceiling, something most people didn't bother to do anymore. It was a shame really, it was a great piece of magic and people just ignored it. While thinking up amusing shapes in the clouds, Harry spotted Dumbledore staring down at him. He gave a polite wave of greeting and went back to his cloud watching while waiting for things to start. Absently he pulled out a flask from inside his robes and drank the barest sip before replacing the cap and returning it to his vest pocket.
The sorting progressed with another warning to become united, and several threatening gestures from certain Slytherins. Clearly they missed the point. Harry wondered what kind of indoctrination young first years received that lead to a House producing sadists and dark wizards. Young Gryffindors were told stories of great members of their house who did brave things and rescued fair maidens. Harry recently heard that young Hufflepuffs were told stories of loyalty and honor even in the face of death. Cedric Diggory had almost been canonized by his housemates in the last year, and Harry shuddered to think about how many Gryffindors were going to be hearing about his adventures tonight. Assumedly the Ravenclaws passed on their own tips, whether study aids or tales of wisdom. But what did Slytherins hear? What House traditions produced the Dark Lord and his Death Eaters?
It was early in the first week back that the Professors began to notice something was off. McGonagall was the first to encounter a problem. The assignment was a review of where they had left off before the OWLS, they were to change a guinea fowl into a guinea pig. Harry had done quite well in the spring, managing a complete transformation on only his third attempt. Now however, things progressed differently.
With a flick of his wand and the appropriate incantation, the guinea fowl was transformed into a winged guinea pig with garishly clashing body parts. The wings were acid green while the body was a roaring Gryffindor scarlet. The little mutant decided to make its escape and flapped its furry wings, flying around the room. McGonagall managed to stun it on its second pass by her desk and returned it to the snickering sixth year. She passed it off as a simple fluke until a small pink bird began singing the moment she turned her back.
McGonagall just couldn't understand it. His wand movements were perfect, she couldn't hear anything off in the incantation, but each new attempt yielded an improbable or impossible creature or plant. How he got a plant out of that she would forever wonder. She stopped him when he produced a baby blue rabbit. Perhaps there was something faulty with his wand. She handed him her wand to try, and yet again he produced impossible results. She tried with his wand and got the correct results immediately, so it had to be something wrong with Potter or his magic.
Charms class saw similar improbable events, though those could more easily be passed off as showing off. Defense with the new Professor Montgomery soon yielded a counter curse to Malfoy's mysterious ailment, but no one could quite pronounce it except Harry. The strange "squid boy curse" as it came to be known was revealed to pass through almost any shield and unless someone were good with silent spells almost guaranteed a win in any duel. Herbology showed no strange occurrences except that Harry would occasionally hum to himself.
The change in Harry's performance in Potions was most remarked on. Nothing that Snape or the Slytherins said or did rattled him. He moved with a zen like calm as he prepared the potion assigned. The teachers didn't know that Harry had more than one use for ear plugs apparently. There was a slightly glazed look in his eyes as if he were not paying attention, but his ingredient preparation and timing had grown by leaps and bounds. The single most astonishing thing, if you ignore Harry actually getting the O required to join the class, was what happened immediately after the lesson. Harry politely asked Snape a question about potentially hazardous interactions by ingredients within separate potions.
Harry explained that over the summer, he had tried to spy on the Dark Lord by using a Diviner's Draught, containing Caapi vine, to enhance his inner eye and turn it inward across their link. At the same time he took a headache and sleep potion containing passionflower to put him in a dream state and dull the pain contact with the Dark Lord brought. Apparently Caapi and Passionflower should never be mixed, a topic he was berated by Snape for not already knowing, so he wanted to know of other ingredients that might be used in the divining potion and/or anything he should avoid mixing similarly. Snape insulted his intelligence and potion making skills for a bit before providing the information. Harry just accepted the abuse and ignored it without rising to the bait.
Dumbledore tried to assure the staff that it must be some kind of accidental magic brought about by an early magical maturity. They failed to see how this accounted for previously unknown spells or amazing emotional control, but it might explain the problems in Charms and Transfiguration. Snape was convinced it was all some form of practical joke and they were being made fools of unawares. Everyone however was glad that Rita Skeeter was not around to start in with the theories of insanity or a disturbed nature again.
Ron went to wake up Harry for breakfast on Monday of the second week, only to find him missing. A quick note had been penned and left on his pillow.
I'm going to go train to fight that evil guy so I won't be around much. I have no clue how long this will take, but I'll be down in the Chamber of Secrets if anyone needs me. The house elves said they wouldn't mind looking out for me. Have fun and don't do anything I wouldn't do. Except running off into danger, I might do that but none of you are allowed to.
Ron immediately notified Dumbledore and McGonagall, but as soon as they reached the second floor girls lavatory they saw the flaw in this plan. The only parselmouth was on the other side of the parseltongue locked secret passage. This could prove troublesome.
Harry looked over his set up in the Chamber. He had only the barest essentials, but that was probably a good thing given his plan. He took a small sip from his flask and got to work.
He hauled out his cauldron and expanded it until it would hold at least fifty gallons. Next came the shrunken parcels of potions ingredients he had rush ordered the previous week after his talk with Professor Snape. He sorted the Damiana, Skullcap, Passionflower, Caapi Vine, Fly Agric, Datura, Diviner's Sage, Baby Woodrose, Syrian Rue, Ergot, Valerian Root, Lotus, Blue Lily of the Nile, Wormwood, San Pedro Cactus, and venom collected from a rare South American frog. The cauldron was filled halfway and set to boil while he prepared the ingredients. He had cleaned out the stock of all four of the apothecaries he knew of for each of the ingredients. When the parcels were returned to their normal size, Harry had well over a hundred kilograms of materials to work with. He sliced, chopped and then powdered half of each ingredient.
Over the next several hours Harry added each of the powders to the cauldron and let them dissolve, starting with the least magically active and working his way up. He infused raw magic at every step and followed some inner guidance to know which direction to stir and how many times. If there were any objective observers, they might doubt there was a plan at all beyond random combination of everything Snape warned him to never combine. Harry did have a plan for his potion however, it was hazy at best and the details changed from moment to moment, but there was a plan.
He stopped for lunch, provided by the house elves, once all of the prepared ingredients had been added. The cauldron was nearly full now, simmering a hands thickness from the rim. It had taken on an emerald green color and positively pulsed with the raw magic he put into it.
By evening it had simmered down to only a few gallons and Harry made his last modification. He sprinkled a powdered bezoar over the potion, stirring one turn clockwise followed by one turn counterclockwise for ten repetitions. The bezoar counteracted all the simple poisons that had leached into his potion from the plants and left only what he sought. The potion was not the single greenest thing Harry had ever seen. It was an opaque green of the most vibrant shade, almost metallic, and glowed a steady light in the dim illumination of the chamber. Harry scooped out a large goblet full of the potent green liquid and looked around the chamber as best he could. The other potion he constantly consumed had an interesting effect on his perception, but it was one he could work through. He had no clue what this would do to him.
His last glance at normality taken, Harry toasted the statue of Salazar Slytherin and drained the goblet. Almost immediately colors, sounds, and sensations overwhelmed Harry's senses in a dazzling manner. The Chamber of Secrets, formerly a drab and dreary place was now almost a playground of fun waiting to happen. Harry relaxed and enjoyed the feelings at first, but after a while his mind tried to claw its way free of the potion's effects. Several hours later his mind managed to assert itself over the manufactured reality and Harry knew what he had to do. He lowered the goblet into the potion and drank again before he fought his way over to the cot and fell asleep watching animals so bizarre that Luna Lovegood would call him crazy if he described them.
Over the next few weeks, Harry consumed goblet after goblet of the reality destroying potion. As soon as he regained control, he drank another goblet. He studied, ate, slept, and worked under the control of the potion. He read his books and discussed them with the many small blue elves that shared his new reality. After the first cauldron of potion was consumed, Harry made a second. This one he boiled down until it was double the previous strength, and the process began anew. In the moments of total lucidity before drinking another cup full, Harry wondered if his mind would ever recover. The house elves who delivered his meals also arranged to take his letters and return his orders for more potion supplies.
Finally after Harry had conquered the double strength potion, he made one last batch with the new supplies and set aside the remainder of double strength for later. He pushed so much magic into it that batch that he was sure the cauldron was going to explode at any moment. He boiled that batch from a full fifty gallons until it was only a bare mouthful. This was placed in an unbreakable vial and corked securely. He would wait to use it until the very last minute because even he didn't know what effect it would have on him.
After taking a much smaller dose of his double strength potion, Harry cleaned everything up in his area and packed up for his return to Hogwarts proper. Aside from the great finger paint mural he had been inspired to create, there was no sign that he had lived there.
It was early December when Harry walked into the Great Hall for lunch. He hugged his friends with warmth and enthusiasm but ignored their questions about what he had been doing. Hermione especially would never understand. Luna might, but he was an awful lot like her now. Her mind had been shattered by trauma, his was molded by choice. When the midday meal was over, Harry stayed in his seat and waited for the inevitable tide of professors. He would probably fail this year anyway, but it was one of his many sacrifices to secure a victory. If there was only one benefit to the potions, it was that he was a lot happier to make those sacrifices now.
Sure enough, Professors Dumbledore, McGonagall, and Snape converged on him the moment the last student left the hall. Harry took another sip of potion and brightened as they approached. He brushed aside all concerns for his health, grades, or what he had been doing for the past three months.
"Professor Snape, I need you to pass on a message since you're the spy. I'm going to do something here on Christmas morning that will destroy Voldemort once and for all. Tell him it is some forgotten Light ritual or something."
"Potter, surely even you cannot be so foolish. The moment he hears that he will come here and attack you before you are ready." Snape snarled at him.
"Just do it. Everything will be ready at noon on Christmas Day. I have a plan."
Snape looked to Dumbledore and received a nod, then swept out of the room heading for the dungeons.
"Now would you care to share this plan with the rest of us Mr. Potter?" McGonagall asked archly.
"Sure, I want him to come here so I can kill him. I lied to Professor Snape, I'm ready right now, but I just didn't want to have the Dark Lord show up while there are still a lot of students around."
"Just like that?" She raised her eyebrow. "You expect to win when You-Know-Who attacks?"
"Well one of us has to. Between you and me, I've grown kind of fond of this whole living thing so I plan to keep doing it."
"Marvelous plan my dear boy," Dumbledore patted him on the shoulder. "We were just hoping for a few more details, like how you planned to accomplish this."
"Oh I'm sure I'll figure it out when the time comes." Harry assured him. "I'm afraid that I won't be able to attend classes until after the hols at the earliest. My plan is very… Let's just say I'm going to need some time to recover when this is all over, and until then I'm not in any condition to work."
"I see," Dumbledore said slowly, even though he didn't. "So what do you plan to do in the mean time?"
"I think I might like to go flying, it's been almost a year since I had a proper chance to do that. I'll see you later Professors." Harry bounced to his feet and skipped out of the hall.
"He's gotten worse." McGonagall observed. "You don't think he's really cracked do you?"
"I don't know. I've watched him since he came in. There were moments when he was completely lucid and collected, and others where he had the attention span of a goldfish. This casual and cheerful apathy about important issues like schoolwork and the war worries me." Dumbledore told her. "He doesn't appear genuinely crazy, but nor is he completely sane. It's like he has reverted to a happy go lucky five year old."
"You can't revert to something you've never been." The Gryffindor head reminded him sourly.
Soon the winter holidays were upon them and the children flocked home to their parents for a bit of fun. The Weasleys, Hermione, and Luna all stayed out of concern for Harry and because they knew that somehow he planned to confront the Dark Lord. Harry however seemed to be sucking every last moment out of every day, living each day without worries or fears. He spent a lot of time with his friends just enjoying their presence and soaking up the moment.
Christmas Day arrived and the teachers could cut the tension with a knife. The wards and alarms started shrieking at half past eleven, indicating that the Dark Lord had indeed arrived early. Harry just shrugged and walked to the entrance hall. Since he had not had any potion that day in preparation, he was remarkably sane and lucid. Harry was confident his plan would work, but still slightly nervous about what he was going to do.
Throwing open the doors, Harry looked down the drive at Voldemort and his Death Eaters. The Dark Lord had brought his inner circle, and Harry could feel Dementors in the distance. The approaching attackers stopped halfway up the drive when they saw their target calmly walking towards them. Everyone saw Harry pull out a small vial of potion and gulp it down before collapsing to the ground. After a few moments the young hero struggled to his feet amid gasps from his friends. He swerved a bit and was having trouble holding himself upright as he took the last few steps towards his sworn enemy.
"Potter," Voldemort hissed in anger. "You need potions to walk straight and you really think that you can defeat me?"
"I don't know, why don't you find out for yourself?" Harry struggled to hold his head steady and look Voldemort in the eye.
Taking the bait, Harry felt the Dark Lord dive into his mind as if his meager attempts at occlumancy didn't exist. Once he felt the intrusion, Harry released all the control he had over the potion's effects and let the hallucinations and alternate realities wash over them. They both collapsed under the flood of visions and began spewing gibberish at the top of their lungs.
Harry recovered first through long practice with mind altering substances. He grabbed hold of the mental thread Voldemort used to enter his mind and thrust it deeper into the drug induced haze. Looking around him he saw that Aurors and Order members had been fighting the Death Eaters while he and Voldemort fought their own minds. He struggled over to the fallen Dark Lord and used the last of his strength to bury his potions knife in the evil wizard's chest. Voldemort made one last struggle to free himself from Harry's mind and prevent his death, but Harry put all his weight behind the knife and held on despite the body's flailing beneath him. The body gave one last shudder and went still as Harry felt the presence in his mind fade and the connection in his scar snap.
"We've won!" Harry gasped out to the people around him before surrendering control once again and relaxing into the flow of images and sounds. A smile crossed his face as he slipped into unconsciousness, the mental battle having drained his strength.
It was a good while later when Harry woke up again. He opened his eyes to see the pristine white and antiseptic smell of the Hospital Wing. He wasn't quite sure how he could see the smell but that was the only thing he could equate it with. When he moved his arm trying to find his glasses, an alarm started going off and Harry heard shouting across the hospital wing. Within moments, Madam Pomphrey was handing him his glasses.
"How long was I out?" Harry asked with a parched throat.
"Just over a week. What were you thinking taking that potion? When Professor Snape analyzed the residue in the vial, he ranted for hours that he told you never to mix any two of those ingredients. What in heavens name were you thinking?" She asked while checking him over with her wand.
"I was thinking that I had to win at any cost. When I had a potions accident over the summer, life suddenly had meaning and there was hope. I needed that feeling, I just wanted to feel normal. And then as I took more and more I lost control. By the beginning of the term I was taking a dose of my accidental brew every few hours to get through the day but had to focus to ignore the hallucinations. Then one of the little blue elves told me to embrace them. I began wondering how much a human mind could take. If I could build up a tolerance and learn to work through a dose that would send anyone else to see you, I could use it as a weapon. So I created the most powerful drugs known to man and took them day after day until they no longer affected me. Then when the Dark Lord came, I invited him into my mind after taking something that would kill most people. He didn't know how to fight it, and I did." Harry admitted.
"But what about the cost to your mind, Harry?" Dumbledore asked with sadness in his voice as he walked over from the door.
"It was a sacrifice I had to make." Harry said with resolve. "He had years of magical training over me. I would never have won in a fair fight."
"So that is why your coursework suffered? You just weren't living in the real world anymore?" The headmaster asked.
Harry nodded and looked to the Hospital Matron. "So how much longer are the potions going to be in my body?"
"You should be all the way back to normal now," she told him. "Once Severus told me what I needed to cure, we flushed all the chemicals out. It was like a drug dealer exploded in your brain."
"Yeah, I think I may have met him a few times," Harry smiled to himself. "But what about the rest of this, when will it go away?"
Pomphrey looked concerned and shined a light in his eyes, "Are there any lingering effects?"
"Ugh, don't do that, it's too bright. It is like my senses are messed up. I can see smells and feel noise. Maybe there are other things I haven't noticed, but I'm not sure. I haven't been fully sane since just after the end of term, so some things have become normal to me."
"Like talking to blue elves or casting spells no one else can pronounce? Those could be signs of long term brain damage, or they might just be lingering effects that will go away. It's too soon to tell." She told him.
"If that's the price I had to pay, so be it. Right now I just want to see my friends again without resisting the urge to laugh at the strange creatures on their shoulders."
"We need to talk to you about those potions first." Dumbledore said sadly. "Harry, these things are not healthy. Yes you defeated Voldemort, but it could just as easily have killed you. They destroyed your ability to make rational decisions and interrupted your life. Did you even stop to consider that Voldemort might have just killed you on sight instead of letting you try your plan? Did you consider what that would mean to the rest of your friends or the world? You can't keep doing this Harry, we nearly lost you."
"I know sir. This summer did not start out well for me. I can make excuses about why I was weak and continued to take potions I knew were affecting my mind, but I won't. I will just promise you that I won't be taking them anymore."
"That's a good start Harry. Why do you say that? Is it just because that is what I want to here?"
Harry sighed heavily, "No Professor, it is because I don't want to be taking them anymore. When the potion wore off or it was time to brew another batch, I knew it was all false. The euphoria and visions were nice, but they were completely fake. When I started I had nothing left. Now I have everything. My life is mine to control again and there is no threat of certain death anymore. There is so much I want to do, and I don't need imaginary things or potion induced good feelings when I can have the real thing."
"You don't know how glad we are to hear that Harry." Dumbledore beamed.
"Probably as happy as I am to be able to say it." Harry returned the smile and Madam Pomphrey brought him his clothes.
"You do understand that we will need to watch you, at least at first?" Dumbledore asked cautiously.
"I understand and it is alright, just remember that it is my life to live from now on. I may act a little differently than I did in the past, but that is just me without anything holding me down and not crazy drugs destroying my brain." Harry said as he gestured to his headmaster to leave so he could change.
They talked for several more minutes about the dangers of what he had done, and Madam Pomphrey made him promise to come visit in a week so that she could check if there was brain damage. Eventually they agreed to let him out of the wing to visit with his friends, but insisted that he return to stay overnight in case anything happened.
As Harry walked out the door of the infirmary and headed out to start his new lease on life, he saw a familiar face. Standing beside the door, dressed in a pretty flower themed outfit, was a tiny girl elf. Tears leaked from her eyes as she looked up at him.
"Did you mean what you said? That you didn't want anymore imaginary things now?" She asked.
"They told me the drugs are gone, but you are still here. I guess that means you are real after all Toots." Harry held out his hand for the blue elf maiden.