I was running through my writing folder the other day and came across this. I'd nearly forgotten about it.

I started writing this nearly a year ago now, along with Manslayer, but I lost interest at some point at the end of fourth year. Like Manslayer it was (very obviously) influenced by Rurouni Kenshin, or more specifically Seta Sojiro (poor Sojiro, he didn't deserve this). It's probably not written on the level I write now (whatever that may be), and Harry is probably super even with Himahou hardly half-mastered ('cause I actually wrote out all the moves in Himahou-ryu, and trust me, Jushiki: Yurei kicks ass), but with forty-one pages written and a sortof ending that knowing me could be passed off as intentional...

Well... As much as I think Jushiki: Yurei rocks, Harry doesn't use it in what's written. Honestly, he couldn't if you actually wanted a story. We are talking uber asskicking to the level that no one can touch you, 99 percent of people cannot perceive you, and you can still slice them to ribbons. Hell, slice a thousand people to ribbons in fifteen minutes... tops. Himahou was actually the style used by Harry in Manslayer, so anyone wondering how he managed to decimate Voldemort's army single-handedly will wonder no longer.

Anyway, enough blathering. Harry's not mine (and he thanks Merlin for it), and neither is Rurouni Kenshin (or we'd see Battosai much more often).

BTW, Harry smiles (A LOT). Yes, I know that. There's a reason it's called "Always Smiling."

Always Smiling

1988, Surrey Primary School Playground

Harry smiled as Dudley's gang approached. He knew what was about to happen, knew that he could run if he so tried; but he knew that running would only prolong the inevitable, would make it worse when it occurred.

"Well, look who it is," Dudley said grinning in a fashion Harry guessed was meant to look contemptuous - it served only to make him appear constipated. "If it isn't Potter."

Harry's smile widened a bit, as though he were glad to see his pig of a cousin. It served to narrow his eyes to near shut - the eight-year-old couldn't yet make the grin show in the luminescent green pools.

"Hello Dudley!" said Harry cheerfully. "How are you today?"

The cruel amusement that one would never expect to see in a pack of eight-year-olds dimmed slightly. It wasn't enough to stop what they planned to do, Harry knew, but it'd be shorter at least: there was no fun in beating someone who wouldn't resist.

The scrawny rat-like boy standing beside (and partially behind; Harry couldn't see him all that well) Dudley sneered - at least, Harry thought it was supposed to be a sneer - and said in his squeaky voice, "We're kind of bored, you know, Harry. So we decided to play a game."

Harry tilted his head to one side, eyes widened innocently. Game indeed. "Oh really? And I get to play too?" Smile - the teachers were looking this way.

"Yup," said another boy - something Walker, if Harry remembered correctly. "You get to be the most important player."

The teachers had looked away again, too immersed in gossiping to really care what was happening. It didn't matter. Harry was almost completely out of sight, surrounded on all sides by overweight bullies and their hangers-on.

Harry's smile widened once more, eyes almost completely shut. "Let's play then!"

Predictably, Dudley got in the first hit. His meaty fist landed soundly on Harry's cheek, and the smaller boy pulled away from the force to lessen the impact. It still hurt, but not so much as it would have; and Harry looked up from the ground into his cousin's face, smile never faltering.

And then they were all on him, and he was twisting and turning and lessening the force of the punches and kicks that landed, smiling all the while as he made the actions look unintentional - he even laughed every now and then, as if it truly were a game.

True to score, Dudley and his gang grew bored with him after about five minutes, and play with someone else, shooting him irritated looks all the while.

Harry wiped some of the blood from his face, and yelled after them, "We'll have to play again sometime!" They would sooner or later, and Harry knew it; but for now, he'd earned himself a short time of peace.

Scrubbing his face clear of blood and grime, Harry crept over to the teachers, and smiling shyly, asked if he could use the bathroom. Perhaps he could find something interesting to borrow while he was gone.

Year One


Harry smiled as he crossed the threshold into the Great Hall. Beside him, Ron was nearly in tears of anxiety, white in the face (his many freckles stood out like beacons) and shaking like a leaf in a gale. A few places in the line ahead was Hermione Granger, the bushy-haired muggle-born, telling the person next to her about the ceiling.

"It's bewitched to look like the sky outside," she said. "I read about it in Hogwarts, a History."

Harry had as well - but knowing the girl's obvious know-it-all habits were grating on her peers already, he didn't see the point in saying so. While he, too, had bought extra books for background information, it hadn't been to rub the knowledge in other people's faces.

Abruptly the hall grew quiet, and the seated students turned there attentions to the front on the room to a… hat? Harry's head tipped to the side slightly, confused; and then, startled, as the hat began to sing.

The smile on his face grew a little as Harry listened to the song. It was unbelievable - Harry almost felt like laughing. A talking hat, singing about the four founders, was to sort them into groups to mold students into a certain type of person. No wonder the magical world was such a mess.

"…You're in safe hands (though I have none)

For I'm a Thinking Cap!"

The hat finished its song and went still, as the student body burst into applause. Harry clapped as well, even as he smiled and shook his head at the ridiculousness of it all.

"Abbott, Hannah!"

Harry watched as a blonde-haired girl with pigtails walked up to the stool and sat down with the hat upon her head. There was a moment of tense silence, before the hat's "mouth" opened and yelled out, "HUFFLEPUFF!"

The second table from the right burst into applause, and the girl nearly tripped over her own feet in her haste to sit down.

Professor McGonagall waited a moment for the cheers to die down, and then cleared her throat for quiet. "Bones, Susan!" she announced.

Harry sighed internally as Susan Bones sat down on the stool, waiting for the hat to sort her. It was obvious that this was going to take a while, and Harry didn't care about where everyone else was sorted. He wanted to get out of the open.

But all Harry could to smile and bear with it, as he passed the time by making a list of while every student was placed. A Terry Boot was sent to Ravenclaw, Granger was strangely sorted to Gryffindor (apparently, personal preference could win out over proper placement), Longbottom the toadless boy was sent there as well (how did that happen? Harry wondered) and the pointy-faced Malfoy boy was sent to Slytherin almost before the hat touched his head.

Not long later, after a "Perks, Sally-Ann," it was his turn.

"Potter, Harry!"

His smile turned slightly shy as he walked forward to the stool amid whispers.

"THE Harry Potter?" was heard, along with "I hope he's in our House!" and even one mutter of "I thought he'd be taller…."

The last comment lightened his mood slightly, and his smile widened just a tiny bit. He gave McGonagall a sunny look of wide-eyed innocence and saw a flicker of relief pass through her expression. It puzzled him - until he thought that perhaps she knew about his being placed at the Dursleys.

Harry sat down on the stool, and felt the hat being placed on his head; it came down over his eyes and indeed his whole head. He have brief mental picture of how that would appear to the rest of the school, and stiffened when he heard an amused laugh resound in his mind.

It's… the hat! he realized suddenly.

'Correct, Mr. Potter,' the hat replied. 'Let's see…'

Harry had a sense of the hat leaning over to dig deeper.

'Wha…?' The was an echo of …something (Harry couldn't put a name to it) as the probing abruptly stopped. 'W-well… a brilliant mind, that much is obvious…' The hat trailed off.

Harry's head cocked to the side, slightly puzzled. What do you mean?

'Surface thoughts are the easiest to read, Mr. Potter,' replied the hat - confusing Harry even further, even though it didn't seem to realize. 'Otherwise, your skill is quite impressive.'

There was a pause. Harry heard whispering in the hall - apparently they were wondering what was taking so long. The hat realized this as well, and with a mental sigh -


Harry smiled as he set the hat back on the stool and walked to his table amid rampant cheers and applause, sitting next to the boy he recognized as Terry Boot. As they introduced each other formally, Harry wondered over the hat's words. Skill at what? It looked like he was going to need to visit the library.

Harry smiled as he entered the potions classroom, absently noting he was the only one to do so. Terry shook his head - even though over the last three days he'd noticed Harry never seemed to stop smiling, he couldn't quite grasp the concept of doing so while in the domain of the Head of Slytherin. While Ravenclaw didn't get nearly as much flak as Hufflepuff and Gryffindor (especially the latter), Snape certainly didn't like them, either.

The cauldrons and scales were set out on the long desks in the dungeon room, and Harry found his own in the front row, beside that of Lisa Turpin; he sat down, greeting his fellow Ravenclaw in a moderately shy tone, and pulled out some parchment. Potions had garnered his interest during the month he had to study his books, and he could only hope it held up to his expectations.

The door shut with a resounding bang, and Harry turned his head slightly to the side as the professor - Severus Snape - swooped by.

"There will be no foolish wand waving or funny words spoken in this class," he declared, reaching the front of the room and spinning around so that his robes flew out behind him. Harry let his smile grow a little as the professor continued on - the man couldn't have been more obviously going for intimidation. Surely no one would be so thick as to not see…?

"Potter!" Snape suddenly barked, and Harry blinked, focusing on the Potions Master. "What is the difference between asphodel and wormwood?"

Harry thought for a moment. "There isn't one, Professor," he said, smiling serenely. "They're the same plant; one also known as aconite."

Snape's cold black eyes flashed. "Expected that the Boy Who Lived would have to show off," he bit out. "How about a more difficult question, then?"

Harry cocked his head to the side slightly, invitation to go ahead reflected in his eyes. Apparently this guy didn't like him all that much.

Snape's eyes flashed again, and his angry sneer met Harry's smiling face. "What is the use of Polyjuice Potion?" he inquired in a low voice.

Polyjuice Potion… Harry recognized the name from somewhere; not from his potions text - he felt a moment of vague amusement, realizing the professor had just asked him a question not in the book - but from… his History of Magic book!

Upon realizing this - and remembering how the potion was used and what for - Harry's smile grew and his eyes nearly shut. He hadn't smiled like this for a while; it was rather amusing to see people's reactions. Snape's own was hilarious.

"Polyjuice Potion," said Harry finally, cheerily, "is used to take the appearance of another person… using the DNA in their body, be it skin, blood or hair."

Coal-black eyes flashed a third time, Snape's fury bubbling over into his expression. He forced it back with a visible effort, as a vial near the back of the room exploded; and then he span around and tapped the board with his wand.

"The Boleru Potion," he barked, "is a simple potion used to cure boils. Even dunderheads like you should be able to brew it. Now get to work!"

Harry smiled as he left the dungeon classroom a little under an hour and a half later. While he'd managed to lose a round fifteen points from Ravenclaw, he didn't much care; Snape's frustration and obvious childishness served to amuse him more than he'd been amused in a long while.

Harry smiled as he watched Quirrell pass out onto the floor during the Halloween Feast, while the people around him panicked. It was hilarious - did they think running around like headless chickens would help them escape a troll?

"Harry," Terry exclaimed, brown eyes wide. "How can you be smiling - with a troll on the loose!"

Harry gave him what Terry had since dubbed the Squinty Smile. It was a strange habit of the older boy, to attach titles to everything; Harry figured it helped keep everything categorized in the brunette's mind. Terry Boot was ever the Ravenclaw.

"It would do no good to panic," Harry said calmly. He gestured at the students crowding around the exit, just as Dumbledore sent up several firecrackers for silence. The silence came, slowly, as the student body ceased its desperate dash for the Entrance Hall, and turned its fearful gaze on the Headmaster.

"Prefects, lead your housemates back to your dormitories," said Dumbledore gravely. "Professors, come with me to deal with the troll."

"Ravenclaws stay at the table!" Harry heard their fifth year male prefect call out. His order was quickly seconded by his partner, and Harry, who had yet to move from his seat from before Quirrell's interruption, had the opportunity to inwardly laugh himself silly at the confused antics of the Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors.

And speaking of Quirrell… Harry turned his head toward the fainted Quirrell, unable to be surprised when he found the man was not, as he should be, unconscious, and instead was trying to sneak out of the Hall unnoticed.

His smile turned ever-so-slightly thoughtful as he watched Quirrell disappear out the teacher's exit by the High Table, only to be followed by Snape. There was something strange going on….

"Hey," Terry interrupted, having followed Harry's gaze. "Where does he think he's going?"

Harry shrugged. "I don't know. It's none of our business, though, I guess."

"You can't be serious!" Terry exclaimed, and grabbed his arm, dragging him away from the Ravenclaw table and after the two teachers.

Harry smiled, expression a mix of exasperation and indulgence, and allowed Terry to steer him away from relative safety. He thought to himself that he needed to train the other boy a little; that sudden grab at his arm had nearly had him toss the boy over his shoulder.

No one noticed as they disappeared out the door, and the halls were, predictably, deserted. They followed Snape by the brief sights of his robe swooping out behind him and the sounds the Potions Master made as he rushed through the halls. Harry had noticed several turns back that they were heading almost directly to the forbidden corridor on the third floor, and he figured Terry had realized that as well; his speed had lagged a bit.

And then, as they were but a couple corridors away, a high-pitched, girly scream cut through the air. Terry jerked as if he'd been shot, and began dragging Harry away from their destination, to the source of the scream.

Harry knew most would find it odd that he could feel comfortable with the fact they were heading straight to a troll. He, on the other hand, was amused by the fact that Terry, the one who proudly stated he was Ravenclaw to the bone, was obviously a Gryffindor under wraps.

Harry smiled as he studied the brute. It was obviously not full-grown - only twelve feet when most trolls reached fifteen, even twenty - and he counted that a point in their favor; that same point was deducted when he saw that Hermione Granger was all but petrified and would be no help whatsoever.

Coming to Hogwarts was probably the best decision he'd ever made, Harry decided, watching as Terry levitated a toilet into the wall to distract the troll; it was only two months into the school year, and it was already turning out to be an experience more amusing than anything he'd ever imagined.

The troll lifted its club into the air, with obvious intent to crush the still-frozen Granger, and Harry, struck by inspiration, lifted his wand in the same instant.

"Wingardium Leviosa!" he said, voice even, and while the troll tried to attack the muggle-born, the club stayed suspended in the air. Harry waited a minute as the troll tried to figure out what had happened to its weapon - it was too funny to miss - before dropping it on its head and knocking it out.

The crash of the troll's impact with the floor of the girl's restroom was enough to bring Granger out of her stupor. She nudged the unconscious body with a toe, and looked up at Harry.

"Is it… dead?" she asked slowly.

Harry smiled reassuringly at her, and shook his head. "No, but it'll be out for a while."

"And anyway," Terry interjected, "what're you-"

"Mr. Potter!" came an exclamation from behind Harry, who jumped. "Mr. Boot!"

Harry turned around slowly, eyes wide innocently. "Professor McGonagall!" The Gryffindor Head of House was accompanied by both Quirrell and Snape; he noted that the latter was limping - and trying oh-so-hard to hide it, but to Harry it was obvious - and the former seemed disappointed - why, Harry had no clue.

"What do you think you doing here?" demanded McGonagall, after stuttering a bit.

Terry would be no help here, as he looked as frozen as Granger had only a short moment earlier. Harry looked down as his feet, thinking fast, as his eyes closed in something that looked like shame.

"Professor McGonagall..." he started, voice soft. "I heard earlier some of your Gryffindors talking about Granger, and I noticed she wasn't at the feast..." He looked back up at her, seeing her expression had softened, and continued. "I forgot about her for a bit when Professor Quirrell said the there was a troll in the school, and didn't remember until we were already going back to the common room... and then we heard the scream, and came rushing here."

As Harry trailed off, looking innocent as the day he was born, Terry came to and picked up the story.

"Yeah," he said. "You were in the dungeons looking for the troll, we thought; so we didn't have any time to find you and get more help. We just rushed in..."

"Good thing, too," said Granger, who appeared for have found her voice again; her face was still as pasty-white as before, however, and Harry thought that it was only a matter of time before she fainted. "It was about to finish me off when they got here..."

Harry scratched the back of his head sheepishly, while Terry looked down at the ground, the beginning of a red flush coloring his features.

"Well...," started McGonagall, "in that case..." She shot a glance at the unconscious troll. "I suppose I can't fault you, but that was still terribly dangerous. You should have retrieved Ms. Granger and ran, instead of fighting that monster."

Harry found it amusing she was saying that they should have put their lives on the line for a girl who was virtually a stranger. He cocked his head to the side. "We tried, but it had Granger cornered. There was no choice but to fight."

McGonagall sighed. "True." She paused. "Ten points each to Ravenclaw for your bravery. And Miss Granger... do tell me if they decide to pick on you again. I'll take care of it." The Transfigurations professor turned around, toward the door. "Now go back to your common room, Mr. Potter, Mr. Boot. The feast is being finished there."

Snape was nearly frothing at the mouth in anger, and Harry met his furied glare with a Squinty Smile as he passed by. Quirrell just gave him a long measuring look, and was rewarded with the Innocent Smile before Terry tugged Harry away from the pair and the bathroom (and the troll's stench, which Harry hadn't noticed until Terry mentioned it).

Harry smiled as he let Terry pull him through the halls. Tonight had answered two questions, while causing dozens more to be asked: one - yes, coming to Hogwarts had been a very good decision, even if it earned his uncle's displeasure; and two - yes, he definitely needed to implement some training of his (dare he say it?) friend. This grabbing at him and pulling him around was fraying at his nerves in a big way.

Harry smiled as he walked through the black fire of Snape's test. He hadn't wanted to come; he'd spent his life rolling with the punches (literally at times) and this was, in Harry's opinion, sticking your neck out under a guillotine.

But Terry had insisted, and like an indulgent grandparent, Harry had come along to keep him out of trouble, until he found his own curiosity roused. So even when, come to Snape's test, there wasn't enough potion for both of them to continue, he took the cue and told Terry to go back and get assistance.

"Well well," he murmured, stepping out of the flames and into the room beyond "If it isn't Quirrell."

The turbaned man met his eyes in the mirror - the Mirror of Erised. "I wondered if I'd be seeing you here, Mr. Potter."

"Did you?" chirped Harry in reply, smiling his Squinty Smile as he took several steps forward. "Amusing… I knew I'd be seeing you."

Harry's comment had Quirrell spinning around to face him. "What did you say?" he demanded.

"Merely that you were quite obvious," Harry replied calmly, and found he enjoyed the infuriated look that Quirrell sent him - but the look faded all too soon, and the other wizard snapped his fingers.

Ropes sprang up from nowhere, wrapping themselves tightly around Harry - tightly enough that he couldn't move an inch, but not so tight that he couldn't breathe. Then Quirrell turned back to the mirror, while Harry smiled down at the bindings he could escape from at a moment's notice, amused.

"I see the Stone," Quirrell muttered to himself. "I am presented it to my master… but where is it? Is it in the mirror? Should I break it? Help me, Master!"

"Use the boy… Use the boy…."

Harry cocked his head to the side, confused and curious - but not for long. The voice seemed to come from Quirrell himself, but the professor wasted no time in obeying; with another snap of his fingers the ropes disappeared, and he was being tugged in front of the mirror.

The Mirror of Erised, he had read, was an artifact that showed an onlooker the deepest, most desperate desire of their heart. Harry had no clue what he would see should he gaze into its depths - had often wondered - and now, as he studied his reflection, he found he did not quite understand it.

Near the front was a perfect replica of himself, down to the same soft smile, holding out a blood-red stone and deposited it in Harry's own pocket; this reflection he ignored. For in the background, standing tall with his back to Harry, was another copy of himself, only older.

He looked over his shoulder at Harry, who could see half of a smile - one most would take as benign, but he knew was filled with amused contempt. This one was strong, Harry knew it in his bones, as strong as he was weak, living by luck and chance.

"So?" Quirrell cut in, breaking off Harry's reflections. "What is it you see?"

Harry's smile turned wistful, and he reached out to touch the glass, feeling the stone on his leg as he pondered the meaning of his reflection. "Mum…. Dad…." he whispered.

"Fool!" Quirrell snarled, and threw him aside. Harry, taken slightly off-guard, landed hard on the side the stone was hidden; it impacted the floor with a loud clang, and busted - Harry felt pain knife through his leg as a shard bit into it.

"The stone!" exclaimed the other voice. "Get him!"

Harry scrambled backward, the smile on his face blooming into a full-blown grin; and seeing it, Quirrell paused in his assault

"Mr. Potter…," he said suddenly. "Why is it you smile like that? Tell me why, so my master might have the pleasure of destroying it first."

Harry looked down, grin fading just a bit - while inside he was laughing harder than he had in years, perhaps ever. He looked up, and answered with a question of his own. "What is it that gives you strength?" he inquired; "what is that principle you live by, that governs everything you are?"

Quirrell was silent for a moment, and then he laughed. "I was a man governed by delusions when I met my master…. I had fallen for the lies that are good and evil. Ha! There is no such thing. There is no good or evil, only power and those too weak to seek it."

Harry's eyes bore into Quirrell's, but his smile never wavered. "Is that so?" he murmured.

"Now, Potter," stated Quirrell, "give me the stone."

Harry picked a shard of the stone from his pocket, studying it. "I don't think there's much to-" He never finished his sentence; at that moment, a glowing blue nebula of magical power utterly obliterated the pillar by which Quirrell was standing.

"Dumbledore!" the professor snarled.

The ancient wizard stepped out from the flames with his wand held high, face grim. A swish of his wand let loose another spell, even more powerful than the first, and Quirrell countered with a barrier spell, snapping out, "Aegis vocare!"

He watched the duel take place eagerly. Perhaps this was what was meant by his heart's desire. These two - Dumbledore and Voldemort, by his vessel Quirrell - were powerful, and he was weak, pathetically weak. If either wanted, they could turn and slaughter him a thousand times, and feast on his corpse.

Harry watched as one of Dumbledore's spells immobilized Quirrell, and cocked his head to the side as a slight mist poured out of the professor and fled. Now he had his answer: what he would achieve, what he would live by.

"The weak are the sustenance of the strong."

Harry smiled as the Headmaster turned to him, asking if he was okay. He was better than okay; now, he knew what he needed to do. He would shed his weakness. He would not let anyone feast on his blood. No. He would become stronger than both Dumbledore and Voldemort, and then it would be his decision whether they would live or die.

Harry smiled as he thumbed through the book in his hands, safely hidden under his invisibility cloak. He had only three days until school was out for the year, and then he would have no way to train - to shed his weakness - until it restarted again in September. Still, before he could train, he had to decide what to train.

The book in his hands was something he hadn't expected to come across in a Wizarding library, even one as large as Hogwarts. It taught the basics of a fighting style that didn't use wands… but a more ancient weapon - the blade.

Himahou-ryu, the Secret Magic style, combining magic and the sword.

He would study advanced magic, Harry determined. But this - he smiled grimly - this would be his strength. This would be the power that would have him rise above Voldemort, above Dumbledore, above everyone. He flipped to the first kata, at the front of the book, and watched as the figure in the moving picture walked through the steps of the form.

He shut the book after a while, and pocketed it. The more he watched, the more he itched to try out what he saw.

Harry smiled as he sneaked out of the Restricted Section, the unregistered book not raising any of the alarms a book taken from the forbidden area of the library should have. Soon, he promised himself, thoughts still lingering on the book. Soon….

Year Two

Number Four Privet Drive

Harry smiled as he hefted the garden stone. Aunt Petunia had set him the chore of rearranging the garden, in an effort to keep him busy and out of the way; she probably also intended to keep him miserable, as the sun was burning hot on his exposed neck and Dudley was lounging about with ice cream - but Harry was for once grateful to his aunt.

Swordsmanship required strong arms, after all; and moving the heavy stones hither and thither was certain to help him there.

He set the stone down by the tree, and mopped the sweat from his brow with the back of a grimy hand. The muscles in his arms were burning, and looking down he saw they were trembling violently. Overexertion, he diagnosed silently. He'd been having the same trouble for the last week, as he'd worked on his aunt's garden; it had worried him the first day, but the next he'd woken up with armed not sore at all. Plus, he'd been able to work the previous day's time and an extra ten minutes before the symptoms set in again.

Still, he was tired, and Aunt Petunia had gone to go buy groceries; Dudley had since gone inside, complaining about his ice cream melting. So Harry decided he could afford to rest a bit, leaning back against the tree and closing his eyes - and trying one of the skills mentioned in his book.

Reaching for the pitifully small portion of his magic that he could actually grasp, he stretched his senses out, blanketing the surrounding area - he could sense Dudley, gorging himself on donuts; farther away was one of Mrs. Figg's part-kneazle cats; and farther still was the inhabitants of Privet Drive Numbers Two and Six. And then, not ten not feet away….

His eyes shot open, zeroing in on an alien feeling in the hedge, and met a pair of bulbous eyes. They stared at him for a moment, and then vanished - distantly, with the little magic he hadn't inadvertently released in his surprise, Harry felt the presence vanish.

He smiled thoughtfully as he reached down to lift the heavy stone once again. That magical signature… wasn't human (magic or muggle), but wasn't an animal either. Neither was it a "half-breed" like a werewolf or veela, as the signature had no human aspect at all… but somehow, it was familiar, like he'd sensed it before but not recognized it.

Ah well. It didn't matter right now; he'd have to look into it later. He had chores to do.

Harry finished arranging the stones a little under an hour later, and slipped back into the house quietly, careful not to attract his cousin's attention. Stopping by the bathroom, he cleaned his face and arms of grime and sweat, and stared contemplatively into the reflective surface of the mirror - his desire swimming to the surface of his mind.

Harry shook his head to clear it; he'd taken the first step to accomplishing his goal, and though many more would follow before he reached it, it was only a matter of time.

Finishing his refreshing, he crept back down to the kitchen where he nicked some food; the Dursleys were having company later today, and there was no guarantee that they would feed him. Harry hid the rations under his overlarge hand-me-down shirt as he returned to his room.

Harry stopped short right before he opened the door to what had been Dudley's second bedroom, as his ears picked up mutters on the other side. Quickly grasping at his magic for the second time that day, he forced the power to his ears, and winced as the senses nearly overloaded with noise.

"Harry Potter mustn't go to school this year," squeaked a voice, the dull tones suggesting whomever was speaking to his- or herself. "Harry Potter won't be safe… not with the master and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named…."

His eyes narrowed, and his lips reacting instantly, turning the expression into a Squinty Smile. So Voldemort would be at Hogwarts again this year? Ironic, that. The school was seeing a lot of action for a place acclaimed as the safest in the magical world.

Harry smiled suddenly, this time the look filled with amusement - not just because the speaker had just admitted to stopping his post (he had mail?) but because of the inevitable conflict. This year would be a race, he realized, and race against time and the limitations of the human body to gather as much strength as he could throughout the year . He opened the door and walked in, startling the creature on his bed, and greeted it. This creature - this Dobby - had information, and Harry would make sure to gain that knowledge as well, before he began working on the exercises from the book.

Diagon Alley, Flourish and Blotts

Harry smiled as he slipped his second year course books from their shelves - The Standard Book of Spells, Grade Two, the entirety of Gilderoy Lockhart's works, and (optional) Practical Defense for Young Witches and Wizards. The last book, from what he could tell, had been added to the list by Flitwick as a supplementary course for Defense Against the Dark Arts - something that didn't bode well for the year's professor.

He shook his head slightly, and looked up at the said year's professor with amusement in his eyes. Harry generally made certain not to judge a person by their actions or appearance - he knew well that they could by deceiving and usually were to some extent - but really, the man obviously lacked the brains to fight off a puffskein,let alone werewolves, vampires, or even ghouls.

Terry had wandered off into another section of the bookstore, and Hermione was in line to have her books autographed by Lockhart (he had thought better of the muggle-born), so Harry was at a loss as to what to do.

He paged through a books called Potions for Dummies, noting a chart of reactions, as well as a list of ingredients that were never to be mixed except in certain ways. Harry remembered his Potions textbook mentioning both, but had never seen either; Magical Drafts and Potions was a potions manual for mid-level students of the art, not beginners, and assumed both had already been learned.

He felt a gentle brush at his senses; and surprised, turned to face his watcher. While he'd been working on strengthening his senses (after they were heightened so many times, it built up until you didn't have to use magic and they stayed hypersensitive), he hadn't succeeded in sensing anyone but just the few people - people who, when he further boosted his senses stood out as the more powerful.

So he was surprised when he saw the little red-haired girl that had been with Ron Weasley at the platform the year prior, blushing as she realized she'd been caught staring. Ginny, he thought Mrs. Weasley had called her.

He smiled at her pleasantly. "Miss… Weasley, isn't it?" he said politely, and her already scarlet face flamed even further. "Pleased to meet you." And he extended his hand to shake.

She squealed, looking down at her feet, and slowly - hesitantly - took his hand and shook it before letting go a second later. Then the girl span around to hide her face in a book off of the bookshelf.

Amused by her reaction, Harry came up behind her, reading the title scrawled across the top of the page she'd turned to. "Jinxes for the Jinxed," he read aloud. "The Bat-Bogey Hex?"

The redhead jumped as if she'd been stabbed, dropping the book in her shock; Harry caught it, and after a moment's consideration, stacked it on top of the books he planned to buy, with Potions for Dummies.

"Miss Weasley?" he said, ignoring the impossibly red flush on the girl's cheeks. Honestly, Harry doubted you'd be able to find a red that deep in a box of Crayola crayons.

"Ginny," she whispered finally, eyes on her hands. Harry smiled unsurely at her, even as he knew already what she meant; she looked up, met his eyes for just a second, and then glanced back down. "Call me Ginny."

Harry studied her a moment, and then favored her with a Squinty Smile. She giggled a bit, put at ease - just as he intended - until a loud crash caught both of them off guard, and the bookshelf Harry had been examined fell backwards books spewing out in droves.

The scene that had unfolded was ridiculous. Books everywhere, people milling about in confusion, and in the eye of the storm the man who had to be Mr. Weasley and another had looked like an older, long-haired Draco Malfoy were having a fist fight - and since neither had a clue how to attack, let alone defend themselves, the impromptu free-for-all was so pathetic in Harry's eyes that it was all he could do not to burst into hysterical laughter.

"Dad!" Ginny exclaimed, hands fisted in front of her and worry coloring her voice - but she needn't have. Her yell attracted the attention of both men, and gave others the chance to separate the two - but at the last moment, Malfoy thrust a book at Ginny.

"Take that," he snarled. "After all, it's the best your daddy can give you…." But Harry detected a strange note in the man's voice.

Harry smiled, forcing magic to his senses, and nodded, satisfied; the Malfoy elder was a good actor, but his magical signature/aura was blatantly projecting his feeling of triumph. He watched as Ginny went over to her father, checking if he was okay, thoughtful; Malfoy had obviously achieved whatever objective he'd had for the confrontation, and one question remained - what was it?


Harry smiled, as he got up from the Halloween feast, Terry on one side and Hermione (who had virtually abandoned Gryffindor house after the troll incident) on the other. There was still roughly two hours before curfew, and the three of them intended to make use of that time. Terry had an assignment due the next day that he needed to rewrite, Hermione had decided to compile all of her first year notes into a single muggle notebook for each subject, and Harry needed to read up on the third kata of Himahou-ryu Isshiki - Hebi.

Already Harry realized how lethal was the sword style Himahou-ryu. The mere second kata - out of dozens - had included the special attack Himahou-ryu: Dohebisen, where one used magic to hide and move underground beneath your opponent, and then leap upwards to slice them in half.

Blood… I smell blood!

Harry froze, smile becoming slightly fixed, looking off in the direction he'd heard the voice. Since when did he hear demented voices? Apparently, the lethality of Himahou-ryu was getting to him already.

"Harry," Hermione interrupted, sounding concerned. "Are you okay?"

Harry looked back at his companions - noting he'd lagged behind - and gave her a Squinty Smile as he changed his pace to catch up. She relaxed and rolled her eyes; it was no secret that she thought his all-purpose smile made him look like an idiot.

"I'm fine, Hermione," Harry replied calmly. "Just thinking."

"You can think?" Terry interrupted with a grin.

Harry smiled. "Last time I checked."

"Which was how long -"

Someone screamed. Harry's smile turned into a grin, thinking about the irony and the feeling of déjà vu, as Terry grabbed one of his arms and Hermione the other, and began dragging him toward the source - the direction he'd heard whatever it was snarling about smelling blood.

Apparently it wasn't only the three of them that heard the scream and decided to investigate. What appeared to be half of the school had gathered around the entrance to the third floor girl's bathroom, and while Harry managed to slip through the crowd with ease, it was only by judicious use of elbows that terry and Hermione managed to do the same. As they came up behind him, he read aloud the message on the wall.

"The Chambers of Secrets has been opened," he murmured, the ominous words quieting the crowd of students. "Enemies of the Heir, beware."

Underneath the message was a token - the caretaker's cat, Mrs. Norris, frozen stiff as a board, wide and staring, an unspoken message of its own: a representation of what the "Enemies of the Heir" had to fear.

Falling silent - his smile contemplative - Harry felt his right hand slip into his robes of its own accord, gripping the hilt of a sword that wasn't there to grip.

"Enemies of the heir, beware!" shouted Malfoy, who had had Crabbe and Goyle make him a way to the front of the crowd. "You'll be next, Mudbloods!"

Hermione flinched; Mudblood was just about the worst thing someone could be called, and it was limited to muggle-borns. Harry turned to face the blonde.

Harry smiled at him, imagining what it'd be like to use the Dohebisen on Malfoy, and laughed inwardly as the other wizard paled visibly - apparently the thought transferred to his expression. Though he wasn't sure when Hermione had changed from an ally to a friend, Harry knew one thing; you did not get away with hurting his friends. And even if he couldn't do anything directly right now… the time would come when neither of them were in Hogwarts, when neither were protected - and that day, Malfoy would pay.

Harry smiled at Malfoy, who stood across from him on the platform. This dueling club was turning out useless, as he'd predicted. He'd known Flitwick wouldn't be teaching, not with him already giving his Ravenclaws supplementary classes - maybe it was worth dealing with Lockhart this one time if he got to deal with Malfoy.

He slid his wand from his pocket, holding it as he would his practice shinai with his right hand, and then shifted his weight a little to balance the lesser mass of the wand.

He heard Lockhart mumble something about his not using the right combat position, and pretended not to hear. Flitwick had never had a problem with this positioning in dueling, and even if he had, Harry would have kept on using it.

"On three then," said Lockhart, sounding put off. "One… two… three!"

They moved as one - but Harry was faster by leaps and bounds. His wand was a blur as he executed the general swish-and-flick for spells, and the brilliant scarlet jet of light was already bearing down on Malfoy before he finished the incantation, Expelliarmus.

The sheer power behind the spell threw Malfoy into the wall with more force than Snape had tossed Lockhart, and the crack as the blonde's shoulder impacted was quite telling. Harry, with his feet planted, was jarred slightly by the recoil but still he smiled, grimly satisfied as he caught the other boy's wand.

Malfoy was forcing himself to sit up as Snape rushed to his side, breathing harsh and almost in tears due the pain; he glared hatefully at Harry, who met his eyes calmly. With a roar of fury, Malfoy snatched Snape's wand from his hands and yelled, "Serpensortia!"

The end of the wand exploded. Harry stared, fascinated, as a five feet long asp shot out of it, landed heavily on the floor in front of him, and raised itself, ready to strike. There were screams as the crowd backed swiftly away, clearing the floor.

Harry leapt backward as the snake attacked, not taking his eyes off of it. Lowering his wand slightly - the threat was now below him - he started to cast -

"Allow me!" Lockhart shouted, and brandished his wand at the snake. Far from vanishing, it flew up in the air ten feet, and fell back to the ground with a loud smack.

Harry smiled contemptuously and - rather than casting a spell and enraging the snake further - leapt at it, grasping its head in the hand not holding his wand. At his touch, the snake calmed, wrapping its length around his arm.

"I wonder if you want revenge on the one who took you from your nest," he murmured to it, and - inexplicably - it nodded in agreement. "Well then, we can do that…."

Harry looked back up at Snape and Malfoy, and cocked his head to the side, confused by their expressions of utter horror. Then he shrugged it off, and uncoiled the snake from his forearm. With a smile, he tossed it at the two Slytherins.

"He wants to say hello," he informed them calmly - and started as he sensed Terry and Hermione come up behind him. The two of them dragged him out of the hall; people scattered as they went through the doors as though frightened of catching something.

Harry was confused by the shock and fear his friends were radiating. Well, perhaps the shock didn't surprise him so much; he had displayed a vicious side of him that was rarely seen, but that hardly merited the utter horror they were feeling.

After all - it had just been a demonstration of power, just a warning of what he would get later. What was wrong with that? The strong ate the flesh of the weak, and one day he would feast on Malfoy's bones.

Harry smiled, shaking his head slightly to get the mental picture summoned by that thought out of his mind. The mere idea of feasting on Malfoy was sick - and anyway, by the time he was through with the blonde, there wouldn't be any bones to feast on.

Harry smiled thoughtfully, watching the figure in the book walk slowly through kata four of Himahou-ryu Isshiki. He wasn't quite sure he was ready to start it - sometimes his magic would wrest itself out of his control when doing the special attack Kurohebi Zansen - a complicated strike hidden from the opponent's view by a pulse of projected magic.

It wasn't very helpful when he ended up blinding himself, thank you very much.

But control was something learned over time, and if he intended to stick to his plan he needed to finish Isshiki by the end of the first semester, and get started on Nishiki - the second form, Tora. He'd already spent too long on the first three kata - he'd had to build up his arm strength, lest he bash himself over the head - and there were five total for Isshiki.

The figure in the book slid its katana back into the saya, signifying the conclusion of the kata. Harry closed the book, running over the moves in his mind and taking his shinai from its position resting against the wall. There were two special attacks in this kata, he realized, surprised, and flipped the book back open to read up on them.

Harry smiled at the description of Dokuhebi. A thrust with optional side slash, it required raw magic focused on the blade, where it would transfer into the wound - and as magic could only be compressed by the wizard or witch who produced it, being ever-so-slightly different from person to person, it would remain there, causing ever more damage and making healing impossible.

The other one, called Hebikansen, seemed almost incomplete, like part of the attack was missing; and a second scanning of the description yielded no name for it. He sighed, letting the occurrence go - whoever wrote the book would have had a reason for the discrepancy, and it would come clear in time.

He put the book away, and moved instinctively into the starting stance for Himahou-ryu Isshiki. Just because he had decided to start on the fourth kata didn't mean he wasn't going to have a good long review of the three he already knew - Harry often dreaded how long these reviews would get, a year or so in the future.

Still, it was a good time to think. Moving on autopilot, Harry smiled thoughtfully, mind pondering over the events of the year so far, and more notably, the information he'd been given after the events in the dueling club.

He was a Parselmouth. It didn't bother him, merely puzzled him - a bit of research into his family unearthed no possible relation to explain such ability, and Harry sincerely doubted his learning Himahou Isshiki - the serpent form - had anything to do with it. But Harry's lack of discomfiture was not reflected among his peers, unfortunately. Ever since that evening, he had been unable to go anywhere without the hateful, distrustful glares.

He settled back into the ready position, and began the second kata, smiling amusedly.

Harry didn't much care what his peers thought; if fact, if he'd known the reaction he would get by chatting up a snake, he'd have done it long ago. Now, at least, he was left alone except by Terry and Hermione - and sometimes Ginny dropped by as well.

Face thoughtful as he walked through the earth as though it was air for the Dohebisen, Harry contemplated the younger redhead. The bright and energetic magical aura she had had diminished, taking on a distinct chill - and Harry knew, somehow, that this entire business with the Chamber of Secrets had to deal with her: her, Malfoy Senior, and Voldemort.

He landed lightly on his feet after the upward slash, and returned to the ready position, beginning the third kata. This time, he kept his thoughts more trained on his magic and his shinai, mentally preparing himself for the Kurohebi Zansen, grasping his magic firmly.

And… now!

He twisted the bit of magic in his grasp, and then pushed - and a dazzling flash of brilliant green lit the room; but his vision was miraculously clear, and he finished the kata with no trouble at all.

Harry smiled as he moved back into the ready position. Running his mind over the fourth kata, he closed his eyes, and then moved - only to trip up on a leap and bash his head with his shinai. He sat up from his undignified position on the ground and groaned, fingering the bump gingerly; and then he scowled at the shoelace that had somehow come undone. He knew he should have gotten those sandals…

Harry smiled thoughtfully as he paged through the empty pages of the diary of T. M. Riddle. He was fairly sure Terry thought he'd gone nuts, being so suspicious (how did Terry know that?) of a book. He knew it probably seemed absurd… but honestly - books were not supposed to have magical auras, and the one he sensed from this book was stronger than most of the students in Hogwarts.

…Not that that meant much, Harry reflected in amusement.

He was loath to touch the pages of the diary. He could feel its oily magic crawl over him whenever he did so; it was anathema to him, familiar somehow - but he couldn't place it. Still, he couldn't bring himself to throw it away. It was a key piece in the chess game that the Heir of Slytherin was playing with the school, he was convinced, and so long as he held it, the game was on hiatus.

Now, if only he could figure out exactly how the book was special…

He sensed Terry coming up behind him, could feel his friends exasperation with him and what the other boy viewed as his "obsession" with the diary. Harry could understand it to an extent; but the only way really explain his concern over the item would lead to questions he didn't want to answer, at least not yet.

As Terry sidled up behind him, Harry pushed the diary aside for the moment, pulling toward him his potions textbook and a sheaf of parchment paper.

"Hey," Harry greeted calmly, smiling.

As expected, the change took Terry off guard. It was funny, really.

"Harry?" he exclaimed, sounding shocked; and rightly so. "We have Potions tomorrow! And you're doing the essay now? You'll never get it done!"

"Oh ye of little faith," Harry retorted, amusement coloring his tone ever so slightly - though he had to admit the other boy probably had a point. He'd be up all night working on this essay - at least he'd already done his other essays. "It's the last one," he continued, for Terry looked almost on the verge of a heart attack.

"Bloody hell, mate," said the other boy, spinning around - and knocking over Harry's newly-opened inkpot. He arched a brow as ink spilled all over the table, covering both his potions text and the diary, and saturating the parchment.

"Sorry, Terry," he said, amused, "but I don't think Snape will count that."

Red faced, Terry waved his wand and the ink on his parchment recollected itself, flying back into the inkpot, while Harry did the same for the Potions text; but when he turned to look at the diary, it was clean and dry. Harry cocked his head to the side in curiosity.


A thoughtful expression crossed Harry's face, hidden as quickly as it came. He brushed off his friend's apology absently.

"Shoo," he said softly, distractedly. "I have work to do."

Terry sighed. "I suppose you do," he admitted. Then, "But hurry up! Snape'll have Ravenclaw in the negative points if you don't have your homework!"

Harry granted the point. While he didn't personally care about whether the house won the House Cup, virtually everyone else in the school lived by it…. Except perhaps Ginny's elder brothers, the twins. He sighed, resisting the pull of his eyes to the diary. Something was wrong with the redhead, something to do with the Heir of Slytherin and this diary, and while the girl was not a friend - a potential ally, certainly, but not a friend, at least not yet - he couldn't help the desire to find out what.

Harry smiled a bit, concentrating on his essay. Unfortunately - or fortunately, depending on how one saw it - he had work to do and kata to master, so the girl would have to deal with her problems on her own for now.

Harry smiled as he slid down to the pipe to what could only be the Chamber of Secrets after Terry, inwardly wishing that he had his shinai – even if he honestly doubted the weapon's usefulness against a basilisk. The bladeless practice sword would be little help against the rock-hard protective scales, he knew; but he found himself feeling strangely vulnerable without its presence.

Harry landed gracefully on his feet after a brief free-fall from the pipe's exit, but Terry wasn't so lucky, landing hard on his stomach. He groaned as he stood.

"Weasley had better be grateful for this," he muttered under his breath, shooting Harry a slight glare, as if he were the one who had decided to go after Ginny.

Harry shrugged it off with another smile, closing his eyes and supplementing his senses. Though after a year of doing so he could sense anyone approaching within twenty feet of himself, the extra boost would be needed if he wanted to make certain that the basilisk wasn't around. The one time he'd caught it slinking around - its feel was slippery, always getting away from him, nothing but a flicker here or there - he'd thought to boost his senses to "tag" the beast with raw magic.

He opened his eyes, walking forward with Terry following. Either the magic "tag" had dissipated or the snake wasn't around. Harry figured it was the latter - anything (objects or people) he tagged had a tendency to stay that way for a while. Both his friends as well as Ginny had unknowingly proved as test subjects for that.

In his hypersensitive state, he was hardly able to keep his stomach from spewing his dinner out onto the Chamber floor. The place ranked. Terry looked as though his Gryffindor courage was waning fast as he crunched his sixteenth rat skull underfoot - and when they came across a sixty-foot snakeskin, he whimpered loudly, the sound echoing in Harry's enhanced ears.

Harry shook his head in amusement. The other boy would be of no use if the basilisk did make an appearance - something Harry for one was certain would happen; so he would have to find a reason to leave the Ravenclaw behind. Research was the other's forte, no matter how courageous he claimed to be.

The stone serpentine pillars at what Harry somehow knew was the real entrance to the Chamber of Secrets were of only vague interest to Harry, but the glinting green of the snakes' jeweled eyes had fear and anxiety racing through Terry - Harry could smell it. So rather than directly opening the passage, he turned to his friends, smiling reassuringly.

"Terry," he implored, voice low, "go back - find a way back to the surface. Get Flitwick and McGonagall… and Pomfrey, hopefully."

"But-" the brunette exclaimed, only to fall silent.

Harry fixed him with a firm stare, his smile doing nothing to soften the expression. "Get moving," he said, and it was an order. "We've no clue what condition Ginny will be in." Not waiting for Terry to reply, he faced the wall.

Slowly, hesitantly, as if his mind and body were at war with each other, Terry turned around as well, forcing himself to walk away. Instinct demanded he run, and loyalty demanded he stay, but the other boy was too proud to do one, and ordered not to do the other.

When Terry had disappeared even from his heightened magical sensing, Harry hissed out the command for the wall to open up - it split down the middle, the separate parts pulling away from each other; and he walked through, waiting patiently for the opening to close behind him before he continued walking forward.

It was dark, but only for a little while before torches lit on both sides of the chamber and nearly blinding Harry. He stood there for a moment, blinking the chamber back into focus - and caught sight of Ginny, lying on her stomach at the end of the room.

He narrowed his eyes (face automatically changing the expression to a Squinty Smile) as he dashed forward and fell by her side - there was another presence in the room, the same aura he'd felt from the diary, but she was clutching the diary to her chest….

He absently checked her pulse - it was still beating strong, unlike her magic which was fading rapidly - and tensed unconsciously as the aura came up behind him; Harry gripped his wand tightly, and span around.

"Riddle!" he exclaimed in untrue surprise, smiling as he focused on the other boy. "What are you doing here?" Though he had a strong suspicion he knew.

"Not… He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, sir…," the elf said, eyes wide; he seemed to be giving Harry a hint; though he didn't understand it, he made note of it for future reference.

"Waiting for you," replied Riddle coldly, calmly - the smile on his face was much like Harry's own, he noticed, friendly until you noticed the sharp teeth behind it ready to tear into you.

"Oh really?" Harry said, tone warmer than the other boy's but just as calm. "Unfortunately, I don't have time to stop and chat. I'd rather avoid the sixty-foot snake that hangs out around here."

Riddle chuckled. "It won't come until it's called."

And then - suddenly - it clicked, where he'd felt this aura before. It was so much weaker here, he'd hardly recognized it; but there it was.

"And why would the serpent of Slytherin answer you, Riddle?" Harry murmured, unconsciously stepping backwards so that he was standing over Ginny. "Or should I say… Voldemort?"

Riddle flinched backward, his shock clear on his face.

Harry smiled pleasantly, coldly pleased, and raised his wand into the opening stance of Nishiki: Tora - and wished again that he had his shinai. In this confrontation with the young Voldemort, he was denied his greatest strength - and it didn't set well with him. But as he met Riddle's eyes, his mind was set; this the way of the world, after all, and Harry was determined to be the one who decided his opponent's fate.

Harry smiled, the expression grossly out-of-place in his situation - or at least it had been. It was clear Riddle didn't see what was so helpful about a sword - not when the sword's blade was reversed, the dull edge where the cutting edge should be and vice versa.

But Riddle knew nothing of Himahou-ryu - though he did seem familiar with a sword. Harry was more than familiar, having succeeded in learning the Nishiki no Ogi: Gatotsu two weeks prior. It was highly ironic that said Ogi would be more effective with a sakabato than an actual katana, and that was why Harry was on the verge of laughing aloud.

He hefted the sword with both hands, having tucked his wand into his robe's inner pocket sometime while he had been fleeing the basilisk. He supposed he was lucky that Gatotsu was a double-handed thrust; he doubted he could wield the heavier sakabato with necessary force with one hand.

But then again… He eyed the poisonous green hide of the thoughtfully. He had only one target - the serpent's throat, a place where the protective scales were only a fraction of the body's toughness. Unfortunately, the basilisk's attention was held on Fawkes, the phoenix, and so the distance between he and the beast's throat was too far.

"Leave the bird! Leave the bird - find the boy! Sniff… You can still smell him!" Riddle hissed commandingly, and Harry put the snake's bulk between him and the teenaged Voldemort, so as to not let the other see his triumph as the basilisk obeyed.

Harry crouched low to the ground, sakabato held vertically blade upward in front of him; and as the serpent lowered its head to strike, he pushed his magic to both his arms and legs. Exploding from the ground at more force than should be humanly possible, the blade of the sword penetrated up to six inches from the hilt; and the extra burst of strength let him rip the cutting edge of the sakabato slice upwards, splitting its head in two.

Harry smiled victoriously at Riddle's wordless scream of rage, and lifted the bloodied sakabato to the ready position again - this time in the stance of Isshiki.

"Impossible," Riddle denied vehemently, brandishing Ginny's wand as he approached Harry. "No muggle weapon can defeat the serpent of Slytherin!"

He waved the wand at the corpse, only to have it knocked from his hands as Fawkes flew by, dropping the diary at Harry's feet. Both he and Harry stared at it for a moment, taken off-guard, and then Harry looked up, smiling viciously.

"How about defeating Slytherin's heir, then?" he whispered, and speared the diary on the sword's tip.

Riddle jerked as if struck, horror pasted on his features - and his steadily-solidifying outline blurred to nonexistence. Screaming, convulsing, he fell to the floor as ink flowed from the diary in rivulets, until - with a sizzling sound - he vanished.

Ginny awoke with a gasp. Sitting up, she span her head back and forth to get her bearings - until she saw Harry, covered with basilisk's blood and ink from an enchanted diary and wielding an upside-down sword, and the basilisk, its head split from the power of Harry's blow.

Then - the shock of what she was seeing and of her situation getting to her at last - she fainted.

He reached out to feel the girl's aura - and was rewarded with the strong warm thrum, just as strong, if not stronger than when they'd met in Flourish and Blotts. Then he inspected the area one last time for any possibility of a threat before dropping the extra boost and sighing in slight fatigue.

Harry smiled as he straightened up and wiped clean the blade of the sakabato, sheathing it and slipping the saya through his belt where it hung securely - if a bit uncomfortably - and headed over to pick up the girl. Picking Ginny up, he glanced at Fawkes; in all probability Terry had yet to find a way back to Myrtle's bathroom, and he just thought he might have a way…

Year Three

Diagon Alley, Thatcher's House of Blades

Harry smiled as he entered the shop, having successfully navigated Diagon Alley without being noticed by anyone. It was a skill he'd mastered in the Muggle world during primary school; but in the Muggle world he wasn't a celebrity, so he hadn't been sure he'd be able to do it.

Feeling an oddly muted presence, he rested his hand inside his robe on the hilt of the sakabato. He'd come here from the relative anonymity afforded him by the Leaky Cauldron for a reason: to get a wakizashi. When that was done, he planned to hole himself up in his room until booklists arrived.

After he'd finished his homework, he'd intended to go ahead and start on Himahou-ryu Sanshiki; unfortunately, it was only then he'd noticed that Karasu (the third form) had a requirement the first two forms didn't, the wakizashi.

Harry browsed through the shop absently. The European-style blades held no interest for him, but sakabato or no, he was actually thinking about getting a katana; it'd been lucky chance with the Gatotsu's reverse cut dealing with the basilisk.

Leaning over to study one, he winced slightly. He didn't have much expertise with swords, but between reading the book (it wasn't just about the style, as it wouldn't do for a swordsman to be clueless) and his own observations, he was less than impressed. This particular sword might look pretty, but virtually any exposure to raw magic would cause it to shatter.

Smiling a touch condescendingly, he straightened up - absently dismissing the approaching aura as non-hostile - and turned to observe the next blade. It was rather short - not a wakizashi by any means, but shorter than the katana… so…

"A kodachi," informed a voice from behind him.

Harry nodded as he turned around, having come to that conclusion himself. The speaker - a small, sandy-blonde-haired man in about his mid-forties, if Harry had to guess studied him critically, taking in his hand (still on the hilt of the out-of-sight sakabato), his stance, and - Harry could only guess - his aura.

"Thatcher's the name," he continued. "A surprise to see you here, Mr. Potter."

"I try," Harry replied lightly, studying Thatcher as carefully - and obviously - as the other had him.

Hints of an amused smile appeared on Thatcher's face. "It seems you're serious," he muttered. "But you have no experience shielding your aura… nor any idea how to do so." Louder - though Harry heard every word, and he was sure Thatcher knew that - he continued, "What is it that brings you to my humble shop?"

"Wakizashi," said Harry shortly. This man was weird, and it was amusing; and his aura - strangely clouded - was thrumming with something like subtle excitement.

Thatcher stopped short to pin Harry with a strange look. Harry smiled, guessing the man's thoughts

"But is browsing against the rules, sir?"

Thatcher considered this, and then shook his head. "Of course not. Anyway, a wakizashi you say? Wait here; this stuff is mostly for show, as you can probably tell."

Harry nodded. That certainly explained things. He leaned against the wall by the counter and settled to wait.

It wasn't long until Thatcher came back, holding a sheathed wakizashi in his hands. Setting it gently down on the counter, he slid it free and held it out so Harry could look over it.

"I don't know how skilled you are," murmured Thatcher, "nor do I know what school you're learning, or whom under which you're learning it. But tell me this - do you intend to learn how to conceal your aura?"

Harry spared him a measuring glance before returning his gaze to the weapon. "My… instructor hasn't mentioned anything about it," he replied carefully, "but I would like to learn to, if I could." People weren't supposed to be able to sense their own auras, but Harry could, and if anything it was distinctive.

The wakizashi was simply but well-made, designed not for decorative or ceremonial function but to use in a fight. Plus, from what he could tell, it was tempered in such a way that it could channel a great deal of magical power before it shattered; not more than the sakabato (in fact markedly less) but a fair bit more than his wand.

Harry nodded approvingly. "How much?"

Thatcher named his price. Harry ran his free hand through his hair, and then looked at the weapon again, smiling thoughtfully. He nodded.

Thatcher smiled, pleased, sheathed the blade, and began to wrap it up. He smirked a little as Harry counted out the money - it was quite a price, but worth it in Harry's eyes. He took the wakizashi from the other man, who paused, once again studying him, before turning around.

"Be here at six A. M.," Thatcher directed finally. "If we're lucky, you might be able to shield your aura by the time you head back to Hogwarts."

Harry smiled at the man's back, feeling something he rarely felt - gratitude. Finally taking his hand o the sakabato's hilt, he tucked the wakizashi securely inside his robe, and made his own exit; he had the first kata of Sanshiki to practice.

Hogwarts Express

Harry smiled as he leaned back against the wall, relaxed with his hand resting on the hilt of his sakabato. Dumbledore would likely confiscate it if he knew Harry still had it; he'd taken it from him after the Chamber after all, only for it to reappear in front of him a few days later.

Hermione, Terry, and Ginny were talking quietly about the compartment's other occupant – and Harry's excuse for standing up – a man in tattered robes and brown hair touched with gray.

"Professor R. J. Lupin," Hermione read aloud off of the man's briefcase. "I wonder why he's on the train? Professors don't ride, it's for students only…."

"I wonder why he looks like someone tied him to one of those Muggle truck-things and dragged him around," Terry said, and dodged Hermione's slap of indignation on the professor's behalf. "And anyway, who can sleep on a train, with this sort of racket?"

Harry could have told them - the man's aura virtually screamed "werewolf" and the full moon was only a night or so ago - but at that moment, the train jerked, beginning to slow down; only, it was almost two hours too early.

Ignoring his friends' exclamations of surprise - and the flickers of worry that burst into life in their auras - Harry turned to the window. "Someone's boarding," he murmured, reaching out to feel the boarders' auras; he shivered, and turned his head to the side, confused. He couldn't feel any real emotion, only cold… were these…?

Sighing, he studied the shadows that vanished into the train up ahead, until the window frosted over and he could no longer see.

"Harry," Ginny whispered, aura becoming tainted with fright. "What's going on?"

Harry turned and smiled at her reassuringly. His friends' auras were now flaring with alarm, worry, and …fear, he thought it was. Thatcher had found it disturbing, that he had had such a hard time identifying joy, anger, and fear - the basest of emotions, which were always the most obvious in one's aura.

Feeling the cold intensify, Harry span to face the door, hand on his sakabato. While if he were correct in his guess the weapon alone wouldn't be of much help, he was fairly sure that if all else failed the Dokuhebi would have some effect.

Ginny whimpered and slipped to the floor, dragging a weak-in-the-knees Hermione down with her; and Terry latched weakly to the wall. Harry went still, rubbing his temple with his free hand, as the door slip open.

The dementor glided into the compartment soundlessly, and the aching sensation in Harry's temple multiplied. He stumbled backward, into the seat behind him - where the werewolf was sleeping. Lupin woke with a start, and after a bit of fumbling went for his wand, while Harry drew his wakizashi - there wasn't enough room to properly maneuver using the sakabato.

But he found he hard to concentrate, as he channeled his magic through the shorter blade; his head was pounding, like something was trying to get out, so it was no surprise his strike went awry - instead of cutting the dementor in half, it only succeeded in making it stumble, a black gel-like substance spurting through the air.

Ginny shrieked in pain as the dementor's blood landed on her bare arm, the sound bringing Lupin to his senses.

"Expecto Patronum!" he roared, and a bright silver light enveloped the dementor. It echoed Ginny's shriek and fled backwards, leaving the compartment. Then the professor learned down, clearing the blood from Ginny's forearm with a whispered incantation, and inspected the area - it was burned badly.

Harry gave the werewolf a contemplative look, and smiled a bit at the blood on the wakizashi. The blade was showing no sign of the corrosion caused by the dementor's blood; it seemed he actually had gotten his money's worth. He wiped it clean, hissing a bit as the blood stung at his skin even through the cloth.

He felt rather than saw the measuring look Lupin gave him, before the werewolf professor told them he had to go meet with the conductor up front, to get the train moving again.

Harry slipped the wakizashi back into its sheath, meeting Ginny's eyes, head tilted to the side curiously. Aside from a sudden headache, the dementor had hardly affected him at all; but strangely his companions all had been virtually incapacitated. It made no sense.

"That was interesting," he commented, a touch wryly. All three of his friends shot him glares.

Harry smiled at them, amused by their auras, now flaring with irritation. Thatcher's hobby of annoying people never really made sense to him either, but now he tried, it was fun.


Harry smiled as he sat down in the back row of the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. Terry had abandoned him for the front, but Harry had made a habit of sitting just behind everyone, nearest to the door as he could get, and preferably near a window as well if possible. Some people would call him paranoid. Harry called it Thatcher Syndrome.

Honestly, the man may have seemed sane, but he sure as hell wasn't what he seemed.

"Good morning Ravenclaws," said Lupin, standing up from his desk. "Put your books away, today's is a practical lesson. Yes, Ms. Turpin?"

"Didn't the Gryffindor class destroy the boggart you had, sir?"

Lupin smiled. "Yes, they did – but there is more than just one boggart in the school at any time, I believe. I combed the school for more after that one was found. It wouldn't do to have one class treated differently."

"Oh, no," said Turpin, sounding a bit embarrassed. "Of course not."

Of course she did. In hindsight that was a rather stupid comment, and Ravenclaws loathed stupidity. Harry had to admit that his reputation did come in handy sometimes; had he not been the Boy Who Lived, he would doubtlessly have caught some flack for smiling all the time. After all, that Lovegood girl was always being taunted and teased as her Housemates tried to "fix" her.

As Harry mused, he watched Lupin pull a suitcase up on his desk, explaining that the boggart they would be defending against was inside and telling them the incantation they needed to know - Riddikulus.

"Now I want you to take a moment to think," Lupin said. "What is it you fear worst? What's the thing that would keep you awake with your hand on your wand even when you're about to drop to the floor in exhaustion?"

Harry smiled amusedly. Who would have thought that Lupin could be a drama queen?

But then… His smile turned thoughtful. What did he fear? In front of him someone was muttering about - ironically - werewolves, and he knew Terry was deathly afraid of vampires; but neither of those things held his fear. He could kill them, after all.

At least, he thought he could - werewolves and vampires were usually quite strong. They had to be in order to escape… the hunters….

Ah. He nodded to himself. In retrospect, it should have been obvious.

"Now I want you to think of some way to turn it into something amusing."

That brought Harry up short. How does one make weakness look funny?

"Now keep that picture in mind, and be ready…." Lupin paused, searching through the seats; his eyes lighted on Harry, before passing on. "Mr. Corner, please come to the front."

The brown-haired boy two seats to the front of Harry and three to the right rose to his feet a bit reluctantly Harry found Corner to be a whiny coward - much like Dudley's friend Piers Polkiss - and was interested to see what the boy would make of the boggart.

"On the count of three," said Lupin, pointing his wand at the packing case; and he began his countdown. Corner swallowed, brandishing his wand like Lockhart had during the dueling club last year.

Harry smiled as the packing case burst open, and Corner's worst fear - a troll, ironically - loomed over the panicking Ravenclaw, who squeaked out, "Riddikulus!" as he backed away, terrified.

Obviously, the spell didn't work like it should have, and the boggart only turned its attention to another student; transforming into a vampire, it advanced on Terry. Caught off-guard, he toppled over backward, and the students around him backed away - while vampires may not have been there worst fear, they certainly didn't like them.

Sighing, Harry got to his feet to assist his friend. He noticed Lupin had stepped forward as well, but stopped when he stood; the werewolf professor's aura was tinged with curiosity.

The vampire-boggart backed away as Harry approached, and the creature stared at Harry. Terry pulled himself upright, pulling out his wand - until the boggart began to transform.

The class gawped.

Harry stared dispassionately - at a replica of his five-year-old self, dressed in rags and bloody and bruised, with tear-tracks down his face, eyes gazing at him pleadingly.

"H - Harry," said Padma Patil, sounding stunned. "Is - is that you?"

Harry didn't reply, staring at his boggart, remembering. This - this pathetic weakling - was what he used to be, what he never wanted to be, never wanted to even think about again.

It was making his head hurt, like the dementor had. And Harry didn't like that.

He grabbed the hilt of his wakizashi, and lunged at the boggart. Batto-jutsu wasn't done with wakizashi, but at that moment he didn't care; he only wanted to be rid of this disgusting proof of how weak he'd been, back when he'd tried to run and had pled for the Dursleys to stop -

The boggart - still in his childish form - landed in two pieces and he was covered in grayish boggart blood. As the boggart itself dissolved into goo, he wiped the wakizashi clean, not looking at his dumbstruck class and professor - their auras resonated with shock.

Harry smiled as he turned around - but now, for once, they could tell it wasn't all good humor. That wasn't good, he decided; so he closed his eyes and concentrated on erasing the last few minutes from their minds - even Terry's. It was hard to warp the magical pulse like he wanted - after all, he was basing it off of a technique that was only meant to disorient - but as it released, he was confident it had succeeded. They were on him in concern as he slumped to the floor in exhaustion, and he smiled at the irony. It might not have been appropriate, and was doubtless illegal; but he didn't really care, and he couldn't have his secret broadcasted already. It was too soon.

Harry smiled as he slipped out of his four-poster bed, falling into a lazy stretch. It was Christmas, and while he didn't really care, he knew his friends would be on him if he didn't open his presents immediately. They had last year, and the year before that - and though Terry was gone from the school for the holidays, he felt like humoring Hermione and Ginny before he vanished for the rest of the day (and possibly the holidays).

Well, actually it was because he had a good feeling about opening the presents, like he'd had before opening the one with his father's invisibility cloak, but Harry didn't much see the difference.

He changed quickly into his normal clothes, securing the sakabato about his waist before hiding it under his robes - he'd broken the wakizashi in learning the Ogi of Sanshiki, and he had no clue how. He'd have to get another one and hopefully soon. But for now, Harry contented himself with the sakabato as he strolled down the stairs to the common room.

A chill breeze blew in the open windows and shook the branches of the Christmas tree; the common room was deserted as usual for five in the morning, and Harry sorted through the pile of gifts huddles under the false green branches for those belonging to him. There weren't many, only three - no, four; he saw one last present hidden under one for Cho Chang.

One from Terry, one from Hermione, one from Ginny - and the rest of the Weasley family - and one from someone else. Harry smiled slightly, setting the last aside. He'd open it after the others.

Both Terry's and Hermione's gift Harry could have guessed easily, had he cared to try, and he smiled a touch more broadly as he shook his head in amusement. Terry had given him a quill, ink, and parchment refill, plus a poster for the Kenmore Kestrels Quidditch team - Terry's favorite, while Hermione had given him some books. Moste Potente Potions was emblazoned across the front of one, and another read Wandless Magicks: Blood, Rune, and Mind Magicks. He snorted as he saw the note on the front apologizing for prereading his Christmas gift, because she just couldn't help it, really!

Moving to Ginny's gift, Harry arched a brow as he unwrapped a Weasley sweater in bright green to match his eyes, and studied the tin of peanut butter fudge she'd sent - it looked good. And then he blinked in surprise as he saw the weapon hidden in the folds of the sweater.

Apparently Ginny had read a bit too well into the blood-covered Harry with the upside-down sword and the split-into-two basilisk, because she'd sent him a tiny blade that he thought was a suntetsu. He could tell it shatter instantly if he tried to channel magic into it, but - well, he didn't think he'd be using the suntetsu like that, if he used it at all.

They worked a lot better as nice blades to stab people in the back, in his opinion, and he secreted it away in his pants pocket.

After that surprise, Harry picked up the unlabelled package with a satisfied smile, sensing no active magic in it; it could channel magic, he realized as his smile broadened almost into a grin, and channel it extremely well.

With that, he slid it out, and his breath caught in his chest.

Harry prided himself on his instincts. Even ten years ago, at the age of three, he'd listened to them, and they'd never steered him wrong. They told him that flight meant fear, and fear gave the ones who caused it power - so he didn't run, and in the end, they'd left him alone. They told him that to cry meant vulnerability, and the essence of combat is to strike at those vulnerabilities - so he didn't cry, and they didn't know where to strike.

His instincts made him the person he was.

So, following his instinct that said something good was to come of opening his presents now - while he usually practiced - he wasn't surprised that he'd gotten some things actually useful. And when he saw the suntetsu, he thought he'd had a good Christmas. He hadn't thought he'd get something more.

He ghosted his finger down the edge of the blade - and drew it back with a hiss as it cut, even with his lightest touch. Absentmindedly he licked it clean as he studied the wakizashi in more detail; this time he was careful not to touch the edge, having tested its sharpness and not interested in doing so a second time.

It was a pretty thing, all black and silver with some runes embedded in the blade. To the untrained eye it looked almost delicate - but Harry knew better. Those runes that some might see as decorative were indicative of runic magic, used in this case to channel magic in its purest form through the blade - like his sakabato.

Harry smiled, sheathing the wakizashi and securing it at his waist. Yes, opening the Christmas presents early had been a very good idea, and now he was in an excellent mood. Now for a start on Himahou-ryu Yonshiki, and then… Harry gathered up his presents to put the books in his trunk and the poster by his bed. Maybe later he'd hang out with Hermione and Ginny. And maybe see how Ron was doing… They hadn't talked in a while.

Harry smiled in exasperation as he was dragged down to Hagrid's to comfort the half-giant - something about a Hippogriff that had been provoked by Malfoy, and was now being put to death. He couldn't really blame the creature - Malfoy's mere presence was provocation enough - but the fact remained that something was driving his aura-sense haywire, and he would have preferred to stay the castle to figure out why.

He stumbled as he felt a mirror of his own aura flash, and then become shielded again, and wheeled around - but Ron, Hermione, and Terry tugged him on before he could investigate the source, and he sighed as the four of them slipped out the door.

The sun was setting fast as they crossed the grounds, and Harry had to deal with an increasing paranoia all of the way there. Something was going to happen, something bad - that flash had been a warning. With the paranoia came an intense awareness of his friends' proximity, and it was driving him up the proverbial wall. They were too close… way too close.

He suffered in silence to Hagrid's door.

"Hagrid - it's us," Hermione whispered. "Please, open the door so we can come in!"

"Yeh shouldn't've come!" But he opened the door nonetheless.

Harry sat himself down and closed his eyes while his companions comforted Hagrid, relieved to have some breathing space. He smiled in amusement when Ron offered to make tea - and frowned when Ron discovered his rat - Scabbers - in the jug.

There was something wrong with that animal, but Harry thought it would be smart not to say that.

Abruptly he sat down his mug of boiling hot water - catching his companions attention. "I think we'd best get out of here," he said firmly. "They'll be here in a minute."

Ron gave him a blank look. "They?"

Harry chose not to dignify the comment with an answer - but Terry felt a bit kinder, looking out the window and pointing.

"Them," Terry said, and clarified. "The Minister, the Headmaster, some old bloke and some other guy who's probably the executioner."

Hagrid was obviously alarmed, and he motioned them all out the back door to the garden, where Buckbeak the hippogriff was tied to a tree. "Yeh ought to get goin'," said the half-giant gruffly, pointedly not looking at Buckbeak.

"B - but-"

"Perhaps we should," Harry murmured, and then paused. He could sense his aura flaring again. "But..," he continued thoughtfully, seeing Hagrid's tearful face and sensing the hurt in his aura, "maybe… maybe you shouldn't be so worried over the hippogriff, Hagrid. After all, miracles do happen sometimes."

Terry and Ron shot him weird looks and Hermione a look of righteous fury - you're supposed to comfort him, idiot, not act like you don't even care! he could imagine her saying - but Hagrid seemed to take his words at face value and smiled tremulously.

"Tha' may be, Harry," he said. "Tha' may be."

Abruptly a hammering at the hut's door caught their attention. "Hagrid? Hagrid!"

"They're here," Hagrid choked, the effects of Harry's words evaporating like water in the desert. "Now go - go, you don't need to be found here."

"But Hagrid," Ron protested, "we'll talk to them, we'll make them see-"

"No!" Hagrid interrupted. "Yeh'll be in enough trouble as it is; just go before yeh get caught."

The redhead opened his mouth to argue, until Harry put his hand on his shoulder.

"Don't," he advised calmly, staring the boy down. He nodded once at Hagrid, before he released Ron's shoulder and turning to leave. "Let's go." The mirror mirror of his own aura was flaring incessantly… yelling, as much as an aura could yell, to get out of there. Why, Harry wasn't sure.

It didn't matter anyway.

Harry lightly tossed the invisibility cloak to his three friends to cover themselves, ignoring the emotions rampant in their auras, and stepped back into the shadow of the forest's edge - with it being so dark out already, it would take someone with an aura-sense to find him.

Harry smiled slightly - and flared his own aura for an instant. He stood quietly as his friends eventually moved away, until and answering flash impinged on his senses; and then he turned to track it.

Curiosity is a strange thing, Harry pondered a few minutes later. For example, were no man curious, the human race would still be living back in the Stone Age like apes - but thanks to it, thousands of said "civilized" humans died every day. And curiosity in wizarding folk tended to get them in weird situations.

Such as the one Harry was in now.

He met the amused stare of the boy in front of him with an impassive one, studying himself carefully. This was, he was sure, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity - to look one's own flaws in the face - and despite his confusion over how a replica of himself had appeared, he was going to take advantage of the chance.

Of course - it wasn't only a replica of himself he had found - but a replica of Hermione as well. And this Hermione was staring between him and the other Harry with stark disbelief. Her aura was clouded, Harry realized - it was being shielded, but not under her own power.

A glance at his double was enough to confirm his guess. The other Harry smiled at him - giving a full-blown Squinty Smile - and walked away, tossing something on the ground as he went. Hermione followed after a pause, leveling the retreating back with a glare that demanded answers.

Harry stooped to pick up the small roll of parchment from the ground.

Don't kill Black.

That was all. Harry arched a brow at it, before shrugging it off. Don't kill Black. The short message said a lot more than its words. It said he'd run into Black, be given a reason to want the mass-murderer dead, but that he shouldn't, because that'd be bad in the long run.

Harry absently wondered how long "in the long run" was, sticking the paper in his pocket and reaching out with his senses for his friends' auras. "Strange," he murmured aloud to himself. They should be near the castle by now… but they were… near the Whomping Willow.

He smiled amusedly - couldn't they do anything without getting into some sort of trouble? For he had no doubt they had. And now, of course, it was up to him to bail them out of it.

He sighed softly, and slipped through the forest, keeping to the shadows - not that he really needed to, considering how dark it was. The sakabato and wakizashi at his waist were a comfort as he sauntered toward this year's confrontation.

Seeing Snape freeze the Willow with a stick was a bit a surprise, and Harry arched a brow as the professor picked up his invisibility cloak, vanishing from Harry's sight but not his aura sense.

He spared a moment for contempt for the professor - watching as Snape slipped through a hole near the tree's roots - and followed him as silently as he could manage with his aura carefully shielded. While he didn't think Snape was aura sensitive, it was good practice if nothing else.

He had just gotten down between the roots when the tree resumed movement, and barely got away from the branch that smacked down right onto the opening. Staring - that would've hurt, and despite having dealt with much worse, getting whipped in the bum by a tree wasn't high on his priority list- he gathered his wits before getting to his feet in a squat and making his way down the tunnel.

The cramped space set his paranoia to record heights, so he was understandably relieved when it widened and expanded until he could properly stand; he sensed Snape moving away from him, aura seething with a cruel satisfaction, and more distantly felt his friends, one aura he didn't recognize, and… Lupin? Harry sped up a little, landing catlike in a room full of broken furniture and relying mostly on his aura-sense.

His haste was rewarded by the sight of footprints appearing in a thick layer of dust leaping up a set of creaky wooden stairs, and Harry followed, feeling a bit of proud disbelief. He was hardly ten feet behind the professor, and completely visible, but he hadn't been noticed.

And they were at the top of the stairs, and Snape opened the door and walked him, Harry stepping up behind where he sensed Snape's aura.

"Harry?" five voices exclaimed, and the potions master's aura flared with surprise - and wheeled about.

Harry smiled devilishly at where he guessed Snape's head to be, grasping the hilt of the sakabato.

"Goodnight," he said brightly, and drew the reverse-blade at top speed.

Snape yelled out in pain, the invisibility cloak slipping off as he was propelled into the wall; Harry shut the door behind him as he entered, watching satisfactorily as the professor slid to the ground, out cold.

"A couple broken and/or cracked ribs, possibly some bruised internal organs, and a concussion," Harry diagnosed. "And I was hardly even trying." Then again, he had caught Snape off-guard… Harry shook his head. Zeroing in on the unfamiliar aura, he met the eyes of the notorious mass-murderer calmly.

Harry smiled disarmingly at Black. "Now what have we here?" he drawled.

Harry smiled tightly as he followed the strange group out of the Whomping Willow. The past thirty minutes had been very informative… and he had a lot to ponder. Plus, he had a really bad feeling, and couldn't pinpoint exactly why. Snape was still out cold, and Pettigrew - he glanced carefully at Hermione's back - was immobile. He would be dead, but the muggle-born girl had objected to having him killed, even after hearing what the rat Animagus had done.

Harry supposed that was a good thing, all things considered; it meant that Black could have his innocence proved, and possibly he could go to live with him. He wasn't certain whether this was a good thing or not. At the Dursleys', at least, he was given his chores and ignored once they were done, so he was free to do as he pleased otherwise, and he doubted it was be like that with Black. Still, with Black he doubted he'd have the chores to deal with, giving him more free time… but knowing what little he did of the man, he didn't think Black would let him have his way so easily as he had it at his aunt and uncle's.

And that would not be a good thing. He had plans, and he would not have them come crashing down around his ears.

Crookshanks slipped out the hole in the Willow's roots, and Harry waited as his companions began to slowly file out of the tunnel into the night. Black kept shooting him glances out of the corner of his eye - but Harry feigned ignorance, not in the mood to deal with the inevitable at the moment.

It wasn't until they were walking to the school that it occurred to Harry what was bothering him. The air was crisp and the sky mostly clear, with the odd cloud covering the moon - the full moon.

And then suddenly the wind changed, and the moon wasn't covered anymore.

Harry stopped dead, staring at Lupin. The werewolf had gone rigid, his eyes wide - and Harry sensed, rather than saw, the madness taking him. He yelled out in pain as his spine snapped, falling to his fur-covered arms and legs.

Hermione swallowed, aura flashing with dread, until realization struck and then flooded with horror. "He hasn't taken his potion tonight!" she exclaimed. "He's not safe!"

Sparing a glance at the girl - Wolfsbane Potion or not, no transformed werewolf is safe! - Harry grabbed his sakabato, only to be pushed aside by Black, who was morphing into the form of a giant black dog.

"Get away from here!" he growled before the transformation took his voice. "I'll hold him off!"

There was a thud as Hermione's legs gave out underneath her, and Harry turned in alarm as Pettigrew's aura flared - Lupin's spell had failed with his transformation… The Animagus dived for the werewolf's fallen wand, and a brilliant flare of light temporarily blinded Harry.

And the traitor's aura began to recede….

"Black - Sirius!" Harry ground out. " Pettigrew is escaping!" Even if he didn't know if leaving the Dursleys was a good idea in the long run, he wanted the damn option!

The large black dog stumbled to its feet, bleeding from foreleg and shoulder among other places, and chased after the rat, while Harry shook his head and tried to regain his bearing. When he did, it was to learn the Ron was out cold over a frozen Hermione, and Terry was clutching his side with his teeth gritted in pain.

"Terry," said Harry, his calm tone belying his unrest, "take Ron and Snape and get help. I'm going after Pettigrew… and Hermione, help them; you're the only one not wounded." Then he turned on his heel, following after Black at a run.

He could sense the strange void-like feeling that he'd come to associate with dementors approaching and cursed inwardly - he'd never learned the spell Lupin had used to drive them off, and from what he could sense, there were hordes of them coming.

He snorted as he came over the rise and saw Black crouched in his human form, clutching at his head. "No… No… Stop… please…" he whimpered.

Standing over the pathetic figure was himself, both the sakabato and wakizashi held out in the form of Sanshiki, and tearing through dementor after dementor easily. Tempting through it was to simply stand there and watch, he threw himself into the midst of the fray, standing back to back with his replica.

"I was beginning to think you wouldn't show," said the other; the irony in his tone was so very faint Harry doubted anyone but himself could have recognized it.

"I thought about it," Harry returned, knocking aside a dementor - it recoiled, and the time it took to recover was enough for him to slash it into two with the wakizashi. He cursed as he span on his heel to dodge the oily black blood. Black was not so lucky, and he screamed in pain as it burned into his leg.

Luckily, the pain was enough to bring him to his senses, and he latched on to the wand the other Harry tossed him. "EXPECTO PATRONUM!" Black screamed.

Out from the tip of the wand exploded a mass of pure white light, that coalesced into a large dog to match the man's Animagus form. With a bellowing howl, it launched itself into the crowds of dementors with reckless abandon, and soon the entire contingent was either down or fled.

His replica had vanished without another word, and Black passed out soon after, so Harry cleaned his blades carefully before sheathing them and setting down to wait.

Harry smiled in satisfaction. Although it had to be near midnight, he wasn't the least bit tired - maybe thanks to adrenaline - and he now had concrete evidence that his training was coming along. Just a few more years, he was certain. Just a few more years….

Hogwarts Express

Harry smiled slightly as he watched his friends argue. Terry and Ron had lately taken to biting each each other's heads off, while Hermione was in the middle, trying to be the peacemaker. Ginny had been pouting ever since the entire Black affair had been explained to her, annoyed at being left out, but he saw her smirking at the other three in amusement and felt a bit of relief; a pouting Ginny was a bore.

Harry had not been mistaken when he'd thought Hermione would give him an earful, when he had met himself that night before heading to the Whomping Willow. She'd spent nearly an hour nagging him afterward until he told her that she hadn't seen fit to tell him about having a Time Turner so he didn't see fit to tell her anything.

She'd sulked worse than Ginny the entire night. Harry couldn't bring himself to feel the least bit guilty.

It wasn't until halfway through the train ride back to King's Cross Station that the monotony of the carriage was broken - by a small owl pecking at the window. Harry let the thing in at his friend's urging - it was so small he could hold it in the palm of his hand - and caught the dropped letter with an amused smile. The owl flew up near the roof when he released it, hooting and flying circles, apparently proud of accomplishing its task.

There was no magic in the letter, so Harry felt safe opening it. In the letter was a slip granting him permission to go to Hogsmeade - Harry ignored it for the most part and turned to the letter itself.

Dear Harry,

I do hope this finds you before you reach your aunt and uncle's house; I don't know whether or not they are accustomed to owl post.

I can't say anything outright, due to the chance of this being intercepted, but I want to you to know I am quite safe. I am planning on heading south - can't say where exactly, due to the above reason - but if for any reason you have the need to talk to me, I have no doubt your owl will be able to find me.

Aside from that, I had another reason to write you. Though I never had the chance to tell you, that wakizashi you used so well against the dementors was a gift from me - I saw the hilt of that upside-down sword of yours once, watching one of the Quidditch games at Hogwarts, and thought you might like it. I bought it right after Hogwarts, on a decision to travel the world a bit, but I think you'll be able to put it to better use than I would.

Included is something I thought might make your time at Hogwarts a little more enjoyable. Come on kid, you got to live a little. You're one weird little Ravenclaw.


Harry shook his head in amusement. "It's from Sirius," he murmured. "Says he's okay and in hiding." He looked back at the letter, and noticed a little arrow pointing to the other side. With a tiny snort at the childishness of his godfather, Harry turned it over.

P.S. I thought that perhaps Ron might want to keep the owl, since it is mostly my fault he no longer has a rat.

"He also says the owl's yours if you want him, Ron," Harry added.

Ron looked up at the hyperactive owl uncertainly. "An owl?" he said thoughtfully, and Harry sighed inwardly as the redhead sneaked a glance at Hermione. "Yeah… I'd like that. I'll keep him."

Harry smiled thoughtfully at the letter as he sat back in the seat. "Live a little"? Oh Sirius, you've got it all wrong. He wrapped his hand around the hilt of the sakabato. This… is

Year Four

Harry smiled tiredly as he finished his kata. It was the first of Goshiki, the fifth form, and, in keeping with the custom in Himahou-ryu, completely different from the other four, depending on sheer speed - the idea, the book had said, was to achieve the level of speed dubbed Shukuchi.

It wasn't all speed though - it took a tricky form of footwork as well, and immense leg strength, and right now, Harry had a hard time leaving a blasted afterimage, let alone Shukuchi.

Actually, right now, Harry was having a hard time walking.

Stumbling over to his bed, he let himself collapse onto the raggedy covered with a sigh. He lay there a moment, relaxing - but only for a moment, before he set about stretching his overworked muscles.

"One more murder… My faithful servant at Hogwarts… Harry Potter is as good as mine…"

The smile faded slightly as he found himself remembering his dream of the previous night. There had been Wormtail, and Voldemort… and a huge snake - called Nagini - plus a muggle. The muggle was dead, he remembered, but as to the rest of the dream, Harry could only remember bits and pieces, the memory draining away like water from a cracked goblet.

Slumping against the bed, Harry smiled thoughtfully out the window at the dusky sky. He did know that Voldemort - the current one, not some shade - would be back in his life this year, the dream was enough to tell him that. That meant he needed to buckle down, concentrate himself on his studies, and his kenjutsu in particular; he had no chance of being about to reach the level of speed called Shinsoku let alone Shukuchi in a single year, but considering the general horrid unfitness of most wizards, he should be able to run loops around them.

Apparation or no.

"This'll be a busy year…" he murmured aloud to no one. His friends might be a little put off - they were already upset with him for declining their invitation to go to the Quidditch World Cup - but they'd have to deal with it. They were probably used to it by now anyway, he slipped off all the time as it was.

Harry shifted on the threadbare comforter, and barely stifled a groan. He was well and truly burned out - a good thing, he supposed, as it meant he wouldn't have to deal with the soreness. Still, he thought, yawning, the lack of soreness tomorrow didn't make him feel good today.

He felt the approach of an animal's aura - scratch that, several of them - and realized with a jolt; a quick look at the clock he'd repaired told him it was yes, ten minutes into fifteenth year of life. It was his birthday, and he was fourteen, and he felt like rolling over and sleeping, owls be damned.

But he dragged himself upright as the owls landed on his legs, to relieve them of their burdens. He'd open them tomorrow; he wasn't up to bothering to rip open the paper at the moment.

Harry smiled ironically. Not bothering to rip open paper - how pathetic. But he didn't care.

Harry smiled blandly, turning around as his sensed Ginny's approaching aura - it was radiating a sense of stubborn determination and more than a little nervousness. He knew before she opened her mouth what she wanted - been expecting it for over a year.

"No." He was no master, nor close to being so - but Himahou-ryu was his.

The redhead started. "Huh?"

"I'll not teach you."

Her aura flared with hurt at that, mingled with irritation. "Why? Can girls not learn swordsmanship?" she snapped, not quite keeping the hurt in her aura out of her tone.

"No." He gave her a placating smile. "Girls can do whatever they like. But I'm rather selfish.

"Plus," he added after a moment, "I'm nowhere near qualified to teach."

She crossed her arms, pouting at him and giving him a weak glare from under her scarlet fringe. "You've got to be kidding me," she said disbelievingly. "I saw what you did to the basilisk! Hermione told me what you did to Snape, and to the dementors - and you call yourself not qualified? How is that not qualified?"

Because I took Snape off-guard. Because the basilisk and the dementors don't count; they're not human. Because if I had to fight a true master of the blade, I would die. Because I am not yet the one who determines the fates of myself and others.

Because I may not be as weak as most, but in a world where the weak are the food of the strong, the strong would rip me to pieces as such.

But Harry couldn't tell Ginny any of this. He gave her a Squinty Smile. "It's not qualified unless it is mastered. And I am no master," he said. It wasn't a lie.

Her face fell, and she gave him a look. "That's no excuse," she argued, but Harry thought she realized arguing was futile. Her aura was resigned.

"Perhaps," he admitted, to the redhead's surprise. Perhaps…. He was struck by a sudden idea, and gave her a solid inspection; to his slight surprise, he noticed she began to blush.

"Stop looking at me like that you perv!" she snapped, and tried to slap him; going on autopilot, he grasped her arm and tossed her over his shoulder. She landed on her back with an 'oof'.

"Perv?" he repeated, smiling down at her in amusement. He was just studying her physique…

Her cheeks flushed further. Harry smiled wolfishly.

"Just because I'm learning kenjutsu - swordsmanship," he clarified at her confused look, "doesn't mean you have to. Just because I'm territorial when it comes to swords, doesn't mean you can't learn other things."

Her eyes widened as she realized what he was implying. "You mean-"

"Just let the swords alone," he interrupted her. Then, just to annoy her, he added, "And whatever you do, do it quick. It gets boring, having to save you all the time."

It worked. She developed a tick at her temple, and her aura flared with irritation. Harry gave her another appraising look, and continued before the girl got it into her head to target him with the Bat-Bogey Hex.

"You'll never be one for brute strength; you're too small - too delicate." He held up a hand to stall her indignant response. "But you're precise," he continued thoughtfully. "Go for something with pressure points, or the magic release points - both if possible."

Irritation forgotten, she frowned. "Why?"

"It takes pinpoint precision to utilize styles based on either pressure or magic release points," he informed her. "But if you can master it… then the slightest touch can be deadly."

"Deadly…," she whispered, closing her eyes. Uncertainty colored her aura.

"Or you can just do nothing, and be nothing," he finished abruptly.

Ginny's eyes flew open and she growled at him. "I'll never be nothing!" she snarled, his barb taking effect as he'd intended. "Just you watch! I'll learn everything there is to learn about both sets of points, and then I'll kick your ass, Mr. Samurai!"

Mr. Samurai? Harry stared for a moment, until he shrugged it off. "Whatever you say," he commented.

"I say I'll kick your ass and I will," Ginny retorted. She stood. "And now I'm going to the library," she said, and turned on her heel, only to pause at the door. "Y'know, perhaps we could bring the others into this… Ron's a good strategist even if he's an idiot sometimes, and Terry's really smart… and Hermione - well, that's self-explanatory."

Harry smiled at her back as she disappeared out the door. He'd taken a gamble and it looked to be paying off. Plus, her suggestion wasn't half bad. Ron was a good strategist, and Terry was brilliant with research. Hermione just read too much, which wasn't the same - but her control of her spells was perfect, meaning she'd be a good healer. He'd picked them for their strengths - and now it looked like it was all coming together.

Harry smiled thinly as he stalked away from Diggory. So the Hufflepuff thought he had entered himself did he? Well, Diggory was wrong. Now he'd been roped into this "Triwizard Tournament," and things hadn't yet progressed far enough in his plans to show his hand.

He needed to practice. He had a headache, and experience had training the best way to work it off.

He ignored the whispering of the portraits as he made his way to the Room of Requirement. The room had been a lucky find, back in his second year - and now it was something of a haunt, for himself and his friends. Certainly he'd made certain that anyone besides them finding it was virtually impossible….

Harry sensed his friends' auras before he walked in.

Ginny and Hermione were confused, and Terry was irritated, but really didn't know what to think. Ron, on the other hand, was seething. Harry winced - Ron was a jealous person, and it was rearing its ugly head, as the redhead obviously thought he'd entered himself on purpose. Hopefully he could convince him otherwise.

"Harry!" they exclaimed as he strode in, Ron's tone slightly resentful. Harry cut the boy off before he could start on a rant - and he was going to, his aura was blatantly projecting that fact.

"Apparently this year will just as amusing as these last three," he said drolly, and chuckled inwardly when his friends shot him disbelieving looks - though he noticed Ginny's aura flash slightly with exasperation in contrast to the other's irritation. "Amusing," he continued, tone still very carefully light, "but throwing off plans a great deal…." He let himself trail off.

"Plans?" Ron blurted out. "Plans to make yourself all the more famous?"

Ginny grew quite offended on his behalf, and was about to lash out at her brother before Harry cut in.

"Actually the opposite," he drawled. "With Voldemort" -here his friends all flinched, earning them all a deadpan look- "and his Death Eaters on the move, more attention is the last thing I need."

"Bloody hell Harry!" Ron snapped. "You and your blasted sword skills, even if You-Know-Who was 'on the move' you'd just kick his arse!"

Harry blinked. Was that supposed to be a compliment or an insult? He decided to take it as the former, and countered, "Those 'blasted sword skills' don't even encompass half of my style… and if Voldemort" -another flinch- "isn't on the move, then how do you explain the Death Eater activity at the World Cup?" Hermione opened her mouth to reply, but shut it at Harry's quelling look. "If you haven't forgotten, Pettigrew did get away last year."

He'd succeeded in sobering the four, and Ron's jealousy had died down. He wasn't fool enough to believe it gone completely, but it would work for now. Now perhaps he could get some practice done…. There'd be no sleeping in the Ravenclaw dormitory tonight, he acknowledged. He wouldn't be able to get there.

"Uh… Harry?"

"Yes, Ginny?"

The redhead held up a book, smirking. With a mental snort - honestly, a school library was a weird place to find books detailing ways to kill people, and this made two of them - and a satisfied nod, he asked, "Magic circulation or pressure points?"

"Both," Ginny replied, eyes gleaming. "You'd better watch your back," she warned playfully, "or I'll take you down!"

"Ambitious," he commented - and then, just to push the girl's buttons, finished with, "but unlikely."

Harry smiled as her aura pulsed with outraged determination. He didn't really know what was so fun about annoying her, but he could indulge himself sometimes. At least, he could until she mastered her style - he had no doubt she would - but after that, he'd have to keep to himself. He liked living.

Harry smiled up at the dragon, narrowing his eyes against the sun's glare off of the brilliant scarlet scales. He supposed he'd been lucky to draw the Chinese Fireball - unlike Diggory, who had drawn the Hungarian Horntail - but he'd preferred to not have to face any of them.

He wasn't that lucky, though.

The dragon reared back on its back legs, and let loose a great torrent of dragon fire at Harry. Bearing his teeth slightly, he raised his wand and yelled the incantation for the Flame-Freezing Charm.

He cursed inwardly as he stepped unharmed out of the licking flames - provoking a roar of cheers from the crowd - and onto a patch of unscorched grass. He and his friends had most of Hogwarts beat in magic, but he didn't specialize in it. And his sword wasn't of much use here. No use of his sword nullified use Himahou-ryu, which while it kept him from unveiling his skills, wasn't a good thing here.

He paused, thinking. Sword techniques would be of no use against a dragon, but that wasn't the point of the task - it was to get the egg. He was relatively sure he'd have built up enough speed to manage leaving afterimages by Christmas, but that didn't help him now, so speed was out of the question…

Then it hit him. But he needed a distraction.

"Does Potter have something planned?" he heard Bagman say, and grinned wolfishly. This would be a bit tiring, but it'd be worth it, if only to be amused at the confusion it'd cause.

He waited patiently until the dragon tried to fry him with another blast of fire - it didn't take long. But this time, rather than resorting to the Flame-Freezing Charm, he brought it down in a whip-like motion, and snarled, "X!"

Spell and flame collided in a momentary fight for dominance, before the spell reacting - and exploding, sending the mass of magic-infused flame right back into the dragon's face. Harry couldn't help but snicker as he heard Bagman's exclamation of shock; pulling at his magic, he disappeared underground as the beast let out a cry of pain and rage, and dived at him.

Travel underground was more difficult without a blade to separate the soil he passed through, and did, as he hypothesized, tire him out immensely; and when he felt the auras of the dragonets in their eggs, he erupted from the ground, breathing in the air in relief. Steering about to retrieve the golden egg, he cradled it in his arms for a second before burrowing underground again - the dragon had seen him in its nest, and was now even more infuriated.

"Is this kid a mole?" he heard Bagman say as he shot out of the ground a second time, retreating to a safe distance as dozens of qualified witches and wizards streamed onto the field to take the enraged dragon down. Harry didn't mind, the stunned confusion in the man's tone was more than enough to pacify him.

He didn't receive his scores until they had finally managed to Stun the Chinese Fireball; and when he did, he smiled, pleased for the most part. Dumbledore and Maxime both gave him nine, Bagman gave him ten, and Crouch gave him nine. Karkaroff, on the other hand, earned himself the enmity of the entire crowd by sticking me with a one.

A one.

Harry smiled amusedly. The Durmstrang headmaster was shameless, to be so obviously trying to have his champion win…. At least Maxime had a fair bone in her. Dumbledore obviously was playing politics, keeping everything even on his end, and Couch… was being Crouch. He wasn't sure about Bagman, though, and couldn't help but wonder… but he brushed it off. It didn't matter.

Harry smiled leisurely as he readied himself for the second (or was it third? The Yule Ball should have counted. Harry thought) task of the Triwizard Tournament - a wild goose chase after something supposedly "most dear" to them that they supposedly would never get back if they didn't retrieve it in time.

Harry hadn't a clue what his "most dear" was. He had both his sakabato and wakizashi. What else did he "treasure"?

Better yet, how was he supposed to retrieve something when he didn't know what it was in the first place?

"On your mark!" Bagman shouted. Harry raised his wand in preparation - this would take a bit of difficult Transfiguration… "Get set - GO!

Harry waited a for a moment until his competitors had vanished into the water before swiping his wand in front of him, murmuring an incantation. He couldn't suppress the quiet yelp of pain as his robes changed texture and clung to his body, and then leaping into the lake the transformation concluded.

To alter the nature of matter was very difficult, the reason the Animagus transformation was considered almost impossible to achieve, but tailoring it to adjust to a changed environment - as Harry had done - was not so much so.

For a moment he worked to figure out the temporary changes to his body structure - then, with a powerful kick with a webbed foot, he set out into the depths of the lake.

The water was cold, and the water was dark. Though he could see - the spell had fixed that - the chill was beginning to sink into his bones. Though he could supplement himself by boosting the amount of magic running through his body, he would tire after a while - and the water would only grow colder….

So he gritted his teeth and bore with it. He'd been through worse. Like that time Dudley had managed to knock him out and had left him outside overnight - he'd been snowed on. When he'd woke up, it was to a mixture of hypothermia, influenza, and pneumonia - and his aunt and uncle hadn't seen fit to get him medicine, let alone let up on his chores.

Feeling at tug at his leg, Harry turned back to find a temporary relief for his stress - a grindylow. A small burst of magic brought new life to his limbs, and he unsheathed his sakabato (something he figured he'd regret later, above water), and reversing the grip, brought it slashing down straight through the grindylow.

A moment later, satisfied for the moment, he sheathed the sakabato once more and swam ever deeper through the water. The blood was sure to attract predators.

"Your time's half gone, so tarry not… else what you hold dear is left to rot…"

Harry thought wryly that had he known what he was missing, the warning in the song might have held a little more power. Nonetheless he turned in the direction the song had come from, using it as beacon he could follow. He wanted out of this blasted freezing-cold water as soon as possible.

The merpeople were nothing like the one painted on the wall of the prefect's bathroom. They were green scaly things with filthy, mud-stuck hair and yellow, rotting teeth - and they turned to him with their bulbous eyes and giggled and pointed. Some of them carried pronged staves and pitchforks, and Harry kept a mental eye on them as he cast out his senses - something he'd spared doing since first diving underwater.

There, ahead - Harry nearly choked as he struggled with an outburst of disbelieving hilarity - was a pillar rising in the middle of what seemed to be the merpeople's town square. And tied to that pillar were four figures - only three of which he recognized. Ginny, Hermione, and Cho Chang were sagging against their binding, bubbles rising from their mouths as they slept alongside a girl with silvery-white hair - obviously, Fleur Delacour's sister.

He swam over to them curiously, and stopped between Hermione and Ginny. Only one of them could be his "most dear," but he was friend to both of them. One had to be for someone else.

Tilting his head to the side in his classical thinking pose, he decided that while Hermione could have been his, she was probably down here for Victor Krum - the Durmstrang student was quite taken with her. That left Ginny - and now that he thought, all but the Delacour girl had been the champion's escorts at the Yule Ball.

Still. Ginny - his "most dear"? The girl was his friend - his ally. Just how exactly did that turn into "what you'll dearly miss"? He shook his head, and reached for his wakizashi, regretting the action - until he remembered Ginny's gift for Christmas the previous year, the suntetsu. With a genuine half-smile, he took it from his robe pocket with difficulty, and used it to cut Ginny free.

Harry smiled, and with another burst of magic to warm his freezing limbs, he hefted her in his arms and shot for the surface.

Harry smiled thinly, bracing himself for the final task of the Triwizard Tournament. For the past months, he'd been growing more and more edgy - something his friends had noticed and learned not to comment on.

Up until Rokushiki, his progress with Himahou-ryu had been slow but steady - there had been no major stumbling blocks. But the sixth form… He understood the moved, and performed them just as they should, but they just didn't work. It was… frustrating, and frustration was not something Harry was familiar with.

"Harry," said Ludo Bagman, "You'll be going first, followed by Cedric, Victor, and lastly Fleur. This test is simple… Hidden in the center of the maze is the Triwizard Cup - the first one to touch it gains a full fifty points. You will be required to pass various obstacles on your way. Any questions?"

There weren't any. The other three champions were too busy glaring at Harry to ask, and he was more preoccupied with his problem.

The book had kept nattering on about the "Riot of the Blood" and how it was the key to Rokushiki. Boy, that helped. Now, what exactly was the Riot of the Blood? It didn't say.

"Ready, Harry?" Harry nodded. Why did this man act so familiar with him? "On your mark… get set…. Go!"

Summoning his top speed, he shot off, stirring up a cloud of dust in his wake that hid the afterimages his opponents would not have been able to track.

The maze was dark and foggy - and for anyone else, he supposed, a little spooky. It was a distraction to him, and as he sped through the maze, pausing every so often to check his direction, there was nothing that could combat his speed.

His speed - not even to the level of Shinsoku, though maybe by the end of next year he might have it - had been to the center in a mere five minutes, after jumping over a sphinx and dodging around an Acromantula. Only then did he hear the whistle that granted Cedric access to the maze.

Then he grabbed one of the handles of the Cup - and only in the instant before the portkey activated did he notice it's enchantment.

The world blurred by at the relentless tugging at his navel, and his stomach churned. Wizards put themselves through this of their own will? It was nauseating….

The shock of his feet slamming onto the ground nearly had him loose his balance - and the stunner to his back left him semiconscious on the ground.

His magic protested violently as grubby hands tried to wrap around and grasp his upper arms – Wormtail, Harry realized, recognizing the flavor of the aura – and when the man drew a wand to levitate him, it resisted further, this time with the sliver of intent Harry could manage with his spell-fogged mind.

Harry wondered what was going on.

And then a high, cold voice cut through the air, sending a tingle through his scar. "Hurry!" it demanded.

"Y-yes Master!" Wormtail squeaked, and redoubled his efforts.

Wormtail… master…? It took a moment for his mind to connect the dots, but when he did, he forced himself to concentrate, to break the spell. Voldemort…. The fallen Dark Lord was not going to get a shot at him while he was down.

He heard Wormtail curse under his breath, and then the sound of baring steel - followed by the wish of wind an a shot of pain as the dagger cut a fine line into the flesh of his shoulder before crashing into a tombstone and falling to the grass. Snuffling, the rat animagus crept to the weapon and took it from the ground.

"Are you done yet?"

Harry hadn't imagined that Voldemort could sound like a petulant child, but as his mind cleared - as the stunning spell failed - he was struck by amusement, not only at the Dark Lord, but his situation as well.

Trust the time he had begun to have trouble that trouble would find him. Ah well - the first five where still as best as he could manage. Only the sixth did he have problems with.

Harry smiled faintly as he finally broke through the spell - but stayed lying down in the same position. If they thought him neutralized, he could find out information he wouldn't otherwise. It was time.

Most people, upon being encircled by a group of black-robed, skull-masked Death Eaters, would promptly deem themselves screwed and give up - but Harry wasn't most people, standing straight-backed and proud, looking the grotesque monstrosity that was the Dark Lord Voldemort in the eye.

Most people would be scared and begging to be spared. He was glad that perhaps, he could finally test himself. It couldn't have occurred at the worse time - well, no, it could have occurred while he was growing up at the Dursleys - but here was a test. If he died, he died; if he lived, he lived.

"…And here we are, Lord Voldemort, the Heir of Slytherin, versus Harry Potter, the boy they believed had brought me down at last…" Voldemort's voice held a bit of a hissing quality to it, like a snake, and Harry could only deem it appropriate. "You have your wand. Let us dimenstate for good which is better…and which survived by mere luck."

He smiled pleasantly, amused. "I haven't a challenge in a while," Harry drawled. "It'll be fun."

A Death Eater behind him didn't take his comment well, and his aura flared with his intention to attack. In a flash, Harry had the Death Eater in front of him, the naked blade of his wakizashi a hair's breadth from his throat. "Bad boy."

The man and his fellow were startled, that much was clear, and Voldemort surprised - though he could have been mistaken, as the Dark Lord had a shield held over his aura. Not a powerful one, not near his own, but a strong one nonetheless.

The Death Eater he threatened swallowed, nearly cutting his own throat on accident. "Kill me if you can, little golden boy," he spat. "I dare you."

Harry was slightly impressed that the man's voice didn't tremble - the man's aura was virtually dripping with terror - and smiled kindly.

"As you wish."

With a swift movement of his hand, Harry reversed grip and buried it in the man's heart.

Now it felt as if he were swimming in shock and disbelief, as he removed the blade and studied the blood. He felt… weird. As if the blood was only the first of liters that he'd spill - and somehow… the thought made him…

…giddy? He felt his lips twitch and had to act quickly before the macabre grin made itself visible.

Harry looked at Voldemort above his glasses, holding the blade in his mouth - the taste was driving him crazy, and not in a way Harry didn't like- and waved a hand carelessly as he thrust the body aside with the other.

"Though… if you had a death wish," he said, partially to the corpse and partially to the ring of Death Eaters about him, "you really ought to have done the deed yourself. It's a much more honorable way to go."

The smile was peaceful as he slid the blade from his mouth, painting his lips bright scarlet and further cleaned it on his robes. He gave it a final inspection before sheathing it at last.

His wand rested comfortably in his left hand - something he'd worked at for a good month - with his right inside his robe on the hilt of the sakabato, ready to draw. "Well then.

"Let's get this started, shall we?"

Harry smiled, and cast Flagellus Incendio, the fire whip spell, to meet Voldemort's Avada Kedavra - really, pulling out the big guns already? Harry had thought better of him - while he dodged aside and fired another. This… will be fun.

On Himahou-ryu: The translations used are as accurate as I could manage at the time (which equates to "probably so inaccurate or so retarded any native speaker would be rolling on the floor laughing"). Most of the moves are either equally retarded or humanly impossible (even keeping magic in mind). I was trying to be clever, and probably failing miserably. But neh. It was fun.

On the Golden Trio: On rereading, I wonder how the hell they managed to reform. Really. What the heck was I thinking (was I thinking)?

"Riot of the Blood": Bloodlust and killing instinct, exascerbated to the point of near insanity. Harry, being virtually emotionless (even if he loosens up a little over time) sucked at Rokushiki: Ookami, because it relies on a more vicious, instinctual fighting style. The ultimate technique of Rokushiki translated roughly as "Blood Rush" - and required surrendering all rational thought for as long as it took for the "Rush" to pass. Not something you want to do with allies around... or at all if you're sane, because there's the danger you just might not come off it, ever. Bloodbath, whoo!