Disclaimer: If I owned Harry Potter, he'd likely be insane. As it is, he's only mildly unstable, so I guess he's JKR's.
"Books! And cleverness! There are more important things - like friendship and bravery and - oh, Harry, be careful!" -Hermione, PS/SS
Ms. Mitchell had enjoyed a good dozen years as a primary school teacher in Surrey. Quite proudly (and not quite truthfully), she claimed to remember every child she taught. But in all her teaching experience, she had never taught a student like Harry Potter - if taught was even the correct word, because she doubted she had taught him anything. He was just too smart for a five-year-old.
Oh... She corrected herself, spying the boy with a notebook on his lap and pencil in his hand, completely ignoring the rest of the frolicking class except to through them a nasty look when one came too close or got too loud, smart didn't cover it. He was smarter than most of the teens in secondary school, but much quieter and more solitary.
Still, it wasn't healthy for five-year-olds to be loners. Humans in general were social creatures, to the point where it was disadvantageous to their health to be deprived of interaction.
Whether it was because of that or something else, however, Mitchell knew better than to try to get the boy to socialize. Actually, it was several reasons. In the minds of the rest of the class, Potter was a freak; in the mind of Potter, his classmates were "violent, immature, small-minded babies only vaguely Homo sapien."
Where did the boy learn these things?
If it were any other child, Mitchell would have brought the behavior up with his parents or guardians, but she had seen how his aunt and uncle acted around him - like the rest of the class, like he was some freak with cooties - and feared escalating an already bad situation at home.
A lot of teachers would be ecstatic to have such a child in their class… he had yet to miss a single question, already three-quarters of the way through the school year, and she had caught him attempting to graph an ellipse not long prior and succeeding, as well as working (with less success) on a dimensional theory stating the principle zero dimension was energy itself.
It was maddening.
Checking her watch suddenly, Mitchell realized she had allowed recess to stretch an extra ten minutes in her distraction and hurriedly blew her whistle. There was a chorus of groans and whining (which were ignored with the ease of long practice) but the class eventually ambled in - all except Potter, who appeared not even to have heard the shrill call.
Potter didn't look up when she called his name; only after Mitchell stepped up to look at what he was working on did he move. She saw what looked like a cube cut through by a line color-coded by a chart (how did he manage that with only a pencil?) before he snapped it to his small chest and leveled her as dirty a look as she had ever seen.
"Yes, Ms. Mitchell?"
Mitchell bit back a sigh forcibly. Many teachers would be ecstatic to have a boy as intelligent as Potter in their class. She might, too, if he wasn't also the most arrogant, contemptuous, and self-centered five year old she'd ever had the misfortune to meet.
"It's time to go back into class, Harry," she said, irritation making it hard to keep her voice level.
Potter snorted at her as he stood. "Yes, let's." And then quieter, as though he hadn't intended on her hearing, "Though, what you expect to teach me…"
Her jaw dropped and she sputtered in shock. "Harry Potter, there has been enough of this!"
Potter eyed her, snorted again, and walked off.
Mitchell gaped and then growled under her breath.
Not for the first time, Harry thought he may have made a mistake.
Then he caught himself, remembered that there wasn't anything new to learn in the "Muggle" world that he couldn't figure out on his own using basic logic, and realized that the magical world wouldn't be much different from the Muggle one…. Full of brainless posturing idiots.
Harry had no use for his peers. From the looks of most of them, they couldn't even recount the multiplication tables, and the buck-toothed bookworm Muggleborn, while knowledgeable in elementary maths, wouldn't be able to handle algebra, let alone calculus or the equations required in advanced chemistries.
It was pathetic.
Weasley - the sports-obsessed redhead from earlier - was alternating between staring at Harry oddly and muttering under his breath about wrestling a troll, and Granger was talking quickly, running over all the spells she'd learned and wondering which one she'd need.
None of them, he could have answered, because there were too many upperclassmen to expect that an incoming first year would have to do a spell. Harry didn't bother, because if she could figure that out for herself, she wasn't worth his time.
Boredly, Harry felt around for his shrunken notebook with one hand, contemplating pulling it out to work on his latest pet project, extrapolation of planetary position utilizing his knowledge of stellar drift. It was challenging - considering he was working in billions of years into the future, after the death of the sun and the loss of its gravitational pull.
Just as a small smile began to appear on his face (as he decided to bury himself once more in his equations), he was distracted by an outburst of screaming, as several silvery-white figures appeared through the wall, arguing amongst themselves.
Imprints. More commonly mistakenly called ghosts, they were a copy of a deceased person's memories and personality given form (albeit incorporeal) by the deceased's remnant magic - contrary to a true ghost, a soul that has gained such fine control over its life energy that it can abandon the flesh and continue to interact with the living as if it hadn't.
Of course, he amended as the imprint called the Fat Friar expressed his hope to "see you in Hufflepuff," the definition of "ghost" in Harry's mind was all theoretical; there was no recorded instance of a witch or wizard with that level of control.
"Move along now," came the sharp voice of Professor McGonagall, redirecting attention toward the front. "We're ready for you."
Harry sighed in irritation, the smile dropping off his face.
"Single file," McGonagall called out a second time, as the imprints swept through the wall and the door opened to a hall full of upperclassmen.
Harry ended up in line between the redhead he had followed through the barrier to the platform (Ronald Weasley, he thought) and a tall black boy (Dean Thomas?), and a few students behind Hermione Granger, who was eagerly spouting off what she knew about the ceiling of the Great Hall.
He rolled his eyes - she might have had brains, but the girl was a right idiot - and ignored her, frowning thoughtfully at the ceiling himself, fascinated. The physics of an illusion of that magnitude… of an illusion that was inconstant, amorphous…
Maybe this would be worth the bother.
Noticing the hall had grown silent, staring at… an old, worn wizard's hat, poised on an equally worn three-legged stool, Harry transferred his considering gaze to it as well.
And jumped, mind racing, when a rip opened up near the brim, and the hat began to sing:
"Oh, you may not think I'm pretty, but don't judge on what you see…"
He spent a second or so of undignified gawping before his mind caught up with what he was seeing and dissected it, applying what he had read of magical theory (and worked out himself, discarding three quarters of the book as flawed) and practical magic.
Transfiguration, he decided, eyeing the hat, itching to take it apart, see how it worked. Animation spells…. A conjunction of transfiguration and charmwork.
Not for the first time, Harry cursed the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Wizardry. For his classmates, he could understand the law, but it did nothing except to hold him back. If he can been allowed to properly go over his material, he might be able to take apart the mechanics of the hat's workings.
"…for I'm a Thinking Cap!"
An outburst of applause broke Harry out of his reverie.
Blonde, short pigtails bounced behind the girl as she scurried up to the stool, almost collapsing in on herself in a vain attempt to escape the attention of the hall. McGonagall placed the hat over her head; it was with some amusement that Harry noted it pretty much swallowed her head, and then with some distaste when he realized that it would probably do the same for him.
Pity brains didn't equal out to height. Then, perhaps, he wouldn't have to deal with all the idiots in the world… he could step on them and make it a better place.
Harry frowned as the girl mouse off to her seat at the table decked in black and yellow, intrigued. The hat could read minds? There were forms of magic that could scan through the memories and impulses of the one who wore it, detecting even their thought process?
He wasn't terribly worried about what the hat would find in his head, or whether it would divulge that knowledge to others. Wizards had proven themselves so far to be arrogant and ignorant, and even if the hat were to tell, he doubted anyone could follow the trail of information.
But the thoughts that magic could reach even into the mind…
He had made the right choice. He had known it before, and this only proved it further.
Of course, researching (and reworking) mind magics would have to wait. There was still the dimensional theory that he had nearly concluded, the planetary/stellar drift self-assignment, and the dozen other projects he had going on.
That decided, Harry shifted his attention toward reading his supposed peers' posture and amused himself by guessing what their placement would be.
Potions had been the only part of the Hogwarts curriculum Harry had been able to actively practice, and he had appreciated the chemistry behind the art, even as he scoffed at its simplicity. It was as simple as memorizing the potion reactivity chart, deconstructing it to discern the key elements the reactive ingredients shared, and learning which ingredients included those elements in addition to how they reacted. Time-consuming, but in no way difficult.
"I heard Snape hates every House but his own," muttered Boot to Corner.
"And that he's an awful teacher," Patil added, voice extra quiet so that the said professor would not hear, even if he should appear the next moment.
Apparently the potions professor's reputation preceded him, because the Hufflepuffs were shaking in their sneakers, clearly terrified out of their wits, and Snape had yet to arrive. Not to mention, his own Housemates, the Ravenclaws, were already wasting their time gossiping.
Harry flipped open his book, paging to the near end where the author had descended into nearly incomprehensible brewer's jargon, theorizing a million things; he thought that maybe it had been put there in attempt to motivate the reader to think and explore the possibilities of potion-making, despite (or maybe because of) the fact that all of the postulates led to dead ends.
Either Arsenius Jigger was secretive to a fault or plain retarded. Harry knew which he preferred and which he believed: the answers weren't the same.
"I think we'll be okay," Cornfoot murmured. "After all, the upperclassmen said Professor Snape didn't much mind Ravenclaws either way. Still, I pity the Gryffindors. He might not like us, but he hates them."
Golpalott's Third Law: "The antidote for a blended poison will be equal to more than the sum of the antidotes for each of the separate components." Clear as mud and overcomplicated. And false.
The dungeon door chose that moment to slam open, one of the few skills Harry had never mastered despite long exposure (he didn't really see the point), and the potions professor swooped through, his wizard's robes whipping about behind him.
"There will be no foolish wand-waving or silly incantations in this class," he began, voice low and level, forcing the class to strain to hear. "Because of that, I doubt any of you will appreciate potion-making as magic."
Okay, thought Harry, arching a brow. He gets points for intonation and deliverance, and twice that in the negative for not recognizing that Muggles have "potion-making" down to a firmer science than any wizard.
"Potter!" Snape apparently noted Harry's expression and didn't like it. He nearly rolled his eyes. "What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?"
Trick question… "A huge explosion and a mess, sir," Harry drawled. "Unless you stabilized it with a neutral substance, in which case it would form a rudimentary Draught of Living Death."
Harry caught the stunned expression of the professor's face before it lit with anger - he hadn't expect him to know the answer… had wanted him to appear unintelligent.
"Our new celebrity has decided to show off then?" Snape countered, in what Harry thought a poor replica of his own drawl. "Then tell me this: what is the ideal halfway stage of the Draught?"
Harry couldn't help rolling his eyes this time, which served to incense Snape further. This hadn't been in their textbook but in the followup, Advanced Potion-Making, a NEWT-level potions text. "Simple. It is described as a 'smooth, black current-colored liquid.'" He hurried on before Snape could interrupt. "Now for a question of my own. How about you teach the class instead of having me be the one to do it?"
His classmates were stifled horrified gasps, and he could swear one of the Muggleborn Hufflepuffs had just made a silent prayer for his welcome into the afterlife.
"After all," Harry continued, amused out of his mind. Snape was brick red and fish-faced, too stunned to retort for the time being. "I'm not the one getting paid for my services, not that I'd offer them anyway."
Another round of gasps resulted, as well as few scandalized looks from his fellow Ravenclaws. Had they decided to made him their tutor? They didn't have the brains to keep up!
"Yes?" he replied, pseudo-polite.
"Detention!" Snape roared, showering Harry with spit. "And one hundred points from Ravenclaw! And mark my words, I'll be talking to the Headmaster about this!"
"Why should I?" replied Harry, wiping his face with his sleeve and frowning in distaste. "And I think I'll be talking to the governors. I doubt teachers are supposed to drool all over their pupils, no matter whether they be a celebrity or not." He paused, tilting his head to the side in mock thoughtfulness to fuel the fire. "Down, boy, it's inappropriate."
It was a mirror: a tall, arched, claw-footed mirror, emblazoned across the top with reverse script - erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi, or I show not your face but your hearts desire. Harry recognized the artifact, though he wondered what it was doing in a school for children; people often went mad before the mirror, the Mirror of Erised, not knowing whether what they saw was real or even possible.
Harry knew it was false. It was only an illusion, an enchantment that had cost the lives of the casters due to the sheer power involved. Even so, he could feel the pull toward the artifact, compounded by his own curiosity… what was his heart's desire? He had never succumbed to the foolish daydreams of love and whatnot like the others of his age group.
His dreams he could make a reality. His dreams… would break this reality. Someday.
The enchantment's power was eating at his resolve to stay away. He fiddled with the Occlumency maze that hid his mind, knowing not all the traps and riddles in its depths could stop the mirror's power from working.
What is your heart's desire…? What impossibility do you wish come to pass…?
Giving in to the temptation, Harry stepped away from the wall and in front of the mirror, into the depths of its enchantment.
For a moment he saw himself. Then the mirror's surface rippled, and…
Nothing is impossible. Harry stared in wide-eyed realization, and a smile crept at the edges of his lips. Nothing… is impossible….
"So, Mr. Potter," a voice snapped into his awed moment. "I see you, also, have found the joys of the Mirror of Erised."
Nothing is impossible… there are so many ways that can work….
Smiling thinly, Harry turned to the interloper. "Headmaster. Funny to see you here. Not to mention the presence of the Mirror…"
"Alas, I amuse myself at times," Dumbledore rejoined. "The Mirror is here as a favor to a friend of mine. It'll have to be moved, I see, though I ask you not seek it out again."
"There's no need to," Harry said carelessly. "It's an artifact with no purpose but one, and that has been achieved." An impossible number of ways….
"I see." Dumbledore's next question was indirect and probing. "I assume you see your parents?"
Harry blinked, taken aback. Then the comment fully registered, and he didn't bother to stifle his laugh. "My - my parents? You think - my parents?" He snickered some more at Dumbledore's face. "Oh, they could hardly have been further from my mind, Dumbledore!"
"…Why?" asked Dumbledore, dumbfounded.
"You need to ask?" Harry snorted. "My parents are dead, Headmaster. I have no memory of them whatsoever. They are just names to me. They are nothing to me." His mouth quirked again.
Dumbledore was quiet, and a touch of grief flashed in his eyes. "Then, what do you see, if not Lily and James?"
"That's a very personal question, don't you think, Dumbledore?" Harry drawled, stepping away from the Mirror with little difficulty. "But I suppose it doesn't matter. After all, I see nothing."
Hello. My name is Tom Riddle.
Harry's hand hovered over the rough paper in the fifty-year old diary as he thought how to reply. A diary that wrote back implied that it was sentient, and he knew that even in the wizarding world, sentient, supposedly intelligent books were not common. Animation charms could only go so far, until you had to sacrifice something, as had the Founders in making the Sorting Hat.
And if this were the same sort of operation…. Harry's lips tilted upwards in a very satisfied smile. This could be very educational; he had only found the barest descriptions of Soul Magic, and there was nothing like study of the original. After all, only idiots put their knowledge in books for the general populace to read.
Pleasure to make your acquaintance, Tom. My name is Harry.
The pleasure's all mine, Harry.
I doubt that, Harry thought amusedly, before reloading his quill with ink and drawing out a pictorial representation of his dimensional theory. Could the book perceive shapes in addition to words?
Interesting doodle. An expanding cube? Crosscut by a line?
Apparently it could. Harry rolled his eyes. What about other languages? Riddle was a Hogwarts student and would have at least a basic knowledge of Latin, so that was out. German as well, and probably Japanese, considering the political climate of fifty years prior.
He snorted, and copied down Golpalott's flawed third law in Hebrew. And Arabic. And a few other miscellaneous languages, just because he could.
Harry smirked. Apparently it was knowledge dependent and couldn't translate script not already in the database. Riddle didn't recognize the various languages, because if he had, common sense dictated he'd comment on the languages chosen.
Just an experiment, he wrote back. I'm a curious person, you see.
He dropped the quill back into the inkpot as Riddle's reply appeared in the page.
Ah, curiosity. May I ask what you were trying to test?
Should I, should I? Harry picked up the quill again. Might as well… it's not as if it'll be able to tell….
You are a book. An inanimate object, yet you reply as though you are a real person. You think, which isn't possible through ordinary magic. No, this takes Soul Magic.
Soul magic is a myth! The writing was sloppy, as if panicked.
The proof is right in front of me, Riddle. Soul magic is not a myth… but don't worry, I don't plan to turn you in. Harry didn't notice the slightly psychotic, bared-teeth grin plastered on his face. No, I have better things in mind.
An example of which would be…?
Well…. For example, what happens to a soul fragment if the container is slightly damaged….? Harry ignored the scrawled desperate reply from Riddle, dropping the quill into the inkpot a second time, and carefully bent over the edge of the paper, dog ear-ing the page.
A splatter of black ink covered the bent portion, like a bruise, and if he had to guess, he imagined ripping it off would result in ink dripping from the rip like blood from a cut.
Harry pulled out his study notebook, flipped to a new page, titled it, and began to copy down his observations, ignoring the printed pleas of the soul fragment Tom Riddle.
Professor Lupin was their third defense teacher in as many years, and the Ravenclaws had fallen to gossiping about what dirty little secret they would find out about this one.
Harry already knew. The worn, strained body and premature gray, the eyes that were hardly honey and closer to amber, and the wild, feral feel of the man's mind - Lupin could only be a werewolf. The Gryffindor ditz Brown had described the professor's boggart as a crystal ball instead of the moon it probably was, but it was only more support toward his hypothesis.
"Please, put your books away," the werewolf said kindly. Harry wondered what stimuli short of the full moon could rouse the monster behind the calm amber gaze. "Today's is a practical lesson."
Predictably, Turpin's hand was immediately in the air. Lupin nodded at her. "Professor, the Gryffindor's spoke about learning about boggarts, but the subject was vanquished at the end of the class. Surely you-"
Harry snorted. "Of course he has another, Turpin. This castle is probably infested with boggarts, and I doubt Filch could finish one off himself. Ever heard of logic?"
Flushing, Turpin shot him a heated glare, to which he rolled his eyes. Before the byplay could proceed further, the werewolf cleared his throat.
"Ah, the infamous Mr. Potter," began Lupin genially, "the rest of the staff warned me about you."
"Honored," Harry drawled. His eyes narrowed thoughtfully. "Then you'll know I'm good at putting together the obvious, Lupin."
The werewolf caught the delicate emphasis and paled. The Ravenclaws exchanged confused looks and shot Harry a few dirty ones for good measure. He was sure they'd be digging into the rumor mill surrounding Lupin the instant class was over, trying to figure out what he had called obvious.
Harry smiled thinly, to the werewolf's obvious discomfort. "But don't worry. I can keep my mouth shut…." Before Lupin could look to relieved, he finished, "If you can keep my curiosity sated. And you ought to know, I have a limitless curiosity."
"Potter, are you trying to blackmail Professor Lupin?" Patil demanded.
"No shit, Patil, excellent grasp of the obvious you have there," said Harry amusedly. "Although, honestly I prefer the term 'mutually beneficial business deal'. The connotations are so much better." He leaned back in his chair, smiling in satisfaction. "Back on topic. Professor, weren't we going to engage in a practical study of a boggart?"
"Y- Yes, we were." Visibly shaken, Lupin tried to pull himself together. "Now, who can tell me what is a boggart?"
A half dozen hands went into the air, but Harry's wasn't one of them. Instead, he pulled out his notebook and paged to an entry labeled "Boggarts." There was enough information, neatly encoded in a mixture of existing, extinct and nonexisting languages, magical and nonmagical, numerical, ideological, and perceptional, to write several books on the creature. There was even a sketch of it in its natural form.
After all, Hogwarts was nearly infested with Boggarts. It was easy to capture a few for study. It'd been harder to clean up the mess.
"A boggart is a shape shifter. It takes the form of that which would frighten us most."
A boggart is a magical creature whose powers are activated by the presence of fear. Humans are constantly plagued by the presence of fear, even when not perceived by the one subject to it. A boggart's magic reacts to the fear and brings to corporeal form the imagery that provokes it to the greatest degree.
"Excellent answer," Lupin praised. "Ten points to Ravenclaw."
"Keeping in mind Mr. Cornfoot's information, can anyone identify the advantage we already hold over the boggart?" Lupin was apparently making great effort to ignore Harry.
"We are a group: several people, with different fears. It won't know what to transform into."
As a group with varied fears, the imagery summoned by the boggart's magic becomes intermingled, more often than not ending in a result not remotely frightening and occasionally even humorous.
"Precisely, Ms. Brocklehurst. Take another ten points to Ravenclaw."
Harry snorted again.
This time Lupin twitched. He turned toward the desk, upon which was a trunk, probably containing the boggart they were to practice on. "The key to defeating a boggart is laughter. Most people find it difficult to laugh in the face of their worst fear, however; to that effort, we will be learning the Boggart Banishing Jinx. The incantation is Riddikulus."
"And no wonder, since it's ridiculous that anyone would need it."
Harry could see from the telltale tightening of the shoulders that Lupin was getting irritated, and was almost disappointed. Bating the werewolf was so easy, almost as easy as bating Snape.
"With the Boggart Banishing spell requires something more than simply shouting the incantation," he continued jerkily, "it requires a force of mind-"
"Which none of my classmates have," commented Harry dryly. The werewolf actually growled.
"Requires a force of mind, focusing on what you want the boggart to turn into," Lupin finished. "Everyone, take a moment and think about what you fear most. Now, think about how you can make that picture humorous, and hold that idea in your mind."
Harry snorted a third time, and turned a page in his notebook, finding the section under which he had detailed the simplest and most efficient way to handle a boggart. It required no wand, no incantation, no prior instruction or practice, only the mind.
Harry had never laughed harder than when he saw what the boggart had construed as his worst fear: himself, standing amidst his year mates, talking and laughing and sharing in their rampant stupidity. Only the first subject had managed to transform; the ones following had been subject to his method and defeated and studied soundly.
"Right. Would anyone like to volunteer to go first?"
Once again Lupin's question was met with a forest of hands. His face relaxed into a smile again. "How about Ms. Li?"
The Asian girl bounced out of her seat and to the front of the room, pulling her wand out of her pocket. "I am ready, Professor Lupin."
"Then on three." The werewolf nodded. "Three - two - one!" Sparks showered from the end of Lupin's wand and the trunk flew open.
Li opened her mouth to yell the incantation but froze when bats began to pour out of the open trunk, swarming around her. Entwhistle, who was nearby, leaped to his feet, and swished his wand, not even bothering with the Boggart Banishing spell: "Flipendo!"
Harry arched a brow as the Knockback Jinx blasted the bats away from Li - and at himself. Rolling his eyes as they melded together, beginning to take new form, he reached inside his mind for a particular image and flung it at the creature's draining magic. As expected, as always, it latched on to the picture.
Harry blinked in surprise when several people screamed.
It was himself. More accurately, it was himself from last year, while he had been studying boggarts. The image was of himself holding the creature's heart in his hand, its glutinous, fluid slime of a natural form flayed open on a table and dripping dark blood onto his robes and the floor.
It was a live dissection. Harry remembered feeling surprised when it managed to replace its heart, and removed several before he thought to block the image of it from his mind.
His classmates were staring at the boggart in both horror and terror. Harry's lips twitched.
And again. And again, until a snicker escaped, then grew until he was laughing, laughing just as hard as he had on the first encounter with a boggart, when it showed him his "fear."
It wasn't long before the creature exploded into smoke, but his dying snickers were the only sound in the room even after.
It was curiosity that led him taking hold of the handle of Triwizard Cup, despite realizing that it had been turned into a two-destination Portkey.
As the Portkey's momentum slowed and dropped him roughly to the ground, Harry nearly collapsed in pain that radiated from the scar on his forehead: a curse scar, feeding magic from the one who had cast to spell into him, who had repelled it. Given that magic was subtly different from one magic-user to the next, and alien magic literally burned up in a wizard's magic circulation system, it was a wonder he handled curled into a ball.
Actually, it was a wonder his brain wasn't baking, considering where the scar was placed.
"Ah. Harry Potter."
Harry's gaze focused sharply as he compartmentalized the burning sensation of the foreign magic into a separate section of his mind, and he narrowed his eyes. He was in a dungeon of some sort, with musty air and flickering torches casting shadows along grimy walls. As fascinating as this all was, his attention was more taken with the… being standing immediately in his line of sight.
Whatever this thing was it didn't look human. Despite that, he could connect the dots: Peter Pettigrew was cowering a few feet away, his scar was searing with alien magic… hell, the inhuman appearance was in itself a clue.
"Voldemort." He nodded in acknowledgement of the other's presence, feeling out with his magic for wards - curiously, there were none that were active.
"Harry Potter," Voldemort repeated, almost thoughtfully. "The Boy Who Lived, the one everyone thought was destine for Gryffindor but was a Ravenclaw instead. Has earned a reputation not only for his unrivalled brilliance but his questionable mental stability, even at the age of fourteen. Impressive."
Harry arched a brow. "Questionable mental stability?" He never had bothered to read the Daily Prophet, but somehow he wasn't surprised that something that dim-witted had been spread. "Why thank you. Pity I never read your dossier; we could have swapped compliments over tea."
Voldemort chuckled. "Perhaps. But that's not why you're here-"
"Nah, I thought that was the Portkey," Harry interrupted drolly.
"Astute observation," Voldemort countered, not bothered at all. He went up a couple notches on Harry's rating scale. "I arranged for you to be brought here, Potter. I have a proposition for you."
"Is that so…?" Harry glanced around pointedly. "Enlighten me. Just what is it of yours that would interest me in the slightest?"
The pasty-white face twitched in a lipless smile, and one spidery hand gestured vaguely at the wall to Harry's right; it split cleanly and pulled apart with an nearly inaudible keen, revealing lush green carpet and a passageway that curved out of sight. Voldemort gestured for Harry to follow, and he did, peering about in open curiosity.
"You arranged for me to be brought here," he said after a while. "I assume that means Moody is in some way your servant. But Alastor Moody was a legend during your first reign, against you, so that doesn't make sense. Therefore the man playing professor cannot be Moody. Who is he?"
Voldemort gave Harry a considering look, stopping before a peculiar section of wall that must have been a door. "Your logic is astounding," he said dryly. "Convoluted, but astounding." He paused. "He is alike to me in many ways. Both of us despised our fathers despite bearing their names. Both of us are technically dead."
"Crouch?" Harry decided, after a moment of thought. "Not the ministry official, but his son."
"Barty's assessment of you as brilliant is wholly accurate, I see."
A vague gesture with his hand had the wall split, and Harry went wide-eyed.
On one end, a library - a huge library dwarfing the one at Hogwarts. On the other, the perfect picture of a mad scientist's laboratory, complete with bad lighting, equipment with curious dark stains, and an overwhelming smell of disinfectant that didn't quite cover some odd stench, the same sort of smell that had forced Harry to take multiple showers to clean off when he get his hands on a research specimen.
"Barty also mentioned you showed great frustration that you were tied down to the Hogwarts curriculum, thanks to Dumbledore," said Voldemort casually. "Tied down not only by subject but by opportunity, because you could do no active study on anything but what you could get from under his nose."
That had been a direct result of the werewolf, Harry remembered, feeling a flash of anger. Apparently, his boggart had been a bit too much for the beast.
"So… my offer, Harry Potter." Voldemort's voice had softened almost to a whisper. "This - and access to any prisoners for live study. What do you say?"
Harry looked back at Voldemort suspiciously. "It depends. What do you get out of this?"
"Your services, obviously. And given time… your reputation, " Voldemort answered frankly. Then he sweetened the deal. "You won't even be marked. I don't want any of your experiments backfiring on me."
Harry would have sold his soul to the devil for this sort of offer. He held out his hand. "Deal."
On Harry's brains: Ridiculously blown out of proportion, yes. Intentionally. Of course, anyone who actually knows what he's going on about is probably laughing their asses off now, but... he has a habit of rewriting conventional science. Yeah, that's it. Nothing to do with the that the author has only the barest ideas what he's going on about...