I I I
Harry was gazing fondly at line of slender new potion bottles, filled with an array of differently colored contents, secure in their unbreakable bottles, and glistening from the wash he'd just put them through.
The fixatives he'd added should make those batches stable for years, and the wash meant that no trace of the contents ought to remain on the outside of the bottles, which made them safe to carry.
Harry had a potion bandoleer as part of his safari kit. Somehow the British wizards had worked out what a nice idea it was to have a collection of useful potions right on hand for when you might need one. Of course, they applied this knowledge only to a specialty niche market, but he was glad they had, as now he didn't have to devise his own equipment for doing the same. He could use the gear they'd already produced and presumably tested.
And Polyjuice, healing potions, Veritaserum... every potion you could carry expanded your options of what you were capable of during an emergency.
Of course, that wasn't the only use they could be put to, as he'd spotted Fred and George getting far more use out of the knowledge in that 'Basics of Brewing' book than Ron could even imagine. And, thinking ahead, Harry had gifted those two pranking prodigies with a new potion setup identical to his own: a Portable Lab, advanced self-stirring rods and measuring tools, silver cauldrons and copies of a few potions books Hogwarts kept in the Restricted Section, the whole nine yards.
The duo had been flabbergasted, floored by their gratitude.
In return for this, relatively minor (for him) investment, he got to sign on as a junior partner in their future prank-shop business. Not a big deal on the face of it, as his skills suited him to much better paying work. However, the real payout came not in money later, but in priceless knowledge in the here and now, where he got to be enlisted in the mixing and brewing department.
Those twins were geniuses. They really were. They'd already broken half a dozen standard and accepted rules of magic, and were on their way toward breaking many more.
That was the sort of knowledge you couldn't buy! It was his privilege now, as their assistant, to be learning all that they'd discovered - and that was no small deal!
Just about everything those two brilliant redheads came up with was stuff Voldemort didn't know. Stuff nobody else knew! And he wasn't going to learn it in any book, as they'd never written any of it down (except in private notes only they knew how to read).
This was new magic, not the old stuff done over in a different guise. It was a privilege to learn it in any capacity, and the price of the equipment meant nothing contrasted with the value of what that tuition was worth!
Already, Harry'd revealed far more of his store of stolen knowledge to them than he had to anyone else, just to serve as a sounding board to the twins, so they could bounce ideas off of him and get answers swiftly instead of using their valuable time looking up obscure topics in dusty corners of the library. And, having made it available to them thusly, the duo were already improving on Voldemort's knowledge, expanding it in new directions!
He'd left the Weasley twins contemplating possibilities granted by a handful of kneazel hairs Harry had combed out of his pet's coat that morning, and the kind of things they were suggesting as potential uses were so exciting that Harry was contemplating buying his own magical menagerie, just to see what they'd do with the ingredients they could harvest.
Actually, Harry was considering negotiation a deal with the twins where Harry could get both Hermione and Luna added on as junior brewers, both for the knowledge and experience it would yield to the duo of young girls, but also to free up those pair of pranking minds from ordinary drudgery so they could be devoting those remarkable intellects of theirs to devising more stuff!
The abused child was already contemplating a bid, starting with an offer of Occlumency books and training, then moving on to a second set of potions brewing equipment identical to the first, and, if it came to that, going on to buying a storefront in Diagon Alley for them, when a white form fluttered into his face, and settled on his shoulder.
"Hey, Hedwig. How are you girl?" Harry accepted his owl's attentions and removed the letter from her leg without hardly thinking. The owl paused, as if unsure she should let him, but in the end gave no fuss and let him go ahead and remove it.
On opening the letter, his brain kicked into gear and reminded him why his owl ought to have been reluctant to part with it. The letter wasn't for him! He'd been so busy thinking of other things (namely all the stuff Voldemort didn't know that he was learning from the twins) that he'd momentarily forgotten that he'd left Hedwig with the Grangers for the school year, and this was a letter from them to her. Private family correspondence.
However, by the time he'd remembered that, he'd already read the first line and was shocked enough to abandon good manners and continue reading.
I I I
"Harry, what's the matter?"
The boy looked up at her from where he'd been sitting on her bed, waiting for her to get back. He was pale and wan. "You know, it never occurred to me that normal parents would be upset and the kind of things that go on here."
He held out to her a letter in her father's distinctive handwriting. It was open, and he must've read it.
"Oh, Harry!" Hermione sympathized. "I'd never wanted to include you in my troubles! You've got enough to deal with as it is! Besides, you shouldn't worry. I asked McGonagall about it in our first year, and they can't do a thing about it! There's a new law on the books that makes it illegal to prevent a student from receiving a magical education if they have the ability. So even though they throw a fuss, they can't stop me from coming."
Harry nodded, still looking a bit pale and sickly. Taking back the letter she hadn't accepted, he perused it once again. "You know," he mused. "They do have a point. You were almost killed in First Year, almost killed in Second, almost killed in Third - on the train ride in no less! It never struck me before, but this kind of thing has to be driving your parents mad with concern over you. I know I would be in their place."
Hermione plopped down into a seat beside him on the bed, swishing hair out of her eyes. "I know. They tried to have me withdrawn from Hogwarts after the troll incident in our First Year. I was able to convince them that the school was safe again, because the teacher who'd caused all the trouble had been 'arrested' (which I thought was better than telling them that my best friend had killed him). After I got petrified in our Second Year, though, it was very obvious that the school wasn't safe at all. My parents had a great deal to say on the matter, involving words they don't usually use. But muggle parents or guardians can't withdraw any child from Hogwarts without consent from the child, or the school, or some Wizarding authority, like the Ministry, or the Hogwarts Board of Governors."
Harry turned a sickly face on her, one hand lifting the letter. "So they keep pleading with you to give it up?"
Hermione nodded, then explained desperately. "But I can't, Harry! Surely you know that! It may be dangerous, but all of those things are over so quickly, and really it's a fluke of bad luck they keep happening anyway! I can't give up my friends or learning magic! There's just too much here I have to do! I want to learn it all, don't you understand?"
The boy nodded, his color returning, and he sat a trifle taller as he came to a decision. "Yes, I can understand all of that. But your parents have a point, too. This place has been ridiculously dangerous, for all of us."
Now it was Hermione's turn to look pale, and she swept an escaped lock of hair back out of her face, looking desperately afraid. "Harry, you don't mean I should agree to let them pull me out of Hogwarts, do you? We can't afford a tutor! My magical education will stop, except for what I learn out of books! And, in spite of what I often say, you can't learn everything that way!"
"Hold on a minute," Harry held up a placating hand. "Firstly, no I don't think you should stop getting a formal magical education. However, Hogwarts may not be the best - it's certainly not the safest! So, why don't you owl your parents with a reply, asking only that they look into other institutes of magic that you can transfer to, hm? That way, we get all of the facts together and have more data to base a decision off of, okay? I can see how it could make your parents feel better to be able to look into other options, thinking about getting you out of danger, and... it may just be there is another school you'd like better. Considering some of the teachers we've got around here, like Trelawney and Snape, SOMEBODY has to have a better program, right?"
Hermione was still very pale and uncomforted. "Harry... I wouldn't know anyone in those new places..."
He laughed and gave her a hug. "Oh! Is THAT what you're worried about? Then don't! I can already guarantee that wherever you're going, I'd be interested to follow! And I can't see many schools closing their doors to the Boy-Whose-Name-Must-Be-Hyphenated, can you?"
"Oh Harry!" she hugged him strongly back, then bounced off her seat to go write her parents that letter, snatching theirs on her way so she could give answers to their specific questions and concerns.
Harry smiled, seeing her settle down into the main chair at his desk like she owned it. He'd been correct to get the one with extra drawers. This way he still had one to himself!
Although it was a thin drawer.
Amused, Harry stood and went over to his bookshelves, already crammed with reading material of every kind, including almost as many books out of Hermione's collection as he'd been able to procure himself! The boy stood still and focused for a moment, before beginning decisive waves of his wand.
Harry's travel furniture was actually fairly cheap by the standards of the wizarding world. Unless you were talking about something truly exotic, the materials something was made out of almost didn't matter to them, so the softly polished wood was effectively dross.
No, the real cost was in the spells put on an item, and his had been the most basic models on the shelves: shrinking and enlarging, basic safety charms for the contents, and that was it.
And, well, if his best friend was going to be taking up all of the space in them with her own stuff, it was time they got more space!
He began weaving charms and enchantments that would expand the powers of his magical furniture, most especially adding on space enhancement and self cataloging charms. Soon, each of those bookcases would be able to hold what fifty could without those expansion charms.
They'd still end up filling those up, of course. The Hogwarts library itself took up more volume than that. So, in the end, Harry would go and buy another few here and there until he had a good dozen of those bookcases, bought cheap and with most of the charm work done by himself.
Hermione insisted on watching him do the spells the second time he did them, of course. It wasn't like she'd failed to notice when their shared bookcases suddenly held a great deal more internal volume than they had before!
Soon she'd be casting those same charms on the pockets of her robes, and pulling out entire dictionaries she'd put in there.
The security charms and privacy wards he added were another matter. He could not allow another to pluck those secrets out of her mind via legilimency so he simply hadn't told her about them. She was keyed to bypass them, so they ought to be totally transparent to her, unless she was under Imperious or otherwise compromised, in which case she'd be treated like everyone else, and completely unable to find those bookcases at all.
That was one small advantage he had over Voldemort. Fidelius had the same root word as Fidelity, and that root meant 'To Trust.'
The Fidelius was a charm that required not just magical skill and power, but an intense degree of trust that virtually any Dark Wizard was incapable of. It was a bit like the Unforgivables that way - you had to really mean it, feel the emotion behind it strongly, before you could cast it.
Voldemort would not, COULD not, trust anyone! He was sadly incapable of any degree of it! People project their own feelings and motivations onto others, and Tom Riddle Jr. knew he would betray anybody, so at his root he imagined anyone else was capable of the same, and watched them constantly, waiting for such a betrayal.
While, intellectually, Voldemort could recognize that some were more likely to betray than others, he felt those too innocent to betray were fools, and fools could not be trusted either! They might do anything, for any reason!
He could not feel the least flicker of real trust, certainly nothing approaching the levels of absolute purity required for a Fidelius charm.
However, ironically, it was Voldemort's skill at breaking wards that allowed Harry to add his own few wrinkles to that charm, and intensify the security that offered enormously by adding filters and escape clauses. So Hermione knew the secret, and could see the bookcases, but would forget it under conditions where she was not in control of herself.
There was no provision there against willful betrayal, of course. There could not be, it was a charm based on trust, after all. And protective wards, much like immortality rituals, must always have their loopholes. It was required by the nature of magic itself - nothing less than divine could be perfect.
And it took only the slightest degree of knowledge about mythology to know that perfection eluded most so-called gods, as well.
Still, that didn't prevent Harry from trying to reach closer to it than others.
So, his bookcase-Fidelius, like Tom's immortality rituals, had many layers of other wards backing it up, each one covering holes in the defenses left by others. Only a fool puts all his eggs in one basket, after all.
That done, Harry moved on, emplacing those same combinations of wards over the rest of his furniture. The Dark Ravenclaw was an information addict after all, and Harry couldn't put it past him to rifle through his personal belongings searching for clues.
In fact, it was almost guaranteed. The only question was how many times it'd happened, and whether it was Albus personally, or his agents (school House Elves, most likely) doing the searching for him!
On that thought, Harry put those same wards over his bed. Then he went an extra step further and added a four-poster canopy to it, like the other beds at Hogwarts. But this was there for another reason than to look pretty and trap heat in a drafty old castle. No, Harry put on some charms, along with a base of moke oil and kneazel whisker dust (Augustus had shed a whisker the other day, and Harry had saved it) blended and laminated onto the very wood, so in the presence of any stranger or untrustworthy person (and especially in the presence of an untrustworthy stranger) the bed would clam up.
Specifically, the four posters would shrink and the canopy would come down almost instantly, while the outside of the bed would transform into 'hiding mode', where it would appear to be a simple pool table, already set up for a game.
Anybody, even the most powerful wizard, was more vulnerable asleep than awake. So this was a valuable precaution. And Harry worked those same space enhancement charms upon this article of furniture, as he had on the others (including the desk drawers, so maybe he could have some space in those for himself, now) so even clammed up he'd have a very comfortable internal volume inside of the sealed-off bed.
He also gave himself a set of mirrors, to see out of the bed while he was protected within, and also secret, carefully warded hatches opening onto escape tunnels that were actually the ball chutes that the pool table had built within itself so it could play the game.
Because no matter how perfect your defense, and he intended to ward this as thickly as the Hogwarts castle walls, you always had to have an escape route for in case things got really bad.
One final charm he added to his travel furniture was a self-transfiguration that could be triggered at a distance by a spell he invented, that could only be cast effectively by the secret-keeper for his furniture-Fidelius. It would transform this whole set into small birds, of a type he could set at the time of casting, that would immediately move to evade pursuit and rejoin him.
No need to go leaving his luggage behind if he had to escape someone in a rush.
Laughing, the boy then went to join Hermione in her studies, coming as he did so to a realization.
What happiness he had in life all came from Hermione.
He'd have to do something about his arrangement with Luna. It was no longer in his best interests. There was no point to winning a war if you sacrificed all that gave life meaning to get there.
I I I
Potions class was next on the agenda.
Naturally, Snape hadn't been removed from his post. That was not surprising as Harry had already pegged Dumbledore's argument style. He'd agree when you had him bent backwards over a barrel, but then he'd delay and delay and come up with excuse after excuse until finally he was forced to sadly inform you that despite all of his best efforts, he was unable to comply.
In other words, he lied and cheated. No effort would ever be made to remove Snape from his position.
There was no point in bargaining with someone who had no intention of filling his part of any deal. So Harry considered himself free, from the moment he entered that class, to disregard any pretense of obeying Dumbledore.
And, naturally, the old fart must have informed his pet Death Eater as to Harry's attempt to get the overblown bully removed, because the greasy haired creature swept into the Potions classroom intent on Harry Potter and with murderous rage within his eyes.
His classmates shrank back as Snape made no pretense of going to the front of the room and instead made a beeline for the corner where Harry sat near the side. His voice seethed with venom as he spoke.
The class gaped with confusion as their fraudulent Potions Professor (they never learned anything from him - more like DESPITE him! So he could lay no claim on being an actual teacher) first paused, then shifted from murderous rage to a look of horror, and then grasped his face and started screaming.
Harry vigorously maintained a look of guarded confusion, in spite of the great effort it took to do so. Inside he was rejoicing. Snape had made a legilimency attack on him, covered with the first moments of speaking, and splitting his attentions between speaking and attacking like that had cost him.
Harry could have done this to him anyway. Voldemort was better at the mind arts than Snape was, and there was the added advantage of the Dark Mark stripping away all of a Death Eater's defenses to one who knew its secrets. However, it was so much more satisfying to take him like this without a struggle, and return some of his bullying in kind.
Being able to take over someone's mind put you in possession of the control room, so to speak. Everything was there, and if you had access to that there was very little you couldn't do to them.
Harry had grabbed ahold of Snape's probe and slammed it into Harry's well of hatred, disgust, shame and revulsion locked inside of his deep subconscious as leftovers from all of the Dursleys treatment of him. Having submerged his attacker into those feelings, he'd then slammed the door on him, trapping the Professor inside, where he could not get out, but had to live through those emotions in an endless, unendurable cycle.
That got Snape to screaming.
Then it was time to get creative.
Harry followed the trace back, penetrated Snape's mind, which was now far too busy processing the unending stream of emotions he'd tapped into to even notice or care about Harry's probe. Once inside, he deactivated Snape's emotional defenses, unplugged his rational mind, and magnified the effects of the emotions he was downloading a thousandfold.
In the real world, Snape's volume tripled and rose into the high registers. He stumbled back, knocking over desks and tables, now no longer grabbing at his face but actively clawing out his own eyes.
But Harry didn't let him go.
Blood was pouring down Snape's cheeks and his voice broke on the high pitched shriek he was trying to maintain, but Harry wasn't nearly finished. He broke open the back of Snape's own mind and retrieved those memories he had of times Lord Voldemort had placed him under Cruciatus. Harry didn't give him one of those, he put them ALL into active replay, so his professor got to relive those experiences as traumatic flashbacks, all at once.
His mind snapped, but still Harry didn't let go.
Snape's fingers had burst out his eyes and clawed deep inside of the sockets seeking a way to cut the probe and end the pain. He wheezed and choked, unable to breathe as his lungs had run out of oxygen and was unable to get any more. Harry hit a command for his diaphragm to force the man to inhale, and once again the shriek resumed again and shattered his voice as the man stumbled back into the teacher's desk, which was too large to shove out of the way of his wildly plunging body.
Harry modulated his own expression from guarded confusion to puzzled concern as he redoubled the assault, breaking open the vaults where Snape kept his own doubts and insecurities, letting all of those loose to ravage what was left of the man's mind.
Out in the real world, the Potions Professor began slamming his forehead against his desk with the full weight of his body. Gripped by madness and unendurable agony out of several sources, he wildly began bucking back and forth, swinging his whole body in repeated blows of his head against that desk as if he were an axe and that beak-like nose of his the blade, trying instinctively to blot out consciousness and end the pain.
Harry had been keeping a vice-like grip on the man's magic, so it could not subdue him or deaden the pain. Now he let it go, all in one directed burst, and Snape stood up, screamed again despite the ragged condition of his vocal chords, and, before an entire audience of horrified students, his head exploded, showering the front of the room with blood and gore, even as his headless body toppled and fell with dead, meaty 'thunk' upon the floor.
Harry wandlessly cast a minor shielding charm so the students would not be put through the horror of being splattered with that man's remains. Then he cast a few charms wandlessly and under the desk, so Dumbledore couldn't see them in his inevitable pensieve review of this moment, taken from some student's memories. The charms he used were ones used on Auror recruits to shelter their minds from the horrors of war, aiding them in dealing with having first seen death.
It was only polite, after all. The kids were not his enemy.
Now see if Dumbledore could still keep Snape in this position! Actually, Harry frowned, thinking that he now owed Bella an apology for having stolen her kill.
I I I
Again, it's one of those cliches. It happens in every fic in the genre. Harry puts his foot down and gives a warning, telling someone to stop their criminal behavior towards him, and that warning is ALWAYS ignored!!
What does Harry do? He takes it, or gives another warning.
Not this time.