Chapter VI... I'm Looking Through You
I'm not panicking.
There have been several times in my life where I feel as though I'm not the one living it, that someone else takes stead and goes off without me. When Bellatrix Lestrange murdered my godfather, something inside me simmering just beneath the surface burst free. I don't remember Remus holding me back, tearing my way out of his arms, and racing down inky corridors after the woman, the creature that took Sirius from me. I do, however, remember the righteous fury fueling my power the first time I ever cast an Unforgivable. The act itself is what brought me back to the present... and once I had grip of myself again the curse sparked and sputtered, finally failing when the rage left me. When Voldemort materialized before us, I couldn't even defend myself against him. I felt hollow...
… just like I do now.
Hermione Granger was my best friend, my closest confidant, and oddly enough my one real link to the Muggle world. I may have spent my summers with my relatives, but I never truly considered that place to be my home. Hogwarts was my home, and magic was the very thing that saved me from the miserable existence I was going to have with the Dursleys. Hermione had an enthusiasm for the Magical World that exceeded my own, and her every spare moment was spent devouring book after book. She wanted to know everything there was to know, and there was so little time to learn it! As much as the act of performing magic came to symbolize my new life to me, deciphering the mechanics of such a nebulous thing was her true sanctuary. Even when we were on our hunt for Voldemort's lethal trinkets, she poured over Secrets of the Darkest Art no matter how ill it made her. Looking at her then, I wondered what would have become of her had Ron and I not come along? Would this have been her life? No friends, no one to relate to... how could someone even exist living like that?
Looking at the terrified girl before me, I think I have my answer.
I could easily recognize a polyjuiced Hermione Granger underneath the withered body of Bellatrix in my old life, and like so I recognize her now. Her hair is bushy and unkempt, more so than I remembered, and her eyes are unchanged save for the fear I see in them now. Everything else...
My Hermione was never a slender girl and of the three of us she was certainly the least fit, but the girl I see before me is more than two stone heavier, her face softer and less defined than the friend I left behind. The girl is wearing a plain blouse that fits her a bit too tightly, and a pleated skirt that matches our normal school uniform. I hate to admit it, but she looks frumpy, as though she doesn't take care of herself. Her bottom lip is quivering, and I'm suddenly reminded of a first-year Neville Longbottom, beaten down by his over-bearing Grandmother and written off by the whole of the school. She looks... uncomfortable in her own skin, so much so that I'm feeling disturbed just being in her presence.
I gather the materials strewn about the ground and offer them to her, "I'm sorry about that, Hermione."
"Th-thank you." She says quietly, shuffling the books into a wide, leather bag. Before she can say anything else, I slip past her and out of the corridor.
I return to my compartment to find Romilda asleep on one of the benches, curled up like an enormous cat, and Ron nowhere to be found. The sound of the sliding door woke her, and she greeted me with a lazy smile, "Hullo, Harry."
With a sigh I let myself be pulled down onto her seat, and we spent the rest of the train ride in silence, my fingers entwined in her hair as she dozed on my shoulder.
Hogwarts is unchanged, and that is a small comfort to me. The castle stands tall and proud, almost a mirror of the first time I laid eyes upon it in my first year. It seems so long ago now, and I find it hard to believe that, once upon a time, I didn't know Magic existed. As we pass through the old, iron gates, I feel something... warm spreading over me. It reminds me of the feeling I had when I set foot inside of Ollivander's shop, where I could see traces of the inherent magic in the wands. This feeling is different, though. It is a light pressure, a gentle embrace from a loved one, the warmth of a blanket around my shoulders on a cold day. I smile when I recognize the feeling.
On our way here, I noticed another odd thing that seems to have carried over from my old world – I can still see the Thestrals. I didn't want to alert Romilda that anything was amiss, though, so I didn't say a word. Still, seeing the odd, skeletal creatures prance about and snort when Hagrid loosed them from their reins brings a grin to my face.
The Great Hall... seeing it again in it's full glory, the hundreds of ethereal candles floating in the air, it's almost unreal. The pain I expected to feel upon seeing it simply isn't there. Nor is there anything but surprise in seeing all the familiar faces finding their seats at the House Tables, all of them eager for the feast. Fred and George Weasley are huddled next to Ron, whispering conspiratorially as they sneak glances at their grumpy sibling. Among the Slytherins, I do have to swallow a bit of disdain at seeing Draco Malfoy smirking at something Pansy Parkinson says, and I remind myself that he has no idea what his counterpart has done to me. Shaking my head at those rogue thoughts, I turn my attentions to the Head Table. Headmaster Dumbledore sits front and center in blue, star-spangled robes, a silver tassel hanging off the top of his pointed hat. He is wonderfully, miraculously alive, and I wipe a stray tear from my cheek at the sight of him. Even from my fairly distant vantage point at the far end of the Gryffindor table, I can detect traces of auburn in his beard and hair... he looks at least a decade younger than the Dumbledore of my world. As I scan the Head Table, I notice that he isn't the only one with this curious affliction – Professor McGonagall's face is smoother, and her hair is a salt-and-pepper mix instead of the steely gray I remembered. Even tiny Professor Flitwick seems more jovial than usual as he chats with a handsome, dark-haired man I don't immediately recognize.
At the end of the table is Severus Snape... at odds with the rest of the table, his change is not for the better. He is thinner than I remember him being, his face drawn and hollow as he glares malevolently at the approaching First Years being led in by Hagrid. His skin is pale bordering on sickly, and I catch a glimpse of sunken coal-black eyes before turning away. It's just as well – I don't really want to test my fledgling Occlumency against a someone like Snape.
"Is everything alright?" Romilda whispers, snapping me out of my reverie. I meet her eyes when she gently elbows me in the arm, "You look like you were a million miles away just now."
"Sorry about that."
She smiles at me, placing a hand between my shoulders "Don't think about Ronald right now. It's a feast, Harry! We should be happy."
I breathe a sigh of relief at her words... I doubt the Other Harry ever stood up for himself, if Ron was any indication, "You know what, you're right. Let's see where the firsties end up this year."
She visibly preens at my words, and after a moment she leans in close, her lips brushing against my ear as she speaks, "I'm so proud of you."
As the First Years lined up on the other side of the Great Hall, the dark-haired professor I didn't recognize rises from his seat with the Sorting Hat in his hands. He is tall, perhaps taller even than Professor Snape, and his hair is combed back with the faintest hint of gray along his sideburns. He has high cheekbones and a healthy pallor, and when he smiles at the first child in the line I see something in his face that seems nearly... familiar.
The first child sorted is girl with sandy-brown hair and delicate features, and the Hat sits quietly on her head for a moment before belting out "SLYTHERIN" across the hall. Everyone at their table gives a cheer, and the dark-haired Professor kneels down and pats her head before sending her off to meet her housemates. When the next child is sorted with a hearty "GRYFFINDOR", he turns to look at our table... and I see his eyes reflect redly in the candlelight, like maroon pinpricks scanning across us all.
His red eyes.
It... it's impossible. My eyes never leave the professor, even after the Sorting is over. He is gentle-faced and personable, handsome and unassuming... the only person who really pays him no mind is Snape.
It could easily be a coincidence. Magic is responsible for all sorts of normally impossible eye colors, like Cho Chang's sparkling violet or Luna Lovegood's silvery gray. Even eyes the same color green as mine are hard to come by in both the Wizarding and Muggle worlds. But red... no one outside of Voldemort has ever had them.
I try to eat, I really do, but my stomach is threatening to revolt. I know Romilda is doing her best to encourage me to eat, but I only have one thing on mind. I have to know! The moment the feast is over, I tell Romilda that I'll meet her in the Common Room later and run as quickly as I can to the Library. I suppose it's a testament to my morning routines with James that I'm not even winded when I reach it. I pay Madam Pince no mind as I head straight for a shelf I remember fondly from my old life. I have never read the book myself, but I fetched it for Hermione enough times to know it's location by heart.
Hogwarts, A History.
I pull the thick volume from it's cozy home and sit down at the nearest table. I flip through page after page until I finally find what it is I'm looking for, and my stomach sinks when I read it.
Black and white, plain as day.
Hogwarts Head Of House ~ Slytherin
Defence Against the Dark Arts Professorship
Tom Marvolo Riddle
How could I have been so wrong?
The point upon which this new world is balanced has nothing to do with them.
I reached my limit after an hour in the library. If I pushed myself, I probably could have stayed and studied longer, I could have dug into the archives of The Daily Prophet that are available, but I didn't really want to fight Madam Pince about being out after curfew on my first night here.
That's a poor excuse... I just really did not want to see the scope of how the world has changed. It was selfish of me to think that only my home life, only my friends had changed when I skipped across into this world. Something happened, something so small in the scale of things that it went beyond notice in the world at large, but there were ripples.
James Potter is alive.
Lily Potter is not.
Glory Potter was born.
Romilda Vane is my best friend.
Ron Weasley is a cowardly bully.
Hermione Granger is sad and alone.
Harry Potter... the Harry Potter I replaced like a thief in the night. Quiet and timid, haunted by his mother's death and so lonely that when he met Ron Weasley, he clung to him no matter how badly he was treated. I suppose I'm not so different, in the end.
There is no Lord Voldemort.
There are no Death Eaters. I couldn't find a single word about attacks... no strange disappearances. There was no war... and not a breath about a Dark Lord. Tom Marvolo Riddle was appointed to the post of Defence Against the Dark Arts close to 20 years ago, gaining a recommendation from Professor McGonagall of all people. They were schoolmates, based on what I've read...
The corridors are blissfully empty. I let me feet guide me towards the Common Room as I try and digest everything I've discovered. Tom Riddle is alive and whole. The man I saw greeting the new students, the man who was effectively welcoming a new generation of students to the Wizarding World, was wholly and completely human. I wish I knew how I was certain of that. There were all sorts of ways Wizards could disguise themselves. Horace Slughorn was capable of transforming himself into Furniture, let alone what Polyjuice Potion could accomplish. Despite all the ways someone could hide their inhumanity, I knew in my heart that Tom Riddle wasn't using any of them.
I just wish I knew why.
The Fat Lady is asleep when I get to the entrance of the Gryffindor Common Room, and I sigh when I see Romilda on the floor next to her. The girl is asleep with her knees pulled tight against her chest, her curls dancing a bit with every breath she takes. I kneel down and give her a gentle shake.
"Huh?" She says, stretching her legs out on the stone floor, "Where have you been?"
"The library... I had a few things I needed to work out."
"Oh. You could have taken me, you know." Romilda held out a hand expectantly, "You left before McGonagall gave us the password."
So that explained why she was waiting for me... a small pang of guilt flowered as I helped Romilda to her feet, "I'm sorry."
"Hey! None of that now." She said, giving me a wide grin, "It's been a long day."
She loves you so, Harry Potter.
What will you do now?
Romilda turned to the portrait of the Fat Lady, tapping the frame to wake the ill-tempered construct, "Can you let us in, please?"
The Fat Lady grumbled a bit as she removed a velvet sleep mask from her eyes, "Password?"
The painting swings open to allow us entry, and I notice the Romilda hasn't removed her hand from my grasp when she pulls me inside. I decide to let her indulge... there are so many things on my mind, so much left I have to find out.
It can wait. For now, at least until I can let this vast new reality really sink in.
Tomorrow is a brand new day, after all.
(Author's Note: It's taken me two years to get here, but this is it... Act One of Skipping Stones is finished! It's a shorter chapter than I would have normally like to have posted, but it's an ideal stopping point. Also, the next chapter will be ahead of schedule, given that I'm already halfway done with it. In the end, I believe this story will be about 25 chapters long, covering all of Harry's 4th year. Again, I thank everyone for sticking with me and I hope new readers will find something of worth in what I write.)