All Good Things…

Chapter 4: Falling

It was a quaint kitchen, done in light blues for the counter tops and purple flowers for the flooring and walls. The cabinets were a ruddy brown, the bronze knobs scratched and faded from use. Rummaging through one was a thin woman of gray hair tied in a lose bun. On the tips of her toes she stood, muttering under her breath about the importance of finding just the right pitcher for tea. Her wand lay entangled in her bun, long forgotten once the dishes had been cleared and put away.

Watching her, as he was apt to do, was a tall man of broad shoulders and barrel chest. Gray hair, unkempt and ragged, ran past his shoulders, while a smooth-shaven face lay below green, vibrant eyes. He thought about using his wand to aid her but knew the act would be seen as a bother. For her, tea was meant to be savored without magic. She claimed it tasted better, and he was not one to argue.

She eventually claimed the pitcher she wanted; one of blue and white porcelain older than their house. It had been a gift from the last emperor of China.

With the tea poured, both eased into their seats, content for one last quiet eve before their departure in the morn.

"I'm really going to miss this old house."

He raised his glass to that. "You say that each time."

She smiled, running a hand over the cracked and worn table. "And you agree with me each time. Not that there have been many times, but I wish we could have stayed longer. You know, lived here proper?"

"I understand. Those other houses had been well worn. This time we're leaving before we're ready." It was a sobering thought, one that brought a bitter melancholy with it. It had been centuries since Great Britain had been threatened from within like this.

"Are you sure you're doing the right thing Nickolas? You could do a lot more."

He refused to meet her dark eyes, guilt plying through his stomach. "I'm just tired." His last bloody encounter came to mind. A fight that had ended with him victorious some fifty years back. He had not extended his life to fight ambitious wizards with plans of grandiose. He had done it to spend more time studying, and to enjoy boundless years with his wife. That last encounter had nearly made Perenelle a widow.

Two wrinkled hands covered his own, and he glanced to see a warm smile touching her lips. She understood.

"We are helping in our own way, and Britain has other defenders. Ariana is shouldering the burden well."

She squeezed his hand. "She had a good teacher."

Nickolas missed those days. Everything had seemed so innocent with the vibrant youth living under them. His first meeting with her had been at a bar of all places, when Alberforth was her caretaker. Due to her handicap, she had been sequestered in the basement to keep others safe. Tales of her bouts of magic had made the bar scarce on clientele. When his drink tried to devour him, he investigated further, discovering a young teen with ample magic but little control. Perenelle had not been pleased when he had brought Ariana to their house. There was a reason they had chosen not to bear children. In time, Ariana's enthusiasm had grown on her.

She was also the reason they were moving. The Headmistress had asked a favor.

"I think I should go check on our guest. Her fever was high last I checked." Perenelle poured another cup of tea, adding a few spoons of sugar and a dollop of honey. Their guest liked it sweet. "I'll be back soon."

"Oh, you worry too much. I'll just get this old room packed." As he left, he heard her murmur, "Why do I always wait till the last moment to pack the kitchen?"

It's because you always cook a large dinner our last night.

As he walked through the empty house, his steps echoing on the wood floor, he made a cursory check, ensuring the chests had been placed by the front door.

Towards the back, in Ariana's old pink room, he found Sybil Trelawney lying upon an old feather mattress. Large glasses covered her eyes while beads, scarves, and string decorated her clumsy, brown hair.

"Hello dear, I've brought tea."

She did not respond. Shrugging, he placed it on an old mahogany nightstand and sat by her side. Scrutinizing her, he \ noted how these past months had taken their toll. Her cheeks were hollow and her eyes seemed set into a skull. Poor girl. She had been hounded for months, ever since she had uttered a prophecy in a crowded pub.

He has arrived, the one to foil the Dark Lord that sleeps in shadow. Embrace the one bearing the mark of lightning.

He and Ariana had both searched for such an individual, but their task had ended in disappointment. Not soon after, Sybil had been arrested and sentenced to Azkaban. Nickolas suspected the charges forged, and when Agatha Winnfry had been arrested last Christmas, the charges were dropped and the seer released. Only to be hunted by masked assailants immediately. She had sought help from Ariana, who had asked him to provide her safety.

He knew there might be a fight involved, but so far they had been discreet. They would soon vanish from this isle and Trelawney's safety would be guaranteed. Once secure, they would use her talent to find out more about this hidden Dark Lord. His protégé would have to work on her own, but she had been doing that for decades now. She would be fine.

"I've seen him." Trelawney whispered, eyes opening and focusing beyond what lay before her. "The Shadowed Man who walks many paths at once."

Nickolas put a hand to her forehead, feeling the heat radiating from her. "Yes, the Shadowed Man. What do you know about him? Do you know how he can be found, or killed? You said killing him would not be easy."

She looked to the side, away from his gnarled face. "The boy-marked-by-lightning shouldn't catch the snitch."

Dealing with sick seers was always difficult, considering their talent lead their thoughts astray. "Of course, he shouldn't. But I asked how can the Shadowed Man be killed?"

Her eyes closed. "I don't know, whenever I look, I always see darkness. His secrets are shrouded."

Somebody hiding their future from a seer was an extremely difficult bit of magic. Whoever this self-styled Dark Lord maybe, he had been very careful thus far.

"The lightning boy knows."

Nickolas gave her a piercing stare. "He does? Where is he?"

"He shouldn't catch the snitch, poor dear."

Was he a Quidditch Player? There may have been a team visiting Britain last summer. It narrowed the possibilities greatly. There were not many players under the age of seventeen.

"Oh, hello."

He looked down to find her staring passed his shoulder. Glancing back saw nothing but empty space. "Who are greeting?"

"The Grim Reaper. He's here for me, and I think I'm ready to go." She fell silent and closed her eyes, a contented expression spreading across her face.

Nickolas slowly stood and snapped his fingers, his wand appearing instantly, calmly grasped within his hand. He exited the room, spells already coming to the forefront of his mind, ready to be unleashed with a thought. Back through the house he walked, eyes darting into every corner, seeking that which meant to end Sybil's life. The wards surrounding Ariana's room would keep her safe for the time being.

Before checking the house more thoroughly, he had to ensure Perenelle's safety. Entering the kitchen, he paused midstep, eyes taking in the pieces of blue and white porcelain littering the floor. By the sink, lying deathly still, was his wife. A pool blood leaked from a slash encircling her neck, and her eyes stared lifelessly at the ceiling. Inclining his wand and whispering an ancient word found her soul and magic to have departed this world.

Standing quietly, he cast spell after spell into the lit kitchen, each coming back to him without finding the intruder.

"Where are you?" No response.

With a flick, he turned the room's air into a poisonous gas and waited. Something stirred in the corner, a small spell cast. He unleashed his fury. The pieces of china ripped through the air, glowing white-hot. The furniture became glass and shattered, joining the china, in striking the intruder.

They struck the wall, igniting it instantly, but it fizzled from lack of oxygen.

"Clever." He turned to find a man of medium height staring at him, face cowled and wand raised high. Beneath that black hood he saw two ruby eyes, glowing like embers from a dying fire.

The man bowed as a duelist would before a match. The last men to have done that to him were Albus Dumbledore and Gillert Grindelwald.

In a low voice, higher than a whisper, he spoke. "It is an honor to duel you." His wand glowed briefly, and the air returned to normal.

"The honor is not returned." Nickolas drew a breath and took a step back. "Do you know how many of your kind I've battled? Dozens."

He could feel a smile beneath that hood. "Yes, but I'm not so easily killed."

Nickolas cast him a grim smile, memories of long gone keeping the painful reality of his wife's demise at bay. "Neither were they."

The air seemed to grow thick before an unnamed signal was given and each loosed their magic upon the other. Perenelle's body became a snake that tried to devour him. He sent to writhing out the window, unwilling to let that desecration break his concentration. The air shook, blowing the Dark Lord into a wall, while the cabinets sprouted vines and latched him in place. The floor boards below started to wail, screaming and crying in tones meant to deafen weaker men. Nickolas shielded his ears while he deflected a series of spells sent his way.

His opponent severed the vines and slipped loose, quick as a mouse and limber as a snake. He twisted, avoiding a deadly curse, and conjured a shield to block another. A golden sword appeared before the Dark Lord, slicing through the shield. The cowled man only slashed with his wand, sending a spinning spell at the sword. It struck, turning it crimson. The altered sword came back Nickolas' way, but he was already summoning fire to consume it. To his surprise, it survived the flames and swung.

He parried with his wand, sending sparks flying. With a quick flick he touched the hilt of the blade, shattering the light.

A spell-chain came at him, and he deflected and blocked most. One curse got through, cutting away a portion of his thick hair. Blood poured out, but a quick touch healed it. He responded with a nasty jinx, anticipating his opponent's action. His timing was perfect, but his opponent was faster than he anticipated, barely avoiding the spell. Nickolas dropped to his knees and touched the floor boards with his wand, letting a wave rise up and go forward, destroying the lower cabinetry and leaving the pieces of wood scattered in its wake. His opponent danced over it, only to be knocked back by the invisible force above it.

His adversary struck the ground and Nickolas began weaving his wand in quick motions, words flying from his lips. The room was consumed by shadow, the floor suddenly vanished, the air grew thick as concrete, and a blinding stream of light, emanating from the tip of his wand, shot forward and struck the Dark Lord's heart, freezing him in place and blocking any magic he could call forth.

"Check mate." Nickolas said, his eyes burning with righteous fury.

Waving his hand returned light to the kitchen, revealing a dark abyss where the floor had dwelt. Below the aged wizard lay a thin sheet of metal preventing his falling, while around his hand there spun a series of runes, allowing him movement within the frozen air.

The stream of light turned red allowing his opponent speech.

"I'm impressed." A crooked smile revealed pure white teeth. "I would clap if I could."

"Your words mean nothing." At the back of his mind, demanding attention, resided the picture of his wife's still form. A woman whom had loved him for centuries.

Nickolas snapped his fingers and the kitchen resumed its normal appearance, as if no battle had taken place. He looked to the Dark Lord and twisted his wand, hearing a gasp from the cowled intruder. His head began to stretch, pulled away its body. The slow tearing of flesh filled the room. Following that was the snapping bone, and the man's head was ripped from the body. It struck the wall with wet splat, red blood mingling with the purple floral design.

Nickolas released the spell and watched the body crumple to the floor. Going to his wife's body, that returned with the rest of the kitchen, he healed the damage—he knew it futile, but he wanted his wife to look her best in death. Wet tears fought to spill from his eyes, but he refused to shed them; there would be time enough to mourn later. For now he had to send word to…

"That hurt."

He spun, eyes taking in the uncovered head. Hairless, bone white skin shone in the dim light, looking leather in detail, while two red eyes looked out from narrow slits. Nickolas released a sigh and walked over, green eyes upon red.

"You went that far destroying yourself?"

The head smiled, regardless the exposed spinal cord and esophagus. "I've made myself stronger, so when old wizards full of themselves try to kill me, they are left with a surprise." His eyes dimmed for a moment, before they glowed. Within Nickolas' mind, the picture of his dead wife's body came to the forefront, her voice speaking to him, demanding why he let this happen.

He shook his head, repelling the attack. The head smirked. "As I said, impressive. It is a shame to lose that knowledge of yours."

Nickolas looked over to the inert body and noted the wand well was out of reach. "You're the first Dark Lord I've vanquished not to be quivering in rage by now."

"I am not yet defeated."

"Oh—"

Something cold slipped through his back, snapping his spinal cord, puncturing a lung, and exiting out his chest. He peered down as his body went limp, seeing nothing but a shadowed point jutting below his heart. His wand clattered the floor and the point was withdrawn, allowing blood to pour forth. Nickolas stumbled to the ground, body numb and breathing coming in sharp gasps. From his vantage point, he witnessed the intruder's body stand, pick up the head, and hold it cradled beneath an arm.

The severed head spoke. "In a duel you outclass anybody this century. I would expect nothing else from the man who singlehandedly stopped Dumbledore and Grindelwald's push through Serbia. However, you underestimated me, or, as I like to think, I was far more clever with my magic than you."

On cue, a figure stepped over his failing body to stand next to its master. It was a figure of medium height and composed of nothing but shadow, and where eyes and mouth should exist there lay nothing but darkness. Nickolas blinked, realizing tears were streaming from his eyes.

"Kill the seer." Spoke the head in dismissive tones. The assassin obeyed, melting, becoming spilt ink upon the floor, joining shadows cast by the light. "He is of an old magic and completely undetectable, even by those who can feel magic such as ourselves." The head smiled, cruel and victorious.

"W-what is your name?" Nickolas asked, his eyes growing heavy and his mind clouded.

"My name?" It pondered for a moment. "My name is Lord Voldemort. Farwell, old man."

With his last breath, Nickolas began to whisper in a low voice, focusing his mind as much as he could. A final bit of effort and life left him as a bright liquid poured from his eyes, only to disappear a moment later.

XXXXX

Harry Potter sat in a corner of the Gryffindor Common room, crimson draping the walls and furniture. Around him, each reclining in a large chair, were his fellow first years exchanging their opinions on the latest Quidditch match. Most times Harry did not join them, but each game his father played was one he yearned to listen to. It was an experience he hoped would never get old for him. He laughed numerous times throughout the game, his father's tactics bringing both frown and smile to his face.

His father had been using a new tactic this game, accidently colliding with the opposing team's chasers right before they were going to shoot. Unfortunately, they had still lost the game even when their seeker had caught the snitch. Neville summed it up best.

"Just too many fouls. The Tornadoes are pretty bad at penalty shots, but they got lucky this game."

As they continued discussing the various merits of both teams, while the first year girls sat none too far away giving the boys curious stares, a news report came over the station.

"Yesterday, as of 3:00pm, there have been four dozen attacks by mountain trolls on both muggle and magical properties. Some believe that a band of ogres are organizing the raids, considering the average intelligence of trolls, while others cite the shrinking reservations for the creatures. An emergency session of the Wizengamot has been set for this evening."

The other first years ignored the interesting announcement, returning the stares of their house mates.

Harry ignored the byplay, wondering if the sudden attacks were related to the dark future that Magorian had predicted.

Lavender stood, accompanied by her friends, and joined the Quidditch fans. "Is it really that much fun?" She cast the radio a dubious look.

Harry answered for them all. "Yep. The announcer on the station usually does a great job."

Parvarti rolled her eyes. "I think it's boring just listening. I'd much rather watch it."

Seamus scoffed. "Please, like standing around doing each other's hair isn't boring."

Lavender jumped in. "At least we're doing something instead of just sitting. I mean, Harry I can understand, his dad's in it. But…" Her words fell on Harry's deaf ears. I can't believe I'm getting pulled into a boys-versus-girls debate. I haven't been in one of those in years.

Not caring what they thought, he stood and left, muttering something about the bathroom, though he made his way to the portrait. Most times he could forget his housemates were still kids and sometimes he could not. With Hermione and Blaise it was different, considering he could have interesting conversations with them. The same for Gabrielle, so long as her gossiping friends remained behind.

Speaking of which, he glanced back to see her diminutive form crawl out of the portrait. Her destination obvious, he waited, leaning against the wall.

"What's wrong?" he asked as she drew astride him.

She gazed at him, tucking a stray lock of her hair behind her ear. "Can we go for a walk?"

He shrugged and started, not really caring so long as she kept the conversation from becoming too childish. "What did everyone think about you leaving?"

"They were too busy trying to see who was better." She smiled, but glanced to Harry and it fell. "Why did you leave?"

"I felt like it."

"That's it? No other reason? You weren't bored because we were acting like kids?"

Maybe she's more perceptive than I gave her credit for. Or she's been watching me. He was eerily reminded of his earlier years with Ginny. He hoped that was not the case. Wait? Why else would she sit with me earlier this year? It could not be more obvious; Gabriel had a crush on him. Bringing himself back to the conversation, he responded. "Yes, I get bored when people act immature. That's just who I am."

"You're the same age as the rest of us."

No, I'm really not. He chose a more diplomatic reply. "That doesn't mean I have to act my age."

She furrowed her brow, choosing to walk in silence. He assumed she was digesting his words. "Why did you want to be my friend at the start of the school year?" That was an easy segue to let her down easy; a good way to nip it in the bud.

She frowned. "Because you are going to be a great wizard."

Harry gave her a shrewd glance, the line not quite what he had been expecting. "How can you be sure?"

"You really don't see it?"

"Well, yeah, I see it…some. I'm pretty good in most subjects, I'm a good flyer. So yeah, I guess I can see where you get that." He finished lamely, not able to explain his advantages came from a prior life.

"That is why I want to be your friend; to learn from you."

"You want to learn from me? Why? I don't mean why from me, just why?"

"You have met my sister?"

"Yeah, she was very intimidating."

"She is beautiful, talented, and powerful. Everything I am not. My father keeps asking when I will do something great. I tell him I don't know when." By the end her head was downcast, eyes studying the tarnished stone floor.

Harry floundered for words, unsure his response. He knew Fleur to be a talented witch, but everything he had seen with Gabrielle was mediocre. Then again, Neville had been mediocre too and had been one of the few to last the longest in the Department of Mysteries. "So you think hanging around me, you'll pick up a few tricks?"

Her head slowly bobbed, in a quiet voice she spoke. "But sometimes you don't like when I'm around and leave."

Harry raised his hands. "I'm sorry, but I—"

"Get bored, I understand. You are a great wizard—"

Harry blew out a frustrated breath. "Cut that crap. I'm not some wizard like Dumbledore. I'm just Harry."

She gave him a fierce look, green eyes challenging. "You disarmed a fifth year and survived a dark creature. You caught a snitch after being hit in the head twice. Just being Harry seems to do a lot of great things."

"Look, just because—no! I'm not going to argue whether what've I done is 'great," he quoted the word with his fingers. "The issue here is you just want to be my friend for what I can do for you. Screw that. You want to be like your sister, go ahead, but leave me out of it." With that he stormed off, hearing a quiet sniffle as he strode away.

Great going Potter, you just made a little girl cry. He sighed, that had not been one of his finest moments.

XXXXX

His distance from Gabrielle hurt for a time, surprisingly, but he tried not to dwell on it. Friends were there for you, not for what you could do for them. He spent some time with Neville, playing with his food when the boys turned to pointless topics. When they talked Quidditch, though, he would join their discussions as often as he could, though he knew it to be forced enthusiasm on his part.

February came and went, and with it snowstorms and long nights trapped in a warm castle. Hagrid called him to tea frequently, in thanks for saving his life against the creature. The half-giant revealed the centaurs had banned him and Harry from their territory. The whole centaur nation was in an uproar for what they saw as a deliberate attack by wizard-kind.

"Didn't the headmistress tell them differently?"

"O'sure, but they didn't listen."

"Do you think it's connected with the recent troll uprisings?"

Hagrid looked around cautiously, before leaning closer. "What I'm about to tell ya stays here." Harry promised and Hagrid leaned back, relaxing by the roaring fire. "The Headmistress thinks it's all connected to that dark future Magorian was ravin' about." He nodded sagely. "She's taken a few steps, asked a few questions. Oh!" His eyes lit-up. "There was somethin' else. Magorian was a seer, right? A powerful one. Others have been dyin' over the past few years. One in France just this summer."

Harry went cold, imagining a dark net slowly closing over the wizarding world, while two red eyes looked on. "Who does she think is behind it?"

"Dunno, but she's doing all she can." Hagrid took a sip from his tea, laced Harry was sure, then cast a look to the empty rug beside him. He took a longer sip.

On that note Harry bid his good-bye, already seeing the signs that his friend would slip into an inebriated slumber. He locked the door behind him and made his way back to the castle in the crisp night air.

Very soon the Quidditch fever would consume Slytherin and Hufflepuff as they got ready for their upcoming match. Harry was rooting for Cedric, hoping that would put Gryffindor and Hufflepuff in direct competition for the cup. That would make the match that much more intense. Thankfully, Slytherin had no chance at the cup this year, having never recovered from the points Dumbledore docked from Orion.

The following week saw Valentine's Day unleashed upon Hogwarts in banners of pink and red, while girls giggled endlessly in corners, whispering like spies, planning their attacks. It made Harry notice some of the older girls, wishing that his body was far more mature than it was. With those conflicting thoughts running rampant in his head, he chose to vent himself on his broom, doing battle with the brisk weather.

The month of love passed, coming to a close with a Quidditch match. Slytherin decimated the Hufflepuffs, scattering the chasers and knocking out the keeper early in the game. From there it just went downhill, until Cedric ended the game with a quick dash against the Slytherin seeker. They won by only forty points, putting Gryffindor in a clear lead for the House Cup, much to McGonagall's pleasure. She would constantly remark to the players where precisely she would place it in her office.

As March rolled around, Professor Riddle began to take leave of his lessons, having a variety of people cover him. Some were interesting, but the class yearned for Riddle, by far a favorite among the students. Harry himself had been watching the man like a hawk, looking for any crack in his demeanor, any hint that the insane Voldemort lay beneath. Disappointment greeted him each time. Through the grapevine, he heard that Riddle was being called by the Minister of Magic for consultation. Another professor gone for days at a time was Dumbledore, usually leaving within a day of Riddle's absence.

Harry got the sense both were vying for Minister Bagman's ear. Who, according to many, was a great leader with a wonderful sense of humor. Harry hoped he was vastly different from the man he knew or this world was in trouble.

Strange disappearance aside, Harry had a stroke of luck, for he had finally located the hermit ghost that haunted the east wing of the school. It was not Moaning Myrtle, which frustrated him, because her death had been key in closing the Chamber and getting Hagrid expelled. He had now accounted for the all the ghosts and that one was his last lead. Maybe it had not been opened, and it was still down there, hidden, with a deadly beast waiting to be unleashed. There was one way to find out.

He wanted to keep both subjects separate so teachers would not get curious. Especially, if it had been opened in this world.

First to learn of Hagrid's background, he went to Professor McGonagall who would have been attending school at the time.

"Heavens that was years ago," she said taking a seat and offering him tea.

He accepted, looking around her office, noting subtle differences between the one that lay in his memories. There were not as many books and many trinkets that hailed from around the world, souvenirs from trips no doubt. His attention returned to her as she spoke.

"Well, Hagrid was an interesting student is the best way to put it." She smiled as she said it. "I was his tutor for transfiguration you see, and he was rather more interested in wrestling trolls than learning. He did pass his exam after some…persuasion. Full marks, and he was very proud, but his other hobby became known."

"Other hobby?"

"Yes, you see Hagrid has an obsession with dangerous animals. He sees them as cute." From her tone, she disagreed. "Well, sometime in his fifth year he decided to show his pet spider to his crush, poor Myrtle didn't know what to do. She screamed and ran."

"The spider, or acromantula rather, got loose, and Hagrid was expelled for endangering the life of everyone in the castle." She took a sip of her tea, Harry echoing the gesture. "Very sad, since he had been progressing rather well by then."

Harry turned the conversation to the upcoming fight between Slytherin and Ravenclaw, and talked tactics with his Head of House. She asked him a few pointed questions about the current roster, and Harry answered bluntly. She schooled her reaction and bid him farewell, pointing to the top of her shelf she had cleared for the trophy. Harry only laughed.

The second part to the mystery, considering no history book had information on the chamber's opening, then again in his world it had been hushed over, lay in talking to Riddle himself. He thought with confronting him the man might finally break his façade. Unfortunately, he did not return until a week after the Ravenclaw and Slytherin match. Slytherin won, two-hundred to fifty.

That left the final game between Gryffindor and Hufflepuff.

Between Oliver's fanatical practice schedule, of which Harry skipped most, he managed to find time to speak with his DADA professor.

He waited outside his office, wiping sweaty hands upon his robes. He kept telling himself this was not Voldemort, but Tom Riddle, yet nothing was certain.

"Come-in, Harry!" he called.

Harry took a steadying breath and entered the office greeting Riddle with a smile.

The office itself was spacious, with an odd assortment of creatures kept preserved in glass jars at the back. Silvery instruments decorated his desk, similar to the ones once owned by Albus Dumbledore. Books dominated the far right wall, while posters featuring idealistic quotes sat opposite them.

"Take a seat and tell me what you want to talk about. I don't think you had a problem with last week's grindylow essay, so I'm at a loss." He folded his hands, waiting, all ears.

"Sir, I was doing research into the Founding Fathers, for a side project of mine, and came across the Schism."

Tom nodded knowingly. "Yes, the Schism that drove them apart. Sad times for the school and them, but I think it was for the best, honestly."

Harry plowed onward. "I read Slytherin may have left behind a hidden chamber." He could feel his heart beat pounding in his ears, eyes looking on with intense scrutiny.

Tom's mask never wavered. "That is quite the rumor, and interestingly enough, that was once a hobby of my own. Interesting your pursuit would mirror mine." He smiled. "Found anything yet?"

It took Harry a moment to collect himself. "Uh, no, but I heard some rumor that a student had opened the Chamber of Secrets fifty years ago. I know that is when you had gone to school, and I thought you might know for certain…" he trailed as a strange calm overcame Riddle, his eyes seeming to focus inward.

"An apt name you gave it." He licked his lips, eyes curious upon Harry, his merry façade falling away. "It was something I had tried to find in my youth, considering I thought I had a few advantages over others who tried." His voice grew distant. "But no, the Chamber of Secrets was never opened, let alone fifty years ago."

Harry noted the longing in his voice, and the way something red seemed to stir in the darkness of his eyes. "Uh, thank-you, Professor. That is a lot of help." He hastily stood and made to leave.

Riddle's dark eyes speared him. "Watch out where you tread in your search, Harry, you might not like what Slytherin left behind. See you in class."

Harry almost bolted from the office, his heart beating uncontrollably. If he's not Voldemort, he still has the potential. Harry would never forget the red of his nemesis' eyes; the same red that he had seen birthed in his teacher's.

XXXXX

The end of the year was rapidly approaching, and students hurried to finish their projects or rush to study for final exams. The ones hit hardest were the usual fifth and seventh years, something Harry did not miss at all, though this time around it would be simpler for him. Not having to deal with Voldemort left his entire childhood open for enjoyment, though so far there had been a few hitches. He doubted there would not be any more, but he would face them as he did the last, as best he could.

After childhood, he definitely knew what he wanted to do. If there were indeed some dark wizard, Voldemort notwithstanding, he would join the Aurors and help fight it.

Currently, he was enjoying the day. Beside him were Hermione and Blaise going on about the latest transfiguration homework. It was an extra credit practical assigned by professor McGonagall for the end of the term. He had already managed to complete it by changing a ball into a puddle of water. As the two girls talked back and forth about the supposed theory behind changing the properties of an object so drastically, he was staring skyward, watching the clouds drift through the enchanted ceiling. It was incredible the magic behind it, the thought of a spell constantly mirroring the weather outside and continually shifting.

Hermione's voice reached his ears. "No, I don't think we have to first change it into an object that is similar, I think it's just one all one step. I think the wand motion is important, but the words might play a bigger role."

Blaise responded, heat entering her tone. "Don't lecture me on the basics. I know what we have to do. I was merely saying if we imagined it changing from object into another then it may be simpler for us."

Hermione shook her head, nose in the air. "That defeats the point of the exercise completely! She wants us to push ourselves in instant transfiguration by changing one substance into a completely different one. Solid to a liquid."

He was surprised they were having such a problem with it; both were more than skilled in the subject. Was there a mental block? Or was the theory that difficult for them to grasp? Pulling out his wand, he aimed it at Hermione's forgotten fork and uttered the spell, waving his wand in a circle. The fork became a puddle of water. He waved it again and it disappeared, shifting into air. That silenced them both, each giving him a glare.

"I wasn't showing off, just showing you how easy it is. Your problem is you're over thinking it."

"Really? I thought you had to understand it to do it." Was Blaise's acidic response.

"You do, but it's not as complex as you think. You don't imagine it or even try to understand it. You just focus on shifting it as you cast the spell." He kept his tone reasonable, but from their expressions, it still irritated them.

"Okay Mr. Perfect, teach us."

He sighed. "I just did." Two narrowed eyes caused him to extrapolate. "Okay. When we changed a toothpick into a needle, they were similar so it was easier. Just cast the spell and think of changing it. Most didn't get it because they couldn't understand transfiguration. That's not the same here. Here you are altering the properties even more, just not as much as you think."

He pointed his wand at Blaise's unused knife, uttering the spell. In an instant it became water. "All I did was imagine it becoming something more loose, I did not try and constantly hold the image of water in my head."

They gave the puddle a shrewd glance before Hermione spoke up. "So we were basically confusing ourselves?"

"Exactly. Your intent is to make it become water, but you're losing yourself in trying to imagine it. That's why you kept producing water instead of transfiguring it." He cast the spell once more and smiled. "It's just magic."

Both shared a glance before removing their wands and putting them at various utensils littered around them. One became ice in the shape of a spoon, while another melted. Harry sighed. He corrected Blaise's arm motion and explained to Hermione again to at least keep in mind it was water she was changing it into. With a few more attempts, both had managed to successfully cast the spell.

Quite proud of her achievement, Blaise was busy turning her fork back and forth between the two states, occasionally still botching the spell, much to her ire. Hermione was practicing as well, having the same amount of luck. Finally satisfied, she put away her wand and turned to Harry.

"I see why this is second year material. You have to keep several things in mind while casting."

Blaise followed her example. "It would have been easier if McGonagall had explained it. If she had it wouldn't have been extra credit, I guess." She turned to Harry and gave him a smile, all teeth. "So are you afraid of the today's match?"

"Not really. I don't think they're going to do anything. It is Hufflepuff after all."

"I'm not so sure. They may just be trying to lull you into a false sense of security."

"Oh, you think so? I think maybe you're full of it."

"No, no, I heard from a few puffs that you'll never make it to the snitch."

Hermione laughed. "Oh, stop it. That won't work with him. Besides, he's right, they are Hufflepuffs.

Blaise blew out a breath in a huff. "You two are no fun."

"And you're just bored." With that Hermione stood and gathered her things, stuffing them into a leather bag. "I don't know about you two, but I'd going to the library to finish my potion's essay."

Blaise considered Hermione for a moment. "Do you need any help with those references you found?"

"Sure."

As one they left, Hermione calling to Harry before exiting the Great Hall. "Good luck with the game!"

He watched them leave, once more glad Hermione had found a friend within her house. According to her, Malfoy and his goons had lightened up since Christmas. It was still a shock for him to learn she had been placed with the snakes. What ambition was driving her? To learn magic? To fit in? He doubted it was the last latter and closer to the former.

Rising from his seat he left the Great Hall, waving to several well-wishers as he left. He still had a few hours to burn before the game. At least an hour before Oliver came looking for him for extra drills before the match, which Harry had no intent of doing. Recently, he had been questioning why he had even joined the team. It had so far been nothing but tense moments with his team and angry words muttered under his breath. He had not been the only one to skip, either. Oliver was becoming desperate to make everyone work as a team, but the harder he pushed the farther they pulled apart.

His wandering legs brought him to the shores of the lake, where he sat and enjoyed the rare hot sun filtering through puffy clouds moving lazily through the blue sky. Thoughts of random idling passed through his mind as he pondered the lake, watching a few second year Slytherins swimming, playing a game with the giant squid. He smiled.

"'ello, may I?"

Harry craned his neck to find Fleur standing over him, framed by the sun's rays. He shrugged off her aura. "I won't stop you." There was a twitch from below his belt, but he managed to quiet that. For now he was wary, wondering what had prompted her to join him.

Fleur sat, leaned back, and kicked off her boots, curling dainty toes between blades of green grass. "It is a beautiful day, non?" She gave him a smoldering smile.

Harry blew out a sigh. He glanced around, checking for any sign of trouble. "Is Roger going to leap out of the lake?"

She chuckled. "Non, me and Roger are finished."

"Good, he was rubbish for you."

"Oh, you have someone better…please don't tell me you? I would 'ate—"

"What?" He waved his hands. "I'm eleven!" Though with her next to him, he would not mind adding a few years to his life. "Besides, Roger would be rubbish for any girl."

Fleur remained silent while Harry began to fidget, he could just not see her angle. "Okay, what's going-on?"

She quirked an eyebrow and smiled. "You are complaining that a beautiful woman is sitting next to you. You believe I have cooties?"

Harry forced a laugh before responding. "Last time you were ready to hex me, this time you're enjoying my company?"

She laughed and it sounded like two glasses kissing. "I was irrational then, feeling very shamed for what you did. I was also angry at Roger; I did not expect a first year to get the better of 'im."

"Apology accepted."

She bristled, straightening up. "That was not an apology."

He gave her a wry grin. "I figure it's the best I'm going to get from you."

She relaxed, blue eyes assessing him coldly. "You do not act your age."

"You've been talking to your sister."

She nodded, her blonde hair turning silver as it caught the rays of the sun. "Oui, she was sad that she lost your friendship."

"So big sister comes, with her aura, trying to seduce the weak-minded first year to go running back to her?" He did not bother keeping the bitterness from his voice.

Fleur was quiet a long moment, blue eyes cast to the rippling shore. "Oui, that is true, but I did not expect my sister's words to be true." She looked to Harry. "It does not matter my intent. My sister is miserable and the last time she tried to apologize you walked away."

Oh… Harry sighed, running a hand through his messy hair. "Tell her apology accepted. Also, tell her she would be better off not trying to be like you."

"Like moi?"

"Yeah, she's been living in your shadow all year. That's why she befriended me in the first place, thought she could learn some of my 'greatness'." Harry scoffed at the last.

"I see," she spoke slowly, her eyes taking in the lake. "I think I need to spend more time with my sister; it seems I had a bit too much fun with Roger." She gave him a smile touched with guilt. "I think I should not 'ave underestimated you."

"Apology accepted."

Her eyes grew flinty, then mellowed. She left him with a parted wave, leaving him with a sense of accomplishment. Now all he had to do was win the game and claim the cup.

Relaxed and content, Harry laid back in the grass, closing his eyes and letting the soft murmurs of the lake whisper him to sleep.

"Harry!" came a familiar voice walking his way, pulling him from his doze. He turned to find Cedric making his way over. Harry's voice hitched in his throat as a deathly pale face replaced the one looking at him. He drew a shuddering breath and pushed those memories aside. "Hey."

"Fleur said you were over here."

"You two are friends?"

"Just lab partners in Herbology. I've been looking for you all day, and I got lucky to run into her. Can I join you?"

Harry looked to the spot and stood. "No, how about we just go for a walk. I think me being in one spot is a bad idea."

Cedric chuckled, but acquiesced. "Why is that?"

"Because it's about time Oliver started looking for me."

"We still have an hour to go."

"Exactly."

"He's that bad?" Cedric frowned. "I'd heard rumors…"

"Probably not as bad as your thinking, but he has his moments. I figured today would be one of them."

A lull fell between them; it was surprisingly comfortable for Harry, until the memories began to creep back. "So why've you been looking for me?"

"Because I heard about what happened to Roger, and I saw what happened to Trevin."

Harry rolled his eyes. "Look, those guys were trying to take me out of the game, and they got what they deserved."

"Based on what evidence?" He rounded on Harry, his brown eyes burning with something righteous. This was behavior he had never seen from the one in his memories, who had possessed a gentle nature. It helped separate the two in his mind.

"For Trevin, the fact he hit the bludger three times at my head. Once, accident. Twice...maybe, but not three." Harry stepped forward, eyes narrowed. "And Roger I heard through gossip. Not the most reliable, but most of his team corroborated it." He recalled Blaise's remarks from earlier. "Now my turn. Is your captain planning something stupid?"

Cedric quickly closed his eyes, seeming to reign in his anger. "I'm sorry, I didn't know all that."

Then don't judge me before you do! For the sake of peace, and Cedric seeming like a genuinely nice guy, Harry kept that thought to himself. "You're forgiven. But you're team isn't planning something dumb is it?" he pressed.

Cedric shook his head, his eyes gazing around. He looked unsure. "I think I was rash in coming here."

"I think so, too."

"But, no, we're not trying anything against you. I just wanted to see if it was going to be a clean game." Cedric inclined his head before leaving, quickly trotting away. Neither bothered to say their farewells.

It's not like I did those things just to be malicious. He shook his head, clearing the conversation from his mind.

Cedric was yet another lesson that that things that looked the same could still vary. I wonder how long it will be before I stop making that mistake.

To waste more time, he decided to pace around the lake, wondering how long it would be before his team captain found him. To his surprise it was not too much later that Oliver could be seen storming across the grass, pointing one hand at Harry and yelling. The seeker waved and took off running.

Through the grounds the chase went, passing both surprised and amused students. Oliver Wood caught him under the swinging boughs of Whomping Willow, shouting his name repeatedly. Harry just smiled and rolled under an errant branch. His captain was getting closer, until Harry heard a startled cry following by a thump. He moved out of range of the Willow and looked back, satisfied to see the Keeper moaning on the ground.

He joined his side, peering down. "Ready for the big game?"

"Blast you, Harry; we could be in the air right now drilling. Everybody else is!"

"No, they're not. Without you they're probably just sitting around talking."

Oliver looked crestfallen, but scowled. "And if you had followed me, we'd all be practicing."

Harry only shook his head and helped the captain to his feet, who winced, touching his chest. "Great going, now I'm injured for the game. Maybe Madam Hooch could delay i—"

Oh no, I'm not dealing with you for another week. "Let me see," Harry said pulling out his wand.

Oliver gave him a dubious look before taking off his shirt, revealing a dark bruise starting to dominate his ribs. "Do you know what you're doing?"

This was the one subject Harry had been studying on. The helpless feeling he had watching Hagrid nearly bleed to death was not something he wanted to experience again. So he rectified his ignorance. Nothing on the level the school's healer, but he had learned a few tricks.

"Tilus," he intoned, gently pressing his wand's tip to Oliver's chest. Sparkles spread across his chest before a dark light engulfed the bruised area.

Harry stepped back, satisfied. "There, good as new."

Cedric felt where the injury had been, stretching his toned body one way then the other. "You're handy to have around. Can't wait to tell the team. Ha! You could save us—"

Harry guiltily looked at the ground. "The team already knows; I've been helping them since winter."

"You have? But I've been going…" Comprehension came to him slowly, and his bright mood plummeted. "You're a right bastard, you know that? You, of everyone, have given me nothing but shit this year."

"Well you haven't been much better. Fucking hell, Wood, ten practices a week?"

"We have to win, and this team isn't anywhere near ready. You guys just don't want to work together!"

Harry clenched his fist. "And screaming and insulting us is going to do that?"

Oliver's eyes blazed. "Nothing else would get through your thick skulls. You're just a bunch of spoiled brats that I have to babysit every week."

With a deep breath, and control he did not think he possessed, Harry managed to calm himself. "Stop being a prat, and we'll listen to you. Now, I'll see you at the pitch in an hour." Turning on his heel, he strode away, waiting for Oliver's parting words.

"If you weren't so bloody good, I'd have you thrown from the team!"

Harry response was to flip him the bird.

XXXXX

The stands were roaring as the Gryffindor Quidditch team walked onto the pitch, people standing and waving their hands. Across them, emerging, was the Hufflepuff team, their captain throwing both of his hands into the air; the cheering intensified. Oliver, not to be outdone, paused, mimicking him, though the crowd's response was disappointing.

Harry stood in the back, dwarfed by his team mates, and rolled his eyes, catching several of them doing so as well.

"Big-headed prat," Angelina muttered before shouldering her way past her captain. The other chasers each shoved him as they walked past. The beaters traded scowls and collected the captain before he unleashed his ire in front of everyone. Harry wished he would, just so everyone would see him being a pain.

Madam Hooch motioned both teams over, saying she expected a nice, clean game. She gave Harry a significant look; he gave her his best smile.

The players mounted their brooms, the balls were released, and the final game of the year began.

Harry shot to the top of the pitch, zooming in front of a Hufflepuff beater to throw him off, giving Angelina a clear shot at the goals. She took it, making the first score of the game. The stands erupted and the Hufflepuffs went on the offensive, using a mixture of beaters and chasers to slowly work their way to Oliver. They had trained hard on their offensive formations, keeping the 'golden girls' from breaking through.

They reached the keeper, shot, and scored. Another round of cheers answered.

Harry left the skirmishing then, eyes seeking Cedric. He found him circling the pitch a little lower than him, doing what seekers did best. He was using a circular movement to patrol, where Harry always had better luck flying in a figure eight. He also tended to fly higher than most, giving him a wider view.

Cedric suddenly shot off towards the pitch, and Harry moved with him, eyes seeking the prize. He saw it near the sidelines, floating innocently in the air. Cedric had the advantage, having been closer by far. Frantic, Harry looked about and his eyes met Fred's. He pointed down and the red-haired teen grinned. He shot down, bat held aloft as a bludger came his way. With a crack, using both hands, he sent it south.

Cedric barely pulled away in time, costing him momentum and distance. He glanced back and tried to regain the lead, but Harry was already by his side, hand outstretched, slowly passing him. Then the quaffle landed in front of them and so did the chasers of both teams. Harry cursed, being buffeted left and right, trying desperately to push his way through. He failed and veered off, spinning his way out of the morass of bodies, eyes seeking…

Nothing. It had disappeared again. He floated up and saw Cedric emerge a moment later laughing, slapping the Hufflepuff captain on the back. They both waved to Harry who shook his head. What comes around goes around.

A penalty was called against Hufflepuff and Katie took the shot, giving her team another ten points. Then the battle started anew, each side doing their best, but it was becoming very obvious that the Gryffindor team was falling apart. Angelina was barking orders to the other two chasers while Oliver kept contradicting her. Lee was trying to hit the Hufflepuff beaters, but Fred was busy trying to disrupt the Hufflepuff chasers; both were having limited success.

Eventually, the score read ninety to fifty, and Harry had yet to see the snitch again.

"Katie takes the shot. It's intercepted by McGregor who blasts away. That wasn't a very nice gesture Katie gave him, looks like Hooch missed it. Weasley takes out McGregor. About time he hit something, but Turner picks it up. Uh oh, here comes Angelina and she looks pissed. Looks like she doesn't like having the ball taken away without her noticing. Ouch! Hooch blows the whistle, she couldn't miss that foul. And there goes Oliver again; I can almost hear what he's saying up here. There are children listening, you know that, right?"

Harry chuckled at Alex's commentary, finally having learned the boy's name. Apparently, he was not too popular with McGonagall, but the other teachers enjoyed listening.

The game unfolded, the players becoming more intense with their plays and recoveries. Oliver eventually calmed down and stopped letting all the shots through, and the other two chasers finally started listening to Angelina instead of their captain. That was probably why Oliver was silent; he was sulking. As one the girls managed to break several Hufflepuff formations.

The Gryffindor beaters were not faring very well against the Hufflepuff's. It seemed those two seventh years had a lot more experience. Eventually, the score ended up being one-fifty to one-twenty.

That is when Harry spied the snitch, fluttering beside Lee Jordan's left ear. The beater swatted at it, much to Harry's annoyance. Instead of shooting after it, he adjusted his patrol and eased forward, while Lee waited for an opening in the current skirmish for the quaffle.

Don't move, don't move, don't—

"You can't fool me, Potter, it looks like you've seen the snitch."

Harry sent a panicked glance at Cedric who was staring back, then at where Harry was heading. His eyes narrowed and he was off.

Fuck you, Alex! Harry braced himself low against his broom and unleashed its speed.

It took Lee four seconds to react as he watched both seekers bearing down on him. He whipped his head to the right and saw the snitch. The fourth year forced his broom down and the snitch raced away, followed seconds later by both seekers, palms open, eyes forward.

"Whoa! Talk about a close one, these guys are neck and neck. Cedric's broom is a year older than Harry's, plus he's a little heavier. I think Potter may get this one, but we all know it comes down to the snitch."

Harry ground his teeth in frustration, wanting nothing more than the announcer to shut it. Ahead, maddeningly just out of reach, the snitch zoomed away, darting left then right, causing him and Cedric to constantly readjust their trajectory. It kept them even.

"It's mine, Harry!" Cedric shouted. Harry ignored him. The snitch adjusted taking a dive.

A bludger sailed his way coming from above, he and Cedric parted instantly as it sailed between them.

"Lee needs to work on his aim!" Cedric cursed as the snitch pulled into the air, ascending vertically.

Harry reacted instantly, pulling his broom up hard in a tight curve. He could feel the strain he placed on the wood, bending as he forced it tighter. Still, he was losing speed, so he spun in the air almost losing his grip and flying off. He felt himself flying vertical and stopped the roll, only momentarily disorientated.

He looked back to see Cedric a few broom lengths behind. Now all he had to do was catch that snitch.

Mind refocused, he reached out his hand, hearing the cheering masses over the roaring wind. Closer and closer until his hand snatched it from the sky.

"He caught the snitch! That's game! Gryffindor wins two—oh no!" The cheering became choked as gasps of surprise rose from the onlookers.

Harry's world was in vertigo as the pain ripping through his body caused him to slide off his broom. He tumbled through the sky, the snitch held tightly in one hand as arcs of black lightning shot from it, dancing about his prone body. With each strike he jerked and spasmed, desperately trying to rid himself of the snitch, but his efforts failed. He glanced down and saw the approaching ground, both wishing and fearing for the oblivion to come.

He struck and his vision went black.


A/N:: I've come to the realization that the tone and writing I am doing is subpar to my usual work. I've tried a more casual hand with the characters and tone, much to the detriment of the last chapter. Nothing much changed in this one save I tightened up several of the more bland exposition, which is why it took longer to post. Needless to say, the shit just hit the fan and it's mostly downhill from here. I'm still having problems with Hermione-Blaise and Harry interactions, not sure how they would act around him. I've got their own dynamic down, just not how he fits in besides the token, we're friends bs. Will need to work on that next year.

Cedric I hope was done differently, and I hope I gave Fleur better characterization this chapter other than of scorned woman. I finally got Harry's character down in my head and where I will be taking him. Different than canon, but not too far down a beaten path as I did in The Lies that Bind. Also, hard to tell, but the bathroom scene in the last chapter will have its uses next year. Just a little hint that I do have things pretty far planned out ahead of time.

One last thing. This officially ends year one, with all its bumps and stretch ways. Year 2 is only one third the way done, with a lot higher word count going for it. I've stalled on it, reworking a few scenes here and there in the beginning. So it may be a month or so before I begin posting on this. Rest assured, the writing will be considerably better as I won't be rushing so much through things, but damn it's hard not to make most of year one filler. So, any overall thoughts on Year 1 would be appreciated. any concerns voiced or specific critiques will also be read with relish.

So thanks for reading so far.

-byl, out.