Hey, look: an update.
He won't stop looking at me, Harry thought anxiously a few days later, keeping his eyes on his book. It seemed to help more than actually looking at Quirrell, which just made his head hurt more and more.
We're probably giving him a headache, said Voldemort wearily.
Doesn't that mean he knows... you know, about you? Harry said, rubbing his scar with the heel of his hand.
If he did, Voldemort said, he would have approached us. I doubt it would occur to him that any part of his own soul would have a difference of opinion with him - I'm sure it's the scar. Do you have any more headache potions? he wondered after a second.
Harry scrunched up his nose. He didn't. He didn't, and they were supposed to last him another fortnight, so he wasn't going to go and ask Madam Pomfrey for any more - she'd pack him off to St Mungo's before he could finish asking the question.
Voldemort's mental voice made a sour noise, but conceded the point, and Harry continued to stare blankly at his textbook, even though he was pretty familiar with the theory and purpose of the verdimillious spell. It wasn't what you might call tricky.
Although since it did little more than sting an attacker with bright green sparks, Harry wasn't really sure why it was even taught.
It is Slytherin House coloured, drawled Voldemort, you could use it at a Quidditch Match.
The idea of a rain of stinging green sparkles over the Quidditch pitch seemed like an idea that was both horrible and hilarious, and Harry smiled through his headache at the image it raised:Quidditch players flailing madly on their broomsticks, trying to avoid the stinging sparks.
Amusement was short-lived, though, and his mood was fraying again within moments. It was probably a good thing he already knew the charm, because he would have really struggled to concentrate on the class otherwise, given the pounding in his skull. As it was, he could scrawl messily from memory exactly what made the spell work.
If you're going to write notes, Voldemort said, you may as well write them about something useful.
By 'useful,' of course, Voldemort meant useful to Voldemort - but Harry found he didn't mind that much anyway. On the paper beneath his hand, the word bloomed: impedimenta.
Let's talk about the Impediment Jinx, said Voldemort.
They made very little progress during that class, mostly because Harry's head hurt like there was a meat cleaver in it. Voldemort, usually so patient with his learning pace, growled and snapped in direct proportion to how much they hurt.
He'd resolved to head to the library after class - not because he needed to look the jinx up, but because the library was one of the few places in the school where it was acceptable to be completely distracted and ignore everybody else.
Nobody gave Harry weird looks if he ignored them in the library. They just mumbled that he was an irredeemable swot and went to bother somebody else.
"No," said Draco imperiously when he went to make the turn off in that direction. "Lunch time. Great Hall. Goyle," he added sharply, and Harry found himself manhandled down the stairs toward the Great Hall.
Draco, as ever, was loath to get his own hands dirty - and also he was a lot smaller than Crabbe or Goyle, who could easily overpower Harry so long as nobody got magic involved.
"I'd have come down after," Harry muttered rebelliously.
"Draco says you have to eat first," Goyle informed him solemnly, and did not release his grip on Harry's biceps. Crabbe fell into step on his other side, taking hold of his other elbow.
That was kind of overkill, Harry thought. He didn't need both of them dragging him through the corridors like a sack of grains.
"Do you always do everything Draco says?" He asked, a little despairing.
Goyle paused and thought about it for a second. He looked uncertainly at Crabbe, who looked uncertainly at Draco.
The blond boy raised an eyebrow at Harry and smirked. "That's a yes, Potter," he drawled. "Come along."
The interruption to Harry's plans didn't seem to bother Voldemort - or if it did, it wasn't much. You should eat, anyway, said the voice in his head. Harry couldn't quite tell which one it was, young or old.
Harry rolled his eyes, but acquiesced.
Snape was seated at one end of the high table there, and Harry could feel his gaze when Crabbe and Goyle hauled him into the Great Hall between them like a recalcitrant prisoner.
Harry glanced over his shoulder at the man, but he'd already turned away, fixing his suspicious eyes on Quirrell.
Hmm, Voldemort mused quietly. I wonder if he suspects him.
Or, Harry suggested, feeling significantly less paranoid than Voldemort was, he doesn't like that Quirrell's got the Defence job and he's going to murder him in his sleep.
Voldemort scoffed. He'd be more likely to slip something in his dinner. And it doesn't take more than six months to plan a murder, he added.
Harry turned away when Goyle gave him an encouraging tug - which, from Goyle, almost sent him sprawling - toward the Slytherin table.
"Harry!" Pansy pulled him down to sit next to her and Goyle relinquished him so smoothly that it seemed almost choreographed.
He glanced suspiciously at Draco, who tilted his head and blinked. He had a good poker face. "Is this some kind of conspiracy?" he wondered.
"Yes," said Draco snidely, "it's a conspiracy to make sure you eat as much as your healer ordered. However will you cope?"
"We are despicable," said Pansy cheerfully. She was consulting a list - a list, which, no, where did she even get that? - and selecting foods to pile carefully onto his plate.
"Are you telling me Potter's too incompetent to feed himself without help?" Zabini wondered, peering over the top of his book.
"No," said Harry, rolling his eyes.
"Yep," said Pansy at the same time, without missing a beat. "Competent enough to bring down the Dark Lord, too incompetent to feed himself. Funny old world, isn't it?"
"Pansy," Harry hissed, alarmed at this casual mention of 'bringing down the Dark Lord'. He waited for the stabbing pain, but all he got from Voldemort was a sense of tolerant amusement. It took him a second, but then he realised that the Dark Lord was actually amused at Harry's anxiety about giving offence.
Zabini sniffed, eyeing them all. "You don't think it's a little bit pathetic that he got beaten up by muggles and now he can't even feed himself?"
Nott gave a cough that was probably hiding a laugh. Pansy shrugged like these were the inconsistencies of life.
Draco looked... contemplative.
That, of all things, made Harry nervous.
"I suppose the muggle blood does breed true," Zabini murmured, raising his eyebrows at Harry. "I'm astonished you'd continue to associate with him, Malfoy, since his filthy mudblood mother's already all over the papers."
There was a moment of very awkward silence.
Harry supposed it was made more awkward by how horribly true it was. He was a half-blood, and practically a muggle born for all he knew about magic. He'd never felt quite so inferior before, but -
Oh, don't be ridiculous, Voldemort snapped. He sounded bored and frustrated. The issue with muggleborns isn't their inherent inferiority, it's that allowing them to breed with pureblood families dilutes the blood and you end up with Squibs in your family tree. Half-bloods are necessary for pureblood families to survive, or else they'd have bred themselves out of existence. There's only twenty-eight truly pureblood families in the country, after all, and matches between them tend to have an uncomfortable degree of consanguinuity.
Harry mouthed 'consanguinuity,' to himself - context made its meaning clear, but he'd never heard it before. Then he frowned. I don't think I understand, he said slowly.
Magic is inherited, Voldemort said with a put-upon noise, like it was ludicrous that an eleven year old somehow not already understand such facts. It's not as direct as, say, red hair, but children born to muggleborns are more likely to be Squibs, or to carry the defective trait -
Oh, is this like genetics?
Voldemort had only the foggiest sense of what he was talking about, some remembered snatches of something about - pea plants? - with which Harry was unfamiliar.
Sometimes Harry forgot how long Voldemort had been well out of the world of muggle technology.
Half-bloods are regarded with significantly less suspicion by the pureblood families, although they're usually encouraged to procreate with other half-bloods so as not to contaminate pure lines. Over time, when magical a child is produced whose grandparents are all witches and wizards, there's no significant risk to a marriage into a pureblood family.
There are other problems, he conceded, but they consist in the entitled attitude of muggleborns toward the Wizarding population, the conflation of our traditions and values with those from muggle society, and the lax enforcement of the statute of secrecy. They don't apply to half-bloods in quite the same way.
Harry frowned, contemplating his plate - now full of healer-approved food, thanks to Pansy - without really seeing it.
Something snapped in front of his face.
He blinked at Zabini's fingers. He was clicking at Harry to get his attention.
Rude, Harry thought, blinking.
"Potter," he said, giving Harry hard eyes. "Are you even listening?"
Harry was reminded that, although conversations with Voldemort happened at the speed of thought, they could still take up enough time to be fairly noticeable. He should have just gone to the library.
Tell him you weren't, suggested that other voice, mischievous and young.
Voldemort - the older one - made an amused noise.
Go on, urged the younger voice.
"Sorry," said Harry, blinking at Zabini. "I was a million miles away. Did you say something?"
Zabini looked so annoyed. "Idiot," he muttered, picking his book back up.
The conversation moved on, and Harry relaxed gratefully back into his chair.
Then he looked at his plate.
"Pansy, I can't eat all this!"
"You will," she informed him with steel in her voice, "and you'll like it."
Weeks passed in this manner: long classes, weather that passed from cool to warm, seemingly endless headaches. Between Christmas and the equinox was Imbolc, the festival of the spring to come. Draco marched right up and tossed the sweet-smelling herbs they needed into the fire of the common room, and nobody dared to point out that the precious Malfoy heir was, technically, performing dark magic.
The smokey omen-watch revealed very little to Harry about the next year, except the strange premonition of running. Neither Draco nor Voldemort were terribly forthcoming with interpretations, and Harry eventually put it aside.
He preoccupied himself instead with school work - his pile of which seemed to be getting larger, if not more difficult - and learning to deal with how people responded to him now, in the wake of his latest run of media attention. He balanced the strange and slightly aggressive concern of Pansy and Draco against the scorn of - well, it felt like the rest of the school, sometimes.
Snape had gone back to that delicate balance of simultaneously staring intently at Harry and pretending he didn't exist at all. Harry supposed, ultimately, that was better than many possible alternatives.
The cloak Dumbledore had passed onto him proved to be incredibly, ridiculously useful.
And to think, said Voldemort bitterly, how many hours I spent teaching you the Disillusionment Charm.
It did seem like a huge waste of time now that he was in possession of the Invisibility Cloak, but Harry comforted himself with the knowledge that he was a lot better with charms now than he would have been without Voldemort's mad, single-minded dedication to teaching him that charm.
Voldemort, on the other hand, did not seem to find it terribly comforting.
Harry tried not to complain when he spent the next two nights curled in the dead end corner of the third floor corridor, draped with the cloak and keeping a careful eye on the door. He could hear, occasionally, the growl of the Cereberus inside.
Hagrid came both nights, just after midnight - because that wasn't suspicious at all - to feed the monster dog. Once Harry snuck in after him and watched the gory procedure, but it didn't really enlighten him at all to any of the other protections on the place.
There was absolutely no joy to be had in sitting stiffly for hours in the same cold spot outside that third corridor doorway, waiting for something to happen.
I have class at eight tomorrow, Harry reminded Voldemort, although he was more or less resigned to remaining in his spot until at least midnight.
No, Voldemort corrected him snidely, you have History of Magic at eight tomorrow.
You can get up, change location, and go back to sleep, the younger voice put in with a snort.
Shhh, said Voldemort, soft and coaxing. He was a lot more patient with his younger self than he was with Harry. Or, really, anybody.
Still there was a sense of restlessness from the younger voice. It was weakening, because the elder was the stronger personality and better-anchored, but Harry got the impression that this younger, larger slice of Voldemort's soul, was putting up more of a struggle than previously anticipated.
He got the impression that they were having some kind of quiet conversation, which he felt as a soft rustling in the back of his head that wouldn't go away.
Still, Harry interrupted, I'd like to actually get to class. And he usually spent History of Magic doing something useful.
Malfoy won't let you oversleep, Voldemort supplied promptly, then, quick and loud: Quirrell!
Harry blinked, glanced up, noticed the moving shadow and - yes, there it was, the shadow streaming against the castle's stone walls was muttering quietly to itself. Definitely Quirrell. He turned the corner and his eyes swept over Harry's hiding spot without noticing him.
There was a dull moment of surprise from Voldemort.
Quirrell, in Harry's experience, really looked a lot more like a kind of haunted, neurotic bunny than like a man housing the Dark Lord in his head. He was quiet, timid and all together unimpressive.
Which, Harry supposed, might actually make Quirrell one of the better places for the Dark Lord to hide. Who on earth would suspect poor, stuttering Professor Quirrell?
Which was when Snape stepped around the corner, hard-faced and angular and sort of compellingly ugly. His tall shadow fell over Quirrell's, causing the smaller man to twitch and turn.
"S-Severus," he said in a hushed voice. "What are you -?"
"I thought perhaps it was time for another little chat," he said icily.
Harry's eyes widened under the cloak. Voldemort's full attention fell upon the conversation, which continued in half-phrases and platitudes.
"Have you found out how, yet? Got it all figured out for your master?"
He knows it's you? Harry thought.
He knows, hissed Voldemort quietly, acidly. He does know. Traitor! Harry had noticed a distinct mellowing of his thoughts and feelings toward others following the absorption of the diary, but this - no, this was just was painful as Harry remembered, a terrible boiling agony that lit up behind his eyes. He clenched his teeth and it was all he could do to keep silent.
Harry stuffed his sleeve between his teeth, exhaling raggedly but quietly. Everything whited out for a few furious seconds,
"-verus, you can't - thi-this is intimidation!" Quirrell was stuttering, stumbling steadily away from Snape's looming figure - and, incidentally, steadily away from the doorway of that third floor corridor.
Snape stalked after him, watching with eager eyes as the smaller man backed away from him. "I should certainly hope so," he said silkily. His voice went low and intense, tightening syllable by slow syllable: "If this doesn't intimidate you, I shall have to step up my game."
Voldemort started to laugh, high and cold and like a broken hinge. It was not a happy sound. Severus? Intimidate me?
He might intimidate Quirrell, though, Harry pointed out.
Quirrell isn't at the wheel anymore, Voldemort said with a terrible, sneering certainty.
Harry swallowed. Would that be him, one day?
It's possible, said that soft younger voice. Isn't it?
Possible but not advisable, Voldemort said shortly. Harry got the distinct impression that this was a rather grudging confession.
If it hadn't had so many disadvantages, Voldemort might really have taken over his body and used it as he wanted. Harry felt a bit queasy about the idea, and for the first time in a long time he wondered about the situation he found himself in. Voldemort was his best - sometimes his only - friend, his confidant, the only adult he could really trust.
But he was so terribly, terribly dangerous in his own way. Harry huddled a little smaller under his cloak.
Don't be so uneasy, Voldemort said, firmly silencing the younger voice in some complex exercise of mental acrobatics Harry didn't quite grasp. As I said, it's quite inadvisable. And soon I'll have the Stone, and then a body of my own; what would be the point of taking yours?
Harry glanced toward the doorway where the Cereberus's ominous growls shook the stone. He had obviously not liked the commotion of Snape and Quirrell outside his doorway.
Don't tell me you're afraid of me now, Voldemort mused. It's not practical to harm you, Harry. If I hurt everybody who helped me, I wouldn't have a lot of allies, would I?
Well, that was true enough, Harry thought.
And I know you'll do your very best to help me get the stone, Voldemort purred, already anticipating his victory. So there's no reason at all to worry.
History of Magic, though dull, was not usually a class Harry slept his way through. If nothing else, Voldemort would usually be a far more interesting tutor on the historical information at hand, and he'd spend most of the lecture ignoring Binns while the Dark Lord explained the content. Unfortunately, Harry proved so tired on Monday that he spent most of the class drooling into his notes.
Draco had, as Voldemort expected, woken him before breakfast - and then again after breakfast, which Harry could not be persuaded to get up for. Nott had shoved an apple at him in the corridor as they headed for History of Magic and then stalked ahead and glowered at anybody who looked like they might be contemplating commenting - which, mostly, was Zabini.
Harry had blinked at the apple in surprise. He wasn't quite sure what it meant, but it seemed nice of him.
You're an idiot, Voldemort reminded him.
Harry ignored him.
Lunch was something of a trial. Draco, Crabbe and Goyle all went off to the Owlery, which meant that Harry had nobody to shield him from Pansy's strangely aggressive concern.
He never caught her at it, but he was fairly certain it was her who made sure his plate never seemed to empty itself, no matter how full he got. There was, however, only so much Harry could actually eat, and after a while he just ignored her offerings at the risk of incurring her wrath.
"Dumbledore's not here," Harry said, eyeing the staff table. It wasn't precisely odd, but... well, he usually seemed to make an effort to come down and take lunch with the students.
"He got an owl at breakfast," Pansy said, adding pointedly: "Which you missed."
"I had an apple," he defended. She eyed him. "So he got an owl. So what?"
"Well, it was one of those owls with the silly little Ministry sash on it," she said, daintily wiping her mouth. "He didn't look too happy with the letter, either. Dashed out like the hounds of hell were on his tail," she looked contemplatively into the middle distance for a moment.
Harry blinked. "You mean he's gone?" he said slowly.
Pansy shrugged. "Looked like it. Anyway, later I overheard Sprout talking about -"
"To the Ministry in London?" Harry pressed, interrupting her.
She paused and then gave him an odd look. "Yes?"
It will have to be tonight, Voldemort said, voice rumbling gently inside his skull. While he's gone. It's the best opportunity we're likely to get to take the stone.
That was true, but... You don't think that Quirrell will take the opportunity, too? Harry asked worriedly.
Voldemort's consciousness gave him a sense of agreement. He will. But he can't be allowed to get to it first, he added in a hard voice.
"You are so strange," Pansy told him with a delicate mix of exasperation and amusement. "Anyway, Sprout -"
Harry tuned her out.
Tonight, then, he agreed, feeling horrifically underprepared.
So Harry waited, tired but determined, after all their classes were over for the day. He only half-listened to the chatter among the other first years in the Slytherin common room. Pansy trounced everybody at chess again and Crabbe complained about their history homework.
The fact that he was attempting his history homework proved he was a good sport, but Harry had his doubts that Crabbe was really, well, equipped to understand it.
"Let me see yours," Crabbe said finally, leaning over Harry to peer at the book he was meant to be reading. It was a study on the magical binding on house-elves, and it wasn't interesting enough to hold Harry's attention when he knew he'd be facing down a Cereberus in matter of hours.
Stop worrying, said Voldemort confidently. It's under control.
You said that about the basilisk, Harry reminded him.
As far as Harry was concerned, Voldemort's record with dangerous magical creatures was patchy at best.
"See my what?" he said absently to Crabbe.
"History homework," Crabbe grunted.
Across from him on another couch, Draco snorted.
"Why can't he see yours?" Harry asked Draco.
"Come off it," the blond boy sniffed. "You know you're the only one here who even does Binns' homework," he pointed out, and then waved his hand imperiously. "If he wants to court disaster by actually attempting his History of Magic homework, he's welcome to," he added with a dubious glance at Crabbe.
Crabbe looked at Draco with a furrowed brow, as though he was trying hard to puzzle through the meaning of that sentence. It might take him a while, but Harry knew he'd get there eventually, and...
Harry sighed. Even when Draco wasn't being actively malicious, he could be so terrifically insensitive it made Harry wonder about his intelligence.
"Sure," he said to Crabbe, and dug around for his length of parchment with the assignment on it. He passed it over without further protest. "If you submit an exact copy of mine, he'll know and you'll get detention," he reminded Crabbe.
"Also," he said to Draco when the huge boy had nodded and settled down with his prize, "I'm going to need to see your Potions essay."
"Mmm-hmm," Draco agreed, distracted by whatever it was he was doing - charming somebody else's boots to dance across the floor, it looked like.
Crabbe, meanwhile, was already distracted by Harry's neat descriptions of the 1883 riot at the British Ministry of Magic.
"This is about goblins," Crabbe said after a second.
"Ye-es," said Harry, rather unnecessarily he thought, since their entire term had been about goblins.
"I thought it was about Quidditch," Crabbe said.
Draco coughed, and the boots did a strange leap mid-step.
Harry closed his book. At least talking to Crabbe would be a better distraction than contemplating the many, many ways in which tonight's theft could go wrong.
He was already pretty inured to the idea of theft in general. It had been a long time since he'd nicked his bus fare from Aunt Petunia's handbag, after all.
Necessities, murmured the younger voice softly in his ear. It was half-apologetic, and Harry had the odd sense that that younger person felt guilty about some of his transgressions. Murder and torture didn't bother him, but petty theft...
Voldemort - the young one, at least - didn't like stealing for necessity's sake. It lacked elegance, and showed him the many ways in which he did not have access to all he deserved. Shame bloomed into resentment, and from there bitterness took root.
Silence, sighed Voldemort's adult voice. He sounded weary. Goblins, Harry, he reminded him.
Sometimes the younger voice came with such a strong rush of actual feelings that Harry got awfully distracted. He blinked back at Crabbe. "Er, well, the riot was about changes to Quidditch rules, yeah. But the protestors all went and blamed it on goblin agita... um, troublemakers. We're meant to be looking at how people were biased against goblins after the wars... remember?"
Crabbe looked at him blankly.
It was a long night already, and the hard part hadn't even started.
By the time Harry's internal alarm clock - which was to say, Voldemort - woke him at half eleven to head to the third floor corridor, the dorm room was dark and quiet. He grabbed his cloak and picked his way across the room, careful of the shadows marking discarded shoes and books on the floor. On silent feet, Harry headed back to the common room.
"Potter," sighed Draco, from where he was perched, alone, on the chaise by the fire. The fire light made golden highlights on his hair and glinted on his grey eyes.
Harry froze, clutching his cloak. "Er," he said.
"You cannot possibly be sneaking out again," Draco drawled, inspecting his nails in the firelight.
Author's Note: Comrades, I feel like I say this every chapter lately, but THIS CHAPTER IS NOT VERY GOOD. There comes a point, however, when I just hurl my hands in the air and bellow I DON'T CARE ABOUT QUALITY WRITING, JUST TAKE IT. TAKE IT. This is that point.
I have no idea why it's so hard to make chapters remotely readable at the moment (er... for the past... six... months...) but despite that the story is planned out to the end and dot-pointed and organised to death, I keep writing things and hating them powerfully. That's just what happens, I guess. I won't apologise, because there's no point in me writing for fun if it starts to feel like a chore, but I will say that it's probably just as annoying to me as it is to you.
I also developed a tumblr a little while back, which you're welcome to follow if you want - or, in fact, to not follow it if you want! Amazing. I'm posting scrapped bits of fanfic there, which is probably the only thing that would interest Hit The Ground Running readers. Username is tozettewrites.
Edit: Also, since somebody will almost certainly pick it up, I'll say now that I realise that "at the wheel" sounds like a car-based turn of phrase and thus not a wizarding one, but wheels have been around since, like the 17th century. On ships. So I'm calling it, Voldemort can use it.