Harry went about classes as usual and nearly all the teachers were singing praises by the end of the month. McGonagall looked on proudly as Flitwick and Sprout discussed just how perfectly he had accomplished the class assignment that day while Madam Hooch said she had never seen a more natural flyer. Even Quirrell, who was usually so shy and reserved, had something good to say about Harry. McGonagall found herself growing fonder and fonder of that sweet child. Ever so eager and full of a zest, a thirst for knowledge that transcended grades or assignments or essays. It reminded her of all of the bright students that she had had the good fortune to teach over the years. It seemed he had a little of each of them.
Snape's lip curled as he watched them in the Professor's lounge, gushing about the little Potter. He was seated in his usual place, a far corner by a window opening to a view of the lake, shrouded in mist and the forest beyond. Naïve was the word that came to mind. They knew nothing. The lot of them were some of the least affected by the war. Residing in the castle protected by the great Dumbledore, they had never truly known what it was like, never seen things, felt things, unspeakable things, truly horrible things so many times that the mind rebelled, began searching for clues, subtle hints that would tell it what was to come so that it could find a means to escape it. And with Potter, it was there. It had been very, very subtle at first. Little things here, odd things there. Now though, he was almost sure of it.
A particularly loud guffaw broke into his thoughts and he turned slightly to see Flitwick laugh at something Aurora just said. As the diminutive Charms Professor bent forward slightly, Quirrell came into view. His face was hard and his dark eyes were staring at him with an intensity that made him want to break his gaze but he resisted the urge and was rewarded with Quirrell adopting a weak smile and turning away.
Oblivious to it all, Harry sat in the common room, finishing an assignment on Jupiter's moons for Astronomy. Surrounding him were Hermione and some of the Gryffindors of his year with the exception of Ron Weasley, Seamus and Dean. Alice was sitting beside him working on her star charts while Hermione reread hers. Parvati, Lavender and Neville were poring over a library book having only just begun. Harry had worked hard at being particularly charming over the past week. Students of all years found themselves being drawn to the Boy Who Lived. The first years looked up to him for help since he was easier to be around then Hermione who always seemed to be on edge about some extra assignment or piece of homework. The second years were thrilled to have him sit with them occasionally, especially seeing as he seemed so grateful for the privilege of sitting with the higher year and was nothing if not polite. Being fawned over by a celebrity won over even the hardest of hearts. The third years found themselves impressed by the boy's ready wit and help with anything from returning library books to scrounging up spare parchment and quills. Little things. Fourth year students had recently been introduced the wide and exciting world of dating and had little care beyond Higgins agreeing to go out the next weekend or Roxanne dumping her boyfriend and picking one of them instead. The fifth years were too stressed with their OWL year to pay too much attention to school gossip and didn't bother him too much, as did the seventh years with NEWTS. The sixth year was a slightly different matter. Most of them were old enough to remember a little of the aftermath of war. The more basic of emotions, terror, grief, regret. But were more prone to rumours seeing as they had only a year between two of the most important years of their student life to really enjoy their teenage years. Some looked on him kindly, an orphan, especially such a good looking one drew great sympathy, not to mention gratitude for vanquishing the Dark Lord. Most though, remained of the opinion that Harry Potter was the next Dark One.
Harry finished his essay and sighed, pushing the parchment away. All this constant smiling and glad –handing was taking a lot out of him. But it sure was paying off. The rumours about him had died down. He now had a dozen or so people he was certain would come to his aid should Weasley try anything that involved out numbering him. Not to mention McGonagall was delighted with his progress in their special lessons. He had powered through about half the years spells and theory in a month. But Harry was still not satisfied.
If there was one thing Harry knew, it was power. Whether at school, the playground, at home or even when it was only Dudley and him, he had come to realize that not much mattered except power, be it physical or magical. It was the rule of the jungle every tormented child quickly learned. Survival of the fittest was not something to be learned, it was to be ingrained, to be lived. And Harry was determined to survive.
Speaking of power and fitness, Harry had noticed a certain change in the Defence Professor. Quirrell no longer stammered as much and was shockingly competent at demonstrating their hexes and jinxes. It was as if something had…shifted. Harry had noted that Quirrell seemed to radiate a certain air on occasion, especially when he was using his wand. It was almost graceful.
Harry looked up, his train of thought broken.
"McG said to hand this over."
Cormac, a second year tossed him a scroll of parchment.
"Thanks." Harry nodded as he unfurled the parchment. He wondered if the Professor had decided to schedule another class that evening.
And sure enough. Harry sat back, excited. He had a lesson in half an hour in one of the disused classrooms on the third floor.
"Well?" Harry glanced over.
Parvati tossed her silky black hair. "We were kind of waiting for you to finish so you could help us out, Harry."
The boy in question groaned inwardly. "I'm so sorry, Parvati. But it's the Professor. I'll help you out soon as I'm back, I promise."
Parvati gave him a smile and ducked back. Harry's eyes wandered over to where Hermione was sitting, a slightly forced smile in place and sighed. Ever since he had mentioned Professor McGonagall had decided to give him extra lessons, she had been unreasonably irascible. He had chalked it up to jealousy initially but since he dutifully went over everything the Professor taught him when he returned, that theory had quickly died. He frowned slightly but seeing as Hermione was determined not to talk about it, he let it go.
"So, guess I'll see you guys later then." With a smile and a wave, Harry turned and headed out the portrait. The trip to the third floor was uneventful and Peeves seemed to be occupied elsewhere so Harry was able to enjoy some peace as he made his way to the classroom. Stopping at the door, he rapped smartly on the aged but still remarkably hard wood and stepped inside.
"Good ev…" The greeting died on his lips as he took in the Professor in front of him.
"Ah, good evening Mr Potter. I'm glad we finally have the chance to speak."
Harry refocused and adjusted his facial features to the blank mask he usually wore before replying coolly. "Good evening, Professor Quirrell."
"Please, come in."
Harry moved to step inside and walked carefully to the single seat that was available in the otherwise bare classroom. Inwardly, though, he was at a loss. The writing was definitely McGonagall's. He had received the summons enough times to recognize it immediately. He almost smacked his head. Magic. What was more curious though was that the man standing before him would go to such lengths to speak with him.
Harry sat in silence as Quirrell surveyed him staring unflinchingly in his eyes. Neither seemed inclined to break the silence. At long last, Quirrell broke away with a small smirk.
"You are no doubt curious as to the motive behind my little subterfuge, Mr Potter." Quirrell walked around the table, twirling his wand. Harry remained silent.
Quirrell looked up at the lack of response to see Harry watching him coolly and chuckled.
"Very well, I shall get right to it. You, Mr Potter, intrigue me." He had now come to a stop a few feet from where Harry was seated. "I have observed from afar, you seem to have a flair for magic, Harry, may I call you Harry? And yet, your performance in my classes has been lacklustre at best. Perhaps the reason lies in my teaching skills, or lack thereof." Quirrell noted a small flare of something in those twin orbs of deadly green.
Harry was momentarily taken aback. But his outward appearance remained unruffled. "Oh no, Professor. I think I just don't have the right skills."
Quirrell's face darkened ever so slightly before he recovered. "Flattery shall take you far, Harry. Just not with me. I am sure you have heard this often but your resemblance to your parents is striking. One can only hope you inherited more than those cheekbones and eyes. Now, what is it about magic that brings out that fire in your eyes I have seen?"
The last was hurled at Harry as Quirrell wheeled around and fixed Harry with an intense stare. Harry's thoughts were a whirlwind and the last question threw him. What was it about magic that got him excited? His mind immediately went to the times he was bullied by Dudley. All those miserable moments in his life when he had cried himself to sleep, starving for food and affection. The sudden turn of circumstances that made it bearable. Where Dudley was the one who feared him, where he did not have to go hungry, where he did not have to do anything he did not want to, where he had the power to choose. Where magic gave him the edge, gave him the power. Power. Harry suddenly shook himself. Quirrell's eyes seemed to swim hazily in his head and with another firm shake, they sharpened and he found the strange man straightening back with a pleased expression on his face.
Quirrell took his time as he moved to his original place behind the desk. He flicked his wand lazily and the table was engulfed in black flames that funnelled up and became a miniature tornado, albeit one of black fire. Harry jumped to his feet and the chair crashed to the floor behind him. Quirrell seemed not to notice as he stared into the dark fire. "You will soon find, Harry that there are powers in this world that you may have never dreamed of or deemed possible, the wielders of which are at once, great and terrible. They have always been feared and regarded with extreme distrust as they are capable of things beyond the means of the mundane witch or wizard. Capable of greatness. We live a life ostracised and constrained, away from the normal lives and lies of the weak and if we find ourselves forced to mingle with the baser elements, it is imperative that we keep our abilities a secret so as not to draw unwanted scrutiny."
Quirrell glanced at the transfixed raven haired boy. "I have a proposition, Mr Potter. I see the same greatness, the potential for enormous power within you. I offer my services to help hone it. Take your time and think about it. It is not a decision to be taken lightly. I shall await your answer."
Harry's mind was a whirl and he watched dumbly as the strange figure he had considered beneath his notice casually licked his thumb and pinched the tip of the whirl, snuffing it out instantly. Just as Quirrell reached the door, however, he found his tongue. "Why?"
Although largely inadequate, Quirrell seemed to know what he meant and he paused, his hand on the door as he replied in a low voice, "Magic is power, Mr Potter. But magic is so much more and the thought of much of that I have seen and experienced passing into the eternal void with me is something I cannot allow. Besides, the real question should be 'Who else?' Goodnight, Harry."
Firenze was pacing at the edge of the forest, his tail swishing agitatedly. He glanced up at the sky every now and then, muttering to himself. Suddenly, on one of his celestial considerations he stopped and stared.
"That does not bode well." He remarked to no one in particular before disappearing into the darkening forest.
Daylight filtered through the curtains as Harry woke up and yawned. The events of last night were still difficult to believe but he had come to a decision. There really wasn't much to think about, only a fool would pass up on such an opportunity. Granted what little he had seen of Quirrell till then had been, for lack of a better word, disappointing, but last night's casual show of advanced magic had him reassessing his opinion of the peculiar DADA Professor. Not to mention he had been picking up a lot in the recent classes. He just wasn't sure how to go about it. The main problem was Hermione. Should he tell her? Should he keep it a secret? He was torn. One the one hand, she was his best friend yet and on the other, she was already jealous about him receiving advanced Transfiguration lessons. No, he would wait and see how it went before saying anything to her. After all, he reasoned, he had still not made up his mind about Quirrell.
Sitting up, he noticed that all of his dorm mates were still asleep and decided to go down early. He might get a chance to meet Draco at the Great Hall. Quickly getting ready, he was out of the Gryffindor tower before anyone realized and headed for breakfast. As he made his way past the third floor, he heard voices coming from an empty classroom. Curious, he edged closer to the door, careful not to make a sound. He quickly realized he wasn't able to discern much and crept closer, his hand grazing the surface of the door. The voices abruptly ceased and before Harry could move, the door was wrenched open and all he saw were a pair of dark eyes before everything went dark.
When Harry came to, he realized he was lying in front of the entrance to the Gryffindor Tower and sat up rubbing his head which seemed far too sore. Something was amiss and Harry wondered darkly for a moment if he had walked into Weasley's trap. He quickly checked himself and reached for his wand. Finding nothing out of the ordinary he decided to ask Hermione about it and cautiously made his way to the Great Hall where breakfast was on in full swing. Not being able to find Hermione anywhere, Harry sidled into a vacant seat beside Parvati and pulled a plate towards himself. Parvati looked at him and remarked. "You never helped us out yesterday, Harry. Busy night?"
Harry looked up. "I'm so sorry, Parvati, It was a really long time before the Professor left me. Are you done with it?"
"Yes." Parvati sighed. "But it was slow going. Besides, I think I botched up the effect of Jupiter's magical resonance on the moons. I don't know, I guess I'll just hand it in anyway."
"I'll tell you what, give me your homework and I'll look over it."
The pretty Indian witch's face brightened up. "Will you really?"
"Sure," Harry shrugged. "Least I can do after promising to help you." He offered her a small smile.
"Oh, thank you so much, Harry!" Parvati wrapped her arms around him in a quick hug before breaking away beaming.
Harry, who had stiffened initially at her touch, relaxed and gave her a slightly warmer smile.
"Here you go, Harry. Thanks again!" Parvati put her homework down next to his goblet of pumpkin juice before she rushed off. Halfway out of the Hall, she was accosted by Alice and Lavender who immediately began whispering excitedly while casting backward glances at the now slightly confused Harry. The young Potter shrugged and returned to his meal, putting off fathoming the witches thinking until later. Currently, however, the recently vacated seat had been occupied by none other than Ronald Weasley. "Enjoying yourself, Potter?"
Ron busied himself in his plate and munched on his bacon with a carefree air completely ignoring Harry. Harry, on the other hand, dropped his fork and turned slightly so that he was facing the youngest redhead. Ron continued eating seemingly oblivious but the uncomfortable feeling of being stared at intensified. Finally, unable to take it anymore, he threw down his fork and turned with a scowl on his face. "What? He demanded roughly.
Harry merely raised a cool eyebrow. This seemed to irritate Ron no end. "Think you're something special, Pothead? Staring at people while they eat? What's the matter, didn't your parents feed you enough? Oh, wait. That's right." He grinned maliciously at Harry who had now lost his attitude of cool indifference and had straightened up imperceptibly.
"I wouldn't go there if I were you, Weasley." The low, quiet voice came out. Ron turned back to his food with a scoff. "You don't scare me, Potty. Go bugger your muggles."
Harry forced a smile. "If that's the way you want to play, Ronnie." He said in a cool voice before abandoning his still full plate and getting up. Ron merely snorted and raised his goblet to take a drink when it was suddenly wrenched out of his grasp and the contents flew into his face. He whipped around angrily only to find Harry standing calmly and apparently wandless. He got to his feet abruptly and brought his dripping face to within an inch of Harry's. There was a small thrum of energy and Harry's magic flared a little, putting up a thin barrier of energy between him and the redhead who now had a wild glint in his eyes. "Careful, Potter, or you may find yourself in a very sticky situation. You may have licked your way up the wands of the professors but we know who you really are, what you really are." Ron made to turn around but he found he couldn't move.
He looked into the deadly calm face of Harry Potter and resisted the urge to swallow. The raven haired boy's eyes were a cold, bright green. He was too young and too naïve to have known it for the colour it really was, that of the Avada, but it sent chills down his spine nevertheless. Leaning forward slightly, Harry said quietly, "You really should learn to hold that tongue of yours, Weasley."
Ron stumbled back as Harry's magic released him just as Percy came up to the duo, having noticed their aggressive stances. Harry simply nodded at him pleasantly and left with a smile and a wave.
A/N: I'm sorry for the long wait and short chapter. Please consider this an apology of sorts. Another chapter will be up within he week and I'd like to thank you all for being so patient with me. :)