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Chapter 1: Chosen
A/N: I don’t normally make my author notes before the story, but for this one I thought it might be a good idea to, just to kind of explain what’s going on. This is an alternate-universe version of Harry’s fifth year, and though the events are in chronological order, ranging from the summer before fifth year to final exams, there are large time gaps. I’ve got a rather large fascination with mental illness, and explored this in Harry’s character once before in Descending; this can be thought of as a kind of companion story to that one. Although none of the events in this story counteract events in that one and vice versa, I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether they’re from the same universe or not.
And, of course, if there’s any confusion, you can ask and I’ll try and clear it up. Thank you for reading – as always, reviews are really very much appreciated!
A chill wind whipped through Harry Potter’s hair, sweeping it off his forehead and tickling the very edges of the lightning-shaped scar there. He absently raised a hand to the mark and ran his forefinger down it, the same way he often did when he was thinking. Down, then slightly up and to the right, and back down…
Harry whipped his head around, trying to see what his mind had deemed appropriate for his dreams tonight. He was able to make out small, knee-high mounds set at regular intervals in the springy grass, darker heaps piled in front of a few of them. The breeze still blowing about him smelled slightly metallic and bitter. It was familiar, so familiar – and with a sudden burst of clarity, the sort that normally only happens in dreams, he knew exactly where he was.
Why should tonight be the night when he’d finally manage to escape the graveyard of his nightmares? Why, after a solid summer of revisiting Cedric and Voldemort and the Portkey graveyard, should he have expected something else?
But there was something different about it tonight, and Harry took a moment to think before realizing what it was: The air around him was completely still, no shouts or flashes of spells to break the thick and intense silence. There was no sign of Cedric, no sign of Wormtail, no sign of Lord Voldemort. Harry gripped his wand a bit more tightly in his right hand – his palms already felt clammy – and waited, but nothing came.
“Lumos,” he muttered, and the tip of his wand flared with a brilliant blue-white light. He held it aloft like a torch, shadows filtering eerily across the gravestones nearest him. His own shadow stretched across the grass to his left, absurdly extended, like a grotesque creature out of – well, out of a nightmare. These gravestones were all blank, names of the dead not yet carved into their marble faces.
The wind continued to toy with his hair, and he could almost imagine he could hear voices inside of it – high, whispering voices, both identical and completely different, all at once.
At the very end of the row to his left, just barely inside the circle of wandlight, was a gravestone that did have writing on it. Harry didn’t want to see it – he didn’t typically make a habit of reading the names of the dead – but his feet compelled him in that direction anyway.
As he drew closer to it, too, he began to recognize it. This was the Riddles’ grave, the one he had stood upon, trying not to look at Cedric while Voldemort returned… Harry stopped in front of it and held his wand just a bit closer, shoving his glasses up on his nose to make out the words.
“Harry James Potter. Born July 31, 1980. Died – ”
The wind stopped blowing.
Harry jerked awake, kicking his legs out without quite meaning to; what little of his blankets had stayed on him during the night now tumbled to the dusty floor in a heap. He sat bolt upright, the room blurred as it always was when he didn’t wear his glasses, and tried to calm his thumping heart.
He was not in a graveyard – he was at Number 12, Grimmauld Place, in the bedroom he shared with Ron… Ron Weasley, his best friend, who had just been made a prefect… He was not going to die…
“Wassamatter?” Ron, who had clearly been awakened by Harry’s thrashing, propped himself up on one elbow and rubbed his right eye sleepily. “You all right, mate?”
Harry swallowed, trying to make his voice steady. “Yeah,” he muttered, throwing himself back onto his pillow and grimacing at how wet it was; it was completely drenched in sweat. “Yeah. Go back to bed.” But saying this was unnecessary; Ron had already begun to snore again.
Harry, on the other hand, didn’t think he’d be getting any more sleep that night.
Rain was pouring off the castle in great torrents, sheeting down the windows like melted glass. Rainwater was pooling under the eaves, too, causing giggling girls to shriek and lift their robes high about their ankles lest any wayward drops should splash their hems. Harry watched them a bit sourly. It’s only water, he thought, and immediately sidled a bit closer to the open arches, as though to prove to them that they wouldn’t melt.
His first month back at school had been horrible; he couldn’t remember ever feeling so miserable at Hogwarts as he did now, what with Umbridge and detentions, and people treating him like a mass murderer, and Dumbledore refusing to even so much as look at him. And as he thought anew of his headmaster, who, for all intents and purposes, was acting just about as stupid over the whole Voldemort thing as the rest of the school, a surge of white-hot anger rushed through him, searing the scar on his forehead.
Harry gave a little grunt of pain and clapped his hand to his forehead, stopping dead in the middle of the outdoor walkway. A group of third year Hufflepuffs behind him nearly veered straight into his back; one of the girls gave a shuddering sort of gasp and jerked her arm away to prevent it touching him.
“Oh, come on,” Harry growled roughly, the gesture not getting past him. “I’m not poisonous, am I?” The girl’s eyes widened, and she raised her hands as though to ward off an oncoming blow. He felt his lip curl, though he didn’t remember really thinking about doing so, and the Hufflepuffs ran away, partially in terror and (Harry hoped) partially because they had just reached a particularly crumbly bit of wall, with less protection from the rain.
He raised a hand to his mouth, pressing hard on it, and his lip relaxed.
Harry became aware of eyes on him; across the way, a Slytherin girl in Ginny’s year was staring at him coolly. And next to her, a Slytherin boy, also staring. It felt as though everywhere he turned were more eyes, more staring people, watching silently, judging…
He moved off into the center of the courtyard, panic squeezing his chest. He gulped in great swallows of air, but only succeeded in inhaling a great mouthful of water as he passed under a gutter; he choked, and a second year Gryffindor boy turned and walked in the opposite direction…
More eyes, more people… he couldn’t breathe… his feet slapped the wet pavement, and he didn’t even know where he was going, the only thing he could focus on was getting away…
Ron’s voice brought up him short; Harry skidded to a halt and whirled around, drops shaking off his robes like small, clear pearls. “Blimey,” Ron said, grinning at him; rain had beaded on his face, magnifying his freckles oddly and giving his face a sort of lopsided quality. “I’ve been calling your name for a while, Harry!”
“Sorry,” he muttered, his fingers tracing his scar (down, right, down).
“You’re soaked,” Ron said mildly, jabbing a finger in Harry’s shoulder as though to evidence just how wet his best friend was. “Are you all right? What were you mumbling to yourself about?”
“I – what?”
“Yeah, you were saying – well, I couldn’t make out what you were saying.” Ron frowned. “You feeling all right, mate?”
Harry didn’t answer; his ears had started ringing, something high and sharp echoing in the seemingly cavernous space that was his mind. The squeezing sensation was back, too, pressing its thick fingers on his windpipe, choking him…
“I’m fine,” he managed. “Come on – let’s go to the library.”
He couldn’t ever remember, later on, when the ringing stopped.
“Merlin… I’m sorry, Cho…”
If looks could kill, Harry would have long since been dead. Cho’s friend Marietta Edgecombe was piercing him with such a sharp glare that he almost imagined little needles, pricking into his skin. (But no, that was his scar again; it was paining him a lot these days.)
“It’s all right, Harry,” Cho said, but her smile did not quite reach the corners of her dark eyes. She was cradling her right arm in her left, the sleeve of her jumper rolled up to the elbow. Small drops of blood beaded her pale forearm, evidence of a long scarlet scratch running the length of it.
But how did it happen? Harry thought angrily, pressing his thumb to his forehead a bit harder, as though trying to force the answer to rise to the surface of his brain. The rest of the DA was watching him, some looking a bit panicked. He wished they would look at Cho, instead; they were causing his throat to close up again…
“Come on,” Marietta sniffed, tossing her head and sending her coppery curls dancing. “I’ll take you to the hospital wing, Cho –“
“Don’t be daft,” Cho chided gently. “I’m not hurt.” She tried smiling again at Harry, but he wasn’t looking at her; he felt as though he were about to be violently sick.
“Erm,” said Hermione timidly, with her normal air of wanting to revert a situation back into something she could control. “Well, I think that’s a good stopping place for tonight… we’ll all meet back here at the same time next week, and in the meantime, just keep practicing Disarming…”
The rest of the club slowly filtered out through the door leading back onto the seventh floor. Many of them cast slightly fearful looks at Harry, Ron, and Hermione over their shoulders as they went; Zacharias Smith, in particular, looked about ready to burst into a run. Neville took a moment to clap Harry on the shoulder.
“You didn’t mean to,” he said. He meant well, and Harry knew it, but somehow that made him feel even worse; he just nodded, his eyes fixed on a point to the right of his friend’s head. Finally, Neville left, too.
“What was that?” Ron burst out angrily, almost as soon as the door had clicked into place once more. “I thought you fancied her! You’re not supposed to go around wounding the girls you fancy –“
“Come off it, Hermione –“
“Look,” Harry cut in angrily, more to cut off their incessant bickering than anything else. “It’s not like I meant to, okay? I was just trying to Disarm her, like I’d been working with everyone else all lesson!” He ran his palms across his scalp, yanking at great fistfuls of hair, feeling blood rushing to the places where he tugged.
“You didn’t use Expelliarmus,” Hermione said timidly, half-reaching as though trying to place a hand on his arm, and then thinking better of it. “You used –“
“Diffindo. Yeah. I know.” Harry turned away from the pair of them roughly, crossing to one of the Room of Requirement’s windows and staring out through it at the grounds far below. How was he supposed to explain to them what had happened when he couldn’t even understand it himself? The sudden, violent wrenching of his insides, the inexplicable need to say that spell, at that time…
His fingers curled around the handle of his wand in remembrance. Because – and this was perhaps the scariest part of it – for just a few moments, as soon as the word had left his mouth, right before the spell reached Cho, he had felt powerful, he had felt right…
He turned back around, heart jumping against his ribs; Ron and Hermione were both staring at him, neither of them speaking. “What?” he snapped, in a harsher tone of voice than he meant to.
“Nothing,” Ron said hastily, but Harry didn’t miss the quick look he shot Hermione.
It was the first time that Harry wondered if he was going mad. It was not the last.
Sirius’s barklike laugh rang throughout the kitchen of Number 12, Grimmauld Place, tears of mirth rolling down his face. “And then!” he choked, laughing anew at the looks on the faces of Fred and George Weasley, who were laughing so hard they made no sound at all. “And then – I swear this is true – James turned the floor back into stone, and about half of the Slytherins in our year had their legs stuck in it –“
“It wasn’t that funny, Sirius,” Remus admonished him, although his own face had split into a wide grin. “I think you scarred Agatha Asher for life, you know. She never was quite right after that.”
Ron choked on a large piece of crumble, and Hermione thumped him on the back, her face a cross between displeasure and amusement at the topic of conversation. “You could have seriously hurt somebody,” she said at last, looking sideways at Harry.
He quickly slapped a smile back onto his own face. He felt bad for not laughing at his godfather’s story – though he doubt if Sirius really noticed, engrossed in telling it as he was – but somehow every time he’d found it within him to laugh, his eyes had fallen once more on Arthur Weasley, sitting at the end of the table.
Arthur had only been released from St. Mungo’s yesterday, just in time for the New Year’s celebrations before Harry, Hermione, and the rest of the Weasleys went back to Hogwarts. Mrs. Weasley had made it a point to thank him for Arthur’s safety every time she turned around, but as the night went on, he’d only felt increasingly guilty.
Yes, he had been the one to alert the Order that Mr. Weasley was in trouble – but hadn’t he been the one to attack him, as well?
“Harry, dear, you look quite tired.” Mrs. Weasley’s voice interrupted him, and he jumped guiltily, scooting his chair back a few inches across the floor.
“I… yeah, I am,” he mumbled, yawning widely and hoping it seemed convincing. He wasn’t tired at all – far from it – but suddenly being hidden away, alone in his room, seemed much more desirable than sitting around the table with Hermione and the Weasleys and Sirius.
“Good night, Harry,” eleven voices chorused, and he waved a brief hand in farewell before emerging into the long, narrow corridor that ran the length of Grimmauld Place. His heart had started pounding inside his chest again, and a clamminess was spreading over his palms; he barely registered it. It had happened, seemingly without cause, too often in the past few months for him to be scared about it now.
Harry slowly began the climb to his room, his mind unable to tear itself away from the thought of Arthur Weasley, his movements stiff from the bandages the Healers had bound him in. Wincing every time he laughed too loudly, exiting the room quietly with his wife so his wrappings could be changed… and it was all Harry’s fault.
His ears were ringing again – but no, it was different than ringing, wasn’t it? Through the high, droning sound, he could almost make out a voice, or voices. They taunted him with what he knew to be the truth.
It’s your fault. Your fault, your fault, your fault…
Harry all but ran the rest of the way up the stairs, feeling as though he wanted to yell and completely at a loss as to the reason. His heart was beating even faster now, and he raised a hand to cover his mouth, chest rising and falling rapidly under his jumper. What was he so panicked about? There was nothing, absolutely nothing, to warrant this… And yet, he wrenched open the door so hard it smacked the wall, bounced off it, and slammed back into its frame just as he slipped through it.
He lowered his hand slowly, and as he did, he looked down at it – and stifled the urge to yell. His hand had come away red, shimmering with blood; blood that was not his own…
He blinked once, and the blood was gone.
Harry sank slowly down to the ground, his back pressed firmly to the cool, solid wood of the door, and bit his fist to stifle his panic – the fist he hadn’t just imagined drenched in scarlet.
The blame-slinging ringing in his head had turned to laughter.
“You’re not yourself, Harry.”
Harry was trying as hard as he possibly could to look anywhere but at Hermione; he had ended up staring at the fire in the Gryffindor common room fireplace, watching the sparks dance up the flue as the logs shifted and settled while they burned. “What do you mean?” he asked at last, forcing the question out through gritted teeth.
Hermione squirmed uncomfortably in the squashy armchair opposite him. “Well,” she hedged, “I think you know what I mean… you’ve been rather distant from Ron and me lately. And,” she added quickly, as Harry shot her an annoyed look, “you’re always doing – this.” She held her hand up the base of her throat, fingers splayed across the collar of her robes.
Harry’s stomach dropped a few inches. He didn’t know she’d noticed that. He’d noticed it, of course; it was his instinctive reaction whenever his heart sped up, which it seemed to be doing with increasing frequency ever since his minor hallucination in Grimmauld Place at Christmas. But he wasn’t about to tell that to Hermione. He was rather glad that Ron had already gone to bed; Hermione, though shrewd, was sometimes easier to hide his emotions from.
“It’s just – I’m worried about the O.W.L. stuff,” he lied. Hermione’s nose wrinkled, evidence she didn’t believe him for a second, but he quickly changed the subject before she could find a way to respond to this. “Can you help me with that Potions essay, Hermione? I’d like to get better than a ‘T’ on this one –“
Hermione sighed, but it was her when-will-you-and-Ron-learn sigh instead of Harry-I-think-you’re-going-mental, which was a slight comfort. The next time she sighed like that, he might start to believe it.
Just as she bent over to retrieve her own essay from her bag, though, Harry’s ears started ringing again. And this time, it almost couldn’t be called a ringing; it was a voice, whispering, urging…
Kill. Kill the girl. Kill the Mudblood.
Harry gasped – he couldn’t help. Hermione sat up quickly, one fist clenched around a tightly-furled roll of parchment, her mouth turned down in a delicate frown. “What?”
She is nothing; she is worthless. Kill the Mudblood.
“Harry, what is it?”
He was very aware of his wand, lying innocently next to him on the table next to his own armchair, and knotted his fingers together so he wouldn’t reach out and grab it. His scar sliced with white-hot pain, and he restrained himself, too, from reaching up and slapping a hand to it.
“Be right back,” he spluttered, jerking to his feet. Hermione’s mouth was halfway open, her eyes wide. Purposefully leaving his wand in the common room, and trying to see against the way his eyes were now watering, Harry sprinted up the spiral staircase into his dormitory.
He had lied to Hermione; he did not come back at all.
A light wind was blowing about the Owlery – a spring breeze, Harry imagined, signaling the end to the near-relentless snow at Hogwarts and promising greener things on the horizon. And then he felt rather stupid for thinking about it like that.
He did like being alone, though – that much was undeniable. More and more often of late, he’d been seeking solace in whatever nooks and crannies Hogwarts could find to provide for him. Niches behind tapestries, nearly-hidden doors that never led to the same place twice, and small, shadowy spaces underneath staircases were some of his favorite haunts. That was one of the best things to be said for the school: If you didn’t want to be found, chances were that it would do everything in its power to hide you for as long as possible.
Today, however, he had fancied a walk to the Owlery, despite the fact that he didn’t really know if it constituted as hiding. At least this way, if Ron or Hermione went looking for him, he wouldn’t really be lying to say that he wasn’t hiding from them. He’d even written a letter to Sirius, although he’d only written to his godfather a week ago. The letter wasn’t important; the excuse to take it someplace was.
The wind rushed through the tower’s pane-free window, and Harry shivered, tilting his head back and searching the rafters for a suitable owl, as Hedwig was still off with last week’s letter. A rather stout-looking school barn owl eyed him complacently from its spot a few feet above him, and he jerked his head at it, signaling it to come down.
“Take this to Number 12, Grimmauld Place,” he whispered to it, tying the letter securely to the owl’s leg. Harry felt a sort of guilty pang jolt his insides as he did so. He knew owl communication wasn’t safe – Ministry spies were everywhere – and this was the second letter in such a short span of time. But somehow, he couldn’t bring himself to care very much at the moment.
The owl gave a dull, obligatory sort of hoot, and Harry carried it over to the window, the hem of his robes ruffling a bit in the breeze, which was stronger here. With a slight bit of pressure on Harry’s arm, the owl took off, wings fully outstretched, and soared away in the direction of London. He watched it, silhouetted against the sky, until he could see it no more. And he realized, absurdly enough, he was rather jealous of that owl. How nice would it be, he thought bitterly, to be an owl, to escape his life, if only for a bit…
Something sick and nauseating began to creep around his stomach; he could feel it growing, radiating throughout his bones, and felt his heart quicken (as though he had expected anything else). Absently, Harry looked down at his hands, clenched around the narrow stone sill that bordered the window. The scar he’d received from Umbridge’s detentions stood out against his skin, shining white in the afternoon sunshine: I must not tell lies.
“I must not tell lies,” Harry muttered aloud, and his face split into a wide smile. “I must not tell lies, I must not tell lies… I must… tell lies…”
And he began to laugh, quite suddenly, before he’d even realized he was going to. The sick feeling grew worse, yanking at his intestines, and he only laughed harder. The more he laughed, the sicker he felt, which made him laugh more… He could not stop, he could not stop.
What’s happening to me? His mind flashed to Snape’s livid face, his anger at Harry during all of their Occlumency lessons, his warnings about what Voldemort might try and do to his, Harry’s, mind. Harry’s scar was prickling uncomfortably, and yet still he laughed, and laughed, and laughed...
Nearly a quarter of an hour passed before he found it within him to control himself again. Harry leaned against the wall, breathing heavily, still giggling every now and then despite himself.
He was losing his mind.
Harry couldn’t concentrate on his History of Magic O.W.L. to save his life. Hermione had warned him against sleeping in that class, of course – she had warned him several times – but of course he hadn’t heeded those warnings, and now sleep beckoned to him temptingly.
He gave a great yawn and tried to block out the incessant noise of the others’ quills scratching around him, but it was no use. His own answers swam before him on the parchment, dancing and wavering, and he stifled a groan, dropping his face into his hands. Five minutes’ rest… after that, he would feel much better…
He was in a cavernous room, cool and dim, spindly shelves of metal and glass stretching and twisting up to the unseen ceiling above him. These shelves were stacked with row upon row of delicate spun-glass spheres, as far as he could see; they all glowed slightly, the only source of light in the room. They reminded Harry of lights shining beneath water, murky and ephemeral and, perhaps, not quite there.
A surge of something like triumph swelled within him, and he felt himself smiling, though another part of him – a distant, buried part – knew the smile did not belong there. Harry looked down at his hands, but they weren’t his hands, not anymore. The thin, bone-like fingers of Lord Voldemort had replaced them, turning a wand over and over in their hands.
Something on the floor in front of him (who, though, Harry or Voldemort?) twitched and shuddered; the distant voice inside Harry yelled in shock, though no sound actually escaped Voldemort’s lips.
“Sirius!” Harry bellowed. He was Voldemort, and he wasn’t Voldemort; half of him was there, in that room, now raising his wand to deliver another blow to the pitiful man in front of him – and the other half was watching, as though from a great distance, his head feeling as though it was splitting in two, yelling soundlessly.
“Have you had enough, Black?” The words issued from Harry’s mouth, high and cold, and yet Harry watched them being spoken at the same time.
Sirius snarled, more doglike than Harry had ever seen him, and looked at Voldemort with utter and complete loathing. “Never,” he said, and spat at his feet. Harry felt his lip curl, while at the same time feeling a surge of pride for his godfather.
“Wrong answer,” Voldemort – no, Harry – sneered. He raised his wand, pointing it straight at the heart of the prostrate man.
“No!” Harry screamed, but, of course, no one heard him. “No, Sirius! SIRIUS!” One half of him yelled senselessly; the other was laughing, just as he had done atop the Owlery, long and loud and completely humorless…
“No! NO!” Harry jerked awake ; he was lying on flagstones, back in the examination room, completely free of glass spheres or dim light or Voldemort. A ring of people surrounded him, curious onlookers and concerned staff. He writhed and twisted – he could still feel him inside…
“NO!” He was watching from a distance again, far away, smirking at his own fifteen-year-old self jerked and twitched and laughed uncontrollably.
“Potter’s gone mad…” someone muttered from the direction of his right leg. Harry drew in a deep, gasping breath, feeling as though he might burst from an unknown pressure churning inside him.
“Someone go for Madam Pomfrey!” It was another voice, high and squeaky, though decidedly male. There was a pattering of footsteps, and then Harry curled in upon himself, still laughing, laughing, laughing…
And the world went mercifully black.
“Did you see the morning’s Prophet?” Ron asked Hermione in a low voice, just as she sat down to breakfast the next morning. She shook her head, biting at her lip nervously, and took the proffered paper. Ron tapped his forefinger on the front page, and then busied himself with dumping half a bottle of catsup on his kippers, determinedly avoiding looking at her while she read.
“HE-WHO-MUST-NOT-BE-NAMED RETURNS,” stated the headline on the front in large, black letters. Beneath that, in slightly smaller print, ran, “Minister of Magic confirms; Albus Dumbledore reinstated as Chief of Wizengamot.” Hermione scanned the article, bright pink patches appearing on her cheeks. And finally, she found what she was looking for: At the end of the article, finally, they mentioned Sirius.
“The body of Sirius Black, notorious mass murderer, was discovered early this morning at the Ministry of Magic in London. Black has avoided Ministry capture since his escape in 1993; he was the first to ever break out of the wizarding prison, followed by the twelve witches and wizards who escaped this year. It is unclear as to what Black’s body was doing at the Ministry. Says Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic: ‘We are extremely relieved to know that Black is no longer loose in Britain, and are glad to know we can finally put this matter behind us.’ Further details are pending.”
Hermione raised her head and looked at Ron, her brown eyes sparking with tears. He cleared his throat.
“I think Sirius’s body was enough evidence,” he said thickly. “There were supposed to be loads of eyewitnesses… and, well, the Dark Mark was in the Atrium, wasn’t it?” Hermione didn’t respond; not sure what else to do, he offered her the bottle of catsup instead. She shook her head, throwing the paper down on the vacant chair beside her vehemently.
“It’s not fair,” she said hotly, swiping her hand underneath her eyes. Ron waited tentatively for her to elaborate on what exactly wasn’t fair, but she had nothing more to say on the matter.
Ginny sauntered over to them at that moment, looking just about as gloomy as Ron. “Happy to be finished with exams?” she said dully, by way of introduction. Ron stabbed ferociously at a kipper in response; Hermione remained silent.
“We’re visiting Harry at St. Mungo’s later on,” she supplied then, tossing her hair over her shoulder and staring intently at the table. “Mum’s dropping by to come and collect us, and then we’ll all go over there together.”
“’Kay,” said Ron through a mouthful of kipper. “’As he” – he swallowed, with tremendous effort – “has he heard? About…?” He gestured at the paper. Hermione sniffed a bit, and Ginny shrugged half-heartedly.
“Guess we’ll see.” She tilted her head up, and Hermione could see her eyes were bright; she was, it seemed, trying to hold back tears of her own. Through the tall, narrow windows ranging the walls of the Great Hall, she could see dark specks she presumed to be owls.
How nice it must be, she thought, to be an owl.