Chapter 1 : The Mirror

Publish Date: 14 March 2002

Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, its characters, or anything associated with it. I'm not making any money from this story, and I don't intend to. I'm writing it purely for the satisfaction of it, and because several people warned me that there would be dire consequences if I didn't finish it. The resemblance of any character to an actual person is completely accidental. Please don't sue -- I don't own enough to make it worth your while.

Note: This is a Harry / Severus slash story -- and while their relationship is also accompanied by plot, action, and drama, if you seriously object to the slash element -- or to the particular pairing -- then don't read the story!


THE MIRROR OF MAYBE: Chapter 1
-- The Mirror --

"Really, Cornelius," frowned Albus Dumbledore, the Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, "I do not find that an appropriate 'toy' for our students to be playing with."

The jovial Minister for Magic cast his eyes towards the other side of the school's Great Hall, where several students were taking turns standing in front of a large, freestanding mirror. Each one would enter a light trance for a few moments before staggering back a step and laughingly whirling away -- off to observe or interfere in whatever future moment they had witnessed. "What? Oh, pooh, Albus -- where's the harm? It only shows them a few minutes into their immediate future -- nothing earth-shattering at an end-of-year dance, I'm sure!"

And, indeed, for the two hours before the Headmaster had arrived, the mirror had been little more than a novelty, and hadn't shown the least sign of being dangerous. It had even spawned something of a unique game among the students, where each person who looked into the mirror immediately set out to either disrupt or enhance something they had seen. Mostly, it was conversations -- where someone would be speaking, and another student (who had just looked into the mirror) would sidle up behind them and parrot their comments, finishing their sentences or pre-empting what they were about to say.

Occasionally, it was actions -- and the Weasley twins, now in their seventh and final year at Hogwarts, were having a hard time of it, with several of their jokes backfiring on them, until -- disgusted -- they had given up on their usual pranks, and turned to the mirror for the rest of their night's entertainment.

Dumbledore frowned again. "It might seem harmless Cornelius, but I have had some rather unpleasant surprises from various mirrors over the years. I have often found it better to be safe than sorry -- particularly with mirrors that are so completely unknown. Where did you say it came from?"

"Right here in Britain my dear chap," Cornelius replied proudly. "Unearthed it at some ruined castle back in England that the muggles were going to dig up. Got to it just in time, too. You wouldn't believe some of the magical artefacts they found -- wouldn't have done at all for muggles to have picked 'em up and made off with 'em." He looked back at the mirror and motioned to it with his drink. "Good, solid, English craftsmanship in that mirror, Albus."

Dumbledore studied the ornately gilded edges of the mirror's frame, and the beautiful, intricate mouldings of its construction. "Hmmm," he mused, before finally adding, "I sincerely doubt that that mirror -- as finely crafted as it is -- was created solely for the purpose of entertaining children."

He turned to Cornelius Fudge and with a very serious demeanour added, "I'm afraid I will have to insist, Cornelius, that you remove it immediately."

"Oh, go on, Albus," the minister protested, "Surely you can't mean it -- why, look there -- even Harry Potter's going to give it a go!"

And indeed, as Dumbledore turned, with a feeling of dread in the pit of his stomach, an enthusiastic fifth-year by the name of Ron Weasley was dragging his best friend towards the mirror...

----oo00oo----

"Oh, come on, Harry!" Ron wheedled, "It's great! Really! All you see is what's going to happen in a couple of minutes -- it's heaps of fun! It's the first time I've ever been able to catch Fred and George at their own game! Just have one go -- if you don't like it after that, then you don't have to do it again."

"He shouldn't have to do it the first time," Hermione Granger said from his other side. "Nobody should be forced to do things they don't want to -- especially such a ridiculously childish thing."

"Yeah," Ron snapped, "and I notice you haven't tried it, either -- so I reckon you can't really say anything about it one way or the other."

Harry himself finally managed to get a word in edgewise, "All right, Ron!" and he shook off the hand Ron had been dragging him along with. "I'll... I'll give it a go -- but just once! Okay?"

"Great!" Ron enthused. "You'll see... you'll love it!" and he dragged Harry onto the end of the line waiting to use the mirror.

"Yeah, whatever..." Harry agreed -- anything to shut Ron up about it.

While they were waiting for Harry's turn, Hermione whispered to him, "You really don't have to, if you don't want to, Harry."

"I know Mione," he replied in a low voice, "I... I don't mind, really. It's just that -- after the Mirror of Erised -- and I know it was years ago now, but... well, people went mad in front of that thing, and Dumbledore hid the Philosopher’s Stone in it, and... well, I dunno..."

"You've had some bad experiences," Hermione said knowingly.

"Not bad, exactly..."

"Will you two stop whispering at each other?" Ron broke in irritably. "Look, even the first-years have all had a go, all right? The Minister for Magic himself brought it here! He wouldn't do that if it was dangerous, would he?"

Hermione and Harry just looked at him.

"Oh, bloody hell," Ron muttered. "All right, the man's an idiot, but the Aurors who work for him aren't, are they? They wouldn't have let it out of their sight if it was dangerous, would they? Weapons research 'n all, right?"

"Well, I guess..." Harry reluctantly agreed. Hermione looked dubious, but said nothing.

"Anyway," Ron continued, "it's your turn now, Harry. Just have a quick look..." and Ron pushed him forward.

----oo00oo----

Later, Albus Dumbledore wondered whether he'd actually had a moment of true foresight. But given the vagueness of the slow dread that consumed him, he rather thought it had more to do with the fact that it was Harry Potter, than with the spontaneous development of any prophetic ability in a man his age. After all, Harry did have a very... impressive... history of unusual and unexpected things happening to him.

As Albus watched -- unable to turn away -- Ronald Weasley pushed Harry towards the mirror. Almost in slow motion, the Headmaster saw Harry turn, one hand reaching up to adjust his glasses, as he raised his eyes...

...and was pulled bodily into the mirror's gleaming surface.

----oo00oo----

"Harry!" Hermione and Ron screamed in unison. Together they rushed up to the mirror, looking for some sign of their best friend.

But there was nothing. The mirror's surface had turned opaque. Now it showed only an indeterminate grey sheen with oddly sluggish swirls that twisted slowly just beneath the surface.

Yells and excited calls behind them gradually quietened as several teachers rushed over and ordered everyone to stay back and remain calm.

By the time Minister Fudge and Dumbledore reached the mirror, there was a circle of fascinated rubberneckers gawking at all the excitement. The headmaster merely cleared his throat, and a respectful path was opened for him. Standing near the mirror, Hermione and Ron were looking both fearful and hopeful as the Headmaster approached.

"Now, then," he addressed the two fifth-years, "I saw what happened, but from a considerable distance. Could one of you please tell me the sequence of events from your perspective?"

"Sir!" Ron blurted, "We didn't do anything! I mean, Harry just... looked at it. He didn't even have his wand out!"

"Quite certain of that are you, Mr Weasley?" came a cynical voice to their left. "Personally, I find it much more likely that Mr Potter has once again decided that he needs to be the centre of attention, and -- as usual -- has gotten himself in over his head."

Professor Severus Snape's disdainful comment caused an outraged cry from Hermione as she appealed directly to the Headmaster, "Sir! That's not true!"

Albus looked over his glasses at the Potions Professor. "I'm afraid, Severus," he said, "that I must agree with Mr Weasley and Miss Granger in this instance. I myself was watching from across the room, and saw no wand in Mr Potter's hand."

"He may have concealed it from others' view, Headmaster," Snape suggested.

"Oh, Severus!" Professor Minerva McGonagall added her voice to the discussion. "Do be sensible. What possible reason could young Harry have for wanting to be pulled into a mirror? And even if he did have a reason, are you seriously suggesting that a fifth-year student is capable of casting that sort of spell? Why, without study and preparation, I doubt even Merlin himself could have cast such a spell -- and nobody knew Minister Fudge was bringing this ...thing, here tonight."

A sour look from Snape indicated that Professor McGonagall was entirely correct.

"Quite so, Minerva," Dumbledore agreed, "and, as we have now agreed that Mr Potter is very unlikely to have deliberately caused this, let us see whether we can discover a way to retrieve him from wherever he has gone."

Dumbledore and McGonagall studied the mirror closely. Albus also questioned Cornelius Fudge closely. However, it was with great kindness that he very deliberately didn't say 'I told you so' to the panicking Minister for Magic. Mr Fudge himself was having visions of tomorrow's Daily Prophet headlines proclaiming "Minister makes Boy Who Lived Disappear!" and "Cursed Mirror at School Dance!" Had the Aurors cleared the mirror for public display? He couldn't remember...

Quarter of an hour later, every teacher at the dance had taken a turn inspecting the mirror. They had each looked into its blank, grey surface, and each run their wands and hands over the frame, searching for any clue or sign of what may have happened. Even Snape had made a thorough inspection.

"He doesn't want Harry back," Ron whispered to Hermione. "Bet he thinks it'll make him look smarter than the others if he can figure it out." In return, she elbowed him in the ribs.

Finally though, even Snape had to admit defeat. Dumbledore had already begun trying to convince Fudge that it was vital for him to ask the Aurors and the archaeology wizards for any information or research they might have acquired regarding the mirror. The Minister, however, was hemming and hawing, and trying to delay the involvement of anyone from outside the school.

Ron -- who couldn't stop blaming himself for making Harry look into the mirror -- quietly approached the head of Gryffindor House, "Professor McGonagall?" She turned and looked up at the worried teenager. "Are... are they going to be able to bring Harry back?"

Minerva smiled. "Of course they are, Mr Weasley. It may just take them a little whi --"

"Professor!" several students yelled.

Every teacher present turned towards the mirror, just in time to see the sluggish swirls turn violent and sharp. Suddenly, the grey surface pulsed outwards in a silent explosion. Everybody jumped back, and several people covered their eyes and faces, expecting the worst. But when the worst didn't happen, arms were cautiously lowered, and they were greeted by the sight of an unharmed Harry Potter -- wand in hand -- staggering slightly in place, exactly where he'd been standing over twenty minutes before.

"Harry!" Hermione yelled, and was about to run up and hug him when Dumbledore's hand barred her way.

"Everyone will please wait a few moments!" The Headmaster ordered in a loud voice that brooked no argument.

At the sound of Dumbledore's voice, Harry looked up, his eyes slightly unfocused. He seemed confused for a moment. "Albus?" he asked weakly. Several people blinked with surprise. Since when did fifteen-year-old students in fifth-year call the Hogwarts Headmaster by his first name?

But before an equally surprised Dumbledore could reply, Professor Snape stepped in to give the young man a severe reprimand. The wretched boy thoroughly deserved it for disrupting the dance, causing distress to both students and staff, fooling around with magic he knew nothing about, and for the absolute cheek of calling the headmaster by his first name... However he only got as far as "Mr Potter, fifty points from --" when Harry spun in place so quickly that the Professor's mouth snapped shut, and the older man unconsciously took a half step backwards.

Harry's face was a blend of despair, hope, and utter astonishment as he looked Severus Snape full in the face. The intensity of that look made the Potions Master -- a man more than twice Harry's age -- almost squirm in public.

"Severus...?" Harry breathed the name out -- raw emotion edging the sound of it. Professor Snape had never before heard his name said in quite that way -- and he couldn't say what strange combination of emotions had caused it.

Unexpectedly, Harry's eyes widened as if some startling revelation had struck him. He whirled around again, with the same remarkable speed he'd used before, and caught sight of the mirror. A look of utter rage and hatred passed over his face, and he raised his wand and wrought absolute destruction on the object before him.

"Destructus Pyro Absolutum," was all he said. He didn't yell. He didn't whisper. It was spoken in a perfectly calm voice that nonetheless managed to resound in the room like a huge drum -- echoing impossibly low beneath the whispered background conversations. It resonated deep within the bones of every person present, and caused several people to shiver at the implied power behind the words.

Time seemed to stop. There was a moment of absolute silence. Then shards of glass exploded out of the mirror's surface. They reached a distance of slightly more than two feet, before halting, and then reversing their flight -- rushing back to slice into the ancient wooden frame that had once contained them. And everywhere the glass cut, the frame burned.

And burned.

In a matter of seconds, the entire mirror was reduced to mere wreckage on the floor, and it was obvious that within a few minutes, those remains would be nothing more than smoking, black ash. Already, tiny motes of soot were drifting upwards on the heated air.

The shocked silence in the Great Hall made it a simple matter to hear Harry's ragged words -- "Good riddance you piece of cursed crap."

...and then he fell bonelessly to the floor -- unconscious, with his wand still clutched fiercely in his right hand.

----oo00oo----

Harry awoke to the all-too-familiar scents of a medical facility. A deeply ingrained sense of caution allowed him to show no outward sign of his return to consciousness. With his eyes still closed, and his breathing slow and regular, he listened carefully for anything that would tell him where he was, and who was nearby. He heard voices, but they were muffled -- distant -- and he surmised that the speakers were in another room.

But those voices -- they belonged to...!

In shock, Harry's eyes flew open. Albus! He could hear Albus' voice! But... Albus was dead... wasn't he?

"...me, Cornelius," Albus' voice was saying, "but as the mirror has now been destroyed, I do not believe there is anything more to be done about it. But of course, if the Aurors are still concerned, they are more than welcome to come and sweep up what's left of it."

There was a reply by someone Harry surmised must be Cornelius Fudge -- that bumbling idiot who had once been the Minister for Magic. But Harry was no longer following the conversation. His thoughts were fixated on Albus' words about a mirror...

"The mirror..." he whispered. The one he had destroyed. The one within which he had lived over a dozen years of his life -- a life that had not really happened. All that he remembered -- all that he had experienced -- was now nothing more than a potential future that had been based on the reality of the moment he had entered the mirror.

Complex magical probability equations woven into the mirror had generated a possible future for him to experience. It was a life that might have happened -- or that may yet happen. And Harry swallowed. He remembered the mirror -- Hermione had... or would have... researched it. Its name had translated as "The Mirror of Maybe".

The same mirror that had returned a twenty-eight year old man to the body of a fifteen-year-old boy.

"But Albus," a woman's voice intruded on Harry's thoughts, "what if the mirror has left the boy with some kind of... side effects?" Ah. Minerva's voice. Concerned for him. Harry smiled faintly.

"An excellent question, Minerva. Well, Poppy?"

"Nothing that I can detect, Headmaster." Madam Pomfrey answered. "Shock, I think, and certainly exhaustion, but nothing more that I could find."

"But the spell," Minerva protested, "it was so powerful -- no fifth-year student should be able to make something like that work..."

Albus' voice replied, "Ah Minerva... so protective of him?" Harry could almost hear the smile on Albus' face. "You know that it could easily have been a one-time charge of energy -- simply a result of being expelled from the mirror. Such devices often have that effect, you know."

"But that much energy, Albus?" came the protest.

"How can we know until he wakes up?" Albus countered. "Certainly, if there are side effects, we will not discover them until then, at least." There was a pause. "Although, if he has suffered a severe enough shock, or the spell on the mirror was truly too powerful for him, then he may not be able to tell us much. The mind does not often remember things it truly does not wish to."

//I should be so lucky...// Harry thought with a pang.

"For now," Albus continued, "I do not think we can accomplish anything more tonight, and tired minds seldom provide useful answers. Harry is resting comfortably and is in no immediate danger. I, for one, am going to bed."

There was a general murmur -- some in protest, some in agreement. There seemed to be one or two people present who hadn't spoken before, and Harry absently increased his estimate of the number of people in the other room. The murmur died away as they departed, their voices dwindling with the increased distance. Harry closed his eyes and feigned sleep -- waiting for the last minute bed check Poppy would inevitably make. It was her habit, he knew, whenever there was a patient under her care.

She came and went, and he listened as she settled down at her desk in the next room. She would sit watch over him for a few hours, and then another would come and relieve her of the duty. But there would always be someone nearby until Poppy was sure her patient no longer required it. Poppy was like that -- always compassionate and dutiful. Over the years, she had... or rather, would have... saved his life many times. He trusted her skills as a mediwitch.

But could he trust her... trust any of them... with the truth about what had happened to him?

----oo00oo----

Careful not to sigh or change his breathing, Harry opened his eyes and stared at the darkened room in the Hogwarts' hospital wing. So much the same... yet still so different. It was home... but not. Thirteen years had seen minor alterations in the decor, and in the equipment and potion ingredients. What he saw now seemed slightly... antique... but not unfamiliar.

Letting his eyes unfocus slightly, Harry turned his thoughts inwards and considered his situation. Should he tell someone what had happened? Tell them who -- and what -- he was now? //No,// he thought. //even if I prove it to them, their subconscious minds will look at me and see a fifteen-year-old boy -- a child. Although... Albus might be able to accept it... might actually believe it deeply enough to treat me as an adult...//

Albus had always been a remarkable man -- unique in his understanding of humanity and magic. His loss had been a devastating blow for the forces of Light. A blow that Harry -- with his knowledge of the possible future, and an extra thirteen years of learning and experience behind him -- might actually have a hope of preventing.

And the thought suddenly stunned him -- he could change things! What he remembered was terrible -- awful -- a war they had eventually won, but at terrible cost to everyone on both sides. But now... now it was only possibilities... probabilities. If he could change it -- prevent it, or even alter it just enough...

//Hell,// he thought, //it's already changed. What I am now has changed it.// and he realised that the changes could only become greater. With every passing minute, reality was diverging from the possibility he had lived inside the mirror. That reality had been based upon who he was before he had entered it. In the unreal world he remembered, the mirror had continued to exist for many years, even though its surface had turned a blank sort of grey colour. Yet, in the real world, Harry had used a spell that he should not have known -- or been able to use -- and had already destroyed it.

//I can save Albus...// Harry thought joyfully. //and Sev... I can save Sev... and I won't be such a fool this time, and I won't let him be such a fool...// The thought brought Harry to an abrupt halt. One of the main reasons for Severus' foolishness had been the discrepancy in their ages. Professor Severus Snape would currently be... he had to think for a moment -- 34 years old -- more than twice the age of Harry's body. And that body was still only 15... //Dammit,// Harry growled silently. And then... //Ah, shit -- what's the legal age of consent for boys in magical England?// He couldn't remember whether it was 16 or 18. //Hell, I haven't needed to worry for at least ten years!// Could Sev accept him as he looked now? ...not likely.

Unless he could force Sev to see past the young man's body and look at the adult mind inside it, Harry knew he would have no chance. He also knew that, aside from Dumbledore -- who might, or might not, be able to accept it -- none of the other adults in the school would be able to see past the youthful face. And Harry wouldn't be able to stand it... watching them continuously remind themselves that he was a twenty-eight year old man in a teenager's body. Watching them make the mistake of treating him like a child, and then having to remind them that he wasn't -- or at least... having to remind them until the day he slipped up, and drove it home beyond a shadow of a doubt that he would never again be the innocent boy of average wizarding abilities that they had once known.

And there was another problem, and a rather severe one at that. He was dangerous now. His instincts and reactions had been honed by almost a decade of battles and fighting. If one of Fred or George Weasley's jokes took him by surprise -- or worse, if someone actually tried to pull some kind of prank on him -- he could easily kill one of these vulnerable children.

The thought was profoundly disturbing.

//And what about other people?// he mused. //I'm a danger even to adult wizards and witches.// It hadn't been a problem in the mirror -- everyone there had known exactly what he was, and had behaved accordingly.

Using a logical and dispassionate approach -- learned of necessity to keep his emotions at bay -- Harry rigorously and carefully reasoned it out: //1. I am dangerous. No getting around that -- I had to become dangerous just to survive... and to help others survive. 2. I could accidentally hurt -- or even kill -- any witch or wizard who manages to surprise me. Therefore, I need to convince them to be careful when I'm around -- and that includes the general wizarding population, not just here at Hogwarts. 3. They will only be careful if they really believe I am dangerous. 4. Nobody will believe a fifteen-year-old student is that dangerous, which leads me to... 5. I need people to see me as the twenty-eight year old man I really am, and 6. I can't stay at Hogwarts -- at least not as a student.//

Now that was food for thought. He couldn't remain as a student -- but what about as a teacher? Better yet, what about as the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher? All the gods knew there wasn't anyone who knew more about the subject than he did. Even the elite Aurors of this time would not have half his experience or skill. Better yet, Dumbledore was always having trouble filling the position -- so it was very likely he could apply for it without pushing anyone else out of the job. Well, except for Sev who had always wanted it...

But then, Harry knew Sev better than the man did himself. The Potions Master would never be happy in the Defence Against the Dark Arts position, and it would suit Harry's purpose right down to the ground. But he could not apply for the job as Harry Potter, or as a fifteen-year-old. Therefore Harry Potter would have to disappear, preferably without causing too much distress to the people he considered family, which most definitely included Sev, Albus, Ron and Mione, Sirius and Remus, and of course, Hagrid.

He wondered how he was going to get in touch with Sirius, but then realised his godfather would most certainly come to Hogwarts when he discovered 'Harry' had not returned for the new school year.

And that was another thing... he would absolutely not be staying with the Dursleys this summer. He had too much to arrange to be bothered with those worthless muggles anymore. Certainly, they would not care if he disappeared. But he would need money... Would he be able to access his account at Gringott's? Albus had the key, and Harry was supposedly still a minor...

So many details... but in the end it didn't take him all that long to figure out a rough but workable plan. He didn't bother with the fine details -- life had taught him that fine details almost never survived their meeting with reality -- but the overall shape of the plan was sound, and there was enough flexibility in it to allow for surprises.

That done, Harry let himself relax into sleep, and as he rolled over onto his side, he reflexively murmured a proximity spell that would awaken him should anyone approach.

----oo00oo----

The next morning was a bit of a shock to Harry's system. The proximity spell worked exactly as it should, and awakened him when Poppy drew back the curtains to let in the morning sun. However, from there, it went rapidly downhill.

Several times he had to remind himself to address Poppy as 'Ma'am' or 'Madam Pomfrey', and not 'Poppy'. However, by the time Albus and Minister Fudge arrived, he had finally managed to put himself into the correct mindset for addressing them as 'Professor' or 'Sir'.

He stuck religiously to Dumbledore's idea that he might not remember what had happened to him the previous night. But experience with the Headmaster's keen insight had taught him that a blanket 'I don't remember' would be treated with suspicion. So instead, he admitted to a few half-forgotten impressions of time passing, and the sensation of strange grey glass pressing against him. It was enough to sound honest, but not enough to arouse suspicion.

He nearly blew it, however, the first time that imbecile Fudge called him 'Harry'. Poppy had been addressing him as 'Dear' all morning, and Albus had always retained the right to call him by his private name. But Fudge had no right...! Luckily, Harry got himself under control with only a slight narrowing of his eyes. He had cultivated a carefully blank expression for too long for it to fail him now.

Brutally, he reminded himself that the people here and now had never heard the name 'Ash', and had no idea how insulting it was to use his private name without his permission.

After the early morning 'interrogation' as he mentally dubbed it, he was left with the impression that Albus knew something was not quite right -- but the canny old wizard didn't say anything, and allowed Harry to leave with nothing more than a reminder to see Madam Pomfrey if he felt the least bit unwell. Thankful for small mercies, Harry beat a hasty retreat.

After that, he returned to the Gryffindor tower, marvelling that he still remembered the way after all these years, and wondering how the hell he was going to cope with everyone else calling him 'Harry'. Everyone except Sev that is -- he thought he just might break down and cry if Sev called him something other than 'Harry'. He wasn't sure he would be able to bear 'Mr Potter' from Severus.

Thankfully, the end-of-year dance really was at the end of the school year. Today was the last day of classes, and nobody would be taking their lessons seriously -- not even most of the teachers. He only had to get through a single day as a fifth-year before they would all leave for the summer, and Harry could put his plan into action.

Unfortunately, the number of things he had forgotten about being a student at Hogwarts, took him by complete surprise. And it didn't help at all that he could barely refrain from gaping at Ron and Hermione -- they were so young!

But he was accepted back into the Gryffindor common room without reservation, and after he managed to convince his two best friends that he was fine, and he really didn't hold Ron responsible for what happened, he was then interrogated a few more times by everyone else in the room -- all wanting to know what it was like inside the mirror, and what he had seen, and how he had managed to cast such an awesome spell.

Once again, Harry stuck to the 'vague-memories-but-nothing-solid' story, and was uncommonly grateful when Mione told everyone to leave him alone, and then dragged him off to breakfast.

Breakfast itself was full of unexpected pitfalls. Harry had no idea what the current state of the world's Quidditch teams was -- something he had apparently known yesterday -- and had to stop himself from absent-mindedly summoning several cups of strong, black coffee during the meal. Hermione looked at him strangely when he chose to have poached eggs with his breakfast, and he suddenly remembered that he'd only liked scrambled eggs as a child.

All in all, he managed to survive it -- barely -- but as Ron dragged him off to the first class of the day, there was only one thought going through his head -- //God, I need a coffee...//

----oo00oo----

Fortunately, he didn't have Potions today, and wouldn't have to face Sev while he was still so emotionally unbalanced. He also had the convenient excuse of his 'incident' with the mirror upon which to blame any minor slip-ups. Even so, he found it very hard to react the way others obviously expected him to.

Take Draco Malfoy for instance. The teenager was rude and insulting to both Harry and Harry's friends -- but the first time Harry saw him, all he could feel was sorrow at the memory of Draco's death, and a sense of frustration for the stupidity of children who thought being in different Houses was justification for their current behaviour. He used the frustration to summon the appropriate responses, but they were half-hearted insults at best, and once Draco was gone, Harry even felt a bit of fondness for his Slytherin nemesis.

Seeing Draco made Harry remember an old saying -- that when you were without friends, the next best thing is an enemy who knows you well. When Draco had died, the young Death Eater had been without friends, but his enemy had been there for him, and Harry took bittersweet comfort in the knowledge that he had not failed Draco -- and that, in the end, Draco had not failed him either.

Perhaps this time, he would be able to save Draco too.

He would certainly try.

----oo00oo----

The day didn't really get any easier. Charms with Professor Flitwick was boring -- there wasn't anything he didn't already know, and couldn't do half-conscious with one arm hexed and a Death Eater chasing him. He actually had to stop himself from performing the lesson perfectly when he remembered that it would be out of character for him to get it right so easily.

Predictions with Professor Trelawney was hilarious. Even after more than ten years, he still remembered the woman's almost pathological fixation with his death. He had long ago come to terms with the fact that he was going to die -- at about the same time that he realised everyone was going to die, and that nobody -- not even Voldemort -- could cheat death forever.

Dying, he had reflected, was a natural part of life, and was only to be fought when it was inflicted upon those whose time had not yet come.

As for Trelawney's predictions, well... Harry simply had too much to live for to contemplate dying anytime soon -- or in any of the melodramatic and improbable ways she loved to ramble on about.

All in all, it was just too funny.

At lunch, he managed to slip away and visit Hagrid. The much loved half-giant was another who had not survived to see Harry's twenty-eighth birthday. But unlike Draco, Harry had not been there when he died.

Hagrid had been Harry's first friend in the world -- both wizarding and muggle. Before him, Harry's cousin Dudley had ensured that everyone was too frightened to be Harry's friend. Yet after him, had come Ron and Hermione, the entire Weasley family, Albus, his godfather Sirius, Remus, and so many, many more -- from all walks of life, and not only out of Gryffindor, or even from his own years at the school.

But Hagrid had been the first -- and would always hold a very special place in Harry's heart.

"'ello Harry!" the huge Gamekeeper called as Harry approached. "What're yeh doin' out here? Not up to any mischief I 'ope?"

"Does it look like Ron and Hermione are with me?" Harry laughed.

Hagrid guffawed, "Like yeh need those two t' get into trouble."

Harry explained that he'd simply come for a visit -- which pleased Hagrid no end -- and together they went inside for a cup of tea. The next half hour was spent doing nothing more than chatting about the school, and enjoying each other's company. It wasn't until Harry noticed that he would have to go soon, that he realised there was something he really wanted to do.

"Hagrid?" he asked slowly. "There's a bit of magic I'd like to do for you -- a... a sort of spell I learned."

"Oh, yeah?" Hagrid asked, "And yeh want ter show it to me? It must be pretty good then, eh?"

"Well," Harry replied, "it's not flashy or anything..."

"The hardest magic never is, Harry." and Harry was suddenly struck by how wise Hagrid sometimes was beneath the good-natured bumbling exterior. "What d'yeh want me ter do?"

Smiling, Harry replied, "Nothing, my friend -- just... be you for me."

Hagrid looked at him strangely, but Harry had already closed his eyes. The adult Harry who inhabited the teenager's body focused his thoughts inwards, reaching for that special magic that few humans were even consciously aware of. This was Heart Magic that Harry was practicing now -- the magic that was love, and fear, and joy and sorrow -- all the emotions that humans and non-humans shared together -- and all the power those emotions could generate. Such power could be wild or gentle, overwhelming or subtle. It could never be controlled with spells or ordinary magics, but only with its own power -- by emotion itself. In times of extreme stress, even muggles could access this power -- as demonstrated by the tales of muggle mothers lifting fallen trees off their injured children, and other apparent 'miracles' brought on by the extreme emotional state of the people involved.

But few in the wizarding world -- whether human, elf, gnome, or other -- had ever been able to do what Harry was doing now...

...for Harry was deliberately reaching for the magic -- calling it to him, not with extreme need or intense emotion, but with a gentle love and a joyous friendship, linked to a profound sense of his kinship for the man sitting across the table from him. With delicate precision, he wove that sense of kinship into his own heart, and then into Hagrid's. And then finally, he released the magic, and opened his eyes.

Hagrid blinked. For a moment he had felt... something. "What did yer do, Harry?"

Harry smiled, and then thought of Hagrid and wished Hagrid could feel how much Harry loved him.

Hagrid inhaled sharply, and blinked in surprise. "Wha..."

"It a special spell, Hagrid -- only for the friends you love most in the world. All you have to do is think about your friend, and wish for them to know how you feel about them -- and then they do."

"You... then, that was how you feel... about me?"

"Yup." Harry grinned cheekily up at him.

Hagrid considered this for a moment, "Does it work both ways?"

"Yes." Harry told him.

Hagrid closed his eyes. A second later, Harry felt a wave of warmth and friendship, tinged with a certain amount of awe. Hagrid opened his eyes. "Did it work?"

Harry leapt up and hugged him. Somewhat embarrassed, but pleased nonetheless, the Gamekeeper mumbled, "I guess it did."

Afterwards, Harry reflected that now, even if he couldn't prevent Hagrid's death, he could still be there should anything happen to his favourite half-giant.

It had, perhaps, been foolish of him to cast a spell that Albus would recognise as Heart Magic. Indeed, there was no other kind of magic it could be. If Albus found out about it before Harry was safely gone tomorrow... well, there would be no leaving at all...

...and of course, Hagrid couldn't keep a secret to save his life.

But on the other hand, Harry suddenly realised that he didn't want this particular secret kept -- or at least, he didn't want it kept for more than a day or two. It would ease people's minds considerably to know that Hagrid had some kind of contact with him, and could vouch for the fact that he was still alive somewhere.

So it was with a much lightened heart that he rejoined Ron and Hermione -- who immediately demanded to know where he'd been -- and went off to their first class for the afternoon.

It turned out to be the last flying class for the year. Madam Hooch was an excellent instructor, and Harry's love of flying had not changed or diminished one bit over the years. However -- as with Charms -- the techniques she was teaching were quite literally child's-play to him now. At least... he'd thought they were, until he automatically tried a move that he'd made a thousand times before, only to have his broom lurch drunkenly under him. His lightning fast reflexes saved him from an embarrassing fall, but he still had to listen patiently as Madam Hooch explained the simple manoeuvre over, and over, and over again.

It made his act as a fifteen-year-old more credible, but he worried about what went wrong for the rest of the class. Finally, he figured it out. Simply stated, his old Firebolt wasn't anywhere near as fast or responsive as the Cirrus 5 he'd owned thirteen years later, in a future that had been based on probabilities. Thus, as broom design had improved, so had his reflexes and expectations. Now, thirteen years in the past (from his perspective) his current broom simply couldn't keep up.

It was a similar consideration that smacked him upside the head that night in the boy’s bathroom.

Stripping off his robes, he casually turned towards the showers when he briefly caught sight of himself in a mirror. He'd imagined that he knew exactly what his body looked like at fifteen -- after all, he'd certainly seen it when he'd been a fifteen-year-old -- which was... now, he supposed -- or thirteen years ago, depending upon how you looked at it. Thinking about the circular time references was guaranteed to give him a headache, so he ignored it in favour of studying his new... old?... body.

For the most part, what he'd imagined was exactly what he saw. Everything he expected to see was there -- the shape of his younger face, the slightly leaner torso, the height he expected -- he knew he would grow only an inch or so taller over the next few months, and then no more.

At fifteen, his body was basically finished with all the changes it would inflict upon him -- a few more years would see him settle into a slightly bulkier chest, but he would always tend towards a certain trimness of waist, and a more supple strength, rather than large muscles.

It was what he didn't see that shocked him.

His scars were gone. Well, except for the one on his forehead of course. But the others... all vanished. And his tattoos -- god, he felt their loss like a knife through his heart. He'd had them done -- both of them -- when he'd finally realised why the Sorting Hat had had so much trouble trying to decide which House to put him in. In honour of the discovery of a profound self-truth, Harry had very carefully selected and patronised the wizarding equivalent of a muggle tattoo parlour. When he'd emerged, his robes had been covering a Gryffindor lion emblazoned on his chest, and a Slytherin snake twisting down his spine. They had been his constant companions for more than eight years.

He wanted them back.

It was also the lack of what he saw that reminded him so strongly of the trouble with his broom. Something else was missing from his body -- a less tangible, but nonetheless integral part of the man he had become.

At twenty-eight, he had been -- and presumably still was -- a master of several forms of muggle hand-to-hand. He had spent hours practicing the moves over and over again -- knowing that if he screwed up in the field, he could end up dead -- or responsible for someone else's death. That practice -- so repetitive and exhausting -- had caused his muscles to develop in certain ways. His arms and legs had become used to certain movements -- particular techniques -- and moved through those motions with the ease of a train running on worn tracks in the ground. 'Muscle memory' it was called.

And now, like the expectations he'd had for his broom, it was all gone.

It suddenly struck him that he really had no idea what his current body was capable of. That frightened him somewhat, but he acknowledged the fear, and made a mental note to correct his ignorance as soon as possible. Now however, was not the time, and after a steaming hot shower, it was an exhausted Harry Potter who smiled and bid both Hermione and Ron a pleasant goodnight in the common room, before tiredly making his way to bed -- for the last time -- in the Gryffindor tower.

Lying there in the dark, Harry felt sorrow for the second loss of his childhood. He knew that if all went well, he would be seeing all of his most-loved friends -- those he considered family -- as soon as school began next year. But of course, they would not recognise him, and it would be hard on them -- not knowing where he was, and hard on him -- not being able to tell them. Yet at the same time, he was also well satisfied. There was so much potential in the world now -- so much he could do to help them -- to keep them as safe as possible.

But most of all, there was the sneaking, purely selfish happiness in his heart -- the knowledge that from this end of time he had years ahead of him to share with Severus Snape.

All he had to do was convince Sev to love him again.

----oo00oo----

The next day dawned bright and cheerful, mimicking the happy pandemonium that was a school full of students going home for the summer. Ron and Hermione sat with him on the Hogwarts Express, and promised to write lots of owls and send plenty of 'emergency rations' in case Dudley was still dieting, and Harry's aunt forced Harry to once again eat the same meals as his overweight cousin.

Harry couldn't make the same promise in return, because his uncle and aunt usually insisted that his owl, Hedwig, be kept locked up all summer. Of course, he also didn't want to promise, because he knew he wasn't going to be there anyway.

Finally, they arrived at Platform 9 and 3/4. Mrs Weasley was there to pick up her sons, and her daughter Ginny, while Mr and Mrs Granger smiled kindly at him, and Hermione hugged him tightly before waving goodbye.

The Dursleys were nowhere in sight.

//Wouldn't it be just like those muggles!// Harry thought in frustration. //The one time I actually want to see them, and they pick today to decide to abandon me. Bloody hell!//

Mrs Weasley, of course, absolutely refused to leave until she was certain his uncle hadn't got lost amongst the rest of the muggles -- there were so many of them at the station. Harry had a sneaking suspicion that she was about to take him home with her own sons, when he spotted his uncle Vernon trying to hide behind a pillar. With relief, he led Ron's mum over to his uncle, just to prove that he really didn't need to be taken back to the Burrow.

Uncle Vernon, of course, was rude to Mrs Weasley, and couldn't get away from her and her 'unnatural' family fast enough. He dragged Harry along, and Harry allowed it, until they were out of sight of anybody who looked remotely magical.

Along the way, Harry was subjected to his uncle's displeasure at seeing him again, as well as the reason Vernon had been hiding behind the pillar. It seemed that -- to uncle Vernon at least -- so long as he could say he had actually gone to pick up Harry, then he felt that it wouldn't be his fault if Harry had not been there to be picked up. Vernon had actually been on the verge of leaving without Harry, when he'd been spotted -- much to his disgust.

They reached the car in short order, and Harry got the usual orders about not touching anything in Vernon's nice new sedan, while Harry dutifully piled his belongings into the trunk. Harry was getting heartily sick of his narrow-minded uncle by the time they pulled away from the train station and headed for Privet Drive. He wracked his brain trying to come up with the reason he'd stayed with his uncle for so long the last time he'd been this age.

Sitting silently, and letting the hateful words wash past him, Harry bided his time until they were passing several of the quieter streets. He needed to get out of the car before they reached Privet Drive because he knew that the Dursley's house, and the surrounding neighbours', all had an overabundance of spells put on them. One set was from the Ministry of Magic -- to detect any magic being performed by underaged wizards or witches. Another set was from the Aurors, hoping to detect Voldemort's presence -- or even a few Death Eaters. Yet another set was from Dumbledore, which had more to do with protecting him than watching him -- but served the same purpose anyway. And a final set had been more recently layered on by his godfather Sirius Black -- again for protection, but also incidentally keeping a subtle eye on him.

So in order to disappear successfully, Harry had to leave after they departed the train station, but before they arrived at Privet Drive. Hence, the reason he was waiting for an appropriate moment -- like now.

Harry jerked his head up, and proclaimed, "Oh, I feel sick... I think... I think I'm gonna throw up..."

Uncle Vernon couldn't pull over fast enough. "Get out! Get out, you filthy brat -- not in my car you don't!" and it was then, in mid-diatribe that Harry froze him.

"Don't worry, Dursley," Harry said in a perfectly calm voice, "the spell will wear off in a little while. I just need to keep you out of the way for a few minutes." Then he reached past his uncle's now-sweating face and into the man's coat pocket. With supreme confidence, Harry pulled out Vernon's wallet and rifled through the money in it. He carefully selected several notes, totalling a bit less than eighty pounds, and then replaced the wallet. Vernon's eyes bulged.

"No," Harry replied in response to the eye-bulging antics, "I am not robbing you -- though I doubt you'll see it that way until you get your money back ...which will be in a few days, by the way." He looked at Vernon's face and saw the eyes rolling with disbelief. "All right then," Harry added, "consider it a small price to pay for getting rid of me forever." The eyes suddenly looked hopeful. "Yes, I said forever -- as in: I'm not coming back, and nobody will be bringing me back. I just need a little cash for a few days to get the rest of my life started." The eyes looked suspicious. Harry laughed, "No -- I'm not gambling or anything. I won't lose your money and come crawling back a week from now -- as if you'd take me back anyway." The eyes agreed.

Harry sighed. "Look Dursley," he said after a moment, "here's how it's gonna go. I'm taking your money and I'm leaving. You won't know where I am, and neither will anybody else. A few people might come looking for me, but just tell them what happened, and they'll go away. You might even see a few owls about, but they'll know I'm not there pretty quickly, and they'll leave you alone too."

"Think about it, Dursley," Harry grinned, "Don't you want me gone? God knows I want to be gone." Harry tucked the money into his pocket and began to get out of the car. He stopped for a moment, before adding, "Oh, and by the way, if you happen to feel like getting rid of any... you know... 'strangers'... who ask about me -- you can tell them that 'Ash' knows where I am."

Then Harry walked to the back of the car and magically opened the trunk. He cast a size reduction spell, followed by a weight reduction spell, and proceeded to stuff all his worldly possessions into his pocket. Then he closed the trunk and went to retrieve Hedwig from her cage in the back seat.

He magically created several sheets of paper, and grabbed a pen from the glove box, before writing a note to Dumbledore:

Dear Headmaster,

I am leaving the Dursleys because I am sick and tired of being locked in cupboards, starved, and treated like a house elf.

I know it is dangerous away from the magical protections that you and the Ministry have provided for me, but please believe me when I say that I will be just as well protected where I am going. I will not be attending Hogwarts as a student in the new term, but I promise you that I will be well educated in magic when you next see me -- particularly in the offensive and defensive magics. (We both know that I will need those, don't we?)

I must ask you if you would please look after Hedwig for me. She knows I will not be here if she returns. I hope this is not a problem for you, but if it is, I would ask that you please give her to a good family.

I must go now, as the spell holding my uncle will wear off shortly, and I do not want to be here when it does.

Take care, and please believe me when I say that I am doing this of my own free will.

Yours sincerely,
Harry Potter.

P.S. Hagrid will be able to tell you whether or not I am all right.

Harry re-read it a few times, trying to decide whether he had managed to make himself sound like a teenager or not, and then decided to hell with it -- it was good enough.

That done, he folded up the paper and gave it to Hedwig. She was reluctant to leave him, but he finally managed to convince her that she really couldn't follow him where he was going. Eventually she left, and Harry hoped Dumbledore would take good care of her, no matter how long 'Harry Potter' had to disappear for. He very much wanted to have her back when all the hiding and lies were over.

Harry was about to get out of his uncle's car for the last time, when he casually glanced over at his uncle Vernon -- still frozen with his mouth open, in the act of telling Harry to 'Get out!'. A thoughtful look came over Harry's face. Vernon's eyes watched him with fear.

"Mr Dursley," Harry began quietly, "considering that you didn't actually let me starve to death, or chain me to a wall or anything, and in light of the fact that -- willing or not -- you are lending me money, I guess I feel there's something I should tell you."

Vernon's eyes were watching him closely.

"I know you love Dudley, although I'm not convinced the feeling is mutual -- he seems too selfish, to me, to really love anybody but himself." Harry paused. "Anyway, I just thought you should know -- Dudley isn't 'solid', or 'well-built', or any of the other lies you've been telling yourself. He's fat." The eyes bulged again -- this time with outrage. Harry continued. "He's so fat in fact, that all the blubber he's carrying around has begun to put a strain on his heart. If you don't show a bit of backbone and get him down to a decent size, he's going to have a massive coronary and die before he reaches his thirtieth birthday."

The pupils in Vernon's eyes dilated with shock.

"Now, I know you could tell yourself that I'm not a doctor, or a nurse, or even qualified in first aid, but I am a wizard," Harry wiggled his fingers, but Vernon's eyes never left Harry's face, "...and we have ways of knowing these things."

Harry got out of the car, and then leaned down so his uncle could still see him. "I just thought that... well... no father should have to bury his son... even though far too many do." Harry took one last look at the man who was his uncle by marriage. "Take care, Dursley. I sincerely hope we never meet again." and with that, Harry closed the car door and walked away.

He didn't look back once.

----oo00oo----