AU second year. What do you do when all you ever thought was true... isn't? A slightly different encounter in a bookshop is about to force Harry to confront just that. 1st in the Ascendancy.
Vox Clamantis In Deserto
The voice of one crying in the wilderness.
Harry sighed, throwing down the quill. Well, at least he now knew he wasn't turning into Hermione...
Of course, the bloody books weren't exactly helping, he acknowledged as he glared at the aforementioned pile of useless wastes of paper. For Merlin's sake, just what kind of 'expert' was Lockhart? He already knew the man was an idiot, but he'd hoped the narcissistic creep would at least manage to get his facts right!
Instead, he not only contradicted himself once, but twice! There were three different mentions of wood faeries in the books that he'd managed to find so far, and each mention said something different. In /Gadding with Ghouls/, Lockhart claimed to have rescued a faery prince that was caught in a spider's web, and then been invited to a feast in his honor in their palace...
But then, in /Walking with Werewolves/, the man stated that the faeries had recently gone through a revolution, and were setting up a democratic system. And /then/, not ten pages later, they were apparently an anarchical rabble, with no government whatsoever!
Harry leaned back on the bench with a sigh. Damn it, but he just knew that man was going to be useless as a teacher...
"Harry, dear, lunch'll be ready in about twenty minutes!" he heard Molly Weasley holler from the back door of the Burrow.
"Alright, Mrs. Weasley," he called back, twisting around in his seat. "Is Ron up yet?"
She shook her flame-red hair. "Not yet. I'm about ready to go hex him awake."
"You could always ask the twins to do it when they get back," Harry suggested with as straight a face as he could muster, and Molly 'tsked' and waggled her finger.
"None of that now, dear. I just want him awake, not frightened out of his wits." The witch frowned, glancing up at the window to her youngest son's room. "Though if he stays in there much longer, I'll consider it..." She shook her head and looked back at her guest with a kindly smile. "Finish up whatever you were doing, dear, and come on inside."
Harry nodded. "Yes, Mrs. Weasley." He sighed as the witch went back inside. "That assumes I was actually managing to do something," he muttered, turning in his seat.
The boy let out a yelp, as much from surprise as from pain, as his elbow connected with his open ink bottle, sending black ink spreading across the table. He said a word that would have had Mrs. Weasley washing out his mouth with soap, guest or not, and rushed to get his books out of the way of the spreading pool.
He managed to get most of them out of harm's way, all of them, in fact, but the slender diary he'd found in his books. Harry picked that one up gingerly between two fingers, frowning at the ink that stained it from cover to cover. An attempt to dry it off with a spare bit of parchment turned out to be futile, and the boy wrapped it in the parchment to see if Ron's mother could salvage it later. Then he stacked the books and rolls of parchment in his arms, stuck his quill between his teeth, and headed back to the Burrow.
"Oh, Harry, why didn't you ask for help?" Molly asked, pulling out her wand and casting a spell.
Harry sighed in relief as the heavy books were levitated out of his arms. "I didn't think of it," he admitted quietly, after removing the quill from his mouth. "Thanks, Mrs. Weasley. I'm afraid I made a bit of a mess out on the table, though. I knocked over my ink bottle."
"Don't worry about it, dear," she replied absently, expertly directing the floating books towards the stairs. "I'll clean it up later. Now, up to Ronald's room, then."
The boy nodded, and together they made the trip up to Ron's room. Harry had to blink away the after image floating around his eyes, as he always did whenever he stepped into his best friend's violently orange bedroom. Molly set his books down in a corner by the cot he was using for a bed.
"How are you ever going to get him up?" Harry asked, staring wide-eyed at his still thoroughly unconscious friend, who was snoring loudly enough to wake the dead.
The witch gave him a secretive smile. "Watch and learn, dear, watch and learn..." Her wand still out, she pointed towards the sleeping boy and murmured the incantation to the Tickling Charm.
Ron immediately started to giggle, and by the time his bewildered eyes opened he was laughing uncontrollably. "M-Mum! Stop!" he managed to gasp out in between guffaws.
After an endless moment she relented, breaking the spell. "It's lunch time, dear," she the gasping boy with a fond smile. "Do come down when you're ready." With that, she swept out of the room.
Harry stared after her. "Ron? Your mum's scary."
The redhead simply nodded, still trying to catch his breath.
It was a good few hours before Harry returned to Ron's room. The twins had come home not long after lunch, and challenged he and Ron to a Quidditch game that lasted until just before dark. Then Ginny arrived soon afterwards, just in time for dinner. This time, though, she'd managed to only put her elbow into her mashed potatoes instead of the butter.
Harry shook his head as he remembered the incident. Sometimes he didn't think he'd ever understand girls.
He sighed and settled down onto his cot. At least he'd managed to escape an after-dinner chess game with Ron. Thank Merlin Mr. Weasley was perfectly willing to be beaten by his son at chess...
As the boy looked around, his gaze fell on the pile of books in the corner. "Oh, man.." he groaned. He'd forgotten to ask Mrs. Weasley about salvaging that diary...
Harry leaned over and picked the parchment-wrapped diary up off the top of the pile. He carefully unwrapped it, almost but not quite sure that the spilled ink would be dry by now. But the question was soon moot, as he stared at the perfectly clean and dry diary in his hands.
"What the...?" He sank down on his bed, the diary still in his hands. Mrs. Weasley hadn't fixed it- the clear ink stains on the parchment made it obvious no one had unwrapped it. So how...
A sudden thought struck him, and he leaned over to rummage through his trunk. He pulled out a spare bottle of black ink, unstoppered it, and grabbed up the quill he'd been using before.
Harry flipped open the diary, this time unsurprised by the pristine condition of its pages. He dipped the quill into the ink, and held it poised over the diary as a drop of the dark liquid gathered at its tip.
For a reason unknown to him at the time, but that he would later know to be the sense of impending fate, the balance of all the world seemed to hang on that one moment, that one drop, that the Boy-Who-Lived watched so unexpectedly closely. At last, after a brief eternity and an endless moment, it fell, to splash against the white pages below.
As the young wizard gazed on, the tiny stain vanished, and that same inexplicable sense of fate intensified.
It had been dark for so long.
It was odd, really. All he was were memories. The memory of light should have been enough to sustain him, but all it did was taunt him with the hell he had unknowingly consigned himself to, a Hell of endless, timeless /remembering/...
He hadn't known, when he cast the spell. He'd thought all that would transfer would be memories, like in a pensieve. He hadn't realized that in speaking that particular incantation, he was making a perfect duplicate of himself, and imprisoning it inside the pages of a book.
Like the muggles said, hindsight was twenty-twenty.
He'd thought it was over, when he felt the ink stain the book from cover to cover, releasing a flood of impressions into his consciousness. But nothing more had happened. His screamed inquiries had gone unanswered, unseen.
Another eternity passed, as the numbness he'd felt since he gave up struggling, just after he'd realized the horror he'd forced upon himself, was replaced by a sick despair, the next, long step on the path to true madness.
And then, he felt something else, something new, a trickle compared to the flood he'd felt a lifetime ago, a millennia, a moment. Something that he dared not call hope glimmered inside him, an ember he jealously guarded in case the darkness put it out again as he called out, pleading for someone to hear him.
Harry held his breath as he waited for something to happen, knowing deep in his soul that something would, and nothing would ever be the same again. The ink vanished, and still he waited.
And, finally, fate nodded, freeing that brief slice of forever. Words spidered across the page, as though scrawled by a shaking, desperate hand. The boy bent over the page, reading and rereading them until they faded away:
Please, is anyone there...?
Harry smiled softly, feeling a sense of rightness fill him that utterly washed away any doubts he might have had. He carefully dipped the quill again, and, in an action that would cause him more pain and more joy than anything ever would again in his long life, replied:
Yes. I'm here.