Blinded at the age of four, Harry Potter only wants to lead a normal life with his family. On his eleventh birthday, he finds out that he can have anything but...
Neville was returned to the Merlin Tower by a reluctant Madame Pomfrey early the next Friday morning. His left arm was still bandaged and in a sling, and clothing covered the other wounds from his encounter; the only visible mark of the attack was an angry red scar down his left cheek. The boy seemed very self-conscious about his appearance but Poppy assured him that it would fade over time.
When he arrived at the common room, he'd been a bit uncertain of his reception but was overwhelmed as his housemates clamoured around him to hear first hand about the attack.
"You've got to tell us," insisted Blaise Zabini. "What happened to you on Halloween?"
Feeling like he was six feet tall, Neville found himself again retelling the edited version of his story, the same one he'd used with Dumbledore several days before. Shortly after, he was surrounded by his peers, with the girls swooning and the boys clapping him on the shoulder and calling him a 'brave chap'.
Harry, Draco, and Hermione sat quietly on the couch by fire, letting their friend have his moment in the sun. It was kind of good in a way, Harry thought. Neville had survived the attack, and the attention he was receiving from his fellow students was doing wonders for his self confidence and helping to draw him from his shell.
Morning came and Harry was awakened by a sudden weight on his chest and the papery feel of a snake's tongue tickling the tip of his nose. "Morning, Hedwig," he mumbled sleepily as he reached up to stroke her feathers. The Coatl moved off him and settled on the bed as he sat up and rubbed his face to wake himself up. Taking an envelope from where he'd left it on the nightstand he held it up for his pet to take. "Go on, girl," he said "I'll see you when you get back from Aunt Petunia's." Moments later, once Hedwig had departed for his relatives', the boy quickly dressed himself in jeans and a t-shirt to go meet Sal in his secret room.
Navigating his way to the seventh floor, Harry easily found the portrait of poor Barnabas and stood several moments to watch the unfortunate wizard being pummelled by irate trolls in pink tutus. Having witnessed enough of the sadly comical scene, he turned towards the opposite wall and followed the old wizard's directions. Presently, a door appeared exactly where he'd been told to expect it.
Stepping inside the room, Harry was surrounded by darkness as the door closed and cut off the glow from the magic in the corridor. "Sal?" he called out uncertainly. "Are you here?" The raven-haired boy moved slowly into the room, feeling his way along with his cane. From the echo he could tell that the room was large, and he quickly found some strange equipment as he got to the centre of the room. "A workout bench," he muttered as he ran his hands over the cool metal. "I thought we were going to work on my magic."
"We are," said a voice from directly behind him. Harry nearly jumped out of his skin, not having the old wizard approach. "Sorry about that," said Sal with a smile as he became visible to Harry. "I'm glad to see you had no trouble finding the room."
The boy shook his head. "It was no problem." He waved his hand about him and asked, "Is this one of the shielded classrooms you talked about before? It's completely blank to my senses."
"Actually quite the opposite," said the wizard. "The room of requirement is the most magical place in all of Hogwarts, other than the Founders' Chambers. It only seems magic-free now because that is what you need for your training."
"About that," Harry said as he gestured towards the equipment, "I thought it was my magic we were working on, not my muscles."
"We will, and in fact are in a way," Sal said with a smile before switching into full teacher mode. "Beginning today, you will come here every morning for two hours before breakfast and half mornings on the weekends. You'll not use or bring any magical item with you unless I specifically request it. We will study meditation and practice on focusing your mind and body, the second of which is the reason for the equipment. You are in horrible shape."
"But why?" Harry asked in frustration. "How will this help me be a better wizard?"
Sal looked at the boy inscrutably for a time, and then answered, "A wizard's magic springs from his very being and is the driving force for any spell. Their strength is determined by three attributes: mind, body and spirit; each must be nourished to allow the power a chance to grow. Your mind is already quick and strong; the lessons we will learn here will push it to its limits and beyond. This path will guide you in finding the abilities and spells that will serve you best. Your spirit is also great, but it is chaotic. I will teach you to focus yourself and find inner peace. From that path you'll learn control."
"But why the physical training?" asked Harry curiously. "How can having muscles help my magic?"
"Because, my boy, we must strengthen the vessel in which the power resides. You'll need proper meals, vigorous exercise, and drills to build your coordination. Harry, my lad, there's so much potential in you that if you're diligent with the training and do everything I say, you'll be able to one day cast spells without word or wand, but by will alone."
Putting his hands on the boy's shoulders he urged him to sit. "Right then, legs crossed and hands on your knees. As you're not dressed for any physical training today, we'll begin by learning to meditate. Tomorrow we'll be including your physical exercises so come dressed for it. Now breath with me..."
The weeks flew past. Harry felt as if he were burning the candle at both ends and in the middle as well as he juggled his time between lessons with Sal, schoolwork, and the exhaustive research he and his friends were doing to discover just who Nicholas Flamel was. There were times when he thought he'd never see his bed again. The boy was weary and sore most of the time, but there were signs of progress at times that made his heart leap.
Harry had begun to notice about a week back that sometimes, when he least expected it, he could just for a moment sense the outlines of the equipment around him. Harry hadn't mentioned it to Sal, but it was just as well. As he couldn't control when and where he would have his flashes, he half expected that the wizard would laugh it off as the boy's imagination. Still, it cheered him that a little bit of progress had been made and it helped the raven-haired boy get into the holiday spirit.
Christmas was coming. One morning in mid-December Hogwarts woke to find itself under a blanket of snow. The Weasley twins ended up with detention for charming a snowball to follow Professor Quirrell around and bump into his turban.
When the holidays were only a day away, Harry was more than ready to start them. He hadn't seen his aunt since she'd come to school earlier in the term and he was missing her fiercely. Not to mention that he was looking forward to the idea of two weeks relaxation without training, studies, or Professor Snape, though to be honest Snape had been much more agreeable the past few weeks.
Harry and his friends were sitting in the Great Hall eating breakfast when Hedwig burst into the room. The Coatl playfully dove at several of the tables before delivering her letter. It wasn't to Harry that she went, however, but to the head table to land before Professor Snape.
"That's the forth time this month, isn't it, Harry?" asked Draco as Hedwig sat coiled in front of the Potions Master as he separated his letter from the two she carried. "I wonder what your aunt and Professor Snape could possibly be talking about."
"Dudley, I think," said the raven-haired boy thoughtfully. "The Professor has been sending potions to help him recover since Halloween. I guess he and Aunt Petunia must be discussing his progress."
Hedwig chose that moment to land in front of Harry, bearing his own letter from Aunt Petunia. The boy took it from his pet and noticed a faint scent of her perfume clinging to it.
"So what does she have to say today, Harry?" asked Hermione.
"Just that she has loads of news for me when I get home and they'll be waiting at the station to pick me up."
"Come on then," said Draco with a grin as he stood up. "It's almost time for Potions and after that no more classes until after holidays!"
"For you, anyway," replied Harry. "I've still got practical tonight with Snape."
"Why are you still doing that anyway?" asked Hermione huffily as they all gathered their things and stood. "He's got to know by now that you're not a threat to the other students' safety."
The raven-haired boy shook his head they made their way towards the dungeons. "We've talked about it, but the professor has me doing the course at a different pace than you, so we wouldn't be at the same spot."
"Really, Harry," the girl snorted. "You can't be that far behind I'll help you catch up at night after homework. I'm sure we can get you back with us in a couple weeks."
A huge grin broke out on the boy's face as he said, "Oh, its nothing like that. We just started second year potions last week and I'd be bored to tears in class." Harry did his best to hide the smug look on his face as he tapped down the hall with his cane. Behind him Draco, Hermione, and Neville stood in shock, their jaws hanging open and the blond-haired boy barely choking out a strangled statement.
Later that evening, Harry was again in the Potions classroom doing his practical as he bottled a hair growth potion. As he was finishing it up, he sensed Professor Snape approach silently and stand before the boy's table.
"Yes, professor?" he asked. Snape was no longer surprised by the boy's uncanny ability to know when he or anybody else was close by him, though it did irritate the Potions Master that he couldn't sneak up on the boy as he did the other students. Little did he know that Harry was having no problem being aware of the man's presence even without using his senses. Snape absolutely reeked of Aunt Petunia's perfume, a fact that unsettled the boy more than a bit.
"I will be accompanying you home tomorrow," he said. "Meet me here and we'll go to the train together."
"You'll see your friends on the train," Snape said irritably. "And I'll need help with the potions we'll be taking back to your cousin. Now go on back to your tower before I take points for being out after curfew."
Harry didn't go back to Merlin Tower after leaving Professor Snape, however. Instead he went to the seventh floor and went to Sal's secret room. There he threw his things to the floor and began running. He couldn't explain why he was so upset by the professor's announcement, but he couldn't get it out of his mind and if he did return to the dorm in this state he would never get to sleep.
It was more than an hour later that a sweaty and exhausted Harry slumped to the floor completely spent.
"Well, well," said Sal as he faded into visibility to Harry's senses. "A little night time training, Harry? If you don't think I'm working you hard enough in the mornings, I'm sure we can step our sessions up a bit."
The raven-haired boy shrugged and said, "No...yes...I don't know. After the session with Snape tonight, I just needed to do /something/."
"I thought you two were getting on better now."
Harry frowned as Sal helped him to his feet. "We were...we are. It's just that he's going home with me when I leave for holidays. It's just to check on Dudley but I don't want him to be with...to be at my house."
Catching the boy's slip, Sal kept his face and tone of voice even and relaxed as he asked, "Why not?"
The raven-haired boy opened his mouth to answer and paused. "I...I don't know."
Patting him on the shoulder, the old wizard said in a gentle voice, "Don't worry your head about it tonight, my boy. Holidays start in the morning and it's well past curfew already. Why don't you head off to your tower and get to bed. I'm sure your friends are worried about you." Sal watched as the boy gathered his things and walked tiredly out of the room. A small smile crossed his lips as he watched Harry unconsciously weave around several pieces of equipment that he should not have been able to sense. As the boy got to the door, the old wizard called out, "Don't worry yourself about Professor Snape, Harry It's not like he'll be staying the holidays with you."
Harry and his friends sat together quietly in their compartment as they rode back to London for the holidays. Draco, Hermione, and Neville had all tried to cheer the raven-haired boy up, but nothing they said seemed to break him from the funk he'd found himself in when he'd woke that morning.
His day had started far to early for his taste after the late-night workout he'd subjected himself to the previous evening. He'd gone down to the dungeons after releasing Hedwig to go and visit her family in South America. Though he'd miss her for the two weeks he'd be home, he knew that it would be a relief for Aunt Petunia. In the Potions Master's office, he helped pack some remaining potions that would be going to his aunt's house. He then followed behind the professor as they carried several heavy satchels down to Hogsmeade station.
His friends were still giving him the same curious stares that he'd received the night before when he'd come in so late. They had questioned him unsuccessfully as to where he'd gone after leaving the Potions classroom but the raven-haired boy had refused to share his secret, settling for grunting sullenly at them sullenly going to bed. In the compartment he seemed more than satisfied to keep to himself and did not participate at all with his friends' forced banter.
When they finally arrived at Kings Cross, Snape appeared at the door of their compartment and waited silently as the boy gathered his things to disembark. With a half-hearted wave of farewell, Harry wished everyone a Happy Christmas and allowed the Potions Master to guide him through the crowds and through the barrier separating Platform 9Â¾ from the rest of the station. The first smile of the day appeared on Harry's face as the familiar scent of his aunt's perfume reached his nose.
"Hi Aunt...oof!" The raven-haired boy had the breath knocked from him as Petunia swept him up in an unexpected and bone-crushing hug.
"There you are!" the woman cried with a voice breaking from emotion as she worked on squeezing the last breath from Harry's body. "You've grown so much in just a few months!" Finally releasing the boy, she pushed him back and studied him critically. "You do look a bit thin though...they are feeding you enough aren't they?"
"Yes, Aunt Petunia," the boy said with a grin, feeling really good for the first time in the last couple days.
Tuning Harry to face his cousin, his aunt said, "Say hello to Dudley."
Harry was deeply surprised when he focused his senses on his cousin. When he'd come through the barrier he'd had his inner eye closed, as long-term exposure to magical environments still gave him headaches. Now that he could sense the blond boy sitting in the wheelchair before him, he was stunned to see how much more healthy Dudley had become in the three and a half months since he'd left. Harry was completely gob-smacked, however, when his cousin rose unsteadily to his feet and stepped haltingly forward like a newborn colt. Dudley stumbled as he tried to make his way to Harry but the other boy sensed the danger and stepped forward to catch him before he fell.
"Happy Christmas, Harry," Dudley said as he gripped the other boy tightly for support. "I'm getting better...see?"
Straining slightly under the unaccustomed weight, the raven-haired boy could only nod as Petunia and Professor Snape came to his rescue by helping Dudley back to his wheelchair. "Wow, Dudds," said Harry finally. "I barely knew it was you; you're so much stronger!"
Fairly beaming with pride, his cousin answered, "Mum's been helping me exercise every day and Severus has been bringing medicine for me every Saturday since Halloween."
"Severus?" asked Harry in shock.
"Really Potter," said Snape irritably. "He isn't one of my students yet and since Petunia was already using my given name it seemed appropriate that he should too."
The boy's mouth gaped open and he allowed himself to be guided out of the station. The crisp December air ruffled the boy's hair and the welcome sounds of London in the holidays went unnoticed by Harry as something suddenly clicked in his head. "What do you mean he isn't one of your students /yet/?"
Petunia squeezed Harry's hand reassuringly as the professor led them to a deserted alleyway. "I'll explain everything to you in a moment, let's just get Dudders out of the weather."
"Mum..." said the blond boy. "I'm fine!"
Unnoticed by the other three, Professor Snape raised his wand hand in the air and was almost immediately greeted by a loud bang as a very magical triple-decker bus appeared with a flash before them. The door opened and a figure stepped out and began reciting a greeting as if he were reading it from a card.
"Welcome to the Knight Bus, emergency transport for the stranded witch or wizard. Just stick out your wand hand. Step on board and we'll take you anywhere you want to go. My name is Stan Shunpike and I'll be your conductor this afternoon."
Noticing his prospective passengers for the first time, Stan brightened and addressed them directly. "Hello Professor Snape, Stan Shunpike, class of 89. I don't know if you remember me but I remember you. There was this one class..."
"Mr. Shunpike," Snape said in a quite impatient tone. "Would you please help this boy get his luggage on board? We'll be going to Privet Drive in Surrey and the charges billed to Hogwarts."
The young conductor swallowed nervously, intimidated as much now by the Potions Master as he'd been in his first year. In short order, everyone was on the bus which had brass bedsteads in place of seats.
As soon as Dudley had been tucked in, Harry turned to his aunt and asked, "So what's this about Dudley? He couldn't have gotten a letter, he's already twelve."
"It came just after you left," Petunia explained as she pulled an envelope from her purse. "His name simply appeared in the school registry the very moment he woke up. Minerva said that it's the first time in memory that someone destined for Hogwarts didn't appear there from the moment of birth."
"He'll be coming to school then?" Harry asked.
"Oh not this term," his aunt said with a laugh. "But perhaps after next summer's break, if he's up to it."
"I will be!" came an excited and obstinate voice from the bed behind them.
"But what about how you feel about magic?" Harry took Petunia's hands in his own. "I know you're still uncomfortable with it all."
Returning his grip, she responded. "I've had to do some growing up this past year, Harry. We're part of a magical family and, whether or not I have it myself, I can't keep hiding from a world that touches everyone I care for."
Completely gob-smacked, Harry spent the rest of the bus ride in silence as the vehicle swerved in and out of traffic. From the waves of anxiety coming from his aunt he could tell that there was likely more news forthcoming and he probably wouldn't like it.
Snape, he could tell, was staring at him intently, radiating suspicion and curiosity. Dudley, on the other hand, was so anxious that he was beginning to breathe raggedly. Moving over to his cousin's bed, Harry asked worriedly, "Everything alright Dudds?"
"I don't like cars much," said the pale boy through clenched teeth.
"Try and relax," replied Harry comfortingly. "It's a magical bus, nothing can happen to us."
At that moment the driver took a sharp turn that had the bus balancing precariously on two wheels. Both boys grabbed each other in a terrified embrace.
"I think..." gulped the raven-haired boy.
Minutes later, after they'd been dropped off at Number 4 Privet Drive, Harry and Dudley sat together on the couch as Petunia and Professor Snape dealt with Harry's luggage.
"Harry," his aunt called from the top of the stairs. "You'll be staying with Dudley in his room. Severus has already fixed his bed so it will fit you both."
"Why can't I just stay in my own room?" Harry asked as he got up and made his way to the stairs.
There was a short pause before his aunt replied with a voice that he could barely hear. "Severus... Professor Snape will be using your room for the holidays."
The raven-haired boy stood motionless and gaped upwards towards the second floor landing. "What do you mean he'll be using it?"