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...
"I'm not really sure about this." Harry stood in the Room of Requirement with a wooden practice sword as he waited nervously for Sal's next swing. "Why do I have to learn sword fighting?"
The old wizard walked a lazy circle around the boy, swinging patterns in the air with his own padded weapon. "When did you start sensing non-magical objects, Harry? Right after Holidays, wasn't it? How far have you progressed since then?" Sal grinned at Harry's shrug. "We need to give your senses some kind of initiative to develop." This said, the old wizard flicked the practice sword out and swatted the boy's backside with it. "Now put up your guard and try to block me."
They spent the next hour going back and forth, with the raven-haired boy getting far more than he gave. When they finished, he flopped to his stomach on some nearby mats.
"Ooh," he groaned. "I won't be able to sit down for a week!"
Sal crouched beside his charge with a twinkle in his eye and asked, "So why don't you just heal yourself?"
Harry snorted with disgust, "Because I can't; you know that. My magic doesn't work on me."
"Harry..." began Sal as he watched the boy begin his cool down stretches. "I've been watching you and your friends. Something has changed between you since the holidays."
"I... I don't know what you mean."
"Yes, you do," replied Sal sharply. "When is the last time you said a civil word to Hermione or Neville; the last time you said anything at all?"
Harry mutely shrugged, no wanting to think about it.
"I don't know!" the boy screamed at Sal. Then in a weaker voice, he went on, "Whenever they're nearby, I'm thinking one thing and doing another." Flopping onto his back regardless of the pain it was bringing his tortured backside, Harry lay there with his hands covering his face. "I think I may be going insane."
"Where did you get that necklace?" Sal asked in a curious tone as he changed the subject. "You know that you're not supposed to bring magical items in here without my permission."
Caught up in his own thoughts, the boy didn't really hear the old man at first. "What? Oh, the necklace. It was a Christmas gift from Draco. It's got some kind of anti-theft charm on it because I can't take it off."
Running his fingers across its surface, Sal regarded the talisman with a thoughtful expression. Leaning back with a frown he asked, "Do you think you can talk Draco into coming with you for your training on Saturday?"
Harry paused. The old wizard had never asked to have any of the boy's friends here when he trained. After all their time here, he'd be become to think of this place as their own little secret. Still, Sal seemed to think it was important for the other boy to be here so reluctantly he agreed. "Yeah, I think so."
"Do it," Sal said with force. "I think he can tell us a lot about his little gift, likely more than you expect." Helping Harry to his feet, Sal urged, "Remember now, bring your friend with you next Saturday."
Exhausted, the boy moved weakly as he left the room. He had started on his way back to Merlin Tower when he quite literally bumped into Draco as the blond came skidding around a corner.
"What are you doing?" asked Harry as he picked the other boy up from the floor.
"Come on!" hissed Draco. "We've got to get out of here before..."
"Before you're caught by a professor, Mr. Malfoy?" came the clipped response from Professor McGonagall as she stepped out of the shadows. "What are you two doing out so late after curfew?
Thinking fast, Harry answered, "I got lost getting back to the tower this evening and Draco just found me."
Smirking mirthlessly, the Gryffindor professor disagreed. "Had this been your first month, I'd have believed such a story, Mr. Potter. However, it is quite well known that you know most of these corridors better than many of the sighted students. Your Heads of House will be notified and you'll be contacted when proper punishments have been set. Now follow me and I'll return you both to your dormitory."
They arrived at Merlin house and the portrait had just swung open to admit the boys when Mr. Filch arrived with three very frightened students following him: Ron, Hermione, and Neville.
"Excuse me, Professor," said the caretaker. "I found these three sneaking about the Astronomy Tower after curfew."
Seeing the three new rule breakers seemed to put McGonagall into an even worse mood. Harry winced as he waited for her temper to explode and it wasn't long in coming.
"I am disgusted. Five students out of bed, and three of them affiliated with my own house." Hermione attempted to speak up, trying to explain why they would be out of the tower, but the professor held up her hand and declared, "Not a word, Miss Granger. I've no idea what foolishness would have you out at this hour and I really don't care. Fifty points will be taken from your respective houses-"
"Professor!" cried Ron in horror.
"Each! You'll also serve detention with Mr. Filch... all of you," she said, wiping the smirk off Draco's face. "I will clear it with your Heads of House. Now get to bed before you get into even more trouble."
Silently, Draco, Harry and Neville entered the Merlin boy's dormitory and changed into their nightclothes. Lying in his bed, Harry turned over in Draco's direction and asked, "What were you doing out so late, Draco?"
"Nothing," the other boy replied. "It's not important. What were you doing out?"
"We'll talk about that tomorrow," promised the boy, "Now, goodnight."
The rest of the week went a bit too quickly for Harry's tastes. Their detention with Mr. Filch had been set for Friday and the days until then seemed to be flying by. Exams were coming and he had to really buckle down to make sure and score highly in theory as he was still having difficulty on the practical in many of his classes.
On his way to the library one day, he ran across Professor Quirrell coming out of an empty classroom nearly in tears. As he approached, he'd thought that there had been two voices coming from inside, but when he went in he found nothing but an open door on the far side of the room.
Friday finally came, and Harry found himself waiting in the entry hall with Hermione, Ron, Draco and Neville as they stood in two small groups waiting for Mr. Filch. All of them were afraid, Harry could tell. Even among the first years, stories of the caretaker's detentions were a horrid legend.
Draco, edgy already, looked as if he would begin hurling insults at Hermione at any moment. He'd been merciless with that entire group since holidays ended, but the majority of his abuse seemed directed at the bushy haired girl. It had been so bad several times that Hermione could be seen running towards the girls bathrooms with tears streaming down her face.
What surprised Harry most about it all was that, though he had instigated each exchange, Draco would be anything but happy when he got her to break down. For hours after one of their squabbles he would walk around in a really foul mood and kick things.
Anything that the blond might have planned to say to Hermione this evening would have to wait, however, as Filch finally arrived to escort them to their detention.
"Follow me," the old man said through his crooked teeth as he lit a lamp and led them out of the castle. "I bet you'll think twice before breaking school rules again," he went on. "Still, it's a shame they let the old ways die. I think a week hanging by your wrists in the dungeons would do a world of good."
Harry wasn't really listening to the old man's words. He'd been distracted when he'd felt Hedwig settle on his shoulders and begin tickling his ear. At least he would have one trouble-free companion this evening.
By the direction they were traveling, Harry guessed that they were probably headed towards Hagrid's hut. The boy's suspicions were confirmed when he heard the half-giant's gravelly voice call out, "That you Filch? Hurry up, I want ter get started."
Harry smiled; he was glad to be doing his detention with the big man, but the caretaker obviously had some inkling what the boy was thinking.
"I suppose you think you'll be enjoying yourself tonight," said Filch with glee. "Think again boy! It's into the forest you'll be going, and if I'm not mistaken, not all of you will be coming back whole."
"The forest?" choked Draco as he froze in his tracks.
Harry had also heard what sounded like whimpers coming from both Ron and Neville.
"We can't go in there," continued the blond. "I've heard there's things in there like...werewolves!"
"And spiders," moaned Ron.
The caretaker smiled wickedly, "Maybe you should've thought about that before you got in trouble."
"Abou' time," said Hagrid as he came lumbering out of the shadows with Fang at his side. He was carrying a huge crossbow and had a quiver of arrows hung over his shoulder. Smiling grimly, the great man nodded to each of the children.
"I'll be back at dawn," said Filch evilly. "For whatever is left." With that, he turned and headed back up towards the castle, his lantern bobbing in the darkness.
"Right then," grunted Hagrid as he turned back to the children. "What we're doin' tonight is dangerous... er Harry," he said looking a bit uncomfortable. "Maybe yeh can wait here for us... I mean, well yeh know what I mean."
"Hardly," Harry growled. "I've already spent the better part of a night alone in that forest before. I'm not afraid of it and my ears are probably better than your eyes in catching anything trying to sneak up on us."
Hagrid looked distinctly happy and more than little proud at the boy's statement as he led them into the woods without further protest. "There's a unicorn that's been hurt out here somewhere," he said, "and we're gonna find it."
"How do you know?" asked Harry as he held on to Draco's shoulder and followed him. Thanks to his exercises with Sal, the boy could sense a lot more of the world around him, but he wasn't totally confident in it yet. Hagrid, at the front of the group, suddenly stopped and knelt to the ground.
"Look here," the half-giant said as he stuck his finger into a small puddle of silvery liquid on the ground. "This is unicorn blood. Th' poor beast has been through here in the last few hours but I'm not sure which way it went. That means we're gonna split up. Harry, you and Hermione come with me. Malfoy, Ron and Neville, you follow the trail that way."
"I want Fang then," said Draco.
"Fine," answered the groundskeeper. "Just so yeh know, he's a bloody coward."
Harry and Hermione walked quietly behind the half-giant for a time. Harry, having finally worked up the nerve, to apologize, said, "Hermione, I'm sorry for not talking to you, I know it sounds odd but I really haven't been feeling like myself since Christmas."
Pretending to not even hear him, the girl kept walking with her nose in the air. Harry had been afraid of this; things had gone on badly for so long, it wasn't all that likely she'd ever forgive him. Truth be told, he didn't blame her a bit. He was about to try again when he turned at a distant and barely audible shout. The next thing he knew, the forest was lit by flying sparks in the distance.
"The signal!" cried Hermione. "They must have found something!"
"Stay here," rumbled Hagrid as he ran off into the woods.
They stood quietly for a time, feeling a bit more anxious by the moment. Harry had just decided to go looking for the others when the groundskeeper appeared followed by and embarrassed Neville as well as Ron and Draco, though the two boys seemed a bit more battered and bruised than when they'd left.
"What happened?" asked Harry when they were all together.
"Seems Malfoy took it on himself ter sneak up on poor Neville when he wasn' looking and grabbed hold of 'im." Hagrid explained. "Poor boy was so scared he went and threw up the sparks. When I got there Ron 'n Malfoy were on the ground thrashin each other."
The two boys had squared off and looked ready to go at it again when Hagrid reached in and physically separated them. "That's it," he said. "We're just goin to have to keep you two apart. Ron, you an' Neville come with me. Harry, you Hermione and Draco go that way.
Both Ron and Draco seemed ready to protest but a hard look from Hagrid kept them quiet. Soon enough the two groups were on their way again. As they followed the trail, Draco became steadily more belligerent towards Hermione and after one particularly hard shove, the girl just snapped.
"Draco Malfoy, how could you?" she snarled. "We were your friends! What could have possibly happened to turn you into such an insufferable git?"
Malfoy, who'd slowly been backing away from the girl as she vented her anger, began to turn quite red in the face and growled back at her, "Why do you ask?" Turning to Harry, he questioned, "You didn't tell her did you?" When Harry shook his head mutely, the blond turned back to Hermione and said angrily, "Father knew about us being friends when I got home for Christmas. Do you know what he did when it came up? My being chummy with a Mudblood? He beat me. Not once, but daily. He would come to my room and ask if I was still planning on palling about with you and your kind. Every time I said yes he tied my hands to the bedpost and whipped me with his cane until I passed out. Do you know what's stupid? At the time I really thought it was worth all the pain."
Hermione, her face white, stepped back from the blond boy in horror. He followed her, however, now that he had a chance to vent his frustrations.
"It was all futile, you know. On Christmas Eve, Father came to me and said if he couldn't beat me into staying away from the 'Muggle trash,' then he'd keep the trash away from me."
Hermione flinched as the suspicion Draco was planting in her brain came to full bloom.
"It's all my fault you know, you and your parents getting hurt. Being stubborn nearly got you killed. When we found out the next day you'd survived my father's fire-sprite, he just shrugged his shoulders and said 'there's always tomorrow.' He said that he'd spare no expense for my friends He forced me to make a choice then, whether I want you more alive and hating me than dead as a friend. I don't know if I want to have to chose anymore."
Totally spent and not willing to look up into the face of the girl that had once been his friend, Draco turned and stomped further ahead. Harry took a step towards Hermione, wanting to comfort her but just like before, he spun around and ran after Draco. He'd barely gotten a few steps before he ran into the other boy's back. They stood at the edge of a small clearing. At the far end lay the crumpled form of a unicorn. As Harry watched, the last of her life force was slowly ebbing away.
"Oh god, Quicksilver!"
Harry took two halting steps forward to help but froze as a cloaked figure scuttled out of the underbrush and approached the fallen unicorn. Quicksilver raised her head and a single powerful image was thrust into the boy's head before the figure began to feed at the wound in her flank and the light in her eyes died forever.
Hermione had just arrived to see the unicorn's final collapse and the three of them stood trembling in fear. Unable to stand it any further, Draco screamed, grabbed Hermione by the hand and dragged her away as he ran in panic. Harry was rooted to the spot in horror as the hooded figure, who possessed a slightly familiar aura tinged with something -evil, got up and stalked quickly towards him. Hedwig, sensing imminent danger to her master, became visible and reared up as she prepared to defend him.
A terrible pain suddenly shot through his scar. Harry clapped a hand on his head and staggered back as the sound of approaching hooves filled his ears. Out of nowhere, the form of a giant horse flew over his head and landed between him and the ghoulish thing. Rearing up, it frightened away the attacker, whatever it might have been.
Harry, in turn, now gaped in wonder at the beast before him. It wasn't a horse at all, though it had the body of one. From where its neck should've started rose the upper body of a man. This was a centaur, and Harry knew he was safe, as Hedwig had relaxed on his shoulders again.
"Greetings youngling," said the great beast as he lowered his weapons. "I am Firenze." There was a short pause and Harry knew instinctively that Firenze was studying him. "You are the Harry Potter. Come with me...the woods are not safe at night to be alone, especially for one such as you."
The boy took the Centaur's hand and was pulled up onto its back. Firenze turned and prepared to leap into motion when Harry suddenly remembered the vision sent to him by Quicksilver.
"Wait!" he cried. "We need to do something first!" Reaching out with his senses, he located what he'd been looking for. "That way," he pointed. "There's another clearing about fifty yards that way."
Firenze looked at the boy oddly, but turned and followed his directions regardless. A short time later, they came into a small glade. Harry slid to the ground and slowly approached a small stand of bushes as he cooed comforting words. Kneeling down, he pulled the bushes aside and exposed a tiny colt with the beginnings of a horn, barely a nub, growing out of its head.
Harry knelt patiently, gently stroking the young unicorn until it trusted him enough to be led out into the open. The boy did his best to keep the colt from becoming too agitated as he checked it over.
"It's alright boy, I understand. I lost my mum when I was little too." Turning to Firenze, Harry explained, "This is Silverbolt, his mum hid him here from that... thing. Do you think you could..."
"We will look after the little one until he is ready to be on his own," answered the centaur with a grim smile. "After all, he is now marked as you are."
"What do you mean?"
"You've said it yourself," replied Firenze. "What lies hidden at Hogwarts?"
"What--oh, you mean the Philosopher's Stone."
"And who do you know of that would seek that out? Who would hold on to life long enough to attempt stealing it for their return?"
Cringing a bit, Harry answered, "Voldemort."
A crashing could be heard from nearby, and then Hagrid came charging out of the underbrush, nearly scaring the young unicorn into bolting.
"Harry," cried the groundskeeper in relief. "Malfoy and Hermione came back babbling something about a monster."
"It's gone now" replied the boy. "The unicorn is in a clearing that way," said Harry, pointing vaguely. "Do you think we can go back to the castle now? I'm done."
A little over an hour later, everyone was back in their respective tower. Hermione and Draco still weren't talking but both were wearing serious, thoughtful expressions on their faces. Harry lay with Hedwig curled around his head on the pillow and he gently stroked her feathers as he thought of what he'd learned that day. Sleep was a long time in coming for Harry Potter.