The Road to Hell
Chapter 3: Recurring Nightmares
Witches and wizards appeared throughout the crowded lobby. Some cued up before the receptionist whilst others seated themselves on the rickety old chairs spread around the room. An unlucky few appeared with shouts of pain and collapsed to the floor, where they lay until someone wearing blue robes rushed in their direction.
Everything about the lobby put him on edge and made him feel like he was about to be attacked.
The feeling that he was being watched distracted him from his wariness. A pair of blue eyes studied him from across the room. Harry met them and Aberforth nodded, gesturing for him to follow as he turned.
“Congratulations,” he said when Harry had caught up, “I’ve written up my last report on you and told the high-ups you can function.
“Was that why you were late?”
“No. I won’t get much rest today.”
“They like making trouble around the 4th of July.”
Harry frowned. “That was weeks ago.”
“Things got out of hand this year. All it’s done since then is get messier.”
“Why would Americans be sent here? That’s a long way to travel, isn’t it?”
“How many mind healers do you think there are?” Aberforth asked as they stepped into the same room Harry had spent four days in.
“No idea. I don’t remember anything about them.”
“There aren’t many of us. I can’t think of another who’s been doing it as long as me. It’s new, in the grand scheme of things.”
Aberforth being a mind healer still felt strange, it was like if Crabbe or Goyle had taken up a quill and made a living writing poetry.
What had changed? What could make a grumpy bartender spend his life healing others’ minds?
“It destroyed her, what they did. She was never right again. She wouldn’t use magic, but she couldn’t get rid of it; it turned inward and drove her mad, it exploded out of her when she couldn’t control it, and at times she was strange and dangerous. But mostly she was sweet and scared and harmless.”
If Dumbledore and Grindelwald were still united, their duel must not have happened. Ariana might still be alive. How many ripples were there?
Aberforth rummaged through a stack of paper, drawing out a sheet and flipping it so it could be read. It was a long report scrawled in a cramped and wild hand. “Don’t make me regret writing that, I don’t like looking stupid.”
“You won’t try, boy, you’ll do.”
“People won’t take it well if you bluster around, mumbling about bars they’ve never heard of or saying that my brother’s dead.”
“Good.” He looks tense. “Take extra care, you hear?”
“I just said I would.”
“No, you said you wouldn’t mumble like a halfwit. I’m telling you to take care.”
“Take care of what?”
“Yourself.” Aberforth looked around the room. “Everything’s connected. Nothing happens the high-ups don’t know about — they don’t miss much.”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that not mumbling won’t be enough. You still get all wide-eyed at things you don’t expect. You gotta be careful. If the wrong folk catch you all baffled too many times, they might get interested.” A shadow passed across his face. “When people like my brother get interested in someone, they don’t end up better for it.”
A loud crack shattered the still air and scattered birds from their branches. They took wing, dipping through rustling leaves and up into a deep blue sky.
The heat retreated some when the trees closed in around him. It was a dry heat that left his throat parched and made the grass crunch and crackle underfoot.
Leaves swayed up ahead as sound drifted through a gap in the trees. He paused and listened. Two voices came from beyond the brambles, familiar but muffled.
He peered through a gap in the branches and spied a wash of silver vapour.
Lily grunted. “I never expected this spell to be so hard.
“There is a reason it’s not taught at Hogwarts,” said Prince.
“Is that why you’re not trying? Because it’s not taught at Hogwarts and you know you can’t do it?”
Harry could not see Prince’s face, but he could imagine his twisted sneer. “I’m not interested. It’s a useless spell — dementors haven’t been seen off Azkaban since before the Surrender. There are better ways I can spend my time.”
“Suit yourself.” Lily raised her wand. “Expecto Patronum!” The same silver vapour streamed from its tip.
“Someone’s watching.” Prince’s voice cracked like a whip. “There, just past the trees.”
Harry ducked through the branches, stepping into a shaded clearing containing a gnarled stump and the bickering pair he had been spying on.
Lily ignored her friend’s scowl and beamed. “Harry! How was your visit to St. Mungo’s?”
“It went well. My entry exam results came in and I’m cleared to take all my preferred classes.”
“How did you score?” Prince asked.
“Well in all the wanded subjects. I could have done better in potions and the theory-based classes, but I got in.”
“Which classes are you taking?” Lily asked. “You weren’t decided the last time we talked about it.”
“Charms, defence, transfiguration, history, warding, alchemy, and spell creation.” I’m going to need that last one if I ever want to get home — unless I somehow find the scythe.
Lily smiled. “We’ll probably be in a lot of the same classes.”
“Alchemy, but not potions?”
I might have taken potions had you focused more on teaching and less on making my life miserable. “I figured my workload was heavy enough already.”
“Potions wouldn’t have been the class I left off that list.”
Harry’s eye twitched. “I’ve never been great at potions and I don’t plan to use them much after Hogwarts unless I need to.”
“It doesn’t really matter,” Lily jumped in. She was beginning to realize that he and Prince would never be friends. “The important thing is that you passed all the exams.”
“It’s good to have them done.” There had never been a doubt that he would breeze through the practicals, but he’d had little need for theory these past seven years and it had never been a strength of his. Not that I ever had a fair shot, what with Voldemort fucking up every school year.
He wondered what the bastard was doing now that he was gone. High, cold laughter filled his thoughts. He’s probably won.
“Either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives.”
His stomach clenched, the sound of laughter replaced by a hundred desperate pleas. It’s my fault; all of it is my fault…
“Harry?” He found himself staring into a familiar pair of eyes. “Are you okay?”
He crushed the guilt and forced himself to smile. They’ll survive; they’ll just have to survive. “Sorry, I just spaced out again.”
“The healers did say that would stop happening once you finished processing everything, didn’t they?”
He scratched at the back of his neck. “I guess I’m just not done processing.” How could I ever be done? How could I ever get used to all this?
The world was buzzing by the time the emperors marched through America. Supporters amassed by the emperors made bids for power, but Europe sat back and waited.
This example was quoted numerous times by Grindelwald in the years to come — “Europe has grown complacent and thus become stagnant,” he said, “great changes are needed for the sake of progress.”
Those changes came across the ocean in 1929, when America fell on December 17th. Cities had burned and muggles had seen — the Statute of Secrecy was broken and Europe could no longer sit back and watch.
Harry shook his head, unable to imagine what it was like the day the statute fell.
Grindelwald was right. That same complacency had doomed Europe when Voldemort took over.
The door banged open behind him. “I did it!” Lily cried, rushing towards him, Prince lurking just behind her.
“I’m Head Girl! The Hogwarts letters just came in!”
Right, Hogwarts. How different was Hogwarts? Who were the professors? Had the houses changed?
Houses… oh, Merlin.
The memory of a tattered old hat whispered in his ear. “You could be great, you know, it’s all here in your head, and Slytherin will help you on the way to greatness, no doubt about that…”
It was wrong! No one like Voldemort could ever be great.
“Did you hear me?” Lily asked, waving the yellow envelope in his face. “I’m Head Girl, Harry! Head Girl!”
“Congratulations.” She beamed. “Does it say who the Head Boy is?”
“No.” Some of the excitement leaked out of her. “So long as it isn’t Potter; I’m not sure I could stand working with that toerag.”
Streams of water rolled down the window as the train began moving. It had finally stopped raining, but he doubted that the pause would last long. The train picked up speed and squat buildings began flashing past the rain-soaked glass.
I’m not sure what feels weirder — being back on the train or sitting across from teenaged Snape. Prince had his face buried in a book. Long, dark hair tumbled past his eyes as his hooked nose hovered just inches from the page. I definitely know which feels more awkward. Lily was usually their buffer, but she was leading the prefects’ meeting in a different compartment.
Something flapped around inside his stomach. My dad’s probably in that compartment too; Sirius is on the train, so is Remus.
The compartment door slid open and three boys stepped inside. He recognized the one in front and seeing him again set his blood to boil.
“New friend, Severus?” asked Walden Macnair, Buckbeak’s would-be executioner.
Prince looked up from his book. “More Lily’s than mine.”
“Another one from the haven?” one of the boys behind Macnair asked.
The final boy scowled. “He looks like Potter’s doppelgänger.”
“He is right here, you know.” Harry had grown tired of them conversing like he was absent. It reminded him of Vernon and Petunia.
All three of Prince’s friends stared at him. “Is this some kind of trick?” Macnair asked.
Prince yawned. “I don’t doubt that Potter would pull something like ambushing me with a doppelgänger, but I’ve seen him all summer and it’s no glamour.”
Harry’s patience waned. “Can you lot clear out or stop pretending I’m not here?”
The boys exchanged looks. “Sorry,” said the second, “it would be like Potter to sneak some lookalike into a compartment with Severus.” The boy stepped forward and offered up his hand. “Marcus Avery.”
A sudden chill came over Harry; the chill of ice so cold it burned. Death Eater. “Harry Kalloway.”
“Let’s leave Kalloway to his musings,” said Avery, stepping back towards the door.
“You coming, Severus?”
Prince hesitated, but he set his book aside and followed the others from the room.
Squat buildings gave way to sprawling fields as the train left London and rocketed through the English countryside. Autumn leaves covered sodden grass, a wash of orange against a bleak backdrop of rain that had renewed its pounding.
The trolley came and went, but Harry bought nothing. There was no trust fund here, no vault of his filled with heaping piles of gold and silver.
The sound of laughter drifted under the compartment’s door a few hours after lunch, proceeding the return of Lily.
She was joined by two girls he had never seen before.
No, not never.
He recognized the tallest of the three, with her black hair and brown eyes. He had seen her once, staring out from a photograph of Moody’s.
“How has your day been?” Lily asked him once she had recovered from her laughter.
He put down his book. “Quiet. I’ve mostly just been reading.”
“I hope you don’t mind if the rest of it is a little louder.”
“I was getting a bit bored anyway.” He never had been able to sit and read for hours like Hermione or Lily.
“These are my friends, Mary and Marlene.”
“It’s nice meeting you,” Marlene offered her hand whilst the small brunette held back.
“How was the meeting?” he asked once everyone was settled.
Lily’s smile vanished. “It was going just fine until the head prat showed up.”
“So Potter got the Head Boy badge?” His surname tasted foreign on his tongue.
“I don’t know what anyone’s thinking giving it to him!” Lily seethed. “He’s spent the last six years being a no-good bully and now they’re making him Head Boy!”
Mary chewed her lip. “He wasn’t as bad last year.”
“He wasn’t as bad for the second half, but only after he got caught doing something awful.”
Luring Prince into the Shrieking Shack, probably. Served the traitor right. “What did he do?”
“I have no idea, but it was bad. Potter and his friends looked down for days. I just know it involved Sev somehow, but he said he’d promised the headmaster not to say.”
“Maybe it made him grow a bit,” Mary suggested. “Maybe it was a reality check.”
“I’m not sure if Potter’s in touch enough with reality to have it checked.”
Footsteps came from outside and the door slid open yet again. “Talking about me, Evans?”
Harry’s breath hitched; he had seen his father before, but this was different. Always there had been a degree of separation, whether it was the mirror, the stone, or the pensieve.
Sirius wore a knife-thin smile on his lips and Pettigrew lurked behind them, but there was no sign of Remus.
No getting too attached, this is all temporary.
Lily crossed her arms. “Go away, Potter.”
“You sounded a lot more interested a minute ago.”
“You two better learn to get along,” drawled Sirius. “You’ll be working together all year. It’s for the betterment of the school, is that not a noble cause?”
“If anyone cared about the betterment of the school, they’d have made sure Potter never got that badge.”
“That’s why I have you, Evans. You’ll make sure to keep me straight.”
“I am not babysitting you! If you are incapable of your responsibilities, I expect you to hand in that badge yourself.”
Harry cleared his throat. Watching his parents argue made his skin crawl.
All eyes swivelled towards him. “I don’t—”
“Language, Black!” Lily snapped.
James had noticed too; both he and Sirius were staring at Harry like he had fallen from the stars.
Here goes nothing. “I’m guessing you’re James Potter. I’ve been told we look alike.”
“Who are you?”
“I’ve never heard that name. You sure you’re not a cousin or something?”
Lily sniffed. “If you two are related, someone got the short end of the stick.”
James ignored her. He must really be surprised. “You are a newbie, right? I think I’d have recognized someone so dashing years ago.”
Harry smiled up at James from his seat. “Yeah, I’m new this year.”
“You’re a seventh year?” He nodded. “Weird. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a seventh-year newbie.”
Unease curdled in his stomach. “I don’t remember much before July.”
“What?” squeaked Pettigrew. “How’s that possible?”
“Dunno. I woke up in St. Mungo’s and didn’t remember a thing other than my name and some random details here and there. They did some background checks and think my parents died somewhere near where they found me.”
It was the best story he could put forth. There would be questions and holes could be poked, but keeping it so vague avoided missteps and ensured nothing he said could be disproven.
James exchanged a bashful look with Sirius. “Bloody hell. Sorry about all that, mate, you must be in a right state trying to work everything out.”
“I think it’s easier not remembering than it would be if I remembered.”
Sirius grimaced. “That’s dark, and I usually like dark.”
Lily clicked her tongue. “Now that you boys have had your fun and pestered Harry, can you run off? We were talking before you barged in.”
James opened his mouth, but Sirius laid a hand on his arm. “Sure thing, Evans,” he said with a wink. “Nice meeting you, Kalloway.”
Harry’s eyes were tingling as the compartment door slid shut. No getting too attached!
A thousand candles glowed beneath a ceiling wrought with churning clouds. Sheets of rain fell but never reached the four long tables or the golden plates. Hundreds of heads turned in his direction but they all blurred together. All but two, both sitting at the table swathed in scarlet.
Slughorn waddled towards the four-legged stool. Being greeted by him and not McGonagall had been strange. All sorts of things have changed.
“When I call your name,” Slughorn boomed, “please come up to the stool and put on the hat.” He looked down at the list of names, his jowls quivering. “Applebee, Johnathan.”
A scrawny, red-haired boy scrambled forward.
Harry let the names bleed together and studied each house table. The absence of Weasley-red hair felt wrong. Lucius Malfoy must have already graduated, his blond locks were missing from the Slytherin table. Some faces were familiar. There was a Hufflepuff girl who looked like Hannah Abbott, and at the Ravenclaw table, he thought he spotted both Xenophilius Lovegood and a young Gilderoy Lockhart.
The hat was still too large, but this time it only half-covered his eyes.
Interesting, it said inside his head, very interesting. Harry was struck by déjà vu. Yes, it’s as strange for me as it is for you.
Ice dripped through his veins. They’re just—
Memories? Oh yes, I see that, but they’re no fakes. You can’t fool me, Mister Potter.
His heart raced. I guess you wouldn’t be so useful if you couldn’t tell which memories happened and which were just dreams.
No, that would be quite the mess. Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me. I believe in choices.
Choices? What do choices have to do with anything?
Choices are everything, and I think yours will be important soon enough.
Not to you they won’t. I’m leaving once I find out how.
I fear that day may never come.
I’ll work it out,
Do not hinge your hopes on that.
He smothered the pit of feeling in his stomach; this hat would not get to him, not like it had back when he was a boy. So if you believe in choices, will you let me pick Gryffindor again?
You would still do well in Slytherin, but the choice is clearer now than it was when you were a boy. That felt like a lie. Surprised? The hat chuckled. How many of your choices have been to further yourself or your ambitions? Harry had no answer. That’s what I thought. Actions versus intentions, Mister Potter, sometimes they must be judged separately.
He considered that.
I hope you’ll find answers on your path, a path beginning in “GRYFFINDOR!”
“Good job, Harry!” Lily squealed when he sat down.
He only realized that the sorting had concluded when the hall fell quiet. He looked up towards the staff table, from whose centre rose…
There was no mistaking Tom Riddle, not with his dark hair or handsome face, and certainly not with that too pale skin of his.
What the fuck is he doing here?
“The odd thing about recurring dreams is that, no matter how many times you dream the same thing, it always takes you by surprise.”
— David Small
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