Author's Note: This story will be another where Harry is in pain, like my Golden Dreams one-shot “The Kiss.” However, this will be different because no one knows of his pain. He's hiding it too well.
Chapter 1: Rita's Truth
Harry blinked open bleary eyes as the fog cleared from his mind. For once in his life, his dreams had been inconsequential. However, it was the waking world that posed the problem. Or rather, it was all of the time his true love had been spending patrolling with Ron that posed the problem. Everyone said the world had regained its balance when Ron and Lavender had broken up, and they said it was cute and sweet that Hermione had stuck by him through it all, loving him relatively silently.
No one ever noticed that Harry's heart shattered into billions of tiny pieces whenever Hermione glanced in Ron's direction. Of course they never noticed: they thought it was simply adorable that he had found love with his best friend's little sister.
Harry felt terrible about the whole fiasco that someone might call a “troubled life.” The only things he felt that had gone right for him were his surprising aptitudes for flying and Occlumency, and Hermione's friendship. Except...he loved her more than life itself. He had thought they were getting closer during fifth year, and he'd had every intention of finally declaring his undying love for her at the beginning of this year, but she had started to show marked interest in Ron.
He was a monster. He felt truly horrible for what he'd done. He hadn't been thinking clearly, and so had ruined one of his friendships, probably beyond repair. The rubber band that had been his unending love for and devotion to Hermione Granger had snapped, rocketing him into a vicious rebound with the speed of the Knight Bus. But he never stopped loving Hermione, even when the rubber band snapped; he loved her more with every breath she took. It was just, Ginny had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, and she had been the target of his rebound.
He knew he needed to break things off with Ginny, and tell the poor girl the truth. He knew it would hurt her, but staying with her and letting her continue to believe that he loved her would hurt her worse in the long run. He turned over in his bed, pummeling the pillow he imagined was Ron before blanking down his emotions for another day in hell.
Harry spent most of that day the same way he spent every other one: avoiding his “friends.” Ginny was simply amused by this, and took pleasure out of trying to track him down for more kissing. She thought it was all a game, never realizing that each time she found him on top of a high tower he had been longing to throw himself from the heights and end this farce that normal people called “life.”
“Harry,” Ginny said when she found him making his way down from the Astronomy Tower, “Dumbledore wants to see you. He's in his office and he said it's urgent.”
Harry nodded and was about to sweep past her when she grabbed his arm. “If there's anything wrong, you'll tell me, won't you?” she asked.
“There's always something wrong,” Harry whispered. “I've gotta go, but we'll talk when I get back. I've been meaning to do that, but I keep chickening out.”
“I'll wait for you,” Ginny promised, letting go of him.
“You don't need to do that.”
“You're my boyfriend, in case you've forgotten,” Ginny reminded him, her tone turning frosty.
Harry gave her a look that said 'please let it go' and walked away, leaving Ginny grumbling behind him. On his way to Dumbledore's office, he passed the Room of Requirement. Out of habit he looked to see if Crabbe and Goyle were keeping a look-out for Malfoy again that night, but instead saw nothing. Either dear old Draco was inside without lookouts, which was foolhardy, and therefore something he would do, or the room was empty.
He turned the corner and walked right into Snape. The sneer jumped to the so-called teacher's face so fast Harry wondered if he'd been born sneering. That must have given the poor Healers who delivered him a nasty surprise, he thought, sneering right back at the hateful man. Then Snape almost grinned, giving Harry the only warning he needed. The teen threw up his best shields instantly, deflecting Snape's mental probe right back at him.
A much younger Severus Snape knelt before a tall cloaked figure who radiated evil. “My Lord, I have just overheard a prophecy given to Dumbledore by an applicant for the Divination position at Hogwarts. The overgrown insect said that one with the power to defeat you would be born in July to parents who have defied you three times.”
Voldemort said nothing, but Snape could obviously tell that the Dark Lord's silence did not mean the messenger would be killed...this time. “The Potters are expecting a child in July, as well as the Longbottoms.”
“The Longbottoms are no threat to me,” Voldemort hissed. “But Potter is a different story. That family has always been much too close to Dumbledore.”
Snape grabbed Harry by the front of his robes and forced him against the wall. “You dare enter my mind, Potter?” he snarled, ice cold fury dripping from every syllable. Harry schooled his features like he'd been doing all year. “If you will recall, Professor, I am not blessed with the ability to wander into people's minds at will,” Harry said softly, attempting to pry the metal spikes Snape called fingers off his neck.
Snape released him, but the look of suspicion did not go away. Harry lowered his gaze so as to hide the anger this latest revelation had sparked. “May I go now? The Headmaster is waiting for me.”
“Go,” Snape snarled, “and next time, watch where you're going.”
“I will,” Harry said. “Next time you walk into me, I'll be ready for it.” He walked away before Snape could comprehend the meaning of the thinly veiled threat.
“Harry, I believe I have located another Horcrux,” Dumbledore said, not turning from his window. Harry said nothing, and Dumbledore finally turned to look at him. “Harry? What's wrong?” He got the sneaking suspicion that he needed to keep Harry with him that night, or terrible things would happen. He attempted to probe Harry's mind, expecting to meet little or no resistance.
“Nothing,” Harry said stiffly, hurt by the probe.
“Do not attempt to lie to me, Harry,” Dumbledore said. “I can see that something has upset you.”
“Why do you trust Snape?” Harry asked, his green eyes flashing in rage and pain. “He was the one who overheard the prophecy and told Voldemort. You let him teach here and he was the one who sent Voldemort after my parents!”
“You don't understand, Harry,” Dumbledore said soothingly. “He had no choice. He was still in Lord Voldemort's employ at the time-”
“He never left!” Harry shouted, waking the portraits who were only pretending to sleep. Dumbledore continued undaunted.
“He had no way of knowing it would be your parents Voldemort would choose,” the aged Headmaster said firmly. “As soon as he found out, he came to me. He warned me about what was afoot, and said he didn't want anything to happen to your parents.”
“Don't feed me that bullshit excuse!” Harry snapped, his control now wavering dangerously. “He hated my parents, my father! Haven't you ever tried to read his mind like you just tried to read mine? Do you want him to kill you?” Harry met his eyes and whispered, “When he tries to kill you, I will stop him. I promise you.”
Dumbledore reeled back, surprised by the tone of Harry's voice. By the steely determination in it. It was the determination of a man who had essentially given up on a task but couldn't let it go. Unfortunately, he didn't hear Harry's unspoken cry of pain 'I just wish he'd kill me and be done with it.' Harry stood there, breathing hard, and trying to regain control over his emotions.
“Well, as I was saying, I believe I have found another Horcrux, and my offer to take you with me still stands.”
“Respectfully, sir, you couldn't keep me from following you,” Harry said firmly, and with the same steely determination with which he had denounced Snape a moment ago. “Since you're bound and determined to leap headfirst into unknown danger, someone needs to watch your back.”
“Very touching, Harry,” Dumbledore said, surprised again. “Go get your Cloak, and meet me at the front doors.”
Harry nodded, not informing the Headmaster that he kept his Invisibility Cloak with him at all times. He rushed off for Gryffindor Tower.
Harry had almost decided not to give Ron and Hermione the Felix Felicis he had won at the beginning of the year, but he did anyway. There was nothing he wouldn't do for Hermione, though he did consider killing Ron and then himself. He had told them to share it with Ginny and whoever else they could rustle up from the DA, and he had asked them to say good-bye to Ginny for him. He had been hoping that perhaps something would go wrong and he could die protecting Dumbledore, or something. But so far, nothing had.
They had reached the cave, Dumbledore had discovered the way inside, and now they were staring at each other over the bowl of glowing green poison. “There is no other way,” Dumbledore stated, as though they had been discussing ways to reach the locket in the bottom of the bowl. “I need to drink this potion until it is gone. I imagine I will need your help to do that, Harry.”
“How about this idea,” Harry began, carefully keeping his inner turmoil hidden, “I drink this stuff and you grab the locket.”
“No,” Dumbledore said quickly and firmly. “I will not let you sacrifice yourself. You can still go on to do great things, but I am an old man and dying anyway.”
“So am I,” Harry whispered, his voice barely audible over the lap of water on the stony shore, but Dumbledore heard him.
“What do you mean, Harry, that you're dying?” Dumbledore sounded deeply concerned and Harry nearly broke right there. The old man came around the pool to put his good arm around the younger man's shoulders in comfort. “Harry? What do you mean?”
Harry noticed that Dumbledore actually sounded afraid, and dare he believe it, not for Harry as the Chosen One, but as a person. It had been so long since someone who'd cared about him had held him in any way...
“You said once that I was never much good at Occlumency,” he began, his voice sounding small. “The truth is, I'm very good at it. After Sirius died, I practiced more on my own. I've been blocking you out all year.”
“Why would you do that?” Dumbledore asked, gently lowering Harry to the ground as though he were dying from some disease like cancer, not a broken heart. “Don't you trust me to help you?”
“I trust you too much,” Harry admitted. “I knew that if you suspected what was going on, you'd start hovering over me and stop worrying about everyone else.”
“What is going on, then?” Dumbledore asked. “Did someone attack you, or something?”
“I wish,” Harry muttered. “I want to die fighting, like my parents and Sirius. I just plain want to die!”
Dumbledore now had tears in his eyes. “Why would you wish for death, Harry? What has brought you to this?”
“Everything,” he answered. “You could say I've already died. I've just been existing and suffering through hell ever since my parents died. I watch her with him, and I see the love shining in her beautiful eyes. I've come close to jumping off a tower or drowning myself in the lake about a hundred times, but I can't bear to be away from her.”
“Are you talking about Miss Weasley?” Dumbledore asked.
“I care about her,” Harry said. “That's why I feel so awful about what I've been doing to her.”
“What have you been doing?” Dumbledore asked, instinctively keeping Harry talking while he figured a way out of this mess.
“I rebounded onto her,” Harry admitted. “I was just about to tell Hermione how I felt when she and Ron...” Tears started pouring down his cheeks. Even the mere thought of Hermione and Ron holding hands and possibly kissing put a knife through his heart.
“I see,” Dumbledore said, not letting go of Harry's shoulder. He now knew why he'd felt he'd needed to take Harry with him. If he hadn't, he knew now he would've returned to find that Harry had indeed killed himself.
Harry truly felt grateful for the support. He had been existing with a nimbus of pain for too long. He no longer felt like a human being; no human being could suffer such excruciating pain for so long. Dumbledore was no longer surprised by the almost ethereal shine to Harry's emerald eyes that he had noticed months before. What surprised him was Harry standing up and walking over to the basin.
As Harry stood before the glowing green potion in the ancient stone bowl, an unseen breeze lifted his hair but stirred nothing else. A hand that seemed almost transparent slipped from under the black robes and hovered almost uncertainly above the potion for a few breaths. Dumbledore stood transfixed by the spectacle taking place before him. In that moment he knew beyond any shadow of a doubt that Harry Potter had always been meant to be the Chosen One, the child of prophecy. And this was the power that the Dark Lord knew not.
The hand slipped through the shield protecting the basin and its contents as though it weren't there. It almost seemed Harry was operating on a plane that transcended this one. He had quite literally, through his overwhelming emotional distress and trauma, become the power that would defeat Voldemort. “My God...” he muttered.
Harry turned shining eyes on his old friend and mentor. “No, not God... Just Harry.” And he handed him the locket. “The locket's a fake. It's too light.”
“Then perhaps it will give us a clue to the location of the real one, or its fate,” Dumbledore said. “We must return to Hogwarts.”
Upon their return to Hogwarts, by Apparating just outside the wards, Dumbledore glanced over at Harry. “You know, you could just tell her how you feel. It's still possible she might return your feelings.”
“But if she's happy with Ron... I can't stand in the way of that,” Harry said mournfully, turning to Dumbledore. “It means a lot to me, your support. On our little excursion tonight, I was intending to follow you simply to watch your back. If something had gone wrong, I would have given my life for you in a heartbeat and welcomed death.”
“Well, I still hold out hope that something happens to show you that life is still worth living,” Dumbledore said.
“Oh yeah? It looks to me like I'll get another chance to die very soon,” Harry said, pointing out the Dark Mark that hovered over the Astronomy Tower. Dumbledore paled, and Harry ran off, his long strides eating up the distance to the doors.
By the time Dumbledore had caught up to his young friend, Harry had taken down several Death Eaters and was heading up to the Tower. He watched in some awe as Harry waved his hand at a barrier he needed to really focus to see and then ran through. He had just enough time to grab Hermione and scream, “Do not get yourself killed!” before following the crazed teen.
Once on top of the Tower, and with the Dark Mark glinting ominously down on everyone, Dumbledore saw Harry face down about half a dozen Death Eaters, all of whom were masked. “Okay, so who wants to kill me?” Harry asked conversationally. “Come on, I'm standing right here taunting you creeps, and I don't even have my wand. I'm practically begging for it.”
“Harry, no!” Dumbledore yelled, lurching forward to try to protect his friend. Snape understood that to take down Dumbledore, one needed to get rid of Potter first. So, he sent a volley of lethal curses at Harry, who just stood there. The teenager's calm acceptance of death unnerved him the most. However, he miscalculated Dumbledore's reaction to any kind of harm befalling the ethereal younger man.
Snape looked up from the cloud of smoke that was still dissipating, expecting to look again later and see Harry Potter's dead body. He wasn't expecting to see Dumbledore's wand in his face, or hear the end of the Killing Curse. He died before he hit the ground, and the rest of the Death Eaters fled in fear. “Harry...” Dumbledore moaned.
The smoke dissipated, and Harry lay on the ground, injured but alive. “Shit. That was supposed to kill me.” Then he passed out.
He woke up later in the Hospital Wing with Ginny beside his bed. There were tear-tracks down her freckled cheeks, and her blue eyes were still swimming in tears. “Harry, I thought I'd lost you.”
“Ginny... We really need to talk,” Harry murmured. “I guess now is as good a time as any.”
“I guess so,” she said, “But shouldn't you recover first?”
“I'll never recover,” Harry said mournfully. “See, the thing is, I'm in love with someone else. Someone who'll never return my feelings. I'm dying of a broken heart, and I understand how cliché that sounds.”
Ginny sighed. “I kind of figured there was someone else,” she said. “I could see that you were hurting, but I thought I could fix it. I thought you'd forgotten about her, and finally noticed me.”
“Ginny,” Harry sighed. “I really care about you, but not like that. What we had, it was never there. Not really. I rebounded onto you, and I'm really sorry for hurting you. I never meant to hurt anyone, least of all my little sister.”
“Just tell me who the lucky girl is,” Ginny said, wiping her tears away. “If we're through, I want to know who got there first.”
Harry never said anything. He just looked at the door where Hermione and Ron had entered.
“I thought so,” she murmured, standing up. When she passed Hermione, she said, “You don't know the gift you've received,” before leaving, tears in her eyes. Hermione simply looked confused.
Later that day, Dumbledore intercepted Hermione when she was leaving the Hospital Wing with Ron. Harry showed no sign of being released any time soon, mostly because the Headmaster had informed the nurse that Harry was suicidal.
“What did you mean during the battle when you told me not to get myself killed?” Hermione asked him, speaking the first thing on her mind. “You seemed particularly insistent.”
“Harry hid the true state of things from me all year,” Dumbledore began, looking even older than he had the week before. “But he finally told me right before the battle.”
“Sirius?” she asked.
“That wasn't all of it, just a fraction,” Dumbledore admitted. “It wasn't his parents, either. Or even his relatives. Though none of that helped matters.”
“Then who was it?”
“I can't tell you that,” Dumbledore said. “I won't betray Harry's confidence.” He sighed at the glare she leveled at him. “Fine, I guess it doesn't matter much anymore. Harry's dying. He's in love and she's with...someone else.”
Dumbledore glared at her, and she stepped back in surprise.
“He's my best friend, I deserve to know what's wrong with him,” Hermione defended herself. “Please, just tell me!”
“I can't,” Dumbledore said. “I don't want to betray him. But perhaps you should use your head and think about who he's around the most. You are said to be the smartest witch of your generation, after all.”
Hermione supposed that hindsight really was twenty-twenty, because now that she stopped to think about it, it seemed as though every time she'd turned around over the past two years or more, she'd met haunted pools of emerald and a wistful smile. Her heart skipped a beat when she realized what that look had meant, and how it had made her feel. She thought she'd been jealous when Ron had spent a few months giving Lavender a tonsillectomy, and she'd thought the sudden urge to give Ginny a new face was normal, but that had been nothing compared to the feelings sweeping through her now. It really put a perspective on things, practically being told you were slowly killing your best friend. “Oh my God, I'm in love with Harry.”
“Well, that's good to hear, Miss Granger,” Dumbledore said, “but perhaps you'd care to figure out who he's in love with?”
At that point, Hermione remembered Ginny's comment to her as the slightly younger redhead left the hospital wing. “It's me,” she whispered. “And Ginny knows. Oh, how she must hate me.”
“Tell her, and Mr. Weasley,” Dumbledore suggested, his blue eyes twinkling. “You might be surprised.”
Ron found Ginny in the common room wiping more tears out of her eyes. “Hey, Ginny.”
“Listen, Harry didn't do anything, um, like that, did he?” Ron asked, uncomfortable.
“How dare you? How dare you suggest Harry could ever be something other than a saint?” Ginny suddenly exploded. “He would never do anything so rotten!”
“Woah, calm down!” Ron said. “I only asked because you're in here crying while your boyfriend is in the infirmary!”
“I notice you didn't refer to him as your best friend,” Ginny said. “I find that telling.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your so-called 'best friend' nearly died saving us all, and the first thing that crosses your puny little mind when you see me crying is that he tried to mess with me,” Ginny ranted. “He's dying, okay? Harry's dying, and he told me the truth! He loves someone else, someone who doesn't love him back!”
Ron simply looked confused. “When did love enter into this?”
Ginny threw up her hands. “Congratulations, I think you've regressed from teaspoon to thimble.”
“Hey!” he whined. “That's not fair! At least I still have a girlfriend. Sorry, Ginny.”
“And that's the difference between you and Harry,” Ginny said, eyes tearing up again. “You get jealous, and he dies of it.”
“What? Harry's jealous of me because I have a girlfriend?”
“Did I say thimble? I meant molecule,” Ginny said waspishly.
At that point, Hermione walked into the common room, looking shell-shocked. “Ron, we need to talk.”
“Now?” he asked. “I'm busy getting insulted by my own sister.”
Hermione decided to continue without him. “We're through. I've just realized I'm in love with Harry.”
Ginny leaped up, shrieking with delight, and hugged her friend, leaving both her and Ron confused. Then her blue eyes darkened momentarily. “Wait, have you told Harry that old bat Rita Skeeter was right, yet?”
“Not yet,” Hermione said.
“Then go tell him!” Ginny shouted at the top of her lungs, startling the few other people brave enough to still be in the common room. And the rest was history.
* * * *
Harry’s dangerous emotional state was beginning to drive him and his powers beyond… the normal human (and especially wizarding) experience. It’s sort of like the beginnings of Stargate-style “ascension”. However, it is not exactly like “ascension”, and this is not a crossover fic.
So, how did you all like it? Review! And thanks for reading.
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