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A Quest for Europa

A Crown of Thorns

Bright sun streamed down onto soft red petals and smooth green leaves; it soaked into his skin and dappled across the thin, red lines criss-crossing his fingers and hands. A bead of crimson trickled from the ball of his thumb; the pain throbbed through him as he stared at the trail of red. A vast distance stretched open between him and the small red droplet on his skin, like some great force had dragged the world off into the distance.

Blood. He tugged the small, brown thorn from his skin and dropped it into the dirt. The faint pain faded and he dropped a small, scrunched withered brown flower into the battered old bucket. What’s so pretty about roses? He studied the red flowers as the hoverflies and bees flitted around him. They’re just flowers.

A dull, low rattle echoed from beyond the neat privet hedges caging Aunt Petunia’s rose garden. Whistling drifted after it.

Post. He snipped another dead rose from among the thorns, leaving a faint streak of red upon the bright green stem. It must be Saturday again.

The rattle rolled along the other side of the hedge to where the grey concrete drive met the grey pavement slabs. A bald, sweat-beaded head bobbed above the line of green leaves. He dropped the secateurs into the bucket atop the dead rose heads and wandered back toward the drive.

‘Oh, hey there, kid. Bit of an odd one, this, reckon someone’s trying to have you on.’

A thick letter was thrust into his hand and the trolley rattled along the pavement up the road.

His eyes dropped to the address. My name… A faint stir of emotion swirled through him and his hands shook; the green-inked letter trembled in his grasp. Someone wrote to me?

‘Boy!’ Uncle Vernon stomped out of the garage. ‘Bring that here!’

Too good to be true. The brief flutter of feeling faded back into the void. Of course.

Nobody, Slayer of Monsters

The hovering candle flames danced beneath a calm, deep blue ceiling. Professor Quirrel slumped into a pool of dark robes and purple turban upon the floor with a quiet sigh.

A troll? He watched the other students stream from the hall in cacophonous huddles, drifting after them at a distance that didn’t leave him deafened. Trolls are a thing? How did it even get in?

‘Mate, Hermione’s down in that bathroom,’ Ron whispered, tugging him through the flood of students. ‘Someone needs to help her.’

The students bustled past, jostling, crowding, and shouting. Their heat smothered him like a thick, rough blanket, swirling round and prickling over his skin until his head felt light and his vision swam. He closed his eyes and held his breath. One. Two. Three. He opened his eyes and tugged his arm out of Ron’s grip.

The prefects and teachers vanished into the distance. The drum of feet faded away. The second floor corridor loomed open before them.

An expectant gleam hovered in Ron’s eyes and he pulled his battered wand out of his robes. ‘C’mon, mate.’ He darted down the corridor.

Can’t leave him to go alone. He watched Ron disappear down the corridor. A faint, foul stench reached his nose; a thick, rotten reek. Friends aren’t meant to abandon each other.

He hurried after him, gripping his wand tight in his hand. ‘Why does it smell so bad? Girls’ bathrooms can’t be that much worse than boys’ ones.’

White tiles, sinks, and gleaming mirrors sat across from neat cubicles. Hermione stood red-eyed by the sink, hands on her hips, with a red-faced Ron gesturing with both hands.

They seem fine. He eyed the girls’ bathroom sign, then edged into the centre of the bathroom to gesture toward Gryffindor Tower. The troll’s meant to be down in the dungeons anyway.

A shrill scream tore from Hermione’s throat and Ron shrank back toward the corner with Hermione. He flinched and twisted round.

A hulking mass of grey and green loomed in the doorway. A branch the size of a small tree scraped along the bathroom tiles as the troll blundered in, sniffing the air and slobbering like Aunt Marge’s bulldog.

That’s not ideal. He backed away and eyed the thin sliver of door behind it. The troll rumbled and twisted round, demolishing a pair of sinks with its elbow. Porcelain shards skittered across the tiles. I can’t leave them, anyway. That’s not what you’re meant to do.

Ron let out a raw yell and hurled a piece of metal pipe; it bounced off the troll’s chest and skidded out into the corridor. Hermione screwed her eyes shut and shrunk into the corner.

The troll shook its head, then roared and swung its club. The piece of tree whistled over his head and smashed into the mirrors and sinks. Bits of glass rained down onto the floor.

How do we fight a troll? It’ll squash us like Dudley would a bug. Pain flashed across the back of his hand. A thin, red line marked it and crimson welled up in the breach. The bathroom, Ron, Hermione, the troll, and everything around him shrank away into the distance. Blood…

The troll rumbled and tugged its club free of the wall, scattering bits of plaster across the floor.

No. I don’t want to be squashed. He jumped onto its arm and swung a fist at its face. His wand stabbed into its nostril and the troll roared, smashing its club through cubicles and the few remaining sinks. He clung on to the creature’s lump-marked, scarred hide. But I never get what I want.

‘Wingardium leviosa,’ Ron yelled.

A loud thud echoed through the bathroom, then he found himself rolling across the floor as the troll crashed onto its face.

‘Blimey,’ Ron muttered. ‘That whole swish and flick thing really works.’

We didn’t get squashed. He wiped thick, green slime off his holly and phoenix wand onto a damp stack of spilt paper towels. We really won.

A sharp gasp echoed through the bathroom. Professor Mcgonagall surveyed the scene from the door with thin, pursed lips, then her gaze fell upon him and her eyes softened. ‘Well done, Harry. Very well done.’

Something lurched beneath his ribs, gentle warmth flooded through him, and heat rushed to his eyes. Tears. He twisted away and smeared them onto his sleeve. Why am I crying? It feels good.

A Philosopher's Folly

The white king’s sword crashed onto the board at Harry’s feet. Chunks of black and white stone strewed the stark board; Hermione crouched over Ron’s still figure at the board’s edge.

We can’t stop now. We need to save the stone. Harry glanced at Hermione. We can’t let someone just take it.

‘He’ll be fine.’ She glanced up. ‘He’s not hurt, just out cold. We don’t have time to take him with us.’

Harry wrenched open the small, plain wooden door with a pounding heart and found a large troll sprawled before him. A great lump rose from the top of its head and a thick, foul reek rolled over him. He gagged and blinked tears back from his eyes.

‘It’s asleep.’ Hermione darted past it and dragged open the next door. ‘C’mon, Harry. We have to save the stone!’

He stepped over the troll and through the door. Black and purple flames sprang up behind him and before him.

We’re trapped.

‘Brilliant!’ Hermione stood before an array of bottles, clutching a piece of paper. ‘This isn’t magic – it’s logic – a puzzle. A lot of the greatest wizards haven’t an ounce of logic, they’d be stuck in here forever.’

That seems like a bit of a generalisation. Harry studied the flames. Their heat bathed his face like the scorching summer sun did Aunt Petunia’s wilting garden. Anyone who can figure out what’s hidden here from a couple of clues can probably solve another puzzle.

Hermione muttered to herself, skimming back and forth up the piece of parchment. ‘It’s tricky.

Harry glanced over her shoulder, then back and forth between the hints and bottles. The red and black ones can’t be poison and must be the same, so they’re full of whatever nettle wine is. Which means the white and green ones are poison. That just leaves the last three.

Hermione clapped her hands together and plucked the purple and blue bottles into her hand. ‘This one will take you forward, Harry.’

Just me? He weighed the small blue bottle on his palm as the world slid away into the distance. All by myself?

‘There’s only enough for one,’ Hermione murmured. ‘Sorry, Harry. I can’t come with you, and, well, you’re you. I know you’ll manage to save the stone. You’ll do better than me.’ She unstopped the purple bottle and raised it to her lips. ‘I’ll find a teacher, that’s what I do best.’

I don’t want to go through there alone. Harry caught the bright, warm gleam of faith in her eyes and the words died on his tongue. But I have to.

Hermione closed her eyes and darted through the purple and black flames into the troll room.

Harry tugged the top off the blue bottle and swallowed the small mouthful of potion. ‘Hopefully, Snape’s already been stopped by the defences.’ He stepped through the indigo and ebony fire.

A black-robed, purple-turbaned figure stood before the Mirror of Erised. ‘Harry Potter,’ it hissed.

Of course. Harry’s heart sank. Nothing ever goes right for me when I’m by myself.

The Heir of Slytherin

A large, black serpent reared off the duelling platform as the flash of Lockhart’s spell dissipated; its tongue flickered out to taste the air. Small, dark eyes fixed themselves on the silent crowd as it tensed.

It’s going to strike.

‘Stop!’ The word burst from Harry’s lips.

The snake twisted around and fixed its gaze on Harry; its eyes were little chips of obsidian. A loud bang tore through the hall and the snake vanished. Harry flinched. A cold rush swept through his blood.

‘Parseltongue,’ Ernie Macmillan hissed, yanking Justin Finch-Fletchley back from the duelling platform.

Whispers rose up all around Harry, they swirled round him, thick and dark as the vapour that’d burst from Quirrell’s body, cold as the water of the Black Lake. A great gap yawned open between him and them. The murmurs closed round him like Dudley’s clammy fists about a plastic figurine. Sweat trickled down Harry’s spine and his heart thudded against his ribs.

I hate this. He threw a glance at Ron and Hermione’s dishevelled figures, but they were caught on the far side. I stopped him from being bitten. What’s there to whisper about?

He jumped from the stage and the crowd melted away from him.

Now they want to keep a nice distance away. The gap felt cold, cold as his fingers after clearing out the drains and guttering in the wake of a winter rainstorm, and sharp and tense as Aunt Petunia’s stare. Flashes of primary school flickered through his thoughts. Dudley’s smug smile as the rest of the class took their seats away from him. The neighbours’ eyes drifting over him as if Dudley’s shadow was so dark it’d swallowed Harry completely.

He wandered through the corridor, past distant paintings and empty rooms until he found himself staring out over the Black Lake and the Forbidden Forest.

They’re all just like Dudley, and the Dursleys, and everyone I left behind.

Footsteps pattered up the stairs. ‘Harry!’ Hermione’s voice rang up the steps. ‘Are you alright?’

Almost all. The world closed back around him. The abyss between him and everything else drew shut like a softly closed door. My friends are better than that.

He swivelled around. ‘I’m fine. I just didn’t like them all staring at me like that. All I did was stop it from trying to bite him.’

Ron dragged himself up the stairs. ‘Sounded real creepy, mate. Like you were egging it on, or something.’

Harry grimaced. ‘Well I wasn’t. I was trying to save him.’

Hermione shot Ron a glare. ‘And you did, Harry. Well done. Just… everyone else doesn’t understand that, so—’

‘So they’ll whisper about me.’ A small cold ball tightened in the pit of Harry’s stomach.

Just like Dudley’s friends, then everyone else in our class. And I’ll sit alone in the corner at the back, like I’m not even there. Hollow teeth gnawed through his gut and into the bottom of his heart. And I’ll go back to that awful empty place.

‘It really wasn’t the best time to reveal you could speak to snakes, Harry.’ Hermione chewed her lip. ‘Salazar Slytherin could speak to snakes…’

‘They think I’m the Heir of Slytherin.’ He dragged a faint smile onto his face. ‘What nonsense. My mother was muggleborn.’

Ron shrugged. ‘They’ll come around, mate. Let’s get some lunch, forget about the whole thing for a bit, yeah.’

Just… forget about it? He blinked. I guess I could do that. Dwelling on it won’t help. Nor will wishing it hadn’t happened.

Ron started down the steps. Hermione lingered for a moment, worrying her lip, then motioned toward the hall with her head.

I guess they’ll see. Harry drifted after them. And then they’ll all come back.

A Pyrrhic Victory

Ginny sprawled on the floor, a swathe of her bright red hair lay over the stark stone, and the slim dark form of the diary rested on the floor beside Harry’s legs. The basilisk writhed and twitched; Godric Gryffindor’s sword gleamed between its fangs.

‘You’re dying, Harry Potter,’ Tom Riddle murmured. ‘You’re dying and I’m nearly free.’

A sharp pain blossomed across Harry’s arm. Three inches of broken fang stuck from it and red soaked into his torn sleeve. ‘Oh.’ Fire crept through his veins, burning like cold fingers beneath the hot tap. ‘It hurts.’

‘Basilisk venom.’ Tom Riddle’s form was sharp and clear as the stones around them. ‘There’s not much that hurts more. It kills everything.’

The world stretched off into the distance as the flame spread through him. The dark pool, the stone bust, Ginny’s body, the carven effigies, and even Tom Riddle dwindled away until they seemed no nearer than stars in the night sky.

It’s just pain. He touched a fingertip to the bright, red trickling from the wound. And my blood…

Tom Riddle watched him, spinning Harry’s wand in his hand. A strange gleam hovered in his eyes. ‘What a waste.’

Beneath the venom’s burn, a numbness crept through Harry; it weighed his limbs and robbed his fingers of their deftness, a hundred times worse than when Aunt Petunia had made him fish the frozen algae from the pond with bare hands.

I suppose it could be worse. At least I got away from Privet Drive for a bit. He let a cold, hollow fist close round his heart and drag it down somewhere into the dark of the emptiness within. Probably shouldn’t have tried to fight the basilisk myself. I should’ve got someone better than Lockhart. I shouldn’t have failed to save Ginny. A soft sigh slipped from his lips. But there’s no point in wishing.

Fawkes alighted beside him with a gentle trill. Thick, clear tears leaked from his eyes and dripped onto Harry’s arm, soaking into the ragged, torn robes around the fang. Their warmth soaked through him like summer sunshine.

I can’t die yet. Sharp focus thrust from the void within and the world snapped back round him. He fumbled for the diary. I need to save Ginny first.

‘Phoenix tears,’ Tom Riddle hissed. He slashed Harry’s wand at Fawkes, but the phoenix fluttered aside and hopped to safety. ‘I forgot.’

Harry tugged the fang from his arm; the wound closed, melting back together as if it’d never been there, and the burn faded from his veins.

Tom Riddle froze. ‘What’re you doing?’

He stabbed the fang through the diary. ‘Saving Ginny.’

A high, raw scream tore from Tom Riddle’s throat; his figure wavered, then burst into thick, black mist that dissipated like smoke into the wind. Ink fountained from the diary and pooled upon the stones beneath the ruined pages. Harry’s wand clattered to the floor beside the basilisk’s gaping maw.

A soft moan rose from Ginny and she stirred.

It worked. Harry grabbed the fang-impaled diary from the floor and staggered to his feet, snatching his wand from beside the basilisk’s corpse. I saved her. A flood of warm relief and bright, hot triumph rushed through him. I did it..

A Glimpse of Phobos

Rain drops crawled along the window in thin clear streams. Beyond them, the countryside blurred past. Harry pressed his fingers against the glass; the cold seeped into his skin and a soft melancholy settled over him like night clouds veiling the moon.

Frost crept across the window. The beads of water turned to chips of ice and fell away. The melancholy coiled deeper, turned sharp as Petunia’s kitchen knives and bit through him the same way that cold steel had slipped through his skin.

The door to the compartment rattled. Something slipped in amongst them, a thin thing with hoarse, rasping breath, long skeletal fingers, and shrouded by a tattered, black cloak.

A faint high scream echoed in Harry’s ears.

The world fell away.

‘Not Harry,’ a woman’s voice pleaded. ‘Not Harry. Take me instead.’

An awful numbness crept out from Harry’s heart. The world drained away into it like blood swirling away into Aunt Petunia’s kitchen sink.

‘Please,’ the woman begged. ‘Please not Harry.’

‘Avada kedavra,’ a smooth, high voice hissed.

A bright green flash tore across Harry’s vision.

He stood on Hogwarts’ quidditch pitch beneath bright, cold moonlight. Parseltongue rose up around him, faint as the night wind, and slim, dark shapes slithered through the grass at his feet. Whispers rose from the distant faces in the stands; all the faces Harry had ever known stared down at him from there, even Ron and Hermione lurked among the crowd. They muttered about him from a world away while little Ginny sprawled still as death across the ground.

Tom Riddle stepped forward out of the night. ‘There’re no heroes, Harry Potter. There’s only power.’ He uncurled his fingers to show the bright, red stone sat upon his palm. Voldemort’s crimson eyes burnt beneath his brows. ‘And those too weak to seek it.’ He burst into thick, dark mist.

And eventually, we’ll fail. A smooth, soft, low murmur echoed through his thoughts. Eventually, we’ll be found lacking, left wishing, like we so nearly were in the Chamber of Secrets. And what then? What happens when Harry Potter the hero crumbles?

The whispers rose from the stands, louder and louder, until they rang in Harry’s head like he’d been clipped about the ear by Uncle Vernon. The short stretch of grass between them and him yawned open like an abyss and a crushing solitude closed over him like dusk. Ron and Hermione faded into the crowd and Harry’s heart sank down into a dark, cold place.

He disappears.

Heart and Soul

A hundred ragged-caped slender shapes swirled over the clearing. Tall dark pines hemmed Sirius and Harry’s past-self against the edge of the lake. The dementors descended in loose clusters, swooping closer and closer to the pair of figures on the far side of the lake.

Finally, a man who just cares about Harry, no matter who Harry is. We wished for someone for so long. For anyone. His thoughts came smooth and high as the dementors swarmed. But wishes like that, they never came true before, why would they come true now.

‘Harry,’ Hermione hissed. ‘What’re you doing?’

‘Someone will come,’ he said. ‘Someone drove them away before.’

Someone finally let me keep a wish. If Sirius is my godfather, I don’t have to go back to Privet Drive.

‘Harry…’ Hermione’s fingers curled around his wrist and he tensed. The hairs rose on the back of his neck as the heat of her hand seeped into his skin. ‘Harry, nobody’s coming.’

‘They will.’ He watched the hood slip back off the face of the first dementor and slipped free of Hermione’s grip. ‘They must.’

Wishes aren’t just granted. The smooth, soft murmur rose up from the back of his skull. They’re made first.

He raised his wand and dragged up every moment of happiness. Professor Lupin’s pride, the stories of his parents, their faces in the Mirror of Erised, the gleam of faith and warmth in Hermione and Ron’s eyes, Dumbledore’s smile and bright blue eyes, and Sirius’ raw, rough grin. ‘Expecto patronum.’

A silver stag burst from his wand; it cantered across the surface of the lake, glowing bright as the moon. The dementors scattered from it like bats from the beam of Uncle Vernon’s torch, flitting away into the shadows beneath the pines. A hot rush of triumph flooded through him.

I did it. I saved us. It was me.

‘Come on, Harry,’ Hermione hissed. ‘Come on.’

He staggered away through the trees. Pettigrew still escaped. Cold fingers curled round his heart; their chill bit deep into him. Sirius’ innocence won’t be proved. The pines of the Forbidden Forest loomed over him, their shadows deep and dark as the black of Voldemort’s shade. I failed. The breath caught in his throat and slipped from his lungs. I failed. I have to go back. Despair strangled the faintest ray of twisted humour. Of course. Of course I do. I wished for it. And that means it won’t happen.

Hermione crept through the trees ahead; the snap of twigs beneath her feet sounded loud as fireworks over the faint whisper of the pine needles in the night breeze. He drifted after her, wrestling with the tangle of emotion writhing beneath his ribs.

Wishes aren’t granted. They’re made. Harry clutched his wand tight in his fist and took a long, deep breath of cold night air. No more waiting for wishes to come true. I’ll make them happen myself.

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