With a final glance back at his mother, Harry wiped the single tear from his cheek, and stepped into archway of light. He's done it. Harry has finally found a way home. Good old Dumbledore came through in the end, and it's back to the ranch for Harry, but things are a little different at Hogwarts. Nothing in heaven or Earth could have prepared him for the challenge to come.
The Promised Land
"Child of the wilderness, born into emptiness,
Learn to be lonely, learn to find your way in darkness,
Who will be there for you, comfort and care for you?
Learn to be lonely, learn to be your one companion.
Never dreamed out in the wild
There are arms to hold you
You've always known, your heart was on it's own
So laugh in your loneliness, child of the wilderness
Learn to be lonely
Learn how to love a life that is lived alone."
Andrew Lloyd Webber
Learn to be Lonely (from Phantom of the Opera, 2003)
Harry felt the hairs on his skin stand on end as the cool new years breeze sailed in through the open window and brushed his skin. The air was crisp but not bitter. The sun, although low in the sky shone brightly, pouring in through the windows and net curtains that billowed in the breeze. Harry opened his eyes as the breeze brushed his skin, allowing light to flood in. He seemed to be floating in a sea of white. Light reflected off the floor, walls, and ceiling, blinding his dazzled eyes. He recoiled under the brightness, covering his eyes.
He felt somewhat light-headed, as if he was floating. His limbs felt almost as if they weren't quite there. Looking down, Harry found himself wearing just a pair of white trousers, and lying in a bed of purest white. It was warm, soft and comfortable. He felt refreshed and fulfilled. Was this what death felt like for real? His eyes were still unaccustomed to the brightness, and he blinked trying to get to grips with his surroundings. Was this heaven?
As Harry blinked, a face appeared through the light: an elderly yet kind face with a long white beard.
"Professor," said Harry, realising that he was certainly not dead. "Welcome back." His voice cracked with the words as he mouth was so dry.
"Thank you, Harry," said Dumbledore, sinking slowly into a chair next to the bed. Harry propped himself up on his elbows, and raised himself into a sitting position. His limbs were regaining their strength as he shifted. Dumbledore was wearing his customary purple robes, but no hat today. A white bandage covered part of his forehead and he moved gingerly as he walked. He picked up a pitcher of water from the table by his bed and poured a glass of water, which he offered to Harry. He accepted it and took a long drink, draining the glass. Satisfied, he returned the glass to the table, and lay back. Dumbledore spoke again, "I believe, I can extend to you, the same compliment. Your efforts are much appreciated, not only by me, but by thousands of others." Harry was never any good at taking compliments and brushed it quickly aside, shaking his head.
"What happened? Is everything all right?"
Dumbledore suddenly looked a shade older and more tired than usual. He stared at Harry and it wasn't hard to work out that he was remembering.
The whole room shook as the ceiling above them shattered into a million pieces and a geyser of dust and debris shot towards the floor. Albus was helpless, as the restraints in the chair held him in place. The chair was magically locked and without a wand he had no hope of being able to break free. He watched as two figures fell from the ceiling, amidst the explosion, one dressed in black, the other in white. His two former pupils fell to the floor, as the rubble rained down around them. Suddenly the podium upon which Crouch had been speaking from shattered as a Stunning Curse hit it. It all happened so fast! The wood cracked, and Crouch was forced backwards by the force. Albus quickly turned in the direction it had come from. Did his eyes deceive him or was that James Potter?
Albus blinked and looked again. Sure enough, James Potter had fired that spell. The Auror was dressed in black, no, wait; as Albus watched, James threw off his black robes, revealing the red of the Aurors underneath. The Aurors were here! Albus felt hope return to his heart. His eyes scanned the crowd and as he watched, more figures in red appeared amidst the sea of black. Albus could see Sirius, Dawlish, Alastor, Nymphadora, and many others. The air was suddenly alive with curses and screams as the Black Watch broke rank and the civilians up on the balcony surged for the exits. As Albus watched he realised how short some of the Aurors were. In fact, he recognised them. They were students! Ron and Ginny Weasley, Rose-Marie Potter and several others. Surely they hadn't recruited soldiers from the student body? Two students were up on the balcony helping the public out, while the rest joined with the battle. More of the Black Watch were returning to the Aurors, as more figures in red appeared. The new Commando's in their green and camouflage robes had also joined in, fighting mainly the Black Watch or so it appeared.
Albus turned to his right to the stage. Harry and Tom were on their feet and fighting again. They were in so close together, fighting hand to hand. Albus didn't need to be a genius to realise that Harry was tiring fast. His white clothes were covered in blood and he was fighting a loosing battle.
"RACHEL! GET DUMBLEDORE!" a voice shouted through the crowd. After a few seconds, an Auror had emerged from the carnage and was by his side. Albus recognised the woman, though he couldn't place her name. Using her wand, she shattered the restraints, allowing Albus to move. She produced a wand from her robes and handed it to him.
"Professor," said the Auror, shouting into his ear to be heard above the noise. "We need to get as many people out as possible. The Magic will go down in a few moments."
Albus had no clue as to what she meant, but agreed with her first statement. He was Headmaster and that meant he had to get his students out of harms way. Looking around, there were enough figures in red to keep the Black Watch at bay. Albus looked around, his eyes searching for students, and then made his way down into the battle.
The first one he encountered was Luna Lovegood of Ravenclaw. She was duelling with an Auror twice her size. Albus moved swiftly into the middle, repelling the Death Eater with a simple banishing charm, and then took hold of Lovegood's hand.
"Do you have a Portkey?" he asked, expecting her to have one. She nodded. Albus tapped his wand against her pocket and the girl disappeared with a pop.
"Miss Bell!" he called, spotting her by the door, hiding behind the remains of it. "You need to leave, now!" His calm and friendly demeanour had slipped, but Albus cared not. He had one priority and that was to get his students out of harms way. Everything else, including the death of Tom Riddle, were a long was behind that on the priority scale.
The doors on the other side of the room suddenly burst open and a jet of fire surged into the room. From the flames a Heliopath rose up towards the ceiling, tufts of flames sparking away from its fiery skin. The creature flexed its muscles, glowing brightly as it prepare to dive.
"GO!" Albus shouted to Katie. With that he headed back into the crowd, towards the Heliopath, which had already dived at Harry but missed. Albus surged through the crowd, as the Heliopath dived again, unleashing a jet of flame. Harry dived off the stage, sailing through the air and landing on a pile of debris, but relatively unharmed. He rolled onto his back and looked up, just in time to see the Heliopath dive.
Albus acted instinctively, aiming his wand at the descending fire demon. The spell shot out of his wand, surging towards the Heliopath, and striking it in the shoulder. The creature roared, rolling in mid air and aborting its attack. Harry's head whipped around to face Albus. Hope reappeared in Harry's eyes as he stared at him.
The monster roared again as it rose up to the ceiling, conjuring balls of fire in each of its hand. The two balls shot towards Harry and Albus, like geysers of flame.
A pale blue bubble appeared, surrounding Harry and Albus, keeping them safe. Albus held the spell until the fire subsided. The creature dived again, heading straight towards them. Using the same spell as he had originally, Albus fired again. The ball of blue light hit the creature in the chest, and with a final roar, the fire demon disintegrated, raining ash down over the battle.
Albus looked around once more. The floor was littered with bodies, their blood soaking into the carpet. There were fires around the room, and the smell of death and smoke was intoxicating. Albus turned back to Harry. They had to end it, and only Harry had the power to do so.
"Finish it, my boy," Albus said, trying to hide the pain and tiredness from his voice. The boy nodded and climbed to his feet and disappeared through the crowd.
Albus turned to see if he could find more students and get them out of the building. Suddenly a tingly feeling swept through him, like pins and needles all over. His whole body felt odd and his mind frozen. Albus shook off the feeling, which only lasted five seconds. Albus quickly aimed his wand at the Death Eater who had appeared in front of him.
"Stupefy!" he hissed, just as the man shouted the Killing Curse. Nothing happened. Albus looked down at his wand. The other man tried again, but nothing happened. This is what Rachel had meant by the magic going down?
"What did you do?" shrieked Tom, his voice echoing around the room, which was now almost silent as no one could use a spell. Tom again, slashed his wand at Harry, who began to climb the stage. "What have you done to me?"
All duels had stopped and as Albus looked around, all eyes were honed on the two on the stage. As Albus turned back to the stage, Harry removed his sword from the scabbard, the same sword that the Dark Knight had used to kill so many. Albus knew the boy was right; he couldn't use the Killing Curse, so he had to use a Muggle weapon. By taking away the Magic, Tom was helpless. It was a good plan. Now it all hinged on him having the will power to take another life. Harry spun the sword menacingly around the wrist as Tom, tried one more time to curse him. Realising it was useless, Tom did something unheard of: he took a single step backwards.
The effect was instant. A gasp rung out from the Death Eaters: never before had they seen their master recoil in fear. To the best of his knowledge, Tom had never backed down in his life. He was too powerful. Albus was the only one he fear, and yet he had never seen Tom back down from him.
"Are you afraid?" said Harry, his voice loud enough to carry to all corners of the room. "Muggle." Tom's eyes flashed with anger as Harry took another step forward. "How does it feel, to be completely incapable of Magic?" Harry was teasing him, making sure that everyone in the room knew that Tom was powerless. It was a coup d'theatre, but that what was needed. They needed the whole country to see he was weak.
"I destroyed your magic, Tom," said Harry. "You're no more powerful than the merest Squib. Without your magic, you are nothing."
"DIE!" screamed Voldemort. Albus watch with horror as a knife appear in his hand. Tom leapt at Harry with tremendous speed. Albus opened his mouth to shout a warning, but Harry had already moved. He spun to the side, rotating a complete circle, and slashing with the sword. The blade clipped the back of Tom's legs, and the Dark Lord fell to his knees, dropping the dagger with a clang. There was another gasp as the Dark Lord ended up on his knees in front of Harry, unable to defend himself. Everyone in the room could see the most feared man in the country utterly powerless and scared for his life.
"It doesn't end here, Potter," spat Tom, his voice lined with anger. "I will return. You have only bought them time." Albus could see that this was just a threat, unless they found the Horcrux.
"It's over," said Harry, shaking his head. He publicly dismissed Tom's rant, showing the world that his power was broken.
Suddenly Tom opened his mouth again, but this time, instead of words, a hissing sound came out. Parseltongue! Tom was speaking Parseltongue. To everyone's amazement, Harry leaned in a little closer and then replied in the same language. Harry was a Parselmouth! How had they missed that? There was no time to consider it, as Harry raised the blade high over his right shoulder. There was a gasp from the crowd.
Harry sliced the blade clean through his neck, severing his head completely. His momentum continued his spin. Harry turned the blood soaked blade back under his arm so that it pointed out the back, so that as he spun, as he faced away from Voldemort's body, he plunged the blade into Voldemort's heart.
There was utter silence in the room as Voldemort's head sailed through the air. All eyes watched the severed head as it plummeted from the stage and landed with a sickening crunch on the floor, not far from Albus. He quickly turned his attention back to Harry, who stood, staring at the head. Albus suddenly noticed that Tom's body was beginning to glow green. Harry must have felt it, for he turned to face the body. A ball of green light was amassing over Tom's heart. Albus had no clue as to what was happening, but it appeared Harry did. His eyes went wide, a look of horror on his face.
"RUN!" he shouted, turning to move. He took two steps to the edge of the stage and jumped, diving to the floor. Suddenly, a surge of energy erupted from Voldemort's fallen body. The green light blasted into Harry's back, launching him off his feet and into the air. The shockwave forced everyone close enough to be knocked to the ground.
Harry lay on the floor, struggling to move. Albus tried to make his way over, but there were too many bodies in the way and those still alive were clambering over each other to get to their feet. After seeing that blades worked, Death Eaters had begun to produce knives and were trying to escape.
Albus could see Walden Macnair standing over Harry, his dagger in his hand and ready. Albus was nowhere near close enough to help him. Macnair raised the dagger high above his head, but he never managed to bring it down.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
Suddenly three holes exploded out of Macnair's chest and his body was forced to the ground under the impact. Albus spun around to see five men dressed all in black, with helmets, and inhuman masks with huge eyes standing on the edge of the balcony. They were covered in armour, and carried what he recognised to be guns. Muggles!
Everyone in the room paused at the sound of the bangs. The doors on both sides of the room were thrust open, revealing another seven or eight men on each side, each shrouded in black and carrying the weapon. Albus watched in fascination as the five on the balcony, slid down ropes to join the others on the ground.
"Freeze!" "Don't Move!" shouted the Muggles, aiming their weapons at the survivors.
"Muggles!" shouted a voice.
"They're nothing but vermin," shouted another. "Kill them!"
Three men made the mistake of running at the men in the doorway to Albus' right.
"No!" he shouted, but of course they didn't listen to them.
There was a tremendous series of bangs as the eight men all fired on the three Death Eaters, each of which crashed to the floor with over twenty bullets imbedded in their bodies. Screams erupted all around as the wizards realised the Muggles were serious. The three bodies now lying in a pool of blood, massive hole having exploded out of their chests, were enough of a message so that even the battle hardened Death Eaters knew they were beaten.
"LISTEN UP!" shouted Frank Longbottom standing on the remains of a pew so he was above the rest of them. "ANY SURVIVING DEATH EATERS ARE HEREBY UNDER ARREST. WE KNOW WHO YOU ARE: MACNAIR WAS NICE ENOUGH TO KEEP INTERVIEW NOTES ON ALL OF YOU, SO WE KNOW WHO YOU ARE, SO DON'T BOTHER RUNNING. CAPTAIN SPEARS, IF YOU AND YOUR MEN COULD PLEASE KEEP AN EYE ON THE PROCEEDINGS WHILE WE MAKE ARRESTS. ALBUS, PLEASE HEAD TO THE MAIN ENTRANCE HALL. THERE ARE PEOPLE THERE WHO NEED YOUR CLEARANCE TO LEAVE, JUST GIVE YOUR NAME TO LIEUTENANT HOPKINS."
Albus watched for a few seconds, as Sirius, James, Rachel, yes that was her name, Rachel Shepherd, Frank and Alastor, began cuffing those in black. Some of the Muggles produced Plasti-Cuffs from their pockets and joined in while their colleagues watched. Albus would head upstairs in time, but first he had to tend to Harry. The boy was lying face down on the floor, his body limp and bleeding and his face pale and vacant. Albus rolled him gently onto his back and opened his eyes. The boy's pupils were dilated and his eyes vacant, but he did have a pulse. He was alive, but only just. Luckily, they had all had the forethought to bring Portkeys. Albus removed his wand and then, using his wand, wrote the word 'Urgent' on Harry's chest before activating his Portkey and sending him to the Hospital Wing.
That done, the Headmaster rose to his feet. The sound of voices rose as more arrests were made. Some of the Order were talking to the Muggles, some of whom had removed their masks as we talking openly with them. It appeared that both worlds could work together effectively if the need was great enough.
Tom was dead; his power was broken. Crouch was under arrest, the Ministry free. The Death Eaters were in custody and the Black Watch destroyed. This Christmas had brought with it freedom, all thanks to a boy who wasn't even a resident of this world. Albus headed towards the lift, knowing that it was finally over.
"What did he say to you?" asked Dumbledore.
"Who?" asked Harry, not understanding the question. He had only asked what had happened.
"Tom, just before he died, you spoke in Parseltongue," replied Dumbledore.
"He told me that he would only truly be gone, when I am dead too," said Harry. "He was referring to his Horcrux."
"Yes, Nicolas told me about those," said Dumbledore. "We have done some research and I have some good news. When a Horcrux is made of a person, or living thing, it is encased in a person's soul, not their body. The reason for this is that cells in the body die very quickly. A skin cell for example will last only a day or so. The soul is encased inside another soul, and so the host will take on personality traits, and maybe powers of the original." That made sense.
"So it's over now?" said Harry.
"Do you believe it?"
"I'm a pessimist," said Harry. "I doubt it. Also, when I killed him, some form of magic exploded out of him, just like when he was killed in my world. In mine he came back, presumably because he has a Horcrux there. Since that power exploded out of him, I have a nasty feeling that he is alive, which in turn implies that the other me is alive, and I have to find him."
"Is everyone alright?" asked Harry, desperate for news of his friends. He had known Rose had been hit and he knew Hermione had never even made it to Ministry. Dumbledore sighed deeply as he stared at Harry over his half moon spectacles. The look said it all; there had been fatalities. It sounded horrible, but he desperate hoped it wasn't anyone he cared about.
"There were fatalities," said Dumbledore, gravely. "Anthony Goldstein was killed during the assault on Lundy Island, and then later at the Ministry of Magic, Percy Weasley was killed, as were Dawlish and Hannah Abbot. We will be holding a remembrance ceremony for them in a few hours." Harry bowed his head in sorrow; he had never meant for students to get hurt.
"I never intended for them to come to the Ministry," said Harry. "Just Lundy."
"It was their choice to continue," said Dumbledore kindly. "You gave them hope and a chance to make things right and they took it. It was their choice, and their legacy will not be forgotten. I feel sure that should you ask any of them, whether they would make the same choice, knowing what it could cost them, that they would make the same choice again."
"They are still dead," said Harry, "and nothing can bring them back."
"No," said Dumbledore. "It cannot. But remember, Death is but the next logical step. Fate has a time for us all, and maybe this was meant to be theirs." Harry nodded, not fully convinced, but knowing that he couldn't grieve forever.
"What about Rose?" asked Harry, "and Hermione?"
"Both have made a full recovery," said Dumbledore, "and have rejoined the population."
"So what's happened?" asked Harry. "Did everything work out okay?"
"There were fatalities," said Dumbledore. "The SAS and SBS both lost men."
"SBS?" echoed Harry. "What were they doing there?"
"It seemed that the Prime Minister did not entirely trust you, Harry," said Dumbledore. "He had a team of SBS Marines ready to move in on the Ministry if there was any sign of betrayal."
"But I never…"
"Your display on the streets of London gave him the motivation to move in on the Ministry. They very nearly caused the mission to fail, but the soldiers you chose were able to convince them. One Death Eater made it to the entrance hall. The SAS took him down, but not before he was able to kill one Marine. Of the SAS in the battle, three were lost. Above ground, the death toll for Voldemort's attack on London currently stands at seventy-seven Muggles. We also lost a number of Aurors, fifty three the last time I checked."
"But we won, didn't we?" asked Harry, reaching for the water on the bedside table once again.
"Yes," said Dumbledore, nodding. "Once you…defeated Tom, the Black Watch lost all formation. Without their magic, there was nothing they could do. The threat of those weapons the Muggles used, was far too great. They put up little protest." Harry breathed a sigh of relief.
"Was it worth it?" Harry muttered. "Was there a better way?"
"You want their deaths to have meant something," said Dumbledore. "And they have. We all woke up the next day to a brave new world. Their deaths were unfortunate, but they would have been proud of what they helped to create." Harry didn't argue, though he knew it would take time to move on and forget. Eyes were strictly one-way systems. Images went in and could never come out. He would never forget what he had seen that day. It was burnt onto the back of his skull.
"How are the Muggles?" he asked.
"Back at Hereford," said Dumbledore. "And Poole, respectively. They are holding remembrance ceremonies for the men they lost."
"What are the families being told?"
"That they died in a training accident," said Dumbledore. "It is far from ideal…" he began but Harry cut him off.
"Damn right it is," said Harry angrily. "They died as heroes and will be remembered for being clumsy when they weren't. They deserve better."
"Such is the way of the clandestine services," said Dumbledore. "As Captain Spears said to me, when I told him, 'if anyone ever knew what they had done, they had failed. They could save the world, and no one would know about it."
"It's unfair," said Harry.
"But it is the way it is," said Dumbledore.
"Did you…you know?" asked Harry.
"No," said Dumbledore to Harry's relief. "As Special Forces, they know to keep their mouths shut, not to mention what happened. Also, if they did speak out, they would be committed, so we have left them as they are."
"What about the Statue of Secrecy?" asked Harry, scarcely believing that the Ministry had done something right.
"By liaising with the Muggles, you broke a number of laws," said Dumbledore, calmly. "But obviously, under the circumstances, you have been forgiven. The Ministry, for the moment at least are allowing things to remain. Initially, no one was happy about leaving nearly forty Muggles out there with knowledge of our world, but they have come to accept it."
"The least they could do," muttered Harry.
"Indeed," said Dumbledore, smiling slightly. "You have also forced their hand in dealing with the Muggle government. We cannot be ignored any more. The Ministry were initially hopping mad, but they have calmed down and now we have become more integrated into the government. There is now a representative from the Aurors in COBRA, we have our own member of parliament, and all Wizards, as long as they meat the nationality requirements now have the right to vote in local and general elections. Obviously, this takes a lot of paper work, as they need to register on the census to have the vote, but our societies have become integrated, off the record, of course; the general Muggle population are none the wiser."
"So they managed to hush up my bit of carnage on Euston Road?" asked Harry.
"With difficulty, they have," said Dumbledore. "They have said that you were using what they call Rocket Propelled Grenades, with smoke in the rockets, not unlike the Red Arrows. The policemen who challenged you and the key witnesses have been Obliviated, and any tapes sent to the press or police have been destroyed and the owner's memories changed. Again, with a lot of red tape."
"But the Ministry love that," said Harry. The Ministry didn't have a good track record of doing what was right. They seemed to have a policy of avoiding effort wherever they found it. Fudge was useless; Crouch was blinded by pride, as the less said about his son, the better. But that raised another question: if Crouch was under arrest, then… "Speaking of which, who's now Minister? Hang on, what day is it?"
"It's New Year's eve, Harry," said Dumbledore. New Year's? But that meant he had been asleep for… "You've been unconscious for a week," continued Dumbledore. "And I regret to inform you that you have missed Christmas."
"No worries," said Harry, brushing it aside. Truth be told, it hadn't felt like Christmas at all. He had almost forgotten what with the other things he had had to worry about. "It's the least Christmassy Christmas ever."
"As for the Ministry," said Dumbledore, answering the question. "A lot has happened. Department Heads that were relieved when Crouch took over have been recalled to vote. Arthur Weasley had been voted in as temporary Minister of Magic. Frank Longbottom has been promoted to Head of Aurors, after Dawlish died in the battle. He and Amelia Bones now hold the country under martial law until we have found our missing Death Eaters, and until the Ministry has been reassembled. As for Hogwarts, we are back under our own control and Lucius Malfoy is no longer a governor and now resides in Azkaban. Draco is still here, though he seems somewhat lonely as of late, as his influence is no longer felt. In short, you have restored what was taken, Harry. You have given them hope."
"I had a lot of help," said Harry, blushing.
"All of whom are now hero's," said Dumbledore. "Orders of Merlin are to be issued to those involved; Miss Shepherd, Mr Longbottom, Sirius, your friends and yourself."
"Pity the country that needs heroes," said Harry, suddenly feeling like he didn't want it. It was a reminder of the past, of a time he hoped to put behind him. It was over now, and he had no desire to wear on his chest a chunk of metal that would serve only to remind him of what he would rather forget. He had to move on, he had…work to do.
"Also," said Dumbledore rising from his chair. "There is the matter of these…" He pointed to a large item covered by a white sheet. It was about the size of a car, and stood at the foot of his bed. Dumbledore raised his hands and the sheet fell off, revealing a table, stacked with presents and cards. Harry stared flabbergasted at the mountain of presents. "It seems there are many out there that wish to thank you." Dumbledore picked up a thick padded jiffy bag from the table. It was an A4 envelope of brown paper, with bubble-wrap inside, and had thick yet neat writing on the outside.
"If you wish to see the extent of how widely what you have done is felt," said Dumbledore. "I suggest you read this one."
Harry took the proffered packaged and opened the envelope. He tipped the contents onto the bed. A thick card inside a pale blue envelope fell out, along with a small blue box, which was covered in blue felt. It looked suspiciously like a box for a wedding ring, only a little bigger. Harry decided to open the card first, slitting the envelope open. Inside was a card, on the front of which was a still image of two cartoon bears, hugging each other. The words 'Thank You' were embossed in gold in the top corner of the card. Harry opened the card to find a page of neat handwriting, written in blue ink, not the black a wizard would use.
This card carries not only my thanks, but also the thanks of a nation. Winston Churchill once said that never before on the field of battle, has so much been owed by so many to so few. Well, thanks to you, Harry, the battle never even started. You are only sixteen and yet you have displayed courage and valour beyond any man I know. You and your team have not only saved hundreds of lives, but you really have changed the world. You have shown us that our two communities can work together to a much greater end. United we stand, divided we fall, and we nearly did. Starting today, the Ministry of Magic will have its say in Parliament (off the record of course). There is much we can learn together and your efforts have ushered in a new area for this country, one that I hope we can look back on in years to come as Britain's Golden Age.
Attached is a small token of our appreciation. Normally these come from the Queen, but your involvement is so secret that you cannot be officially presented with one. Your own government may wish to reward you, but I wish you to know that you have the thanks of the entire country, Magical and Non. May it remind you that whatever trials you face in life, you do have the courage to face them.
Harry put down the card and opened the box. Inside was a small bronze medal, hung from a purple ribbon.
He had heard of the Victoria Cross, but never seen one. It was Britain's highest award for bravery. Only about sixty have ever been issued, and never to a civilian. Harry ran a finger over the word Valour and thought back to Voldemort. He had been so scared, but he had had a job to do. He remembered hearing someone say that Courage wasn't not being scared; it was being scared but doing what had to be done despite it. Harry knew that the Prime Minister had not trusted him and sent in a second team of Marines to kill him, but he didn't hold it against him. He had done what he thought was right, and in his shoes, Harry would have done the same. But it was over now; it was behind him. Harry closed the box, for the same reason he didn't want the Order of Merlin. He hadn't fought for riches or rewards; he had fought so that he might go home. Home? Where was home? Home is where the heart it? Where did his heart lie?
"I must take my leave now," said Dumbledore, breaking Harry's trail of thought. "The feast is starting soon. I will leave you to your presents."
As Dumbledore glided out of the room, Harry threw the covers off him, and rose to his feet. He inspected the table of presents at the end. He had so many more questions, but this was not the time. He saw cards from his friends, from the Aurors and many people he had never heard of. Rose had sent him some sweets, and his parents had sent him a parcel, which he still lacked the courage to open. He somehow felt so undeserving of all this.
All he wanted to go home and rest.
The word reverberated through his head. After all he had done, after everything he had seen, this was not his word. It was a second home to him, but he had a first and he had to get back to it. If the other Harry wasn't here, he must we there. It made sense. If he was in Harry's body, then Harry must be in his. That meant that he no longer had a choice. He had to find the Dark Knight and make sure that Voldemort could never come back. It also meant that if Harry was there, with Voldemort…oh God, his friends were in grave danger.
"This year," said Dumbledore, addressing the hall, his glass raised, "has brought with it trials, and tests for us all. Fate has dealt us some rotten luck over the last few years, forcing upon us hardships that have taken away our very liberty. Fate, it seems has had a vile sense of humour. The author Dante had a dream, in which he walked through the seven layers of Hell. When he woke, he drew the famous image of the seven layers of hell, which we know as Dante's Inferno. He wrote a book to match is, and do you know what he called it? The Devine Comedy. We all face hardships in life, but it is how we face them that defines who we are. We went from bad to worse; we came one step forwards and then three backwards, and at every stage, we thought that it couldn't get worse. Where is God now, we said. What kind of God would let this happen? As Dante said in his book, we all face trials, and only those of faith, who never lose hope will be rewards. And we were sent a miracle. At the eleventh hour, our miracle came, and it was not some great and powerful mystic being. It was not a weapon that saved us, or an army, or divine intervention. All it took was a group of students, from this every school. All my life, I have tried to teach you all how to be good, useful members of society, to make better witches and wizards out of you, so it is with great pride that I honour those who stood for freedom in our hour of need. These students may not have been the most academically able, the strongest, fastest, or bravest of us, but they kept faith. Hope can be found, even in the darkest of places, if we simply remember to turn on the light. These students refused to let the light go out, and now we can all enjoy a tie of peace. Three of their number are no longer with us. They gave their lives for us and we honour them for it."
Dumbledore stepped around the front of the table and down into the middle of the room.
"Each of us has been dealt a fresh hand," said Dumbledore softly. "This New Year, we can wash aside the darkness of the past. Those who have sinned against us, we must look in our hearts to forgive." He stared at the Slytherin table, before turning to Snape. "Those who have made mistakes, we must put it aside. If we do not learn from our mistakes, we are doomed to repeat them. Professor Flamel's History lessons are more important than ever. So, my friends, it is with great pleasure that I introduce to you, those who fought for us. Ronald Weasley, Ginerva Weasley, Hermione Granger, Rose-Marie Potter, Kathryn Bell, Terrence Boot, Susan Bones, Luna Lovegood, Seamus Finnegan, Cho Chang and the deceased, Hannah Abbot and Anthony Goldstein. My friends, a toast to you, to freedom."
"TO FREEDOM!" the school repeated, raising their glasses to their lips. Those who had been named were on their feet, and all eyes turned to watch the people who were once students, and who were now heroes. Still, the question on everyone's lips was 'where was the head cheese'.
Albus' thoughts turned back to Harry. What was he going to do? It was remarkable how he had coped. What would Albus himself do if the world suddenly turned on its head? What if he woke up to find the war was back on, that he was a villain, that people were trying to kill him and those he loved never knew him, were dead and those he knew to be dead were alive. Could be cope? He remembered how Harry had described himself: A Stranger in an Unholy Land. The world had seemed horrible and violent to him when he arrived, and he had had no idea what was going on. He had gone from famous to infamous. In a war torn and Godless land, he had made himself a Lord and now… it was over. What now for the Stranger? It was his choice to make, and only his.
The toast was over and so was the feast. As a treat, the Weird Sisters were playing a New Years concert at Hogwarts, to celebrate the end of the war. The students were in for a fun evening.
It was half past eleven when Harry finally made it down the Great Hall. He wore all black with a cloak over the top. The corridors were disserted as he made his way down from the Hospital Wing. The winter night's air was chilly as he passed. His injuries had healed in the week he had spent in bed, and he looked almost normal. The Victoria Cross was in his pocket, the weight pressing against his side, comforting him. Why did he value a Muggle medal more than an OM?
He could hear the music from the second floor. Descending the stairs he passed various couples and groups of students. Raising his hood to avoid being recognised, Harry kept on walking. He reached the Hall and the music was making the walls reverberate. Harry recognised the songs, and they triggered memories of the fourth year when the Weird Sisters had played at the Yule Ball. He thought back to Parvati, Ron, Hermione and even Krum. He suppressed a sad smile at the thought of his friends back home. Friends, he now had no excuse not to return to.
He leaned against the side of the door at the back of the hall. The Room was in partial darkness with blue and silver lights at the front. The four-piece band was blaring away with their latest single, as the students by the stage went mad. Someone was crowd surfing and another stage diving, as the rock and roll piped out the speakers. Around the edges of the room there were tables at which some students sat chatting, kissing or drinking. The sea of bodies near the stage bounced in unison to the music, while the teachers, generally sat around the edge, keeping an eye on the events, nodded a head or tapped a foot in time. Harry could see his mother, wrapped in a thick cloak, sitting on a bench at the side of the room, her husband sat next to her. They were watching Rose and Ginny who were diving off the stage onto the crowd.
Harry smiled sadly at the scene. There was so much joy in the room, but it didn't seem to affect him. It was odd, but he felt like it was all a dream. He had never envisioned a time when Voldemort was truly gone, when it was over, and he never really thought he would live to see it. This was what it was like. This was proof that Voldemort can be defeated. Harry felt like he did when he handed in one of Snape's essays. He had slaved over it, and finally finished it, but there was another one set that very day, a pattern from which he could not escape. He had triumphed, but there was another Voldemort and another Hogwarts to save. He tried to shed this from his mind and share the joy, but all he saw was a pair of burning red eyes.
He could stay here. It was not impossible. What he saw now was proof. He had a family, and it wouldn't take long to make friends. He could live on in peace, never having to fight again.
But it would be a lie. Everyone he talked to would be lied to. They would be told of amnesia, not of his real home. No one could ever appreciate what it was like for him. Could he live a lie? His family would know, but he would be unable to be close to anyone, let alone intimate if who he was, was a lie. It seems that he would never find someone who understood him: who could unless they had been through exactly what he had.
Back home, no one would be able to relate to what had happened to him, and he would have to cover it up, but at least he would know who he truly was, although his strengths would take a little explaining. Both were lies, but he had home, and he had to get to it. He loved Rose, his mother and his father, he truly did, but he couldn't stay. Watching the three of them together as Rose went to talk to them, he realised that he would always be the outsider looking in. They had a real son, and brother out there, and Harry had no right to steal them from him. Though his mission was not to take him from them, to kill him. How ironic.
He had to leave.
"Thinking dark thoughts?" asked a voice. Nicolas Flamel had appeared at his side. Harry was mildly surprised that he had recognised him with the hood up.
"Only you would hide on a day like this," said Flamel, placing a hand on his shoulder. "Harry, I don't have to be a Legilimens to see what you are thinking."
"Then what should I do?" asked Harry
"That is up to you," said Flamel. "All that matters is now, the present. Both paths will be hard, but the decision is yours. Albus and I will not stand in your way whichever path you take. You've earned that right."
"We both know I have to leave," said Harry, turning away from his family to face Flamel. Dumbledore stood behind him. "I can't turn my back on my past, and if He really is out there, I have to go. If the other me is in my world, then I have to go. "
"Nor can you let your past rule you," said Flamel.
"Even so, I can just abandon my friends," said Harry. "I am most likely destined to die in my world. This world has been a break from it, like a vivid dream, or surreal holiday, but it has to end. I have to get back. Every second I stay here, I am more tempted to stay."
"So you wish to leave now?" asked Dumbledore.
Sadly, Harry nodded.
"What of you belongings?" asked Dumbledore.
"I need my swords, wands, cloths, a snack for the road and that should be enough," said Harry. "Give my Christmas sweets to the Weasleys and my family. Rose can look after my stuff."
"Are you planning to return?" asked Flamel raising an eye.
"If fate permits me," said Harry. "You did say it could work both ways."
"That I did," said Flamel, smiling. "It would be nice to see you again, Harry."
It took ten minutes to collect his stuff. Both swords were wrapped in cloth and tied over his back, while the food, and clothes were in a bag hanging over his right shoulder. His wand was on his hip. For once, he was not wearing body-armour and he felt so light and free without it.
It was quarter to midnight when Harry left the castle. Dumbledore and Flamel walked the figure in black out of the main entrance and down to slope towards where they were going to Apparate. Harry had no idea where to go, so he would side-along Apparate. They had gone perhaps ten feet from the door when a voice rang out into the night.
Harry turned slowly to see the last thing he wanted. Lily Potter was running down the hill after him, her cloak billowing in the wind. Harry paused, and took on step back up the hill.
"Where are you going?" she panted as she caught up. From the tears in her eyes, Harry guess she already knew the answer.
"I have to leave, mum," said Harry softly, wiping a tear from under her eye with the back of his finger.
"No," said Lily, pulling him into a tight hug. "No, you don't; you're one of us now. This is where you belong, with your family, with us." Harry squeezed her tightly. He could feel her trembling as she hugged him. Harry closed his eyes, fighting back the tears he could feel coming. He had not wanted this.
"Mum," he said slowly, pulling away from her and taking her hands in his. "Nothing would thrill me more than to stay. You've shown me a life I never could have imagined. You taught me to feel again, put my life back on track, and I am so glad that I came here. I've hoped of a day like today for years, a day when Voldemort was gone and I could get on with my life, but that day is not today. I have friends back home who are counting on me. When you died, they were there for me, just as you are here. I owe them almost as much as I owe you, so I can't dissert them in their hour of need."
"But you could die," protested Lily, choking on tears.
"As I was meant to all along," said Harry. "I should have died that day, but I ended up here. Remember what Dumbledore said, the Devine Comedy. God, Fate, Destiny, plucked me from death, and with it's great sense of humour and irony gave me everything I ever wanted. It has given me a holiday, a break. It gave me time to get to know what I had lost years ago, but I have to get back. Professor Flamel says that I should be able to come back and visit, and you have my word, if I can, I will."
"Harry, please," begged Lily. "You can't leave again. I can't lose you again."
"You won't," said Harry. "This isn't goodbye."
"You don't have to run anymore," said Lily.
"I'm not running, mum," said Harry. "Staying here would be hiding. We all chose our own paths in life, and mine lies elsewhere." Lily stood motionless, staring at him unblinkingly through her glistening tear-filled eyes. Harry could see the pain in her eyes, but he had to leave; he didn't have a choice.
"At least let me see you off," said Lily, her voice shaky.
"Come," said Flamel, taking Lily's hand. The four of them walked slowly down the hill, under the moonlight. The air was cold and crisp, but the night was clear and quiet. In a few minutes, the fireworks would start and the sky would see a cluster of colours, but for now, the silence was absolute. Harry felt an odd mixture of relief, regret and hope as he was now to leave one world behind and return to another.
"Here," said Flamel, bringing them to a stop, just beyond the Apparation barrier. "Lily, take my hand, Harry you hold on to Albus. Harry took Dumbledore's hand, just as his mother took Flamel's.
"Are we ready?" asked Flamel. Harry nodded and so did Lily, albeit shakily. They Disapparated with a pop. Harry felt like he had been squeezed through a rubber tube. The air was crushed out of him and his head began to pound, and he landed with a thud at the other end, collapsing as he landed. The other three looked down at Harry as he lay in a heap.
I much prefer my way, thought Harry, brushing himself off.
Picking himself off, he found himself in a large cave. It was about fifty metres across in total, made from a dark rock. They were in utter darkness, save the light provided by Dumbledore's wand. On the ground, a strip of metal protruded up, about an inch thick, marking out a circle. Inside there were patterns, carved into the ground. The cave was vast, yet there was no damp in the air. While the circle was perfectly smooth, around the edges of it, stalagmites poked up from the ground. The jagged rocks cast eerie shadows in the wand-light.
Over on one side was a small alcove in the wall containing what looked like a globe on a pedestal. Flamel approached the globe, pushing his spectacles right up to the top of his nose, and holding up his wand and lighting it to gain a better view of the apparatus. Harry stepped closer to watch, as Flamel brushed the dust off the machine with his sleeve.
After a few seconds hesitation, he unzipped his bag and removed what looked like small sceptre. It was about ten inches long, and two thick. It was octagonal at the base and made from what appeared to be gold. Runes were carved into the side of it. Dumbledore held his wand up high, so Flamel could work. Grasping one end in each hand, Flamel twisted the sceptre. The top half began to turn as he twisted. This inside must have been like a screw, for as he twisted, the sceptre extended and a large crystal rose up from the tip of the sceptre. It was now twelve inches long and topped by a large diamond; at least Harry thought it was a diamond.
"This is the key," said Flamel, to Harry. "Insert here, like so." He inserted the sceptre into a small octagonal hole in the top of the pedestal. The sceptre slid cleanly into the slot. As he did, the globe began to glow a healthy white. Little balls of light dotted around the walls, burst into life, illuminating the cave in bright white light.
"That's better," remarked Dumbledore, extinguishing his wand.
"Harry," said Flamel. "I need you to perform a spell on that globe. Something simple." Harry raised his wand to the globe and muttered the words to turn it red. The globe began to glow as the spell hit it. Red energy poured out of the globe into small ducts in the floor, which snaked away to edge of the circle on the floor. The energy began to pulse at seven identical points around the circle.
"Why seven?" asked Harry.
"The most powerful of magical numbers," said Flamel. "No one knows why but most of the advanced Arithmancical Equations results in a ratio of 7 to 1. It is beyond coincidence, but no one knows why it is, it is just accepted. Right, I have analysed a spell you did in one of my classes and a drop of your blood. I have the equations here." He produced several sheets of parchment from his pocket.
"This is the equation used, and how I arrived at the numbers I did," said Flamel, beckoning Harry to read the notes. "Albus has checked them, and from there they are transferred into Greek runes, like so. I need you to trace these runes onto the seven tablets over there.
At seven equally spaced points around the circle on the floor were pools of light, not unlike a Pensieve, except that they glowed red not silver. Following Flamel's notes carefully, Harry copied the runes of the paper down onto the pools of light using his wand. As he finished one, it began to glow white. As he finished the final rune, seven beams of light shot upwards towards the centre of the circle. One of the stalactites on the ceiling was not made of rock, but of crystal, just like the key. The light met there and glowed a blinding white. Harry covered his eyes, as a screen of light descended downwards in an arch towards the ground.
It reminded Harry of the Priori Incantium effects, as the glowing gateway formed.
"Well that was easy," said Flamel, stepping away from the globe. "There's the doorway Harry, now all that remains is for you to walk through it." Harry stared at the archway of light in the centre of the cave. It was just like a doorway and all he had to do was take that single step. One small step for man…. He new he wanted to, but then why did he hesitate. He had to do it. He had a war to fight on the other side, and his home, his friends were there. Why did he hesitate?
"You don't have to," said Lily, taking hold of his hand. It was more of a temptation to stay. All the way here, he had known he would have to leave. He had accepted it, even imagined the looks on the other's face when he appeared. It was a fact, set in stone that he had to leave, but every second he stayed, he was more tempted to stay.
"On the second parchment," added Flamel, pointing to the collection of parchments he had given Harry, "is an equation derived from my own blood and magic. It should be able to bring you back any time you desire. You will require the key. Flamel held up the sceptre which now lay dormant in his hand." Harry took it and put it in his bag, along with the parchments. Right, this was it; he had to go. All he had to do was say, goodbye and then walk forward, but he couldn't do it. His limbs and mouth didn't want to move.
"You are quite welcome to return any time," said Dumbledore, approaching Harry and Lily. "There will always be room for you at Hogwarts, and help will always be given…"
"To those who ask for it," finished Harry, knowing the phrase too well. And he was right. Those back home were crying out for help, and Harry was all that could help them.
"Thank you," said Harry, facing the headmaster and extending his hand. Dumbledore took it in his, shaking his hand firmly.
"No, Harry," he said, smiling. "Thank you."
Harry shook Flamel's hand in turn and then turned to his mother, who's eyes still glistened with tears. Harry knew she had accepted he was leaving, but it was still hard for her. She had lost her son once, and now had to do so again.
"Say Goodbye to Rose for me," said Harry, staring into her emerald green eyes, knowing that Rose would want him to stay and would refuse to accept he had to leave. In her mind, his place was here; in her mind, he was something he wasn't: he real brother. "She won't understand."
"I will," said Lily, a tear rolling down her cheek, as she pulled him into a hug. Harry hugged her back, encased in her arms. He could feel her shaking, as she sobbed into his shoulder. In his mother's arms, Harry felt safe, if only for a moment. For that moment, he was truly home, where every little boy should be, but it could never last. "Promise me that you'll come back some day," sobbed Lily.
"I will," said Harry, pulling away from here. "If I can, I will return."
"Good bye, mum," said Harry, turning to Flamel. Lily didn't release his hand until the last moment, almost pulling him back. Harry's fingers slid slowly out of his mothers grip as he stepped closer to Flamel "What do I do?"
"Simply walk through the gate," said the professor, gesturing to the archway of light.
"Good luck, Harry," said Dumbledore, resting an arm on his shoulders. "The Promised Land awaits."
Harry nodded to him, before stepping into the circle and heading towards the archway in the centre. The hairs on his body stood on end as he neared the gateway of light. He could feel its power in the air, like static electricity. This was his way home. His adventures in the Unholy Land were over; he had found a way home. So why was he so nervous? Dumbledore was right, the Promised Land lay waiting for him. It was time to go home.
With a final glance back at his mother, Harry wiped the single tear from his cheek, and stepped into archway of light.
Having every single atom in your body separated from the next and thrust straight through the fabric of space and time is a very odd feeling to experience.
That was the first thought that entered Harry's mind as his newly reassembled body landed with a very hard bump. It felt like he had been dunked in a lake of ice-cold water, as a feeling of numbness took his entire body. There was a bright white light that would have blinded him, were it not for the fact that his eyes were already atomised. Then came the rush, as his atoms were forced sideways in time. His stomach was in a trillion tiny pieces, yet he still felt it leap into his throat, as if he was riding the world's fastest roller coaster. Then came re-entry. It felt like he was being crushed as his molecules flew back together in a nanosecond, before being spat out by the Node. He landed painfully on his side and rolled twice before coming to a stop. He was freezing and covered in a watery residue, which had soaked into his clothes. Harry sat shivering for a few seconds, before looking around.
The light from the Node faded, plunging the cave into darkness, making it impossible to see. His eyes unaccustomed to the darkness after his walking into blinding light were as good as useless. Harry shivered from the slimy goo that covered his entire body. He fumbled in his pocket for his wand.
His wand burst to life in his hand, shining a beam of white light into the wall of the cave. It was identical to where he had been before, except that there was no Dumbledore, no Flamel and no Lily Potter. She was dead here. Harry sighed sadly at the though that he could no longer go and see her whenever he wanted. He could pop in for a cuppa or visit her at will. Here he was alone. Still, Flamel had said he could go back at a later date. He would visit them, of course he would. He could spend holidays with his family like normal people. Maybe he could take his Ron and his Hermione, maybe even Ginny. Still, that was a long way into the future.
Shaking the thought from him mind, Harry stood up. The cave was damp and yet the air was full of dust, which had been disturbed by Harry's arrival. The dust in the cave was sticking to the slimy residue all over this body. Harry grimaced as he wiped the goo from his mouth and nose, whipping his arm to the side to get rid of it, but the goo stuck to his fingers.
Harry cleaned himself, as best he could using his wand. After nearly two minutes work, he was clean and warm, though every limb in his body ached. The pain of re-entry hadn't worn off yet, if, in fact, it would before he went to bed. Satisfied with his appearance, Harry turned the wand back to the cave, looking for the way out. The wand light highlighted the passage that led out of the cave over to his left. He checked his swords were secure before swinging the bag of supplies over his shoulder and started to stagger towards the exit. His legs protested with every step and his body felt numb. The warming spell on his clothes was having a minor effect, but he felt so, so tired. Harry followed the passage for about two hundred metres before he heard the sound of rushing water. Suddenly there was light at the end of the passage, albeit dim light. As Harry moved further along the passage he was faced with a wall of water. He was behind a waterfall. The path opened up onto a narrow ledge that led around the back of the waterfall. The trouble was that it seemed to have weathered away to nothing, leaving nowhere to put his feet.
Harry shot a dirty look at the rook, in frustration before concentrating his cold, tired and hungry mind on his limbs. He felt an odd tingle sensation, as the cliffs began to grow around him. His whole body felt like it was being squashed and squeezed into a tiny box. Of course it was not the cliffs that were growing, but him who was shrinking.
Harry spread his wings, and began to flap as he had been taught. Soaring out from behind the waterfall, Harry flapped harder, propelling himself upwards on an air current, towards the clear night's sky.
It was night time and the sky was clear. Pin pricks of light shone down from the heavens. There was no wind and the moon was half full. It was a beautiful, peaceful night that had only been interrupted by the arrival of an inter-dimensional traveller. Not something that these parts were famous for.
Rising above the cliff top, Harry glided gently down towards the ground, turning back into his normal form as he did, landing gracefully on the crisp grass. He felt almost drunk and his head was spinning. He shook his head, trying to clear his mind of the tipsy feeling. The Animagus transformation so soon after travelling was not a good idea. Looking around, Harry found himself totally unfamiliar with the surrounding. He could look down on the waterfall, as the rock stretched out beyond the end of the river. It was enough to give most people vertigo.
The grass was long and had not been maintained. It showed no sign of human presence. That was probably for the better, as no one should ever use the Node; it could cause too many complications. The downside of the remote location was that Harry didn't have a clue where he was or how to get to Hogwarts.
Harry felt exhausted; suddenly the full weight of what had happened over the last few hours caught up with him. His limbs ached and he found himself yawning. He pulled his traveller's cloak tighter around him and cast another warming charm over it as well. He returned his wand to his hip and pulled a sandwich out of the bag. He forced it whole into his mouth and chewed. Etiquette went right out the window as he checked the bag to make sure everything was right. He had all his things, Flamel's notes, and the key so he could return. The two swords and stun-baton were wrapped in black fabric and were tied over his back. Harry raised his hood to keep his head warm in the bitter air. It had been warmer in the Unholy Land.
To his surprise Harry found that he still had the knowledge of how to use the weapons, and indeed how to fight. The memories he had acquired in the other world seemed more like a dream know but the instincts, the abilities seemed to have travelled with him. That was good, he now had an advantage over Tom and he sure as hell was not going to let it go to waste. Last time he had hopped worlds, he had been ripped from his body and taken someone else's. This time he had not. It had been like Apparating from one place to another, so he had retained his body and skills. Boy, Tom was going to be surprised.
Pushing his way through the thigh high grass, trying to ignore the continuous scratches from brambles and thorns, Harry headed into what looked like a path of sorts. It was more like a gap in the trees that seemed to go somewhere. Harry made it to the muddy path in a few minutes, his gloves protecting him from the stinging nettles though the thorns from bramble bushed still seemed to penetrate his combats, pricking his legs. Groggily he stumbled along the path, looking for any sign of human inhabitants. He had gone less than a mile before his prayers were answered. Up ahead to the right of the path was a house. It was old and made of stone rather than bricks. A quaint little cottage in the woods with a small garden.
Harry felt a rush of hope surge through him, filling his limbs with energy. If there was someone here they could tell him where he was. In fact, come to think of it the house was so remote and close to the Node that they might even be Magical. If that were the case they would recognise him and perhaps even let him use a pinch of Floo powder. He could be home in minutes. It was probably wrong to get his hopes up in case he was disappointed but he was too tired to care. All he wanted was his bed, but before that he had to get home.
Harry hopped the picket fence. The grass in the garden was quite long, but not high enough to impede him. He staggered to the door and knocked.
Harry rapped on the door three times, but to his surprise, the door swung open as he knocked. With a creak the wooden door opened slightly. Well, thought Harry. Whoever lives here probably doesn't get many visitors so is quite lax about security.
"Hello?" he called, as he pushed the door open a little further. Inside was dark, the curtains were open but the bushes outside the window prevented the moonlight seeping through. The living room was small, the smell of dust prevalent as Harry entered. The fireplace was empty, and the mirror about the mantle was covered in dust. It was almost as if the house was deserted. There was no sign of life.
"HELLO?" called Harry again. There was nothing. The house seemed completely dead. Harry checked the kitchen and found nothing. Mouldy food filled the cupboards while mice scurried away as he entered. His sharp eyes picking up the scurrying creatures as they bolted for cover. Everything was put away and tidy, now covered with a layer of dust. Harry picked a glass up off the side and after rinsing it out under the tap poured himself a glass of water. He drank half of it and tipped the rest over his head.
The cold water did its job. Feeling slightly more awake, Harry moved back into the living room. If this was indeed a magical house, there would be a pot of Floo powder by the fireplace. If he could find it he could Floo to Hogwarts. He could reach Dumbledore. Finally this whole damn fiasco would be over. He could sleep in his own bed in his own world; safe and sound, well as safe as one can be when Voldemort is after you.
"Lumos," muttered Harry, pointing his wand at the fireplace. A bright light appeared at the end of his wand, illuminating the fireplace. It was certainly large enough for a human to climb inside so there was hope. On the metal mantle there was a flowerpot, containing what remained of some flowers now only useable as compost. There were some small figurines of animals and then right on the end was a small ceramic pot, containing a very familiar looking powder.
"Yes!" Harry. It was his ticket home. He grabbed a handful and climbed into the fireplace. "Hogwarts, Great Hall!" he cried as he threw the powder into the fireplace.
Harry came stumbling out covered in dust. He looked around, expecting to see four long tables and the familiar signs of a hall teaming with students. He was however sadly disappointed. He was right back where he started. There was now more dust in the air from the effect of his Flooing. Harry coughed and covered his mouth.
Why hadn't it worked? He had done it all correctly and since the flames actually turned green the fireplace was connected to the network. Of course! Security. Hogwarts can't be reached by Floo. It would too vulnerable to attack. In the current climate of world affairs, Dumbledore wouldn't take the risk.
Harry picked up more powder and Floo'd to the Three Broomsticks. This time it worked, he emerged triumphantly, if somewhat clumsily in the pub which was in full swing. Men and women everywhere with their drinks, and a light drizzle of rain falling outside, visible to Harry through the windows. There was music on the air and the beer was flowing, judging by several red face men in the corner. No one batted an eye as he immerged from the fireplace.
Relieved, Harry pushed his way through the crowd and out into the street. The cool rain came as a relief, washing the tiredness from him and he began the long trek back up to the castle. He kept a steady pace but was too achy to run. His feet were hurting but seemed to be free from blisters much to Harry's relief. He had gone a few hundred feet when the rain stopped.
Harry kept on walking step by step, ignoring the protests of his limbs. He came to the castle at last. It loomed up in front of him, silhouetted against the clear night's sky. The windows glowed orange, it seemed to warm and inviting. He was so nearly there. Just a little closer! He could imagine his bed now, so warm, so comfy, with Ron in the next one along and Hermione in the girls dorm. He was home! Harry arrived at the front lawn. The entrance hall was one hundred metres ahead. The aches seemed to vanish; he had done it.
Home Sweet Home.
Harry walked forward, every step taking him nearer to the door.
"Sweet Home, Alabama," he sang softly to himself, unable to hide his happiness. "Where the skies are so blue." He resisted the urged to play the air guitar, or even to use his pack of swords as one. "Lord, I'm coming home to you." Harry had no idea what the words were, so hummed as he crossed the lawn, tempted to skip, but to tired.
"Country roads," he sang, changing songs. "Take me home." He stepped off the lawn onto the path that ran up to the huge wooden doors in the outer walls. "To the place, I belong, West Virginia." His singing came to a sudden halt as he saw that the doors were closed. The large wooden door was firmly shut and not Harry's banging, nor his alohomora spell had any effect on it. He could be out here all night. This was just ridiculous. He couldn't get in. He had been dreaming of a warm comfy bed, not kipping on the cold hard ground.
Hang on! No puny Apparation ward could keep Harry out. Of course he could get in. Harry shook the weariness from his mind and concentrated on the Entrance Hall.
The familiar sensation of being engulfed in flames followed and Harry found himself in the Entrance Hall of Hogwarts. He had done it. He was back in Hogwarts, in his own world.
The warmth of the castle filled his mind and body as he stood just inside the door. The darkened hall seemed gloomy, but to Harry it was like the pearly gates of Heaven. He was home. Harry turned left towards the stairs and began to climb. He had to go and tell Dumbledore he was back. He briefly considered turning up to breakfast as if nothing had happened, but it was just unkind. He had to tell Dumbledore.
Harry climbed the stairs, ignoring the aching in his limbs. He really needed to practice his Animagus Training if it hurt this badly. Harry reached the second floor, and turned to go up to the third when a voice called to him.
Oh, great! thought Harry in frustration. Rumbled by a prefect. They patrolled the corridors at night. It was probably one of them that had challenged him. He briefly considered running for it, but knew that in his current state he couldn't outrun an asthmatic ant with heavy some heavy shopping. Harry turned to face the speaker.
"Curfew is at nine," said the voice, as a large fat man who looked like a Walrus stepped out of the shadows. Well, it certainly wasn't a prefect. Who the hell was this?
"Who are you?" asked Harry, not wasting time on subtleties.
"Possibly the worst attempt to avoid a detention I've ever heard," said the man, looking at Harry as if he's just told the Pope that Mary wasn't a virgin. "I've been Potions Master long enough for even the most dim-witted to know me, boy."
So he was Potion's Master, was he, thought Harry. Then where's old Snivvy? Was he undercover? Surely at Hogwarts he was more useful. Then again, in the Unholy Land, as he now referred to it, Snape had genuinely been on the side of good. Who knows what was happening in the Promised Land? Harry would have to discuss it with Dumbledore, not this man, whoever he was.
"Of course, sir," said Harry. "My apologies. I just need to see the Headmaster, then I'll go straight to bed, promise."
"I would have let you off with a warning," said the walrus, staring accusingly at him. "But if you really wish to involve the head in this, then so be it. After you, young man." Harry turned and began to climb. He had no idea who this man was but had developed a dislike for him.
"You're not one of my Slytherins," said the Walrus, "So which house are you in?" Harry still had his hood up, but his face could be seen, so the man could identify him, but he didn't know him. Oh well, he was the new teacher and had no met him yet. He must be stuck up, for he had been Potion Master or so he claimed since September, which was four months, and yet seemed to think everyone should bow to him. He seemed to be Head of Slytherin as well, which told Harry to hold his tongue, just in case he was dark.
"Gryffindor," said Harry, leaving the stairs and heading towards Dumbledore's office.
"Sixth," said Harry, partially relieved than man didn't recognise him, as it meant that no one would spoil his thunder.
They arrived at the gargoyle, before the Walrus could reply.
"Quid Pro Quo," said the Walrus to the gargoyle. The stone figure obediently jumped said, revealing the stairs. Dumbledore must have gone off the idea of using sweets as passwords. Was it too predictable?
The Potions Master knocked on the wooden door and then stuck his head around the door, blocking the office from Harry with his vast body.
"A student is here to see you, headmaster" began the professor. Dumbledore must have nodded, for the Walrus stepped aside and Harry stepped into the office. It had totally changed. The furniture was different, the feel was different and the man himself was different.
Harry's jaw dropped and he stood before Headmaster T. M. Riddle.
The adventure continues in…
A Stranger in
the Promised Land
And so concludes part one of the Stranger Trilogy. I hope you have enjoyed the ride. Please drop me a line and let me know what you think. Thank you all for your support over the years (yes it has been two) - without you, I wouldn't have managed it.
Part 2: A Stranger in the Promised Land has already begun on my Yahoo!Group. Two chapters can be found on the Stranger Trilogy yahoo!Group. Yahoo search for Stranger Trilogy or A Stranger in an Unholy Land to find it.