After the hardships of A Stranger in an Unholy Land, Harry Potter thought that he had found a way home. However something went wrong. Now he finds himself trapped in yet another dimension, one where his parents were killed, but in which someone else was cursed with the famous scar. Harry, having retained his unique abilities, and trusting the one person he promised himself he never would, he must now prepare the scar-bearer for the final showdown with the Dark Lord.
Upon Closer Inspection
"Every problem is an opportunity in disguise"
"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 as he stood before Headmaster T. M. Riddle.
"You!" gasped Harry, his entire body freezing in horror. This can't be! Everything had gone correctly. He couldn't be in the right world! He must have gone to yet another world! What went wrong? Harry felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. He felt sick, chills ran up and down his spine and a shiver reached from his fingers to his toes. How could it have gone so wrong? Dumbledore and Flamel between them had agreed that the calculations were right. They were the wisest men in centuries. How had it gone so badly wrong? He had thought the other world was bad, but this…this was just awful! Riddle was…he couldn't even think it.
Tom Riddle rose slowly from his chair, surveying Harry with curious eyes. His eyes! They were not red, but a deep blue. The man before Harry was so similar to the Voldemort of the other universe that Harry instinctively took a step back, his hand flying to his wand. Riddle's eyes flashed to Harry's hand which was overtly wrapped around his wand, but made no effort to draw his own. Harry wished he had worn his armour. He stood ready, his eyes surveying Riddle.
Riddle was tall, and thin, just as Harry remembered. His skin was pale and smooth; his long black hair cascading over his shoulders by a few inches, framing his face in the light of the fire, giving him a haunted look. The Headmaster looked calmly into Harry's eyes, and Harry stared back. Emerald Green met Sapphire Blue as the two enemies locked eyes. Harry was surprised by what he saw; the Headmaster's eyes twinkled with a passion unknown to Lord Voldemort. There was kindness etched into the man's features even though he wasn't smiling. Harry found himself being sucked into those deep blue eyes. They reminded him so much of Dumbledore - but then he remembered exactly who he was facing. This was Tom Riddle: the man who murdered his parents, tried to kill his sister, murdered Cedric Diggory twice, and made his life Hell in more than one world. He was the enemy.
"Welcome back, Mr Potter," said Riddle softly. That voice! It was not the icy high-pitched hiss that caused grown men and trained Aurors to lose bladder control. Instead, it was a perfectly normal voice: soft, kind and gentle, just like the peaceful voice that he had heard in this office so many times before. But no! It was Riddle! He was the enemy! Harry must not fall for this deceit. This man had murdered his parents! "May I ask where you have been?" asked Riddle calmly. There was curiosity in his voice, but patience as well.
"Where's Dumbledore?" snapped Harry, unable to control his hatred of the man before him. Harry's mind was racing, trying to find answers to the sea of questions in which he was drowning. Who? What? How? Why? Dumbledore! If there was anyone who could explain what was going on it would be Dumbledore. Until he had spoken to Dumbledore, Harry would not do anything that Riddle told him to. His hand was on his wand, ready in an instant if the bastard tried anything.
"Albus Dumbledore?" asked Riddle looking curiously at Harry. What was so confusing? Everyone had heard of Dumbledore; he was the most powerful wizard in centuries, everyone knew him. As a former headmaster, everyone must know the name - in fact there should be a painting on the wall? Harry wanted to check for a portrait on the wall, but didn't dare take his eyes off the murderer before him.
"Albus Dumbledore!" repeated Harry, his voice patronising and hostile. "Surely you've heard of him. He's the most powerful wizard in centuries." Harry half expected Riddle to contest that, claiming that he was more powerful, but that was not what happened next.
Riddle and the Walrus exchanged curious glances. Harry's eyes moved quickly between them. What was wrong? It was a simple question. Even in the other world, Dumbledore had been the only one Voldemort had ever feared - until Harry came along that was. Why could they not give a simple answer to a simple question?
"Thank you, Horace," said Riddle, nodding to the Walrus, who turned to leave. Riddle took a step around the side of the desk as the man called Horace left. There was a look in Riddle's eyes that, if Harry hadn't known better, he might have mistaken for concern.
"Harry, are you feeling alright?" asked Riddle after the door had closed behind 'Horace'. Riddle seemed to be appraising Harry's face - luckily the infamous scar was concealed by the hood. He slowly reached out for Harry with a pale hand. Harry instantly backed away, sliding his wand half way out of the holster. Riddle noticed his retreat and withdrew his own arm, palm raised in surrender.
"I'm fine, now answer the God-damned question," he snapped at Riddle. He expected a flash of anger from the Headmaster - No! He would not think of him as that - but all he saw was that insatiable calm that Dumbledore had. Who or what was this man?
"In the same place he's been for the last fifty years," sighed Riddle, a look that could be mistaken for regret or even pain on his face.
"And where might that be?" said Harry coldly. Riddle sank slowly back into his chair and sighed deeply before answering.
"WHAT?" cried Harry, the world seeming to close in around him. "He's dead?" No, it couldn't be! All his life Dumbledore had been there. Harry had not appreciated it at times, but he had been. If Harry was in trouble he could always go to Dumbledore who seemed to always be able to make things better. But now Dumbledore was gone, he was completely lost. No, he couldn't believe it. It had to be a lie!
"Harry," said Riddle kindly. "Albus Dumbledore was killed over fifty years ago by the Dark Lord."
"You are the bloody Dark Lord!" screamed Harry. He could feel the tears coming; they were seconds away from bursting. He couldn't believe it. It couldn't be true. He had to get out of here! This was all wrong!
"Harry…" said Riddle, staring at him.
"NO!" screamed Harry, causing Riddle to jump. He had had enough. This was the wrong world! He had to go back! He was not staying here! He had to find a way home! Before anyone could move to stop him, Harry bolted out of the door and down the steps. As he sprinted down the deserted corridor, he felt the tears start to come. His anguish just drove him harder. He ran past empty classrooms and suits of armour, ignoring the orders to stop from teachers and prefect, and not even responding to Peeve's volley of rotten peaches. Something had gone wrong; he was in the wrong world. How had it happened, why had it happened? Could he fix it, could he really get back home? Was he doomed to float from universe to universe until, by luck, he found the right one? He would probably be so old by that time that he wouldn't even remember what his world was like. He didn't want to think about it.
Down the stairs three at a time and towards the Entrance Hall Harry ran. He would normally have stopped from exhaustion by now but desperation kept him going. Out through the door into the cold night he went, opening the gate and breaking free of Hogwarts. He finally slowed to a walk just beyond the gate, but he kept moving. He walked briskly, ignoring the stitch building in his left side and the aching of every limb in his body. Harry marched through the cold yet calm night, ignoring the cries of wolves, and the Thestrals that swooped down and snatched small creatures from the ground. He didn't even notice the rain which now was gently falling from the heavens in a light shower.
His mind was racing. Could he get home? He had to find out. The house had been called Raven Wood Cottage. If he could Floo back there, he could use the Node to return to his world. No, he couldn't! He didn't know how – the 'address' he had been given was wrong. He couldn't go on to his own world, but he could go back to the world he had come from, back to the Unholy Land. Flamel might have given him the wrong 'address' but if he could get back there, the old man could then try again. At least they knew how to calculate an 'address'. Harry had all the parchments and the key in his bag. It would be simple to get back – Flamel had given him the 'return address' to get back for visits. This wasn't going to be a visit, but it would get him back onto safe ground. God damn it! Why had he left? He was safe and comfortable there. He had a family, friends, and there was no Dark Lord – he had seen to that. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. He should have stayed where he was.
He barged into the Three Broomsticks, knocking patrons aside as he passed, heading straight for the fireplace. He charged straight into a rather well built wizard covered in tattoo, spilling his pint of whatever all down his seemingly new navy blue robes.
"OI!" bellowed the drunken wizard. "WHAT'S YOUR GAME?" he slurred grabbing Harry's lapels with one hand and balling the other up. Harry's anguish, desperation and anger at himself got the better of him, and he reacted instantly with excessive force. He grabbed the man's wrist and twisted it violently to the right, forcing him to let go of Harry's cloak and with all his strength forced the palm-heal of his right hand up into the nose of the drunk. The man's nose exploded in a shower of blood. Had Harry been a little stronger he could have forced the broken nose fragments up into the man's brain killing him instantly. As it was, the drunk just fell to the floor, clutching his nose.
Harry didn't hang around - he grabbed the powder and Floo'd to Raven Wood. The cottage was just as dark and dismal as ever. His arrival had disturbed more dust and he had to cover his mouth to prevent a sneezing fit. He ran out of the front door and hopped the fence, every step taking him closer to the node, closer to being back home. He made his way along the path as fast as he could through the thicket ignoring the nettles and thorns.
At last he arrived at the top of the cliff, the cascade of water falling away beneath him. He didn't even bother to change form. Harry jumped off the cliff, spinning as he did to face the cliff. Brandishing his wand like a whip, he muttered the charm and a long thin chord shot out of his wand and adhered to the cliff, swinging Harry back in towards it, through the water and into the tunnel. He ambled along as quickly as possible, ignoring his damp clothes. He only had one thought on his mind: get to the Node; go home! He didn't know what had gone wrong, or why, and he didn't care. He had to get back to Flamel, to Dumbledore, to someone who could help. He had to get out of this nightmare.
The cave stood just as he had left it, a dark ominous cavern with jagged rocks that came eerily out of the darkness, like a sea of knives, casting vicious shadows on the wall. Harry cut straight across the circle, guided by his wand light, straight towards the globe. The sphere stood as it had in the other world, almost identical, except that it was more dusty. Harry used his sleeve to clear the dust and found the hole.
He blew into it, releasing a cloud of dust straight into his eyes. Wiping them on his sleeve and cursing his stupidity, Harry swore into the darkness. The word was reflected back at him by the vast cave, as if it were mocking him. Able to see again, Harry removed the key from his bag and unwrapped it. He twisted, just as Flamel had done, extending the diamond to the top of the key. Then turning it upside down so the diamond went in first, Harry pressed the key into the port.
The diamond had gone in, but something was stopping the rest of the key from following. There must be something lodged in there.
"Scourgify," he muttered. The dirt in the port disappeared instantly and Harry could see that the inside of the pedestal was in fact gold. It was just stone around the top. Harry pressed the key into the lock once more.
Again, the key refused to go in. Harry pushed down hard, but to no avail; it refused to slide in. Holding his wand close, Harry inspected the key. Did it have to go in a certain way? No, surely not; it was a regular octagon with no groves or lines on it. It was fully extended, so why didn't it go in?
Lowering his light, Harry peered into the hole. To his horror he saw that the inside of this one was only a hexagon. He gasped in horror. The key would never fit! It was the wrong shape. He knew better than to try to make changes to such a powerful magical object. For all he knew it would destroy the machine and the whole world he was in. He couldn't activate the machine! Harry's legs gave way beneath him and he collapsed on the floor of the cave. Tears returned to his eyes and he put his head in his hands. He was stuck here!
Why oh why had he left the other place? He had a family there, he could have been happy, but no; his helping people thing had gotten the better of him and he had to leave. Just like he always did, he tried to do what's right and had ended up getting into a worse situation that he had been before, only this time there was no Dumbledore to bail him out. This time he was on his own and he didn't know what to do. He wasn't as clever as Flamel and Dumbledore. He didn't know what was wrong. He was stuck here, in this nightmare of a world unable to leave. He was marooned: never to be set free. He would die in this nightmare. Tears flowed freely down his cheeks as he cried, his sobs echoing off the cold, hard, unwelcoming, walls of the cave. In a reflection of how much he had changed, Harry's only thought was that he wanted his mother.
Why was I so stupid?
Harry hit his fist into the ground hard. He deserved the pain for being such an idiot. He wished he were dead, anywhere other than right here, right now. Tears came faster. All his pain and suffering in the Unholy Land had been for nothing. This was supposed to be the Promised Land, but it was even worse than the first one. A Stranger in the Promised Land, mused Harry, shaking his head in anguish. Was his suffering ever going to end? It seemed not. He was stuck here.
If was several minutes before he managed to calm himself and to think clearly. He would have to stay here, have to make a living in this world. Riddle was headmaster, not the Dark Lord. If there was no Dark Lord, this place might be all right. If there was no Voldemort, then he wouldn't be in any Prophecy and he wouldn't be the Boy-Who-Lived. If there was no Dark Lord, his parents wouldn't have been murdered. What the hell was going on here? This place was more confusing than the last. At least in this one he wasn't a murderer. He was a no one – which in a way was a blessing, he could stay below the radar.
He shivered in his wet clothes; his teeth were chattering. He rose to his feet, drying his eyes and then his clothes, the second with his wand. He couldn't stay here. As much as he hated to admit it, he would have to return to Hogwarts. He didn't have the papers, money or resources to go by himself and he wasn't of age which limited his options considerably. Hogwarts was his only choice. At least from there, he could rest and it would give him time to find a way out of this mess.
Remember, Harry, every problem is an opportunity in disguise, he told himself. Though this one was wearing a bloody good disguise.
Sadly, he got to his feet and began the trek back to Hogwarts. His feet dragged as he lacked the enthusiasm to do anything but plod onwards. What was he going to do? Finish NEWTs, get a job and live out his life? He would be placed back into Gryffindor and live out a boring life, knowing that he didn't belong, knowing that he should be somewhere else, yet unable to be so. It was no better than living the lie he would have had to in the Unholy Land. The trouble was he had failed his world; they had no saviour, no Boy-Who-Lived. Voldemort was probably in power already, with Hogwarts as flat as a pancake. All those deaths were his fault.
He didn't even notice the rain. As he left the Three Broomsticks, the heavens opened and it began to pour. Harry was drenched in seconds but hardly noticed. So deep was his despair that when he next looked up he was in front of the Fat Lady. His feet had taken him to Gryffindor Tower without him thinking. He turned around and walked slowly up to the gargoyle, which had been left open, and up the steps to the door. He took a deep breath, knowing that on the other side of the door was a man who had the same blood and body of the man who killed his parents. He had to let that go. For all intents and purposes, Headmaster Riddle was a different man. He had to let it go. Harry tried to calm himself. You are not the other Harry, just as he is not Voldemort. He took a deep breath and then knocked three times.
"Come," said a voice calmly.
Harry pushed the door open and stepped inside the office once more. This time he found the room to be completely empty. The desk was tidier than Dumbledore kept his; it was more ordered and there seemed to be less innocence about it. Professor Riddle must be stricter than Dumbledore. What did the students think, since they didn't know of Voldemort? The shelves were lines with books, but they seemed to be in perfect order, rather than hicklety-picklety like Dumbledore kept his. The cabinets contained various equipments, including some rather ornate, but very dangerous looking blades. The lights were dimmer, the shadows bolder, the air cooler and the atmosphere, less inviting. This was the very thing he had prevented in Rose's world.
Harry noticed that the lamp on the desk was in the shape of a leering serpent, a large crystal in its mouth, glowing white and illuminating the desk. Tom Riddle was still the heir of Slytherin, however nice he appeared. Harry would have to watch his back. He fell to temptation in his world, it could still happen here. The image of Voldemort just before he died in the other universe crashed into his mind. Would he have to do it here? Was this Riddle as bad as the others? Looking around, there were other snakes around.
"Found what you're looking for?" hissed a voice. Harry jumped out of his skin. He spun around, his hand flying to his wand. His fingers wrapped around the wooden stick, just as Professor Riddle came out of the shadows. He was dressed in cream coloured robes, his long black hair flowing over his shoulders. He looked almost kind, almost like Dumbledore. NO! It was an insult to Dumbledore's memory to view this man as anything other than a murderer. No one could replace Dumbledore.
Riddle clapped his hands and the crystal in the snake's mouth became brighter, filling the office with a bright glow. Riddle walked slowly around his desk and sank into the seat. He lay back, interlocking his fingers, beneath his chin with his elbows resting on the arms of the chair.
"You look disapproving," noted Riddle, gesturing at the lamp.
"You're Slytherin's descendent," said Harry icily. "Snakes are your family heirloom, dark as they may be."
"You know about my heritage," said Riddle nodding slightly. He wasn't even going to deny it – he had to be dark. Harry had a sudden feeling that the whole school must be dark, if someone this evil could openly parade their darkness. "Impressive. Does your house rivalry extend to myself as well, now?" House rivalry? Harry was above that sort of thing. In his experience, Heirs of Slytherin cost lives, not points.
"I'm above such petty sentiments," said Harry frostily. "I just distrust anyone who likes snakes, because they are a symbol of Dark Wizards."
"You believe snakes are inherently evil," asked Riddle, raising an eyebrow as if it were a minor point to be debated.
"They have fangs, they bite, they kill," said Harry frostily. "That's all I need to know."
"By implication, you then hate everything from a spider to a cat then, Harry," said Riddle, "And cats have a much darker past then snakes. Snakes have just had their image spoiled by humanity. Every Dark Lord for the last nine hundred years has taken a snake to be its symbol, which is rather unfair to the snake. Snakes have long been associated with fertility, going right back to the ancients. Some believed they were the guardians of the underworld, and that is what is taught in schools, but for centuries the snake has been the symbol for fertility and the Mother Earth. They are handled in fertility rituals around the world today, in Aboriginal, native American, and African tribes. Their unblinking stare and habits suggest that the snake's mind follows logic rather than instinct. They work things out, Harry. Christian mythology tells how a snake tempted Eve, while Greek tells how Orphion the snake incubated the egg from which all life sprang. Buddhists believe that Brahma slept in the coils of Shesha, who protected him."
"Fascinating," said Harry sarcastically. He didn't need the history lesson and it was not interesting at all.
"But we have digressed too far," said Riddle, turning back to Harry. "There is still the matter of your return."
"And?" snapped Harry. Riddle interlocked his fingers beneath his chin and stared at Harry.
"I believe it was Sherlock Holmes who once said that if you eliminate the impossible, whatever is left, however improbable, is invariably true." He looked up, peering into Harry's defiant green eyes. Harry realised that his face had settled into a glare, but he wasn't going to change it. The seconds ticked by, neither man said anything.
"Is there more," sneered Harry. "Or am I supposed to guess." He was openly rude; he didn't care. Let Riddle shout. Harry could destroy his office just as well as he had Dumbledore's. His entire body was tensed and ready to move. He had a sudden urge to lash out at….something. Control yourself. Harry.
"I see you before me now," said Riddle calmly. "Yet I have it good authority that this cannot be true. You see several weeks ago several witnesses claimed that they saw you die. You were laid to rest just before Christmas, with an empty casket I might add."
"How did I allegedly die?" asked Harry. He needed to gather as much information as possible. He would need it or he would be suspected. At least he now knew that he would not run into another version of himself here. However, it might raise problems if he ran into his parents, people who would know in a second that he was not their son. He supposed he could win them over in time, but how many 'other families' would be collect? Was there a version of Rose here?
"You have no memory of anything?" asked Riddle, surveying him cautiously . "You do not know what happened?"
"If I did, I wouldn't ask," said Harry.
"If you don't remember," said Riddle more to himself than Harry, "You won't know about…" He seemed to be staring down into his lap, or at something beneath the desk. Harry's hand tightened on his wand.
"About what?" He really hated it when people didn't give straight answers. Riddle looked a little awkward for a moment, before the calm returned. He sat back and fixed Harry with a cautious stare. Eventually he spoke.
"There was a fire," said Riddle. "In St Mungo's. The Long Term patients wing caught fire."
"And that's what killed me?" asked Harry. He had been expecting murder, for some reason. He was sure that he would have died by unnatural means. He almost felt disappointed.
"The fact that the Long Term Ward was destroyed doesn't trouble you?" asked Riddle, eyeing his cautiously.
"Of course it does," said Harry. "It was horrific, but I don't see the relevance to me."
"Harry are you feeling alright?"
"Yes, why?" What was he missing? What didn't he know.
"Harry, I'm sorry to tell you this, but your parents were caught in the fire," said Riddle. "They're dead."
"Dead?" echoed Harry. What were his parents doing there? Why were they on the lifer's wing? So they weren't killed when he was one, they were both in St Mungo's when it burned down. But what were they there for?
"Why were they there?" asked Harry.
Riddle fixed Harry with a piercing stare that even McGonagall would be proud of. Harry had no idea what was going on inside his head, but he was fairly sure the cogs were whirring. What was wrong? Harry tried to Occlude his mind, to make absolutely sure Riddle didn't gain any information that way.
"Harry, I think you need to see Madam Pomfrey," said Riddle cautiously.
"I'm fine," said Harry, quickly. He didn't want to give Madam Pomfrey a chance to inspect his various scars, and he certainly didn't want to spend a month in bed. He doubted she could get any hard evidence that he wasn't the Harry they knew, but he didn't want to take that chance.
"Harry, I can't help you if you don't let me," said Riddle gently.
"I don't want your help or need it. All I want is to get back to my life. I want to leave in peace, that's all." Harry thought it was best to set the ground rules as soon as possible. He just wanted to be left alone.
"That is easier said than done, I'm afraid," said Riddle sadly. "If you can't even remember what happened to your parents, then that suggests a serious mental trauma. We need to take care of your mind."
"I am not mad," said Harry. "My memory is just a little off. What happened to them?"
"After the Dark Lord fell," said Riddle. "They were cornered by Death Eaters. Extensive exposure…" Suddenly Harry understood.
"To the Cruciatus Curse," continued Harry, finishing for him. "Can result in madness. Their minds were fried by the Lestranges and Barty Crouch Junior?"
"You do remember," said Riddle, sounding partially relieved. Harry felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. This should have happened to Neville, not him. This whole world was back to front. He could imagine them mindlessly wandering around all day, unable to recognise anything. He cringed at the thought, remembering how Neville's parents had been last Christmas. Maybe it was better for them being dead.
"I just needed a nudge," said Harry. "I'm a bit confused."
"Do you know why that is?" asked Riddle.
"No," said Harry, sticking to single word lies, before the Legilimency master. He tried desperately to Occlude his mind.
"Look at this from an objective perspective," said Riddle, leaning forward. "You were seen to die, then you reappear with varying amounts of memory. These are not normal events, Harry, and I think it best you undergo a psychiatric evaluation."
"You can't lock me up in the loony-bin," said Harry, hotly. If he was to have any hope of figuring out a way home, he needed to be free. That and he could not allow himself to be examined in case anyone found out the truth and tried to use the Node.
"That's not what I am saying at all," said Riddle, softly. "I am merely asking you to report to Madam Pomfrey tomorrow at noon for her to check you over, is that too much to ask?"
"There's nothing wrong with me," protested Harry. "I just want to get on with life."
"I'm not asking you to commit to anything," said Riddle. "Should Madam Pomfrey report that you are, as you claim, fine, then that will be the end of it, but it's better to be safe than sorry. It's New Years Day tomorrow - I mean today," he added, checking his watch. "You have another five days before the students return for the term. Would you rather go through this now or then?"
Of course, everyone was away for the holidays. In Rose's world the students had been kept there over Christmas for fear of safety. It seemed here was a little more relaxed. But then again, why shouldn't it be. If Riddle was here and there was no Voldemort, then why should they not be care-free?
"Okay, I'll go and see her," said Harry, appeasing the headmaster – if he didn't go, Riddle would never be off his case. He would just have to be careful. One single check-up would do, but of course, it was never just one with Pomfrey. "But the old bat will recommend a week in bed; it's her cure for everything. I am not sitting in the Hospital for examination, understood?"
"We have a deal, Mr Potter," said Riddle, nodding and wearing a small smile, "and I will hold you to it."
"Whatever," said Harry, not caring. "But now, I'm off. I'm cold, tired, aching and I just want to go to sleep."
"Then who am I to stop you," smiled Riddle. "Your things are still at the castle, I had not yet got around to sending them on to your Aunt and Uncle in Surrey. They will be returned to your room by the time you get there. Good night, Harry."
"Whatever," said Harry rising awkwardly from his chair. He turned to the door, but had only gone two paces when Riddle stopped him.
"Oh, Harry," said Riddle, his voice more firm this time. "I must ask you to leave that impressive array of weapons here." He paused for a second, eyeing the headmaster. Harry had not unwrapped them, and the cloth was thick enough to stop him seeing through it. How the hell had he known what was inside? Then again, how many things did one wear across one's back in this fashion? At least he didn't ask to inspect the bag with the Node material in it – that would need a lot of explaining.
Harry was too tired to argue. He could always flame up here and retrieve the swords if the occasion called for it. He un-strapped the bundle that contained the two swords, body armour, and the stun baton, and leaned them against the wall. He stared at Riddle, half expecting him to demand his wand and everything else he had on his person.
"Thank you, Harry," said Riddle, to Harry's relief. "Now I have something for you." He reached into the drawer in his desk and drew out a long, thin box about a foot in length. It was made of polished wood, with a floral pattern embossed in gold. Riddle placed it on the desk and lifted the lid, before offering it to Harry. Inside was familiar looking wand.
"This was recovered from St Mungo's," said Riddle. "I believe it belongs to you."
Harry stared down at the wand; it was identical to the one now tucked inside his cloak. It was the very same, not just a brother, but a perfect twin. Two identical wands, both as powerful as the other, since both were made for him and him alone. Harry reached out a hand, and picked up the wand. It felt warm in his hands, and sparks of pure scarlet fizzled at the tip as he lifted it from the box.
"It must be glad to see you again," noted Riddle, eyeing Harry. Harry was fairly sure that Riddle was trying to work something out, though he wasn't sure what. "I assume the one on your hip is a replacement," continued the Headmaster. "But it can never replace the original. I suggest you only use your original wand. For now though, you must get to bed; the password is Pandora. This will avoid any problems from prefects." He handed Harry a note, explaining that he had come from a meeting with the headmaster.
Harry didn't move, as the single word echoed through his mind. Pandora - a word that he had been called before. The Muggle Prime Minister had plucked the word from thin air and used it as a reference to him, and now Riddle had used it as a password. To the best of Harry's knowledge, Pandora, according to Greek Mythology was a woman to whom a box was given with instructions not to open it. She had, due to her fatal curiosity and had unleashed pain and suffering into the world. Harry was himself curious, and he seriously hoped that he had not brought any pain or suffering to this world with him. It seemed like such a coincidence that the word Pandora should accompany him. He shook the idea from him mind, not wanting to give anything away.
"What do I say to the others," asked Harry. "I assume there are other Gryffindors in the castle?"
"I find the truth often works best," said Riddle, rising from his desk. "And yes, there are several, more so than in recent years. In fact, I believe most of your old friends are here. Though you may wish to avoid the subject completely tonight. I will announce your return to those of us still in the castle tomorrow, and then the rest of the school upon their return. Good night, Harry."
Outside the door, Harry inspected the two wands. They appeared identical and felt the same in his hand. Harry held one in each and pressed the tips together. He could feel the power in them, both perfectly at place in his hands. As the tips touched it was as if a circuit was complete and that power could then flow. It was a strange feeling of power that passed through his arms. His curiosity led him to test his theory.
A thin beam of pure white light shot out the end of both of them, merging into a single ball of light on inch from the two tips. From there it shot across the corridor and into the other wall like a laser. The light coming from the wands was tremendous. What was normally a light akin to a torch was now akin to a lighthouse. Harry stopped the spell in shock. Between them the two wands were more powerful than anything he had seen. Two identical wands were more powerful than two separate ones. He had used two wands simultaneously before, but since they were different wands; his power had been divided. But now, with two identically wands, his power was not divided, but multiplied.
Harry yawned involuntary, despite his discovery. He needed some sleep; now he just had to face the Gryffindors, what few were left in the castle. He wondered how many and exactly who Riddle meant by 'your old friends'. If he walked through that door to find Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle as Gryffindors he would scream. Just how different was this world? Pocketing both the wands, he turned and started the hike.
The trek to the common room seemed to take longer than it ever had. His limbs ached with every step. After what seemed like ages he arrived at the Fat Lady. He gave the password and the painting swung aside. Harry clambered through into the common room, which wasn't as empty as he had hoped. As Harry stood in the doorway silence fell on the room. Every eye turned to face Harry. Games stopped, conversations were put on hold, as everyone stared at the boy who had come back from the dead.
He was a sight; dressed completely in black and sopping wet. His combats were muddy and covered in grass stains. There were bits of grass and leaves stuck to the material. He looked like he had just crawled out of the Forbidden Forest, which wasn't too far from the truth. He was secretly happy that Riddle had confiscated his weapons as they would have taken a lot of explaining, as if he didn't have enough on the plate already. The fire was roaring in the fireplace and on the chairs in front of it were two seventh-year girls, notes laid out in front of them. In the corner were a few familiar figures, including some of his dorm mates, playing chess or chatting. To his left were a gaggle of first and second years, presumably chatting about something inane.
"Harry?" asked a voice stepping forward. He turned to see who had spoken. Neville was staring at him as if she had seen a ghost. This wasn't the Neville Harry knew. He was glad his friend was alive in this world, but he had not expected to find him like this. His hair was shorter and the front spiked up with gel. His appearance exuberated confidence and if Harry had to guess he would say that Neville was a Quidditch player. His form was more muscular, his face less chubby, and his general hair, clothes and posture reminded Harry of some of the Quidditch players he had known.
"Hello, Neville," said Harry softly, not entirely sure what to say. "Y'alright?" It was pitiful, but all he could manage,
Neville's head sank into a slow nod, his face not changing from the curious, yet guarded expression. "We thought you were dead," he explained. "Riddle said that you had…you know…the fire." Just like the Grinch who stole Christmas, Harry thought up a lie, and he thought it up quick, though the Grinch hadn't Occluded his mind as Harry now did.
"Muggle Fire Brigade," said Harry, lying through his teeth. "The shop window was on fire as well so they were called. They pulled me out, barely alive. That's where I've been: just another John Doe in a Muggle hospital."
"Did they stick a needle in you?" asked a young student nervously. Harry cringed at the thought of needles and Muggle medicine, but knew better than to tell the truth. They had to believe he had been unable to return, and that no one had known who he was.
"Yes," he said, making his tone sound bitter. "Far too many of them; enough to bring me out of a coma." He watched with satisfaction as several faces cringed. Fantastic! They thought he had suffered with the doctors and was now back, meaning that the ice was hopefully broken. Now he could go to bed.
"So you're fine now?" asked Ron, rising from his seat. Harry stared at his best friend, who at present hardly knew him. He was just as tall as he had been, and wore the traditional Weasley Christmas jumper.
"As I'll ever be," said Harry, fighting back a yawn. He needed to get to bed, quickly. "I'm just tired - it was a long journey back."
"How'd you get here?" Oh Christ, they wanted detail. He had to be careful here, not to contradict himself or to say something false. Every lie he told then had to be true to maintain his cover as their Harry. He had to remember every lie he told, so if asked later, he didn't contradict himself. As he wasn't sure how this world worked or even how to find Hogwarts in his own world, Harry had to make up his story and quickly. God he hoped they bought the lie.
"I hitch-hiked up to the Lakes," said Harry, knowing the stations the Hogwarts Express passes through. "The last ones that we go through and the Muggles use are Windermere and Kendal. Form there it was a matter of buying a map, following the valleys and the lakes we pass and then hitchhiking a little further, across the border to Scotland and then walking through a forest I was fairly sure was the Forbidden Forest. I knew it was because I could feel the wards."
"That's a bloody long way to travel," said Ron. Was he sceptical, or just in awe. Harry wasn't sure, but he didn't push it. To his relief, after a second, Ron began to smile. "Good on you. I'd have had no idea what to do."
"Well," said Harry, trying to avoid the praise as he literally had not deserved it. "I didn't know where I was at times. I just felt the place calling to me. My mind is all screwed up from the coma. My memory is full of holes, at the moment." It was probably best to label himself insane as it would excuse his lack of knowledge as he found out what was happening in this world.
"Are you alright?" asked Ron.
"More or less," said Harry, shrugging. "I just need rest." With that he began to head up towards the Boy's dorms, moving past Ron to get there. As he passed the base of the stairs, Ron leaned in to whisper in his ear.
"Katie is going to need to talk to you." Katie? As in Katie Bell, the Chaser? Could Ron not see that he was not in the best state to talk about Quidditch. The captain could wait; he was knackered. Honestly, it was poor taste, talking about Quidditch as soon as she heard he was alive.
"Katie can wait until the morning, I'm tired and in case you haven't noticed I'm not quite my usual self at the moment." Harry continued up the stairs, leaving a speechless Ron behind him. Harry climbed the stairs and entered the sixth year boys room.
He didn't even bother getting changed; he just walked over to his bed, drew the curtains and lay down. It was a matter of seconds before he was asleep.
"You sent for me, Tom," said the stern looking woman sitting before the Headmaster's desk. She was dressed in a tartan dressing gown. Her hair was a mess, her eyelids drooped and it was perfectly clear that she had just been woken up.
"Indeed I did, Minerva," said the Headmaster addressing his deputy. "Can I offer you any tea or coffee, I believe it might help?" She could tell from his tone that whatever he was about to say was important. She needed to be awake for it, especially if it was about the Order.
"Thanks," said Professor McGonagall. She tied her hair back into its usual bun while the Headmaster poured her a cup from the bronze kettle that was sitting on his desk. She sipped it and instantly felt warmth spread through her. Her senses became sharper and she felt the fog of sleep leave her. Minerva knew that Tom had put something in her coffee. She would normally object to being duped, but having been up until three in the morning the previous night thanks to Peeves, and the night before thanks to an Order meeting, not to mentioned being awoken ten minutes ago by the call from Professor Riddle on the Frog Card, she was glad that something was taking the dreariness away. Feeling better and more attentive, Minerva crossed her legs in the chair, and stared expectantly at the Headmaster, who was stirring a slice of lemon in his tea, and staring absently at the desk. What had gotten him so rattled? It couldn't be good. Tom managed to appear calm even at the most trying times. Whatever was happening had shaken him, and that wasn't an easy thing to do.
"What is this all about, Tom?" she asked the Headmaster. She had known the man since they were at school. He was in his sixth year when she was in her first. He had been a Slytherin and she a Gryffindor. They had known each other for nearly half a century, and she had never seen him look so old and tired.
"Just when I thought that nothing else in the world could surprise me," said Riddle, sipping his tea. "It seems that nothing is beyond the power of fate."
"You're not making sense, Tom," said Minerva, almost impatiently. Riddle was a perfect name for him as he constantly spoke in riddles.
"There is no easy way to say this," he said, looking directly into her eyes for the first time in ages. "So I'm just going to say it. Harry Potter is alive."
Minerva coughed into her coffee. "He's what…?" she blurted out, unable to stop herself, and spraying coffee over the desk and her tartan dressing gown. That wasn't possible! As his head of house, she had escorted Harry to St Mungo's after the Healers summoned him. She had been there when he had died. She remembered it clearly.
"Now remember, Pot…Harry," Minerva said, softening her tone, as the boy brushed the soot off his cloak. He was dressed in jeans and a red jumper that was at least three sizes too big for him. The seam that should have sat on his shoulders was almost at his elbow. If her suspicions were correct, that was a second hand jumper, which puzzled Minerva as the boy stayed with his Aunt and Uncle in Surrey who were well off, according to Hogwarts records. The poor boy had no confidence, and it was unsurprising, given what had happened to his parents, but that was not it. He seemed to accept minimal things unlike most boys his age. For example, he rarely spoke in her classes, unless asked a direct question. When asked to collect equipment from the front, he would always wait until last, and Minerva knew that the bigger boys, Draco Malfoy for instance, would walk all over him. Poor boy. At least he had friends big enough to protect him. While he was not particularly close to people like Neville Longbottom, Ron Weasley, Seamus Finnigan, he was friends with them and they hung around together, though it was clearly Longbottom and Weasley who held rank in the group.
Harry stood upright, having finished brushing the cloak he wore over the top of his clothes. They stood in the main entrance to St Mungo's. To their right was the shop window, through which they could see Muggles passing by, covered in plastic coats, and cowering under umbrellas as the rain thundered down around them. To their left was the reception desk behind which an unconcerned witch was 'helping' - not that Minerva would call it helping - the people in the queue.
"It's this way," said Harry meekly, pointing to the doors in the back wall, to the left of the reception desk. "The letter said to go straight through."
The letter he referred to had arrived at during breakfast several hours earlier. It was the tenth of December, only a week before the end of term. A letter had arrived for Harry, which in itself was rare as his Muggle relatives never wrote to him, noted Minerva, wondering how she had never picked up on it before. She made a mental note to speak to him about his home life once they got back to Hogwarts. The letter had been from St Mungo's. It seemed there had been an accident.
Lily and James Potter had been here since 1980. It had been the night when He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named had fallen. While Minerva had been off with Tom delivering the child, and seeing to the future, not only of the child but of the country, Lily and James had been on duty, as one of the few husband-Wife Auror teams that worked. They had been set upon by Death Eaters; the Lestranges and Barty Crouch Junior. Since that day, their minds had been lost and their bodies drifted aimlessly around the Long Term ward of St Mungo's, neither awake not asleep, just empty shells of the people they had once been. Yesterday, according to the letter, another patient, incarcerated in St Mungo's after pleading insanity before the Wizengamot had become violent, throwing things around. Lily Potter had been hit in the head by something he had thrown. She was badly concussed and so the hospital had contacted the next of kin, Harry. He had been called for a visit, and Professor Riddle had permitted it.
Harry's head and shoulders slumped as he walked, staring at the floor in front of him. There was no pride in his movements. He seemed more mellow that ever. He had said three words since he had arrived in her office, ready to leave, and his voice had cracked on them. He was not a particularly bright boy or able, but he was kind with good intent. Minerva pitied him, but secretly wished he would get a grip, and concentrate. She had hoped that Longbottom would show him some guidance, but it seemed he had fallen into their wake, rather than walking proud, side by side.
Minerva followed him a pace behind the boy. She wasn't entirely sure what to say - what had happened to his parents was so horrific that there was nothing that could be said. 'It'll be alright', or 'things will get better' wouldn't work as there condition was irreversible. In short, the boy had nothing to hope for. They walked along the corridor, passed Healers dressed in green, and other inmates.
Up several flights of stairs and down another corridor, Harry led them into the Long Term Ward. He paused outside to take a deep breath before pushing open the double doors and walking in. Minerva followed a second later. The room was large and white with a line of beds down each side, some of them closed off by curtains. There were people in most of the beds, some asleep or vegetative – Minerva couldn't tell, and others were sitting up talking. Harry made for the curtained off area at the end on the right. He slipped through the curtains into the last two beds on the right hand side. Minerva following pushing the curtains aside and drawing them again behind her. She turned and saw for the first time in years what had happened to the Potters.
Lily was lying unconscious on the bed a large white patch on her forehead. She looked deathly pale and thin. Her skin was waxy and pale, having received no sunlight. Her once soft features were gone and her skin hung off her cheekbones, and the area around her eyes was dark and a little red, giving her a haunted face, which brought a tear to Minerva's eyes. James, the once caring husband was now beyond the capacity for rational thought, or indeed any form of thought. He was sitting on the next bed, a wide yet inane smile spread stupidly across his face. He seemed completely oblivious to anything that was happening around him. His son was present and his wife was fighting for her life, but he was completely incapable of caring or even understanding. His mind was effectively that of a baby, a blank slate, though where as with a baby they soak up what happens around them, which is why you should never swear in front of a child, James Potter's mind was incapable of holding anything he learned. He could never recover and every time Harry visited, he didn't even recognise him. Merlin, what would that do to the mind of a young boy? The results were there for all to see: a feeling of utter worthlessness. Minerva definitely had to talk to the boy. As Head of House how had she missed it all these years? Five he had spent at Hogwarts. She had known what had happened, but had never investigated, presuming him to be a naturally quiet and not a powerful boy. She had been concentrating so hard on helping another student, she had missed the one who really needed help. Merlin, she had been so wrong, but right here, right now, it hit her.
"Dad?" said Harry, his voice soft and lined with tears building in his eyes.
"Mr Potter?" Minerva turned with Harry to see a Healer enter the curtains, dressed in green.
"My name is Healer Rushdale," he said, shaking Harry's hand. "Rest assured, Mr Potter, your parents are getting the best care."
"Still hopeless, isn't it," muttered Harry. The doctor didn't reply for a second, and when he did, it was on a different subject. He guided Harry over to his mother's bed and began to explain yesterday's events.
"I'll wait outside, Harry," said Minerva, giving his shoulder a gently squeeze for support. She let herself out of the curtain and crossed to the main door, and stepped out into the corridor. She sighed deeply, having finally seen Lily and James. They had been in the Order first time around. Good people who hadn't deserved what had happened to them. Looking across the corridor, she saw a sign depicting a knife and fork. Minerva needed a shot of caffeine. She turned to her right and headed off down the corridor.
It was horrific what had been done to the Potters. Good thing that the three culprits had gone to rot in Azkaban. Of course, two had escaped this year. That wasn't justice.
"Excuse me, Miss," said a man to Minerva's right. Minerva stopped to face him. He wore long back robes, with a cloak and hood that covered his face. Long rough tassels of black hair escaped the hood. In the light she could see his face, his dark eyes, and hooked nose, and steely gaze. "Where might I find the Long Term Ward?"
"It's just down there, the last door on the left," she said to the man, pointing down the corridor.
"Thanks," he said, bowing slightly.
Minerva nodded before resuming her dark thoughts.
Poor Harry: she had utterly failed him as head of house. It was her job to see the care of her pupils, and she had massively misinterpreted the signs, keeping all her senses honed on another Gryffindor, who she had thought mattered more. How dare she? They were all people and all of them mattered, yet she had neglected Harry. She reached the café after about one hundred metres. She asked for two cups of tea from the young lady behind the counter. As the young witch summoned what was needed from the shelves, Minerva turned her thoughts back to the Order. James and Lily were good Aurors and good people. What kind of person could do this to them? It was monstrous.
"Anything else?" asked the witch.
Feeling generous, or more specifically, guilty, Minerva added a slide of Black Forest Gateau for Harry and paid the witch. Turning around she headed back to the ward, carrying two paper cups of tea in her right hand and a plate of gateau in her left. It was the least she could do for the poor boy. She hadn't gone far when the doors to the ward opened and the man in the black hood came out of the ward, and headed swiftly down the passage towards her.
That was a quick visit, noted Minerva. The man walked swiftly towards her, causing Minerva to sidestep as he passed without even acknowledging her. As Minerva sidestepped she nearly lost her grip on the plate she carried. How rude. He hadn't even said 'excuse me'. Merlin, manners cost so little. She had also spilt a little of the tea on her robes, which she would have to clean once she had a free hand. Grumbling silently to herself, she carried on towards the ward.
She was only ten feet away when the doors exploded.
A jet of fire blasted both the double doors off their hinges onto the far wall, unleashing a fireball into the passage. The floors and walls shook under the force of the explosion. Minerva was launched off her feet by the force of the explosion, the cups and the cake flying through the air. She landed hard on her back, and slid along the polished floor. The lights above her, the glowing crystals shattered, plunging the corridor into darkness. The passage was suddenly full of smoke. There was the orange glow of flames coming from inside the ward, and a river of black smoke was running along the ceiling.
Sweet Merlin! Harry was in there! Covering her mouth with her sleeve to protect her lungs, Minerva surged forward towards the ward. As she peered in, she saw everything was covered in flames. The air was thick with smoke, which made it hard to see. She cast the Bubble-Head charm on herself to help her breathing and then lit her wand light and held it up.
"HARRY!" she shouted into the flames. "HARRY! Where are you?"
Looking around she could see no way through the flames. The heat was incredible – it hurt her to even stand in the doorway. Oh Merlin! There was movement through the flames. Minerva watched in horror as a figure staggered through the flames. The figure was flapping its arms in a futile effort to put out the flames. The robes or cloak of the figure were engulfed in flames. The figure staggered towards Minerva through the flames, but never made it. The man crashed to the floor just in front of her.
"Aquamenti!" A jet of water shot out of Minerva's wand onto the burning body, now lying still. Minerva doused the fallen body with water, putting out the flames. Was this Harry? Was this person dead? Using her foot, and fearing what she would find, Minerva rolled the body over. She found herself staring into the lifeless hazel eyes of James Potter. His skin was burned black and his hair had completely gone. The whites of his eyes stared unseeingly up at Minerva, while his clothes, now fused into his skin wrapped him like a mummy, and smoked in the darkness.
"AHH!" the heat on her skin was unbearable. The whole room was on fire and she could feel her blood boiling. The lifeless body was smoking beneath her. Harry? Where was Harry? Minerva covered her mouth in an effort not to be sick as the fumes from the body, the smell of burned flesh and hair wafted up her nostrils, causing her to gag.
"YOU! HANDS UP!" shouted a voice behind her.
Minerva turned to see a man in black with Security written over his chest aiming a wand at her.
"Don't try and arrest me, you stupid little man," seethed Minerva, unable to control her anger. Even her icy precision and control failed at this moment. "Get some Aurors and Healers up here and put out these bloody fires!" The wizard hesitated for a few seconds before darting out the door. Minerva, shone her light around the room again, but there was no sign of movement.
"HARRY!" she shouted into the gloom. There was no reply.
All of the Potters were dead.
"You mustn't blame yourself, Minerva," said Tom softly from behind his desk. He always seemed to be able to read her like a book, not that her feelings were well disguised at this point.
"But Tom, he can't be. I was there, I saw…"
"You did Minerva," said Tom, rubbing his eyes. "I know Harry Potter is dead, and I accept that. I'm almost as the point where I want to exhume the body to make sure. However, ninety minutes ago there was a knock on the door and Horace announced that a student wished to see me. The next thing I know Harry Potter steps into the office as close to me as you are now."
"But it couldn't be him," said Minerva. "We know he's dead."
"Exactly what I thought," said Tom, He opened one of his desk drawers and pulled out a piece of parchment. He laid it on the table and tapped it with his wand. "I solemnly swear I am up to no good." To Minerva's astonishment, lines began to appear on the parchment, snaking out in all directions. Before Minerva's eyes, she began to make sense of what she was seeing.
"It's a map," she gasped.
"Something I confiscated from a young James Potter back in his day," said Tom, with a smile. "A magnificent piece of magic, one that has come in most useful, I must admit." He smiled to himself again. Minerva was shocked that someone so young had managed to make such a complicated map.
"As you can see," said Tom. "It shows where everyone is and as far as I can tell, it is never wrong. It isn't fooled by Polyjuice Potion or disguises. As soon as he walked through the door, I checked the map, which by good fortune, happened to be open in the draw, as I had been keeping an eye on certain students. The boy who stood before me was Harry Potter. I have checked the fingerprints on the cup he used when I offered him tea. I returned his wand to him, and the wand knew it was him. Minerva, that is Harry Potter."
"But how is he alive?" Minerva herself had accompanied Tom to identify the body. Harry Potter had died; she had seen it all. St Mungo's Long Term Ward had been burned to a crisp, all three Potters inside. Whoever this boy was, he was not Harry. "He's not an Inferus is he?"
Tom shot her a look that clearly said, "Please, I'm not that stupid".
"Okay, okay," said Minerva, blushing slightly – it was a stupid comment. "So how did he survive?"
"I could not get that far," said Tom, clearly troubled by something. Luckily Minerva didn't have to prompt him to find out what it was. "Minerva, I am going to be perfectly honest with you. I am more worried than relieved by Harry's arrival here tonight."
"Worried, why?" asked Minerva. "Surely we should be glad he was okay."
"You see the roll of fabric on the side behind you?" said Tom, watching her carefully and pointing to a roll of fabric about a metre high propped up against the cabinet behind her. "Have a look what's inside." Minerva picked up the roll, from where it lay. It was heavier than she had anticipated. He pulled it up onto her lap and began to unroll it. She was ever more aware of Tom watching her every move. As she unravelled the cloth, a gleam of silver shot up into her eyes. She found herself staring down at the jewel-encrusted sword of Godric Gryffindor. Its blade was flawless silver, and the gems laid into the handle gleamed in the light. The name of its owner was carved down one side of it. But that was not all the fabric contained. There was another sword, a Japanese katana, secured inside a black scabbard, with gold at the tip. There were an armoured vest made from what she was sure were dragon scales. Lastly there was a shorter stick. The handle looked like that of the katana, but instead of a blade was a cloudy coloured tube made of some form of glass by the look of it. Two swords and what looked like a glow-stick that people had at parties.
"Tom, what are…?" she began.
"Harry had those when he arrived," said Tom. What the Hell was Harry Potter off all people doing with these weapons? What was he doing walking around? "I'm sure you recognise the silver one?" prompted Tom.
"It was brought back from the Chamber of Secrets," said Minerva. "It's Gryffindor's Sword."
"Indeed," said Tom, pointing to a glass cabinet on the wall. "And what was recovered from the Chamber is still here." Minerva followed his gaze up to the wall. Behind a layer of glass in one cabinet was a silver sword encrusted with jewels. It was identical to the one in her hands.
"It's a fake then?" suggested Minerva, lifting the one in her lap free from the cloth.
"If it is," said Tom, "Which I doubt, it's the best copy I've ever seen, and I would be very curious to know how it was copied when it was buried with its owner until it was pulled from the Sorting Hat. It has not left the office since, so how anyone had the opportunity to study it well enough to copy is beyond me.
"How can that be?" asked Minerva.
"I cannot say," said Tom. "Every theory has a glaring contradiction. All I can tell you is what I have seen so far. He came to me armed. He was in hysterics; he was irrational. He started shouting about Albus Dumbledore, who's been dead for fifty years. He accused me of being the Dark Lord and then bolted out of the door. He returned half an hour later, calmer, but clearly distressed."
"Is he insane?" asked Minerva.
"I have no idea," said Tom. "It would explain a lot, but I saw calculation and logic in his eyes. He was clearly thinking rationally. I have sent him to bed to get some rest. But I will tell you one thing about his mental state, Minerva. I tried to Legilimise him gently as he sat there. Someone has taught him to Occlude his mind, and they've done a thorough job. He blocked me, and that's not something a sixteen year old should be able to do. I could have pushed harder, but he would have known I was trying it, and he is unstable enough as it is."
"Do you think he's a danger to other students?" asked Minerva, thinking that Tom was mad for putting a potential time bomb in the Tower with other students. How would she extract him without setting him off?
"Students?" echoed Tom. "I wouldn't have thought so. His anger seemed directed at me, no one else. I think if he bears anyone ill will, it is myself. I saw loathing in his eyes, and his voice, was controlled, but lined with anger."
"What do you plan to do?" asked Minerva.
"For now, nothing," said Tom, to her surprise. "But I want you to keep an eye on the boy, Minerva. He is in your house. I want him monitored around the clock, but not touched or segregated. There's something about this boy that worries me."
"It will be done," said Minerva, rising to leave.
News travels fast in schools and Hogwarts was no different. Having lived here, or at least in one version of Hogwarts or another, for a good portion of his life, Harry was well aware of this. It was with a sense of dread that he woke up the following morning. It was midwinter so it was still dark at half past seven when the sounds of an early riser penetrated the curtains around Harry's bed and rousted him from his slumber. His dreams had been of death, destruction and violence, and waking up warm and snug in the familiar surroundings of a Hogwarts bed, Harry, for one glorious second, believed he was home. For a few blissful seconds, he genuinely thought it had been a dream, that the four months he had spent as a Stranger in an Unholy Land had been nothing but a horrific dream, and he was now home.
Then, a second later, reality hit home. He remembered coming back to Hogwarts the previous night, and all that he had learned. Harry sat bolt upright in the bed, as the images flowed back into his mind. Tom Riddle was Headmaster here, but for some inexplicable reason, he was not the evil son of a bitch that Harry knew. But he was the same person. This had to be a trick of some sort – Tom Riddle was a monster, plain and simple.
He had to get out of here. Harry couldn't deal with all this. Sliding out of his bed, he was relieved to see that the others still had their curtains drawn, except for one, and the bathroom door was shut, meaning that he was alone. On the floor next to his bed was a large trunk with the initials HP on it. Harry had never seen the trunk before, but assumed it was his. Riddle had said last night that the other Harry was dead. In a morbid sort of way, that was fortunate, as he didn't have to explain why there were two of them. However, it also might raise the possibility of family, and he should be guarded about that. Not having switched bodies, he had no residual memories to guide him into this world. Any sort of family would know in a second he was not their Harry. Still, there was no use sitting here worrying –he needed to have some time to himself to think things over.
Flipping open the trunk, he pulled out a pair of tracksuit bottoms and trainers and pulled them on, along with a white t-shirt. They were huge and baggy over his chest, and Harry had a feeling that they had once belonged to Dudley Dursley. This was confirmed by the DD scrawled in black marker on the label of the t-shirt. Harry stared at himself in the mirror, dressed in dark blue trackies and a white t-shirt. He looked far from the Dark Knight he had once been. But of course he wasn't the Dark Knight here, or even the Boy-Who-Lived by the sound of it. Riddle had not spoken to him like anyone special, and he had been dead. Therefore, it was safe to assume that here, he was no one. Also if Riddle was the Head, there couldn't be a Dark Lord, so it should be safe. To be safe though, it was probably best to hide his scar.
Harry pulled a handkerchief out of the trunk and with a little magic, transfigured into a black strip of fabric, which he then tied around his head, like a Thai Kick boxer, completely covering his scar. There was no point in advertising who or what he was. He slipped his false glasses back onto his nose, and checked himself in the mirror. Satisfied, Harry turned his attention to his clothes. Using his wand he shrank them slightly so they didn't hang off him quite so badly. That done, Harry slipped out of the room, through the disserted common room and out into the corridor.
There had been between eighteen and twenty Gryffindors in the common room last night, so if that was about average, then that meant there were eighty students and if he included staff, just under one hundred people in the school, none of whom Harry wished to speak to at the moment. He walked in a daze to the entrance hall, replaying the conversation of last night over in his head, trying to sort out exactly what he had been told, seeing if there were any small scraps of information he had not picked up on first time around.
As he reached the Entrance Hall, Harry stepped out into the courtyard. The sun was just rising above the mountains. The air was crisp and cold, but the sky was clear. The morning light was just enough to light up the valley. Harry didn't really know what he was doing, or where he was going, but he set off at a slow jog across the courtyard. He had never really been running before, but he needed to get away from the castle, to at least tide things over in his head. He was out of his depth here, and this time he didn't have Flamel or Dumbledore to turn to. Dumbledore was allegedly dead; probably murderer in his sleep by Riddle, and Flamel was God knows where. He was on his own here, as there was no way he could turn to Riddle for help.
Harry reached the outer walls of the courtyard and passed through the gates out into the valley. A path stretched upward along the side of a mountain, above the canopy of the forest, overlooking the lake. It didn't go up to the peaks, but instead went straight along the edge of the mountains, along the side of the lake, but about one hundred and fifty feet above it. The track was uneven, and the morning cold, but Harry's pace soon warmed him up. The cool air filled his lungs as he jogged up the hill. He was not running particularly quickly; aiming at neither distance, speed nor power, just simply as a means to get some time to think about his situation.
He could not go back to the Unholy Land as, for some reason, the key did not fit the Node. Why was that? The device looked identical and there was nothing in the hole. Was he expected to chip away at it to make it bigger? No, that would break it and then he really would be screwed. He wasn't stupid enough to start hitting a powerful magical object with a hammer and chisel – that was a recipe for disaster. He had to find out why it was not working, but of course there were no user-manuals for something like that. He had Flamel's translation of the book in which he had found the Node, lodged in his trunk in the Tower. But if Flamel couldn't answer the question, there was little chance Harry could alone. Maybe he would ask Hermione to go over the Arithmancy of it, if Hermione was even alive here, he noted. How had things gone wrong in the first place? he wondered. Dumbledore and Flamel, two of the brightest minds in history could not both be wrong. They had even had Vector check it, as far as Harry knew. How on Earth had they cocked-up?
But there were no use worrying about that now. He was here and he couldn't go back. Once again he was faced with the choice. Dig in here and make a life or fight for a chance to go home. It wasn't a hard choice. Riddle was headmaster, Dumbledore was dead and the world was screwed up. No, he would fight; he would find a way home, or a way back to his mother. He didn't care which, as long as it was not here. Why did I even leave, asked Harry cursing himself. If it ain't broke don't fix it. Why hadn't he left well enough alone and stayed where he knew it was safe?
So he would fight to get back. Now how could he do that? When he got back he would read through Flamel's notes (after a shower). If there was nothing to be gained from them, what then? How could be get home?
Come on, Harry, he thought to himself as he continued along the path. The cold air was stinging his lungs, and his muscles protested, unused to the effort of jogging. Some people found this therapeutic. Ha! Not likely! His legs ached, he was out of breath and his heart was pounding. His mother's words came back to him, there's no need to run anymore.
They had been said in a completely different context, but it didn't matter. He couldn't have run much further if he had to. He had gone about a mile, and he was out of breath. He hadn't noticed, but as his thought became more determined, his pace had increased, until he was full out running. Coming to a halt, Harry put his hand on his hips and took a deep breath, forcing air into his lungs.
Below him to his right was the canopy of the forest, which stretched for maybe fifty or sixty metres before opening up into the lake. A tree next to the path had fallen recently and the canopy had caught it, holding it in place. The log was about a metre thick and stretched out over the canopy like a bridge. Harry stepped up onto it, still panting and walked along a few paces. He sat down, his legs dangling off the edge, and nothing beneath him but the treetops.
Letting his legs dangle, he sat still, trying to catch his breath.
Come on, Harry, he thought to himself. Let's think about this logically. The last time you were in this situation you came to the conclusion that it was all one giant prank, and somehow Voldemort was controlling the entire population. Let's see if you could do better this time. Why does a key not fit a lock? Because it's locked? No, a key would unlock it. It usually doesn't fit because you've got a wrong key. That's it! The key back home was the key for that world, but not for this one. If the device was made in this world and then so would it's key. Flamel had said that they had gone exploring and others had come back through the Node. It worked two ways, because the others had had a Node. Therefore somewhere in this world, probably in Greece, there was another key, one that would make the device work. It was so simple. He needed to find a key, wherever it was.
Ah, but then there was the code, the runes. If the 'address' to get home was wrong, chances are that the other Flamel equation, the one to return to the Unholy Land, would also be wrong and he could end up just about anywhere. He would need to start again, with Flamel's initial digits he gained directly from his blood and spells and do the whole equation again. Harry bowed his head. He didn't even do Arithmancy, and Hermione's homework had always looked very difficult. He would need to recruit Hermione at some point.
Right, so that's it then, thought Harry. Number one: find the key, the clues must be in the book because Flamel found it. Number two: get Hermione to redo the equations. He would not involve Riddle or even Ron and his friends. Last time he had become attached he had allow himself to be sidetracked. He didn't regret that now, but he couldn't afford to become attached here, and he knew that he had to stay as low-key as possible. He was not a soldier here, or a Dark Lord. It was not his world; it was not his fight. This time there was no need to get involved. He would remain distant, he would find what he needed and he would leave, plain and simple. There was no family to keep him here, no war to fight, and no reason to stay. He just had to pass the time.
Harry got to his feet on the log a cheeky grin on his face. He had done it. It was simple: he had two jobs to do and then he could go home. It shouldn't take too long. Once he had the key he could go and see Hermione and ask for her help, force her, if needs be, and then he'd be gone like phantom. This world would go on. Harry Potter had died here, this was how it was supposed to be.
Harry jumped back onto the path and set off at a leisurely pace. He felt oddly relieved. It was so simple. He would need what? A month at most before he could get back home? He reckoned if he pushed himself hard he might he able to be gone in a fortnight. If he got it working, would he go back to Rose or home? He hadn't thought that part out yet, but that was far down the pipeline. He would jump that hurdle as he got to it. He jogged faster down the hill, heading back towards the gate.
He could imagine Dumbledore's face as Harry reappeared at Hogwarts. That was what should have happened last night, but it had all gone wrong and now he would have to wait even longer. Fate had a shite sense of humour. Divine Comedy, Harry scoffed, when was he going to get a break?
Harry stopped at the gates, and tried to catch his breath. He wiped his forehead on his t-shirt and tried to catch his breath. His muscles ached after a relatively short exercise, but he felt oddly relieved, and much happier than he had been when he had set off. Breathing heavily, Harry slipped back into the courtyard and headed across towards the main doors. He stared at his feet, his mind wandering back home to what his friends might be doing as he walked, his feet carrying him automatically.
He got to the bottom of five steps that led up to the door. As he stepped onto the first one, another person arrived at the top. Harry struggled not to roll his eyes as the Slytherin adopted the usual arrogant stance that pronounced that a snide comment was on the way. True to form Crabbe and Goyle were right behind him, the first one standing behind his master, the other leaning against the door, rubbing his knuckles.
"You can train for ever-and-a-day," said Malfoy, his tone condescending. "But you're still nothing but a useless lardbucket."
"Yeah, well not all of us get Liposuction and manicures for our birthday" said Harry, wiping his brow on his forearm. Malfoy's eyes grew wide for a second, before he regained composure. Harry was surprised to see he reaction. What was he so shocked about?
"What did you say?" hissed Malfoy, his eyebrows narrowing. He took a step forward down the steps towards Harry, his chest puffed out threateningly.
"Look, Malfoy," said Harry, his tone bored. "I'm sweaty, I'm stinking, and I just want to go for a shower. I am really not in the mood for this, right now. Please ask Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee to get out of my way." Harry sidestepped Malfoy and walked up towards the door, which was blocked by Crabbe and Goyle. "Today would be nice," he added.
"What's with you today," sneered Malfoy. "Did you grow some balls since your return?"
"What?" asked Harry. What was wrong in Malfoy's eyes? He was completely lost. What was Malfoy on about?
"So where have you been for the last few weeks?" asked Malfoy. "Not that you were missed. Rumour has it you died, though you're so stupid, you probably couldn't even die properly."
"BACK OFF, MALFOY!" called a voice. That voice was oddly familiar. A girl's voice, echoed out from the Entrance Hall. Harry turned around to see the new arrivals. Neville Longbottom, at least Harry was fairly sure it was him though he looked so different, stood on the right, but it was the girl in the middle that caused Harry to lose his voice. It was Katie Bell, though not the Katie he knew.
"What the…" was all Harry could say. The Katie of this world was somewhat different from his world and the other one. She had a fire in her eyes that his Katie lacked. There was pain there, a pain Harry knew all to well. She was dressed all in black and her hair was tied back in ponytail rather than flowing in the wind, perfectly kept and straightened. She had a much stronger presence to her, and more powerful persona, but that was not the most shocking thing about her.
In the middle of her forehead was a thin lightening-bolt shaped scar.
"Well, look who it is," sneered Malfoy. "The Slut-Who-Lived."