Harry's attempts to infiltrate the new DA continue as Umbridge tightens her grip. However, the price of his admission seems to have had a lasting effect and renders Harry helpless. His attempts to return home lead him to a surprising reunion, and Harry gets to see first hand what happened to Lily and James Potter. However, he must tread carefully for Riddle and Katie are still trying to piece together the enigma that is Harry Potter.
here because you know something.
What you know you can't explain, but you feel it.
You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong.
You don't know what it is, but it's there,
Like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad."
Morpheus (Laurence Fishbourne) – The Matrix
BLACK MARKETEER DISAPPEARS DURING RANSACKING
Borgin and Burkes of Knockturn Alley was ransacked last night, in an apparent revenge-motivated attack. The shop owner, Mr. Borgin, whose whereabouts are unknown at this time, is believed to have been abducted during the incident, which took place at around 5pm yesterday. Neighbours and passers-by report hearing bangs and curses shortly after the shop closed for business. When Aurors arrived, the shop had been ransacked and there was no sign of its owner.
"We are treating this as suspicious," said a Ministry spokesperson. "Since nothing appears to have been taken from the shop, we have ruled out robbery as a motive. This seems to have been a personal vendetta against Mr. Borgin."
Mr. Borgin's alleged dealings are rumoured to be in the Dark Arts, and his ruthlessness as a businessman have gained him a long list of enemies. The Aurors are not short on suspects. Several cases have been brought against Mr. Borgin over the years, but witnesses more often than not mysteriously tend to withdraw their statements, or worse, meaning that he has never been prosecuted. It is, perhaps, ironic that a man rumoured to be behind several disappearances should now have disappeared himself.
Harry stopped reading and put the Prophet down. Using his good arm, he poured himself some orange juice and raised the glass to his lips. As he drank, he was aware of several eyes watching him intently. Further down the table Katie, Neville, Ron, Hermione and Ginny were all deep in conversation. He had a feeling it was about him.
Across the room, Draco Malfoy was shooting daggers at him.
Perfect, thought Harry as he glanced at Malfoy. That should make my job easier. He hadn't given up on his plan to pick a fight with the Slytherin, hopefully prompting Katie and her group to invite him into the DA.
He buttered a bagel with his good hand, holding it still with his injured left. The salve he had borrowed had replaced the skin over the wound and helped to heal the muscles and tendons below, but it still hurt like hell when he stretched and tensed it too much so he held it close to his body and tried to keep it immobile. Lifting anything more than a bagel was impossible. He supposed he could use a sling, but that would just draw attention. Instead, he just kept the arm bandaged, more to protect it than anything else until the skin had healed over. All in all, he judged the mission to be a success; after all, he had gotten what he went there for in the first place, and he had managed to get away from the man in black, a highly skilled opponent, without needing to consult professional help. That thought brought a small smile to his face.
"Your attention please!" called a magically magnified voice above the chatter. Harry, along with the rest of the hall, turned to look at the speaker, though he already knew who it was and roughly what this was about. Umbridge was walking down the central aisle towards the staff table, dressed from head to toe in pink and wrapped in a fuchsia woollen shawl. The chatter died down in an instant as she spoke, but a groan started to circulate as people noticed what she was holding; a rolled up parchment.
"I have in my hand," she announced, unravelling the parchment with a pompous snap. "Educational Decree Number Twenty-Seven."
The groan swept through the room twice as loud as before, though Umbridge seemed unfazed. Harry noticed a grimace on McGonagall's face as she exchanged a weathered glance with Riddle, whose face was passive. When quiet had returned, Umbridge began to read from the parchment, though Harry had a fairly good idea what it was about before she opened her mouth.
"By order of the High Inquisitor," she began in that familiar sickly sweet voice that made Harry want to pull her toenails out one by one. "All non-sanctioned pets and animals are banned from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Anyone owning a pet not listed on the school's approved animal list, (see School Regulation 367, paragraph C) should be handed to professor Grubbly-Plank for disposal." Umbridge stopped reading and looked around, wearing an inappropriate smile, as though she had just given them a treat.
There was a pause as the words set in. Harry noticed Julia Giles, a young second year who had a rabbit called Fidget, looking extremely pale. Harry's thoughts on the other hand, went far beyond a single furball. This was another example of Umbridge stamping down on the students. Like Dumbledore in Harry's world, apparently not even Riddle could stop her.
What concerned Harry the most was that she was going further than she had in his world and it was in response to the phoenix – to Harry's intervention. He was already affecting this world, already making it harder for Katie. Riddle was expending valuable energy and resources that should rightly be spent looking for Grindelwald following Harry around – an utter waste of time. In addition, Umbridge was now trying to find out about the 'mysterious phoenix', in addition to Katie's DA. Just by being here Harry was changing history, although granted it wasn't history yet, exactly. Technically this wasn't the past, this was the present...just an alternate present. He tried to reassure himself that intervening didn't matter. After all, he couldn't very well delete himself from history, could he? All he was accomplishing was making it harder for Katie. Of greater concern was that if he pushed Umbridge enough, she could deviate from what she had done in his world and Harry would no longer be able to predict what was to come. And when it came to that woman, he did not like surprises.
"Excuse me, Professor, but what do you mean by 'disposal'?" asked a small, terrified voice. Umbridge had been heading up towards the head table when Julia Giles had spoken. "You don't mean to… kill them, do you?"
Umbridge paused and turned back to the students with an icy smile.
"The sanctioned animals list was designed to be an inventory of safe and useful pets," she replied with false kindness. "If they are not on that list, my dear, then they are classed as dangerous or inappropriate. In that case, the Ministry shall proceed accordingly and have them destroyed."
"You mean murdered!" said an angry voice from the Hufflepuff table, but Umbridge ignored it.
"That is all. Enjoy your breakfast."
The argument was at an end and the High Inquisitor's word was final. She headed towards the front of the room and took her place at the head table, completely oblivious to the tears of young Julia and the many other horrified and hostile faces around the room. Even Professor McGonagall was shooting daggers at her, Harry noticed. Unconcernedly, Umbridge calmly helped herself to a pastry, perfectly at ease.
If only he could be there to see her chased away by a herd of centaurs for a second time... However, he planned to be gone long before that happened. Despite the fact that Umbridge was stamping down, there was nothing he could or should do to stop it. He didn't dare visit Katie as the phoenix again – or at least, not where he could be seen. He really needed to keep a low profile.
Fighting his natural instinct, he rose to his feet, holding a bagel in his mouth and turned to leave, his injured arm tucked close to his body as he walked back up to the tower to get his stuff. He had a full day of lessons today and was too exhausted and in too much pain to do anything but comply with the status quo. He wanted to get into the DA sooner rather than later, but he was not an idiot; he knew that it was fool-hardy to go looking for a fight with Malfoy in this state. He would have to wait. He needed to wait. If he managed to find time, he might have a look at the journal later. For now though, it was time for Herbology.
"That didn't take long," muttered Katie bitterly, as Umbridge finished her announcement. She had known that Umbridge would attempt something of the sort, but it didn't stop her feeling angry at the old bint. She would slaughter all those animals just to drive Katie lower. That was pathetic, but that was Umbridge. Looking around, Katie could see that she wasn't the only one who looked angry. Professor McGonagall also didn't look best pleased. Katie looked over at the Headmaster, but as usual, he was looking elsewhere. Another glimmer of anger pulsed through her. Determinedly, Katie shook the thought aside, not allowing herself the luxury of wallowing in self-pity.
As she scoured the faces in the Great Hall, many seemed to be either livid or upset at Umbridge's latest proclamation. Several people seemed to be in tears while friends tried to comfort them. Although most people did stick to toads, cats and owls, there were a few exceptions – one of which was Hermione. Crookshanks was half cat, half Kneazle. Katie hoped that Umbridge wasn't smart enough to realise this or Crookshanks could very well end up heading for the axe.
Another face Katie had picked out of the crowd was Harry Potter. His neutral expression stood out among the students as he arose at the back at the Great Hall and stood to leave. Curiously, he seemed to be holding his arm close to his body, protecting it. Had he hurt himself? Had someone hurt him? As Katie watched, she recalled their conversation the night before as she had headed up to the Room of Requirement.
We cannot understand what it is like to be you, and none of us have the courage to stand up and fight.
What right do we have to judge you? None.
How could someone so distant be so understanding? His question had cut her right to the soul. Even Ron, Neville, Hermione and Ginny had no clue was it was like to be her. None of them understood how much she hated this fame. Then, out of the blue, someone who she never really took notice of before seemed to get it. Someone who she didn't trust, didn't even like in his current state of mind, could somehow cut to the core of her. For a second, in those emerald eyes she thought that she had seen… understanding.
No…she must have been imagining it.
It was ridiculous. She knew perfectly well that her bumbling friend had never been through anything remotely related to what she had lived – no one had. Yet, she knew what she had seen... Katie sighed. It was just another chapter of the enigma that was Harry Potter.
What was going on with him? His questioning of both her and Hermione was certainly suspicious. She couldn't fight the idea that he was Umbridge's spy. It all fitted –so far he hadn't been in trouble with the toad and he had taken unusual interest in what Katie and her friends had been up to. She couldn't shake the feeling that he had an ulterior motive. Clearly the boy was hiding something.
Then again, it was Harry... only Harry. He didn't have it in him to be a traitor, did he? A few weeks ago, she would instantly have said no, but these days she wasn't so sure.
Still, tonight she had another detention and this one was to be longer that the last. There was no chance of being saved by a phoenix this time. She glowered at the figure in pink sitting at the front table and felt a sudden desire to see her struck by lightening.
I'm going to be there, she thought bitterly. When you and your stupid Minister are proven wrong and hung out to dry in front of the entire country, I'm going to be there and I'll be laughing.
Suddenly, Katie's blood was boiling and all her frustration was directed squarely at Umbridge.
Take a breath Kathryn, calm yourself, she chastised herself. This is just from lack of sleep. The nightmares had returned since the phoenix had not been there last night.
Come back to me, she pleaded.
The dreams were getting more vivid and the classes during the day more brutal. She held on to one thing now, and one thing only. She spent most of her time in daydreams, planning upcoming RA lessons. It was a glimmer of hope, and it was all she had to look forward to.
Harry's cunning plan did not succeed for some time. It was ironic, he noted, that he found it so hard to get into a fight. Trouble had always managed to find him before, and Malfoy had given Harry so many opportunities over the years to lamp him one that Harry had given up counting. Ironically, now that he actually wanted to get into a scrap he was finding it really hard going.
Due to Umbridge's latest decree banning all non-sanctioned animals, Harry had not been back to visit Katie in phoenix form since rescuing her from the old bint." He watched her from a distance over the next three days and as far as he could tell, there didn't seem to be anything wrong with her. He would check in soon in phoenix form, as a week's absence would make her suspicious. Nothing much, just a quick flap around the room. He made a mental note to do that after classes, but right now he was concentrating on something else: Malfoy.
Although anxious for a fight, Harry forced himself to not make a single attempt over the next few days in order to give his arm time to heal. In the interests of protecting said limb, Harry would rather this upcoming scrap be magical and not physical. He needed to be up to his full strength as soon as possible and taking a pounding on his already injured arm from any of the Slytherins would set him back days. By the end of Wednesday, his arm, largely thanks to the liberal doses of the lotions and potions he had taken from Pomfrey, was a bit better. Although he could not support much weight on that arm and movement was still a bit painful, the skin had completely healed over. It was now a matter of giving the muscle beneath time to heal. Not being a Healer, Harry thought this was good progress and so made his first attempt the following morning.
His first effort had simply been to track the three of them and then walk past them alone in a deserted corridor while wearing Gryffindor colours, and so giving them every opportunity to have a go. However, the trio of Slytherins walked right past, noses in the air, Crabbe and Goyle's arms swinging like pendulums but fists not clenched. They didn't seem to care. Harry felt strangely annoyed that he wasn't even worth their time. He also felt something was amiss if Draco "Shooting-daggers-at-me-for-the-past-few-weeks" Malfoy was ignoring him.
It was not, Harry soon discovered, as easy as one might imagine, especially as it harmed the desired image of helpless and defenceless if he went in fists and wands blazing. He needed to get Malfoy to make the first move. Getting a bully to make the first move sounded simple, but it just didn't seem to be working. Did Umbridge have her pet on his best behaviour? Harry wasn't sure, but what he did know was that this wasn't going to happen nicely.
That afternoon, attempt number two had taken the form of walking into Goyle as if he had not seen him. He had been aiming for Malfoy, but Goyle had stepped across his path just before impact. Harry had stammered an apology, hoping to be hit, but before Goyle could raise a fist, Malfoy had grabbed his arm and pointed. Professor Slughorn had been waddling towards him.
Goyle had cursed aloud exactly the phrase Harry was thinking in his head.
"Watch where you're going," Goyle grunted rudely, and the Slytherins retreated into the Potions room.
"Careful, mate," Neville, who had been standing nearby with Ron, warned. "I don't reckon he's forgiven you yet."
Harry opened his mouth to protest, but quickly shut it again. He didn't want to seem to be looking for trouble – he needed sympathy. Cursing inwardly, he followed Neville and Ron into the classroom.
Before Potions on Thursday afternoons, he decided, was his best opportunity for another go, as Katie and the finalists had their lessons in a room no more than thirty metres from the one Harry and the sixth years were using. This would give the DA head coach a front row seat. However, it also meant he needed to wait another week.
In the last few days since he had discovered the DA's existence, Harry had been busy. The professors had started sending him notes to attend extra catch-ups lessons, which had taken a majority of his spare time. He had appeared to Katie as a phoenix twice since Umbridge had banned unusual pets, but never stayed long. He just flapped around, let her pet him for a few minutes and then left. In truth it was quite pleasant when her finger gently stroked his golden plumage and he had had to force himself to leave the second time. These visits, and the additional homework he now found himself faced with meant that he had had very little time to explore the diary. He had skimmed through parts of it each night before bed but had only managed a few pages per night, and it was a long book. The author's tiny writing didn't help, nor the constant use of technical jargon. From the parts Harry understood he seemed to be on the right track, and Harry was optimistic that further down the line he may well encounter some useful information.
As it turned out, it was another week before anything happened, either with Malfoy or the diary. At one-thirty on the following Thursday they were all waiting outside their Potions lesson with the seventh years just around the corner including, Harry noted, the Girl Who Lived. He suppressed a smirk at the title and turned his attention back to his own class. Malfoy was leaning lazily against the wall, apparently lost in thought. Truth he told, Harry was not actually concentrating on Malfoy at the time. Like all great plans, this one came into being almost by accident. Harry had been working out how he could plausibly get close enough to spill the blackcurrant drink he was holding, (guaranteed to stain clothing) all down Malfoy's new robes, when a dreamy voice sounded in the passage.
Harry didn't actually hear what Luna said and had no idea why she would even be here with the sixth years, but the Slytherins promptly burst out laughing. Harry noticed that there were even a fair few from Gryffindor who were laughing as well. Grimacing, he stepped closer to see what was going on, standing on tiptoe to try and see through the forest of students. All he saw was Luna, however, retreating down a passage and disappearing from sight.
As the rest of the Slytherins sniggered, Malfoy spoke.
"That girl was definitely dropped on her head when she was a baby," he said sarcastically. "When she graduates, she wants to go to St. Mungo's, but I'm not sure if she means as a healer or patient. They've got a Wacky Ward there, don't they? It's called the Looney bin for a reason."
Harry felt his blood pressure rise, and his fists tense. He thought back to Neville's parents, to the image of them in St. Mungo's, not even recognising their own son. Their vacant faces were burned into the back of his eyes. Malfoy's Aunt Bellatrix had done that – had he no respect for the departed? Clearly not.
"I blame the parents," Malfoy continued, unaware of Harry's rising temper. "Her father's a few balls short of a snooker set, isn't he?"
It was as if the fog cleared. Harry suddenly saw what he needed to do. He saw how he could get them to trust him, to pity him. In his world, what had made him pity Neville the most had been the truth about his parents.
"If you knew what you were talking about, you'd be dangerous," said Harry loudly, putting the drink down. Silence fell and Malfoy's head turned slowly to face him. He was vaguely aware of the few students standing between them taking a step backwards to clear the line of fire.
"Ah," Malfoy said matter-of-factly. "Makes sense. You would know all about the Wacky Ward, Potter."
Harry stepped forward, not in outrage for his parents of this world, but more for Neville's. How could Malfoy be proud of what his aunt had done? How could he consider it a laughing matter? Harry remembered that this subject had nearly driven Neville to hit Malfoy once, and now he understood what his friend must have been feeling. This was as good a reason as any to hit him, arm be damned.
Harry hadn't managed another step before Neville grabbed him in a bear-hug, clamping his arms to his side and stopping him from moving.
"Cool it, Harry," he said quickly. "He's just trying to get a rise out of you."
"Luckily," said Malfoy even louder, ignoring Neville's interference, "the problem's now solved, isn't it? You could have all gone together, but you are so stupid you couldn't even die properly."
That was enough. Harry's real anger snapped, consuming his acting. He thrust his elbow backwards into Neville's stomach, knocking the air out of him. As Neville doubled up, Harry drew his wand. Malfoy followed suit, having had his ready. As the wands came level, Harry opened his mouth to cast a spell, but suddenly remembered what he was here to do, as the icy control of the Dark Knight took command.
A spell left Malfoy's wand and it took all Harry's self control not to move to the side. Instead he forced himself to hold his ground and waved his own wand clumsily.
He braced for impact, knowing he was wearing no armour.
The spell hit him in the gut, forcing the air out of him and launching him backward. He felt his limbs go numb as his feet left the ground and then he landed painfully on his back, sliding along the stone floor, his glasses slipping down below his nose. He lost his grip on his wand as he hit the cold, hard stone and the pain consumed him from within. His insides felt like they were on fire. He imagined this was what an ulcer felt like. Every organ felt like it was burning; it was like lemon or salt on a cut, like chilli in the eyes except all over his body. The pain began to grow, burning hotter and hotter, itching, blazing inside where he could never scratch. He broke out into a sweat and could feel himself going red as the heat surged through him. It was unbearable.
Forgetting the pretence, Harry reached for his wand and levelled it at Malfoy.
"Stupefy!" he choked. A jet of red light shot from his wand, but his aim was off. The curse shot over Malfoy's shoulder, missing Parkinson by an inch and shooting harmlessly into the wall, which absorbed it without effect. It was enough to cause Malfoy to break the connection.
"What's going on here, then?" boomed a jolly voice before Harry or Malfoy could make another move.
Professor Slughorn had arrived through the crowd and Malfoy had hastily removed his wand from sight. Harry was able to breathe again. He sat on the floor massaging his stomach, still sweating and feeling really hot. The burning pain was gone, but he could feel a dull ache and he was still beet red. As the beefy potion's professor approached, Harry glanced around at the other students. Malfoy was leaning against the wall again casually, trying to look innocent. Neville – who had managed to straighten up after Harry had hit him – and Ron were tucking wands away, hiding the fact that they had been about to intervene. Hermione appeared shocked but sympathetic towards Harry. The rest of the students just looked slightly disappointed, as they always did when a fight was broken up. Through the gap Professor Slughorn had created in the body of students, Harry could see Katie watching him, her face passive but her eyebrows narrowed. Had it worked? Only time would tell, though she didn't seem overly impressed.
"Mr. Malfoy?" asked Slughorn, turning to face the boy.
"Nothing," shrugged Malfoy offhandedly. He shot a dirty glance at Harry, a smug expression on his pale face, "Although it seems Potter is justburning to learn more about Potions, Professor. You might want to give him extra lessons, since he obviously needs help."
With that he, turned and strutted off into the classroom, leaving the teacher standing. Slughorn made no move to stop him.
The walrus turned to face Harry, who was still shaking slightly as the aching slowly receded from his limbs. He still felt light-headed and a bit disorientated, but it was probable only a lasting effect of the spell. Whatever it had done to his organs was leaving him starved for oxygen and feeling faint. Most likely it would pass given time.
"I slipped," Harry lied, climbing shakily to his feet with Neville's help.
"All right, Harry?" Neville asked.
"I'm fine," he muttered, brushing his robes down. "Thanks."
The seventh year's professor had arrived by now and had ushered them into their own classroom further along the corridor. Professor Slughorn seemed satisfied that nothing was amiss and moved into the dungeon followed by the rest of the class, leaving only Harry and Neville out in the corridor. The sound of students unpacking floated out of the class, but the two Gryffindors were alone.
"What was all that about?" asked Neville in a whisper, presumably so that those sat nearest the door would not be able to overhear.
"You heard him," Harry said angrily, picking up his schoolbag, which had slipped off his shoulder in the confrontation. He had expected Malfoy to win – he knew that he was going to get hit before the fight even started – but still, the manner of his defeat angered Harry. He was expecting massive ears, huge toe-nails, something weird...not a near death experience.
Bloody Malfoys and the bloody Dark Arts.
Besides that, Harry was still angry that Malfoy could be so heartless and make jokes about what his aunt had done.
Neville didn't seem to get this and just looked puzzled.
"Yeah, something about St. Mungo's," Neville said, his face showing no signs of comprehension.
Harry shot him a piercing look. Neville's face suddenly fell and Harry knew that he had made the connection between the Wacky Ward reference and Harry. He actually felt sympathy for his friend when the guilt surfaced onto Neville's face.
Oh Neville, thought Harry sadly. It was actually your parents I was thinking of, not mine. Thank God you don't know.
"Who?" Neville's eyes were wide and he looked a little ashen.
"You never thought it odd that I live with my aunt and uncle?" asked Harry. He immediately felt his own pang of guilt; he had known that Neville lived with his grandmother from the day they had met, but he never asked why until he found out in a Penseive in his fourth year. Four years it had taken for Harry to care enough for his friend to ask why, to discover why Neville had no mum and dad.
"Your parents?" asked Neville. "I knew they were killed in the blast they thought killed you, but I never realised why they were at St. Mungo's."
"No one does," said Harry, his voice level, unemotional. It took all his control to mask his feelings of pity and anger at the injustice and tragedy of the story, even though it wasn't his own. "Fifteen years they spent there, and the world forgot their names."
Harry turned and walked into the room, sliding on to a bench near the door. He thought back to Frank Longbottom and his wife Alice, wandering aimlessly in St. Mungo's. They had been in the Order, they had known what was happening, what Dumbledore had done with Harry. Two people of such character, even that curse could not force them to tell their secrets. The Longbottoms had chosen insanity rather than betrayal, just as Lily Potter had once chosen death in order to protect her son. That was the greatest tragedy...that such honourable people had given their lives.
Harry knew he owed Neville's parents a debt. They didn't tell the Lestranges about Harry, about the Order, or about what had happened to Voldemort. They had been heroes. Above that they had been good parents, judging by how Neville had turned out here. Harry remembered what Frank had been like in the Unholy Land after losing his family – bitter and twisted. But in this world, this was how the Longbottom family should have been all along.
Disgusted at the injustice of it all, Harry made his way into the potions classroom and picked an empty seat near the back. To Harry's annoyance, Neville slid onto the bench next to him, determined to continue with the questions.
"Merlin, what happened?" he asked, unpacking his bag. Luckily the noise of everyone unpacking was enough to cover their conversation.
Why not? thought Harry. After all, it had happened to Neville in another lifetime. These weren't his real parents, and the sympathy might aid in his mission to get close to this DA.
He leaned in close so that only Neville could hear. "After He fell," Harry said in a conspiratorial tone, "they were caught by the Death Eaters, desperate to know what had happened to their master. They wanted information about who had caused his downfall and where that person was. My parents were a pair of Aurors, Riddle's old favourites – the perfect targets. Do you know what happens when you use the Cruciatus Curse for a prolonged period of time?"
"Merlin, they didn't!"
Harry nodded grimly. "If it goes on for long enough," he said keeping his voice emotionless, "it destroys the victim's mind. They have no memories, feelings, nothing. They are empty shells, hollow shadows of their former selves. I went to visit them every week during the Christmas and Easter holidays, but they didn't even recognise their own son."
"Blimey," breathed Neville. "And Malfoy knows this?"
"He knows," Harry growled, his voice harder. "It was his aunt who did it, the woman who escaped from Azkaban last winter, Bellatrix Lestrange. She was the ring-leader that night. Looks like she told her darling nephew everything. Part of me wishes I would meet Bellatrix in a dark alley. Part of me knows that I wouldn't stand a chance, not with my Defence marks," he added hinting towards the DA.
"I'm sorry, Harry. I never knew," Neville breathed almost apologetically.
"No one does," said Harry, turning to Neville, his voice firmer. "And it has to stay that way. I don't need extra attention or pity. I've had enough of those already to last a lifetime." He paused for dramatic effect and even gave a small sigh. "I just wish I knew as much as you and Katie so that if I ever had to defend myself from the likes of her I wouldn't end up like my parents..."
"I…er…," said Neville shiftily. He seemed to be thinking about something and wrestling with his conscience, eventually coming to a hesitant decision.
"I might know of something that could be of help," he said at last. Harry's ears pricked up at the offer. Neville didn't state outright what he meant, but Harry had a fair idea.
"Really?" Harry deliberately tried to sound unconvinced. Come on Neville... mention the DA, he screamed inside his head.
"Yeah," said Neville, looking more determined now. "I'll talk to Katie this evening, and I'll get back to you."
"You're being very mysterious," Harry said, raising an eyebrow. It was enough flattery to appear interested without appearing nosey. Harry was convinced he was referring to the DA. Still, he figured he had better test the water, in case Neville was referring to something else. "This isn't anything illegal or dangerous, is it?"
"It depends on how you define illegal," Neville said with a lop-sided smile.
Harry managed not to look smug. That certainly sounded like the DA to him.
But then Neville suddenly became more wary. He cast a quick glance around the room and lowered his voice to a whisper. "I've already said too much," he added, "Look, I'll get back to you this evening."
"RIGHT, WHEN YOU ARE READY…" boomed Professor Slughorn, waddling over to the board. It was time for the lesson to begin.
"No, no, and hell no," said Katie firmly. There was no way on earth this was going to happen. Over her dead body!
They were in a deserted classroom where Neville had beckoned her after her Transfiguration class. She stood near the window, hands on hips and an expression of anger on her face.
"Katie," said Neville with strained patience. "Stop to think about this for a second."
"I have," snapped Katie, refusing to be patronised by him. "And I don't trust him."
"He's harmless." Neville looked at Katie as if she was crazy. "Look, we've always tried to keep an eye out for him, right? He's always been a friend, so why have we never invited him before? He clearly needs it."
Katie grimaced with a pang of guilt.
"Look," she said, brushing the hair out of her eyes impatiently. "I admit, that it would have been more friendly of us to have invited him in the first place. If it wasn't for recent events, we probably would have by now. But that doesn't mean I trust him now, and it certainly doesn't mean you can just go up to anyone and invite them without asking"
"Asking who?" asked Neville, angrier now. "Should I beg your permission, Your Highness? Who are you to give orders? Is this Pax Kathriana?"
"No!" protested Katie hotly. She wasn't that arrogant. "And don't use my full name. My point is that the old Harry we would have invited by now, but this isn'tthe old Harry."
"So, he toughened up a bit," he shot back. "You of all people should understand how a shock like that can change a person. One minute he was visiting his parents in St. Mungo's, and the next…" He sighed in frustration. "If you had any idea what happened to his parents you might be a little less of a–"
"A what?" Katie demanded, her temper rising to the surface. She glowered at Neville but there was no fear in his eyes, just anger that matched her own.
"Ice queen," finished Neville calmly, managing to settle himself down a bit. Katie saw him take a strained breath before he spoke again. "If you knew what…"
"I DO KNOW," snapped Katie, before she could stop herself. She had promised Riddle she wouldn't tell anyone, but this was in the interests of everyone. Neville froze on those words. Katie took a deep breath, wishing she was somewhere else. Her temper, which was always bubbling these days it seemed, retreated for a moment as she felt a wave of pity for Harry. "I found out last year," she confessed. "In a Pensive in Riddle's office. I saw the trial of the Lestranges and Barty Crouch Junior. I know why the Potters were in St. Mungo's."
"So you know that he goes to visit them every week when he's at home?" asked Neville in an accusing tone.
Katie knew he was driving his point home.
"Or at least he did," Neville continued. "Did you know that he used to go to see his parents every holiday and that they didn't even recognise him, their own son? Grindelwald took everything from him, and you still think he has it in him to be a traitor? One minute he was visiting his parents, the next he wakes up from a coma to find that his parents are dead. He is all alone in Muggle London and is barely alive. Is it any wonder that he toughened up, that his grief has made him a little out of character? You saw what Malfoy did this afternoon. A little training is just what Harry needs."
Katie took a deep breath, determined not to shout. "Two things. One, Grindelwald may have taken everything from him, but we are fighting Umbridge – a different kettle of fish. Secondly, have you ever considered that the whole thing was set?" she asked. "That Potter staged that fight?"
"Come on, Katie," said Neville with annoyance. "You're reaching!"
"Am I?" she asked, her temper firing up again. "Umbridge knows we are up to something. Her decree banned new clubs the day after we formed. She knows something is going on, she knows it's me, but she doesn't know what we're up to yet. What if she sent Potter to find out?"
"Harry doesn't have it in him," Neville insisted loyally. "Whatever he is, he's not a traitor."
"He doesn't have the strength to stand up to Umbridge," Katie maintained with conviction. "He's been quizzing Hermione about lessons, hovering around the Common room, listening in on our conversations... and that doesn't even touch on his new found habit of wandering around as if he hasn't a care in the world."
"Ever considered that perhaps he is trying to be more friendly?" asked Neville. "He has no parents now. Maybe he needs some friends, people who'll look out for him – you of all people should understand that."
"Of course I do," Katie conceded, leaning wearily against the wall. "Listen, Neville. The best-case scenario is that you're right and he has just grown up. The training would teach him to stand up to Malfoy. However, the worst-case scenario is that I'm right and Umbridge is using him to get to us. He set up the whole fight with Malfoy to get our pity, to make us invite him. Somehow I just know it." No matter what Neville thought she knew she was right. The question was why he had done it. What was his true motivation?
"He wouldn't," Neville said, though he was suddenly less sure. "Anyway, he couldn't – Hermione's parchment would let us know."
"But only after he's betrayed us," Katie pointed out. Hermione's jinx was merely a way to catch the sneak; it didn't stop anyone going to Umbridge. "And only you, me, Hermione, Ron and Ginny know about that anyway," she added.
"But it's Harry," Neville said again. "He wouldn't do something like that. He may not be a fighter, but he's always been honest with us."
"Until now," said Katie. In her mind's eye she could see those deep emerald eyes, that insatiable calm. She didn't understand why she kept finding herself drawn to those eyes. They were allegedly the windows to the soul, and it was through these that she saw the differences to the old Harry. There was something mysterious behind them, perhaps even dangerous, like a great secret. She felt a chill run down her spine, which only served to reinforce her resolve. "Like I said, a few weeks ago no problem, but now I'm not so sure. You have to admit that there is something strange about him. His attitude, manner, even physical appearance has changed slightly."
"You'd lose weight on a liquid diet for a month, too," Neville said defensively. "And then he walked from London to Scotland."
Katie's own temper started to boil again but she managed to hold it down. "He said he hitch-hiked and then walked through the Forbidden Forest," she said. "He didn't walk that far."
"But it was through the Forbidden Forest," he said with respect. "You've been in there, we both have. We know what lurks in the darkness. Whatever he saw in there must make the school seem timid. If he was brave enough for that, Umbridge wouldn't scare him that much. Neither would Malfoy - that might explain why he shows no fear."
"Maybe," said Katie, unconvinced. "I just can't shake a feeling that there is something incredibly…wrong about him."
"But that isn't a reason to abandon him." Neville crossed his arms. "Now, more than ever, he needs friends. Gryffindors stick together, right?"
Katie stared at him for a long moment. Neville continue to stare back unblinking for the entire pause. She knew she was right, but she could never make him see. She could understand where he was coming from, she really could; it was not as if she was ignoring his argument. She had heard him out and still disagreed. It was something guttural, such a basic instinct that told her Harry was up to something. Her instincts had thus far served her relatively well and she was inclined to trust them. Logically she would agree with Neville, Harry was very much like her now. He was an orphan who had lost his parents to this war and nearly his own life as well. By his own admission he had grown up where he was unappreciated, and true, he needed friends. But there was something else there...every warning bell in her head went off every time he was around.
The question was, did she rely on logic, her instinct, or on someone else's instincts in this matter? Which of the three was more reliable right now?
"Oh, all right," Katie said, stepping away from the wall. "Me, you, Ginny, Hermione, and Ron makes five. Majority vote. We will abide by the decision, alright?"
It was a compromise, but it seemed fair. Maybe she was just being prejudiced against Harry because of her gut feeling, and perhaps she was wrong. Democracy in action would solve their debate. Neville also seemed to accept the offer.
True to his word, Neville got back to Harry right after dinner that evening. Harry had been finishing off a hastily written essay for potions class at the time. Naturally, given his situation, he had put the minimum of effort in, just enough to get Professor Slughorn off his back and enable him to continue his analysis of the diary. However, he wasn't really feeling up to reading the diary either. He'd had a full day of lessons topped by additional charms, then the best part of an hour writing an essay. He was mentally exhausted. In addition, he also had a headache. He had thought that it was due to the long lessons in stuffy rooms, especially the potions dungeon which was sweltering in the heat of the bubbling cauldrons. Then again, he had a sneaking feeling that it was an after effect of Malfoy's curse, whatever that had been. His insides still felt a little odd and he had hardly been able to eat a thing for dinner. He planned to turn in early and sleep it off.
It was quarter past eight and Harry was situated in the Common Room at one of the tables, putting the finishing touches to his essay. It was now a force of habit, but he looked up any time the Portrait opened and someone entered. His peripheral vision was always looking for movement near him, for any sign of the threat. The Dark Knight was on constant alert as Harry worked. This time as the Portrait opened, Neville climbed through into the Common Room. He paused for a second, looking around for Harry. Harry, himself, kept his head lowered as if reading his work, though in truth watching Neville. He did not wish to seem too eager.
Another few seconds passed and then Neville sank into the seat next to Harry and put his feet up on the coffee table Harry had been leaning on to write.
"Alright?" he asked. "How're you feeling?"
"Plodding onwards," replied Harry, placing his quill back in the pot and leaning back in his seat facing Neville. "Malfoy isn't strong enough for the curse to have had any lasting effect. Professor Slughorn's essays on the other hand…I'm sure there's something in the Geneva Convention about them."
Neville laughed, sounding slightly confused. Harry could see that he didn't really understand the joke, and also that underneath the laughter, Neville was serious and wished to move the conversation on.
"There's no getting around Slughorn," Neville said. "And as for Malfoy, well, he still landed one on you."
"If nothing else, it's curbed his desire for revenge," said Harry, shrugging, though he had noted that Neville was focusing on the fight. This looked promising.
"Oh I doubt it," said Neville with sigh. "The story, along with a rather poor impression of you thrashing around like a fish, is doing the rounds. I heard a couple of Hufflepuffs saying that they heard all about it from Bulstrode."
"Yeah, but no one believes Bulstrode," said Harry with a laugh, remembering her reputation from his own world. "Didn't Malfoy once convince her that when the tide goes out, the sea stays still and the land moves? The guy's a tosser, but I have to admit, that was funny."
"Yeah, well, my point is that these days no one seems to be able to tell fact from fiction," Neville said more gravely this time.
Harry nodded. Neville had hit the nail on the head; lies spread further than ever these days.
"That is why we precious few need to stick together."
"What do you mean?" Harry asked carefully, though he already knew. Neville was talking about the DA. This was it. Harry fought to keep his excitement from his face.
"There are those of us who believe what Katie says," said Neville in whisper, he removed his feet from the table and sat up, leaning forward.
"You mean all that stuff about the Dark Lord being back?" asked Harry, feigning ignorance. De Niro has nothing on me, he thought inwardly. He leaned forward in his chair, in close to Neville.
Neville nodded. "What do you think?" he asked pointedly.
Harry paused, choosing his words cautiously. This was Neville's little test, he knew.
"Katie is under a lot of strain, and we've both seen her temper," Harry said. "She is a lot of things, but she is not a liar. I think she's telling the truth, and with all that's happened since and Fudge's reaction…I believe her."
A small flash of victory spread over Neville's face.
"Given the chance, would you help her?" he asked.
"I don't see how I can," Harry replied, his face a mask of innocence. He couldn't make it too easy for Neville.
"Heis back," Neville said firmly. "And we have to be ready. Umbridge won't let us learn, so we have been forced to find someone else to teach us."
"Really?" asked Harry feigning interest. "Who?"
Harry paused, raising his eyebrows and trying to look astonished. "But she's just a student…"
"With more experience than half the Auror division," said Neville. His tone was firm but not aggressive, as if asserting a fact he really believed in. "Aside from Riddle, she's the only one to ever face the Dark Lord and walk away."
"In that respect she certainly is qualified," noted Harry, though trying to keep his voice sounding hesitant and nervous. "So what do you want me to do?"
"You said earlier that you wished you could so what Katie can," said Neville. "You wished you had the skills so that you would never end up like your parents." Harry nodded, struggling to hide his excitement as he sensed victory. "We can help with that: we have decided to invite you to join the RA."
"I'd lo…" began Harry, relieved that he had finally been invited. He had been about to say that he would love to, but then suddenly he paused. "The what?" he asked.
"RA," repeated Neville, looking quite pleased with himself now. "Not to be confused with the IRA, though Seamus is a member," he added with a grin.
Harry looked blankly at him.
"We had trouble with the name," conceded Neville shrugging. "The 'I Hate Umbridge Society' was suggested, 'Defence Association' was quite popular. Some idiot even wanted to call it the 'Anti-Umbridge League'''. Then a third year wanted to call it the Rebel Alliance after a film he likes, and from there we changed the acronym to Riddle's Army. Stopping an army is Umbridge's whole reason for being here…"
"…And you are doing it right under her nose," said Harry, finishing the sentence and grinning. "Ironic."
Harry paused for a moment. Of course it wouldn't be named after a man who had been dead for fifty years. Harry had been foolish not to realise that it wouldn't be called the DA. Still, the name was of no consequence. What mattered was what they learned in the meetings.
"So what do you say?" asked Neville, once again looking around to make sure they were alone. "Yes or no? Ja oder nein? Oui ou non?" He paused for a second.
"Where do I sign?" Harry said, nodding his head.
Neville's poker-face faltered for a fraction of a second before he laughed. Harry was suddenly aware that Neville looked awkward.
Neville straightened up, "It's funny you should mention signing," he said in a roundabout way.
Harry suddenly remembered Hermione's contract and the 'Sneak' affect of blabbing.
"Do I have to sign something that will strike me down if I tell?" said Harry lightly, making a joke of it. "Perhaps I should do it in my own blood?" He grinned at Neville watching the other boy squirm.
"Well, personally, I used ink and a quill," said Neville after an uncomfortable pause. "But yes, you need to sign." Neville tried to make light of it, but Harry knew that he had caught him off-guard. He managed to keep the smirk from his face. He was better at this game than Neville.
The other boy reached into his robes and removed a rolled up sheet of parchment. He rolled it out flat and passed Harry a small quill. Harry took it and leaned down to read the paper. Neville shifted in his seat, using his body to block the sheet from the rest of the room.
Across the top of the sheet were the words 'Riddle's Army'. Beneath it was a list of names, topped by Kathryn Bell. Harry paused - he had not realised that Katie couldn't be her full name. It was just something he had always accepted without really thinking about it. Putting the thought aside, Harry scanned the list quickly. Hermione, Ron, Neville and Ginny were at the top, and there were plenty more names. Twenty-six in total, and sure enough Harry found Luna Lovegood etched in swirly writing near the bottom. The names were almost identical to the DA, except for those who had graduated. These had been replaced by several names Harry didn't recognise. He also noted with a grimace that Marietta and Cho were also on the list. Harry sighed before lifting the quill and signing his name at the bottom of the parchment.
"There you go," said Neville. "All done. You just need this." He held out a coin to Harry. Harry took it and examined it, though he already knew what it was. Still, for appearance's sake, he tried to look confused.
"Normally, members pay the membership fee, not the other way around," he said, flipping the coin in his hand.
"It isn't real, so don't spend it," Neville replied, his tone level and serious. "When was the coin made?"
Harry examined the coin turning it so he could read the date stamped into the metal.
"Hang on," he said. Last year had taught him to read the roman numbers easily with all the practice he had had with these coins, however he chose to pretend he was having trouble. "I hate Roman Numerals. It says… hang on! Apparently it was made tomorrow evening at 7." He scrunched his face up in puzzlement. "Galleons don't have the time on them, do they?"
"Exactly," said Neville, looking mildly smug. "That is the time of the next meeting. Seventh floor, Barnibus the Barmy tapestry. Someone will be there to show you how to get in."
"Cool," said Harry, pocketing the coin. "Hermione's invention I take it?"
"Who else?" asked Neville, standing up and tucking the parchment back inside his robes. He pocketed the quill and glanced quickly around. "Well, I've got to get going. See you tomorrow."
"Oh, Neville," said Harry as the other boy turned to leave. "You don't happen to have anything for a headache do you?"
"Not on me," said Neville. "Malfoy's curse still hurting?"
Harry shrugged, "Might just be from spending the day in hot classrooms and not drinking enough."
"Hmm," said Neville. "Tried Pomfrey?"
"No," said Harry with an exasperated look. "I am not spending a month in bed for a headache. I'll sleep it off."
Neville shrugged and turned to leave. Harry waved as Neville disappeared into the rabble of students and out through the portrait hole. He felt a curious sensation of power at having successfully manipulated Neville and made him squirm. He had given Neville the idea of inviting him and made Neville think that it was his own idea.
"Well Miss Moneypenny," said Harry under his breath in his best Sean Connery accent. "I have infiltrated the RA. Time for a pumpkin juice, shaken not stirred." Mission accomplished. Harry saw little point in remaining here, and so decided it was best to have another look at the book before turning in for the night.
Over the last week, Harry had spent an hour or so almost every evening trying to find something useful in the diary, however so far he had drawn a blank. Harry had covered about a third of the book, and had folded down the page where he was reached.
As he entered the dorm he crossed to his bed and drew the curtains. Propping himself up so that he was leaning on the headboard, he opened his Charms textbook and tucked the diary inside it. Should any inconsiderate git open the curtains, they would see him revising.
Harry fluffed up a pillow and put it behind his back and then began to read. As before, it was utter drivel.
This part was all about one experiment that had apparently led nowhere. Harry decided to skip forward a few pages and began to read again.
Ah, this is more like it.
He had stumbled across the author's research into the history of the subject, into a list of people who had attempted such research. None of them he recognised, but then again, he didn't expect to. The diary began as far back as ancient Greece, just what Harry was looking for. With renewed interest he began reading the neat script of the paragraph.
Unfortunately, it was just a very longwinded explanation of what he already knew. There was a legend that an order, a sort of cult, had discovered a mineral that conducted temporal energy in sufficient quantities to punch a hole in the fabric of space. While they had failed time-travel, the legend spoke of how they found another world. Apparently a device was made and travel was possible. However, then all travel and use of the device suddenly stopped. The author surmised, and Harry believed that it was complete guesswork, that something had happened...something to scare the creators. The author believed that the cult discovered a world that was utterly hostile, perhaps a bitter reflection of their own or perhaps containing a creature so terrifying that it was deemed unsafe. Either way, this device was buried and hidden, never again to be used. Apparently it was regarded by some as the Holy Grail of time-travel theology. According to the author there had been many expeditions to find this lost treasure over the years.
Hah, I know where it is… thought Harry to himself. But I don't have the damn key. Where is that?
Harry continued to read. Apparently the device itself may have been moved several times. Various sightings had been reported over the years but as always with conspiracy theories and myths, none of it could be substantiated. One paragraph that caught Harry's attention said that in the first millennium AD, the device was moved to England. The reason for this apparently was that its previous location had been taken over by a warlord into whose hands the device must never fall, so the descendants of the creators moved the device to England. It was then mixed up in Arthurian legend. Rumours of the doorway appeared throughout the later half of the second millennium. Apparently the 'doorway', as the author called it, appeared in France in the 1600's, allegedly, but was thought to have been returned to England.
The next chapter went into more detail on the Arthurian legends it had mentioned earlier. It almost made Harry laugh as he read how, it was rumoured to be the Node through which Arthur and his Knights had ridden to return at a time of England's need.
Hardly, scoffed Harry.
Then again, it did explain what it was doing in England. He didn't believe the Knights of the Round Table had gone through it, but he knew it was in this country. Anyhow, the Node moved space not time, so even if they did go through, they would long since be dead. Still, it made for a good bedtime story.
The next paragraph was less useful. It was a list of seven points over the course of which, the author described exactly why this whole story was not true and how such a device could not exist. Hmm, not so encouraging. Just as Harry was about to admit that perhaps this guy did know what he was on about, he had managed to completely lose his confidence. He very nearly tossed the book over this shoulder and decided to start looking elsewhere, but then he remembered Hermione once telling him that God was in the details and that if he skimmed, he would miss what really mattered. Nine times out of ten, the answer was staring you in the face, and you just have to open your eyes to see it. Or ask Hermione.
Harry took a moment to stretch being cautious of hurting his arm, and then continued with the book, skipping a few pages here and there if the text was about something else. The story came to a quick end and the author went on to talk about other experiments that were supposed to have been done to attempt to travel through time.
Against his own advice, Harry skipped through the next bit, as it merely listed a load of experiments, none of which had worked. He had flicked through over a third of the book by now, and was loosing both faith and patience. Had his trip to Knockturn Alley been in vain? Had the price of hurting his arm been for nothing?
He flicked a few more pages and then something circled in red caught his eye. Harry peered in closer to read the tiny writing.
Beneath it was a single word, also in red: 'YES'.
Could it be that Luna's dad had inadvertently stumbled across the story? This was the sort of implausible legend that would make the Quibbler interested. Maybe he was just spilling out the legend, or maybe he had found something more substantial. The author seemed to believe so, but the author had been wrong before. Either way, it was too late to worry about it tonight.
Harry checked his watch – it was gone eleven. Tomorrow he would speak to Luna and try to get his hands on an old copy. The library stored old Prophets in the archive, but Harry somewhat doubted that they would stock the Quibbler. He wrote the word Luna on the back of his hand as a reminder of what he needed to do.
That done he decided it was time to turn in. He closed the diary and put it back in his trunk, which he then locked. Removing his shirt he unwound the bandage from his arm and inspected the wound. The skin had healed over, but skin was but the top layer and there was still clearly a lot of damage underneath. Tissue needed to reconnect, muscles needed to heal, blood flow needed to be restored and Harry had no idea what to do. He didn't know how to heal a paper-cut let alone this kind of injury. He had done his best, but it was far from perfect. In the flickering light of the lamp he could see that his shoulder was covered in an ugly purple bruise, spanning form his collar bone to nearly his elbow. It was painful to the touch and sent streaking pain to his entire left side when he stretched it. It was as if newly healed muscle was ripping again. As long as he kept it still, he was alright, and he could carry very light loads. That was about it. To top it all, his insides still ached from Malfoy's curse and his head was still aching.
You're a wreck, Harry, he told himself. No more fights until you are healed!
In all honestly, by the time lessons finished the next day Harry was bristling with nerves and excitement, and feeling rather sick because of it. He knew that it was nothing that he hadn't seen before. He knew that he would be able to do almost everything that they were learning and he knew that it wasn't his lesson to run, but he was definitely looking forward to his first RA meeting. At the same time he was feeling rather nervous as well. He was caught between the desire to impress, and the need keep a low profile, and he was nervous that he might give something away. He was also feeling rather ill…again.
Thankfully, his insides weren't sore anymore, at least not in the way they had been. His stomach still felt a bit odd and had cramped a few times making him feel rather sick at times, but it didn't feel as if his insides were burning like before. His headache had returned shortly after lunch, the night's sleep having done little to alleviate it. Maybe it was Malfoy's curse lasting longer than he had thought or maybe he was just coming down with a cold. Even the great Boy-Who-Lived was not immune to the common cold and if Malfoy's curse had scrambled his insides, it might have knocked out his immune system temporarily leaving him open to the flu. Wouldn't Malfoy love that.
He thrust the thought of a gloating Malfoy aside. It was a scientific fact that Man-Flu was worse than Girly-Flu and gave any man the right to stay in bed all day and complain loudly, but Harry had work to do and it wasn't that bad yet. Besides, he had a meeting to attend.
Part of him wanted Katie's RA to be good, a roaring success, but part of him didn't want it to be better than his DA. There was pride in the DA for Harry, and he didn't want to admit that Katie had done a better job than he had at assembling an army. Still, that didn't mean he would sabotage it. During his daydream in Potions that day, (Dosage calculations were done purely by theory. The Half Blood Prince was of little help and so Harry had spent most of the time daydreaming), Harry had been planning how best to handle his behaviour for the evening.
Naturally, he did not want to draw too much attention to himself so throwing powerful hexes around was not in the cards, but at the same time he didn't want to be so bad that he slowed people down and drew attention that way, either. Then again, being able to do everything would invite the question, where had he learned to do it all? He was in a precarious position. If he was being perfectly objective, he might have realised that this was an inherently dangerous move. It risked showing abnormal ability and even exposing that he was not being entirely truthful with them. The sensible move would have been to avoid this extra contact with these people and keep himself isolated as much as possible. He no longer needed to befriend Hermione; since the Arithmancy needed to get him home was beyond her, she was now obsolete. Luna he could speak to at any time, for his request was not unusual and didn't reveal anything dangerous. In short, he had no real reason to go, except one – his fatal curiosity. It was a good thing that he wasn't a cat.
In truth there was another reason for going, one that he didn't even admit to himself: he was homesick. He had been at war for so long that his desire to be back where he belonged, at Hogwarts with his friends, was almost tangible. He wanted to be a part of it again, to live as he once had before things had gone so wrong. He knew this wasn't his world and knew he mustn't get too involved, but just being there, surrounded by old friends would make him feel better, he thought. He wanted to feel that wonderful feeling as the light came on for those around him and they finally understood. Even though he wasn't teaching, he just wished he could be back in the DA, and this was as close as he was going to get.
Harry Potter, he thought to himself with a silent chuckle as he set off for the meeting. Are you getting sentimental in your old age?
At the appointed time, Harry stood waiting across from the tapestry of old Barny on the seventh floor. It wasn't long before Neville appeared. Harry nodded as he joined him. The other boy looked around cautiously and cocked his head, looking for any sign of someone approaching. After a few seconds he faced Harry again.
"Observe," Neville told him. "You walk past three times, thinking that you need to see the headquarters of the RA. You need to concentrate hard and the door will appear…like so."
Harry watched, his expression neutral, as Neville did as he had said, and sure enough, the door appeared. Neville reached for the handle and pulled, opening the door outwards. He gestured for Harry to go inside with a mock bow. As Harry stepped across the threshold, he felt a wave of homesickness wash over him. The room was exactly as he remembered, right down to the lightly scented smell of the cushions. The shelves were full of books and lined with all manner of tools and dark detectors. Over twenty students were gathered around in a horseshoe shape, and at the centre of the group, stood the girl herself. All eyes turned to them as they entered. Harry just stared at Katie.
Katie wore her uniform, except that she had swapped her skirt for some trousers. She had removed her jumper, leaving just her shirt, which was open at the top and the sleeves had been rolled up. Her hair was tied back and she was all business.
God, I wish I had looked that good, thought Harry, remembering his nervous jittery manner in the early sessions of the DA.
Katie's eyes swept over Harry, looking him up and down. There was a definite coolness in her face, and Harry had a sudden feeling that it had taken a lot of persuading to get him here. Harry was fairly sure that she didn't trust him. He made a note to keep his head down. He briefly considered warning her about Marietta, but decided it was best to wait. It was not his place to intervene, and she would want to know how he knew. The others stood watching Harry, waiting for someone to explain. After a moment, Katie did.
"You all know Harry Potter," she said, her tone formal and business-like. "He is the latest addition to our group." That was all the introduction she afforded him, for the next sentence was clearly the start of the lesson.
"Now," said Katie, her voice raised so that everyone could hear. Her tone was assertive and confident, the opposite of what Harry had been. "So far we've made good progress on blocking, shielding, and disarming. Today, I want to go on to something a little more…robust." A murmur of excitement floated around the room. As it died down, Katie spoke again, apparently a master orator. "Before we go any further, I must remind you that you mustn't use these spells outside of this room. If everyone starts throwing these hexes around, Umbitch will start asking questions and sooner or later she is going to realise what we are up to. We need to keep a low profile. I don't care how much of an annoying little git Malfoy is, you do not retaliate with what we learn here, understood?"
"Yes, Ma'am," said someone loudly. A snigger moved around the room, and Katie threw an annoyed glance at someone to Harry's left.
"Right, in that case, over the next month we are going to build up your arsenal of offensive spells," she announced to the general approval of the room. "We will start today with the most common and useful offensive spell. I am talking about Stunning," said Katie.
"No need," said Neville, grinning like the Cheshire Cat. "I'm already stunning. If I get any more handsome…."
"Thanks for volunteering, Neville," said Katie, beckoning him forward. "Hermione, can you get the man a cushion?"
Neville's smile faded as he stepped forward. The crowd around him fell back, giving him more room. Harry was beginning to like this new, confident Neville. He had a weird but funny sense of humour. As for Katie, Harry had to admit he was impressed. She was more abrasive, more aggressive than he had been in her position. As such, she had more of a presence in the room and was proving to be a better teacher.
Maybe it's because she's a girl, Harry decided. Girls were swottier and generally made better teachers. Deep down, however, he knew it was his damaged pride being resentful but he felt better thinking it.
As Hermione put a cushion behind where Neville was standing, Harry watched his friend do some melodramatic stretches and jogging on the spot, punching the air, much to the amusement of several of the onlookers and himself.
Katie took out her wand.
"A Stunning Curse does exactly what it says on the tin," she said. "It stuns the victim. Depending on the strength of the curse, this can mean he or she is just fazed and disorientated for a few moments, or it can render someone completely unconscious. What I want is for each and every one of you to be able to stun someone to the point where the victim is completely unconscious. Death Eaters will kill you on the spot, so we need to make sure that when they go down, they do not get back up again…but without killing them," she added quickly.
"Can't a Stunner kill though?" asked someone to Harry's right.
"Not that I know of," Katie answered politely.
"I'm sure I've heard of one killing someone," said the girl more firmly.
"Not in itself," said Harry before he could stop himself, as he had once had a similar conversation in the past.
Several eyes turned to him, including a suspicious looking Katie. He now had no choice but to explain, he just needed to think of a reason why he might know this. "The spell only knocks the person unconscious, it depends what the person lands on. In water for example, they can drown, or if they land on their head…" Harry trailed off before he dug himself a deeper hole. He quickly recovered. "There was a man in St. Mungo's when I visited my parents. He had been stunned and had fallen out of a first floor window and had brain damage. He died a week or so later from the fall, not the curse."
The girl backed down, looked slightly paler.
"We'll take your word for it," said Katie, moving the lesson on after a quick appraising glance. "Anyhow, despite what Harry has said, here we have cushions here to catch you safely, and there is no water to drown in so we are safe to practice. The wand movement is this," she demonstrated the movement with her wand, and the others imitated.
Harry held his wand in his right hand and clumsily copied what Katie was doing.
"The incantation is 'Stupefy'," she announced, speaking slowly and carefully. "Neville, brace yourself." Neville tensed as Katie aimed her wand at him.
The spell hit Neville in the stomach. He rocketed backwards, the force bending him in two, his head and arms, ending up near his legs as he fell backwards into the cushions with a flump. There was a gasp as he did not get back up again.
"Cool!" said someone loudly as Neville landed. There was a short pause as everyone surveyed the fallen Neville. Katie calmly walked towards him and knelt next to his body. She raised her wand and swept it across his face.
"Enervate,"she said and Neville opened his eyes.
"Ow!" announced Neville with a pained expression. He sat up slowly, and clumsily made to get up.
"Stay down for a second," Hermione said quickly.
"Eh, why?" asked Neville.
"If you get up too quickly you will faint all over again," Hermione informed him. "Trust me. Take a second for your circulation to right itself and then get up slowly."
Katie turned her attention back to the group. "As you heard, the counter curse is Enervate. The effect of the Stunning Curse after it's been removed is generally disorientation and confusion. It takes a few moments to get your bearings again. As Hermione has said, in this lesson take a minute before you jump back up or you will knacker yourself and you'll end up so weak you have no hope of managing the spell. In an actual fight, you'd get your arse into gear and get out of there as soon as you could, but for now take your time and do it right. By the end of the week let's see if we can get everyone stunning and reviving. Okay, find a partner, and I will come around."
This Harry realised was his chance. He slipped quickly to the right, and headed around to where he had spotted a familiar mop of blond hair.
"Would you like to be my partner, Luna?" asked Harry politely as he arrived beside her. The girl turned slowly, her eyes wide and her expression dreamy. Of all the people he had met across all three worlds, the one person who never changed one iota was Luna, a thought which caused an affectionate smile to creep across his features. Whatever people said about her, she was always honest, reliable, and possessed a heart of gold – if a bit vacant and odd.
"Of course, Harry Potter," she replied, her eyes wide and her tone mildly confused – a tone that suited her expression. "People don't usually ask me to be their partners, though. I'm usually the one to go around looking, or just simply do without. It is nice to be asked."
"Well, this is my first time at the RA," said Harry, before realising what he had said could be construed as insulting. "I mean….I didn't mean…" he stammered.
"I know what you meant," said Luna dreamily. "Should we make a start, then? Kathryn does seem to be in an awful hurry tonight. Personally, I think she's got a rather large chip on her shoulder."
Harry managed to hold in a laugh, and just nodded. Luna had the ability to see what was happening and was completely unafraid to voice it, no matter how embarrassing or cringe-worthy it may seem. She was completely unfazed as she voiced awkward truths that most people would not dare bring up, but Harry had to admire her powers of perception. He wondered if Luna had worked out that he was the chip on Katie's shoulder.
Harry took a few steps backwards so that they had room to practice.
"You go first," he offered.
Luna dreamily reached into her robes and removed her wand. She raised it up, adopting a duelling pose. After a second's pause she moved the wand in the way that Katie had indicated, her eyes staring unfocussed at the tip of the wand. She repeated the gesture three times, before looking up at Harry who stood waiting.
"Stupefy!" she said, swishing her wand as taught. Nothing happened – the wand didn't so much as glow.
Harry could hear the shouts all around them and a flash of red from the direction of Hermione. Part of Harry wanted to cast a proper one to really show her how it was done, but self-control took a hold of him.
"More aggression," suggested Harry, trying to look like he didn't know what he was talking about. "Concentrate on the spell hitting me, not on the word itself."
It was often the way, at least in his own experience, that he got so bogged down in pronouncing the word correctly that he forgot to concentrate on the spell itself. Yes, the word had to be pronounced correctly, but he often ended up only listening to himself say the word rather than the spell. That way, even if he got the pronunciation correct, nothing would happen.
Luna tried again. "Stupefy!"
The wand tip glowed reddish-orange for a second and then faded. Harry opened his mouth to offer further advice, but noticed that Katie had arrived behind Luna and was watching them.
"Good evening, Kathryn," said Luna dreamily to Katie. She then turned, almost in a pirouette, to face Harry once more. "Ready, Harry?" she asked in a sing-song voice.
He nodded, bracing himself.
"Stupefy!" shouted Luna.
This time a thin beam of red light shot out of her wand and struck Harry on his left arm. The spell didn't cause him to black out, but rather hiss in agony and clutch the injured arm which had been hit square by the spell. Shivers of pain shot through his body. He staggered back a pace under the impact of the spell and, falling to one knee, hissing in pain. It was all he could do not to cry out. The spell was not strong enough to knock him out but he felt a wave of dizziness wash over him and his arm hurt like hell. Harry gritted his teeth and bit back the pain.
He looked up to see Luna and Katie crouching over him, concerned.
"Did I hurt you?" asked Luna worriedly, her eyes perfectly focused and her tone not at all distant. It reminded Harry of back in the Ministry when she had proved that, despite her bizarre manner, she could be counted in times of need. When the pressure was on, Luna was perfectly capable of focussing.
"Yeah," said Harry. There was no point in denying it as he was clearly in pain. "I hurt my arm last week and it hasn't healed yet. The spell hit it."
"I'm sorry," said Luna, her tone sympathetic and mellow.
"It's okay," said Harry reassuring her. "I should have protected it myself. I think I'd better stand sideways-on next time."
Harry shook his head as the disorientation faded. Bugger... his headache was back. He rubbed his forehead for a second with his hands, before looking up. "Right, where were we?"
Katie offered a hand, which Harry accepted. She was surprisingly strong as she helped pull him back up to his feet.
"Are you sure you're okay to carry on?" asked Katie, for the first time looked concerned rather than hostile.
"I'm fine, Katie," he said calmly. "It's just an old injury that's resurfaced." He did however raise his free hand to rub his forehead.
"Not Malfoy's curse?" asked Katie. Harry was mildly impressed that she made the jump.
"Don't think so," said Harry casually, not wanting to alarm her. "That wore off."
"What was it?"
"No idea," he said. "Something nasty. Anyway, that's gone."
"And your head?"
"I think I've just got the flu or something. I'll be fine," Harry insisted.
Katie hesitated and then nodded, much to Harry's relief. "Okay, just be careful with that arm," she said. "Don't hurt yourself. We don't want Umbridge finding mysterious injuries on members. Have you been to see Pomfrey about it?"
"No," said Harry. "It was just a burn from Potions that hasn't healed yet. Professor Slughorn gave me some stuff for it." Katie seemed satisfied and took a step backwards to give him room.
"Injury aside," said Harry to Luna, "the good news is that you nearly did it."
"Nearly," she announced quite proudly. She glanced at Katie who gave her an encouraging nod.
"Now it's your turn, Harry," Katie said, her tone expectant. She briefly reminded Harry of McGonagall.
Harry took a deep breath as if he was nervous. In truth, he was. He had never really attempted to not do a spell before, especially one that he had used so often it was almost second nature.
He stood a few feet back from Luna, ever aware that Katie was watching his every move, scrutinising his every action. Harry readied himself. Holding his still painful arm close to his body, he stood sideways-on to Luna, his wand aimed at her chest. He held it loosely, trying to minimise the contact with it.
He tried to let his mind wander, but all the time it seemed to flow back to Katie who stood motionless, watching, waiting. Her blue eyes scanned his entire body, but he couldn't tell what she was looking for. He raised his wand, and trying to concentrate on something neutral, swished it clumsily.
A plume of orange sparks fizzled out of his wand like a fountain. It looked like a firework, rather than a crisp beam of light and never even reached Luna. Harry felt like grinning – he had managed to dull the spell down. It hadn't been a proper stunner at all, and it hadn't even been the full scarlet colour. He had been worried he might hurt Luna or get himself noticed, but he had managed it. He breathed a sigh of relief.
Katie unfolded her arms and stepped closer. "You can do the spell," she said clearly. She stepped up behind Harry, gently placing her hand over his wrist, adjusting his grip on the wand. "Hold your wand firmly for a start. Now concentrate on the target - focus. Once more, with feeling!"
Harry was both impressed and annoyed that she had seen through his mistake, but managed to smile and keep up his pretence as he adjusted his position. She took a step back and stood there expectantly. Now he was in trouble, as she had corrected him. He would have to do it properly or risk his membership in the group, eliciting Katie's suspicions all over again.
He took a deep breath, "Stupefy!"
A beam of red light shot out of his wand, but it was not what he had expected. It was thin and translucent, barely stronger than a red torch let alone a spell. He light connected with Luna's stomach causing her to step back a pace, but as far as he could see had no further discernable effect. She looked just as dreamy as ever.
What the hell, thought Harry. He managed to keep the concern off his face. He had been trying that time. Not trying his best, granted, but that spell should not have failed. What had gone wrong?
"I-I nearly did it," he said, recovering quickly for Katie's benefit. "Once more. Ready Luna?"
She braced again and Harry aimed his wand. This time he was going to get it right.
The red light again shot towards Luna, but once again it was pale, weak, and did little more than make her stagger back a pace or two. Harry looked around, was someone jinxing him like Fred and George had done to Zacharias Smith? No, there was no one. What was wrong with him? He had been able to do this spell since he was in his fourth year. His head was throbbing again now, which made Harry feel worse and really angry. This wasn't right.
"You're nearly there," said Katie, nodding, but once again, she was not smiling. She raised an eyebrow, but Harry could tell that she was suspicious. She had dropped the distrustful stare in concern for his arm, but now it was back in place. What had he done that had made her hostile again? She didn't say anything else but turned and moved on to the next group, leaving Harry wondering what he had done wrong.
Harry turned back to Luna. "That was really good, Harry," she said sounding impressed.
"Look, Luna," said Harry, deciding not to delay any more. If Katie was suspicious his time at the RA may be limited – he needed to move. "I meant to ask you: I was wondering if you could do me a favour."
"That depends on what you need," she said matter-of-factly.
"I need an old copy of the Quibbler," he replied keeping his voice low. "June, 1989."
"Father keeps a copy of every issue," she replied serenely as if it were a common request. "I could have him print you one off. Why do you need it?"
The very question he was hoping she wouldn't ask.
"Err," Harry stammered before recovering his cool. "It has an interview in it that I'm interested in."
Her eyes lit up. "Oh? Which one?"
Again Harry hesitated. He had no idea what was in that issue. "It's a little embarrassing," he replied meekly, attempting to avoid an answer. Luna on the other hand seemed to understand, which was more than Harry did.
"Oh, that one," she said, smiling slightly. "It's nothing to be ashamed of," she assured him. "I'll ask father to send one as soon as possibly. Now, is it my turn to practice?"
Shadows were dancing over the walls of the office courtesy of the serpent lamp on the desk. The flame was being blown by the light draft coming in from the open window. At the desk in the centre of the room, the owner was pouring over some files. There was a pile to his right and another was lying open in the centre of the desk with a photo of a woman atop several sheets of parchment. In big red letters across the top of the page were inscribed the words Ministry of Magic – Restricted. This didn't seem to bother the man who sat calmly reading the notes on the woman in question and sipping a cup of lemon tea.
Tom Riddle checked his watch and was surprised to see that it was quarter past midnight. He sat upright, wiping the fatigue from his eyes and stretching. He closed the file he had been reading and put it back in his in-tray. Rising awkwardly to his feet, his back protested from having been bent over for the last few hours. After closing the window to the cold night air, the Headmaster crossed the room and headed back towards his living quarters.
Riddle checked his watch and then sighing to himself, called aloud "Come."
The door opened and a rather tired looked Poppy Pomfrey stepped into the office.
"Ah, Poppy," said Tom, courteously. "What brings you to my office in the middle of the night?"
It was as she stepped into the light that Tom realised that she looked flustered. Her hair was a mess, but it was no bed-hair for she wore her uniform, not her bed-clothes. She still wore makeup and had clips in her hair, albeit they had slipped. No...she had not been asleep, but had been working. What had shaken her so?
"Well, headmaster," Poppy began, sliding uninvited into a chair in front of the desk. Normally she was courteous and waited for invitations to sit down, but tonight she seemed very much on edge. "I really don't know where to begin," she said quickly.
He had seen her keep her calm during all sorts of situations, but something was worrying her. It wasn't urgent enough to fire-call so there wasn't a dying student or anything that severe. What has scared the nurse so much that it could not wait until the morning?
"I always find it helpful to start at the beginning," said Riddle, moving behind the desk and taking his own seat. "Perhaps some coffee?"
She nodded gratefully. Tom summoned a House Elf who returned seconds later with piping hot pot of coffee and two mugs. He poured Poppy a cup and sank once more into his own chair, ignoring the protests from his sore back.
After having taken a few sips, Madam Pomfrey was ready to speak.
"Do you recall when we gave Harry Potter his physical?" she asked unexpectedly.
Tom did remember, and at the mention of the name his tiredness left him. If she could answer some of the questions surrounding the enigma that was Harry Potter this conversation would not be a waste of time. He grimaced as he realised that this was to be another sleepless night thanks to the boy.
Poppy continued without waiting for a response. "Well, I compared his DNA against a sample we had from before his disappearance – you recall he got stung by Pomona's Viper Vines last November – well I did a call-back session with Potter just before he disappeared to see if all the venom was gone."
"Yes, Poppy," said Riddle, "you told me about that. The DNA matched, did it not?"
"Yes," said Poppy impatiently. "I mean, no. Err...no, I mean yes."
"Was that a yes or a no?" asked Tom, trying to keep the amusement out of his voice.
Poppy shot him an indignant glare, before speaking again. "Yes, insofar as what I was able to test myself with what I had available. I could only do the basic comparison with the equipment available to me."
Tom hoped she was not just here to ask for more equipment. That however was the least of his concerns. Was she saying that she might have made a mistake? Could it be that Harry wasn't really Harry? Tom's concern must have shown, for Poppy immediately shook her head.
"Rest assured, headmaster…" she began, but Tom interrupted.
"When there are no students around please call me Tom," he said gently. Although he was proud of his position, he felt it was rather odd for grown men and women to address him as Headmaster when not in the presence of those to whom an example should be set. Poppy nodded and took another sip of coffee before continuing.
"Rest assured, Tom, that what I did in January was more than enough to ascertain identity. He is Harry Potter…but there are certain irregularities."
"Sorry," said Tom, at a loss as to the point of this conversation. "I'm not following. I thought DNA was unique. If there are irregularities, does that mean that he may not be Harry Potter?"
"It's not that simple, Tom," said Poppy, shaking her head and laughing softly.
Tom didn't see the funny side, and this was anything but a joke. If a complete stranger could come into the school and get that close to Kathryn...Tom managed to keep his frustration in check and gestured for Poppy to continue. She took another sip of coffee and set the mug down on the desk.
"Because you were so rattled about the boy," said Poppy leaning back in her chair and crossing her legs, "after I had done my own comparison I sent a sample of Potter's blood to a friend of mine at St Mungo's. I know there are laws against that, but in the current climate I believed bending them was not inappropriate. They do not know who it is, so my oath is not broken. Anyhow, I digress. I sent the sample to Crystal Merchant, do you remember her?"
"Quite the Gobstones player," said Riddle, vaguely recalling the girl in question. She and Poppy had been in their fifth year when he had returned to Hogwarts a year after Albus' death.
"I only chose her as she is a friend whom I went to Nightingale's with, and she owed me a favour," explained Poppy. "All I wanted was a second opinion, so imagine my surprise when two days letter I got a call on my fireplace asking me to pop over in the morning. This was a fortnight ago. Now, I am not sure if you are aware of this, but Crystal is currently St. Mungo's senior researcher into genetics, specialising in cancers and mutations. She had analysed Potter's sample with the latest techniques. The results were…very interesting. Both of us have been trying to make sense of the results, but I thought it best to share them with you."
Riddle was now wide awake. "Okay, Poppy," he said. "Tell me, what is troubling you?"
"How much do you know about DNA, Tom?" she asked. He didn't have time to respond before she ploughed on. "Never mind, I will put it simply: DNA strands are the building blocks of every creature on the planet and every person's DNA is unique. The DNA carries the genetic information of the organism. Think of it as a blueprint. For example, one gene gives you blue eyes another brown hair, with me so far?"
Tom nodded, glad that she was taking it slowly.
"Although microscopic," she continued. "The DNA strand is very long in terms of genetics, as it contains a complete blueprint for an organism. All humans will have the vast majority of their DNA sequence in common, as they are of the same species, with just the last bit differentiating person to person, accounting for gender, of course. There are also parts that not only humans have in common, but every organism on the planet."
Tom was tired. His eyelids had begun to droop before Poppy had even arrived, much less started talking. His exhausted mind was having trouble keeping up. Poppy seemed to guess this, and leaned forward to the desk, grabbing a parchment and quill. She drew a single line across the parchment and then divided the line into three sections.
"To make it clearer," she said, "think of the DNA string as this line. The section on the left, here, is the same for every living organism on the planet whether it be a daisy, a gerbil, a hippogriff or yourself. This middle section, here, is the same for every human being, and this section on the right, here, is unique to every individual person. It is this section on the right that makes you Tom Riddle with dark hair and the rest of it. We use the information in this final section when we are DNA fingerprinting. Understand?"
Tom nodded. He had the feeling that she was simplifying to the point of talking to a four-year old, but he didn't comment. He needed it put simply in his current state.
"In the case of Harry Potter, this is where it gets interesting. These last two sections," – she pointed to the middle and right sections, which defined human beings and individuals – "were perfectly matched to how he was before the fire in St Mungo's. He is definitely Harry Potter. However, when we looked again there were certain differences, but not where we would expect. There were differences in the first section, here."
She jabbed the parchment with her finger on the left hand side.
"But, I thought you said that this section was common to every living organism on the planet?" Tom asked, certain he had misinterpreted.
"Exactly," replied Poppy, looking relieved. "Exactly."
"It's no use asking, Tom," said Madam Pomfrey shaking her head and then taking another sip of coffee. "I cannot say what it means. I can give you the facts: there are differences in Harry's DNA compared to every other creature on the planet. These anomalies are in uncharted sections of DNA. Since all organisms have these same elements, little research has been done. I cannot say what the functions of these…rogue genes are.
"What are you saying?" asked Riddle. "That he isn't quite human?"
"He's human," said Poppy with certainty. "Or near enough. The differences are not in the part that makes us human, dog, or alligator for example, but in a bit that every single life-form on this planet has in common, and that is magically and scientifically impossible."
"What is he, then?" asked Riddle, his head spinning. He was speaking more to himself than Poppy. The matron shrugged and sipped her coffee. Riddle didn't fully hear her next comment but it sounded like 'damned if I know'. Tom chewed over the conversation one more time in his head, seeing if any pearls of wisdom immerged from the gloom. There was nothing.
"Is it possible that someone did this to him?" he asked. For his part, Tom could not think of any spell that re-wrote DNA. Even Animagus training did not breach the subject. A person's magical core allowed them to take on the form of an animal but their DNA never changed, even in animal form. Transfiguration was the same. The subject may look different depending on the spell, but their DNA never changed. Even…
Tom recalled a time deep in his buried past when he had uncovered a rumour of the Dark Lord's most secret invention. He remembered going to see Horace, asking him about the possibility of tearing his soul asunder. Even that, the darkest magic he knew, would not touch DNA. Tom shivered at the memory, wishing to forget his past. He wished he could have faced his old self and made him see what a monster he had been. That name, he thought, thank Merlin that name would never be uttered again. Tom buried his emotions under a thick blanket of Occlumency before turning his attention back to the matron.
"If someone has done this to him," answered Poppy after a short pause, "then they are very, very clever. Let me put this into context: causing mutations in cells is disturbingly common and easy. Using a mobile phone for too long or exposure to radiation can cause mutation – we call it cancer. If someone has a mutated cell inside their body, the body rejects and isolates it. The mutated cells continue to multiply and eventually it forms a tumour. The key point is that the body rejects and isolates the mutation. Potters body isnot rejecting these cells, because they are not isolated occurrences. His entire body, every cell, carries this pattern. It is not a cancer, it is his normal genetic code."
"Understand, Tom," she continued in a grave voice. "Crystal is regarded as one of the leaders of her field. Her research is on the forefront of knowledge, yet she and her team are still on the verge of identifying specific genes that may cause cancers and leukaemia. The next step, they hope, is to use magic to turn on or off genes that can cause the disease. However, even in theory this can only be done with human sperm or egg cells, or a very, very small foetus – only a few hundred cells in size – because the exact same change needs to be performed to every cell, and even then there is no guarantee that the host body will accept the change. Potter is sixteen – can you imagine how many trillions of cells there are in his body. To change every single one in an instant, without the body rejecting them and not killing Potter himself…it is completely impossible."
"Poppy," said Tom, carefully, the enormity of her words still playing on his mind. "In your medical opinion, who or what is he?"
"I truly cannot say," replied Poppy. "He breaks every rule of genetics what we know." She paused. "There is a little more to it, though."
"More?" echoed Tom in astonishment. Just when he thought the mystery could not deepen, it seemed it would.
"Crystal has a Muggle cousin, Angela," explained Poppy. "Because she already knows about wizards, we felt that it was not a breach of the Statute of Secrecy to ask her about our results. She is a doctor, doing research in the same field, but from a Muggle perspective. Muggles seem to be slightly more advanced in the area of genetics, so we thought she might be able to help. Angela says that our findings are impossible and that we have to have made a mistake. We haven't, Tom. Potter's DNA is an impossibility by Muggle and magical standards."
"We then decided to look into magical method of mapping blood." She took a sip of coffee, before continuing.
"Currently, no real research is being done on the matter," she said, her tone betraying the frustration she had endured because of it. "After that we dug a little deeper into the Medical Archives at St. Mungo's hoping to uncover a magical means to explain this anomaly. Over the centuries, several cultures have had a go at mapping blood, usually rather painfully, but we couldn't find anything of use. We then had an idea. We made discreet inquiries at the Department of Mysteries. One Unspeakable was rather helpful. It seems the department acquired a book about twenty years ago, one that originated from ancient Greece. Granted, parts of this book are obviously suspect as it allegedly deals with alternate realities and parallel worlds."
"Fanciful," said Riddle, raising a doubtful eye.
"Indeed," said Poppy, laughing at the concept. "What's even more laughable is that apparently the Ministry tried to recreate… whatever it was, but failed. Anyhow, the point is that these Greeks, these something-something-Gnosis I think they are called, did quite a lot of work into mapping blood. It is the earliest form of DNA research on record. It also apparently addresses the areas we all have in common in an attempt to answer the question 'what is life?'. I believe this book may hold some of the answers to what is going on with the boy."
"Would it be possible to get hold of this book?" asked Riddle, leaning forward, his eyes sparkling. Although from a suspect source and highly dated, anything that could shed light on Harry Potter was definitely worth a read.
"The Unspeakables only translated the parts they needed for their little experiment twenty years ago," explained Pomfrey. "I have asked that they translate the parts we need, and send over the transcripts."
"And they have agreed?" asked Riddle, surprised. Knowing Cornelius, the answer was probably no.
"Only because they thought that the request was coming from St. Mungo's, not here," said Pomfrey with a sly smile. "If we had used your name, I doubt we would have gotten it. Crystal made up a story about researching into treating Leukaemia and they agreed to help."
Riddle could have kissed her. Her initiative was shining through and she had done so much of the work for him.
"Two weeks I was quoted," said Pomfrey, stifling a yawn. "Crystal just called me an hour ago to tell me it will be a fortnight." She yawned again. "Sorry, I have spent the last day or so at St. Mungo's and then the Ministry, going over and over this little puzzle. It feels like I haven't slept in ages."
"And I am most grateful that you have done all this," Riddle told her, genuinely meaning it. It was the best news he had heard for some time. She smiled at him over her mug which she held in both hands, warming her palms.
"Tom," said Poppy after a pause. "What shall we do about Harry Potter in the meantime?"
Tom hesitated. He was reluctant to alienate Harry further. He seemed to be calmer now and hadn't done anything out of the ordinary for weeks. There had literally been no progress on the Potter front since the medical exam. He had now apparently joined Kathryn's resistance group, so he was fitting in once more. From Harry's point of view, things were looking up. From Tom's viewpoint this was not so good. For a start, Tom knew the boy was hiding something. Clearly there was more to him than they knew at the moment. Secondly, he did not wish for Harry to be alone with Kathryn. He did not need her being corrupted – her mental state was paramount at this point in time, especially since attempts at Occlumency had failed. Was he right to continue to pursue Harry, despite him not having done anything unusual since he arrived? Tom just could not shake the feeling that he was dangerous. The weapons, the Occlumency…something was amiss.
"This isn't dangerous or contagious, is it?" asked Riddle finally.
The matron shook her head.
"In that case I see no need to quarantine or withdraw him from the student population, at least until we have seen this transcript."
"I still have a sample of his blood, so Crystal and I can run more tests and try to isolate exactly which genes are amiss," Poppy said, yawning again more forcefully. "But that's after I have had some sleep…and mopped up after the Quidditch match…and dispensed hangover cure for the after-party…and probably another potion for certain girls...Merlin, by that time the damned manuscript will have arrived and there'll be no point."
"Thank you, Poppy," said Riddle, smiling at her rant. "I look forward to seeing this translation – I feel it may answer many questions. For now, we shall leave Harry, but rest assured I will keep an eye on him."
She nodded and yawned. "I'd better head off," she said. "With all my time at St. Mungo's, I haven't slept in nearly thirty hours."
"Then I bid you good night," said Riddle, removing the remains of the coffee tray with his wand. "Get some sleep, Poppy. We need you fighting fit for the Quidditch game this weekend. There's always one."
She nodded. "With Slytherin playing, there are usually seven," she muttered. Tom raised his eyebrows in mock horror. He saw a tired smile creep across the matron's face as she left.
That had been most enlightening, he thought as he moved into his living quarters through the side door. Harry was fundamentally different from everything else on the planet. He was hardly an alien though, and it was definitely Harry Potter and not an impostor. This was his DNA, not his magic or anything magical. DNA didn't change. Even a transformation like Grindelwald's would not change his DNA, since it was his soul and magic that had most likely been torn in two, in Tom's theory. In truth, he didn't know what to make of this latest development. He would have to wait for the translation to come through, he supposed. However, if the book was as fanciful as Poppy implied then it had to be taken with a pinch of salt.
Tom changed into his pyjamas and then climbed into bed. Just as his eyes were closing, a crazy thought popped into his head.
What if it is true? he thought sleepily. What if Harry is different because he's not from this world? What if those Greeks really had succeeded?
On Friday, the RA held another meeting. Katie arrived early to set up and prepare. It had been the day from hell – no, correction...it had been the week from hell. Umbridge had been on the warpath, determined to catch the RA. Katie knew that Umbridge knew, and she knew that Umbridge knew that she knew, but knew better than to make a point of it. Part of Katie wished she could show the RA off as her crowning achievement. She looked forward to the day when Riddle kicked Umbridge out and took the school back. On that day, as the door hit Umbridge on the arse on the way out, Katie would break the news to her that, despite her best attempts to beat it out of them, they had resisted right under her nose. The horrible woman had been sent here to prevent Riddle forming an army to take on Fudge, but all she had done was to make damn sure that one was created.
You failed, bitch, she thought viciously.
Katie jumped out of her skin as the voice sounded in her ear. She turned around, her wand raised, a curse on her lips.
The boy quickly grabbed her wrist, forcing it away from him, just as she had seen him do to Malfoy.
"Easy, tiger," said Harry Potter, letting go of her wrist.
"Damn it, Harry," she said angrily, putting her wand away. "Why did you sneak up on me?"
"I didn't mean to," he apologised, his calm face breaking into a lop-sided grin. "I just came in a bit early to practice, and you were there. You seemed deep in thought. Didn't want to disturb, but then I thought you'd jump if I didn't let you know I was here, so I said hello and you jumped anyway…"
"Harry," she cut him off. "You're rambling."
"Oh, right," he said in a sheepish voice.
Katie looked him up and down critically. He appeared a little shaky in all honesty and a bit pale as he removed his robes, leaving just a shirt and trousers. He bundled his robes and tie together, putting them in a pile against the wall. Next, he removed his wand and tucked it up his sleeve. Katie made a mental note that he kept it up there. She wasn't sure why she thought that it was significant or foresaw a time when she would come up against him and such information would be useful, but something about the movement made her take note of it. The action also proved another point; Harry had become more defensive since his return. The old Harry wouldn't have kept his wand up his sleeve, or act so paranoid all the time. Except it wasn't paranoia, exactly. It was more…fieldcraft perhaps? Then again where would he have learned fieldcraft?
As he drew himself back up to his full height, Katie looked him up and down once more. Neville's words came back to her from when he had argued Harry's case for joining the RA. Now that she looked at him, were there really signs of danger all over him?
Harry pulled his collar away from his neck and shook it lightly to let air in. He did seem as if he was hot and if he had the flu as he had said, she could understand that. He relocated his wand to his belt loops and then began to roll up his sleeves. She could see the muscles and tendons moving beneath his skin as he worked. The old Harry was slightly chubby, but he seemed to have shed those extra pounds. His face was thinner now, but his arms had filled out. This alone wasn't enough to make her suspicious. People lose weight and get haircuts all the time. As she watched him, there was only one thing that she could honestly put her hand on her heart and say was worryingly different about him, and that was his eyes. Once again she was drawn inexplicably to those deep emerald eyes, the unblinking stare. They had sparkled with great sadness as he had told her of his friend, and then had glinted with danger as he had faced Malfoy on his first days back. In some ways they were so telling, in others so mysterious.
Suddenly he turned, and Katie was once again caught in his gaze. Sky blue met sea green. This time, there was amusement in his eyes. Katie looked away quickly, suddenly afraid to face him. Harry seemed not to notice.
"Dare I ask how your day's been?" asked Harry matter-of-factly, attempting to make conversation.
His manner was once again courteous, but cool. His calm was absolute, his eyes attentive behind those glasses. He had been embarrassed, shifty and waffling a few seconds ago, but now his attitude had changed completely. His unsettling detached demeanour had returned. Funny, he seemed to switch between the two like Jekyll and Hyde. Did that suggest that it was all an act? And if it was an act, which was the real Harry Potter? Coupled with an observation she had made recently, it doubled her suspicions.
Last time, he had struggled with a Stunner. Well, not struggled, but had taken a few goes to get it right, making elementary mistakes like holding the wand wrong and such. However, what made her wary was that he had managed the spell perfectly in his little fight with Malfoy earlier. He had missed, but there was nothing wrong with the spell itself. It was bright scarlet and powerful, and he had even been cursed at the time yet still managed to do it. After that, he failed to do it in a safe environment. He was clearly hiding his ability. Why? To what end?
Damn it, Neville, he should never have been invited, she thought in frustration.
Harry must have seen her grimace for he spoke again. "That good, eh?"
"Same old," said Katie, guarding her answer carefully, not wanting to give more information that she could help. "I've descended into the seventh circle of hell, thank you very much," she replied, making light of what was definitely pressing on her mind. "How about you?"
"Sick as a parrot," said Harry easily. "But soldiering on."
Katie had to admit he didn't look well. "We could all do with a holiday," she said making small talk. "But we do what we can, I suppose."
"And this is your way of relaxing," said Harry, with a small smile. "Tell me, is it really the desire to give two fingers to Umbridge, or is it that you like teaching? Or maybe you just want others to see you as you are – just a normal girl who's had bad things happen to her, yet survived them."
"What?" asked Katie, completely unprepared for such an insightful question.
"What makes you do this?" elaborated Harry, gesturing around. "I mean, I would have thought that someone in your position would want to keep their head down, not make themselves any more significant."
"I didn't want to at first," conceded Katie, amazed at his powers of perception. "But it's kind of grown on me."
"Ah, you like the feeling of being needed," concluded Harry, nodding.
"Partly," Katie said uncomfortably, realising that it sounded arrogant. "It's a combination of feeling like I am part of something, and partly the teaching. It's odd, but I've found that I actually like teaching. When the little light goes on and someone finally gets it, it's quite a nice feeling. Can you understand that?"
"More or less," he said giving nothing away. "And if it helps us to survive…well, it has to be worth it." His eyes were impassive but something told her he did understand.
"Exactly," agreed Katie. "Every little bit helps."
"And the fact that we are effectively giving two fingers to Umbridge has nothing to do with it," he said in mock seriousness then grinned roguishly. It made his face seem younger, less careworn, with his green eyes twinkling mischievously.
Katie smiled for what seemed like the first time in ages.
"Naturally," she said, pulling her sweetest, most innocent expression and fluttering her eyelashes provocatively.
"Still, you'd be the person to ask about Defence," said Harry, serious once more. He turned away looking around the room instead of at her, as if he was making an effort not to make her feel uncomfortable. "First hand experience and all that. After what you've seen and done…it's both fantastic and horrific at the same time. Although it makes for a wonderful story, to actually live it is different, I suppose. Being completely alone must be a nightmare. Glad it's you and not me."
Katie watched him, trying to give nothing away. Her face was set and her guard was up. Once again the boy was taking words out of her heart, as he had done the last time they had spoken. Katie was too stunned to respond.
"Out of curiosity," he continued, "and you don't have to answer, but do you know why?"
Katie blinked, confused. "Why what?"
He turned back around to face her, to look her in the eye, and what she saw was both frightening and fascinating.
"Why of all the people on God's green earth was it you who was chosen to carry the burden of that scar?"
Katie didn't move a muscle. A chill ran down her spine. The room seemed suddenly very close around them and utterly still. She had asked the question once before and Riddle had refused to answer. It was a question she had asked herself hundreds of times. Why her? Of the 6 billion people on the planet, why her?
"Guess not," said Harry, reading her reaction in that uncanny way of his that Katie found so disconcerting. "But take my advice: ask Riddle."
Suddenly the door burst opened and in came a stream of Gryffindors. Katie was still staring at Harry, his words having crushed her lungs of all air. His voice was echoing around inside her mind, blocking out everything else.
As someone shouted a greeting Katie turned to look at the speaker, dragging her eyes away from Harry's. When she looked back, he was already halfway across the room. As everyone removed excess clothing and dumped their bags against the wall where Harry had left his bundle, Katie noticed that Luna Lovegood had wandered over and was talking quietly to him. After a brief discussion, she handed him a large brown envelope. Harry thanked her and put it down underneath the bundle of his cloak and tie.
What is in that envelope, wondered Katie.
She shook her head. Something was up with him, she could feel it. Was Luna in on it with him? No, surely not.
Katie was drawn out of her thoughts as someone asked what was happening today. Sighing, she shook herself awake and began the lesson. Right... plans for the RA. They would refresh themselves on Stunners and then move on. Tonight she would throw the Impediment Jinx, Incarcero Charm and the Full-Body Bind into the mix as well, if there was time. If they could get to grips with them all in the next week, that should give the RA quite an offensive arsenal, or at least the beginnings of one.
They practiced for ten minutes with Stunners before Katie introduced the Impediment Jinx. After half an hour's practice on that, Katie told everyone to take 5 and to have a drink. During the quick break, Katie noticed Harry sit down against a wall, take the envelope Luna had provided, and open it. Katie held her breath, her wand at the ready. However, when Harry tipped the envelope all that fell out was a copy of the Quibbler, Luna's father's rag of a newspaper. Katie relaxed, sighing with relief and pocketing her wand. It was nothing dangerous.
Harry regarded the magazine for a second before putting it back in the envelope and put it with his cloak. As he stood up, there was a small smile on his face.
Back on his bed, Harry lay down on his back and stared at the ceiling. His head was pounding and he felt sick. The room around him seemed to be spinning. With difficulty he moved to the window and opened it, gasping in deep lung-fulls of icy air, which seemed to clear his head a little and make him feel a tad better.
"What is wrong with me?" he wondered aloud. Was it a last effect of Malfoy's curse? Harry didn't know, but what he did know was that he had been feeling ill for three days now, ever since that curse had hit him. It wasn't getting better. Tomorrow he might have to swallow his pride and go to Pomfrey.
Suddenly his stomach decided that it had had enough. He felt it clamp tight and his dinner shoot up his throat as he retched. Harry's head flew forward as he hurled, propelling a stream of hot vomit out of the window into the freezing night. He broke into a cold sweat as his dinner disappeared into the darkness below the window.
Spitting out whatever was in his mouth, he wiped his face with his jumper then walked quickly into the Gryffindor Tower toilets and crossed to the sink. Cleaning his teeth helped to get rid of the acidic taste, but he still felt dreadful.
That was it, no more excuses. Tomorrow he was going to Pomfrey. This was getting ridiculous. Ever since Malfoy's curse had burned his insides, he was constantly feeling hot. Having finished cleaning his teeth, he raised a hand to his forehead. He had a fever, as well as a headache and obvious sickness. He couldn't find a way home if he was suffering from the flu – he had to sort this out before he could move any further. A few potions from Pomfrey and he would be right as rain.
Heading back to his bed, Harry pulled out the envelope Luna had given him. Horrible as he felt, it wouldn't hurt to have a quick look. Harry removed the copy of the Quibbler from the envelope carefully. On the cover was a large picture of a young wizard with blond floppy hair. Harry read the teaser of the article and Luna's words came back to haunt him.
"Oh,that interview," she had said, a smug smile on her lips. "It's nothing to be ashamed of..."
"Ousted for being gay, the Quibbler investigates homophobia amongst the Aurors…"
Now Luna thought he was gay. Great, he thought sarcastically.
Harry shook his head. It didn't matter – he would be gone soon anyway. Harry opened the Quibbler and pulled the diary out from under his pillow. He flicked to the marked page in the diary and looked for the red ink. Page 67.
Flipping open the Quibbler, he skimmed through to page 67. His jaw dropped and a shiver ran down his spine. The title on the left page read "War of the Worlds", but that wasn't what caught Harry's attention. The page on the right was covered in a single huge picture, inside which a terribly familiar looking blond wizard was waving back at him. Harry cringed remembering the last time he had met the wizard. He gripped the page with sweaty hands as he began to read.
"Travel between worlds is a popular concept amongst Muggle fiction and may even be supported by their theoretical physics, but is it really possible? The very concept has long attracted a certain breed of wizard, the earliest references to such magic beginning in ancient Greece, but stories pop up all throughout history. Why this fascination? Is it a desire to answer the great question of whether or not we are alone in the universe? For many it is a personal quest, but for one man it is all business. Myth tells us that such inter-dimensional travel was achieved in ancient times, but the secret has since been lost. This month with exclusive coverage from the Quibbler, Gilderoy Lockhart goes in pursuit of another universe."
Harry paused, the name ringing in his mind and the picture waving stupidly back at him. The award winning smile was constantly being flashed as a very young Lockhart strutted back and forth across the cover. Harry on the other hand sat perfectly still, his mind lost in memory. He remembered the tunnel in which Lockhart, the coward and fraud, had tried to take his memory. He remembered encountering him again years later in St. Mungo's.
This raised another problem: if the man had lost his memory, would he even be able to recall what Harry needed to know?
Harry was aware that Lockhart would not have done it himself, but he would have found the wizard in question and Obliviated him or her. That meant that somewhere out there was a person who knew all about the Node. Harry just needed to find that person and reverse the memory charm. Simple? Not really, he didn't know where to start, or even how to reverse a memory charm.
Well, logically the first step would be to find Lockhart and to see what kind of state he was in. Was there a way of bringing the information out of him? Harry had no idea, but he did know that he needed to get to St. Mungo's to at least make sure Lockhart was there. Today was Friday, so Harry had time to go tomorrow. He could slip out of the castle easily enough, and getting to the hospital should be simple. Once he got there he wasn't sure what he would do, but he still had to try. He would get some potions from Pomfrey in the morning, cure his head, and then pop over mid-morning.
He was slightly further on than he had been yesterday, and that thought brought a smile to his lips.
By tomorrow, at worst, he would have eliminated a useless line of inquiry and, at best, he would have found the way home. Yawning loudly, Harry decided that he'd had enough for tonight. He slid the Quibbler and the diary under his pillow before rolling over and closing his eyes.
Hopefully, tomorrow I will be one step closer to home.
Harry's eyes flew open. It felt like he had only just closed them, but as he looked at the clock it was already 0825. Shaking his head, he reached for his false-glasses. His mouth was dry, he felt exhausted, his head was pounding, but at least he didn't feel like throwing up. His limbs felt like they were made of lead, though, and his insides as if they were on fire.
He yawned, and as he did his head gave another powerful throb. Groaning, he sat up.
Looking up he saw Seamus and Dean standing over him, his curtains drawn and light pouring in.
"Eh?" grunted Harry, shaking the sleepiness from his mind.
"It's the first of February," announced Dean, grinning broadly.
"Wow," said Harry nonplussed, sitting up. Aside from the fact that he had been here a month, there was nothing special about today, was there? "Pinch punch first of the month. What's so special about today?"
"Slytherin vs. Ravenclaw," announced Seamus. "Get something blue on, grab breakfast, and then to the stadium, Harry."
"Riiight," said Harry, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed. He wondered why Quidditch really didn't interest him these days.
"It doesn't really matter which one wins," said Dean. "As long as neither of them score more than three hundred points."
"Which is pretty unlikely," said Seamus, shrugging. "Both sets of Chasers are apparently on form at the moment."
As Harry pulled on some trousers and a blue t-shirt, Seamus spotted the corner of the Quibbler poking out from under the pillow and immediately made a move for it.
"What've we got here," asked Dean loudly, as Seamus pulled it out. "A dirty magazine?"
Harry froze in horror, remembering what was on the cover.
"Nah," said Seamus. "Just the Quibbler. It's the…oh…something we should know Harry?"
Harry glared at him as he began to read aloud.
"Eamon Barrister, formerly of the Aurors, tells all about the oppression suffered by homosexuals in the Ministry of Magic's finest…" Harry made a grab for it, but Seamus was too quick. "1989, specially ordered. Well this is a turnout for the books."
"For your information," said Harry coldly, "that is not the article that interests me."
"It's nothing to be ashamed of," said Dean, unable to hold in his laughter. He caught Seamus' glance and they both howled.
Harry was becoming impatient. This sleepiness had left him, but his tiredness was making him ratty. He picked up his wand from the table beside him and turned to face Seamus.
"I'm going to ask once more nicely," said Harry, his tone icy and firm. "Give it back."
Settling down, Dean and Seamus exchanged a glance before conceding. Seamus passed him back the magazine which Harry threw into his trunk, slamming the lid in frustration. He was glad he hadn't had to show his power by getting it back by force. While emotional Harry Potter would have been quite happy to hex the hell out of the pair of them, the methodical Dark Knight knew he had to keep a low profile and kept his emotions in check.
"We'll see you downstairs," said Seamus heading towards the door. As the boys went downstairs, Harry heard Seamus pipe up, "They're shite, they're scum, they take it up the bum. Sly-ther-in! Sly-ther-in!"
Harry shook his head in a grimace and then pulled on a cloak, just as his head gave another hard throb. Before he did anything else, he was off to the Hospital Wing.
Wearing jeans, a woolly jumper over his blue t-shirt, a blue scarf, and a plain black cloak without the Hogwarts insignia, as well as his false glasses and hastily re-applied make-up to mask his scar, Harry headed up to the lair of Madam Pomfrey. He headed straight into the hospital wing and crossed the polished floor, heading for the office, nodding to a Hufflepuff boy he recognised who occupied a bed to his left as he passed. The student had what looked like a bite mark on his cheek that had turned violent green.
As Harry arrived at the door he knocked. There was a pause and then Madam Pomfrey emerged, looking mildly surprised and rather tired. For a second Harry thought he saw fear in her eyes, but it was gone a second later.
"Can I help you, Potter?" she asked briskly.
"Yeah," said Harry. "For the last couple of days I've had this constant headache."
"Please tell me that this is not alcohol induced," she said, eying him suspiciously.
Harry gave her an 'oh, please' look. "It isn't," he reassured her. "I just feel awful. It's probably the flu, but have you got something to clear my head?"
She apprised him for a second before speaking.
"Sit up on one of the beds," she said, gesturing around the room. She turned and disappeared into her office.
As Harry hopped up onto the nearest bed, she emerged again carrying a small bag which she placed next to him on the bed. She opened it and removed a small wad of cotton wool, which she held in forceps. Harry watched as she dipped it into a pinkish paste that the matron produced from the bag, coating the cotton wool liberally in the goo. That done, she held the wad up to his mouth.
Harry recoiled, as the paste smelt like paint-thinner.
"Breathe out, please," she said formally.
Harry hesitated for a second before leaning forward and breathing out the pink paste. When his lungs were empty, he leaned back and Madam Pomfrey inspected the cotton wool expectantly.
"Well, it isn't blue," she said, sounding surprised. She vanished the wool with a flick of her wand and returned the forceps to her bag along with the pot of pink paste.
"What does that mean?" he asked.
"There was no alcohol on your breath," she replied, her tone businesslike.
"I did tell you," said Harry impatiently. But as his anger grew his blood pressure increased, and his head pounded harder. He took a breath to calm himself.
Pomfrey then raised her wand to Harry's head and began to mutter various spells. Harry sat still as she moved the wand around his head, muttering to herself the entire time. Her wand emitted various coloured lights several times, and as she continued her brow furrowed in thought.
"Interesting," she said after nearly a minute of spellwork.
"What?" asked Harry, hopeful of a cure.
"No viruses as far as I can see," she said, looking pensive. "It doesn't appear to be the flu, as there are no influenza microbes in your system, but you are symptomatic. Tell me, what other symptoms have you had? Sickness?"
"Not been sick, but felt it," said Harry, unwilling to make it sound bad, as he had no desire to spend a month in bed. He paused for a second but then decided that pride would be his downfall. He needed to recover quickly and get home so he decided to come clean. "Correction, I was sick last night."
"Hmm," said Pomfrey, looking thoughtful. "Cold shivers? Fever?"
"Not really," said Harry. "Bit of a temperature though."
Pomfrey raised the back of her hand and pressed it to his forehead.
"You are hot," she said pensively.
Harry resisted the urge to say 'why thank you, you aren't bad looking yourself' as this wasn't the time for jokes.
"Merlin, you're burning up." She raised her wand to his head again and he saw a small glow of light in his peripheral vision.
"Forty-one point four?" she echoed, her voice raised in upward inflection. "You're hyperthermic, but not symptomatic of hyperthermia."
"I thought hyperthermia was extreme cold," said Harry confused.
"Hypothermia is cold," she said. "With an 'o', Potter. Hyperthermia, spelt with 'er', is extreme heat. Your body should be thirty-six point nine degrees Celsius, in what we call homeostasis."
"So what's a few degrees?" asked Harry, shrugging. "I've heard my Aunt say Dudley had a temperature of one hundred and two."
"Fahrenheit," said Madam Pomfrey impatiently. "Yours would be one hundred and seven degrees on that scale."
"Oh," said Harry feeling stupid. He felt himself blush, which only served to increase his headache.
"The point is that your body is outside its comfort zone," said Pomfrey, pacing back and forward in front of him. "If you were hyperthermic – that is to say, if you had heatstroke – I would expect you to be dehydrated, erratic, tired, disorientated, weak and incoherent. However, you seem fine. You are not confused, irrational or disorientated, you aren't staggering or weak, your blood sugar level is fine and even the level of water in your body is normal. It's strange. Normally, anything over forty Celsius, is considered to be life threatening."
"Perhaps I just have a high tolerance?" suggested Harry.
"Unlikely," said Pomfrey at length. She paused again deep in thought.
Harry knew that this was the time to offer a potential explanation. There was no use suffering in silence – he needed to get fit quickly.
"Could someone have done this to me?"
"How do you mean?"
Harry hesitated, wondering how much to tell. She would undoubtedly inform Riddle of his condition. It was not that he wanted to protect Malfoy, it was more that he didn't want Riddle snooping around or taking any more interest in him than necessary.
"I think I was cursed a few days ago," he replied. "Just before it started."
"Cursed? Who did it? What curse?" she asked instantly, summoning a quill and parchment.
"I don't know," he replied, aware that she was writing down everything he said. "I didn't see."
He did not want an investigation launched in case it revealed more about him that he wanted to.
"It just made my insides burn," he said. "Made me feel like my organs were on fire, like chillies in my eyes but all over my torso."
"Okay," said Pomfrey, writing rapidly on the parchment. "Who was it?"
"I told you I don't know," said Harry. "Besides, what does it matter? It's over now."
"My dear boy, it is clearly not over," insisted Pomfrey, sounding angry for the first time. "A spell that burns you, and now you have heat stroke? Surely you can see the link? We need to know who did this curse so we can find out what it is and what it has done to you."
Harry began to panic slightly.
"But it's gone now," he argued. "Maybe it just lowered my immune system, allowing this cold or whatever to get in."
"Maybe," she replied doubtfully, "but we still need to know what it was just in case. There are many pain curses in this world, Potter, and none of them are pleasant. Who knows what internal damage you may have. Whatever this is could kill you."
She had a point, except he didn't think Malfoy would have gone so far as that in front of witnesses. "No one is going to commit murder in Hogwarts," he replied.
"Unless they didn't know the full effect of the curse," she shot back instantly. "It's happened before."
"Look, I don't know alright," he replied, deciding to end the argument here. "They came from behind. Could have been anyone, most likely a Slytherin. You can tell Riddle he can start by investigating his old House. He may not find the one who did it but I'm sure his time won't be wasted. He's likely to turn up something with that lot."
Pomfrey paused, looking at him with narrowed eyes. Harry was sure she suspected he was lying, but she had no proof.
"Very well, Potter, be like that," she said. "If you end up back here in a week with this having worsened, don't blame me! I will give you something to treat the symptoms, but if it doesn't clear up in the next two days you must come back to see me, do I make myself clear?"
"Crystal," agreed Harry, grateful that he might get something to finally relieve his head.
"I'm dead serious, Potter," she said a little more firmly. "I would expect someone with your temperature to be near death. If things deteriorate we need to get you into stasis as soon as possible, understand?"
Harry gulped, suddenly not so confident. He had no desire to face the reaper this soon; he had so much yet to do. It was amazing how much the threat of death made people see sense and their own humility, and he was no exception. Harry nodded obediently and promised her he would come back if it got worse.
"Right," she said, summoning two bottles from inside her office. One was a liquid, and one contained what Harry initially thought were slugs. She held out the liquid to him and a small cup no bigger than a shot-glass with measuring marks up the side.
"This will take your temperature down," she assured him. "Take two full measures when you wake up and before bed."
She then held out the bottle containing what Harry had thought were slugs but now saw were large pills.
"Take one of these with every meal. That should sort your head out. Chew one for a full minute and then swallow. And for goodness sake, take it easy for a few days. We don't need you dying on us again."
Harry removed the top of the potion bottle gingerly and sniffed it. It smelt like vinegar. He poured a measure from the brown bottle into the clear measuring-cup. The liquid was thin and a deep red colour that looked like the medicine Aunt Petunia had given Dudley for his ear infection when he was eight. Harry took a deep breath and swallowed it.
It tasted like salad dressing. He had embarrassingly scrunched up his face as he had drunk it, and even with his eyes closed he could almost sense Madam Pomfrey smirking at him in satisfaction. He opened his eyes to find that he was right. He quickly took a second cup and then put a pill into his mouth with the same confidence.
That had been a mistake. The potion was nice, whereas the pills tasted like ink and burned hair. Harry forced himself to chew on the pill under Madam Pomfrey's watchful gaze.
"The pills will work in minutes," she told him, "whereas the potion will take two days to return you to normal."
Swallowing the pill, Harry thanked her and rose to his feet. He wondered why she wasn't keeping him here for observation, which was in itself highly unusual since bed-rest was normally her cure for everything. His thoughts were drawn back to the flash of fear he had seen in her eyes as he had arrived. Did she and Riddle know something he didn't? Hmmm. This was troublesome. So as to not arouse even more suspicion, he smiled to Pomfrey and the Hufflepuff on his way out and headed back down to rejoin the school.
As he descended the stairs, one thought repeated over in his mind. I am ill and my arm is useless and my magic is weak, he thought. Am I strong enough to make the trip to St. Mungo's?
An hour later, having had a quick breakfast, he headed down to the stands which were already packed even though there was still forty-five minutes before the 10:00 start. Already he was feeling a bit better and all set to face the day.
The crowd was a sea of green and silver at one end, and blue at the other. Those in the middle in their ordinary clothes divided the two groups of supporters. Harry climbed up the steps to the Ravenclaw end and emerged from the top of the thin wooden stairs onto the balcony. There was a rail four feet in front of him over which numerous flags and banners had been draped, displaying the house insignia for all to see. Up behind him, the rows of seats ascended into the stands. A group of seventh years were standing on the seats at the back, leaning against the rear wall on which they would bang their support. Harry noticed the bags from Hogsmeade tucked behind the seats. He was well aware that they contained a copious amount of alcohol which, judging by the singing, (the likes of which Harry would certainly not repeat in front of his mother) some of it had already done the rounds. There were no teachers here yet, so the singing went on.
"GREEN ARMY, GREEN ARMY!" sang the Slytherins with such force that the stadium seemed to reverberate.
A smile crossed Harry's face as he was caught up in the excitement. This was what he had missed throughout this war. He could feel the stamping of feet as the crowd cheered in anticipation long before the players had even taken to the pitch. This banter was what the game was all about. It all seemed so innocent compared to the circles Harry now travelled in.
"Dra-co Mal-foy, wherever you may be," sang Ravenclaw at the top of their voices. "You are the king of porn-o-graph-y!"
The rest of the words were lost amongst the jeers from the green end of the pitch. Harry couldn't quite make out the response, but he doubted it was polite. It certainly made a change from 'Weasley is our King'.
Harry stood at the front of the balcony overlooking the pitch and the lower tier below him. The sun was shining and the air was crisp. It was a good day for Quidditch.
"Good conditions," said a voice over Harry's shoulder as if reading his mind. His whole body tensed instantly, for he knew that voice all to well, and he made certain his Occlumency shields were strong. He turned slowly, his hand near his wand, to find Tom Riddle stood behind him. Harry was aware that the singing was now no longer rude. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed a flash of pink as Dolores Umbridge made her way into the teacher's box, a nasty smirk on her toad-like face.
"Seems like it," said Harry cautiously, knowing that Riddle hadn't sought him out to discuss the weather. "And who's side are you supporting, Professor?" he asked making polite conversation for the sake of the students nearby, but keeping his guard up. His good arm dangled close to his wand, ready to move in an instant.
"As Headmaster, I cannot be seen to be biased in any direction," he said, turning to the pitch. "Though being human, I must confess a small preference for my former house."
"Your great ancestor would expect nothing less," said Harry icily.
"Touché," said Riddle, leaning over the barrier. "I was wondering Harry, if you would like to have tea with me this evening, for a quick chat."
Harry hesitated. It was a show of kindness but he felt uncomfortable with it. He had no desire to step into the dragon's den. Also, he thought back to Pomfrey's behaviour. He couldn't help but suspect that Riddle knew something and was planning to test him. He had this strange feeling that he was being manipulated. This was clearly a fact-finding mission. To refuse proved that he was hiding; to accept meant he could possibly expose himself unduly. Harry stood motionless, weighing his options carefully.
"Sure," he said at last, albeit reluctantly.
"Excellent," said Riddle with an almost kind smile. "Seven o'clock, then."
"I look forward to it," said Harry with a small nod, making sure his eyes never left the Headmaster's.
Riddle returned the nod with a small frown then turned and made his way over to the teacher's box, leaving Harry alone. Harry stood motionless for a moment contemplating Riddle's motives. He had a feeling he was being played, but he couldn't say why or to what end. Still, he would have to be careful this evening.
Just then a roar went up from the crowd as the Ravenclaw team took to the sky for a lap of honour.
Am I strong enough? wondered Harry, his thoughts returning to the present and his objective. Ill, weak magic, and an injured arm...Is it sensible to go?
No it was not sensible, but then again, he was not a target in this world. He was not on Grindelwald's hit-list. Death Eaters would ignore him, and he didn't think St. Mungo's was a particularly dangerous place. Also, he could Flame out of there easily enough if something went wrong. Harry reached his decision.
Time to make my move.
As the balls were released and the game began, no one saw a single figure in black slip away from the stands and disappear in a ball of flames.
Harry reappeared in central London, inside a tube-station just around the corner from St. Mungo's. Nobody seemed to notice his arrival. He was in the same station in which he had evaded an Auror in the Unholy Land while on the run.
Hmmm, he mused. What goes around comes around. He hurried up the steps and out into the sunlight.
As he walked along the street in the bright February sunshine he was aware that the potions had worked a bit. His head was no longer pounding, although he still had a bit of a twinge; it had given a harsh throb as he Flamed but generally it was vastly improved from earlier in the day. He couldn't tell about his temperature – he still felt hot, he thought – but she had said it wouldn't work instantly.
The shop window that concealed the entrance to the hospital was no more than half a mile down the road. Harry walked it in less than five minutes and addressed the dummy in the window. He stepped through into the lobby, taking in the sterile smell of the hospital. His last few trips here had not been pleasant. They ranged from as a prisoner where he had accidently killed a man, to a near death Mr. Weasley at Christmas. No, St. Mungo's didn't hold happy memories for Harry.
He walked across the room to the help desk hoping for some information. It may very well be that the person he was looking for wasn't even here. The cheery sign behind the desk read, Any question? Our staff will be happy to help. This message had obviously not been conveyed to the bored looking witch at the desk.
"I'm here to see Gilderoy Lockhart," he said to the clerk politely.
"Up you go then," said the witch without looking up. "Sixth floor."
Harry was going to point out the sign to her, but refrained, unwilling to attract attention. Instead he headed past the witch into the hospital and made for the lift. By luck the lift opened as he approached and he boarded along with two witches who leaned against the side with disinterested expressions on their ordinary faces, gossiping about some wizard named Phil.
"Which floor d'ya want?" said one of them in a brummy accent.
"Six, please," said Harry.
The woman pressed the button for him and then turned back to her mate. Not wanting to earwig, Harry stared into the eyes of his own reflection in the polished door. In no time the doors slid open and the voice announced that this was the sixth floor.
Harry stepped out into another white corridor. In front of him was a wooden topped counter that was so high it looked more like a bar. Behind it sat a witch making notes on some parchment. Behind her were rows of shelves covered in beige files. Every few seconds one of the folders flew off the shelves of its own accord, rolled itself into a scroll and disappeared up a pipe. As Harry looked up he noted that along the roof ran many such pipes. As he watched he could see the shadows of files making their way along to where they were needed. It was like a complex traffic system.
"Clever," muttered Harry to himself, mildly impressed as always by the innovation of magic.
Around him there were people walking along the corridor. Some were in a hurry, some were ambling, and some were wandering around looking lost. Not having a clue where to go and feeling like one of the lost ones, Harry stepped up to the counter and peered over, coughing slightly. The witch looked up with a frown.
"I'm here to see Gilderoy Lockhart," said Harry politely.
"Ward 49," said the witch pointing down the corridor to the right. "Last door on the left."
"Thanks," said Harry, turning to leave.
"Wait!" said the witch suddenly.
Harry turned back, his insides twisting.
"Do I know you? You seem really familiar?"
Harry stared at the witch for a second, not knowing her from Eve.
"I don't think so," he said, and turned to leave before she could answer, just in case he should know her.
As Harry headed down the corridor, he approached a set of double doors on the left. He noted that, as well the smell of antiseptic, there was also the smell of fresh paint. Still, it was hardly something to be concerned about.
He pushed open the heavy double doors and stepped in. The room beyond was pure white and the sun shone in through the windows glistened off the floor, shooting up into Harry's eyes and temporarily blinding him. He blinked as his eyes adjusted to the light. The room was long and quite thin, with seven beds along each side of the ward and a long table with chairs in the middle. Each bed was surrounded by a curtain rail, one of which was drawn closed, surrounding the bed in a veil of turquoise. Harry also noted that there was a small black globe the size of a golf ball embedded in the ceiling a few feet in front of him – a recording orb. He had seen this version of Magical CCTV before at the Ministry when he had been held by the Aurors in the Unholy Land. He briefly considered pulling his hood up, but most likely the orb would have caught him the moment he stepped into the room. Doing it now would look suspicious.
Outside, Harry could see the busy London street and the Muggles running around like ants. He stepped further into the room, looking left and right at the beds, searching for his old teacher. Of the fourteen beds, most were empty. He didn't know if they permanently were, or if the occupants were off elsewhere. The fourth bed along on the left had the curtains partially pulled, blocking much of it off from view. Looking down to conceal his face from the orb, Harry crossed to the bed.
As he stepped through the curtains, a familiar sight greeted him. A nurse was sitting on a chair to the side of the bed, as Gilderoy Lockhart sat cross-legged, madly signing photographs of himself. Some things never changed. He wore cream robes with magenta borders and he was holding a magnificent peacock quill with a large pile of photos yet to be signed to his right.
Harry paused, debating his approach. He had the choice of honesty, flattery, or force. Honest was no good with someone else there, and neither was force for the same reason. Flattery seemed best, as it would hopefully result in Lockhart wanting to help. No choice there; flattery it was, then.
"Hello," he said softly.
Both Lockhart and the nurse looked up.
"I'm here to see Mr Lockhart," Harry added, stepping inside the curtains. Lockhart's smile only broadened.
"Of course you are," he beamed. "After all, who wouldn't?"
"Indeed, who wouldn't?" repeated Harry, forcing a smile.
"And who are you?" asked the nurse warily.
"No one important," said Harry with a shrug. "Just a fan."
"Then for Merlin's sake, boy," said Lockhart excitedly, "pull up a chair. Make yourself comfy. You've travelled far and wide to see me, the least I can do is make my fans comfortable."
"Thank you," said Harry, sliding into the chair that Lockhart offered and trying not grimace at the man's attitude.
The former professor had dropped his quill which was now secreting a nicely sized blob of black into the white linen of the bed sheet. He sat with his legs swinging over the side of the bed flashing that award-winning smile at Harry, which was another way to say he was grinning inanely.
"It's okay, nurse," said Lockhart, dismissing her with a flick of his wrist. "Off you go."
Who did he think he was, royalty? Not far off, probably, mused Harry.
"The boy doesn't want to meet his hero with half of Florence Nightingale's School of Medicine leaning over our shoulders," Lockhart told the nurse in an impatient, pompous voice Harry remembered all too well.
The nurse looked slightly abashed, but rose to leave. As she passed she whispered to Harry, "Half an hour, he is not to leave this room. And whatever you do, don't give him sugar."
Harry could only nod. In all honesty, he thought that the sight of Lockhart buzzing off the E-numbers would be rather amusing, but knew that he wasn't here for his amusement. As she left, Harry turned back to face Lockhart only to see a black and white image of the man an inch from his eyes, a loopy signature scrawled all over it. By reflex he instantly recoiled at the invasion of his personal space.
"Err… thanks," said Harry, taking the proffered photograph and moving back a few feet.
"And some for your friends," said Lockhart shoving a pile of at least fifty towards him.
"Wow," said Harry at a loss. Unable to think of anything else, he added, "They'll be thrilled."
"Excellent," said Lockhart happily. "So, you've come all this way to meet me, have you? What do you want to know?" The eagerness in his voice would be almost pathetic had he not known the man before his accident. As it was, it was downright disgusting. Still, it was a good indication that he wasn't all barmy – any more than usual, at least.
"Well," said Harry, grateful that Lockhart had opened the door for him to begin the questions. "I must admit, that in your books – I've read them all by the way – I…"
But Lockhart cut him off. "They are brilliant, aren't they?" he said dreamily. "I even amaze myself, sometimes."
"Yes, well," said Harry, trying to steer him back onto the topic he needed. "I…."
Again he was cut off.
"Which was your favourite?" asked Lockhart enthusiastically.
"Err..." said Harry, panicking, unable to remember a single title. "The Werewolf one?"
"Ah yes," said Lockhart, staring absently at the ceiling, grinning as if reliving a pleasant memory, "My finest work."
Harry breathed a sigh of relief. "I did want to ask you though…" he began again trying to move the conversation forward, but Lockhart was a match for his attempt.
"How I do it?" he finished Harry's sentence with a flourish.
The former professor sat bolt upright and turned to Harry, his eyes wide and wild, his jaw set. When he spoke, his voice was deep and melodramatic, like a Shakespearean actor. "There comes a time when you are in the claws of death, when all hope hath faded, that every man is faced with a choice. Give up and die, or fight to your dying breath. I must be a fighter. I silence the voice of fear and soldier on – defeating tremendous odds, victorious in the face of adversity, never giving up…"
"WOW!" said Harry loudly with a tone of false admiration, cutting him off just to shut him up. "That's impressive."
Despite Harry's best attempt at flattery, Lockhart looked like he had been slapped as Harry interrupted his speech, which if Harry's suspicions were correct, he had rehearsed many times in front of a mirror. Lockhart stared at him for a second before he jerked his head, flicking a golden lock of hair out of his face and practically pouted. "Yes, it was rather impressive of me wasn't it?"
"I was actually going to ask you about an article in 1989," said Harry, trying to be less subtle as Lockhart obviously couldn't take a hint. "It was published in the Quibbler. You went looking for a legend about travelling to other worlds."
Lockhart's face took on that dreamy expression again, not a positive sign. "Did I?" asked Lockhart with renewed gusto.
Harry's heart fell – he had no memory of it at all. Damn.
"Sounds like the sort of thing I would have done," smiled Lockhart merrily. There was a pause. "Did I find it?"
"No idea," answered Harry, disheartened. "That's what I wanted to ask you about. Do you remember anything about that?" he asked hopefully. "Anything at all?"
"Not a thing," said Lockhart, looking abashed for the first time. He quickly recovered though and the inane smile crept back onto his lips. "Do you have a copy of the article? I would love to add it to my collection." He pulled a huge scrap book out down the side of the bed. It was about a metre high and over half of one long. It was quite thick and Harry could see the edges of newspaper clippings stuck in there. Lockhart passed the book proudly to Harry who took it and opened it with trepidation.
As expected it was full of pictures and clippings all of which were about Lockhart. Harry flicked through, encountering nothing but endless pages of articles and hundreds of photos of the git.
"They are helping to bring back my memories," said Lockhart proudly. "That and my journal."
"Your what?" asked Harry, whipping his head upwards to stare at the former professor. A glimmer of hope flickered in his eyes and heart.
"My journal," replied Lockhart as if speaking to a simpleton. "My dear boy, even someone as profoundly brilliant as myself cannot remember every detail. I write things down."
He made notes, thought Harry with elation. The imbecile made notes. He needed to see that book. If Lockhart had made a note of who he had met, who had done that research, then hope remained.
"May I see it?" asked Harry hungrily. "You see, I want to be a writer too, and I could learn so much from a brilliant man like you. I'd love to see how your mind works."
"Well," said Lockhart in a cagey manner, his eyes darting to and fro frantically. His voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. "Not as such. They take it away. They don't want to give me too much too soon, they say." He glanced at the door and then picked up his quill and frantically began signing photos again, presumably trying to appear to the orb as if he was doing his usual.
Harry however was completely focused on the diary. Did it hold the key?
"How far back does it go?" asked Harry in a soft voice to appease the obviously paranoid Lockhart. Would it go back as far as 1989?
"Since I first started," said Lockhart proudly, suddenly normal again and throwing Harry for a loop. "It expands, so I will never need a new one. Right back to the early eighties."
Harry's heart skipped a beat. It covered the year in question! It would show where he had been. Fantastic!
"Professor, may I see it?" asked Harry again carefully so as to not spook him further. He was taking a chance that Lockhart might go spare again, but he didn't have a choice. He had to see that diary. "Please?"
"I don't have it," said Lockhart looking up with a bored expression. "They keep it. Too much too soon, they say, too much too soon."
He had to get his hands on the diary. Whether that simply meant asking for it, or if it meant breaking into the…wherever it was kept, Harry didn't know, but he had to get his hands on that journal.
"Professor," said Harry gently. "Do you know where it is now?"
"They keep it," he said unhelpfully repeating himself.
"Where do they keep it?" asked Harry, a little more firmly.
"Somewhere safe," said Lockhart. "They promised."
"But where, exactly?" said Harry struggling to hide his impatience.
"I don't know," said Lockhart, and then looked around in panic and went back to frantically signing pictures. "I don't know, I don't know, I don't know," he repeated over and over again, rocking back and forth slightly.
Suddenly the doors burst open. Harry's hand shot to his wand. A rather plump nurse stood in the doorway carrying a small bottle of what Harry assumed was a potion for Lockhart, and also a large fluffy blue towel. "Right, Gilderoy, it's time for your medicine!"
A look of horror crossed Lockhart's face as the nurse marched across to him. All thoughts of the diary, the photographs, and Harry seemed to be forgotten. The woman took Lockhart by the hand and pulled him to his feet.
"Just a quick check up," she announced, "and then a bath."
Lockhart's face fell. He began to pull on the nurse's arm, trying to beak free like a petulant child. As Harry watched, he realised that Lockhart really was just a child. Harry had seen him learning to write last time in St. Mungo's, but now he saw it for real. Lockhart's mind had been wiped, leaving a blank canvas just like a newborn baby; the nurses were raising a fully-grown child. That was a job and a half. His tantrums must be a nightmare...
Lockhart's frantic protests didn't stop until he had been dragged outside by the witch. Harry sat in silence for a second, watching Lockhart disappear out into the corridor. He didn't need to stop them. Lockhart was no longer useful. All he needed now was that damned diary. Maybe he could ask the nurse for it. Would she give it to him? Unlikely, but she may give away where it was kept.
He rose to his feet and headed towards the door with a rough plan in his head. If he told her that Lockhart just wanted one of his possessions to show him, then the witch might get it, or at least confirm it was in storage. If he could gently push her into telling him where the journal was kept, he could get hold of it. No lock would keep him out.
Harry got to his feet and headed towards the door but he hadn't gone three feet when he froze. He felt a tingle on the back of his neck, a feeling that he was not alone. It was the same tingle of magic he had felt in Borgin and Burkes. Someone had appeared in the room.
Harry spun around, pulling his wand free from the harness.
The turquoise curtains around Lockhart's bed were still drawn, sheltering it from view. Harry crept back to the curtains and then, having braced himself, pulled them open. As he did, he saw a figure in a brown cloak bending over Lockhart's bed. He looked like a monk in the brown robes and hood, and his face was well tanned. His eyes were shining blue, and his expression was one of shock as he saw Harry turn.
"FREEZE!" barked Harry, levelling his wand at the man. The newcomer glanced back and forth looking terrified before his hand moved inside his robes. He was going for a wand!
The curse left Harry's wand, but again it was little more than a weak orange sparkle. By the time it reached the man he had disappeared. As he had cast the spell, Harry's head had given another painful throb – his headache was returning.
Cursing loudly, Harry ran over to the bed where the man had been. Hang on...there was an Anti-Apparition ward here. How had he managed to…
Oh, thought Harry in sudden understanding. The man must've had a Portkey inside his robes. It was the logical assumption. That didn't answer the question of just what a stranger was doing snooping through Lockhart's stuff, though. Harry didn't know for a fact that he was snooping, but the man had entered when Lockhart was out, and he had run rather than explain himself, which was suspicious at the very least. Harry stood where the stranger had been second before and looked around, perplexed.
"What were you searching for?" he mused aloud.
It had not been the man he had fought in Borgin's or in the forest - that was certain. Who was he, then?
Harry's eyes scanned the area, searching for clues. The bed was unmade and covered in photos of a smiling Lockhart. These even spilled over on to the floor. On the table at the side was a lamp, a box of tissues, a large bowl of fruit, and more stacks of pictures. Harry opened the drawer, hoping to find something useful. Inside were various bits and pieces of Lockhart paraphernalia. Nothing seemed to be of value or importance. He rummaged through and found nothing. Frustrated, he closed the drawer and turned his attention back to the bed. He lifted the pillow, but found nothing underneath.
Come on, he thought. People don't sneak into a person's room to look for nothing.
Harry pulled the sheet right off the bed and checked the mattress beneath. No rips, pockets or anywhere to hide anything. He threw the sheets onto the floor and then dropped into a press-up position to look under the bed. Shining his wand up into the frame of the bed, Harry checked the corners. It was there that he found it – a small leather-bound book.
Harry reached up and took it, sliding out from under the bed. Back in the light, he could see a word printed into the front: DIARY. Could it be? Harry opened it and swept through, letting the pages ripple through his fingers. He came to a stop in 1989, the year of the article. It was Lockhart's alright... a complete log of his trips to Greece and Turkey. Harry grinned to himself. He had the diary. Excellent!
Pocketing it, he stood up and headed back for the door and then froze again. It wasn't due to magic this time, but his own suspicion. Whether it was the Dark Knight or Harry who was suspicious he didn't know, but something felt wrong. Of all the times to try to steal a diary, the man just happened to have chosen the time when Harry was there? Not sixty seconds after he had asked about the diary, a man had broken in to steal it?
That diary had apparently been confiscated by St. Mungo's nurses, but Lockhart had it hidden under his bed all the time? Lockhart hadn't known it was there, or at least hadn't told Harry. Had he known and had deceived Harry, or did he genuinely not know it was there? If Lockhart didn't know it was there that meant he hadn't put it there himself. If he didn't know it was there, how did the would-be thief know it was there? None of it made sense. The timing was too coincidental. Did that make the diary a suspect source? Had it perhaps been planted? Was it a fake? But who would fake a diary? ...Someone trying to stop Harry finding a way home? But no one knew who he was or what he was trying to do, so who would be actively trying to stop him?
It was too confusing, and his head was starting to pound again from the effort of trying to work it out. He did know that he would have to treat the information he got from it very carefully indeed. Deciding that, in light of this intruder, it was definitely time to leave he headed quickly for the door, but something made him stop and forget all about Lockhart, the stranger, and the journal. He had just noticed a golden plaque above the door.
The Lily and James Potter Memorial Ward.
To the left of the words, a picture of his mother had been etched delicately into the brass and a similar picture of his father on the right. The pictures were exquisite, the artistry divine. It must have taken someone ages. To the side of the door was a smaller plaque with words engraved. Harry moved closer to read it.
"The newly refurbished ward 49 is dedicated to the memory of Lily and James Potter who tragically died in a fire here on 7th December 1996."
Of course! This was the long-term ward, the one on which Harry's parents had died in a fire last December. Presumably, the fire had also killed the Harry of this world. As Harry stared into the eyes of his mother's portrait, he suddenly felt a pang of homesickness. His body suddenly felt so…alone. He could almost sense the air around him and the rough scrape of his clothes. He wanted desperately to feel his mother's arms around him. He didn't want to be in this hellhole of a world. Mum, Dad, and Rose were all waiting for him in one world, Ron and Hermione were waiting in another. At this point in time, he would seriously consider going back to his mother, Voldemort be damned.
Harry shivered, feeling more lost than ever. He had to concentrate on the weight of the diary in his pocket to remind him that there was still hope. Still, it didn't stop a feeling of sickness rising in his stomach, though that might have something to do with his returning headache. He had to get out of here.
Harry pushed open the doors and stepped out, heading right, back towards reception.
"Good morning, Mr. Potter," said a voice as Harry passed. He froze. Someone knew him.
The voice was female, but not cold or aggressive – if anything it was polite and friendly. Harry turned to see the receptionist he had spoken to earlier standing behind the counter and watching him with a smile on her face.
"I knew I recognised you," said the witch.
Harry crossed to the desk so that they were not shouting across a corridor.
As he arrived at the counter, she spoke again. "I thought you were dead, I thought you had died when…" she motioned towards the ward from which he had come. "Then I read in the Prophet about you, and…I'm so glad you're alright."
"Er…thanks," said Harry, forcing a smile. He didn't have a clue who she was but she clearly knew him, probably from his numerous visits to his parents. He had to be polite, but at the same time he had to get out of here quickly. If anyone learned he had been here, especially Riddle, it would raise too many questions.
"Visiting them to say goodbye?" asked the witch, coming around the front of the counter.
"Yeah," said Harry, quickly conjuring a story. "And to see Lockhart. He's an old acquaintance." There was no point denying this as he had asked her earlier where he was. Also, it appeared that he was volunteering information, rather than hiding it.
"Yes, you have visited so many times you would know everyone on that ward," she said sadly. "Gilderoy was the only survivor of the fire, aside from yourself. His infernal habit of wandering off saved his life. He was on another floor at the time."
"Lucky him," said Harry vaguely, not really caring. "Not everyone was so fortunate. Or perhaps, he was the ill-fated one. The others are now at peace."
"Don't think like that," said the witch kindly. "It was a tragedy, and the Aurors will find who was responsible."
Harry's head whipped up at the last words. Aurors were involved? There was an investigation? The witch now had his full attention. Riddle had said it was just a fire, an accident, but now he found that it might not have been. Convenient of him to leave that bit out.
"Oh, you know how long these investigations can take," said the nurse offhandedly, shrugging. "Well, actually you probably don't. Anyway, they're always hovering around, taking the recordings from the viewing orbs and still interviewing staff. Between you and me, part of me wishes they would put it down to an accident and leave."
Two months later and Aurors were still coming and going? That was strange if it was an accident. If it wasn't…well, with Fudge in his current mindset it was no wonder the Prophet hadn't mentioned anything.
"They suspect foul play?" asked Harry, intrigued.
"No," said the witch suddenly twitchy. She shifted her weight slightly and began to rotate her wedding ring in a nervous gesture. Harry knew that he had stuck gold.
"We have been told not to talk about it," the witch added in a hushed whisper. She looked around, presumably checking for Aurors or anyone listening. After a few seconds she turned back to Harry and sighed. "Then again, I suppose you of all people have a right to know," she said. "You lost more than anyone in that fire." She took a deep breath and looked around once more before speaking, again in a hushed whisper. "Officially, the Ministry believe it to be an accident and the Prophet has published an article to that effect. However an Auror team keeps coming back. It's a small team, supposedly doing some follow-up work as they call it. Part of me has a sneaking suspicion that there is more to it than meets the eye."
"Who are they?" asked Harry. "Did they give names?" He had a sneaking suspicion these weren't ordinary Aurors. If the Ministry had covered it up with a story about a fire, there was only one set of Aurors who would defy the Minister and investigate – Order Aurors.
"They don't offer names," said the witch shrugging. "Top Secret and all that. I did overhear the leader being called…hang on…it's…" she stammered looking puzzled.
Was she confounded or just couldn't remember?
"It's on the edge of my tongue. Locksmith? No...Chain-something? Bolt head?"
Suddenly Harry understood.
"Shacklebolt?" he asked. "Kingsley Shacklebolt?"
"That's the one," said the witch with a relieved look. "Knew we'd get there in the end. Do you know him?"
His suspicions had been confirmed. "We've met," said Harry before realising in this world they had not. He hastily offered an explanation. "I mean, he interviewed me after I came back to Hogwarts."
"Sounds about right," she told him, a hint of bitterness in her voice. "All he does is interview people and get in the way."
"That's the Ministry for you," said Harry with a grin, though inside he was definitely not smiling. "Look, I've got to get going," he said "Got to get back to Hogwarts, you know. Lots of studying to do. Nice to see you again. Take care." He waved to the witch as he turned quickly and headed for the lifts as she called out her own friendly good-byes.
That conversation had been most enlightening and he knew what he needed to do next. He had no intention of returning to Hogwarts, not until another of his questions had been answered. He pressed the button for the lift and, as he waited, he scanned the board to the side of the lift which housed a directory of the various floors. As the queue for the lift grew and other people bustled past, Harry scanned the list.
"Where are you?" he muttered. Suddenly he saw what he was after. On the second floor was written the words 'Security Office'.
The lift doors opened after another few seconds and Harry stepped in and jabbed the button for the second floor with his thumb. Without warning, he was instantly swept to the back by seven other people pushing their way into the cramped compartment after him. With so many people in it, the lift stopped at every floor on the way down. Harry grimaced, but didn't complain aloud or show his irritation. Better to blend in. At last the doors opened to the second floor and he stepped out, grateful to be able to move again. He had been squished up against an old lady who smelled of wet dog. The cramped lift had done nothing to alleviate his headache, which had returned in force ever since he had cast that Stunning Charm.
Harry raised a hand and rubbed his throbbing forehead for a moment before contemplating the sign on the wall in front of him. He turned left and headed through a set of double doors as directed by the sign and began to walk along the deserted passage. Finally, after about another twenty metres he saw a large door. On the outside was marked 'Security'. Next to the door was a window through which Harry could see into the Security Office. There were three desks in the small room, and each was equipped identically with a lamp, filing trays, quills and folders. The only marks of individuality were the brightly coloured coffee cups each of them had on their desk. Behind each desk sat a witch or wizard in navy blue robes who seemed to be working. At the back of the room was a thick steel door, the edges of which were glowing blue. There was a small window in the door and Harry could see another passage through it.
It was time to take a chance. Taking a deep breath Harry concentrated on the window and the other side of the secure door then disappeared in a ball of flames. His jump was accurate and he reappeared in the passage on the far side of the office with the occupants none the wiser.
He instantly crouched down so he couldn't be seen through the window and looked down the corridor, taking in his surroundings as he steadied himself. The Flaming had made him feel sick. Whatever was wrong with him seemed to respond very badly to magic. Making a connection that had not occurred to him before, Harry realised with a glimmer of fear that every time he used magic his condition got worse. Pomfrey's pills and potions had controlled it and let him use magic again temporarily, but they hadn't taken the pain away totally. Now that the potions were wearing off, the pain was returning. Until he was over this…thing, using magic would make him weaker.
He cursed inwardly. That could leave him stuck here if his magic failed from overuse. He made a mental note to use no more magic until he was safely back at Hogwarts.
As he removed the fake glasses, pulled the hood of his cloak up over his head, and secured the scarf up over his chin to block his face, his head gave another powerful throb confirming the point that he shouldn't linger. Carefully he stood up and headed quickly down the corridor, looking at the signs on the doors as he passed. Cautiously he passed the armoury, WC, storeroom, cells, and staffroom before he came to a door marked monitoring station. This should be it.
Harry opened the door and stepped in quietly, calling up the Dark Knight's skills at stealth. Inside a man sat at a control panel. In front of him was a giant window on which many images were shown in variously sized circles of light. The bubbles of images moved slowly about the screen as the guard watched them.
The door hadn't closed silently. The guard turned instantly to find Harry framed in the doorway. An expression of shock and confusion crossed his face before his hand flew to his wand.
Harry was quicker off the mark than the guard who had no room to manoeuvre in his chair. As the man tried to rise from his chair, Harry surged forward. The guard swished his wand, shooting a jet of red light at Harry who lightly sidestepped. He was so close that the guard tried brute force rather than another spell for his next attack. Going hand to hand with the Dark Knight was a mistake at the worst of times. Even off, Harry was lethal when he needed to be. Harry ducked the blow easily and grabbed the arm as it passed. He swept the man's legs out from under him with his left foot and as he fell, Harry dropped, driving his knee into the man's chest with his full weight. The guard spluttered as the air was forced out of him. Harry grabbed his head by the hair and then slammed it into the hard floor. The man went limp.
Harry checked the fallen guard's pulse to make sure he was alive. Satisfied, he looked around the darkened room again. Aside from the viewing pane, there were rows and rows of shelves with dates printed on the end of them. Luckily, this current year was nearest to them. Harry walked quickly over to last year's shelf and then moved along until he came to December. There were various bottles of what appeared to be a Penseive like substance, except that it was a dull grey colour not silver. Maybe it was because this was magically generated, rather than from someone's mind. Harry moved along the section for December of last year, looking for the date of the fire: the bottle was gone.
Cursing, Harry went back over the guard. He knelt next to the unconscious body and then, using the man's belt, he tied his hands behind his back. He used the man's own shoelaces to bind his feet. It was far from foolproof, but it was the best he could do without magic. Satisfied that the man couldn't move, Harry put the wand he had confiscated from the guard well out of the way. He was fairly sure that the guard couldn't escape.
Harry then picked up the untouched mug of tea, which was stone cold and full to the brim, and calmly threw its contents into the man's face. The cold liquid instantly brought the guard back to consciousness. The man groaned and opened his eyes a fraction looking groggy, but as the room came into focus and he saw Harry, or rather a hooded figure in black bent over him, and his eyes went wide.
Harry clamped his hand over the man's mouth so he couldn't shout out for help.
"Don't scream," he told the man in a voice muffled by the scarf. "Call for help and the next person who walks through that door will die." He deliberately made his words low and threatening knowing the effect he'd have on the spineless older wizard. "Now, tell me...the records the Aurors took, are there copies?"
Harry released his grip on the man's mouth cautiously as the guard lay gaping like a fish.
"Tell me!" repeated Harry dangerously, gripping the man's collar tightly enough to enforce the threat of strangulation.
"N…no," said the guard in a hurried whisper. "All copies were taken."
Damn, thought Harry in frustration. He needed a copy of them. Surely there must be backups or something?
"All of them?"
"Yes, all of them!" the guard repeated, his eyes wide with fear.
"No backups, archives, private copies, or anything?"
"I wouldn't be allowed to see them if there were," he said shaking his head and looking terrified.
"What do you mean?" asked Harry. Was he suggesting that there might be copies after all?
"If there were any, the top brass would keep them," said the guard. "In his office."
"Where is that?"
"Next door, to the right," mumbled the guard.
"Thanks," said Harry. He gripped the man's head once more and slammed it into the floor.
As the guard slumped unconscious, Harry checked to make certain he would be alright then slipped out the door and back into the corridor. It was thankfully deserted and only the sounds of muffled voices in the main office were audible. He paused to listen before moving further along the corridor to the next door, which was marked "Brian Carter – Head of Security".
Harry knocked gently on the door.
He waited a few seconds in case the room was occupied. Receiving no response, he opened the door which, thankfully, was unlocked. Once inside, he closed it quietly, not making the same mistake twice. The room inside was fairly plain. The walls were white and the carpet a caramel colour. A tidy desk containing only a lamp, a pot of quills, a letter opener, and a pile of parchments stood at the far end with a chair behind it. There was a false window like the ones found throughout the Ministry in one wall, beneath which was a wooden cabinet with a vase of fresh flowers on top, an odd thing to see in a man's office. In the far corner was a metal filing cabinet. The entire office was meticulously arranged and so Harry made a note to be tidy. Any movement of items would most likely be noticed.
Crossing to the filing cabinet first, it was, as he had expected – locked. He considered trying to open it with his wand, but it was most likely charmed so that it could only be opened by the wand that had locked it. Harry couldn't afford the noise needed to magically break it by force, if he was even capable of doing the spell properly. Instead he opted for the Muggle approach. It meant he would probably leave traces of his presence, but that couldn't be helped. He would be gone by the time they worked it out.
Harry went to the desk and picked up a quill. As expected it was one of the flashy kind that had the stalk encased in metal, in this instance silver. With a snap he removed the feathers and threw them in the bin, keeping only the metal part.
Moving back to the cabinet, he pressed the tip of the quill into the lock. Then, pulling the diary from his pocket, he put it across the top of the metal so as to not dig into his hand. That done, Harry clenched his fist and brought it down hard on the diary, forcing the metal tip of the quill into the lock. Again he hit the diary hard, driving the quill tip further into the lock. There was a dull thud and a crack. Harry put the book down and, taking the top drawer by the handle, wrenched the drawer open with force. In the top of the drawer resting on the files was the remains of the lock. Harry pocketed the diary and stood back up. He began to flick through the files, but files were all the drawer contained. No bottles, nothing of value. Harry closed it and opened the bottom drawer. Again, there was nothing but files.
Harry reached up into the corner of the cabinet, putting the lock roughly back in place. He gently closed the drawer. It would be enough to satisfy a quick glance, but nothing more. It didn't matter if it wasn't perfect. He didn't plan on sticking around to get caught. Next he crossed to the desk and opened the drawers to that, searching inside. In the top were various items, including a photo of a girl he assumed was the man's daughter and a collection of notes. In the middle drawer Harry came across something more useful. There was a small red lockbox.
Harry picked it up and put in on the desk and as he tilted it he heard something move inside. Laying it down on the desk, he took out his quill again. He was about to jam it into the lock when the sound of crisp footsteps sounded outside the door. Someone was coming. Quickly he thrust the box back in the drawer and closed it.
Harry had two choices Flame out, or stay and force the location of the information he was seeking from the security chief. In an instant he made his choice: it would be the latter. He needed to see what had happened that day when his other self had been killed, although he wasn't exactly sure why. At this point he was being driven by instinct. Something told him it was important.
Crossing to the other side of the room, he hid behind the door. He had only just got there when the door was pushed open and a man in smart blue robes walked into the office carrying a cup of coffee. He was a tall man with brown hair and a thick moustache. As soon as he entered he turned to push the door back closed and caught sight of Harry as he did so.
The man didn't have time to react before Harry grabbed him by the lapels, swung his foot behind Carter's knees and swept him over, slamming his body into the floor. The only sounds were the thuds as Carter hit the floor, followed by the splash of his cup of boiling coffee as it rained down over his chest a second later. To his credit the chief ignored the scald and immediately reached for his wand, but Harry was too quick. He grabbed his wrist, slamming it into the floor and causing the chief to lose his grip on it. Harry twisted Carter's arm ruthlessly into a position where he could break it if he chose to, not that he would.
"Listen very carefully," whispered Harry, twisting the arm roughly to reinforce the point. "I shall say this only once." Harry was grateful that the hood and his scarf, which was wrapped over his face, were enough to hide his identity as the man looked fit to kill. "I need the security recordings of the fire."
The man made a rude gesture. Harry sighed and gave the arm a sharp twist. He didn't dare break the arm, but it would surely hurt. Carter's eyes went wide and were it not for Harry clamping his free land over his mouth, he would have cried out.
"Answer me," whispered Harry. He raised an arm and concentrated on the letter opener on the desk. The blade suddenly flew across the room. It wobbled in mid-air and landed with a thud a foot short of where Harry was, but it was close enough. Grabbing it, Harry raised the blade to the man's neck. Carter's eyes grew wider, but still he shook his head. A man of principle. Harry didn't like to do this to a good man but desperate times called for desperate measures.
"You are no use to me dead," he said. He raised the knife, placing the tip against the man's crotch.
He paused as the man's eyebrows flew upwards in disbelief. Harry began to slowly apply pressure. It wasn't nice to be doing this, but he needed answers. It took fifteen seconds of slowly increasing pressure before the man began to nod frantically. Harry removed the knife and the chief spoke in an angry but resigned voice.
"Cabinet by the window...inside map of London."
Harry released him, picking up his wand in his right hand as he did and aiming it at Carter's chest. The chief didn't know the situation with Harry's magic, so it was enough of a threat.
"Get it for me!"
Carter shot him a glare and then climbed shakily to his feet. He crossed the room to the cabinet under the window slowly. Kneeling down by the cabinet, he opened the door. Inside on the top shelf were several large, rolled-up maps. Each was labelled with the name of a major city. Carter picked up the London one and tilted it. Sure enough, out the end slid a small bottle of greyish liquid. Eureka!
"I needed it for my investigation," he said, holding up the bottle. "How I can run a security team if I can't learn from my mistakes. They take everything."
"This is the night of the fire?" he asked. "I have been through your desk Mr. Carter, I know where you live. Think very carefully before you try to pull a quick one."
"This is the right night," replied the chief, quickly glancing at the drawer, which housed the picture of his daughter. His eyes became wide as he saw that the drawer had indeed been opened.
"Give it to me," instructed Harry, feeling a bit guilty but sticking to his decision. He'd come too far to back out now, not when the answers were right in front of him.
Harry kept the wand in his right hand aimed at the chief, and extended his left. Carter held out the bottle to him. Excellent. Harry reached for the bottle, but as his fingers touched it Carter's other hand clamped over Harry's left arm, pulling him forward and swinging his other arm in a clothesline. Harry instinctively ducked, but Carter still held his arm. The older man yanked him back, nearly pulling his already injured arm out of its socket. Harry managed not to cry out, but was forced back into Carter's firing line. With an awesome display of strength, Carter's hand clamped over Harry's neck. He picked Harry up and, running forward, slammed him hard against the wall, holding him a foot off the ground by his neck. Harry's hand clamped over Carter's wrist to stop him from choking the life out of him, but he was too strong.
"Now, boy," sneered Carter angrily. "You will answer me. Who are you?" He reached up and pulled Harry's hood down, exposing his face. "I said, who are you?" he repeated when Harry didn't answer – not that he could with Carter's hand around his throat.
At least he didn't recognise me, thought Harry as he struggled to break free.
It was an underhand move, but it was all Harry could think of to do. With monumental effort, he brought his knee up hard into Carter's groin. The chief roared in pain, but did not let go. Again, Harry's knee assaulted the family jewels and he felt the grip slacken. Reaching up, he grabbed the vase of flowers off the cabinet and raised it high above his head. The vase came crashing down on Carter's head with all Harry's strength, shattering and spilling water everywhere. Lilies rained down on the pair of them. Harry felt his grip slacken as Carter crashed into unconsciousness.
"Sweet dreams," muttered Harry bitterly, stepping over the body and picking up the bottle with the recording in it. He looked back at the remains of the office, every bone in his body aching from the confrontation. So much for leaving no evidence, he thought with a groan.
He glanced back down at Carter who was lying in a pool of soaked carpet covered in bits of vase and flowers. Hopefully he'd be okay. Harry pulled the scarf off from around his neck and quickly wiped down where he had laid his hands, removing fingerprints. That done, he turned to leave.
It took another ten seconds to slip back into the monitoring room. Harry stepped over the fallen guard and poured the contents of his bottle into the grey bowl in the centre of the desk. In front of him a new bubble appeared on the viewing screen. Harry reached out and touched it instinctively. Instantly it grew larger, taking up the whole screen.
The screen showed the old Long Term ward, as if Harry was standing above the doors. The old room was similar to the way it was now, but not as bright. What was now white had once been dark stone. There were twelve beds, six on each side of the room and most of them were occupied. The only ones that had their curtains drawn were the two at the end. Lockhart could be seen in the third bed on the left, signing photographs. Just then he looked up, directly at Harry, or in truth, at the orb. He glanced around to make sure that there was no one around and then stood up. He put his hands in his pockets and walked casually, though he looked even more suspicious, away from the bed towards the middle of the room.
Harry almost laughed as Lockhart picked up a potted plant and, holding it in front of him, walked towards the door. What a disguise, thought Harry. As he watched, Lockhart disappeared beneath the orb and out into the corridor beyond view. That stupidity had saved his life, Harry realised. Just then, two figures entered the room and headed over to the far two beds on the right hand side. Harry felt a shiver run down his spine and his stomach tense. It was himself! He was actually looking at himself in another universe.
Now he knew why his claim of being from another world had been so hard to accept for those he had told in the Unholy Land. It was just…weird. Also, looking at the other Harry, he could see why Katie was so suspicious of him. Always on the skinny side, this Harry was chubbier than he'd ever been, and his hair was longer and scruffier. But that wasn't the biggest difference though. The main difference that Harry could see was his posture. The Harry on the monitor carried himself with slumped shoulders, his head bowed forward like the world had defeated him. He looked so helpless, so beaten, a complete contrast to how Harry himself walked. If only Harry had seen this earlier, he might have been able to blend in more affectively...
Harry stared at the figure on the screen, a curious shiver running down his spine, as if someone had walked over his grave. Was this the feeling he would get when he finally encountered the Harry from the Unholy Land? This Harry was harmless, not a monster and not the Dark Knight. Harry quickly thrust the thought from his mind. It was not the time to worry about what might happen in the future, he was interested in the past here.
On the screen, Harry was accompanied by McGonagall who walked a few paces behind him. As they parted the curtains to enter, Harry caught a brief glimpse of the beds, but no sign of his parents. Instead another man stepped out, a healer by the look of him, dressed in the turquoise green uniform they always wore. He spoke to Harry and McGonagall, shaking the latter's hand. They held a brief conversation for a few seconds and Harry wished the recording has sound. As it was, he could only guess what was being said. After a few seconds, the healer guided Harry inside behind the curtain. McGonagall on the other hand turned to leave.
Nothing much happened for the next minute or so. There was general movement from those around the ward, but curtains prevented Harry from seeing what was happening with his parents. Harry's eyes scanned the picture for any sign of anything that might start a fire. He didn't spot anything obviously dangerous.
Suddenly another person entered through the bottom of the image. A figure entered dressed all in black, with a cloak pulled high over his head masking his face. He moved cautiously, like a cat, and carried a box under one arm.
Harry felt another shiver run down his spin. That was the same man he had fought twice, and twice had not come out on top. It was in his manner, the way he moved, the caution of his posture. It was definitely him, though he'd never seen his face. Harry realised that his fist had involuntarily clenched. Forcing himself to relax, he turned his attention back to the screen.
The figure in black placed the box on the table in the middle of the room. A second later, the healer came out from the Potters' area, reading from a clipboard. The figure must have called to the healer, for he looked up and approached the figure in black. Harry really wished there was sound. The figure spoke to the healer for a few seconds before placing one hand on the man's shoulder and gesturing to an empty bed. The man led the healer towards the bed and drew the curtains around them. There was stillness in the room for nearly thirty seconds before the figure in black immerged from the curtains, this time moving at top speed. He crossed to the box he had left on the table and opened it. Harry was suddenly aware that the Healer had not come out of the curtains. As Harry watched, the figure in black finished fiddling with whatever was in the box. Leaving it in place, he quickly headed for the door. There was stillness for a few seconds, and then a flash before sudden darkness. The image disappeared, leaving the room and Harry in darkness.
"The orb was destroyed," he said aloud to no one in particular. "It was a bomb."
Riddle had said it was a fire, but it wasn't, it was an attack. He thought his parents had died in an accident, but they hadn't. It was murder, and to make matters worse, they were murdered by the same person who had twice beaten Harry.
I had him, he thought bitterly. I had him and I let him go.
The word was repeating over and over in his mind. This was not an accident.
Sudden comprehension dawned. He realised that his parents and his other self had not been murdered for a purpose. They had been collateral damage. The real target was the healer – that was who the killer had been interested in, not him and not his parents. They just happened to be there, in the wrong place at the wrong time. Whoever the man in black was, he had been willing to kill a whole ward of innocents just to remove one Healer.
Harry felt a flush of rage.
This put a new spin on everything, but what made it worse was Riddle. The Order knew all about this incident, knew that it was murder not an accident, because Shacklebolt was in charge. Riddle had sat him down and told him that his parents had died in a fire when he knew all along that it was murder. Why hadn't the son-of-a-bitch told him? They were his parents – he had a right to know.
Harry stood glowering in the darkness, imagining Riddle sitting opposite him, telling him it was all an accident.
Fire? No! It was an explosion, a bomb. Call it what it was: murder. Then again, what did he expect of Lord Voldemort? He knew better than to trust the bastard.
Harry spun round as the lights came on. Another guard was standing in the door. Harry stood blinking in the light, standing over the unconscious body of another guard.
"Freeze, you son of a bitch!"
There's another chapter for you - hope you enjoyed it. Chapters 4 and 5 were originally the same chapter, so I had to split it. Chapters 5 and 6 are already up on my Yahoo!Group. Yahoo Search for A Stranger in an Unholy Land or search for Stranger Trilogy Yahoo Group.
Harry's condition continues to worsen, leaving him completely defenceless. With little magic left, Harry's resourcefulness and loyalty are put to the test as a sneak betrays her friends. A brief holiday yields some positive results for Harry, but just as things begin to look up, disaster strikes leaving Harry with a choice.