Harry slammed shut Occlumency: Clear Your Mind! Useless drivel. Not a thing in there to really help him. Suppress your emotions? Hardly applicable for him. Everything was just too close to the surface. There had to be more to it. If only he could remember. Or find the book he'd used the first time around.
And yes, at this point, Harry was even more certain than before that this whole thirteen times through the timeline was just bunk. Dumbledore had made a gamble and used the information he'd stolen from Harry's mind to form a ridiculous scenario in an effort to instill urgency and a modicum of trust.
It had failed. Spectacularly so, in fact. Harry easily recalled the cacophony that followed his rebuke of the Headmaster's story. His parents took different approaches, Lily quietly insisting on Dumbledore's truthfulness where James spluttered like an enraged bull about Harry's disrespect. Sirius and Remus rushed to two separate wrong conclusions to even things out, while Dumbledore had to quickly mask his fury behind a congenial disappointed demeanor. Like Harry would buy that.
Unfortunately his response made things rather more difficult with everyone, most especially Dumbledore. Their training sessions didn't halt like Harry had thought they would. Instead they got harder. Dumbledore began using transfiguration like a weapon and even for defense throwing newly conjured or transformed items in the paths of spells. He was so fast at it Harry couldn't get a shot in. More than once Harry had to beg for mercy and retreat hastily to Madam Pomfrey for some repairs. At least now he realized just how much Dumbledore had been toying with him.
There was so much he had to learn and not enough hours in the day in which to do it. He cursed his stupid hide for ever agreeing to a partial memory swipe. All that knowledge he'd have to relearn. Occlumency just being one thing. Had he ever learned Legilimency? He was only just discovering his ability for wandless magic. He'd used it before without thinking about it when he was angry or scared, but now when he wanted it he couldn't do it, which was ridiculous. There was also his ability to speak to Horcruxes to activate and then destroy them. How did he do that? Bits and pieces of the fight returned to him in sharp sensation, but the important parts were languishing just out of reach. It was maddening.
And where the bloody hell was the Slytherin Ring? Harry hadn't a clue how to start his search for it and it was impossible to do it anyway under Dumbledore's nose. Harry couldn't sneeze without Dumbledore saying, "Bless you."
The Chamber of Secrets was his only escape. There in the bowels of the school, surrounded by the giant snake statues and Salazar's head, did Harry find peace. Well as much peace as one could with a girl ghost trailing after him.
"Harr-eee," Moaning Myrtle sighed. "Why are we down here again? I thought we were done with this place last year once you acclimated to your animagus form."
Instead of answering her, Harry put away his Occlumency text, took out his class notes and said, "Did you know that Pansy Parkinson and Lavender Brown are in competition to see who can get me to go with them on a Hogsmeade weekend first?"
That made Myrtle glower. "Why are girls fighting over you? Over the last four years nobody noticed you but me."
"I broke an enchantment that I had somehow placed on myself as a boy."
"It's not fair," Myrtle cried.
Harry glanced up from the notes he started going over for his Potions exam Monday. "I almost wish I hadn't done it. Life would be simpler if I wasn't suddenly the center of attention."
§You do like some aspects of the attention,§ Serion chuckled. §Quidditch for instance.§
Harry scowled. §I hate it when you're right.§
"Who will you go with?" Myrtle demanded.
Harry looked up from Serion to the ghost. "Pardon?"
"Pansy or Lavender? The first Hogsmeade visit is tomorrow. Who will you go with?"
§How about that blonde girl with cutlery for earrings,§ Serion suggested curling up Harry's arm for warmth.
"Neither," Harry answered Myrtle, ignoring Serion. "Their behavior is entirely too juvenile. Besides, Pansy is betrothed to Draco and I don't need the Malfoys breathing down my neck. Lavender, I've heard is a great kisser but she shortens all the names of the blokes she dates into baby talk."
§Afraid of being ickle Hah-wee?§ Serion snickered.
Harry threw Serion a toothy grin. §Nice to have you back.§
Serion wiggled uncomfortably. §I don't know what you mean, sire.§
Harry's eyes narrowed. §That. I don't like you treating me as if I was King first and Harry second. In the other timeline you were my first talking friend and my second after Hedwig. We are friends first and foremost. Everything else is secondary.§
§Then perhaps you shouldn't have introduced yourself as my King when we re-met in this timeline.§
Harry didn't say anything as he hid a smile. The sarcasm dripping off of Serion's words was wonderful and Harry was content.
Myrtle blew a small raspberry, regaining Harry's attention. "I'm glad you're not going with either of those silly girls, but I do wish you'd stop talking in Parsletongue all the time to that snake of yours. I feel positively left out!"
"Deepest apologies, Myrtle," Harry said absently, returning to his Potions notes. He grabbed the Potions textbook Potions for Dimwits Preparing for O.W.L.s, a very Snape choice, to cross-reference the uses of Dragon's Blood. He made a correction to use number 9 as Snape had presented it falsely, something the wizard was particularly notorious for doing.
"You know Harry," Myrtle said sweetly, "I'm free tomorrow. We could go to Hogsmeade together. It would be loads of fun!"
Harry's stopped writing to give Myrtle his full attention. "Ghosts and humans can't have a relationship. It's not only physically impossible, but a ghost can't grow and change. I will eventually outgrow you Myrtle. You will think me old and one day I will think you're too young."
Myrtle's eyes welled and she started sniffing loudly. "Just because I'm a ghost, doesn't mean I don't have feelings!" she wailed.
"I value your friendship too much to damage it with a silly romantic relationship neither of us will want in the not so distant future."
"I don't care! I love you!"
Harry closed his books and shuffled his notes into a neat order and put everything way in his bag. Serion crawled up his arm to rest along his shoulders, giving a light squeeze as he settled into place for support.
Moaning Myrtle kept howling. Harry took his glasses off and rubbed his nose before replacing them. He slung the strap of his bag over his shoulder and stood, purposefully walking through the weeping girl toward the door. The sensation was unpleasant for both of them and it shut her up immediately.
"Why did you do that, Harwee?" she hiccupped, her voice sounding as stuffy as her nose.
"To remind you of the truth," Harry replied calmly. "It's entirely up to you now. I would like us to remain friends but if I must lose you I will survive. I'm famous now and people notice me. I can replace you. Eventually you would recover from this infatuation of yours and revert to your usual ways."
"That's harsh, Harry," Myrtle sniffed, her eyes still welling with tears.
"I will not pander to you," Harry returned, heading out of the Chamber. "You're not incapable of rationality. I will talk to you soon. By then I trust you will have decided how we shall precede, yes?"
The day of the Hogsmeade visit started nicely enough. The sun was shining. The birds were being killed by the Whomping Willow when they got too close. The giant squid was circling the Great Lake waving as students passed. Aurors patrolled the pathway, chatting with students and keeping a sharp eye out for Death Eaters. And then Harry found himself surrounded by his family the minute he stepped away from the front gates.
James draped an arm over Harry's shoulders and steered him forcefully down the path, while Sirius talked nonstop about the latest International Quidditch match between the Australian Wollongong Warriors and the Lithuanian Gorodok Gargoyles. Lily and Remus walked quietly beside the others, though Lily's posture was anxious and her glance kept darting over to Harry.
Serion was wrapped about his arm, hidden by his robes. Very softly he said, §Shall I bite your father's hand?§
Harry shook his arm in a manner similar to shaking one's head no as he was unable to speak Parsletongue in front of his family. That was something he kept hidden. It was his secret and nobody needed to know it… especially anybody with as questionable motives as those in his so-called family.
Once in Hogsmeade, Harry looked longingly at the hordes of students scampering off to enjoy the multitude of shops. He saw Draco enter the Boggart Barbershop for Boys with his goons and Luna skip into the Quibbler headquarters to visit her father. Hermione exited the Scrivenshaft's Quill Shop and gave him a shy wave, which he returned happily, his dark mood lifting slightly until he saw Ernie Macmillan approach her and whisk her off to The Three Broomsticks. Lily gently questioned Harry's scowl but he brushed her off.
His attitude at first dissuaded the others, but then Remus took over. His steady influence and pointed conversation gave the others a few minutes to collect themselves before rejoining the conversation with renewed determination. Harry sighed unhappily as they entered the Hogshead Tavern next to the Warty Inn.
"I was thinking this year for Christmas we could take a holiday," Lily began hesitantly after everyone got their Butterbeers and Firewhiskies.
Her pussyfooting annoyed Harry and made him snappish. "Then go, you don't need my approval. I can stay at Hogwarts as usual."
"The whole point would be for us to reconnect as a family," Lily returned, a little fire entering her voice.
Harry glowered. "Since we have we ever been that?"
"Don't talk like that to your mother," James growled, slamming his mug down on the scarred table. "We've all made mistakes, but your attitude is unhelpful."
"I think you will find Germany very pleasant and educational," Remus inserted taking a drink from his sickly yellow concoction. "Zauberin is like Hogsmeade, devoted entirely to wizards."
Something inside Harry stilled. He thought he recognized the name, but its importance he couldn't quite catch. That tickle of memory was enough to alert him that this was something important. To keep suspicions away he asked neutrally, "And why is it so important?"
"It was where Grindelwald set up shop," James replied, sending Lily a sly look.
Harry nodded thoughtfully. "You're right that sounds like it could be interesting. What are the plans for this trip? Will we all be going? Sirius and Remus too?"
Sirius barked, "Of course! I wouldn't miss it!"
"I've always wanted to go and this was the first time I could," Remus said smiling at his friend and Harry's parents. "It'll be nice to go with friends."
"Great. I always wanted to go out of the country," Harry returned. "When do we leave?"
They all took that as an encouraging sign. Harry laughed to himself thinking, let the Dumbledore propaganda begin. While they tried to get him to look upon Dumbledore with trust and awe, Harry would search for the Horxcrux he was fairly positive was there. It was just a matter of where. He better get cracking on brushing up his Grindelwald history, something told him that was important.
End Chapter 5.