AN: Long story short, Canon Harry gave me a lot of trouble, then life happened, then Canon Harry gave me more trouble, then I got sick and kept getting all of these lovely reviews, so I finally sat down and forced Canon Harry to cooperate (mostly). So yeah, THANK YOU for all of the input, words of encouragement, and well wishes (married life has been great). Once I got past the writer's block it felt really great to get back into this thing. It feels even better to finally be able to post the next chapter. =)

Chapter 13 – Destined Paths

I just ran into Tom. Have you seen him recently? It was amazing. I'd swear he hasn't aged a day since he left Hogwarts. Do you have any idea how he does it?

-H

Albus was frowning. He had been frowning since he had first read this strange note only minutes before. It was clear who it was from and truth be told, he was rather impressed by its subtly…

And yet, he was also curious—beyond curious about its true meaning. He had heard several accounts—from his spy, no less—that Voldemort's son bore a remarkable resemblance to the Dark Lord.

But now…

Now Albus' mind was spinning. He had always questioned Voldemort's desire for a child and now after reading what sounded like absolute certainty Albus wondered if they had been led astray.

He had some thinking to do, but he couldn't help but also smile then. It seemed a one Mr. Harry Potter wasn't such a lost cause after all.

~sSsSsSsSsSsSsSs~

The next morning, on Saturday, that particular Harry Potter woke abruptly inside his tent still located in the Forest of Dean…

I've always felt it, but now I know…

He had been awoken by a dream—the same dream which had tortured him over and over throughout the night…

We've always been alike, you and I…

It had been a dream about him and Tom Riddle…

I never needed my parents either…

But now, as Harry stared at the canvas roof above him, he wondered if it had been his dream which had jolted him awake or the heated debate which was currently going on outside of the tent.

"I am not overreacting!"

"But you are, Granger," Malfoy retorted. "I get the need for the disguises and for staying in pairs at all times, but limiting ourselves to the Muggle world? It's unnecessary."

"Tom. Riddle." Hermione argued slowly. "Harry ran into Voldemort last night. This is not negotiable."

Harry winced. Telling the others about his encounter with Riddle the night before had not been fun. Ron had thought he'd been joking at first—that's a good one, mate—but once everyone realized Harry had indeed not been joking, there had been a panicked uproar in their small alcove of the library.

Thank Merlin for Hermione's privacy charms.

"Yes, I remember," Malfoy said, "and I still maintain my position. You're overreacting. Potter was disguised."

"And besides," Zabini added, "I think you're forgetting what Potter's encounter truly was—a coincidence. A bloody weird one, yes, but a coincidence nonetheless."

"There is no such thing as a coincidence when it comes to Harry and that man!" Hermione said fiercely.

"She's right you know," Ron added.

"There's something Harry's not telling us," Hermione said. "I promise you that."

Harry winced again because Hermione's suspicions, per usual, were correct. While he had told everyone about his unfortunate encounter, he hadn't shared his bizarre reaction to both Riddle and the diadem. Ron and Hermione had already been so freaked out; he hadn't had it in him to confess he was also somehow linked to this world's Voldemort as well…

And besides, Harry was currently hoping it wouldn't matter anyway. Not when they were only trying to work a way home.

"And what exactly is it you think Potter's hiding?" Malfoy asked.

Not wanting to hear Hermione's thoughts on the matter, Harry decided it was time to join in. "Nothing," he said loudly, sitting up in bed. "I'm hiding nothing."

Silence met his words then Hermione's head popped through the front flap of the tent.

"Harry," she said, her cheeks were pink. "You're awake."

"That I am." He smiled at her then in hopes she would understand that he wasn't upset. She exhaled and smiled in return. "What time is it?" He added, slipping on his shoes.

"Quarter past nine. We were just discussing possible…rules in order to keep group safe."

Harry nodded, knowing this had been coming. He followed Hermione out of the tent and for the next several minutes, helped work out the finer details of these so-called rules.

Never wander off alone. Always stay in disguise. And unless strictly necessary, stick to the Muggle world.

The rules didn't necessarily appeal to Harry and he understood Malfoy's point about the last one, but he also knew these rules, each and every one of them, were necessary. His encounter with Riddle had truly shaken him and he had no desire for a repeat, and so for the next several days, Harry followed these rules religiously.

And sure enough for the next several days the group remained encounter free—no Riddle, no Voldemort, and no Order.

This meant the group was finally able to get their bearings. They finished scanning old issues of The Daily Prophet. They bought a new wand for Ron since Dumbledore never returned his other one. But mostly, the group spent their time in Muggle London hovered over books, hoping to find a way home.

Later on, Harry would look back on this weekend and laugh. It wasn't because it wasn't necessary; it was—especially for Hermione. Accepting their plight—their inevitable involvement in this world—needed to happen slowly and only after searching for other options. Instead, Harry would laugh because the irony of it all. He would laugh over the fact that they had been searching for a way home—for a way to leave this world as it was—in a place that so clearly needed help…

The Muggle world.

Because while Diagon Alley and its magical patrons gave off feelings of normalcy, Muggle London never did. The group could barely walk a block without seeing windows boarded up. Few Muggles actually took to the streets and the ones who did were distant and jumpy. Unsolved murders filled the newspapers. And then there were the wards. If Harry had to guess, he would say the wards were the Order's doing. Who else would ward Muggles against wizards and witches? Either way, it made travelling through London interesting and incidentally also provided the group assurance that they wouldn't be found easily by their magical peers…

And yet, the wards were also a constant reminder of what was truly going on…

"They're not your responsibility," Ron told him sternly on Monday morning.

By then, Harry had taken to looking out whatever window they were sitting by and watching the Muggles walk by instead of reading whatever book was in front of him.

"I know," he said, looking away.

"Do you?" Zabini asked. When Harry didn't respond, he continued. "Look Potter, I know it's a mess out there, but—"

"But that's just it!" Harry said, finally snapping. "How is this possible?" He pointed out the window. "How is it that I have to spend my morning listening to a conspiracy theory some cabbie has about a green death ray when two days ago we walked down Diagon Alley and bought Ron a new wand without any problems whatsoever?"

"I was always against us coming here," Malfoy said, flipping a page in his book.

"Malfoy," Hermione said warningly.

"What? It was a terrible idea. Just look what it's doing to him!"

"I'm right here, you know," Harry said, annoyed.

"It's safer here for us," Hermione explained, ignoring Harry. "You know I'm right. The very reason this," she gestured out the window, "is possible is the same reason we're safe here. Wizards don't spend time in the Muggle world. They always have been and remain shockingly oblivious to its happenings. Couple that with the fact that The Prophet no longer prints actual news and it's even worse."

"Well then," Malfoy said, flipping yet another page, "I'll just hope we don't get hit by one of those green death raids then."

"Ray," Hermione said, closing her eyes. "Green. Death. Ray. And that's why we go back to the tent before dark. And why we stay in a group—"

"Minus Lovegood though, right?"

"And the wards," Hermione said forcefully, pointing her finger at Malfoy.

"Oh the wards which ward against us as well? The ones that make us sleepy or confused or hungry or wanting to go home when we have no home to go to? Those wards?"

"We have been able to work through them—all of them—as a group," Hermione explained patiently. "Most people don't have the benefit of walking around in a large group where each ward affects them—oh why am I even explaining this to you?"

"I've been wondering that myself," Ron said, glaring at Malfoy.

"We've been through all this," Hermione said, sighing. "And you're right, there are risks, but seeing as our only other viable option is being cooped up in the tent, I am willing to take them."

"Hear, hear," Ron muttered.

"And Harry," she added, causing Harry to look at her. "You're not the only one who's bothered by all of this. Trust me, it's…it's horrible, but we can't allow ourselves to lose focus over it. We don't belong here and we can't afford to forget that."

Harry stared at Hermione for a long few moments before looking back out the window. "If we don't belong here," he said, "then why are we here?"

It had been something that had been niggling at Harry for days and it felt good to finally voice it out loud.

"Harry, I don't know, but—"

"You said so yourself, Hermione—back in the forest. There's no such thing as a coincidence, not when it involves me."

Hermione laughed once. "I was talking about you and Voldemort. Not about coming to this world."

"But isn't that the same thing?" He asked, turning back to her. "He's alive in this world. And I defeated him back home. How else am I supposed to see this?"

Hermione smiled sadly at him before exchanging a brief look with Ron. "We were always going to go down this road, weren't we?"

Harry didn't say anything. He didn't want to go down this road, but he didn't see how he had any other choice. There was no obvious way home in any of the books they had read nor could he stomach leaving this world in the shape it was in. Then there was his connection to Riddle and the diadem…He couldn't stop thinking about it and wondering what it meant…

"Can we at least talk to Luna first?" Hermione said, looking defeated. "To see if she and her mother found anything? Can you at least do that for me?"

Harry nodded. There were plans already in place to meet up with Luna at The Leaky Cauldron later on that day. He was okay with putting off the inevitable for a few more hours.

As for Luna, she was the one exception to all their rules. She had a voiced a desire to stay with her family of this world and while Harry would have preferred to keep the group together, he didn't feel he had the right to deny her of her wishes—not when he understood them so acutely.

And besides, it turned out to be for the best. Selene Lovegood had access to the WIRA library that the group did not and she agreed to help them. Furthermore, having Luna stay with her parents helped convince them to keep their knowledge of the group a secret. Before then, Harry had worried the Lovegoods would somehow be the ones to give them away, but all it took was a quick explanation of Voldemort and the Order and Harry didn't have to worry any longer.

He knew the Lovegoods would keep Luna safe.

Since then, Harry had kept up with Luna via the coin every few hours—it had been charmed so only she could read or use it, but now that a few days had passed, they both agreed they needed to meet up in person.

And when the time finally came a couple of hours later, Harry was beyond relieved. Time had crawled by slowly since his outburst. He was ready for a change of scenery—for a change in company, so when Hermione suggested that only he and Ron pick up Luna, Harry readily agreed. He would have preferred to be alone, but seeing as that wasn't an option, being only with Ron was the next best thing…

"We'll figure this out, you'll see," Ron said once they were outside and alone.

Harry gave Ron a sidelong look. He had been hoping for a quiet journey—hence why Ron was his preferred company. Yet, Ron was flicking a quick Muffliato over them indicating it was going to be anything but…

"I mean, yes, this world is complete shite," Ron continued. "I'm some tosser. Hermione is dead. The Muggles are clearly scared out of their minds, but this is hardly fair to us. What about that? Surely there are loads of worlds where You-Know-Who was never defeated. Are we just expected to fix them all? Where's the sense in that?"

"I never said it made sense," Harry said quietly. "Can we drop this though? I just want to find Luna."

Ron gave him an apologetic look. "I hate putting you on the spot like this, mate, I really do, but I promised Hermione."

Harry stopped dead in his tracks and stared after Ron. "You two planned this," he said in realization. "We've known we were meeting up with Luna since last night."

Ron turned around, his expression serious. "You've been talking in your sleep."

Harry blinked in surprise. Then he felt the heat crawl up his face.

"And we—that is Hermione and I haven't been the only ones who've noticed. Zabini and Malfoy are getting awfully curious."

Harry swallowed. Ron didn't need to spell out the implications. He knew he only talked in his sleep when he was being tormented in his dreams by Voldemort.

And since Harry had defeated him back home, Voldemort was mostly absent from his dreams…

Until now that was…

Harry still wasn't sleeping well.

"We've been able to hold them off," Ron continued, "but I don't know how long that's going to last. You know how Malfoy is—though I can't say I particularly blame him on this one. Not when it's so obvious that there's something you're not telling us."

Harry shook his head in disbelief, anger pushing aside his embarrassment. "I already told you lot that there's nothing," he said, walking past Ron.

"Yeah and we let it go," Ron said, following behind. "We felt guilty…but now things are different."

Harry quickened his pace. The alleyway the group had deemed safe to Apparate to and from was still a block away. He had thought he had gotten out of this conversation and he still had no desire to have it.

"Why?" He challenged heatedly. "Because I'm talking in my sleep? I think I've earned the right to be a little freaked out after running into my mortal enemy's counterpart."

"Of course," Ron said. "And if that's all I thought this was, we wouldn't be having this conversation. We're having it because you seem to think you owe this world something."

"I never said—"

"Harry, listen to me. It's been obvious for awhile now. You haven't been yourself and you haven't exactly been enthusiastic about finding a way home."

"That's not fair, just because I don't think we're going to find a way home in those books doesn't mean I don't want it to happen."

"Maybe, but let me ask you this. If Fawkes appeared right now, right in front of us and offered to take us home, would you? Would you leave here?"

Harry rolled his eyes. "That's not going to happen, Ron."

"And why not?" Ron retorted. "You're the one who's convinced Fawkes brought us here—you and Luna and Zabini. Maybe we are going about this the wrong way. Maybe we need to be storming Dumbledore's office and demanding that Fawkes bring us back."

Harry sighed, wary.

"But let me guess," Ron continued, "that's not going to happen either because you don't think it would work."

"No I don't," Harry conceded.

"I don't get it, Harry. Help me understand. What changed? A few days ago I witnessed you tell Dumbledore that you didn't want to get involved. You pushed away your parents for the same reason. And I know for a fact that you thought that phoenix story was complete bollocks when you first heard it."

Harry nodded. It was all true…except for the bit about his parents. It was more than not getting involved; he also had to protect them…

"And now you're acting like another Prophecy has been handed out to you." Harry winced at Ron's words. "And since you seem like you need to hear it, Fawkes bringing us to this world doesn't mean a damn thing. Hell, I don't care if there were another Prophecy, it still wouldn't matter. Do you know why? Because you didn't defeat Voldemort because of a Prophecy, Harry. You defeated him because he killed your parents."

Harry swallowed.

"You defeated him because the bastard wouldn't leave you alone, because he was ruining our world, and because you had that bloody awful connection with him. The Prophecy didn't matter in the end because you would have gone after him anyway. And none of these reasons exist in this world."

They had finally reached the alleyway, but neither of them made a move to Apparate. Ron's words had given Harry a new sense of clarity and he knew what he had to do.

"You're right," he said.

Ron looked stunned. "I am?" Then he laughed. "Merlin, Hermione had me convinced you'd be impossible to talk sense into. She still thinks something happened with Riddle that you weren't telling us and—" Ron stopped as he caught sight of Harry's expression. "Harry? She is wrong, isn't she?"

Harry shook his head. "Something did happen—not just with Riddle, but with the diadem too. I…" he hesitated. Ron already looked horrified and Harry couldn't bear to look at him. He dropped his gaze to the ground and took a deep breath. "I don't know what it was exactly, but I definitely felt something."

"What are you saying? The Horcrux, it…oh shit, your dreams—"

Harry shook his head again. "It's different than before. I'm actually pretty sure that I'm talking in my sleep because I am so freaked out because it wasn't a mental connection. It was more of a physical one. I didn't feel it until I grabbed the diadem or until Riddle grabbed my shoulder."

"He touched you?" Ron said indignantly.

Harry couldn't help but laugh. "Yeah, and Ron," he said, looking back up. "I know he felt it too and it wasn't like it was back home with the Horcrux. I didn't feel scared or angry or unsure of myself like I did when wearing that necklace. It was…it felt nice. It calmed me down. It made me feel…" complete, though Harry couldn't quite say that last word out loud.

Ron looked like he was going to be sick. "Harry," he said slowly. "I know what I said about the Prophecy and having reasons and having a connection to You-Know-Who, but this connection…it still doesn't mean anything, okay? If anything it means we need to get out of this world as fast as bloody possible."

Harry smiled briefly. "Don't worry. I don't want to stay here because Voldemort makes me happy."

Ron grimaced.

"I want to stay because you were right. I really meant that. I didn't destroy Voldemort because of the Prophecy. I did so because I wanted to…and I want to help this world. It just took awhile to realize that—it took running into Riddle and listening to you."

"Harry…" Ron begun, sounding pained.

"Listen. If I hadn't been there with your counterpart the other day, he would've been Kissed. There were dementors everywhere and your dad made it pretty clear that it was nothing unusual."

"Yeah, but still—"

"Then there's Dumbledore, he practically begged us to help and since when does Dumbledore beg?"

Ron sighed, but said nothing.

"And the Muggles, they're just like you said, clearly scared out of their minds. And Riddle! I'm convinced he's from the diary. It's the only thing that makes sense. And if he's comfortable enough walking around Diagon and going by Tom, it's obvious that he doesn't think anyone knows about his Horcruxes. I've already sent Dumbledore a letter, clueing him in."

"Of course you have," Ron said, shaking his head.

"I had to," Harry said. "I didn't say much, but… Look, I'm not saying we have to defeat Voldemort…I just, well we can help, can't we?—from the sidelines? And if it also helps us then it's a win-win. We'll be back home and I'll be able to sleep at night knowing we didn't leave this world a complete mess."

Ron was still shaking his head. "I'm not going to be able to talk you out of this, am I?"

"'Fraid not," Harry said ruefully.

Ron sighed again. "I guess the only thing left to do then is to help you convince the others."

"Really?" Harry said, a smile forming.

"Hermione won't be happy, of course, but she'll come around. Luna and Zabini—they shouldn't be too hard seeing as they already believe that ruddy story. And Malfoy, well, he'll be outnumbered, won't he? He'll have no choice."

Harry's smile widened, he was grateful. The burden he had been feeling the past few days already seemed to be lifting. He no longer felt confused and he no longer felt trapped.

"Just…promise me one thing," Ron said then. "Promise me you won't go off hunting for Horcruxes, not when you…"

"I promise," Harry said sincerely. "Trust me. I don't want to get anywhere near those things."

Ron exhaled, relieved. "Good. That's…I'm going to hold you to that."

"I know."

Ron smiled minutely, and then he clapped his hands together, dissipating any tension left between them. "Should we go find Luna then and tell her the good news? Poor Hermione has been stuck with Zabini and Malfoy for far too long."

Harry held out his arm for Ron to grab. "I don't know," he said, his tone teasing. "Knowing her, I'm almost more worried about them."

"Oi," Ron said, grabbing Harry's arm. "That's my girlfriend you're talking about."

"Yeah and remind me sometime to give you shit for carrying that Deluminator around in case you two lovebirds ever got separated."

Ron flushed, turning a deep shade of scarlet. "Shut up, Harry."

Harry laughed, feeling even lighter than before, and Apparated them away.

Once inside The Leaky Cauldron, Harry spotted Luna right away. She was waving at them from the booth closest to the Apparition point, the table where they had agreed to meet. Her hair was blue, she was wearing several shawls, and her fingers were covered in rings. Her disguise reminded Harry of a blue-haired Trelawney.

"Merlin," Ron muttered next to him.

Harry, however, thought it was perfect. He approached Luna with a grin, happy to see her, but as he neared the booth, he couldn't help but be taken aback by her own expression—she clearly did not share his happiness. He greeted her uncertainly as Ron recast another Muffliato to include her.

"It's good to see you."

"Before I can say hello," she said seriously. "I have a message from my mother: She's not very happy with you."

Harry groaned. "Come on, Luna. Not you too. I've already had an earful from Ron today."

Luna's expression softened and she looked curiously towards Ron.

"He sure did," Ron said. "Harry's decided to take pity on this world and I wasn't too thrilled to hear it."

"Oh, but that's wonderful!" Luna said, her face lighting up. "I knew you'd figure it out, Harry."

Harry smiled uncertainly as Ron grumbled next to him.

"You could at least pretend to be surprised. It would make me feel better at least."

"But why?" Luna responded with her head cocked to the side. "You've known as well. All of us have. Fawkes wouldn't have brought us here if we hadn't been willing to help. Phoenixes aren't dark creatures, after all."

Ron opened his mouth, but then seemed to think better of it because he promptly closed it. He shared a baffled look with Harry instead and Harry decided to change the subject because he really did not want to examine Luna's line of reasoning.

"What's your mother upset about?" He asked.

"Oh!" Luna said, adopting a serious look again. "I knew I'd forget. We had visitors on Saturday. Your dad and the other Harry came looking for you."

"What?"

"Erm…Luna," Ron said, eyeing Harry nervously. "I think that might have been something you should've told us…uh, before now."

"I did consider it," Luna replied, "but I didn't want to worry anyone. Mum handled it just fine."

Harry palmed his face, trying not to imagine it. He had asked the Lovegoods to keep their knowledge of the group a secret—including from the Potters. It was the best thing for everyone, but he honestly felt like he was just being overly precautious. He didn't think anything would actually come of it…

But bloody hell, his dad and counterpart…were they out of their minds…?

"She did it just like you told her to," Luna continued. "She told them they were crazy, pretended to be offended, and slammed the door in their faces." Harry winced—he had been half joking when he had said that. "That being said, mum's never been fond of lying. She's not very happy about it."

Harry ran a hand through his hair, sheepish. "I…I don't know what to say. I never thought…I can't believe they actually came looking."

"They care about you, Harry. Why wouldn't they?"

Harry winced again. "It's just…it's better this way—easier."

Luna frowned. "Since when do you do what's easier?"

Her words seemed to punch him in the gut. He looked away, unable to endure her disappointment any longer. Fortunately, Ron decided to come to his rescue.

"We should go," he said, nudging Harry's side. "Tom's watching and he doesn't look pleased."

"I bet," Harry muttered. "You should have heard him tell me off the other day. Not that I looked like this, mind you, but…come on, Luna."

They made their way to the Apparition point. Both Luna and Ron grabbed Harry's arm and he Apparated them back to the alleyway. Once there though, Luna continued the conversation, much to Harry's dismay.

"There's something else you need to know, Harry. Something I only found out this morning…"

"Yeah?" Harry asked, somewhat nervously.

"My mum works with the other Harry. She didn't tell us before because she was worried you wouldn't let me stay with them if you knew."

Harry frowned, both at the information and at the correct assumption on Selene's part.

"She wanted me to tell you though, that despite being extremely upset with you that you don't have to worry. She's decided not to go into work this week."

"Bloody hell," Ron muttered. "Your mum really knows how to—wait, are you saying this other Harry works at that old research institute?"

Luna nodded. "He's a spellsmith like mum."

Ron pulled a face. "That sounds…"

"Dreadful," Harry finished for him. He too was just putting together the pieces and he couldn't imagine ever wanting to spend his life behind a desk, researching spells of all things.

Ron pulled another face. "Just wait 'til Hermione hears this."

Harry groaned. "She doesn't have to know."

"No such luck, mate. I'm just happy it's not me."

"Some friend you are," Harry said. "I'm never going to hear the end of this."

"Mum thinks you'd be brilliant at it," Luna chimed in. "I was telling her about some of your adventures. She says you sound wonderfully creative."

"Oh?"

Luna nodded. "She finds it fascinating because the other Harry mostly keeps to himself at work. She says he seems stressed out most of the time."

"That sounds about right actually," Ron said.

Harry decided to ignore Ron and get back to the matter at hand. "Surely she doesn't have to miss work though?" He said. "Won't that look a little suspicious?"

"I don't think so," Luna said thoughtfully. "She was more worried about the prospect of having to lie everyday. She's hoping you'll change your mind by the end of the week. Besides," she added brightly, "it means I'll be able to spend more time with her. She's been teaching me how to properly brew ginger. Daddy will be so pleased. Her ginger tea was always his favorite."

"Right," Harry said awkwardly, torn between guilt and amusement. He still wasn't completely convinced, but it was hard to argue with Luna when she looked so happy. "I suppose it does make me feel better."

And the thing was it really did make him feel better. He felt guilty beyond words for putting Selene Lovegood in an uncomfortable position, but he also felt relieved knowing she wouldn't be seeing his counterpart for the rest of the week because as much as Harry wanted to help this world, he still wanted to stay far away from his parents and counterpart…

It was like he had said to Ron. He wanted to help from the sidelines.

The three of them fell into a comfortable silence then. They had already left the alleyway and begun heading back to the café where Ron and him had left the others. Harry looked around, taking in the Muggle world, finally able to wonder how he was going to help this world…

He had sent that letter to Dumbledore. He had spent many moments over the weekend regretting it, but now he wondered what Dumbledore had made of it…

Did Dumbledore already know about Tom? Or had Harry truly clued him in that something else was going on? He wished he could have been more explicit, but he didn't know how secure the post owl system was…

The more Harry thought about it though, the more he was convinced that Voldemort's method of immortality was a mystery to the Order. It was the only thing that made sense to him and it worried him to no end because he really meant what he had promised Ron earlier. He had no desire to encounter any of the Horcruxes again. As far he was concerned, destroying the Horcruxes needed to be Dumbledore's job. He was alive in this world…instead the question was how to convey this information securely without going to Dumbledore directly…

And yet, Harry knew deep down that the Horcruxes and even Voldemort were the least of this world's worries…

This world had already been infiltrated by Voldemort and his ideals…The Daily Prophet and likely the Ministry too had been taken over…Dementors roamed the country-side…Muggleborns were no longer welcome or even worse, dead…And then there was a heavy air of despair amongst the Muggles—one that was difficult to shake…

And Voldemort had managed it all without most of the world even knowing he was alive…

Harry shuddered. How was he supposed to fix a world by ridding it on an evil only a handful of people knew still existed…?

One that remained firmly in the shadows…

He had no idea…

Harry was pulled out of his spiral of thoughts by Luna. She had grasped his hand and squeezed it. "Harry," she said quietly. "There are two wizards behind us."

Harry, sensing Luna's unease, resisted the urge to look behind him. Ron though, didn't share his same sense, he craned his head around.

"I don't know," he said, turning his head back around. "They look like Muggles to me. There are a lot of wards around these parts that put funny ideas in your head. Maybe we're getting close to one?"

Luna let go of Harry's hand. "One of them tried to enter my mind."

Harry's heart quickened and then he felt it too. Something was pushing at the back of his mind, wanting in, and it wasn't like Riddle's subtle gentle approach. Whoever was doing this wanted their presence known—they were looking for a fight.

Harry shoved right back.

"Ron," Harry said urgently. "Luna's right. I just felt it too. Close your mind."

"What do you—" Ron began, but then he cried out in pain. His eyes were cinched shut and Harry knew what was happening. Panicked, Harry turned around with his wand readied. Ron's Occlumency skills were only shaky at best…

"What do you want from us," Harry shouted angrily. He had flicked away Ron's Muffliato.

The two wizards grinned in unison. They were a few yards away and slowed their approach. Their wands were readied as well, but that was the only thing that gave them away. Ron was right. Unlike most wizards and witches who dressed up as Muggles, these two wizards actually managed it. Harry shuddered at the implications…

"There has been an increase in magical activity in this area over the past few days," the older of the two wizards said. Harry didn't recognize either of them. "It is our job to see why."

Harry cursed to himself. He didn't know how their magic had been traced, but he should have known that hiding in the Muggle world was too good to be true. And yet…

"No one saw us," Harry said. "What gives you the right to go poking around in our heads?"

"Clause four of the Code of Casting in Non-Magical Regions," the younger wizard replied. "Trained ministry personnel have the right to use any means necessary to discover the caster's intentions."

"What kind of rubbish law is that?" Ron said incredulously.

"It was created to ensure the safety of our world," the older wizard replied coolly. "Muggles and those who choose to interact with them impose a great risk to our future. Something which any self-respecting witch or wizard knows."

Harry was speechless. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. The prejudice nature of this world's wizarding laws was overwhelming and this was just another example to add to the list. But more importantly, these two men were from the Ministry and Harry could not afford to be questioned or captured by them…

"So tell me," the older wizard continued, "what is your business with these Muggles?"

Harry didn't say anything. He knew there were Muggles watching, he could feel their curious eyes on them, but he didn't care. He needed magic to save him and his friends…

He sliced his wand upwards, producing a shield to protect his friends. Then he Apparated, directly behind the two wizards and Stunned them with two quick jabs.

Behind the shield, Luna and Ron were staring at him in surprise.

"Harry," Ron said weakly as Harry waved the shield away. "The Muggles…"

There were indeed Muggles watching. He could see several faces between the curtains of windows. A small group had stopped across the street. A woman had even screamed…

"It doesn't matter," Harry said dismissively, approaching the two men. He examined them and pocketed their wands. "We need to move quickly before the Obliviators come. Do either of you recognize them?"

Luna shook her head. Ron shrugged.

"He looks familiar," Ron said, pointing towards the older one, "but I couldn't give you a name. Malfoy would probably know."

"Right," Harry said, standing. He pointed his wand at the two wizards again and shot off another spell—Obliviating their minds of their encounter.

"We should go," Luna said. "That spell isn't going to do much good. Everyone's still watching."

Harry sighed. She was right. Then again, he had only wanted to escape. Having to change their disguises was only a minor inconvenience at best. He was about to leave—about to return to the rest of the group when something stopped him. Maybe it was Luna's last words…or maybe it was seeing the scared faces of the Muggles for himself…

But a thought occurred to him—a thought of how he could help…

He bent back over the two wizards and pushed up the left sleeves of their robes. The younger wizard's arm was unblemished, but the arm of the older wizard was a different story. On it was a familiar mark—a mark that should have been faded if Voldemort had been truly dead.

"Of course," Ron muttered in disgust.

Harry only nodded. He worked quickly, magically tearing off the offending sleeve. He then bound the two men together, placed a small ward around them to ensure no Muggles would disturb them, and placed a note on the older man's chest.

It wasn't much, but it was a start.

~sSsSsSsSsSsSsSs~

Confusion overwhelmed Harry as he slowly came to. His head was throbbing, the surface beneath him was cold and hard, and he could hear a man speaking somewhere nearby.

"…You must forget about this Vernon. We must go forward as planned."

'Vernon,' Harry thought groggily, trying to open his eyes. He had an uncle named Vernon…

"But you did not feel this man's power," a second—more familiar sounding man argued. "You did not—"

"Silence," the first man hissed. "Our young guest has awoken."

Then Harry felt his body lift off the ground and as it did, so did Harry's confusion. His afternoon, day, weekend, and the few days before came rushing back to him with startling clarity. He remembered his counterpart and his frustrating unwillingness to meet. He remembered overhearing his parents and the Prophecy. And he remembered running and Tom…

So when Harry opened his eyes, his body then fully suspended upright in the air, he had a good idea of just who he would see.

Lord Voldemort.

And he was right. Harry had never seen the man before, not even in pictures, but it wasn't necessary. The crimson eyes were a dead give away.

"Harry Potter," Voldemort murmured. He gripped Harry's chin and examined his face. "You were a barely a fly worth swatting, but my, have you managed to become interesting."

Harry swallowed. He was terrified, of course he was, but finally meeting his enemy felt more surreal than anything else. Voldemort had always lived in the stories of the older generation of the Order…

Not in Harry's…

He didn't know if he was ready for this…

Desperate, he tried to remember Moody's advice to him when he had become an Order member if he ever were to get caught… It had mostly consisted of mantras of, "stay calm," and "don't get caught in the first place," which weren't particularly helpful to him given his current situation, but he also vaguely remembered Moody going on about being aware of his surroundings and using them to his advantage…

He tore his gaze away from Voldemort and looked around as best as he could. To his surprise, he seemed to be in a dimly lit sitting room. The room's main source of light came from a wide fireplace to Harry's right and near it, sat Tom, Harry's capturer. He was in a high-backed armchair with an unreadable expression on his face…

Then Harry did a double-take because the resemblance between Tom and his father was both strange and uncanny. Tom was merely a younger—warmer version of his father. His skin wasn't as pale or smooth, his eyes weren't red, but the resemblance was unmistakable…Harry had spent his whole life hearing how much he looked like own his father, but it was nothing compared to this…

The grip on Harry's chin tightened. "Tell me," Voldemort continued smoothly. "How is that dear mother of yours doing?"

Harry glared, his attention now solely on Voldemort, all thoughts of uncanny resemblances and surroundings forgotten.

"She can't hide forever, you know."

"Don't you touch her," Harry growled.

Voldemort tsked as he released Harry's chin. "That won't be necessary, I'm afraid. You should see the list of volunteers."

"You will never find her," Harry spat. He wanted to hit and throttle and punch, but his hands were bound behind his back. "Do you hear me? Never."

Voldemort grinned then. His smooth features were eerie in the room's glow. "Oh how I've missed this," he said to Tom over his shoulder. "These Order members have always been so easy to rile up."

Tom smiled briefly before taking a sip of the drink he had been holding loosely in one hand. "So you've told me."

"However," Voldemort said, bringing his attention back to Harry. "You shouldn't waste your energy worrying about your mother, Harry. Not when she's safe and you're here with me."

"What do you want from me," Harry said low.

And yet, Harry already knew. His counterpart had warned him, after all…

"Draco Malfoy," Voldemort replied. "His own mother saw you grab him and Apparate away from Diagon Alley on Friday afternoon. I want you to explain why."

Harry steadied himself. This was one lie he had prepared during his sleepless nights after receiving his counterpart's warning. Despite being terrified, he was ready.

"There's not much to explain," Harry begun. "That wasn't Draco Malfoy. It was an Order spy. Dumbledore never informed me of the purpose of the mission. I was only tasked to bring my fellow Order member to safety when it was clear he was being followed."

Voldemort studied him before speaking again. "Lucius will be pleased to hear he was correct."

Harry nodded once, not daring his luck.

"You see," Voldemort continued, "the real Draco Malfoy was in France on Friday."

Harry nodded again. He had already known this fact.

"In fact, he had been in France for several days, so you can imagine Mrs. Malfoy's surprise when he unexpectedly…showed up on Thursday. She was delighted, of course, but it was short lived because she quickly realized that it wasn't actually her son. This worried her, but more so, it perplexed her because there are dozens of wards surrounding Malfoy Manor protecting against unwanted intruders—including Order spies."

Harry swallowed, dread creeping up his spine.

"She notified Lucius immediately and in turn he notified me. I instructed them to not give themselves away and to gather more information. Mrs. Malfoy kept a close watch on the young man and placed a Tracking charm on him. When he left the Manor on Friday, she followed him, only to watch you snatch him away."

Harry stared at Voldemort and against his better judgment, he spoke. "Why are you telling me this?"

"Because I want you to understand how much I value Mrs. Malfoy's opinion on this matter. She spent the most time with this young man, after all. And while your presence in this mystery solidified Lucius' belief that this man was a spy despite the Manor's numerous wards, Mrs. Malfoy did not share this opinion." Voldemort leaned forward then and dropped his voice to a whisper. "And nor do I," he said into Harry's ear.

Harry jerked his head away. "I already told you what I know."

"You and I both know there is more to this story," he responded, leaning back. He then gripped Harry's chin again, forcing Harry to meet his cold gaze. "Who was the girl?"

Harry tried to turn his head away, but Voldemort's grip only tightened.

"And why would Dumbledore waste his time and resources spying on such a minor player?"

"I told you," Harry bit out. "I was never told the purpose of the mission. I was only following orders."

Voldemort let out a laugh. "That old fool must love you."

"And like your followers are any different," Harry snapped back.

Voldemort smiled, amused. "You're right," he said, nodding once. "And yet, unlike you," he added, his smile growing feral, "my followers know how to lie."

And before Harry could retort, the most excruciating pain he had ever felt ripped through his mind. Images of memories raced before his eyes before being quickly discarded, both by himself trying fruitlessly to protect his mind and by Voldemort who had deemed them worthless.

Sitting with Neville at the Tickled Toad.

Flying with his brother, Jude.

Lying in bed, perfecting his lie.

Each memory tossed away caused Harry more and more pain. He cried out after what felt like only seconds.

"Show me," Voldemort hissed in the periphery. "Show me what I want to know."

Harry cried out again as another sharp jab of pain shattered the front of his mind. He felt his resolve slip. Dread and panic now dominated every nerve in his body as he realized he couldn't do what he needed to do…

"No you can't," Voldemort murmured, whether out loud or in Harry's mind, Harry didn't know. "But you can end the pain. Just show me."

Then another memory surfaced. He was standing with Dorcas in her flat, watching Diagon Alley below…

'What is he doing back already?' Dorcas was muttering.

'Who?' Harry watched himself ask.

'Malfoy! There! At Fortescue's. He's not supposed to come back from France until tomorrow morning. How is he here?'

"No!" Harry cried out, vanishing away the memory, but it was too late. He could feel Voldemort's glee through their connection.

"That's it, Harry," Voldemort encouraged. "I already knew he wasn't a spy. Now just show me the rest…"

"Dorcas…" Harry panted. "She wasn't aware… of the mission…"

There was a burst of red light then and instant debilitating pain. Every nerve ending in Harry's body was screaming for death. When it ended moments later, Harry could feel a tear running down his face.

"I am a patient man," Voldemort said coldly, "but I do not tolerate being lied to. I have all night, but it's up to you whether or not you spend it in pain."

Harry couldn't help it, he let out a choked sort of sob and then another memory of Dorcas surfaced.

'Quit complaining. I don't care how you feel about Occulmency, if you want to play a role in this war you need to learn it. You do not want to be the one who gives away our plans to the other side…"

Harry's nerves were still on fire and he could still feel Voldemort's presence on the outskirts of his mind, but he let Dorcas' words wash over him…

She had been right…

And currently, failing meant so much more than revealing plans or even Malfoy's true identity…Failing meant revealing his counterpart—failing meant letting this world down…

Again.

Harry knew too much. He knew about the Prophecy and what his counterpart had done—what he himself could have been capable of, destroying the very man in front of him. Despite being beyond frustrated with his counterpart, Harry had to protect his presence at all cost…

It didn't matter that his counterpart had expressed no interest in helping this world…Harry could only hope he was going to change his mind…why else would he have been brought here?…And Harry hated thinking this, he really did, but it was also obvious to him that this world's Prophecy was far beyond the point of coming true…

Harry knew—he felt it with every fiber of his being—that if there was any hope for this world, it was his counterpart and that he, Harry had to keep him a secret.

The question was, how? He knew he couldn't completely close his mind—he'd always been rubbish at it—so instead he flooded it with memories, hoping to drown Voldemort out. He thought of Quidditch and work and his days back at school…

Unfortunately, Voldemort seemed undisturbed by the onslaught. He hummed and stood among Harry's memories, watching them swirl around him…

"You've led a good life, Harry," he said, eyeing a particular memory of Harry and Sirius with interest. "There's no denying that. And you've continued to lead this life despite me being in power for the last several years now. And yet, you still choose to defy me. Why?"

Unable to help it, images of his mother bloomed inside of Harry's mind. She was smiling and laughing and yelling at him to be nicer to Jude…

"Yes, of course, your mother, but is she the only reason you fight? Surely there is a better reason."

Harry gasped as another wave of pain coursed through him. "She's my mother."

"But don't you see? If she is the only reason you fight then a deal can be made."

Shivering, Harry opened his eyes. Voldemort smiled encouragingly.

"You're not a fighter, Harry. That much is obvious from your memories, but what choice did you have with your parents being who they are…"

Harry cinched his eyes shut, ashamed of being so obvious…

"Don't worry. You're not the only one I've wondered about. Your father and his friends—

Harry shook his head. "My father hates you."

"Your father comes from a once prominent pure-blood family and your grandparents' feelings toward me were neutral at best. He may hate me, but I still question his motives."

Harry didn't say anything. He desperately wanted to, but he couldn't. His father had always said his mother had made him into the man he was today…

"Your mother, Harry, is an exception. Surely you must see this by now. If muggleborns were meant to be a part of our world then they wouldn't have been wiped out so easily. Your mother, however, has proven herself. She is powerful despite her lineage and if you cooperate—if you tell me what I want to know, I am willing to look the other way. I am willing to spare her."

Hearing the words—imagining his mum's freedom—made temptation roll through Harry. The temptation made his resolve slip and his flood of memories began to thin…

Then there was his mother, elated and wild, gesturing widely in the sitting room of Harry's safe house…

Gesturing towards Malfoy and Lovegood…

"No," Harry said desperately, realizing what was about to happen—realizing what Voldemort had just manipulated him into doing… "NO!"

But it was too late. His mother had already spoken before Harry could whisk her away…

"Don't you see?! These two are from another world!"

And for the next several moments, Harry could only hear the sound of his own heavy breathing. His mind felt numb and empty—his desperation finally succeeding in pushing Voldemort out.

"What is it?" Tom asked and Harry could hear his approach, his curiosity had been piqued. "What did you find out?"

"Something…unexpected," Voldemort replied slowly. "It appears that was indeed no Order spy, but rather a Draco Malfoy from another world. As was the young woman we have yet to identify."

Harry kept his eyes shut. He had failed.

"And you believe this?" Tom said.

"Yes. You should have felt how forcefully he just pushed me from his mind."

"That only means he believes it."

"And Dumbledore," Voldemort responded softly. "Isn't that right, Harry?"

Harry didn't say anything, but his silence seemed answer enough.

"We need to speak with Rookwood. Tonight," Voldemort continued. "I need to understand how this could have happened."

"Rookwood can wait," Tom replied. "We have all the answers we need right in front of us. Why else would he bother protecting the identities of a Draco Malfoy and a strange woman from another world?"

Harry shook his head even though he knew it was fruitless. He then felt a hand grip his chin, but it was different than before. It was surprisingly cold. It belonged to Tom.

"You were a mess when I found you," Tom said, looking Harry in the eye. "I didn't think much of it before, but now I have to wonder if it had something to do with this."

Harry shook his head minutely. "It didn't."

Tom's dark eyes narrowed. Then Harry felt the tip of a wand dig into his chest. "I suggest you remember what we said. We have all night and we do not tolerate lies."

Harry let out a small breathless laugh then because the irony was, he hadn't been lying. Not really.

Learning of Malfoy's and Lovegood's identities—or hell, even of his own counterpart's identity—had hardly been the reason he'd ended up trapped in that bathroom of The Tickled Toad…

The reasoning behind that had been far more upsetting…

And that's when he realized he hadn't completely failed—not yet. There was still hope.

"You may have pushed me out," Voldemort said smoothly. He had left his position behind Tom and was now slowly circling around Harry. "But your mind and defenses are growing weaker. It's only a matter of time before I gain entrance again. Your secrets will be mine and I don't care if I have to tear your mind to shreds to get them. Now ask yourself, Harry, is protecting two people who aren't even from our world really worth loosing your mind and sanity over?"

Fear now seemed to consume every ounce of Harry's body. He could feel it so acutely. It gripped his heart and made his skin itch—almost as if it were trying to free itself of Harry himself.

And yet…

Voldemort's threat hadn't brought on this fear. Instead, with the realization that he hadn't completely failed came the realization of what he must do…

Because Voldemort was right…Harry was weak…it was only a matter of time…

But if Harry did this right, then there was still hope of protecting his counterpart…

There was still hope of saving this world…

"You're right," Harry said, pushing away the fear. "It isn't, especially because it doesn't matter anyway. It was never going to happen here."

Tom's dark eyes narrowed again. He then exchanged a look with Voldemort who had stopped somewhere behind Harry's right shoulder. "Explain," Tom said.

"A few days ago," Harry began hoarsely, "I received a letter from Draco Malfoy requesting that I meet with him. I was, what I hope is understandably, confused."

Tom inclined his head, encouraging him to continue.

"I met with him—with back-up, of course. But Malfoy, he was—confused himself…desperate. I didn't understand. Then the girl showed up. I panicked and took them to my safe-house."

"And there your mother identified them as being from another world," Voldemort finished, returning to where Harry could see him. "But why?"

"This other Malfoy—he was a Death Eater in his world as well, but it was different—our interrogation set him off. He began wigging out. And the girl—she already knew. It was easier for her, you see, she…she's a muggleborn who never made it into the magical community here—Lisa something-or-other—and she helped Malfoy figured it out. And as he figured it out so did my mum."

He was rambling. Harry knew he was—he always did when he was lying. And yet, Voldemort didn't seem to have noticed, instead, he had focused on one small detail.

"Was a Death Eater? One does not leave my ranks. Not in this world, nor in the next."

Seizing his chance and his courage, Harry looked straight into Voldemort's eyes. "They do if you're dead."

Voldemort's nostrils flared. Harry should've been scared, but he was feeling braver and braver as each second passed.

"Impossible," Voldemort spat.

Harry shook his head. "Even you can die."

"Lies," Voldemort continued to spit. "I have taken precautions—assurances—"

"Ones that did not matter in this other world," Harry said harshly. "You're gone! And I was the one who killed you."

Voldemort took a step back, stunned. He was looking at Harry in a new light. The room was silent until Tom let out a laugh.

"You? You—an ordinary wizard—defeat the greatest sorcerer in history?" Tom pointed his wand at Harry. "We don't have to listen to this. Desperate men, after all, say desperate things."

Harry ignored Tom. He was still watching Voldemort whose red eyes had never left him. "Draco Malfoy came to me because in his world we're friends. Can you imagine?" Harry said. "A Death Eater friends with a blood-traitor and a Muggle-born? But it's true. He told me so right after he explained I was the one responsible for your downfall. He came to me because he trusted me. He came to me because he thought I could fix things."

Harry, of course, didn't know if this was entirely true, but he wanted it to be true so it was enough. Voldemort looked fascinated.

"Lies," Tom seethed. "Do not listen to him!"

"But you believe me," Harry said to Voldemort. "You know there is someone out there who could destroy you because a long time ago, a Prophecy was made."

"You?" Voldemort whispered.

"Me," Harry said. Then he pushed his memory of overhearing his father telling his mother the Prophecy into Voldemort's mind for good measure, careful to leave out the bits about Neville. Voldemort's eyes widened.

"Of course," Voldemort murmured. "Your father—he destroyed the Hall of Prophecies not to protect the contents of the Prophecy, but to protect his own son. How could I not see this? Love…it makes us foolish—desperate…"

"And desperate men," Harry said, glancing at Tom, "do desperate things."

Tom sneered. "Why even tell us this? You're defenseless, bound, and at our mercy. You are weak and unable to destroy a house-elf, let alone Lord Voldemort."

Harry let out a dry laugh. "Because don't you see? The Prophecy might not have come true here, but in this other world it did. And if I, an ordinary wizard managed to defeat you then some other ordinary wizard can manage it here!" Tom glared and pointed his wand directly at Harry's heart. "Go on then," Harry spat. "Kill me. But at least I'll die knowing you are no more powerful than me. You will be stopped."

Tom's mouth twitched, but then Voldemort said, "Kill you? You will not die tonight, Harry Potter."

Harry looked back to Voldemort. His features had been recomposed into a cool mask, but his eyes were roving over Harry hungrily and Harry felt his courage leave him.

"Fate has brought you to me," Voldemort said, "and despite what you say, you are no ordinary wizard."

"I…I am," Harry tried.

"No," Voldemort returned. "Dumbledore has been failing to kill me for years. There is something about you…and once you are gone…" He smiled widely and turned to Tom. "Can't you see how perfect this is?"

Tom did not seem pleased, but he gave a curt nod anyway before sitting in the same chair he had occupied earlier.

"What's perfect?" Harry asked. He couldn't help himself.

"Not only were you destined to defeat me," Voldemort replied, "but you also have the power I've been searching for."

"I told you," Harry said. "I'm—"

"Silence!" Voldemort ordered with a wave of his hand and Harry felt his voice leave him. "I know what I am saying. I've been searching for a witch or wizard with immense magical power for years and it is the real reason you are here. Your involvement in this Draco Malfoy business was merely an added benefit for bringing you in."

Harry didn't think he would be able to speak even if he could. His heart was trying to beat its way out of his chest. He knew what was coming.

"My search ended Thursday when I heard news of your Patronus. I traveled to Ottery St. Catchpole myself and secured a memory of you casting it from a Muggle before killing her. Did you know she was watching you when you cast it?" Harry shook his head, horrified. "Then I watched the memory, fascinated." And as he said it, he pushed the Muggle's memory into his mind and Harry saw his counterpart, confident, bellowing out the spell and an enormous stag erupting from the end of his wand—it was so solid it looked like a galloping statue rather than the wisps and smoke Harry often produced. Then his counterpart smiled and Harry could see why Voldemort was so fascinated. His counterpart was watching his Patronus fondly, like he was seeing an old friend—a friend he had seen many times before—like it was nothing to produce such a powerful charm…And Harry couldn't help it, his heart burned with jealousy as the memory faded. "What you can't see in that memory," Voldemort continued, "though I assure you, I collected more, is your Patronus rounding up the Dementors with ease, pushing them through the countryside, collecting another horde two towns over, and then forcing them all back to the seas of Azkaban. And that Harry is power. Do you deny it?"

Harry wanted to, but he couldn't, not without revealing his counterpart. He shook his head.

"It is this power I seek. Nearly anyone can cast a Killing Curse, but few can wield Fiendfyre and live to cast another spell—you have that potential, Harry Potter." Harry swallowed as Voldemort moved closer and leaned in to whisper into his ear again. "You may have killed me in this other world, but in this one, you will help me conquer it."

Harry didn't remember getting hit by another Stunner, but when he woke up next, he was no longer in that dimly lit sitting room. He was alone in what appeared to be a locked cell. The only light came from a single torch on the other side of the barred door.

Harry groaned. He had been so certain he would be killed, but now…Harry shuddered to think what was going to happen. He hadn't been the one to cast that Patronus—far from it—and what would happen when Voldemort figured that out…?

'He'll kill me. He'll kill me and go after him instead.'

Harry shuddered again because a selfish part of him wanted his counterpart to stay hidden. If he was hidden, then Harry would be safe…it would buy him time—or the Order—or someone to save him from whatever fate awaited him…

And yet…one could not save the world from the shadows…

The best Harry could hope for was that he had bought his counterpart some time before Voldemort went looking for him…

"You're awake."

Harry jumped. He had been too lost in his thoughts to notice a man now standing in the doorway watching him through the bars. His face was obscured by a hood.

"Who are you?" Harry croaked.

"Who I am is of little consequence. I'm merely tasked to ensure you stay alive until the Dark Lord is ready for you."

Harry laughed weakly. "Lucky you."

The man ignored him. "You are to drink the contents of that cup." He pointed to the far corner of the cell and on a small wooden table sat a small two handled cup. When the flickers of torch light reached out to it, there was a gleam of gold.

"Yeah," Harry said, trying to stand, but his legs didn't seem to want to hold him up just yet. He settled for leaning against the wall. "I think I'll pass."

"I assure you. If the Dark Lord wanted you dead, poison would not be his method of choice."

"Poison is the least of my worries," Harry muttered.

"It is a Vitality Potion," the man said, growing impatient. "See for yourself. Surely even the lowliest of Order members can identify it."

The man flicked his wand and the cup floated over to Harry and landed near his left hand. Harry didn't touch the cup, but now that it was closer he could see some sort of ornate animal engraved on its side. Inside of it was a clear ruby red liquid—the exact same color of his mother's Vitality Potion.

Harry bit his lip, tempted. Vitality Potion was a finicky potion—in fact, the Potioneer who created it a few hundred years before made it purposely finicky. Nothing extra could be added without the potion during a nasty shade of green. Nor could it be brewed or served in anything other than gold. The Potioneer did this purposely so people in need of it could drink it without worry of ill-intentions. Harry had always thought the bloke overtly paranoid, but now…

Now Harry's throat was dry…his legs didn't seem to want to work…his head throbbed…

'No,' Harry thought to himself. 'Don't even think about it.' He pushed the cup away and closed his eyes.

"Fool," the man spat. "You are just as tiresome as your father."

"I'll take that as a compliment."

Then there was a growl, a swish of a wand, and, "Imperio." And then Harry's mind was floating away, it was blissfully pain-free…

You are weak. Drink from the cup.

No…he didn't want to…

Drink from the cup.

No…but then, why not? Harry couldn't remember…

Drink from the cup.

It was simple really, drinking from a cup…and he was so very thirsty…what harm could it do…

Drink!

And then Harry did and it felt so wonderful going down. He tipped the cup up and drained it in just another gulp more.

Then there was another swish of the man's wand and Harry found himself staring at the bottom of the cup, shame now accompanying the blessed relief coursing through his body…

"Don't make me do that again."

Harry didn't say anything, he just continued to stare at the bottom of the cup and as he watched, it filled itself back to its brim, ready to be drunk from once more.