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A Stranger in the Promised Land Chapter II (part1)  

2009-07-17 13:14:24|  分类: HP转载 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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A Stranger
in the
Promised Land

~~~~ Chapter II ~~~~
Retracing Steps Never Taken

"I remember that I am here,
Not because of the path that lies before me,
But because of the path that lies behind me."


~ Morpheus (Laurence Fishbourne) ? The Matrix: Reloaded

"Did he say an…y…thing?" Katie asked Ron the next morning, an involuntary yawn breaking up the last word. She had not had much sleep last night.

Shaking the tiredness from her mind, Katie repeated the question. The two of them were sitting with Hermione and Neville by the fireplace in the common room, waiting for Ginny to join them so they could all go to breakfast together. The topic of conversation, naturally, was Harry Potter. Word of his reappearance the previous evening had spread like lightning, and although Katie had been up in her room at the time, it hadn't taken her long to find out.

It had been the beginning of December when Professor Riddle had announced to the whole school that Harry Potter had been killed in a fire at St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. He had been visiting his parents at the time, when a fire had started in the Long Term Ward. By all accounts, Harry had been trapped. The whole Potter family had been wiped out and no one even knew what caused the fire.

Poor Harry. Katie had found out last year why Harry's parents had been in the Long Term Ward. In the confusion after the Dark Lord had fallen, the Lestranges and Barty Crouch Junior had captured the Potters, believing them to know what had happened to the Dark Lord. They had tortured the Potters for hours until their brains had turned to mush. Following the fire in St Mungo's, their names had been engraved on a golden plaque in the newly refurbished Long Term Ward ? a tiny token to the memories of two fallen heroes.

Katie couldn't imagine what it must have been like for Harry to visit his own parents and not have them recognise him, to be completely unable to communicate with them. He must have felt so alone. With them in hospital, he had gone to live with his aunt and uncle, who, by all accounts, were very anti?magic. It was no wonder that the boy had no confidence. Luckily Neville and Ron, whom he had met on the train to Hogwarts, had taken him under their wings, and they in turn had befriended Katie, a second year at the time.

Katie's dorm mates were somewhat…dull, to put it mildly. They had never really been her friends, and as such she had had a rather miserable first year. After five years of living with them, she knew what they were all about: men, makeup, and marriage plans. Not that Katie was by any means a tomboy; she just 'had a level head', as Neville phrased it. She wasn't an 'airhead', or a 'plank' which Neville also used frequently, and she did not consider herself 'bubbly' which was also a good thing, because according to the boys, bubbly translated into guy?talk as 'loud and annoying'. As such, Katie had become closer to a group of first years than she had people her own age. But poor Harry had always been a little on the edge of the group, a bit left out, though he had stood by her ? until his death of course.

But then he had reappeared last night with apparently no explanation. He had died - McGonagall had been there. And yet here he was, alive and apparently unharmed. According to Ron, his mind was somewhat messed up, or to use Ron's words, his 'cheese had slid off his cracker'. What kind of state would the poor boy be in now?

Katie had long tried to protect him, taking pity on him. He was friends with her circle of friends and so they had looked out for him, though there had been a line. There were many secrets that they had not shared with Harry. The boy's clumsiness and inability to stand up to people made him hard to trust with secrets. As such, he had never been in the inner?circle.

Harry had also fallen afoul of old Slughorn. The Potions Master was the kind of person who, if you were rich, famous, or influential, wanted you in his class. If not, you were a nobody. He was Head of Slytherin House, though surprisingly, he was not against Muggleborns attending Hogwarts, nor a genuinely bad man. However, favouritism was the most prominent of his character flaws. Poor Harry had always failed to match up to Slugger's expectations. Slughorn was always quite condescending towards Harry in lessons, according to Ron and Hermione. He had once invited Harry to join the 'Slug?Club' as it was affectionately referred to, due to the fact that his mother and father had been powerful in their day, but sadly Harry had inherited none of it. As such, he had been cast out, or more specifically, his invite to following meetings must have mysteriously gotten lost in the mail.

Now the poor boy was back, and if his mind was on the fritz, he would now need more help than ever, especially given the current environment in the school.

Katie had not seen him herself, but according to the others, he had come in through the portrait hole last night, dressed all in black, and covered in mud, grass, leaves, and all sorts. He had seemed distant as he mumbled some story about Muggle hospitals and then disappeared up the stairs, refusing to speak to anyone. According to Ron, his bed was now empty, so he must already be up and about. She had to find him, had to talk to the poor boy before someone else found him.

"...hardly a word," Ron was saying to Hermione. "He practically ignored us. I tell you, there was something in those eyes of his. He is one messed up boy." Were it not for her basic knowledge of Occlumency, she would not have believed anything could be told by looking into a person's eyes. Having said that, she hardly thought Ron was an expert on the matters of the mind.

"Where is he now?" asked Katie, perching on the arm of Hermione's chair.

"No idea," said Hermione, shrugging.

"He's not upstairs," said Ron unhelpfully. "His trunk is open, so I guess he got changed and went out. I didn't hear the shower going, so…"

"You could sleep through Goyle's trombone practice," said Ginny, arriving in the common room from the dorms, her hair still wet from the shower. Goyle had been asked in a lesson the previous week to transfigure a brick into a musical instrument. He had finally managed it but then McGonagall had asked him to try and play it. The sound had not been tuneful.

"Good point," added Neville, earning a playful smack from Ron. "Do you reckon Goyle does requests?"

"So none of you have seen him?" asked Katie, interrupting the conversation. Her patience was wearing thin. Her lack of sleep had made her ratty.

"Nope," said Ron. "Probably gone to brekky."

"Are you looking for Harry Potter?" asked a voice, causing them all to look up. A young girl had come back in from outside.

"Have you seen him?" asked Katie.

"Yeah," said the first year. "He was heading down through the Entrance Hall when I passed him, though he didn't see me. Looked like was going running."

"Running?" echoed Neville, chuckling slightly. "Are you sure?" he asked, grinning.

The girl nodded. "Positive."

"The guy doesn't do exercise," said Neville, turning back to Katie. "Even Quidditch is beyond him ? what the hell is he doing running?"

"No idea," said Hermione, shaking her head. "But to be fair, from what I saw last night, I'd say running was not out of the question." She exchanged a cheeky wink with Ginny, who nodded.

"I'll see if I can find him," said Katie, rising from her chair. "See you later. We're still on for tonight, don't forget."

"I'll come with you," said Neville, also standing.

"Okay," said Katie, waiting for him. Neither of them were wearing their uniforms. Both wore jeans, and Katie had a green woolly jumper over the top of her t?shirt, while Neville wore a black fleece and woolly hat. They left the common room and headed down towards the Entrance Hall where Harry had last been seen. She kept her eyes peeled on the way down for any sign of Harry.

She walked swiftly down the stairs and out into the Entrance Hall. Both she and Neville paused as they arrived. They were too late. Harry stood just outside the main doors, his path blocked by Malfoy and his two gormless apes. He wore oversized tracksuit bottoms, a white polo shirt, trainers and a bandana around his forehead so that he looked like a cross between Rambo and Ali G.

Katie sighed in frustration, before raising her voice. "BACK OFF MALFOY!"

~~~~ + ~~~~

"Well look who it is," sneered Malfoy. "The Slut?Who?Lived."

The look plastered on his face was the same one Harry had seen directed at him time after time. He must really hate Katie in this world. Harry turned to face the girl as she approached. She marched with a more aggressive, confident stride than he had seen her. Her blonde hair was tied up in a ponytail and her brilliant blue eyes seemed to twinkle in the morning light as she walked. Harry's heart nearly missed a beat as he noticed the thin lightening?bolt?shaped scar on her forehead. Slut?Who?Lived?

You've got to be kidding, thought Harry.

Was it possible that in this world, he wasn't the Boy Who Lived? Was it possible that here, it was not his fate to suffer?

BRILLIANT!

He didn't have Voldemort, or whatever Dark Lord Riddle was on about, trying to kill him. He could do his research and find the key in peace. He didn't have to worry about fighting wars, being killed and all that hassle. His happiness must have shown.

"Wipe that stupid grin off your face, Potter," snapped Malfoy.

"Wipe the mascara off yours," snapped Harry, continuing to grin. His grin widened as Malfoy's eyebrows shot up at Harry's retort. Surprise was etched into his face. He clearly hadn't been expecting Harry to respond. This only improved his mood.

I don't have to fight! The thought repeated over and over in his mind. No more curses, explosions, blades, Dark Lords, masks, blood, sweat, tears, screams, or anything else that he had suffered these past few months. He was free. He could be out of here sooner than he thought if he didn't have to worry about being killed at every turn. It was Katie's problem now - let her deal with it. He felt like a quick victory dance, but this was hardly the time.

"Since when have you been the gobby type?" sneered Malfoy, recovering his composure.

"I…" began Harry. He stopped short when it occurred to him that he didn't know his own past here. This time he had travelled 'the conventional way', as Flamel had phrased it. He had not possessed someone else. He had retained his strong body, and both Harrys' skills and instincts. He was the same person physically and mentally as he had been in Rose's world, right down to his phoenix Animagus form. He made a mental note to do a few transformations that evening to avoid the aches returning. That still left him with the problem of not knowing his past in this world. If he wasn't the Boy?Who?Lived, and Katie was, then who was he? Did Malfoy expect him to be weak and pathetic? If so, it was better to appear that way than to arouse suspicion.

"You're what?" asked Malfoy, in a baby voice similar to the one so frequently used by his demented aunt. "Is ickle baby Potter gowing to cwy?"

"Shut up Malfoy!" snapped Katie.

"I wasn't talking to you, you filthy whore," snapped Malfoy, pulling his wand free from his robes. As the wand came level, Harry caught Malfoy's arm on pure instinct. His hand clamped over the Slytherin's wrist and held him firmly in place. Harry had been reluctant to get involved, but his instinct had overruled his conscious mind and acted to protect an innocent. As a result, he now held the Slytherin's wrist. He was committed to this confrontation now; people had seen that he was not a welp. There was no point pulling out ? he might as well give Malfoy a warning.

"That's no way to speak to a lady," said Harry hotly. This Malfoy was even nastier than the one he knew, in fact, nastier than both the Draco Malfoys he knew. Didn't he know that a gentleman should never hit a lady? "I've had a long journey and I don't have the patience to deal with spoilt baby Slytherins, so why don't you, Tweedle?Dum and Tweedle?Dee sod off back to Wonderland and we can all have some breakfast." Harry released the blond's wrist, pushing it downwards towards his side.

Malfoy gaped a few times in shock. Clearly the Harry of this world was not one to stand up to Malfoy. Considering how influential Malfoy had once been, and if his father was on the board of directors here, Malfoy may have a lot of power here. To be safe, Harry decided that in future he had better tone down his character a little.

"You'll regret this, Potter," sneered Malfoy before stalking off, his cronies following in his wake.

Harry watched him go, his mind already reacting. So he was weak in this world, more so than in his home world. He would need to tone down his magic, lose some duels in Defence and generally be a slob. Still, if he put less effort into work, it meant more time on his research. However, this encounter had shown that he was out of his depth. From what he had seen, this world was very strange. He was dead, Riddle was headmaster and someone else had been marked with the infamous scar. Where the hell did he fit in?

On the bright side, he noted, if he was not the 'Chosen One' here, it meant he could concentrate on other things, i.e. escaping this world, and let this war rage on in peace, though that was probably not the best choice of words. Come to think of it, he didn't even know if they were still at war. Security was lax enough for this to be peace time.

"Harry?" said Katie slowly, after Malfoy had gone. Her brow was furrowed in thought as she regarding him cautiously. She hesitated. Harry turned to look at her, his eyes scanning her appraisingly. She wore trainers, jeans and a jumper, with her hair tied back with a clip. Her hay?coloured hair was ever so slightly highlighted by the sun, and her eyes sparkled for the same reason. His eyes scanned her scar, and he was grateful he had put on a bandana before going running as it now concealed his own. Her jaw tightened slightly in frustration as his eyes predictably scanned her forehead. He knew it to be frustrating and so didn't comment. Behind her eyes was a powerful stare, and he could see her mind working. Oops. In standing up to Malfoy, he had really made her suspicious.

"I don't mean to sound like Malfoy, but since when have you been the gobby type?" she asked.

Harry needed to tone it down, perhaps blame it on anger and frustration from having had his parents killed and then spending nearly a month in a Muggle hospital.

Harry fixed her with a piercing stare, his eyes boring into hers. She didn't look particularly comfortable and shifted from one foot to the other.

"Don't get me wrong," she quickly added. "It's good you're standing up to him at last, but I was just a little...surprised." She still seemed suspicious, and if she were anything like him, her curiosity would not permit her to stop nosing around until she found out why.

"So was he," Harry replied calmly, working out how to phrase his reply in his head. "But there is only so much a person can take before he snaps. I've had enough, I've put up with too much and I just lost control, right? Sorry." He sidestepped her and started walking off towards the stairs, his head hung low as if ashamed. Annoyingly, Katie fell into step beside him, with Neville on Harry's other side. They walked for a few seconds in silence before Katie spoke again.

"You've lost weight," she said, clearly trying to make small talk before asking the most obvious question. Harry kept his eyes straight ahead. He hadn't been expecting that particular question, but it wasn't hard to think of an answer.

"Spending a month comatose on an IV drip will do that to you," said Harry. "Not to mention the physiotherapy afterwards."

"An 'I'?what?" asked Neville.

"IV," answered Harry. "Liquid diet ? ask Hermione."

It seemed that this little distraction was more than Katie's patience could take and she blurted out the question:

"Harry," she said. "What happened to you?" It was the question he knew he would be asked a hundred times a day, and so he had rehearsed his story, though to be honest, he didn't want to talk about it.

"I told Neville last night," said Harry absently, starting to climb the stairs. His t?shirt stuck to his skin as he moved. He really needed a shower. He could have a shower, get dressed, have something to eat and then it was definitely time to hit the books. Hopefully he could find the clues that had led Flamel to find the key, but this world's key may be hidden in a different place.

However, first things first ? let's start where Flamel had, he thought. He needed to track down the equivalent book from this world. This would be a little more complicated than he would first have assumed, as he had no experience with translation charms.

"…for that matter."

Harry was suddenly aware that Katie had been speaking again. He stared at her blankly, obviously not having heard a word.

"Sorry, what?"

"I said, that can't be it," said Katie. "Surely Riddle would have found you if you were in a Muggle hospital, or the Ministry for that matter."

"Riddle doesn't care," said Harry icily. Didn't she see that he was a scumbag? He wouldn't put himself out to look for a student, especially one as weak and feeble as Harry. No, he would only look for someone who was of value to him. "And the Ministry couldn't find snow in the middle of winter," he added, to get it off his chest.

"What's with the sudden hatred for Riddle?" asked Neville. "I mean, I agree about the Ministry ? they've been shocking this year; but I thought you and Riddle got on well."

"Things change," said Harry, noting that that was how he used to be. "Being left alone for a month with strangers sticking needles in you kind of puts the world into perspective." This was becoming dangerous. They were discovering more differences, and he definitely had to hide his scar now. The longer he stayed, the deeper the hole he was digging himself into. He had to get out of here. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm a tad on the smelly side and I need a shower."

"Are you going to be alright?" asked Katie, concern etched into her face.

"I can walk up to the Tower on my own," said Harry bluntly. He had to keep up the persona; he couldn't afford to become attached.

"Malfoy will be out for revenge," said Neville.

"I can handle Malfoy," said Harry absently.

"I know your memory is a little wonky," said Neville. "In case you can't remember, Malfoy has a lot of influence thanks to his father. He can get away with anything."

"Then it should be interesting," said Harry. "Good day to you."

Harry turned on his heel and marched away, determined not to look back. He would not become attached; he would leave as soon as he had the key.

~~~~ + ~~~~

Katie watched Harry walk off along the corridor, heading for the stairs. He walked delicately, probably due to his muscles being tired and achy from his run. He raised an arm to wipe with sweat on his face away with his sleeve, but he never looked back. His whole poise was very…out of character. She wouldn't have described him as head?held?high, but there was a feel about him. It wasn't exactly confidence, for he seemed neither cocky nor outgoing. The only word she could think of to describe him was 'arrogant'. Not arrogance in the sense of boasting, or thinking he was the centre of the universe and everyone else is inferior, but arrogance in the sense that he didn't seem to care what other people thought. His tone wasn't patronising, but Katie got the distinct impression that Harry thought she was…again words escaped her. Not an inconvenience, but he seemed to be polite in that he had to live with her and Neville in Gryffindor, but he didn't need or want their help or friendship.

The conversation had been in some ways very enlightening, and in others, completely the opposite. She hadn't found out where he had been or what had happened, but she had found out something about him. This Harry was more confident than before, and a very cool customer. Were it not for the fact that she knew his magical ability was…limited, she might even have felt a glimmer of fear. Oh well, the boy had to grow up some time and start acting like a man. If it was true what he had told Neville last night, and he had been comatose in Muggle London, well, that shock might do it. Being alone and surrounded by strange people after a near death experience and those loss of his entire family would have changed his perceptions. Maybe the shock and horror had woken Harry up, and that would be a good thing, right?

"Well that went well," said Neville beside her, removing his beanie to scratch his head.

"This isn't the time for sarcasm," said Katie, her temper quickly rising. She was on edge enough at the moment, without having sarcasm to deal with.

"Okay, okay, take a chill pill," said Neville quickly. "I was right though, wasn't I? He is definitely different."

"Being alone in Muggle London would have caused anyone to grow up," said Katie.

"Which is good, isn't it?" added Neville. "We don't need to watch out for him, and Malfoy won't be as…well, actually, he will want revenge for his loss of face, but Harry might be able to deal with it on his own. Still, Malfoy isn't the real problem, is he?"

"That's what I'm worried about," said Katie. Neville had taken the words right out of her mouth. The old bat would come down on him like a tonne of bricks if she thought him to be too weak. She had been vicious enough before he had disappeared, and if Harry's mind was all over the place, the next few weeks would not be pleasant for him.

"You reckon he can take it?"

"He seemed…not distant, but preoccupied," said Katie, playing the conversation over again in her head. "But he is definitely hiding something. I want to know is where he's been. Why won't he talk about it? He's known us long enough."

"Maybe it's too painful," suggested Neville. "You don't like talking about your parents."

"Maybe," said Katie. She knew that logically he was right, but there was dark feeling in the pit of her stomach that she couldn't shake. "But I've just got this feeling that there's something about him he isn't telling us. I don't trust him."

"It's Harry Potter," said Neville, almost laughing. "What could he possibly do?"

"Blow the whistle on us," said Katie, her face serious. This was anything but a laughing matter.

"He doesn't know what's going on, does he?" said Neville, becoming serious once more. "He was never invited."

"No," said Katie in agreement. "He wasn't, and let's keep it that way. Until we know exactly what is going on with him, not a word."

~~~~ + ~~~~

Tom Riddle watched the Potter?Malfoy exchange with interest. He knew for a fact that the boy had died and yet now he was back, right as rain, but so different. In truth, Riddle was stumped about Harry. The boy was a walking, talking contradiction. He raised so many questions; questions that in turn made Tom question his own beliefs. If only he were wiser, he might see what was missing. Albus would have known, he thought sadly. Albus would know what to do. Tom's thoughts strayed to his mentor. Why oh why couldn't he have lived?

No. What was done was done. Tom pushed the thought of Albus aside. It had been fifty years ago, he needed to concentrate on the present. The climate in the school was changing, and he needed to keep the peace. With all that was happening, both publicly and behind the scenes, Tom felt more stretched than ever before. He felt so tired - it was finally catching up with him. He had so much to worry about, both inside and outside of the school, and Harry Potter was definitely on his list, but how high?

Was the change in persona of one student who until now had nothing to do with current events, really so important? Were it not for the weapons he had carried when he arrived and his ability to block him mind, Tom would have said no, but there was no something distinctly odd about Harry Potter. It was in everything from his slight, but noticeable weight?loss, to the way he now carried himself as he walked. He seemed so different.

He was definitely a concern, and he was not the only one in the school. Draco Malfoy was a prime example.

The boy's father had once been a Death Eater, though the charges hadn't been dropped. That was fifteen years ago. These days, officially he was a well?respected and law?abiding man and a member of the board of governors, though Tom had his suspicions that Lucius had not truly renounced his dark past. He was not the only one. Fifteen years ago, there were others who had been released, claiming bewitchment or duress. The sons and daughters of those former Death Eaters walked these corridors even today; sadly, it was always the Slytherins.

Tom had been a Slytherin; in fact he was even the heir of Slytherin. In his veins flowed the blood of the founder, but few people knew, of course. While it was his right to run the school, he did not want the bad image of being descended from a Dark Lord, nor to seem as though he was demanding power based on his heritage. Ironically, when he had been at school, the bitter and twisted little orphan with a passion for power, he had used his heritage to gain respect. He had paraded it amongst his closest friends. These days, he kept it hidden. Oh, how much he had changed. Thank you, Albus.

Even in Tom's day, Slytherin had been far from popular - on reflection, this may have been mostly Tom's fault. Through the years, the tension between Slytherin and the other houses had grown and grown. Now with most of the Slytherins' parents having been accused of being Death Eaters, the house was more feared than despised though it was a volatile mixture of both. Draco Malfoy above all strutted around as if he owned the place. He was feared for his father's influence. Potter had embarrassed the Slytherin, and the little snake would not let that go. Tom's thoughts turned to the other boy.

Harry Potter. The boy was nice enough, if lacking in confidence. He was friendly and his heart was in the right place. He was just one of those people for whom everything seems to go wrong. He was a little clumsy and his grades were a little below average. He had had a hard life, having lost his parents to a fate worse than death at less than one year old. He lived with his aunt and uncle in Surrey, a couple that did not embrace magic as something to be cherished and nurtured.

All this Tom knew to be true, but that was not what he had just seen. Potter had stood up for himself and made the sharp?tongued Slytherin look like a fool. He would never have done anything like that before. He had been gone for nearly a month. What on earth had happened to him? Tom could see that he was holding something back. Whatever he claimed, Harry did remember something, but he wouldn't say what it was. Why was he hiding it? Shame? Fear? Guilt? Tom could not get rid of the feeling that it was something more, something darker.

Should Tom Legilimise Harry? No. the boy had Occluded his mind when Tom had tried before. Someone had taught him Occlumency ? the boy would feel Tom's attempt, and there was no telling how he would react. Tom also noted that learning Occlumency was not a side?effect of a coma. Where had he learned it? Who had taught him? Why wouldn't he say? So many questions! Tom knew that the best course of action was to befriend Harry and have him share the information voluntarily. How ? that was the big question. Whatever method he tried, it would take time.

But what if he was hiding something dangerous? One boy's privacy should not outweigh the lives of all the innocent students around him. Should Tom force it out of him? No ? it was the wrong thing to do. Albus would never have done so. Tom resolved to find out what was wrong with Harry Potter - he would just take a subtler approach. In fact, he mused, eyeing the girl who had been talking to Harry. It might be better if it were not I who asked him. He made a mental note to ask Minerva to subtly encourage the girl's suspicions.

However, before he startd plotting and scheming, Tom had official business to take care of. Tom went into the Great Hall via the back way to avoid the students. He disliked the way that all chatter seemed to stop as he entered a room. Sitting at the head table, Tom watched those who remained in the school arrive for breakfast. At the Slytherin table, Malfoy was shooting daggers over at the Gryffindor table and then at the door, presumably intended for one young Gryffindor who was not present. The boy himself had not yet arrived and Tom assumed he had gone up to the Tower for a shower. Potter definitely seemed more confident, more calm today. Still, it was better to announce him to the school, rather than let him walk in here unprepared.

"Your attention please," called Riddle when he felt the hall was full enough. Of the fifty or so students still here for Christmas, over forty were in the Hall. "So you are all aware, the notice you were given a month ago about the death of Harry Potter was inaccurate. Mr Potter is alive and well and will be joining you later today. This has been a tough time for him and he is not fully healed, so please give him space. Thank you."

There was a fair amount of muttering from the students who had stayed for Christmas, nineteen of whom came from Gryffindor. They immediately began to discuss the news, Longbottom and Bell taking the lead as they had met him since his return. Not feeling the least bit hungry, Tom decided to return to his office. He had some work to do, and he planned to begin his searches of Muggle Hospitals. Tom would find out where Harry had been, if only to get an accurate diagnosis of what kind of mental state he was in, but hopefully a lot more than that.

~~~~ + ~~~~

Harry knocked on the door to the Hospital Wing at ten minutes past ten. He had had a shower and then breakfast as planned.

While he was eating, Neville had informed him that Riddle would expect him in the Hospital Wing at ten o'clock. Harry was in no hurry and didn't care if he kept Riddle waiting, so he had had a long, drawn out breakfast of croissants and tea. As he had expected, the hall had fallen utterly silent when he had entered, so had quickly taken a seat at the Gryffindor table, but several feet away from anyone else. Looking around, everyone had seemed to be staring at him, even those few teachers who had remained. McGonagall in particular had been staring at him with an expression he could not read. Malfoy had already up and left the hall, and the Slytherin table held only a pair of second years.

Once he had finished, Harry had made his way slowly up the stairs to the Hospital Wing, his mind miles away. He had promised Riddle that he would attend this meeting, though he didn't like having to do so. On reflection, there was nothing Pomfrey could get from him that didn't match the other Harry, however he still felt nervous. DNA, fingerprint, magical signature, even the Marauder's Map ? wherever it was ? would identify him as Harry Potter. Still, he resented the idea of being studied like a lab rat, though he would feel no pity if Peter Pettigrew was put in a cage and experimented upon.

He thrust the thought aside as he arrived. He had elected to wear a woolen beanie hat in addition to his oversized jeans and hooded jumper; both of which were still marked 'DD'. It was cold enough to warrant such a hat, and it certainly helped to hide his scar. He hoped he wouldn't be asked to take it off. Riddle must not see that scar.

Harry raised his hand and knocked on the hospital door. A voice replied from the other side of the door beckoning him in. Harry pushed open the door and stepped inside, his body instantly tensing at the sight of Tom Riddle.

The man stood to the right, next to Madam Pomfrey, who was seated behind her desk, a cup of tea and a plate with a buttered scone on it were on top of the desk along with a copy of the Prophet, which she appeared to have been reading. She looked up as Harry entered, but made no move to clear anything away or even fold the paper. She hardly seemed like she had been working, noted Harry. Probably just chatting with Riddle.

"Anything interesting?" asked Harry, trying to keep the conversation light and irrelevant.

"Absolutely nothing," replied Riddle. "Unless you count Mrs Agatha Dimpleton winning first place in the West Hampshire gnome throwing competition to be of great significance."

Harry shook his head. He took the opportunity to do a quick sweep of the room. There was nothing out of place and the beds were all empty.

"So..." he said, trying to force a smile and hide his nerves.

"Right you are," said Madam Pomfrey, rising from her chair and pushing the last of the scone into her mouth. "Sit up on the bed, please, Potter," she said once she had finished.

Obediently, Harry sat on the bed, his legs swinging beneath him. His wand was stashed up his left sleeve and his hands were in his lap, together, where he could get at his wand very quickly and very easily. He had felt it was better to err on the side of caution.

"I shall leave you to it," said Riddle, excusing himself. He left quickly and Harry relaxed slightly.

"Do you have any lasting injuries?" she asked, eying him carefully and picking up her wand from the desk.

"No," said Harry. "Everything I got from the fire has been healed. A few scars here and there from debris, but I'm fine." Madam Pomfrey lowered her wand to near his feet. The tip began to glow blue and she moved it slowly upwards, keeping it six inches from his body. At length she reached his head.

"No broken bones or fractures," she said aloud. "Hand." Harry extended his hand and she lowered her wand to it. There was a tingling sensation and a few drops of blood seeped out through his skin. Madam Pomfrey scooped the small sample into a phial and put a cork in the end. She placed the phial on her desk. Harry stared at it, knowing full well what it could mean. From that Riddle could check his DNA, his magic and only God knew what else. Harry was sure that he was safe, but there was a nagging doubt in the back of his mind that Riddle might be able to get something from his blood. He pushed the worry aside - it was nothing but paranoia.

Unfortunately, blood was only the beginning.

"Right," said Madam Pomfrey. "Get them off."

"What?" said Harry, his jaw dropping. Did he just have a filthy mind or did she mean…?

"Your clothes, take them off," she repeated. Harry didn't know what to say. He opened his mouth to protest, and stood gaping like a goldfish. There was no way he was getting naked for this woman!

"Oh, for Merlin's sake, Potter," she said impatiently. "Get over your embarrassment and take them off, we don't have all day. It's nothing I haven't seen before."

Harry opened his mouth to ask her when she had seen him naked before, but then realised she was speaking generally, or at least, he hoped she was.

"You mean…?" he said, unable to form proper sentences.

"Oh, not all the way, boy," she said rolling her eyes. "Just down to your underwear. Organic fabric, like the wool in your clothes, gets in the way of some more sensitive spells." Taking a deep breath, Harry pulled his jumper up over his head. He kicked off his shoes and, undoing his belt, dropped his trousers, all the while feeling blood creeping to his head. He was blushing and he knew it.

A cool breeze brushed lightly over his skin and he felt goosebumps rise. He stared over Pomfrey's head, staring at a spot on the wall, trying not to focus on his nakedness. Oh, this was awkward. He was so glad Riddle had left. He looked around the room, glancing at the clock, wishing it were over.

Pomfrey on the other hand, acted as though she had all the time in the world. Harry felt a shiver run down his spine as he saw a box of latex gloves. He gulped. Surely not! She tried anything like that and he'd do a runner, Riddle be damned. Harry stood there, almost naked, his arms crossed over his chest, while one extended past his stomach and below his waist, blocking prying eyes. It didn't alleviate the awkwardness of the moment. Give me a Dark Lord any day, thought Harry, just as long as I am not in my birthday suit.

Harry managed to get his composure back. He realised his heart was pounding, and so took a few deep breaths in an effort to calm himself.

"Right," said Pomfrey, looking his up and down. "Oh, Potter, really, take the hat off, it's not that cold."

"Alright for you to say," said Harry before he had time to think. "Your not in the buff!" She shot him a cold stare, which clearly said 'we are not amused'.

This presented Harry with a problem, if he removed the hat, it would reveal his scar. If he raised a hand to cover it, he could expose something else that wasn't meant for prying eyes. God, he hoped no one walked in at this moment.

Harry took a deep breath, and swallowing his pride, he raised his right hand, and pulled off his hat. He turned as he did to hide his forehead. When he turned back, he brushed his hair forward with his hand, but knew it would not cover the scar. He was forced to keep one hand up there, as if feigning a headache. The trouble was that as a Healer, she could cure the headache in seconds and insist on his arm being moved. He mustn't play it up too much.

Harry stood in the middle of a freezing Hospital Wing, wearing just blue socks and a pair of black boxers, which were a little big and looked like they were about to fall apart. He had one hand on his forehead, the other failing to block the view of his boxers. If it were happening to someone else, it would be laughable.

Pomfrey started to move the wand again, the tip glowing green this time, as it passed near his body.

"Basic toxicology," said Pomfrey to herself, as she made notes. "Negative."

"Before we go on, Potter," she said, fixing his with a piercing stare that made Harry gulp. She knew something was wrong. What had she discovered?

"Where did you get that scar?"

Has she seen it? Had he not covered it? God damn it, he was up the creek now. Riddle would know that he was not their Harry. He would have to leave, go into hiding until he managed to find a way home. He could live…in that cave Sirius had, and steal food in Phoenix form. The Thieving Phoenix would make the headlines for out?of?character behaviour, but never mind. Harry just knew that he could never let Riddle know how he was. If Riddle found the Node…it didn't bear thinking about.

"If I didn't know better," said Pomfrey suspiciously, "I would say that it was a stab would, and it looks deep."

"What?" asked Harry. His scar didn't look like a stab-wound. His confusion must have shown, for she gestured to his shoulder.

Frank Longbottom had once run the Dark Knight through, shattering his collar bone in the process. Harry still carried the scar.

"And as for those," she continued. He had two lines across his stomach, where a young Auror had cut him with his own sword in a dingy basement in Little Hangleton. "They look like cuts with a blade.

"Err…" stammered Harry, thinking quickly. "Well, I'd have thought it was obvious."

She raised an eyebrow.

"I was caught in an explosion at St Mungo's. Flying debris. The cuts on my stomach are surgical, from the Muggles. They said they had to operate while I was unconscious." She looked sceptical. Harry swallowed hard. What if she didn't believe him? What if she knew he was lying? What if she told Riddle? Luckily, after a few seconds, she spoke.

"Butchers," scoffed Pomfrey. She shook her head and turned her attention back to her wand. She seemed to accept His story. She did her traditional "tut tut" at a few of his other scars, but then went back to her tests. Harry breathed a sigh of relief. That had been close!

Over the next half hour Madam Pomfrey carried out all sorts of tests. Some involved her scanning him with a wand, the more embarrassing ones included a urine sample. She also did the basic reflex and sensitivity tests. Having a nurse prodding and poking his almost naked body was not as enjoyable an experience as he had been led to believe, not this nurse anyway.

It was quarter to eleven when, fully dressed once more, Harry sat back down and the psychological evaluation began. Pomfrey had already tested his body, his senses and then his reflexes, and was sure his nervous system was working, but now it was time to evaluate his mind. She had had him cast a spell which created a small ball of light by his head, which changed colour to reflect his emotions. She had then shown him various photos and gauged his emotional reaction to the stimuli. The photos ranged from childhood photos and cute animals to dead bodies, Death Eaters, and other gory pictures. With each one, Madam Pomfrey made her customary 'Hmmm'.

"Well, your tolerance to violent images and death is a little high, but you're not a psychopath," she noted.

"Glad to hear it," muttered Harry, a little more truthfully than she was aware.

"That would come from witnessing what you have seen," she said. Harry froze ? how could she know what he had seen? "Near?death experiences tend to have similar effects, and the fire certainly counts as that." Harry breathed a sigh of relief, but kept his face set.

She then began a line of questioning based on his past, testing for his reactions. Harry remained as dead?pan as possible, earning many 'hmmm's along the way.

She went on to basic maths and reasoning problems. Harry wasn't sure why an IQ test was necessary, but he didn't complain. At least he wasn't naked. It was midday by the time she finished. Riddle returned just as they were finishing.

"All done?" he asked politely as he entered.

"Yes," said Madam Pomfrey, much to Harry's relief. "Rest assured, headmaster, the boy is in perfect health. Physically, he has souvenirs of the fire, but no lasting damage. Psychologically, he seems fine, but I believe he may still be in shock, hence the more aggressive persona than we are used to. I recommend?" Harry gritted his teeth, knowing what was coming. "?that he rest for a few days. Only time can cure shock."

Riddle glanced from Madam Pomfrey to Harry, who quickly shook his head. Riddle had better honour his side of the deal, ? Harry would turn up for the exam and Riddle would not make him stay here to rest.

Riddle turned back to Pomfrey, "Since lessons have not started yet," he said politely, "I see no harm in Harry being allowed to return to the population."

"But..." protested Madam Pomfrey.

"As a sixth year, Harry is mature enough to alert someone if something is wrong, am I right, Harry?" Harry nodded, thankful that Riddle had kept his end of the bargain. Harry jumped to his feet before Madam Pomfrey could object. He was out the door before another word could be uttered.

~~~~ + ~~~~

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