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"You!" gasped Harry, his entire body freezing in horror. This can't be! Everything had gone correctly. He couldn't be in the right world! He must have gone to yet another world! What went wrong? Harry felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. He felt sick, chills ran up and down his spine and a shiver reached from his fingers to his toes. How could it have gone so wrong? Dumbledore and Flamel had agreed that the calculations were right. They were the wisest men in centuries. How had it gone so badly wrong? He had thought the other world was bad, but this…this was just awful! Riddle was…he couldn't even think it.
Tom Riddle rose slowly from his chair, surveying Harry with curious eyes. His eyes! They were not red, but a deep blue. The man before Harry was so similar to the Voldemort of the other universe that Harry instinctively took a step back, his hand flying to his wand. Riddle's eyes flashed to Harry's hand which was overtly wrapped around his wand, but made no effort to draw his own. Harry wished he had worn his armour. He stood ready, his eyes surveying Riddle.
Riddle was tall and thin, just as Harry remembered. His skin was pale and smooth; his long black hair cascading over his shoulders by a few inches, framing his face in the firelight, giving him a haunted look. The Headmaster looked calmly into Harry's eyes, and Harry stared back. Emerald green met sapphire blue as the two enemies locked eyes. Harry was surprised by what he saw; the Headmaster's eyes twinkled with a passion unknown to Lord Voldemort. There was kindness etched into the man's features even though he wasn't smiling. Harry found himself being sucked into those deep blue eyes. They reminded him so much of Dumbledore ? but then he remembered exactly who he was facing. This was Tom Riddle: the man who murdered his parents, tried to kill his sister, murdered Cedric Diggory twice, and made his life Hell in more than on
"Welcome back, Mr Potter," said Riddle softly. That voice! It was not the icy high?pitched hiss that caused grown men and trained Aurors to lose bladder control. Instead, it was perfectly normal: soft, kind and gentle, just like the peaceful voice that he had heard in this office so many times before. But no! It was Riddle! He was the enemy! Harry must not fall for this deceit. This man had murdered his parents! "May I ask where you have been?" asked Riddle calmly. There was curiosity in his voice, but patience as well.
"Where's Dumbledore?" snapped Harry, unable to control his hatred of the man before him. His mind was racing, trying to find answers to the sea of questions in which he was drowning. Who? What? How? Why? Dumbledore! If there was anyone who could explain what was going on it would be Dumbledore. Until he had spoken to Dumbledore, Harry would not do anything that Riddle told him to. His hand was on his wand, ready in an instant if the bastard tried anything.
"Albus Dumbledore?" asked Riddle, looking curiously at Harry. What was so confusing? Everyone had heard of Dumbledore. He was the most powerful wizard in centuries, everyone knew him. As a former Headmaster of Hogwarts, everyone must know his name ? in fact there should be a painting on the wall. Harry wanted to check for the portrait, but didn't dare take his eyes off the murderer before him.
"Albus Dumbledore!" repeated Harry, his voice patronising and hostile. "Surely you've heard of him. He's the most powerful wizard in centuries." Harry half expected Riddle to contest that, claiming that he was more powerful, but Riddle and the Walrus merely exchanged curious glances. Harry's eyes moved quickly between them. What was wrong? It was a simple question. Even in the other world, Dumbledore had been the on
"Thank you, Horace," said Riddle, nodding to the Walrus, who turned to leave. Riddle took a step around the side of the desk as the man called Horace left. There was a look in Riddle's eyes that, if Harry hadn't known better, he might have mistaken for concern.
"Harry, are you feeling alright?" asked Riddle after the door had closed behind 'Horace'. Riddle seemed to be appraising Harry's face ? luckily the infamous scar was concealed by the hood. He slowly reached out for Harry with a pale hand. Harry instantly backed away, sliding his wand half way out of its holster. Riddle noticed his retreat and withdrew his arm, palm raised in surrender.
"I'm fine, now answer the God?damned question," he snapped at Riddle. He expected a flash of anger from the Headmaster ? No! He would not think of him as that ? but all he saw was that insatiable calm that Dumbledore had. Who or what was this man?
"In the same place he's been for the last fifty years," sighed Riddle, a look that could be mistaken for regret or even pain on his face.
"And where might that be?" said Harry coldly. Riddle sank slowly into his chair and sighed deeply before answering.
"WHAT?" cried Harry, the world seeming to close in around him. "He's dead?" No, it couldn't be! All his life Dumbledore had been there. He hadn't appreciated it at times, but the old wizard had been. When Harry was in trouble Dumbledore always seemed to be able to make things better. But now he was gone Harry was completely lost. No, he couldn't believe it. It had to be a lie!
"Harry," said Riddle kindly. "Albus Dumbledore was killed over fifty years ago by the Dark Lord."
"You are the bloody Dark Lord!" screamed Harry. He could feel the tears coming; they were seconds away. He couldn't believe it. It couldn't be true. He had to get out of here! This was all wrong!
"Harry…" said Riddle, staring at him.
"NO!" he screamed, making Riddle jump. He'd had enough. This was the wrong world! He had to go back! He was not staying here! He had to find a way home! Before Riddle could stop him, Harry bolted out of the door and down the steps. As he sprinted down the deserted corridor, he felt the tears start to spill over. His anguish drove him harder. He ran past empty classrooms and suits of armour, ignoring orders to stop from teachers and prefects, and not even responding to Peeve's volley of rotten peaches. Something had gone wrong; he was in the wrong world. How had it happened? Why had it happened? Could he fix it? Could he really get back home? Was he doomed to float from universe to universe until, by luck, he found the right on
Harry ran down the stairs three at a time and towards the Entrance Hall. He was exhausted but desperation kept him going. Out through the door into the cold night he went, opening the gate and breaking free of Hogwarts. He finally slowed to a walk but kept moving. He walked briskly, ignoring the stitch building in his left side and the ache in every limb of his body. Harry marched through the cold, calm night, ignoring the cries of wolves, and the Thestrals that swooped down and snatched small creatures from the ground. He didn't even notice the rain which was gently falling from the heavens in a light shower.
His mind was racing. Could he get home? He had to find out. The house had been called Raven Wood Cottage. If he could Floo back there, he could use the Node to return to his world. No, he couldn't! He didn't know how - the 'address' he had been given was wrong. He couldn't get to his own world, but he could go back to the world he had come from, back to the Unholy Land. Flamel might have given him the wrong 'address' but if he could get back, then the old man could try again. At least they knew how to calculate an 'address'. Harry had all the parchments and the key in his bag. It would be simple to get back - Flamel had given him the 'return address' to get back for visits. This wasn't going to be a visit, but it would get him back on
He barged into the Three Broomsticks, knocking patrons aside as he passed, heading straight for the fireplace. He charged headlong into a rather well built wizard covered in tattoos, spilling his pint of whatever all over his new navy blue robes.
"OI!" bellowed the drunken wizard. "WHAT'S YOUR GAME?" He grabbed Harry's lapels with on
Harry didn't hang around ? he grabbed the floo powder and Floo'd to Raven Wood. The cottage was as dark and dismal as ever. His arrival had disturbed the dust and he had to cover his mouth to prevent a sneezing fit. He ran out of the front door and hopped the fence, every step taking him closer to the node, closer to being back home. He made his way along the path as fast as he could through the thicket, ignoring the nettles and thorns.
At last he arrived at the top of the cliff, the cascade of water falling away beneath him. He didn't even bother to change form, but jumped off the cliff, and spun in mid air to face it. Brandishing his wand like a whip, he muttered a charm and a long thin chord shot out of his wand and adhered to the rock, swinging Harry back in towards it, through the water and into the tunnel. He ambled along as quickly as possible, ignoring his damp clothes. He on
The cave stood just as he had left it, a dark ominous cavern with jagged rocks that spiked eerily out of the darkness, like a sea of knives, casting vicious shadows on the wall. Guided by his wand light, Harry cut straight across the circle straight towards the globe. The sphere stood as it had in the other world, almost identical, except more dusty. Harry wiped it with his sleeve and found the hole.
He blew into it, releasing more dust straight into his eyes. Wiping them on his sleeve and cursing his stupidity, Harry swore into the darkness. The word was reflected back at him by the vast cave, as if it were mocking him. Able to see again, Harry removed the key from his bag and unwrapped it. He twisted it, just as Flamel had done, extending the diamond to the top of the key. Then turning it upside down so the diamond went in first, Harry pressed the key into the port.
The diamond had gone in, but something was stopping the rest of the key from following. There must be something lodged in there.
"Scourgify," he muttered. The dirt in the port disappeared instantly and Harry could see that the inside of the pedestal was in fact gold. It was on
Again, the key refused to go in. Harry pushed down hard, but to no avail; it refused to slide in. Holding his wand close, Harry inspected the key. Did it have to go in a certain way? No, surely not; it was a regular octagon with no groves or lines on it. It was fully extended, so why didn't it go in?
Lowering his light, Harry peered into the hole. To his horror he saw that the inside of this on
He couldn't activate the Node!
Harry's legs gave way beneath him and he collapsed on the floor of the cave. Tears returned to his eyes and he put his head in his hands. He was stuck here!
Why oh why had he left the other place? He had a family there, he could have been happy, but no; his helping people thing had gotten the better of him and he had to leave. Just like he always did, he had tried to do what's right and ended up getting into a worse situation that he had been before, on
Why was I so stupid?
Harry slammed his fist on
If was several minutes before he managed to calm himself and to think clearly. He would have to stay here, to make a living in this world. Riddle was headmaster, not the Dark Lord. The Dark Lord, whoever it had been, had killed Dumbledore fifty years ago. He would be too old to be a threat by now. There was no extra security at Hogwarts so it seemed that there was no threat ? no Dark Lord. If there was no Dark Lord, this place might be all right. If there was no Voldemort, then he wouldn't be in any Prophecy and he wouldn't be the Boy?Who?Lived. If there was no Dark Lord, his parents wouldn't have been murdered. What the hell was going on here? This place was more confusing than the last. At least in this on
He shivered in his wet clothes; his teeth were chattering. He rose to his feet, drying his eyes and then his clothes. He couldn't stay here. As much as he hated to admit it, he would have to return to Hogwarts. He didn't have the papers, money or resources to support himself and he wasn't of age which limited his options considerably. Hogwarts was his on
Remember, Harry, every problem is an opportunity in disguise, he told himself. Though this on
Sadly, he got to his feet and began the trek back to Hogwarts. His feet dragged as he lacked the enthusiasm to do anything but plod on
As he left the Three Broomsticks, the heavens opened and it began to pour. Harry was drenched in seconds but hardly noticed. So deep was his despair that when he next looked up he was in front of the Fat Lady. His feet had taken him to Gryffindor Tower without him thinking. He turned around and walked slowly up to the gargoyle, which had been left open, and up the steps to the door. He took a deep breath, knowing that on the other side of the door was a man who had the same blood and body of the monster who killed his parents. He had to let that go. For all intents and purposes, Professor Riddle was a different man. He had to let it go. Harry tried to calm himself. You are not the other Harry, just as he is not Voldemort. He took a deep breath and then knocked three times.
"Come in," said a voice calmly.
Harry pushed the door open and stepped inside the office on
Harry noticed that the lamp on the desk was in the shape of a leering serpent, a large glowing crystal in its mouth, illuminating the desk. Tom Riddle was still the heir of Slytherin, however nice he appeared. Harry would have to watch his back. He fell to temptation in his world, it could still happen here. The image of Voldemort just before he died in the other universe crashed into his mind. Would he have to do it here? Was this Riddle as bad as the others? Looking around, Harry saw some other snakes.
"Found what you're looking for?" hissed a voice. Harry jumped out of his skin. He spun around, his hand flying to his wand. His fingers wrapped around the wooden stick as Professor Riddle came out of the shadows. He was dressed in cream coloured robes, his long black hair flowing over his shoulders. He looked almost kind, almost like Dumbledore. NO! It was an insult to Dumbledore's memory to view this man as anything other than a murderer. No on
Riddle clapped his hands and the crystal in the snake's mouth became brighter, filling the office with a strong glow. It wasn't the warm, inviting, firelight glow that Dumbledore liked, but a cold, clinical white. The Headmaster walked slowly around his desk and sank into the seat, then lay back, interlocking his fingers beneath his chin and resting his elbows on the arms of the chair.
"You look disapproving," noted Riddle, gesturing at the lamp.
"You're Slytherin's descendent," said Harry icily. "Snakes are your family heirloom, dark as they may be."
"You know about my heritage," said Riddle nodding slightly. He wasn't even going to deny it - the echoes of Voldemort were still there and still strong. Harry had a sudden feeling that the whole school must be dark, if someone this evil could openly parade their ancestry, and do so with pride. "Impressive. Does your house rivalry extend to myself now?" House rivalry? Harry was above that sort of thing. In his experience, Heirs of Slytherin cost lives, not points.
"I'm above such petty sentiments," said Harry frostily. "I just distrust anyone who likes snakes, because they are a symbol of Dark Wizards."
"You believe snakes are inherently evil," asked Riddle, raising an eyebrow as if it were a minor point to be debated.
"They have fangs, they bite, they kill," said Harry coldly. "That's all I need to know."
"By implication, you then hate everything from a spider to a cat then, Harry," said Riddle, "And cats have a much darker past then snakes. Snakes have simply had their image spoiled by humanity. Every Dark Lord for the last nine hundred years has taken a snake to be its symbol, which is rather unfair to the snake. Snakes have long been associated with fertility, going right back to the ancients. Some believed they were the guardians of the underworld, and that is what is taught in schools, but for centuries the snake has been the symbol for fertility and Mother Earth. They are handled in fertility rituals around the world today, in Aboriginal, Native American, and African tribes. Their unblinking stare and habits suggest that the snake's mind follows logic rather than instinct. They work things out, Harry. Christian mythology tells how a snake tempted Eve, while Greek tells how Orphion the snake incubated the egg from which all life sprang. Buddhists believe that Brahma slept in the coils of Shesha, who protected him."
"Fascinating," said Harry sarcastically. He didn't need the history lesson and it was not interesting at all.
"But we have digressed too far," said Riddle. "There is still the matter of your return."
"And?" snapped Harry. Riddle interlocked his fingers beneath his chin and stared at him.
"I believe it was Sherlock Holmes who on
"Is there more," sneered Harry. "Or am I supposed to guess." He was openly rude; he didn't care. Let Riddle shout. Harry could destroy his office just as well as he had Dumbledore's. His entire body was tensed and ready to move. He had a sudden urge to lash out at…something, anything. Control yourself, Harry.
"I see you before me now," said Riddle calmly. "Yet I have it good authority that this cannot be true. You see several weeks ago several witnesses claimed that they saw you die. You were laid to rest just before Christmas, although with an empty casket."
"How did I allegedly die?" asked Harry. He needed to gather as much information as possible. He would need it or he would be suspected. At least he now knew that he would not run into another version of himself here. However, it might raise problems if he ran into his parents, people who would know in a second that he was not their son. He supposed he could win them over in time, but how many 'other families' would he collect before he returned home ? if he ever managed it? Was there a version of Rose here?
"You have no memory of anything?" asked Riddle, examining him carefully. "You do not know what happened?"
"If I did, I wouldn't ask," said Harry.
"If you don't remember," said Riddle more to himself than Harry, "You won't know about…" He seemed to be staring down into his lap, or at something beneath the desk. Harry's hand tightened on his wand.
"About what?" He really hated it when people didn't give straight answers. Riddle looked awkward for a moment, before his calm returned. He sat back and fixed Harry with a cautious stare. Eventually he spoke.
"There was a fire," said Riddle. "In St Mungo's. The Long Term patients' wing caught fire."
"And that's what killed me?" asked Harry. He had been expecting murder for some reason. He was sure that he would have died by unnatural means. He almost felt disappointed.
"The fact that the Long Term Ward was destroyed doesn't trouble you?" asked Riddle, eyeing his cautiously.
"Of course it does," snapped Harry. Did Riddle really think he wouldn't care if all those people had died? "It was horrific, but it doesn't have anything to do with me."
"Harry are you feeling alright?" Riddle looked confused and worried. Harry felt a chill run down his spine. He was missing something, something the Harry of this world should know. He was in serious danger of giving himself away.
"Fine," said Harry hotly, hoping his hostility would distract from his error. What was he missing? What didn't he know?
"Harry, I'm sorry to tell you this, but your parents were caught in the fire," said Riddle. "They're dead."
"Dead?" echoed Harry. What were his parents doing there? Why were they in the lifer's wing? So they weren't killed when he was on
"Why were they there?" asked Harry.
Riddle fixed him with a piercing stare that even McGonagall would be proud of. Harry had no idea what was going on inside his head, but he was fairly sure the cogs were whirring. What was wrong? Harry tried to Occlude his mind, to make sure Riddle didn't gain any information that way.
"Harry, I think you need to see Madam Pomfrey," said Riddle cautiously.
"I'm fine," said Harry, quickly. He didn't want to give the old bat a chance to inspect his various scars, and he certainly didn't want to spend a month in bed. He doubted she could get any hard evidence that he wasn't the Harry they knew, but he didn't want to take the chance.
"Harry, I can't help you if you don't let me," said Riddle gently.
"I don't want your help or need it. All I want is to get back to my life. I want to live in peace, that's all." Harry thought it was best to set the ground rules as soon as possible. He just wanted to be left alone.
"That is easier said than done, I'm afraid," said Riddle sadly. "If you can't even remember what happened to your parents, that suggests serious mental trauma. We need to take care of your mind."
"I am not mad," said Harry. "My memory is just a little off. What happened to them?"
"After the Dark Lord fell," said Riddle. "They were cornered by Death Eaters. Extensive exposure…" Suddenly Harry understood.
"To the Cruciatus Curse…," continued Harry, finishing for him. "…can result in madness. Their minds were fried by the Lestranges and Barty Crouch Junior?"
"You do remember," said Riddle, sounding partially relieved. Harry felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. This should have happened to Neville, not him. This whole world was back to front. He could imagine his parents mindlessly wandering around all day, unable to recognise anything and cringed at the thought, remembering how Neville's parents had been last Christmas. Maybe it was better for them being dead.
"I just needed a nudge," said Harry. "I'm a bit confused."
"Do you know why that is?" asked Riddle.
"No," said Harry, sticking to single?word lies before the Legilimency master. He tried desperately to Occlude his mind.
"Look at this from an objective perspective," said Riddle, leaning forward. "Witnesses saw you walk on
"You can't lock me up in the loony?bin," said Harry hotly. If he was to have any hope of figuring out a way home, he needed to be free. That and he could not allow himself to be examined in case anyone found out the truth and tried to use the Node.
"That's not what I am saying at all," said Riddle, softly. "I am merely asking you to report to Madam Pomfrey tomorrow at noon for her to check you over. Is that too much to ask?"
"There's nothing wrong with me," protested Harry. "I just want to get on with life."
"I'm not asking you to commit to anything," said Riddle. "Should Madam Pomfrey report that you are, as you claim, fine, then that will be the end of it, but it's better to be safe than sorry. It's New Years Day tomorrow ? excuse me, today," he added, checking his watch. "You have another five days before the students return for the term. When would you rather go through this, now or then?"
Of course, it was still the Christmas holidays. A vast majority of the school would have gone home. There would be a handful of students still here, but most of them would have left. In Rose's world the students had been kept there over Christmas for fear of safety. Here must be a little more relaxed. But then again, why shouldn't it be. If Riddle was here and there was no Voldemort, then why should they not be care?free?
"Okay, I'll go and see her," said Harry, appeasing the headmaster - if he didn't go, Riddle would never be off his case. He would just have to be careful. On
"We have a deal, Mr Potter," said Riddle, nodding with a small smile, "and I will hold you to it."
"Whatever," said Harry, not caring. "But now, I'm off. I'm cold, tired, aching and I just want to go to sleep."
"Then who am I to stop you," smiled Riddle. "Your things are still at the castle, I had not yet got around to sending them on to your Aunt and Uncle in Surrey. They will be returned to your room by the time you get there. Good night, Harry."
"Whatever," said Harry rising awkwardly from his chair. He turned to the door, but had on
"Oh, Harry," said Riddle, his voice firmer this time. "I must ask you to leave that impressive array of weapons here." Harry, paused for a second, eyeing the headmaster. He had not unwrapped them, and the cloth was thick enough to stop him seeing through it. How the hell had he known what was inside? Then again, how many things did on
Harry was too tired to argue. He could always flame up here and retrieve the swords if the occasion called for it. He un?strapped the bundle that contained the two swords, body armour, and the stun baton, and leaned them against the wall. He stared at Riddle, half expecting him to demand his wand and everything else he had on his person.
"Thank you, Harry," said Riddle, to Harry's relief. "Now I have something for you." He reached into the drawer in his desk and drew out a long, thin box about a foot in length. It was made of polished wood, with a floral pattern embossed in gold. Riddle placed it on the desk and lifted the lid, before offering it to Harry. Inside was familiar looking wand.
"This was recovered from St Mungo's," said Riddle. "I believe it belongs to you."
Harry stared down at the wand; it was identical to the on
"It must be glad to see you again," noted Riddle, eyeing Harry. Harry was fairly sure that Riddle was trying to work something out, though he wasn't sure what. "I assume the on
Harry didn't move, as the password echoed through his mind. Pandora ? a word that he had been called before. The Muggle Prime Minister had plucked the word from thin air and used it as a reference to him, and now Riddle had used it as a password. To the best of Harry's knowledge, Pandora, according to Greek Mythology, was a woman to whom a box was given with instructions not to open it. She had, due to her fatal curiosity and had unleashed pain and suffering into the world. Harry was himself curious, and he seriously hoped that he had not brought any pain or suffering to this world with him. It seemed like such a coincidence that the word Pandora should accompany him. He shook the idea from him mind, not wanting to give anything away.
"What do I say to the others," asked Harry. "I assume there are still a few Gryffindors staying in the castle?"
"I find the truth often works best," said Riddle, rising from his desk. "And yes, there are several, more so than in recent years. In fact, I believe most of your old friends are here. Though you may wish to avoid the subject completely tonight, I will announce your return to those of us still in the castle tomorrow, and then the rest of the school upon their return. Good night, Harry."
~~~~ + ~~~~
Outside the door, Harry inspected the two wands. They appeared identical and felt the same in his hand. Harry held on
A thin beam of pure white light shot out the end of both of them, merging into a single ball of light an inch from their tips. From there it sped across the corridor and into the other wall like a laser. The light was tremendous. What was normally a light akin to a torch was now akin to a lighthouse. Harry stopped the spell in shock. The two wands were more powerful than anything he had seen. Two identical wands were more powerful than two separate on
Harry yawned involuntary, despite his discovery. He needed some sleep; now he just had to face the Gryffindors, what few were left in the castle. He wondered how many and exactly who Riddle meant by 'your old friends'. If he walked through the portrait to find Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle as Gryffindors he would scream. Just how different was this world? Pocketing both the wands, he turned and started the hike.
The trek to the common room seemed to take longer than it ever had. His limbs ached with every step. After what seemed like ages he arrived at the Fat Lady. He gave the password and the painting swung aside. Harry clambered through into the common room, which wasn't as empty as he had hoped. As Harry stood in the doorway silence fell upon the room. Every eye turned to face Harry. Games stopped and conversations were put on hold, as everyone stared at the boy who had come back from the dead.
He was a sight; dressed completely in black and sopping wet. His combats were muddy and covered in grass stains. There were bits of grass and leaves stuck to the material. He looked like he had just crawled out of the Forbidden Forest, which wasn't too far from the truth. He felt relieved that Riddle had confiscated his weapons as they would have taken a lot of explaining. He had enough on the plate already. The fire was roaring in the fireplace and on the chairs in front of it were two seventh?year girls, notes laid out in before them. In the corner were a few familiar figures, including some of his dorm mates, playing chess or chatting. To his left were a gaggle of first and second years, presumably chatting about something inane.
"Harry?" asked a voice. He turned to see who had spoken. Neville Longbottom had risen from his chair and was staring at him as if he had seen a ghost. This wasn't the Neville Harry knew. He was glad his friend was alive in this world, but he had not expected to find him like this. His hair was shorter and the front was spiked up with gel. His appearance exuded confidence and if Harry had to guess, he would say Neville was a Quidditch player. His form was more muscular, his face less chubby, and his hair, clothes and posture reminded Harry of some of the Quidditch players he had known.
"Hello, Neville," said Harry softly, not entirely sure what to say. "Y'alright?" It was pitiful, but all he could manage. Neville's head sank into a slow nod, his face not changing from the curious, yet guarded expr
"We thought you were dead," Neville explained. "Riddle said that you had…you know…the fire." Just like the Grinch who stole Christmas, Harry thought up a lie, and he thought it up quick, though the Grinch hadn't Occluded his mind as Harry now did.
"Muggle Fire Brigade," said Harry, lying through his teeth. "The shop window was on fire as well so they were called. They pulled me out, barely alive. That's where I've been: just another John Doe in a Muggle hospital."
"Did they stick a needle in you?" asked a young student nervously. Harry cringed at the thought of needles and Muggle medicine, but knew better than to tell the truth. They had to believe he had been unable to return, and that no on
"Yes," he said, making his tone sound bitter. "Far too many of them; enough to bring me out of a coma." He watched with satisfaction as several faces cringed. Fantastic! They thought he had suffered with the doctors and was now back, meaning that the ice was hopefully broken. Now he could go to bed.
"So you're fine now?" asked Ron, rising from his seat. Harry stared at his best friend, who at present hardly knew him. He was just as tall as he had been, and wore the traditional Weasley Christmas jumper.
"As I'll ever be," said Harry, fighting back a yawn. He needed to get to bed, quickly. "I'm just tired ? it was a long journey back."
"How'd you get here?" Oh Christ, they wanted detail. He had to be careful here and not contradict himself or say something false. Every lie he told then had to maintain his cover as their Harry. He had to remember every on
"I hitch?hiked up to the Lakes," said Harry, knowing the stations the Hogwarts Express passed through. "The last on
"That's a bloody long way to travel," said Ron. Was he sceptical, or just in awe? Harry wasn't sure, but he didn't push it. To his relief, after a second, Ron began to smile. "Good on you. I'd have had no idea what to do."
"Well," said Harry, trying to avoid the praise as he literally had not deserved it. "I didn't know where I was at times. I just felt the school calling me. My mind is all screwed up from the coma. My memory is full of holes." It was probably best to label himself insane as it would excuse his lack of knowledge as he found out what was happening in this world.
"Are you alright?" asked Ron.
"More or less," said Harry, shrugging. "I just need rest." With that he began to head up towards the Boy's dorms, moving past Ron to get there. As he passed the base of the stairs, Ron leaned in to whisper in his ear.
"Katie is going to need to talk to you." Katie? As in Katie Bell, the Chaser? Couldn't Ron see that he was not in the best state to talk about Quidditch? The captain could wait; he was knackered. Honestly, it was poor taste, talking about Quidditch as soon as he heard Harry was alive.
"Katie can wait until the morning, I'm tired and in case you haven't noticed I'm not quite my usual self at the moment." Harry continued up the stairs, leaving a speechless Ron behind him. Harry climbed the stairs and entered the sixth year boys room.
He didn't even bother getting changed; he just walked over to his bed, drew the curtains and lay down. It was a matter of seconds before he was asleep.
~~~~ + ~~~~
"You sent for me, Tom," said the stern looking woman sitting before the Headmaster's desk. She was dressed in a tartan dressing gown, her hair was a mess, her eyelids drooped and it was perfectly clear that she had just woken up.
"Indeed I did, Minerva," said the Headmaster, addressing his deputy. "Can I offer you any tea or coffee? I believe it might help." She could tell from his tone that whatever he was about to say was imp
"Thanks," said Professor McGonagall. She tied her hair back into its usual bun while the Headmaster poured her a cup from the bronze kettle sitting on his desk. She sipped it and instantly felt warmth spread through her. Her senses became sharper and she felt the fog of sleep dissolve. Minerva knew that Tom had put something in her coffee. She would normally object to being duped, but having been up until three in the morning the previous night thanks to Peeves, and the night before thanks to an Order meeting, not to mentioned being awoken ten minutes ago by the call from Professor Riddle on the Frog Card, she was glad that something was taking the dreariness away. Feeling better and more attentive, Minerva crossed her legs in the chair, and stared expectantly at the Headmaster, who was stirring a slice of lemon in his tea, and staring absently at the desk. What had gotten him so rattled? It couldn't be good. Tom managed to appear calm even at the most trying times. Whatever was happening had shaken him, and that wasn't an easy thing to do.
"What is this all about, Tom?" she asked the Headmaster. She had known the man since they were at school. He was in his sixth year when she was in her first. He had been a Slytherin and she a Gryffindor. They had known each other for nearly half a century, and she had never seen him look so old and tired.
"Just when I thought that nothing else in the world could surprise me," said Riddle, sipping his tea. "It seems that nothing is beyond the power of fate."
"You're not making sense, Tom," said Minerva, almost impatiently. His last name suited him perfectly as he constantly spoke in riddles.
"There is no easy way to say this," he said, looking directly into her eyes. "So I'm just going to say it. Harry Potter is alive."
Minerva coughed into her coffee. "He's what…?" she blurted out, spraying coffee over the desk and her tartan dressing gown. That wasn't possible! As his head of house, she had escorted Harry to St Mungo's after the Healers had summoned him. She had been there when he had died. She remembered it clearly.