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A Stranger in the Promised Land Chapter IV (part1)  

2009-07-17 18:33:43|  分类: HP转载 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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      A Stranger

in the

Promised Land

~~~~ Chapter IV ~~~~

Enigma

"You're here because you know something.

What you know you can't explain, but you feel it.

You've felt it your entire life, that there's something wrong.

You don't know what it is, but it's there,

Like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad."

Morpheus (Laurence Fishbourne) ? The Matrix

BLACK MARKETEER DISAPPEARS DURING RANSACKING

Borgin and Burke’s of Knockturn Alley was ransacked last night, in an apparent revenge-motivated attack. The shop owner, Mr. Borgin, whose whereabouts are unknown at this time, is believed to have been abducted during the incident, which took place at around 5pm yesterday. Neighbours and passers-by report hearing bangs and curses shortly after the shop closed for business. When Aurors arrived, the shop had been ransacked and there was no sign of its owner.

"We are treating this as suspicious," said a Ministry spokesperson. "Since nothing appears to have been taken from the shop, we have ruled out robbery as a motive. This seems to have been a personal vendetta against Mr. Borgin."

Mr. Borgin’s alleged dealings are rumoured to be in the Dark Arts, and his ruthlessness as a businessman have gained him a long list of enemies. The Aurors are not short on suspects. Several cases have been brought against Mr. Borgin over the years, but witnesses more often than not mysteriously tend to withdraw their statements, or worse, meaning that he has never been prosecuted. It is, perhaps, ironic that a man rumoured to be behind several disappearances should now have disappeared himself.

Harry stopped reading and put the Prophet down. Using his good arm, he poured himself some orange juice and raised the glass to his lips. As he drank, he was aware of several eyes watching him intently. Further down the table Katie, Neville, Ron, Hermione and Ginny were all deep in conversation. He had a feeling it was about him.

Across the room, Draco Malfoy was shooting daggers at him.

Perfect, thought Harry as he glanced at Malfoy. That should make my job easier. He hadn’t given up on his plan to pick a fight with the Slytherin, hopefully prompting Katie and her group to invite him into the DA.

He buttered a bagel with his good hand, holding it still with his injured left. The salve he had borrowed had replaced the skin over the wound and helped to heal the muscles and tendons below, but it still hurt like hell when he stretched and tensed it too much so he held it close to his body and tried to keep it immobile. Lifting anything more than a bagel was impossible. He supposed he could use a sling, but that would just draw attention. Instead, he just kept the arm bandaged, more to protect it than anything else until the skin had healed over. All in all, he judged the mission to be a success; after all, he had gotten what he went there for in the first place, and he had managed to get away from the man in black, a highly skilled opponent, without needing to consult professional help. That thought brought a small smile to his face.

"Your attention please!" called a magically magnified voice above the chatter. Harry, along with the rest of the hall, turned to look at the speaker, though he already knew who it was and roughly what this was about. Umbridge was walking down the central aisle towards the staff table, dressed from head to toe in pink and wrapped in a fuchsia woollen shawl. The chatter died down in an instant as she spoke, but a groan started to circulate as people noticed what she was holding; a rolled up parchment.

"I have in my hand," she announced, unravelling the parchment with a pompous snap. "Educational Decree Number Twenty-Seven."

The groan swept through the room twice as loud as before, though Umbridge seemed unfazed. Harry noticed a grimace on McGonagall’s face as she exchanged a weathered glance with Riddle, whose face was passive. When quiet had returned, Umbridge began to read from the parchment, though Harry had a fairly good idea what it was about before she opened her mouth.

"By order of the High Inquisitor," she began in that familiar sickly sweet voice that made Harry want to pull her toenails out one by one. "All non-sanctioned pets and animals are banned from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Anyone owning a pet not listed on the school’s approved animal list, (see School Regulation 367, paragraph C) should be handed to professor Grubbly-Plank for disposal." Umbridge stopped reading and looked around, wearing an inappropriate smile, as though she had just given them a treat.

There was a pause as the words set in. Harry noticed Julia Giles, a young second year who had a rabbit called Fidget, looking extremely pale. Harry’s thoughts on the other hand, went far beyond a single furball. This was another example of Umbridge stamping down on the students. Like Dumbledore in Harry’s world, apparently not even Riddle could stop her.

What concerned Harry the most was that she was going further than she had in his world and it was in response to the phoenix ? to Harry’s intervention. He was already affecting this world, already making it harder for Katie. Riddle was expending valuable energy and resources that should rightly be spent looking for Grindelwald following Harry around ? an utter waste of time. In addition, Umbridge was now trying to find out about the 'mysterious phoenix', in addition to Katie’s DA. Just by being here Harry was changing history, although granted it wasn’t history yet, exactly. Technically this wasn’t the past, this was the present...just an alternate present. He tried to reassure himself that intervening didn’t matter. After all, he couldn’t very well delete himself from history, could he? All he was accomplishing was making it harder for Katie. Of greater concern was that if he pushed Umbridge enough, she could deviate from what she had done in his world and Harry would no longer be able to predict what was to come. And when it came to that woman, he did not like surprises.

"Excuse me, Professor, but what do you mean by 'disposal'?" asked a small, terrified voice. Umbridge had been heading up towards the head table when Julia Giles had spoken. "You don’t mean to...kill them, do you?"

Umbridge paused and turned back to the students with an icy smile.

"The sanctioned animals list was designed to be an inventory of safe and useful pets," she replied with false kindness. "If they are not on that list, my dear, then they are classed as dangerous or inappropriate. In that case, the Ministry shall proceed accordingly and have them destroyed."

"You mean murdered!" said an angry voice from the Hufflepuff table, but Umbridge ignored it.

"That is all. Enjoy your breakfast."

The argument was at an end and the High Inquisitor’s word was final. She headed towards the front of the room and took her place at the head table, completely oblivious to the tears of young Julia and the many other horrified and hostile faces around the room. Even Professor McGonagall was shooting daggers at her, Harry noticed. Unconcernedly, Umbridge calmly helped herself to a pastry, perfectly at ease.

If only he could be there to see her chased away by a herd of centaurs for a second time... However, he planned to be gone long before that happened. Despite the fact that Umbridge was stamping down, there was nothing he could or should do to stop it. He didn’t dare visit Katie as the phoenix again ? or at least, not where he could be seen. He really needed to keep a low profile.

Fighting his natural instinct, he rose to his feet, holding a bagel in his mouth and turned to leave, his injured arm tucked close to his body as he walked back up to the tower to get his stuff. He had a full day of lessons today and was too exhausted and in too much pain to do anything but comply with the status quo. He wanted to get into the DA sooner rather than later, but he was not an idiot; he knew that it was fool-hardy to go looking for a fight with Malfoy in this state. He would have to wait. He needed to wait. If he managed to find time, he might have a look at the journal later. For now though, it was time for Herbology.

~~~~ + ~~~~

"That didn’t take long," muttered Katie bitterly, as Umbridge finished her announcement. She had known that Umbridge would attempt something of the sort, but it didn’t stop her feeling angry at the old bint. She would slaughter all those animals just to drive Katie lower. That was pathetic, but that was Umbridge. Looking around, Katie could see that she wasn’t the only one who looked angry. Professor McGonagall also didn’t look best pleased. Katie looked over at the Headmaster, but as usual, he was looking elsewhere. Another glimmer of anger pulsed through her. Determinedly, Katie shook the thought aside, not allowing herself the luxury of wallowing in self-pity.

As she scoured the faces in the Great Hall, many seemed to be either livid or upset at Umbridge’s latest proclamation. Several people seemed to be in tears while friends tried to comfort them. Although most people did stick to toads, cats and owls, there were a few exceptions ? one of which was Hermione. Crookshanks was half cat, half Kneazle. Katie hoped that Umbridge wasn’t smart enough to realise this or Crookshanks could very well end up heading for the axe.

Another face Katie had picked out of the crowd was Harry Potter. His neutral expression stood out among the students as he arose at the back at the Great Hall and stood to leave. Curiously, he seemed to be holding his arm close to his body, protecting it. Had he hurt himself? Had someone hurt him? As Katie watched, she recalled their conversation the night before as she had headed up to the Room of Requirement.

We cannot understand what it is like to be you, and none of us have the courage to stand up and fight.

What right do we have to judge you? None.

How could someone so distant be so understanding? His question had cut her right to the soul. Even Ron, Neville, Hermione and Ginny had no clue was it was like to be her. None of them understood how much she hated this fame. Then, out of the blue, someone who she never really took notice of before seemed to get it. Someone who she didn’t trust, didn’t even like in his current state of mind, could somehow cut to the core of her. For a second, in those emerald eyes she thought that she had seen...understanding.

No...she must have been imagining it.

It was ridiculous. She knew perfectly well that her bumbling friend had never been through anything remotely related to what she had lived ? no one had. Yet, she knew what she had seen... Katie sighed. It was just another chapter of the enigma that was Harry Potter.

What was going on with him? His questioning of both her and Hermione was certainly suspicious. She couldn’t fight the idea that he was Umbridge’s spy. It all fitted ?so far he hadn’t been in trouble with the toad and he had taken unusual interest in what Katie and her friends had been up to. She couldn’t shake the feeling that he had an ulterior motive. Clearly the boy was hiding something.

Then again, it was Harry... only Harry. He didn’t have it in him to be a traitor, did he? A few weeks ago, she would instantly have said no, but these days she wasn’t so sure.

Still, tonight she had another detention and this one was to be longer that the last. There was no chance of being saved by a phoenix this time. She glowered at the figure in pink sitting at the front table and felt a sudden desire to see her struck by lightening.

I’m going to be there, she thought bitterly. When you and your stupid Minister are proven wrong and hung out to dry in front of the entire country, I’m going to be there and I’ll be laughing.

Suddenly, Katie’s blood was boiling and all her frustration was directed squarely at Umbridge.

Take a breath Kathryn, calm yourself, she chastised herself. This is just from lack of sleep. The nightmares had returned since the phoenix had not been there last night.

Come back to me, she pleaded.

The dreams were getting more vivid and the classes during the day more brutal. She held on to one thing now, and one thing only. She spent most of her time in daydreams, planning upcoming RA lessons. It was a glimmer of hope, and it was all she had to look forward to.

~~~~ + ~~~~

Harry’s cunning plan did not succeed for some time. It was ironic, he noted, that he found it so hard to get into a fight. Trouble had always managed to find him before, and Malfoy had given Harry so many opportunities over the years to lamp him one that Harry had given up counting. Ironically, now that he actually wanted to get into a scrap he was finding it really hard going.

Due to Umbridge’s latest decree banning all non-sanctioned animals, Harry had not been back to visit Katie in phoenix form since rescuing her from the old bint." He watched her from a distance over the next three days and as far as he could tell, there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with her. He would check in soon in phoenix form, as a week’s absence would make her suspicious. Nothing much, just a quick flap around the room. He made a mental note to do that after classes, but right now he was concentrating on something else: Malfoy.

Although anxious for a fight, Harry forced himself to not make a single attempt over the next few days in order to give his arm time to heal. In the interests of protecting said limb, Harry would rather this upcoming scrap be magical and not physical. He needed to be up to his full strength as soon as possible and taking a pounding on his already injured arm from any of the Slytherins would set him back days. By the end of Wednesday, his arm, largely thanks to the liberal doses of the lotions and potions he had taken from Pomfrey, was a bit better. Although he could not support much weight on that arm and movement was still a bit painful, the skin had completely healed over. It was now a matter of giving the muscle beneath time to heal. Not being a Healer, Harry thought this was good progress and so made his first attempt the following morning.

His first effort had simply been to track the three of them and then walk past them alone in a deserted corridor while wearing Gryffindor colours, and so giving them every opportunity to have a go. However, the trio of Slytherins walked right past, noses in the air, Crabbe and Goyle’s arms swinging like pendulums but fists not clenched. They didn’t seem to care. Harry felt strangely annoyed that he wasn’t even worth their time. He also felt something was amiss if Draco "Shooting-daggers-at-me-for-the-past-few-weeks" Malfoy was ignoring him.

It was not, Harry soon discovered, as easy as one might imagine, especially as it harmed the desired image of helpless and defenceless if he went in fists and wands blazing. He needed to get Malfoy to make the first move. Getting a bully to make the first move sounded simple, but it just didn’t seem to be working. Did Umbridge have her pet on his best behaviour? Harry wasn’t sure, but what he did know was that this wasn’t going to happen nicely.

That afternoon, attempt number two had taken the form of walking into Goyle as if he had not seen him. He had been aiming for Malfoy, but Goyle had stepped across his path just before impact. Harry had stammered an apology, hoping to be hit, but before Goyle could raise a fist, Malfoy had grabbed his arm and pointed. Professor Slughorn had been waddling towards him.

Goyle had cursed aloud exactly the phrase Harry was thinking in his head.

"Watch where you’re going," Goyle grunted rudely, and the Slytherins retreated into the Potions room.

"Careful, mate," Neville, who had been standing nearby with Ron, warned. "I don’t reckon he’s forgiven you yet."

Harry opened his mouth to protest, but quickly shut it again. He didn’t want to seem to be looking for trouble ? he needed sympathy. Cursing inwardly, he followed Neville and Ron into the classroom.

Before Potions on Thursday afternoons, he decided, was his best opportunity for another go, as Katie and the finalists had their lessons in a room no more than thirty metres from the one Harry and the sixth years were using. This would give the DA head coach a front row seat. However, it also meant he needed to wait another week.

In the last few days since he had discovered the DA’s existence, Harry had been busy. The professors had started sending him notes to attend extra catch-ups lessons, which had taken a majority of his spare time. He had appeared to Katie as a phoenix twice since Umbridge had banned unusual pets, but never stayed long. He just flapped around, let her pet him for a few minutes and then left. In truth it was quite pleasant when her finger gently stroked his golden plumage and he had had to force himself to leave the second time. These visits, and the additional homework he now found himself faced with meant that he had had very little time to explore the diary. He had skimmed through parts of it each night before bed but had only managed a few pages per night, and it was a long book. The author’s tiny writing didn’t help, nor the constant use of technical jargon. From the parts Harry understood he seemed to be on the right track, and Harry was optimistic that further down the line he may well encounter some useful information.

As it turned out, it was another week before anything happened, either with Malfoy or the diary. At one-thirty on the following Thursday they were all waiting outside their Potions lesson with the seventh years just around the corner including, Harry noted, the Girl Who Lived. He suppressed a smirk at the title and turned his attention back to his own class. Malfoy was leaning lazily against the wall, apparently lost in thought. Truth he told, Harry was not actually concentrating on Malfoy at the time. Like all great plans, this one came into being almost by accident. Harry had been working out how he could plausibly get close enough to spill the blackcurrant drink he was holding, (guaranteed to stain clothing) all down Malfoy’s new robes, when a dreamy voice sounded in the passage.

Harry didn’t actually hear what Luna said and had no idea why she would even be here with the sixth years, but the Slytherins promptly burst out laughing. Harry noticed that there were even a fair few from Gryffindor who were laughing as well. Grimacing, he stepped closer to see what was going on, standing on tiptoe to try and see through the forest of students. All he saw was Luna, however, retreating down a passage and disappearing from sight.

As the rest of the Slytherins sniggered, Malfoy spoke.

"That girl was definitely dropped on her head when she was a baby," he said sarcastically. "When she graduates, she wants to go to St. Mungo’s, but I’m not sure if she means as a healer or patient. They’ve got a Wacky Ward there, don’t they? It’s called the Looney bin for a reason."

Harry felt his blood pressure rise, and his fists tense. He thought back to Neville’s parents, to the image of them in St. Mungo’s, not even recognising their own son. Their vacant faces were burned into the back of his eyes. Malfoy’s Aunt Bellatrix had done that ? had he no respect for the departed? Clearly not.

"I blame the parents," Malfoy continued, unaware of Harry’s rising temper. "Her father’s a few balls short of a snooker set, isn’t he?"

It was as if the fog cleared. Harry suddenly saw what he needed to do. He saw how he could get them to trust him, to pity him. In his world, what had made him pity Neville the most had been the truth about his parents.

"If you knew what you were talking about, you’d be dangerous," said Harry loudly, putting the drink down. Silence fell and Malfoy’s head turned slowly to face him. He was vaguely aware of the few students standing between them taking a step backwards to clear the line of fire.

"Ah," Malfoy said matter-of-factly. "Makes sense. You would know all about the Wacky Ward, Potter."

Harry stepped forward, not in outrage for his parents of this world, but more for Neville’s. How could Malfoy be proud of what his aunt had done? How could he consider it a laughing matter? Harry remembered that this subject had nearly driven Neville to hit Malfoy once, and now he understood what his friend must have been feeling. This was as good a reason as any to hit him, arm be damned.

Harry hadn’t managed another step before Neville grabbed him in a bear-hug, clamping his arms to his side and stopping him from moving.

"Cool it, Harry," he said quickly. "He’s just trying to get a rise out of you."

"Luckily," said Malfoy even louder, ignoring Neville’s interference, "the problem’s now solved, isn’t it? You could have all gone together, but you are so stupid you couldn’t even die properly."

That was enough. Harry’s real anger snapped, consuming his acting. He thrust his elbow backwards into Neville’s stomach, knocking the air out of him. As Neville doubled up, Harry drew his wand. Malfoy followed suit, having had his ready. As the wands came level, Harry opened his mouth to cast a spell, but suddenly remembered what he was here to do, as the icy control of the Dark Knight took command.

A spell left Malfoy’s wand and it took all Harry’s self control not to move to the side. Instead he forced himself to hold his ground and waved his own wand clumsily.

"Stupef..."

He braced for impact, knowing he was wearing no armour.

The spell hit him in the gut, forcing the air out of him and launching him backward. He felt his limbs go numb as his feet left the ground and then he landed painfully on his back, sliding along the stone floor, his glasses slipping down below his nose. He lost his grip on his wand as he hit the cold, hard stone and the pain consumed him from within. His insides felt like they were on fire. He imagined this was what an ulcer felt like. Every organ felt like it was burning; it was like lemon or salt on a cut, like chilli in the eyes except all over his body. The pain began to grow, burning hotter and hotter, itching, blazing inside where he could never scratch. He broke out into a sweat and could feel himself going red as the heat surged through him. It was unbearable.

Forgetting the pretence, Harry reached for his wand and levelled it at Malfoy.

"Stupefy!" he choked. A jet of red light shot from his wand, but his aim was off. The curse shot over Malfoy’s shoulder, missing Parkinson by an inch and shooting harmlessly into the wall, which absorbed it without effect. It was enough to cause Malfoy to break the connection.

"What’s going on here, then?" boomed a jolly voice before Harry or Malfoy could make another move.

Professor Slughorn had arrived through the crowd and Malfoy had hastily removed his wand from sight. Harry was able to breathe again. He sat on the floor massaging his stomach, still sweating and feeling really hot. The burning pain was gone, but he could feel a dull ache and he was still beet red. As the beefy potion’s professor approached, Harry glanced around at the other students. Malfoy was leaning against the wall again casually, trying to look innocent. Neville ? who had managed to straighten up after Harry had hit him ? and Ron were tucking wands away, hiding the fact that they had been about to intervene. Hermione appeared shocked but sympathetic towards Harry. The rest of the students just looked slightly disappointed, as they always did when a fight was broken up. Through the gap Professor Slughorn had created in the body of students, Harry could see Katie watching him, her face passive but her eyebrows narrowed. Had it worked? Only time would tell, though she didn’t seem overly impressed.

"Mr. Malfoy?" asked Slughorn, turning to face the boy.

"Nothing," shrugged Malfoy offhandedly. He shot a dirty glance at Harry, a smug expression on his pale face, "Although it seems Potter is just burning to learn more about Potions, Professor. You might want to give him extra lessons, since he obviously needs help."

With that he, turned and strutted off into the classroom, leaving the teacher standing. Slughorn made no move to stop him.

"Potter?"

The walrus turned to face Harry, who was still shaking slightly as the aching slowly receded from his limbs. He still felt light-headed and a bit disorientated, but it was probable only a lasting effect of the spell. Whatever it had done to his organs was leaving him starved for oxygen and feeling faint. Most likely it would pass given time.

"I slipped," Harry lied, climbing shakily to his feet with Neville’s help.

"All right, Harry?" Neville asked.

"I’m fine," he muttered, brushing his robes down. "Thanks."

The seventh year's professor had arrived by now and had ushered them into their own classroom further along the corridor. Professor Slughorn seemed satisfied that nothing was amiss and moved into the dungeon followed by the rest of the class, leaving only Harry and Neville out in the corridor. The sound of students unpacking floated out of the class, but the two Gryffindors were alone.

"What was all that about?" asked Neville in a whisper, presumably so that those sat nearest the door would not be able to overhear.

"You heard him," Harry said angrily, picking up his schoolbag, which had slipped off his shoulder in the confrontation. He had expected Malfoy to win ? he knew that he was going to get hit before the fight even started ? but still, the manner of his defeat angered Harry. He was expecting massive ears, huge toe-nails, something weird...not a near death experience.

Bloody Malfoys and the bloody Dark Arts.

Besides that, Harry was still angry that Malfoy could be so heartless and make jokes about what his aunt had done.

Neville didn't seem to get this and just looked puzzled.

"Yeah, something about St. Mungo’s," Neville said, his face showing no signs of comprehension.

Harry shot him a piercing look. Neville’s face suddenly fell and Harry knew that he had made the connection between the Wacky Ward reference and Harry. He actually felt sympathy for his friend when the guilt surfaced onto Neville’s face.

Oh Neville, thought Harry sadly. It was actually your parents I was thinking of, not mine. Thank God you don’t know.

"Who?" Neville’s eyes were wide and he looked a little ashen.

"You never thought it odd that I live with my aunt and uncle?" asked Harry. He immediately felt his own pang of guilt; he had known that Neville lived with his grandmother from the day they had met, but he never asked why until he found out in a Penseive in his fourth year. Four years it had taken for Harry to care enough for his friend to ask why, to discover why Neville had no mum and dad.

"Your parents?" asked Neville. "I knew they were killed in the blast they thought killed you, but I never realised why they were at St. Mungo’s."

"No one does," said Harry, his voice level, unemotional. It took all his control to mask his feelings of pity and anger at the injustice and tragedy of the story, even though it wasn’t his own. "Fifteen years they spent there, and the world forgot their names."

Harry turned and walked into the room, sliding on to a bench near the door. He thought back to Frank Longbottom and his wife Alice, wandering aimlessly in St. Mungo’s. They had been in the Order, they had known what was happening, what Dumbledore had done with Harry. Two people of such character, even that curse could not force them to tell their secrets. The Longbottoms had chosen insanity rather than betrayal, just as Lily Potter had once chosen death in order to protect her son. That was the greatest tragedy...that such honourable people had given their lives.

Harry knew he owed Neville’s parents a debt. They didn’t tell the Lestranges about Harry, about the Order, or about what had happened to Voldemort. They had been heroes. Above that they had been good parents, judging by how Neville had turned out here. Harry remembered what Frank had been like in the Unholy Land after losing his family ? bitter and twisted. But in this world, this was how the Longbottom family should have been all along.

Disgusted at the injustice of it all, Harry made his way into the potions classroom and picked an empty seat near the back. To Harry’s annoyance, Neville slid onto the bench next to him, determined to continue with the questions.

"Merlin, what happened?" he asked, unpacking his bag. Luckily the noise of everyone unpacking was enough to cover their conversation.

Why not? thought Harry. After all, it had happened to Neville in another lifetime. These weren’t his real parents, and the sympathy might aid in his mission to get close to this DA.

He leaned in close so that only Neville could hear. "After He fell," Harry said in a conspiratorial tone, "they were caught by the Death Eaters, desperate to know what had happened to their master. They wanted information about who had caused his downfall and where that person was. My parents were a pair of Aurors, Riddle’s old favourites ? the perfect targets. Do you know what happens when you use the Cruciatus Curse for a prolonged period of time?"

"Merlin, they didn’t!"

Harry nodded grimly. "If it goes on for long enough," he said keeping his voice emotionless, "it destroys the victim’s mind. They have no memories, feelings, nothing. They are empty shells, hollow shadows of their former selves. I went to visit them every week during the Christmas and Easter holidays, but they didn’t even recognise their own son."

"Blimey," breathed Neville. "And Malfoy knows this?"

"He knows," Harry growled, his voice harder. "It was his aunt who did it, the woman who escaped from Azkaban last winter, Bellatrix Lestrange. She was the ring-leader that night. Looks like she told her darling nephew everything. Part of me wishes I would meet Bellatrix down a dark alley. Part of me knows that I wouldn't stand a chance, not with my Defence marks," he added hinting towards the DA.

"I’m sorry, Harry. I never knew," Neville breathed almost apologetically.

"No one does," said Harry, turning to Neville, his voice firmer. "And it has to stay that way. I don’t need extra attention or pity. I’ve had enough of those already to last a lifetime." He paused for dramatic effect and even gave a small sigh. "I just wish I knew as much as you and Katie so that if I ever had to defend myself from the likes of her I wouldn’t end up like my parents..."

"I...er...," said Neville shiftily. He seemed to be thinking about something and wrestling with his conscience, eventually coming to a hesitant decision.

"I might know of something that could be of help," he said at last. Harry’s ears pricked up at the offer. Neville didn’t state outright what he meant, but Harry had a fair idea.

"Really?" Harry deliberately tried to sound unconvinced. Come on Neville... mention the DA, he screamed inside his head.

"Yeah," said Neville, looking more determined now. "I’ll talk to Katie this evening, and I’ll get back to you."

"You’re being very mysterious," Harry said, raising an eyebrow. It was enough flattery to appear interested without appearing nosey. Harry was convinced he was referring to the DA. Still, he figured he had better test the water, in case Neville was referring to something else. "This isn’t anything illegal or dangerous, is it?"

"It depends on how you define illegal," Neville said with a lop-sided smile.

Harry managed not to look smug. That certainly sounded like the DA to him.

But then Neville suddenly became more wary. He cast a quick glance around the room and lowered his voice to a whisper. "I’ve already said too much," he added, "Look, I’ll get back to you this evening."

"RIGHT, WHEN YOU ARE READY..." boomed Professor Slughorn, waddling over to the board. It was time for the lesson to begin.

~~~~ + ~~~~

"No, no, and hell no," said Katie firmly. There was no way on earth this was going to happen. Over her dead body!

They were in a deserted classroom where Neville had beckoned her after her Transfiguration class. She stood near the window, hands on hips and an expression of anger on her face.

"Katie," said Neville with strained patience. "Stop to think about this for a second."

"I have," snapped Katie, refusing to be patronised by him. "And I don’t trust him."

"He’s harmless." Neville looked at Katie as if she was crazy. "Look, we’ve always tried to keep an eye out for him, right? He’s always been a friend, so why have we never invited him before? He clearly needs it."

Katie grimaced with a pang of guilt.

"Look," she said, brushing the hair out of her eyes impatiently. "I admit, that it would have been more friendly of us to have invited him in the first place. If it wasn’t for recent events, we probably would have by now. But that doesn't mean I trust him now, and it certainly doesn’t mean you can just go up to anyone and invite them without asking"

"Asking who?" asked Neville, angrier now. "Should I beg your permission, Your Highness? Who are you to give orders? Is this Pax Kathriana?"

"No!" protested Katie hotly. She wasn’t that arrogant. "And don’t use my full name. My point is that the old Harry we would have invited by now, but this isn’t the old Harry."

"So, he toughened up a bit," he shot back. "You of all people should understand how a shock like that can change a person. One minute he was visiting his parents in St. Mungo’s, and the next..." He sighed in frustration. "If you had any idea what happened to his parents you might be a little less of a?"

"A what?" Katie demanded, her temper rising to the surface. She glowered at Neville but there was no fear in his eyes, just anger that matched her own.

"Ice queen," finished Neville calmly, managing to settle himself down a bit. Katie saw him take a strained breath before he spoke again. "If you knew what..."

"I DO KNOW," snapped Katie, before she could stop herself. She had promised Riddle she wouldn’t tell anyone, but this was in the interests of everyone. Neville froze on those words. Katie took a deep breath, wishing she was somewhere else. Her temper, which was always bubbling these days it seemed, retreated for a moment as she felt a wave of pity for Harry. "I found out last year," she confessed. "In a Pensive in Riddle’s office. I saw the trial of the Lestranges and Barty Crouch Junior. I know why the Potters were in St. Mungo’s."

"So you know that he goes to visit them every week when he’s at home?" asked Neville in an accusing tone.

Katie knew he was driving his point home.

"Or at least he did," Neville continued. "Did you know that he used to go to see his parents every holiday and that they didn’t even recognise him, their own son? Grindelwald took everything from him, and you still think he has it in him to be a traitor? One minute he was visiting his parents, the next he wakes up from a coma to find that his parents are dead. He is all alone in Muggle London and is barely alive. Is it any wonder that he toughened up, that his grief has made him a little out of character? You saw what Malfoy did this afternoon. A little training is just what Harry needs."

Katie took a deep breath, determined not to shout. "Two things. One, Grindelwald may have taken everything from him, but we are fighting Umbridge ? a different kettle of fish. Secondly, have you ever considered that the whole thing was set?" she asked. "That Potter staged that fight?"

"Come on, Katie," said Neville with annoyance. "You’re reaching!"

"Am I?" she asked, her temper firing up again. "Umbridge knows we are up to something. Her decree banned new clubs the day after we formed. She knows something is going on, she knows it’s me, but she doesn’t know what we're up to yet. What if she sent Potter to find out?"

"Harry doesn’t have it in him," Neville insisted loyally. "Whatever he is, he’s not a traitor."

"He doesn’t have the strength to stand up to Umbridge," Katie maintained with conviction. "He’s been quizzing Hermione about lessons, hovering around the Common room, listening in on our conversations... and that doesn’t even touch on his new found habit of wandering around as if he hasn’t a care in the world."

"Ever considered that perhaps he is trying to be more friendly?" asked Neville. "He has no parents now. Maybe he needs some friends, people who’ll look out for him ? you of all people should understand that."

"Of course I do," Katie conceded, leaning wearily against the wall. "Listen, Neville. The best-case scenario is that you’re right and he has just grown up. The training would teach him to stand up to Malfoy. However, the worst-case scenario is that I’m right and Umbridge is using him to get to us. He set up the whole fight with Malfoy to get our pity, to make us invite him. Somehow I just know it." No matter what Neville thought she knew she was right. The question was why he had done it. What was his true motivation?

"He wouldn’t," Neville said, though he was suddenly less sure. "Anyway, he couldn’t ? Hermione’s parchment would let us know."

"But only after he’s betrayed us," Katie pointed out. Hermione’s jinx was merely a way to catch the sneak; it didn’t stop anyone going to Umbridge. "And only you, me, Hermione, Ron and Ginny know about that anyway," she added.

"But it’s Harry," Neville said again. "He wouldn’t do something like that. He may not be a fighter, but he’s always been honest with us."

"Until now," said Katie. In her mind’s eye she could see those deep emerald eyes, that insatiable calm. She didn't understand why she kept finding herself drawn to those eyes. They were allegedly the windows to the soul, and it was through these that she saw the differences to the old Harry. There was something mysterious behind them, perhaps even dangerous, like a great secret. She felt a chill run down her spine, which only served to reinforce her resolve. "Like I said, a few weeks ago no problem, but now I’m not so sure. You have to admit that there is something strange about him. His attitude, manner, even physical appearance has changed slightly."

"You’d lose weight on a liquid diet for a month, too," Neville said defensively. "And then he walked from London to Scotland."

Katie’s own temper started to boil again but she managed to hold it down. "He said he hitch-hiked and then walked through the Forbidden Forest," she said. "He didn’t walk that far."

"But it was through the Forbidden Forest," he said with respect. "You’ve been in there, we both have. We know what lurks in the darkness. Whatever he saw in there must make the school seem timid. If he was brave enough for that, Umbridge wouldn’t scare him that much. Neither would Malfoy - that might explain why he shows no fear."

"Maybe," said Katie, unconvinced. "I just can’t shake a feeling that there is something incredibly...wrong about him."

"But that isn’t a reason to abandon him." Neville crossed his arms. "Now, more than ever, he needs friends. Gryffindors stick together, right?"

Katie stared at him for a long moment. Neville continue to stare back unblinking for the entire pause. She knew she was right, but she could never make him see. She could understand where he was coming from, she really could; it was not as if she was ignoring his argument. She had heard him out and still disagreed. It was something guttural, such a basic instinct that told her Harry was up to something. Her instincts had thus far served her relatively well and she was inclined to trust them. Logically she would agree with Neville, Harry was very much like her now. He was an orphan who had lost his parents to this war and nearly his own life as well. By his own admission he had grown up where he was unappreciated, and true, he needed friends. But there was something else there...every warning bell in her head went off every time he was around.

The question was, did she rely on logic, her instinct, or on someone else’s instincts in this matter? Which of the three was more reliable right now?

"Oh, all right," Katie said, stepping away from the wall. "Me, you, Ginny, Hermione, and Ron makes five. Majority vote. We will abide by the decision, alright?"

It was a compromise, but it seemed fair. Maybe she was just being prejudiced against Harry because of her gut feeling, and perhaps she was wrong. Democracy in action would solve their debate. Neville also seemed to accept the offer.

"Agreed."

~~~~ + ~~~~

True to his word, Neville got back to Harry right after dinner that evening. Harry had been finishing off a hastily written essay for potions class at the time. Naturally, given his situation, he had put the minimum of effort in, just enough to get Professor Slughorn off his back and enable him to continue his analysis of the diary. However, he wasn’t really feeling up to reading the diary either. He’d had a full day of lessons topped by additional charms, then the best part of an hour writing an essay. He was mentally exhausted. In addition, he also had a headache. He had thought that it was due to the long lessons in stuffy rooms, especially the potions dungeon which was sweltering in the heat of the bubbling cauldrons. Then again, he had a sneaking feeling that it was an after effect of Malfoy’s curse, whatever that had been. His insides still felt a little odd and he had hardly been able to eat a thing for dinner. He planned to turn in early and sleep it off.

It was quarter past eight and Harry was situated in the Common Room at one of the tables, putting the finishing touches to his essay. It was now a force of habit, but he looked up any time the Portrait opened and someone entered. His peripheral vision was always looking for movement near him, for any sign of the threat. The Dark Knight was on constant alert as Harry worked. This time as the Portrait opened, Neville climbed through into the Common Room. He paused for a second, looking around for Harry. Harry, himself, kept his head lowered as if reading his work, though in truth watching Neville. He did not wish to seem too eager.

Another few seconds passed and then Neville sank into the seat next to Harry and put his feet up on the coffee table Harry had been leaning on to write.

"Alright?" he asked. "How’re you feeling?"

"Plodding onwards," replied Harry, placing his quill back in the pot and leaning back in his seat facing Neville. "Malfoy isn’t strong enough for the curse to have had any lasting effect. Professor Slughorn’s essays on the other hand...I’m sure there’s something in the Geneva Convention about them."

Neville laughed, sounding slightly confused. Harry could see that he didn't really understand the joke, and also that underneath the laughter, Neville was serious and wished to move the conversation on.

"There’s no getting around Slughorn," Neville said. "And as for Malfoy, well, he still landed one on you."

"If nothing else, it’s curbed his desire for revenge," said Harry, shrugging, though he had noted that Neville was focusing on the fight. This looked promising.

"Oh I doubt it," said Neville with sigh. "The story, along with a rather poor impression of you thrashing around like a fish, is doing the rounds. I heard a couple of Hufflepuffs saying that they heard all about it from Bulstrode."

"Yeah, but no one believes Bulstrode," said Harry with a laugh, remembering her reputation from his own world. "Didn’t Malfoy once convince her that when the tide goes out, the sea stays still and the land moves? The guy’s a tosser, but I have to admit, that was funny."

"Yeah, well, my point is that these days no one seems to be able to tell fact from fiction," Neville said more gravely this time.

Harry nodded. Neville had hit the nail on the head; lies spread further than ever these days.

"That is why we precious few need to stick together."

"What do you mean?" Harry asked carefully, though he already knew. Neville was talking about the DA. This was it. Harry fought to keep his excitement from his face.

"There are those of us who believe what Katie says," said Neville in whisper, he removed his feet from the table and sat up, leaning forward.

"You mean all that stuff about the Dark Lord being back?" asked Harry, feigning ignorance. De Niro has nothing on me, he thought inwardly. He leaned forward in his chair, in close to Neville.

Neville nodded. "What do you think?" he asked pointedly.

Harry paused, choosing his words cautiously. This was Neville’s little test, he knew.

"Katie is under a lot of strain, and we’ve both seen her temper," Harry said. "She is a lot of things, but she is not a liar. I think she’s telling the truth, and with all that’s happened since and Fudge’s reaction...I believe her."

A small flash of victory spread over Neville’s face.

"Given the chance, would you help her?" he asked.

"I don’t see how I can," Harry replied, his face a mask of innocence. He couldn’t make it too easy for Neville.

"He is back," Neville said firmly. "And we have to be ready. Umbridge won’t let us learn, so we have been forced to find someone else to teach us."

"Really?" asked Harry feigning interest. "Who?"

"Katie."

Harry paused, raising his eyebrows and trying to look astonished. "But she’s just a student..."

"With more experience than half the Auror division," said Neville. His tone was firm but not aggressive, as if asserting a fact he really believed in. "Aside from Riddle, she’s the only one to ever face the Dark Lord and walk away."

"In that respect she certainly is qualified," noted Harry, though trying to keep his voice sounding hesitant and nervous. "So what do you want me to do?"

"You said earlier that you wished you could so what Katie can," said Neville. "You wished you had the skills so that you would never end up like your parents." Harry nodded, struggling to hide his excitement as he sensed victory. "We can help with that: we have decided to invite you to join the RA."

"I’d lo..." began Harry, relieved that he had finally been invited. He had been about to say that he would love to, but then suddenly he paused. "The what?" he asked.

"RA," repeated Neville, looking quite pleased with himself now. "Not to be confused with the IRA, though Seamus is a member," he added with a grin.

Harry looked blankly at him.

"We had trouble with the name," conceded Neville shrugging. "The ‘I Hate Umbridge Society’ was suggested, ‘Defence Association’ was quite popular. Some idiot even wanted to call it the ‘Anti-Umbridge League’. Then a third year wanted to call it the Rebel Alliance after a film he likes, and from there we changed the acronym to Riddle’s Army. Stopping an army is Umbridge’s whole reason for being here..."

"...And you are doing it right under her nose," said Harry, finishing the sentence and grinning. "Ironic."

Harry paused for a moment. Of course it wouldn’t be named after a man who had been dead for fifty years. Harry had been foolish not to realise that it wouldn’t be called the DA. Still, the name was of no consequence. What mattered was what they learned in the meetings.

"So what do you say?" asked Neville, once again looking around to make sure they were alone. "Yes or no? Ja oder nein? Oui ou non?" He paused for a second.

"Where do I sign?" Harry said, nodding his head.

Neville’s poker-face faltered for a fraction of a second before he laughed. Harry was suddenly aware that Neville looked awkward.

"What?"

Neville straightened up, "It’s funny you should mention signing," he said in a roundabout way.

Harry suddenly remembered Hermione’s contract and the ‘Sneak’ affect of blabbing.

"Do I have to sign something that will strike me down if I tell?" said Harry lightly, making a joke of it. "Perhaps I should do it in my own blood?" He grinned at Neville watching the other boy squirm.

"Well, personally, I used ink and a quill," said Neville after an uncomfortable pause. "But yes, you need to sign." Neville tried to make light of it, but Harry knew that he had caught him off-guard. He managed to keep the smirk from his face. He was better at this game than Neville.

The other boy reached into his robes and removed a rolled up sheet of parchment. He rolled it out flat and passed Harry a small quill. Harry took it and leaned down to read the paper. Neville shifted in his seat, using his body to block the sheet from the rest of the room.

Across the top of the sheet were the words ‘Riddle’s Army’. Beneath it was a list of names, topped by Kathryn Bell. Harry paused - he had not realised that Katie couldn’t be her full name. It was just something he had always accepted without really thinking about it. Putting the thought aside, Harry scanned the list quickly. Hermione, Ron, Neville and Ginny were at the top, and there were plenty more names. Twenty-six in total, and sure enough Harry found Luna Lovegood etched in swirly writing near the bottom. The names were almost identical to the DA, except for those who had graduated. These had been replaced by several names Harry didn't recognise. He also noted with a grimace that Marietta and Cho were also on the list. Harry sighed before lifting the quill and signing his name at the bottom of the parchment.

"There you go," said Neville. "All done. You just need this." He held out a coin to Harry. Harry took it and examined it, though he already knew what it was. Still, for appearance’s sake, he tried to look confused.

"Normally, members pay the membership fee, not the other way around," he said, flipping the coin in his hand.

"It isn’t real, so don’t spend it," Neville replied, his tone level and serious. "When was the coin made?"

Harry examined the coin turning it so he could read the date stamped into the metal.

"Hang on," he said. Last year had taught him to read the roman numbers easily with all the practice he had had with these coins, however he chose to pretend he was having trouble. "I hate Roman Numerals. It says...hang on! Apparently it was made tomorrow evening at 7." He scrunched his face up in puzzlement. "Galleons don’t have the time on them, do they?"

"Exactly," said Neville, looking mildly smug. "That is the time of the next meeting. Seventh floor, Barnibus the Barmy tapestry. Someone will be there to show you how to get in."

"Cool," said Harry, pocketing the coin. "Hermione’s invention I take it?"

"Who else?" asked Neville, standing up and tucking the parchment back inside his robes. He pocketed the quill and glanced quickly around. "Well, I’ve got to get going. See you tomorrow."

"Oh, Neville," said Harry as the other boy turned to leave. "You don’t happen to have anything for a headache do you?"

"Not on me," said Neville. "Malfoy’s curse still hurting?"

Harry shrugged, "Might just be from spending the day in hot classrooms and not drinking enough."

"Hmm," said Neville. "Tried Pomfrey?"

"No," said Harry with an exasperated look. "I am not spending a month in bed for a headache. I’ll sleep it off."

Neville shrugged and turned to leave. Harry waved as Neville disappeared into the rabble of students and out through the portrait hole. He felt a curious sensation of power at having successfully manipulated Neville and made him squirm. He had given Neville the idea of inviting him and made Neville think that it was his own idea.

"Well Miss Moneypenny," said Harry under his breath in his best Sean Connery accent. "I have infiltrated the RA. Time for a pumpkin juice, shaken not stirred." Mission accomplished. Harry saw little point in remaining here, and so decided it was best to have another look at the book before turning in for the night.

Over the last week, Harry had spent an hour or so almost every evening trying to find something useful in the diary, however so far he had drawn a blank. Harry had covered about a third of the book, and had folded down the page where he was reached.

As he entered the dorm he crossed to his bed and drew the curtains. Propping himself up so that he was leaning on the headboard, he opened his Charms textbook and tucked the diary inside it. Should any inconsiderate git open the curtains, they would see him revising.

Harry fluffed up a pillow and put it behind his back and then began to read. As before, it was utter drivel.

This part was all about one experiment that had apparently led nowhere. Harry decided to skip forward a few pages and began to read again.

Ah, this is more like it.

He had stumbled across the author’s research into the history of the subject, into a list of people who had attempted such research. None of them he recognised, but then again, he didn’t expect to. The diary began as far back as ancient Greece, just what Harry was looking for. With renewed interest he began reading the neat script of the paragraph.

Unfortunately, it was just a very longwinded explanation of what he already knew. There was a legend that an order, a sort of cult, had discovered a mineral that conducted temporal energy in sufficient quantities to punch a hole in the fabric of space. While they had failed time-travel, the legend spoke of how they found another world. Apparently a device was made and travel was possible. However, then all travel and use of the device suddenly stopped. The author surmised, and Harry believed that it was complete guesswork, that something had happened...something to scare the creators. The author believed that the cult discovered a world that was utterly hostile, perhaps a bitter reflection of their own or perhaps containing a creature so terrifying that it was deemed unsafe. Either way, this device was buried and hidden, never again to be used. Apparently it was regarded by some as the Holy Grail of time-travel theology. According to the author there had been many expeditions to find this lost treasure over the years.

Hah, I know where it is... thought Harry to himself. But I don’t have the damn key. Where is that?

Harry continued to read. Apparently the device itself may have been moved several times. Various sightings had been reported over the years but as always with conspiracy theories and myths, none of it could be substantiated. One paragraph that caught Harry’s attention said that in the first millennium AD, the device was moved to England. The reason for this apparently was that its previous location had been taken over by a warlord into whose hands the device must never fall, so the descendants of the creators moved the device to England. It was then mixed up in Arthurian legend. Rumours of the doorway appeared throughout the later half of the second millennium. Apparently the 'doorway', as the author called it, appeared in France in the 1600's, allegedly, but was thought to have been returned to England.

The next chapter went into more detail on the Arthurian legends it had mentioned earlier. It almost made Harry laugh as he read how, it was rumoured to be the Node through which Arthur and his Knights had ridden to return at a time of England’s need.

Hardly, scoffed Harry.

Then again, it did explain what it was doing in England. He didn’t believe the Knights of the Round Table had gone through it, but he knew it was in this country. Anyhow, the Node moved space not time, so even if they did go through, they would long since be dead. Still, it made for a good bedtime story.

The next paragraph was less useful. It was a list of seven points over the course of which, the author described exactly why this whole story was not true and how such a device could not exist. Hmm, not so encouraging. Just as Harry was about to admit that perhaps this guy did know what he was on about, he had managed to completely lose his confidence. He very nearly tossed the book over this shoulder and decided to start looking elsewhere, but then he remembered Hermione once telling him that God was in the details and that if he skimmed, he would miss what really mattered. Nine times out of ten, the answer was staring you in the face, and you just have to open your eyes to see it. Or ask Hermione.

Harry took a moment to stretch being cautious of hurting his arm, and then continued with the book, skipping a few pages here and there if the text was about something else. The story came to a quick end and the author went on to talk about other experiments that were supposed to have been done to attempt to travel through time.

Against his own advice, Harry skipped through the next bit, as it merely listed a load of experiments, none of which had worked. He had flicked through over a third of the book by now, and was loosing both faith and patience. Had his trip to Knockturn Alley been in vain? Had the price of hurting his arm been for nothing?

He flicked a few more pages and then something circled in red caught his eye. Harry peered in closer to read the tiny writing.

Quibbler,

June 1989,

Page 63.

Beneath it was a single word, also in red: ‘YES’.

Could it be that Luna’s dad had inadvertently stumbled across the story? This was the sort of implausible legend that would make the Quibbler interested. Maybe he was just spilling out the legend, or maybe he had found something more substantial. The author seemed to believe so, but the author had been wrong before. Either way, it was too late to worry about it tonight.

Harry checked his watch ? it was gone eleven. Tomorrow he would speak to Luna and try to get his hands on an old copy. The library stored old Prophets in the archive, but Harry somewhat doubted that they would stock the Quibbler. He wrote the word Luna on the back of his hand as a reminder of what he needed to do.

That done he decided it was time to turn in. He closed the diary and put it back in his trunk, which he then locked. Removing his shirt he unwound the bandage from his arm and inspected the wound. The skin had healed over, but skin was but the top layer and there was still clearly a lot of damage underneath. Tissue needed to reconnect, muscles needed to heal, blood flow needed to be restored and Harry had no idea what to do. He didn’t know how to heal a paper-cut let alone this kind of injury. He had done his best, but it was far from perfect. In the flickering light of the lamp he could see that his shoulder was covered in an ugly purple bruise, spanning form his collar bone to nearly his elbow. It was painful to the touch and sent streaking pain to his entire left side when he stretched it. It was as if newly healed muscle was ripping again. As long as he kept it still, he was alright, and he could carry very light loads. That was about it. To top it all, his insides still ached from Malfoy’s curse and his head was still aching.

You’re a wreck, Harry, he told himself. No more fights until you are healed!

~~~~ + ~~~~

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