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A Stranger in the Promised Land Chapter IV (part2)  

2009-07-17 18:35:27|  分类: HP转载 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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In all honestly, by the time lessons finished the next day Harry was bristling with nerves and excitement, and feeling rather sick because of it. He knew that it was nothing that he hadn’t seen before. He knew that he would be able to do almost everything that they were learning and he knew that it wasn’t his lesson to run, but he was definitely looking forward to his first RA meeting. At the same time he was feeling rather nervous as well. He was caught between the desire to impress, and the need keep a low profile, and he was nervous that he might give something away. He was also feeling rather ill...again.

Thankfully, his insides weren’t sore anymore, at least not in the way they had been. His stomach still felt a bit odd and had cramped a few times making him feel rather sick at times, but it didn’t feel as if his insides were burning like before. His headache had returned shortly after lunch, the night’s sleep having done little to alleviate it. Maybe it was Malfoy’s curse lasting longer than he had thought or maybe he was just coming down with a cold. Even the great Boy-Who-Lived was not immune to the common cold and if Malfoy’s curse had scrambled his insides, it might have knocked out his immune system temporarily leaving him open to the flu. Wouldn’t Malfoy love that.

He thrust the thought of a gloating Malfoy aside. It was a scientific fact that Man-Flu was worse than Girly-Flu and gave any man the right to stay in bed all day and complain loudly, but Harry had work to do and it wasn’t that bad yet. Besides, he had a meeting to attend.

Part of him wanted Katie’s RA to be good, a roaring success, but part of him didn’t want it to be better than his DA. There was pride in the DA for Harry, and he didn’t want to admit that Katie had done a better job than he had at assembling an army. Still, that didn’t mean he would sabotage it. During his daydream in Potions that day, (Dosage calculations were done purely by theory. The Half Blood Prince was of little help and so Harry had spent most of the time daydreaming), Harry had been planning how best to handle his behaviour for the evening.

Naturally, he did not want to draw too much attention to himself so throwing powerful hexes around was not in the cards, but at the same time he didn’t want to be so bad that he slowed people down and drew attention that way, either. Then again, being able to do everything would invite the question, where had he learned to do it all? He was in a precarious position. If he was being perfectly objective, he might have realised that this was an inherently dangerous move. It risked showing abnormal ability and even exposing that he was not being entirely truthful with them. The sensible move would have been to avoid this extra contact with these people and keep himself isolated as much as possible. He no longer needed to befriend Hermione; since the Arithmancy needed to get him home was beyond her, she was now obsolete. Luna he could speak to at any time, for his request was not unusual and didn’t reveal anything dangerous. In short, he had no real reason to go, except one ? his fatal curiosity. It was a good thing that he wasn’t a cat.

In truth there was another reason for going, one that he didn’t even admit to himself: he was homesick. He had been at war for so long that his desire to be back where he belonged, at Hogwarts with his friends, was almost tangible. He wanted to be a part of it again, to live as he once had before things had gone so wrong. He knew this wasn’t his world and knew he mustn’t get too involved, but just being there, surrounded by old friends would make him feel better, he thought. He wanted to feel that wonderful feeling as the light came on for those around him and they finally understood. Even though he wasn’t teaching, he just wished he could be back in the DA, and this was as close as he was going to get.

Harry Potter, he thought to himself with a silent chuckle as he set off for the meeting. Are you getting sentimental in your old age?

At the appointed time, Harry stood waiting across from the tapestry of old Barny on the seventh floor. It wasn’t long before Neville appeared. Harry nodded as he joined him. The other boy looked around cautiously and cocked his head, looking for any sign of someone approaching. After a few seconds he faced Harry again.

"Observe," Neville told him. "You walk past three times, thinking that you need to see the headquarters of the RA. You need to concentrate hard and the door will appear...like so."

Harry watched, his expression neutral, as Neville did as he had said, and sure enough, the door appeared. Neville reached for the handle and pulled, opening the door outwards. He gestured for Harry to go inside with a mock bow. As Harry stepped across the threshold, he felt a wave of homesickness wash over him. The room was exactly as he remembered, right down to the lightly scented smell of the cushions. The shelves were full of books and lined with all manner of tools and dark detectors. Over twenty students were gathered around in a horseshoe shape, and at the centre of the group, stood the girl herself. All eyes turned to them as they entered. Harry just stared at Katie.

Katie wore her uniform, except that she had swapped her skirt for some trousers. She had removed her jumper, leaving just her shirt, which was open at the top and the sleeves had been rolled up. Her hair was tied back and she was all business.

God, I wish I had looked that good, thought Harry, remembering his nervous jittery manner in the early sessions of the DA.

Katie’s eyes swept over Harry, looking him up and down. There was a definite coolness in her face, and Harry had a sudden feeling that it had taken a lot of persuading to get him here. Harry was fairly sure that she didn’t trust him. He made a note to keep his head down. He briefly considered warning her about Marietta, but decided it was best to wait. It was not his place to intervene, and she would want to know how he knew. The others stood watching Harry, waiting for someone to explain. After a moment, Katie did.

"You all know Harry Potter," she said, her tone formal and business-like. "He is the latest addition to our group." That was all the introduction she afforded him, for the next sentence was clearly the start of the lesson.

"Now," said Katie, her voice raised so that everyone could hear. Her tone was assertive and confident, the opposite of what Harry had been. "So far we’ve made good progress on blocking, shielding, and disarming. Today, I want to go on to something a little more...robust." A murmur of excitement floated around the room. As it died down, Katie spoke again, apparently a master orator. "Before we go any further, I must remind you that you mustn’t use these spells outside of this room. If everyone starts throwing these hexes around, Umbitch will start asking questions and sooner or later she is going to realise what we are up to. We need to keep a low profile. I don’t care how much of an annoying little git Malfoy is, you do not retaliate with what we learn here, understood?"

"Yes, Ma’am," said someone loudly. A snigger moved around the room, and Katie threw an annoyed glance at someone to Harry’s left.

"Right, in that case, over the next month we are going to build up your arsenal of offensive spells," she announced to the general approval of the room. "We will start today with the most common and useful offensive spell. I am talking about Stunning," said Katie.

"No need," said Neville, grinning like the Cheshire Cat. "I’m already stunning. If I get any more handsome...."

"Thanks for volunteering, Neville," said Katie, beckoning him forward. "Hermione, can you get the man a cushion?"

Neville’s smile faded as he stepped forward. The crowd around him fell back, giving him more room. Harry was beginning to like this new, confident Neville. He had a weird but funny sense of humour. As for Katie, Harry had to admit he was impressed. She was more abrasive, more aggressive than he had been in her position. As such, she had more of a presence in the room and was proving to be a better teacher.

Maybe it’s because she’s a girl, Harry decided. Girls were swottier and generally made better teachers. Deep down, however, he knew it was his damaged pride being resentful but he felt better thinking it.

As Hermione put a cushion behind where Neville was standing, Harry watched his friend do some melodramatic stretches and jogging on the spot, punching the air, much to the amusement of several of the onlookers and himself.

Katie took out her wand.

"A Stunning Curse does exactly what it says on the tin," she said. "It stuns the victim. Depending on the strength of the curse, this can mean he or she is just fazed and disorientated for a few moments, or it can render someone completely unconscious. What I want is for each and every one of you to be able to stun someone to the point where the victim is completely unconscious. Death Eaters will kill you on the spot, so we need to make sure that when they go down, they do not get back up again...but without killing them," she added quickly.

"Can’t a Stunner kill though?" asked someone to Harry’s right.

"Not that I know of," Katie answered politely.

"I’m sure I’ve heard of one killing someone," said the girl more firmly.

"Not in itself," said Harry before he could stop himself, as he had once had a similar conversation in the past.

Several eyes turned to him, including a suspicious looking Katie. He now had no choice but to explain, he just needed to think of a reason why he might know this. "The spell only knocks the person unconscious, it depends what the person lands on. In water for example, they can drown, or if they land on their head..." Harry trailed off before he dug himself a deeper hole. He quickly recovered. "There was a man in St. Mungo’s when I visited my parents. He had been stunned and had fallen out of a first floor window and had brain damage. He died a week or so later from the fall, not the curse."

The girl backed down, looked slightly paler.

"We’ll take your word for it," said Katie, moving the lesson on after a quick appraising glance. "Anyhow, despite what Harry has said, here we have cushions here to catch you safely, and there is no water to drown in so we are safe to practice. The wand movement is this," she demonstrated the movement with her wand, and the others imitated.

Harry held his wand in his right hand and clumsily copied what Katie was doing.

"The incantation is ‘Stupefy’," she announced, speaking slowly and carefully. "Neville, brace yourself." Neville tensed as Katie aimed her wand at him.

"STUPEFY!"

The spell hit Neville in the stomach. He rocketed backwards, the force bending him in two, his head and arms, ending up near his legs as he fell backwards into the cushions with a flump. There was a gasp as he did not get back up again.

"Cool!" said someone loudly as Neville landed. There was a short pause as everyone surveyed the fallen Neville. Katie calmly walked towards him and knelt next to his body. She raised her wand and swept it across his face.

"Enervate," she said and Neville opened his eyes.

"Ow!" announced Neville with a pained expression. He sat up slowly, and clumsily made to get up.

"Stay down for a second," Hermione said quickly.

"Eh, why?" asked Neville.

"If you get up too quickly you will faint all over again," Hermione informed him. "Trust me. Take a second for your circulation to right itself and then get up slowly."

Katie turned her attention back to the group. "As you heard, the counter curse is Enervate. The effect of the Stunning Curse after it’s been removed is generally disorientation and confusion. It takes a few moments to get your bearings again. As Hermione has said, in this lesson take a minute before you jump back up or you will knacker yourself and you’ll end up so weak you have no hope of managing the spell. In an actual fight, you’d get your arse into gear and get out of there as soon as you could, but for now take your time and do it right. By the end of the week let’s see if we can get everyone stunning and reviving. Okay, find a partner, and I will come around."

This Harry realised was his chance. He slipped quickly to the right, and headed around to where he had spotted a familiar mop of blond hair.

"Would you like to be my partner, Luna?" asked Harry politely as he arrived beside her. The girl turned slowly, her eyes wide and her expression dreamy. Of all the people he had met across all three worlds, the one person who never changed one iota was Luna, a thought which caused an affectionate smile to creep across his features. Whatever people said about her, she was always honest, reliable, and possessed a heart of gold ? if a bit vacant and odd.

"Of course, Harry Potter," she replied, her eyes wide and her tone mildly confused ? a tone that suited her expression. "People don’t usually ask me to be their partners, though. I’m usually the one to go around looking, or just simply do without. It is nice to be asked."

"Well, this is my first time at the RA," said Harry, before realising what he had said could be construed as insulting. "I mean....I didn’t mean..." he stammered.

"I know what you meant," said Luna dreamily. "Should we make a start, then? Kathryn does seem to be in an awful hurry tonight. Personally, I think she’s got a rather large chip on her shoulder."

Harry managed to hold in a laugh, and just nodded. Luna had the ability to see what was happening and was completely unafraid to voice it, no matter how embarrassing or cringe-worthy it may seem. She was completely unfazed as she voiced awkward truths that most people would not dare bring up, but Harry had to admire her powers of perception. He wondered if Luna had worked out that he was the chip on Katie’s shoulder.

Harry took a few steps backwards so that they had room to practice.

"You go first," he offered.

Luna dreamily reached into her robes and removed her wand. She raised it up, adopting a duelling pose. After a second’s pause she moved the wand in the way that Katie had indicated, her eyes staring unfocussed at the tip of the wand. She repeated the gesture three times, before looking up at Harry who stood waiting.

"Stupefy!" she said, swishing her wand as taught. Nothing happened ? the wand didn’t so much as glow.

Harry could hear the shouts all around them and a flash of red from the direction of Hermione. Part of Harry wanted to cast a proper one to really show her how it was done, but self-control took a hold of him.

"More aggression," suggested Harry, trying to look like he didn’t know what he was talking about. "Concentrate on the spell hitting me, not on the word itself."

It was often the way, at least in his own experience, that he got so bogged down in pronouncing the word correctly that he forgot to concentrate on the spell itself. Yes, the word had to be pronounced correctly, but he often ended up only listening to himself say the word rather than the spell. That way, even if he got the pronunciation correct, nothing would happen.

Luna tried again. "Stupefy!"

The wand tip glowed reddish-orange for a second and then faded. Harry opened his mouth to offer further advice, but noticed that Katie had arrived behind Luna and was watching them.

"Good evening, Kathryn," said Luna dreamily to Katie. She then turned, almost in a pirouette, to face Harry once more. "Ready, Harry?" she asked in a sing-song voice.

He nodded, bracing himself.

"Stupefy!" shouted Luna.

This time a thin beam of red light shot out of her wand and struck Harry on his left arm. The spell didn’t cause him to black out, but rather hiss in agony and clutch the injured arm which had been hit square by the spell. Shivers of pain shot through his body. He staggered back a pace under the impact of the spell and, falling to one knee, hissing in pain. It was all he could do not to cry out. The spell was not strong enough to knock him out but he felt a wave of dizziness wash over him and his arm hurt like hell. Harry gritted his teeth and bit back the pain.

He looked up to see Luna and Katie crouching over him, concerned.

"Did I hurt you?" asked Luna worriedly, her eyes perfectly focused and her tone not at all distant. It reminded Harry of back in the Ministry when she had proved that, despite her bizarre manner, she could be counted in times of need. When the pressure was on, Luna was perfectly capable of focussing.

"Yeah," said Harry. There was no point in denying it as he was clearly in pain. "I hurt my arm last week and it hasn’t healed yet. The spell hit it."

"I’m sorry," said Luna, her tone sympathetic and mellow.

"It’s okay," said Harry reassuring her. "I should have protected it myself. I think I’d better stand sideways-on next time."

Harry shook his head as the disorientation faded. Bugger... his headache was back. He rubbed his forehead for a second with his hands, before looking up. "Right, where were we?"

Katie offered a hand, which Harry accepted. She was surprisingly strong as she helped pull him back up to his feet.

"Are you sure you’re okay to carry on?" asked Katie, for the first time looked concerned rather than hostile.

"I’m fine, Katie," he said calmly. "It’s just an old injury that’s resurfaced." He did however raise his free hand to rub his forehead.

"Not Malfoy’s curse?" asked Katie. Harry was mildly impressed that she made the jump.

"Don’t think so," said Harry casually, not wanting to alarm her. "That wore off."

"What was it?"

"No idea," he said. "Something nasty. Anyway, that’s gone."

"And your head?"

"I think I’ve just got the flu or something. I’ll be fine," Harry insisted.

Katie hesitated and then nodded, much to Harry's relief. "Okay, just be careful with that arm," she said. "Don’t hurt yourself. We don’t want Umbridge finding mysterious injuries on members. Have you been to see Pomfrey about it?"

"No," said Harry. "It was just a burn from Potions that hasn’t healed yet. Professor Slughorn gave me some stuff for it." Katie seemed satisfied and took a step backwards to give him room.

"Injury aside," said Harry to Luna, "the good news is that you nearly did it."

"Nearly," she announced quite proudly. She glanced at Katie who gave her an encouraging nod.

"Now it’s your turn, Harry," Katie said, her tone expectant. She briefly reminded Harry of McGonagall.

Harry took a deep breath as if he was nervous. In truth, he was. He had never really attempted to not do a spell before, especially one that he had used so often it was almost second nature.

He stood a few feet back from Luna, ever aware that Katie was watching his every move, scrutinising his every action. Harry readied himself. Holding his still painful arm close to his body, he stood sideways-on to Luna, his wand aimed at her chest. He held it loosely, trying to minimise the contact with it.

He tried to let his mind wander, but all the time it seemed to flow back to Katie who stood motionless, watching, waiting. Her blue eyes scanned his entire body, but he couldn’t tell what she was looking for. He raised his wand, and trying to concentrate on something neutral, swished it clumsily.

"Stupefy."

A plume of orange sparks fizzled out of his wand like a fountain. It looked like a firework, rather than a crisp beam of light and never even reached Luna. Harry felt like grinning ? he had managed to dull the spell down. It hadn’t been a proper stunner at all, and it hadn’t even been the full scarlet colour. He had been worried he might hurt Luna or get himself noticed, but he had managed it. He breathed a sigh of relief.

Katie unfolded her arms and stepped closer. "You can do the spell," she said clearly. She stepped up behind Harry, gently placing her hand over his wrist, adjusting his grip on the wand. "Hold your wand firmly for a start. Now concentrate on the target - focus. Once more, with feeling!"

Harry was both impressed and annoyed that she had seen through his mistake, but managed to smile and keep up his pretence as he adjusted his position. She took a step back and stood there expectantly. Now he was in trouble, as she had corrected him. He would have to do it properly or risk his membership in the group, eliciting Katie’s suspicions all over again.

He took a deep breath, "Stupefy!"

A beam of red light shot out of his wand, but it was not what he had expected. It was thin and translucent, barely stronger than a red torch let alone a spell. He light connected with Luna’s stomach causing her to step back a pace, but as far as he could see had no further discernable effect. She looked just as dreamy as ever.

What the hell, thought Harry. He managed to keep the concern off his face. He had been trying that time. Not trying his best, granted, but that spell should not have failed. What had gone wrong?

"I-I nearly did it," he said, recovering quickly for Katie’s benefit. "Once more. Ready Luna?"

She braced again and Harry aimed his wand. This time he was going to get it right.

"Stupefy!"

The red light again shot towards Luna, but once again it was pale, weak, and did little more than make her stagger back a pace or two. Harry looked around, was someone jinxing him like Fred and George had done to Zacharias Smith? No, there was no one. What was wrong with him? He had been able to do this spell since he was in his fourth year. His head was throbbing again now, which made Harry feel worse and really angry. This wasn’t right.

"You’re nearly there," said Katie, nodding, but once again, she was not smiling. She raised an eyebrow, but Harry could tell that she was suspicious. She had dropped the distrustful stare in concern for his arm, but now it was back in place. What had he done that had made her hostile again? She didn’t say anything else but turned and moved on to the next group, leaving Harry wondering what he had done wrong.

Harry turned back to Luna. "That was really good, Harry," she said sounding impressed.

"Look, Luna," said Harry, deciding not to delay any more. If Katie was suspicious his time at the RA may be limited ? he needed to move. "I meant to ask you: I was wondering if you could do me a favour."

"That depends on what you need," she said matter-of-factly.

"I need an old copy of the Quibbler," he replied keeping his voice low. "June, 1989."

"Father keeps a copy of every issue," she replied serenely as if it were a common request. "I could have him print you one off. Why do you need it?"

The very question he was hoping she wouldn’t ask.

"Err," Harry stammered before recovering his cool. "It has an interview in it that I’m interested in."

Her eyes lit up. "Oh? Which one?"

Again Harry hesitated. He had no idea what was in that issue. "It’s a little embarrassing," he replied meekly, attempting to avoid an answer. Luna on the other hand seemed to understand, which was more than Harry did.

"Oh, that one," she said, smiling slightly. "It’s nothing to be ashamed of," she assured him. "I’ll ask father to send one as soon as possibly. Now, is it my turn to practice?"

~~~~ + ~~~~

Shadows were dancing over the walls of the office courtesy of the serpent lamp on the desk. The flame was being blown by the light draft coming in from the open window. At the desk in the centre of the room, the owner was pouring over some files. There was a pile to his right and another was lying open in the centre of the desk with a photo of a woman atop several sheets of parchment. In big red letters across the top of the page were inscribed the words Ministry of Magic ? Restricted. This didn’t seem to bother the man who sat calmly reading the notes on the woman in question and sipping a cup of lemon tea.

Tom Riddle checked his watch and was surprised to see that it was quarter past midnight. He sat upright, wiping the fatigue from his eyes and stretching. He closed the file he had been reading and put it back in his in-tray. Rising awkwardly to his feet, his back protested from having been bent over for the last few hours. After closing the window to the cold night air, the Headmaster crossed the room and headed back towards his living quarters.

Knock! Knock!

Riddle checked his watch and then sighing to himself, called aloud "Come."

The door opened and a rather tired looked Poppy Pomfrey stepped into the office.

"Ah, Poppy," said Tom, courteously. "What brings you to my office in the middle of the night?"

It was as she stepped into the light that Tom realised that she looked flustered. Her hair was a mess, but it was no bed-hair for she wore her uniform, not her bed-clothes. She still wore makeup and had clips in her hair, albeit they had slipped. No...she had not been asleep, but had been working. What had shaken her so?

"Well, headmaster," Poppy began, sliding uninvited into a chair in front of the desk. Normally she was courteous and waited for invitations to sit down, but tonight she seemed very much on edge. "I really don’t know where to begin," she said quickly.

He had seen her keep her calm during all sorts of situations, but something was worrying her. It wasn’t urgent enough to fire-call so there wasn’t a dying student or anything that severe. What has scared the nurse so much that it could not wait until the morning?

"I always find it helpful to start at the beginning," said Riddle, moving behind the desk and taking his own seat. "Perhaps some coffee?"

She nodded gratefully. Tom summoned a House Elf who returned seconds later with piping hot pot of coffee and two mugs. He poured Poppy a cup and sank once more into his own chair, ignoring the protests from his sore back.

After having taken a few sips, Madam Pomfrey was ready to speak.

"Do you recall when we gave Harry Potter his physical?" she asked unexpectedly.

Tom did remember, and at the mention of the name his tiredness left him. If she could answer some of the questions surrounding the enigma that was Harry Potter this conversation would not be a waste of time. He grimaced as he realised that this was to be another sleepless night thanks to the boy.

Poppy continued without waiting for a response. "Well, I compared his DNA against a sample we had from before his disappearance ? you recall he got stung by Pomona’s Viper Vines last November ? well I did a call-back session with Potter just before he disappeared to see if all the venom was gone."

"Yes, Poppy," said Riddle, "you told me about that. The DNA matched, did it not?"

"Yes," said Poppy impatiently. "I mean, no. Err...no, I mean yes."

"Was that a yes or a no?" asked Tom, trying to keep the amusement out of his voice.

Poppy shot him an indignant glare, before speaking again. "Yes, insofar as what I was able to test myself with what I had available. I could only do the basic comparison with the equipment available to me."

Tom hoped she was not just here to ask for more equipment. That however was the least of his concerns. Was she saying that she might have made a mistake? Could it be that Harry wasn't really Harry? Tom's concern must have shown, for Poppy immediately shook her head.

"Rest assured, headmaster..." she began, but Tom interrupted.

"When there are no students around please call me Tom," he said gently. Although he was proud of his position, he felt it was rather odd for grown men and women to address him as Headmaster when not in the presence of those to whom an example should be set. Poppy nodded and took another sip of coffee before continuing.

"Rest assured, Tom, that what I did in January was more than enough to ascertain identity. He is Harry Potter...but there are certain irregularities."

"Sorry," said Tom, at a loss as to the point of this conversation. "I’m not following. I thought DNA was unique. If there are irregularities, does that mean that he may not be Harry Potter?"

"It's not that simple, Tom," said Poppy, shaking her head and laughing softly.

Tom didn’t see the funny side, and this was anything but a joke. If a complete stranger could come into the school and get that close to Kathryn...Tom managed to keep his frustration in check and gestured for Poppy to continue. She took another sip of coffee and set the mug down on the desk.

"Because you were so rattled about the boy," said Poppy leaning back in her chair and crossing her legs, "after I had done my own comparison I sent a sample of Potter's blood to a friend of mine at St Mungo’s. I know there are laws against that, but in the current climate I believed bending them was not inappropriate. They do not know who it is, so my oath is not broken. Anyhow, I digress. I sent the sample to Crystal Merchant, do you remember her?"

"Quite the Gobstones player," said Riddle, vaguely recalling the girl in question. She and Poppy had been in their fifth year when he had returned to Hogwarts a year after Albus' death.

"I only chose her as she is a friend whom I went to Nightingale's with, and she owed me a favour," explained Poppy. "All I wanted was a second opinion, so imagine my surprise when two days letter I got a call on my fireplace asking me to pop over in the morning. This was a fortnight ago. Now, I am not sure if you are aware of this, but Crystal is currently St. Mungo’s senior researcher into genetics, specialising in cancers and mutations. She had analysed Potter's sample with the latest techniques. The results were...very interesting. Both of us have been trying to make sense of the results, but I thought it best to share them with you."

Riddle was now wide awake. "Okay, Poppy," he said. "Tell me, what is troubling you?"

"How much do you know about DNA, Tom?" she asked. He didn’t have time to respond before she ploughed on. "Never mind, I will put it simply: DNA strands are the building blocks of every creature on the planet and every person’s DNA is unique. The DNA carries the genetic information of the organism. Think of it as a blueprint. For example, one gene gives you blue eyes another brown hair, with me so far?"

Tom nodded, glad that she was taking it slowly.

"Although microscopic," she continued. "The DNA strand is very long in terms of genetics, as it contains a complete blueprint for an organism. All humans will have the vast majority of their DNA sequence in common, as they are of the same species, with just the last bit differentiating person to person, accounting for gender, of course. There are also parts that not only humans have in common, but every organism on the planet."

Tom was tired. His eyelids had begun to droop before Poppy had even arrived, much less started talking. His exhausted mind was having trouble keeping up. Poppy seemed to guess this, and leaned forward to the desk, grabbing a parchment and quill. She drew a single line across the parchment and then divided the line into three sections.

"To make it clearer," she said, "think of the DNA string as this line. The section on the left, here, is the same for every living organism on the planet whether it be a daisy, a gerbil, a hippogriff or yourself. This middle section, here, is the same for every human being, and this section on the right, here, is unique to every individual person. It is this section on the right that makes you Tom Riddle with dark hair and the rest of it. We use the information in this final section when we are DNA fingerprinting. Understand?"

Tom nodded. He had the feeling that she was simplifying to the point of talking to a four-year old, but he didn't comment. He needed it put simply in his current state.

"In the case of Harry Potter, this is where it gets interesting. These last two sections," ? she pointed to the middle and right sections, which defined human beings and individuals ? "were perfectly matched to how he was before the fire in St Mungo's. He is definitely Harry Potter. However, when we looked again there were certain differences, but not where we would expect. There were differences in the first section, here."

She jabbed the parchment with her finger on the left hand side.

"But, I thought you said that this section was common to every living organism on the planet?" Tom asked, certain he had misinterpreted.

"Exactly," replied Poppy, looking relieved. "Exactly."

"But..."

"It's no use asking, Tom," said Madam Pomfrey shaking her head and then taking another sip of coffee. "I cannot say what it means. I can give you the facts: there are differences in Harry's DNA compared to every other creature on the planet. These anomalies are in uncharted sections of DNA. Since all organisms have these same elements, little research has been done. I cannot say what the functions of these...rogue genes are.

"What are you saying?" asked Riddle. "That he isn’t quite human?"

"He’s human," said Poppy with certainty. "Or near enough. The differences are not in the part that makes us human, dog, or alligator for example, but in a bit that every single life-form on this planet has in common, and that is magically and scientifically impossible."

"What is he, then?" asked Riddle, his head spinning. He was speaking more to himself than Poppy. The matron shrugged and sipped her coffee. Riddle didn't fully hear her next comment but it sounded like 'damned if I know'. Tom chewed over the conversation one more time in his head, seeing if any pearls of wisdom immerged from the gloom. There was nothing.

"Is it possible that someone did this to him?" he asked. For his part, Tom could not think of any spell that re-wrote DNA. Even Animagus training did not breach the subject. A person's magical core allowed them to take on the form of an animal but their DNA never changed, even in animal form. Transfiguration was the same. The subject may look different depending on the spell, but their DNA never changed. Even...

Tom recalled a time deep in his buried past when he had uncovered a rumour of the Dark Lord's most secret invention. He remembered going to see Horace, asking him about the possibility of tearing his soul asunder. Even that, the darkest magic he knew, would not touch DNA. Tom shivered at the memory, wishing to forget his past. He wished he could have faced his old self and made him see what a monster he had been. That name, he thought, thank Merlin that name would never be uttered again. Tom buried his emotions under a thick blanket of Occlumency before turning his attention back to the matron.

"If someone has done this to him," answered Poppy after a short pause, "then they are very, very clever. Let me put this into context: causing mutations in cells is disturbingly common and easy. Using a mobile phone for too long or exposure to radiation can cause mutation ? we call it cancer. If someone has a mutated cell inside their body, the body rejects and isolates it. The mutated cells continue to multiply and eventually it forms a tumour. The key point is that the body rejects and isolates the mutation. Potters body is not rejecting these cells, because they are not isolated occurrences. His entire body, every cell, carries this pattern. It is not a cancer, it is his normal genetic code."

"Understand, Tom," she continued in a grave voice. "Crystal is regarded as one of the leaders of her field. Her research is on the forefront of knowledge, yet she and her team are still on the verge of identifying specific genes that may cause cancers and leukaemia. The next step, they hope, is to use magic to turn on or off genes that can cause the disease. However, even in theory this can only be done with human sperm or egg cells, or a very, very small foetus ? only a few hundred cells in size ? because the exact same change needs to be performed to every cell, and even then there is no guarantee that the host body will accept the change. Potter is sixteen ? can you imagine how many trillions of cells there are in his body. To change every single one in an instant, without the body rejecting them and not killing Potter himself...it is completely impossible."

"Poppy," said Tom, carefully, the enormity of her words still playing on his mind. "In your medical opinion, who or what is he?"

"I truly cannot say," replied Poppy. "He breaks every rule of genetics what we know." She paused. "There is a little more to it, though."

"More?" echoed Tom in astonishment. Just when he thought the mystery could not deepen, it seemed it would.

"Crystal has a Muggle cousin, Angela," explained Poppy. "Because she already knows about wizards, we felt that it was not a breach of the Statute of Secrecy to ask her about our results. She is a doctor, doing research in the same field, but from a Muggle perspective. Muggles seem to be slightly more advanced in the area of genetics, so we thought she might be able to help. Angela says that our findings are impossible and that we have to have made a mistake. We haven't, Tom. Potter’s DNA is an impossibility by Muggle and magical standards."

"We then decided to look into magical method of mapping blood." She took a sip of coffee, before continuing.

"Currently, no real research is being done on the matter," she said, her tone betraying the frustration she had endured because of it. "After that we dug a little deeper into the Medical Archives at St. Mungo’s hoping to uncover a magical means to explain this anomaly. Over the centuries, several cultures have had a go at mapping blood, usually rather painfully, but we couldn’t find anything of use. We then had an idea. We made discreet inquiries at the Department of Mysteries. One Unspeakable was rather helpful. It seems the department acquired a book about twenty years ago, one that originated from ancient Greece. Granted, parts of this book are obviously suspect as it allegedly deals with alternate realities and parallel worlds."

"Fanciful," said Riddle, raising a doubtful eye.

"Indeed," said Poppy, laughing at the concept. "What's even more laughable is that apparently the Ministry tried to recreate...whatever it was, but failed. Anyhow, the point is that these Greeks, these something-something-Gnosis I think they are called, did quite a lot of work into mapping blood. It is the earliest form of DNA research on record. It also apparently addresses the areas we all have in common in an attempt to answer the question 'what is life?'. I believe this book may hold some of the answers to what is going on with the boy."

"Would it be possible to get hold of this book?" asked Riddle, leaning forward, his eyes sparkling. Although from a suspect source and highly dated, anything that could shed light on Harry Potter was definitely worth a read.

"The Unspeakables only translated the parts they needed for their little experiment twenty years ago," explained Pomfrey. "I have asked that they translate the parts we need, and send over the transcripts."

"And they have agreed?" asked Riddle, surprised. Knowing Cornelius, the answer was probably no.

"Only because they thought that the request was coming from St. Mungo’s, not here," said Pomfrey with a sly smile. "If we had used your name, I doubt we would have gotten it. Crystal made up a story about researching into treating Leukaemia and they agreed to help."

Riddle could have kissed her. Her initiative was shining through and she had done so much of the work for him.

"How long..."

"Two weeks I was quoted," said Pomfrey, stifling a yawn. "Crystal just called me an hour ago to tell me it will be a fortnight." She yawned again. "Sorry, I have spent the last day or so at St. Mungo’s and then the Ministry, going over and over this little puzzle. It feels like I haven't slept in ages."

"And I am most grateful that you have done all this," Riddle told her, genuinely meaning it. It was the best news he had heard for some time. She smiled at him over her mug which she held in both hands, warming her palms.

"Tom," said Poppy after a pause. "What shall we do about Harry Potter in the meantime?"

Tom hesitated. He was reluctant to alienate Harry further. He seemed to be calmer now and hadn’t done anything out of the ordinary for weeks. There had literally been no progress on the Potter front since the medical exam. He had now apparently joined Kathryn’s resistance group, so he was fitting in once more. From Harry’s point of view, things were looking up. From Tom’s viewpoint this was not so good. For a start, Tom knew the boy was hiding something. Clearly there was more to him than they knew at the moment. Secondly, he did not wish for Harry to be alone with Kathryn. He did not need her being corrupted ? her mental state was paramount at this point in time, especially since attempts at Occlumency had failed. Was he right to continue to pursue Harry, despite him not having done anything unusual since he arrived? Tom just could not shake the feeling that he was dangerous. The weapons, the Occlumency...something was amiss.

"This isn’t dangerous or contagious, is it?" asked Riddle finally.

The matron shook her head.

"In that case I see no need to quarantine or withdraw him from the student population, at least until we have seen this transcript."

"I still have a sample of his blood, so Crystal and I can run more tests and try to isolate exactly which genes are amiss," Poppy said, yawning again more forcefully. "But that's after I have had some sleep...and mopped up after the Quidditch match...and dispensed hangover cure for the after-party...and probably another potion for certain girls...Merlin, by that time the damned manuscript will have arrived and there'll be no point."

"Thank you, Poppy," said Riddle, smiling at her rant. "I look forward to seeing this translation ? I feel it may answer many questions. For now, we shall leave Harry, but rest assured I will keep an eye on him."

She nodded and yawned. "I’d better head off," she said. "With all my time at St. Mungo’s, I haven’t slept in nearly thirty hours."

"Then I bid you good night," said Riddle, removing the remains of the coffee tray with his wand. "Get some sleep, Poppy. We need you fighting fit for the Quidditch game this weekend. There’s always one."

She nodded. "With Slytherin playing, there are usually seven," she muttered. Tom raised his eyebrows in mock horror. He saw a tired smile creep across the matron’s face as she left.

That had been most enlightening, he thought as he moved into his living quarters through the side door. Harry was fundamentally different from everything else on the planet. He was hardly an alien though, and it was definitely Harry Potter and not an impostor. This was his DNA, not his magic or anything magical. DNA didn’t change. Even a transformation like Grindelwald’s would not change his DNA, since it was his soul and magic that had most likely been torn in two, in Tom’s theory. In truth, he didn’t know what to make of this latest development. He would have to wait for the translation to come through, he supposed. However, if the book was as fanciful as Poppy implied then it had to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Tom changed into his pyjamas and then climbed into bed. Just as his eyes were closing, a crazy thought popped into his head.

What if it is true? he thought sleepily. What if Harry is different because he’s not from this world? What if those Greeks really had succeeded?

~~~~ + ~~~~

On Friday, the RA held another meeting. Katie arrived early to set up and prepare. It had been the day from hell ? no, correction...it had been the week from hell. Umbridge had been on the warpath, determined to catch the RA. Katie knew that Umbridge knew, and she knew that Umbridge knew that she knew, but knew better than to make a point of it. Part of Katie wished she could show the RA off as her crowning achievement. She looked forward to the day when Riddle kicked Umbridge out and took the school back. On that day, as the door hit Umbridge on the arse on the way out, Katie would break the news to her that, despite her best attempts to beat it out of them, they had resisted right under her nose. The horrible woman had been sent here to prevent Riddle forming an army to take on Fudge, but all she had done was to make damn sure that one was created.

You failed, bitch, she thought viciously.

"Hello."

Katie jumped out of her skin as the voice sounded in her ear. She turned around, her wand raised, a curse on her lips.

"STUPEF..."

The boy quickly grabbed her wrist, forcing it away from him, just as she had seen him do to Malfoy.

"Easy, tiger," said Harry Potter, letting go of her wrist.

"Damn it, Harry," she said angrily, putting her wand away. "Why did you sneak up on me?"

"I didn’t mean to," he apologised, his calm face breaking into a lop-sided grin. "I just came in a bit early to practice, and you were there. You seemed deep in thought. Didn’t want to disturb, but then I thought you’d jump if I didn’t let you know I was here, so I said hello and you jumped anyway..."

"Harry," she cut him off. "You’re rambling."

"Oh, right," he said in a sheepish voice.

Katie looked him up and down critically. He appeared a little shaky in all honesty and a bit pale as he removed his robes, leaving just a shirt and trousers. He bundled his robes and tie together, putting them in a pile against the wall. Next, he removed his wand and tucked it up his sleeve. Katie made a mental note that he kept it up there. She wasn’t sure why she thought that it was significant or foresaw a time when she would come up against him and such information would be useful, but something about the movement made her take note of it. The action also proved another point; Harry had become more defensive since his return. The old Harry wouldn’t have kept his wand up his sleeve, or act so paranoid all the time. Except it wasn’t paranoia, exactly. It was more...fieldcraft perhaps? Then again where would he have learned fieldcraft?

As he drew himself back up to his full height, Katie looked him up and down once more. Neville's words came back to her from when he had argued Harry's case for joining the RA. Now that she looked at him, were there really signs of danger all over him?

Harry pulled his collar away from his neck and shook it lightly to let air in. He did seem as if he was hot and if he had the flu as he had said, she could understand that. He relocated his wand to his belt loops and then began to roll up his sleeves. She could see the muscles and tendons moving beneath his skin as he worked. The old Harry was slightly chubby, but he seemed to have shed those extra pounds. His face was thinner now, but his arms had filled out. This alone wasn't enough to make her suspicious. People lose weight and get haircuts all the time. As she watched him, there was only one thing that she could honestly put her hand on her heart and say was worryingly different about him, and that was his eyes. Once again she was drawn inexplicably to those deep emerald eyes, the unblinking stare. They had sparkled with great sadness as he had told her of his friend, and then had glinted with danger as he had faced Malfoy on his first days back. In some ways they were so telling, in others so mysterious.

Suddenly he turned, and Katie was once again caught in his gaze. Sky blue met sea green. This time, there was amusement in his eyes. Katie looked away quickly, suddenly afraid to face him. Harry seemed not to notice.

"Dare I ask how your day’s been?" asked Harry matter-of-factly, attempting to make conversation.

His manner was once again courteous, but cool. His calm was absolute, his eyes attentive behind those glasses. He had been embarrassed, shifty and waffling a few seconds ago, but now his attitude had changed completely. His unsettling detached demeanour had returned. Funny, he seemed to switch between the two like Jekyll and Hyde. Did that suggest that it was all an act? And if it was an act, which was the real Harry Potter? Coupled with an observation she had made recently, it doubled her suspicions.

Last time, he had struggled with a Stunner. Well, not struggled, but had taken a few goes to get it right, making elementary mistakes like holding the wand wrong and such. However, what made her wary was that he had managed the spell perfectly in his little fight with Malfoy earlier. He had missed, but there was nothing wrong with the spell itself. It was bright scarlet and powerful, and he had even been cursed at the time yet still managed to do it. After that, he failed to do it in a safe environment. He was clearly hiding his ability. Why? To what end?

Damn it, Neville, he should never have been invited, she thought in frustration.

Harry must have seen her grimace for he spoke again. "That good, eh?"

"Same old," said Katie, guarding her answer carefully, not wanting to give more information that she could help. "I’ve descended into the seventh circle of hell, thank you very much," she replied, making light of what was definitely pressing on her mind. "How about you?"

"Sick as a parrot," said Harry easily. "But soldiering on."

Katie had to admit he didn’t look well. "We could all do with a holiday," she said making small talk. "But we do what we can, I suppose."

"And this is your way of relaxing," said Harry, with a small smile. "Tell me, is it really the desire to give two fingers to Umbridge, or is it that you like teaching? Or maybe you just want others to see you as you are ? just a normal girl who’s had bad things happen to her, yet survived them."

"What?" asked Katie, completely unprepared for such an insightful question.

"What makes you do this?" elaborated Harry, gesturing around. "I mean, I would have thought that someone in your position would want to keep their head down, not make themselves any more significant."

"I didn’t want to at first," conceded Katie, amazed at his powers of perception. "But it’s kind of grown on me."

"Ah, you like the feeling of being needed," concluded Harry, nodding.

"Partly," Katie said uncomfortably, realising that it sounded arrogant. "It’s a combination of feeling like I am part of something, and partly the teaching. It’s odd, but I’ve found that I actually like teaching. When the little light goes on and someone finally gets it, it’s quite a nice feeling. Can you understand that?"

"More or less," he said giving nothing away. "And if it helps us to survive...well, it has to be worth it." His eyes were impassive but something told her he did understand.

"Exactly," agreed Katie. "Every little bit helps."

"And the fact that we are effectively giving two fingers to Umbridge has nothing to do with it," he said in mock seriousness then grinned roguishly. It made his face seem younger, less careworn, with his green eyes twinkling mischievously.

Katie smiled for what seemed like the first time in ages.

"Naturally," she said, pulling her sweetest, most innocent expression and fluttering her eyelashes provocatively.

"Still, you’d be the person to ask about Defence," said Harry, serious once more. He turned away looking around the room instead of at her, as if he was making an effort not to make her feel uncomfortable. "First hand experience and all that. After what you’ve seen and done...it’s both fantastic and horrific at the same time. Although it makes for a wonderful story, to actually live it is different, I suppose. Being completely alone must be a nightmare. Glad it’s you and not me."

Katie watched him, trying to give nothing away. Her face was set and her guard was up. Once again the boy was taking words out of her heart, as he had done the last time they had spoken. Katie was too stunned to respond.

"Out of curiosity," he continued, "and you don’t have to answer, but do you know why?"

Katie blinked, confused. "Why what?"

He turned back around to face her, to look her in the eye, and what she saw was both frightening and fascinating.

"Why of all the people on God’s green earth was it you who was chosen to carry the burden of that scar?"

Katie didn’t move a muscle. A chill ran down her spine. The room seemed suddenly very close around them and utterly still. She had asked the question once before and Riddle had refused to answer. It was a question she had asked herself hundreds of times. Why her? Of the 6 billion people on the planet, why her?

"Guess not," said Harry, reading her reaction in that uncanny way of his that Katie found so disconcerting. "But take my advice: ask Riddle."

Suddenly the door burst opened and in came a stream of Gryffindors. Katie was still staring at Harry, his words having crushed her lungs of all air. His voice was echoing around inside her mind, blocking out everything else.

Why?

As someone shouted a greeting Katie turned to look at the speaker, dragging her eyes away from Harry’s. When she looked back, he was already halfway across the room. As everyone removed excess clothing and dumped their bags against the wall where Harry had left his bundle, Katie noticed that Luna Lovegood had wandered over and was talking quietly to him. After a brief discussion, she handed him a large brown envelope. Harry thanked her and put it down underneath the bundle of his cloak and tie.

What is in that envelope, wondered Katie.

She shook her head. Something was up with him, she could feel it. Was Luna in on it with him? No, surely not.

Katie was drawn out of her thoughts as someone asked what was happening today. Sighing, she shook herself awake and began the lesson. Right... plans for the RA. They would refresh themselves on Stunners and then move on. Tonight she would throw the Impediment Jinx, Incarcero Charm and the Full-Body Bind into the mix as well, if there was time. If they could get to grips with them all in the next week, that should give the RA quite an offensive arsenal, or at least the beginnings of one.

They practiced for ten minutes with Stunners before Katie introduced the Impediment Jinx. After half an hour's practice on that, Katie told everyone to take 5 and to have a drink. During the quick break, Katie noticed Harry sit down against a wall, take the envelope Luna had provided, and open it. Katie held her breath, her wand at the ready. However, when Harry tipped the envelope all that fell out was a copy of the Quibbler, Luna’s father’s rag of a newspaper. Katie relaxed, sighing with relief and pocketing her wand. It was nothing dangerous.

Harry regarded the magazine for a second before putting it back in the envelope and put it with his cloak. As he stood up, there was a small smile on his face.

~~~~ + ~~~~

Back on his bed, Harry lay down on his back and stared at the ceiling. His head was pounding and he felt sick. The room around him seemed to be spinning. With difficulty he moved to the window and opened it, gasping in deep lung-fulls of icy air, which seemed to clear his head a little and make him feel a tad better.

"What is wrong with me?" he wondered aloud. Was it a last effect of Malfoy’s curse? Harry didn’t know, but what he did know was that he had been feeling ill for three days now, ever since that curse had hit him. It wasn’t getting better. Tomorrow he might have to swallow his pride and go to Pomfrey.

Suddenly his stomach decided that it had had enough. He felt it clamp tight and his dinner shoot up his throat as he retched. Harry’s head flew forward as he hurled, propelling a stream of hot vomit out of the window into the freezing night. He broke into a cold sweat as his dinner disappeared into the darkness below the window.

Spitting out whatever was in his mouth, he wiped his face with his jumper then walked quickly into the Gryffindor Tower toilets and crossed to the sink. Cleaning his teeth helped to get rid of the acidic taste, but he still felt dreadful.

That was it, no more excuses. Tomorrow he was going to Pomfrey. This was getting ridiculous. Ever since Malfoy’s curse had burned his insides, he was constantly feeling hot. Having finished cleaning his teeth, he raised a hand to his forehead. He had a fever, as well as a headache and obvious sickness. He couldn’t find a way home if he was suffering from the flu ? he had to sort this out before he could move any further. A few potions from Pomfrey and he would be right as rain.

Heading back to his bed, Harry pulled out the envelope Luna had given him. Horrible as he felt, it wouldn’t hurt to have a quick look. Harry removed the copy of the Quibbler from the envelope carefully. On the cover was a large picture of a young wizard with blond floppy hair. Harry read the teaser of the article and Luna’s words came back to haunt him.

"Oh, that interview," she had said, a smug smile on her lips. "It’s nothing to be ashamed of..."

Harry grimaced.

"Ousted for being gay, the Quibbler investigates homophobia amongst the Aurors..."

Now Luna thought he was gay. Great, he thought sarcastically.

Harry shook his head. It didn’t matter ? he would be gone soon anyway. Harry opened the Quibbler and pulled the diary out from under his pillow. He flicked to the marked page in the diary and looked for the red ink. Page 67.

Flipping open the Quibbler, he skimmed through to page 67. His jaw dropped and a shiver ran down his spine. The title on the left page read "War of the Worlds", but that wasn’t what caught Harry’s attention. The page on the right was covered in a single huge picture, inside which a terribly familiar looking blond wizard was waving back at him. Harry cringed remembering the last time he had met the wizard. He gripped the page with sweaty hands as he began to read.

"Travel between worlds is a popular concept amongst Muggle fiction and may even be supported by their theoretical physics, but is it really possible? The very concept has long attracted a certain breed of wizard, the earliest references to such magic beginning in ancient Greece, but stories pop up all throughout history. Why this fascination? Is it a desire to answer the great question of whether or not we are alone in the universe? For many it is a personal quest, but for one man it is all business. Myth tells us that such inter-dimensional travel was achieved in ancient times, but the secret has since been lost. This month with exclusive coverage from the Quibbler, Gilderoy Lockhart goes in pursuit of another universe."

Harry paused, the name ringing in his mind and the picture waving stupidly back at him. The award winning smile was constantly being flashed as a very young Lockhart strutted back and forth across the cover. Harry on the other hand sat perfectly still, his mind lost in memory. He remembered the tunnel in which Lockhart, the coward and fraud, had tried to take his memory. He remembered encountering him again years later in St. Mungo’s.

This raised another problem: if the man had lost his memory, would he even be able to recall what Harry needed to know?

Harry was aware that Lockhart would not have done it himself, but he would have found the wizard in question and Obliviated him or her. That meant that somewhere out there was a person who knew all about the Node. Harry just needed to find that person and reverse the memory charm. Simple? Not really, he didn’t know where to start, or even how to reverse a memory charm.

Well, logically the first step would be to find Lockhart and to see what kind of state he was in. Was there a way of bringing the information out of him? Harry had no idea, but he did know that he needed to get to St. Mungo’s to at least make sure Lockhart was there. Today was Friday, so Harry had time to go tomorrow. He could slip out of the castle easily enough, and getting to the hospital should be simple. Once he got there he wasn’t sure what he would do, but he still had to try. He would get some potions from Pomfrey in the morning, cure his head, and then pop over mid-morning.

He was slightly further on than he had been yesterday, and that thought brought a smile to his lips.

By tomorrow, at worst, he would have eliminated a useless line of inquiry and, at best, he would have found the way home. Yawning loudly, Harry decided that he’d had enough for tonight. He slid the Quibbler and the diary under his pillow before rolling over and closing his eyes.

Hopefully, tomorrow I will be one step closer to home.

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