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A Stranger in the Promised Land Chapter V (part1)   

2009-07-17 18:40:24|  分类: HP转载 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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A Stranger

in the

Promised Land

~~~~ Chapter V ~~~~

Groundhog Day

"He drowns in his dreams, an exquisite extreme I know,

He's as damned as he seems,

And more heaven than a heart could hold,

And if I try to save him, my whole world would cave in,

It just ain't right, lord, it just ain't right.

He's magic and myth, as strong as what I believe,

A tragedy with more damage,

than a soul should see,

But do I try to change him, so hard not to blame him,

Hold me, baby, oh hold me.

Oh and I don't know, I don't know what he's after,

But he's so beautiful, he’s such a beautiful disaster,

And if I could hold on, through the tears and the laughter,

Lord, would it be beautiful? Or, or just a beautiful disaster?"

Kelly Clarkson ? Beautiful Disaster

Geoff had worked for St. Mungo’s security for seven years. He knew every hallway like the back of his hand, every inch of St. Mungo’s, and every one of the other security staff. It was a relatively small team, and everyone knew everyone. More importantly, everyone knew everyone else's way of doing things. For example, on the first Saturday of every month Brian, the chief, called a meeting at eleven in which they would review absolutely everything that had happened over the previous month and set down guidelines and targets for the upcoming month. The meeting was by and large boring, but given the chief's temper, missing it was not an option.

At eleven, they were all gathered in the Security Office, coffee mugs full, notepads ready, quills sharp and ready to go.

"Who are we missing?" asked Brian, standing up. He checked his watch, and glared at the face of it, clearly anxious to begin.

"Joe's not here," announced Gill, gesturing to the empty chair.

"What shift is he on?" Brian asked her since she was closest to the board to which the schedule had been pinned. Gill twisted in her seat to read the parchment on the wall.

"According to this he's in the Monitoring Station," she replied, turning back to face him. "So you want me to..."

"No, it's alright," said Brian, shaking his head. "I need to fetch some files from my office anyway. I'll grab him on the way back. Sit tight."

As Brian disappeared out through the Security Door and into the restricted section out the back Geoff relaxed. The other six people in the room, did the same, putting notepads down, and yawning. To his right, Dan asked Claire what her plans were for later while Aaron headed over to where the tea was stored to make himself another cup. Geoff just sat staring into space, trying to decide what colour he should paint the walls in his lounge at home. He and his wife were decorating and had been arguing about the choice of colours for the past fortnight.

It was ten?past before anyone commented on the absence of the chief. Geoff's mind had been on various shades of cream, when Claire pointed out that Brian had been gone for ten minutes. Considering his usual knack for conducting these meetings at break?neck speed, this was highly irregular.

"I'll go and have a look," offered Geoff, standing up. He headed through the Security Door and down the corridor towards the chief's office. When he reached the thick wooden door bearing the chief's name, he knocked, and then receiving no reply, pushed open the door.

Geoff stood frozen in the doorway as the gravity of what he was seeing hit him. Brian was lying face down on the floor in a puddle of water, covered in lilies. The cabinet was open and some it its contents had spilled out onto the carpet and there were clear signs of a struggle. Who had done this to him? Were they still here? Geoff was by his side in an instant, rolling him over. He pushed two fingers under his jaw, checking for a pulse, and breathed a sigh of relief as he found the boss to be alive.

"Enervate!"

The chief groaned and raised a hand to his head as he opened his eyes. He blinked a few times in the glaring light of the office as the world came into focus and he saw Geoff. A look of confusion appeared on Brian's face as he stared up at him.

"Brian, what happened?" asked Geoff quickly somehow realising time was of the essence.

Brian looked up at him confused for another few seconds, before his eyes went wide as the memories came flooding back. He tried to sit up, but was too disorientated. Opening his mouth, he gaped like a fish for a few seconds before managing to speak.

"Monitoring Station," he rasped.

Geoff understood in an instant and, leaving Brian, ran out of the door as fast as he could, then turned left and headed for the Monitoring Station. Drawing his wand, he placed his hand on the door?handle, took a deep breath, and threw open the door.

As he stood framed in the doorway, his jaw dropped at what he was seeing. Up on the screen, the image of the Long Term Ward exploding repeated over and over. Joe was lying on the floor beneath the monitors, face down, clearly tied up and not moving. Standing above him, looking over at Geoff was a man cloaked all in black, with a hood and scarf covering his face.

"DON’T MOVE!" shouted Geoff, his wand out in an instant. He reached out with his other arm and hit a red button on the wall to his left, sounding the alarm. Instantly the secure door behind him flew open and two other men in identical uniforms appeared, surging towards him, wands ready.

The three of them stood in the only doorway, blocking off any escape and aiming their wands at the intruder. There was an Apparation Ward over the entire hospital, only one door to the room, and three guards. There was no way out for this intruder, whoever he was.

"STEP AWAY FROM THE CONSOLE," Geoff ordered. "ON YOUR KNEES, HANDS BEHIND YOUR HEAD!"

The figure stared at him for a second, probably appraising his situation. He stood motionless, the flickering from the monitors shimmering off his cloak and the eyes all but concealed beneath the hood. The figure moved with slow determined movements as he stooped and picked up the bowl of memories from the table. The screens all instantly went dark as the bowl that powered it was disconnected. Inside that bowl were all the recordings for that day, and probably the evidence of the Stranger’s identity. It was a fact that clearly wasn’t lost on the intruder.

"HOLD IT!" ordered Geoff as the figure turned back to face them, holding the bowl close to his chest. Geoff stepped forwards raising his wand in a threatening manner. "Put it down on the table, and lie down with your hands behind you head!"

The figure paused for a second, looking around the room. He seemed to realise there was no way out, and turned back to face Geoff. Transferring the weight of the bowl to his left hand, the intruder slowly raised his right and gave Geoff a slow, calm wave goodbye.

Smartarse, thought Geoff. "TAKE HIM!"

Instantly the bowl was alight, flames flickering over its shimmering surface like oil on water. Geoff didn’t even have time to yell ‘no’, before the Stranger threw the bowl towards them, a wall of fiery liquid soaring through the air. It almost seemed to happen in slow motion as Geoff fell backwards into the other two, conjuring a shield to prevent the incoming scald. The burning liquid bounced off the shield like rain on a window, cascading down it like lava into a shimmering puddle of fire, but leaving Geoff completely unharmed. As Geoff looked back to where the Stranger had been a second ago, the man was gone.

~~~~ + ~~~~

As Harry arrived back at the Common Room, having run back up from a deserted stadium, he was greeted by a sombre mood and it didn’t take long for him to work out why. According to the snippets of conversation he had picked up, Slytherin had apparently steamrollered Ravenclaw, three hundred and ninety to sixty. That meant that Slytherin was leading by one hundred and ten points going into their final game, but with Hufflepuff and Gryffindor both having a game in hand, this wasn’t especially devastating news.

Harry slipped through the Common Room, greeting those he met, but still moving as quickly and unobtrusively as possible towards the stairs. He didn’t care about the Quidditch ? the word murder was still echoing through his head. He fought the urge to take the steps three at a time, in the interests of appearing calm. Running would only make him stand out ? another of the Dark Knight’s instincts.

Once alone, Harry threw off the cloak and tossed it on his bed. He took a minute to inspect his injured arm which Carter has damn near ripped out of its socket. It still hurt considerably and, to make matters worse, bruising appeared to have spread slightly as well. Cursing, Harry pulled off the bandages and decided to let the air get to it for the time being.

That done, he lay on his bed staring at the ceiling. In his mind’s eye, figures in black were leaving boxes filled with explosive in every room he had passed on his way here. All the way back to the tower Harry had thought of nothing but the figure in black, the bomb, the murder of his parents, and Riddle’s deceit.

Riddle knew, Harry told himself for the fiftieth time since he had arrived back.

Harry sat brooding for a good hour before he was composed enough to do anything else. He had spent a good deal of time planning what he would do when he got his hands on the man who had killed the Potters of this world. He had even gone so far as to plan what he wanted to say to Riddle. Once Harry had found the key and the sequence to get him home, he would march into Riddle’s office and give Lord Voldemort a piece of his mind, and probably a fist as well. He sat alone during a late lunch, lost in thought, but by the time he returned to his dorm, he had put it behind him. The winter’s sun was low in the sky by the time Harry’s anger cooled.

Since he couldn’t be bothered with homework, Harry took a seat on the edge of the bed and pulled out Lockhart’s diary instead. He took the opportunity to have another of Madam Pomfrey’s headache pills then lay back on the bed, book in hand, to think.

His mind thought back to the man in brown, not to be confused with the figure in black, Harry noted. He was suddenly of the opinion that wearing cloaks should be outlawed so he could see who he was fighting. Well, actually, he should be allowed to wear them, but no one else. Maybe he should get a mask for such excursions ? no, that was too Death?Eater?ish.

The thief in St. Mungo’s definitely was not the same man in Borgin and Burkes, Harry reasoned. This one today had been shifty, incompetent and scared, not the calm, precise, meticulous, cat?like man who had attacked him in Knockturn Alley. But it was the timing that worried Harry the most. The man had sneaked in to try to steal the diary on the exact day and time that Harry was there. Lockhart had been there for years, but the intruder had chosen now to strike. Coincidence? Unlikely. What was so special about today? It was fishy to say the least. Still, he had nothing to lose by reading the diary. If it was useless, he could go back and see if there was another one, a real one, in St. Mungo’s.

The Quibbler article had been published in June 1989, and talked of his adventures in the spring of that year. Harry opened the diary, his fingers easily finding 1989 amongst the pages. It seemed to be magically enchanted, for when closed there appeared to be only a handful of pages in each year. But as he turned to the year, he found that there was a page for every day. The diary shrank and expanded to keep the overall size of the book small. Harry wondered how far it went, how recent it went. Was there a comment about Katie right at the end before Lockhart had lost his memory? Harry began to flick towards the end, but lost interest before he reached it. It didn’t really matter... he needed to focus on the article. He flicked back to February 1989 and began to read.

It was not a diary as such. Lockhart had not begun each page with "Dear diary, today I...", but rather had made notes on his discoveries. For example on the first page there was a note which read,

"Fortune’s Firewhiskey tastes like mouldy orange peel and a troll’s bath water.

Do NOT buy again, stick to Ogden’s."

Harry didn’t consider it to be particularly useful, but made a mental note, just in case.

He continued to skim through the pages, scanning the text. It wasn’t until he got to the end of March that he came across something useful. At the top of the page were scribbled the words,

"Order of Ge?Gnosis The Order of Earthly Knowledge"

Beneath it were notes:

Funding from Galileo School of Experimental Magic (GalSEM) & Quibbler

Obj. ? investigate validity of Order legends & other worlds.

Now, we’re cooking, thought Harry to himself as the pills began to take effect.

The trouble was that he had so little faith in Lockhart’s abilities, and with good reason, that he had very little faith in the book as well. With doubt plaguing his mind, Harry began to browse the text, looking for any detail that might help. Apparently Lockhart had found a fair bit about the legend, but no facts at all to back it up. Harry read all the way through to the beginning of May before he found anything useful, but again Harry doubted the validity of the claim.

Harry re?read the passage. Lockhart claimed to have encountered a descendant of one of the people who had actually used the Node over two millennia ago. According to Lockhart’s notes, he had been wandering around the Mediterranean and had been washed up on an island. There he had encountered a woman whom he claimed was descended from the people who had invented the Node and later who had hidden it ? the so?called Order of Earthly Knowledge.

Between the loopy writing and the infernal short hand, Harry was barely able to discern the story. The Node had been invented by a group of wizards comparable to the modern Department of Mysteries. People had gone through the Node to various worlds and had brought back various bits and pieces, ideas and treasures from other worlds. However, as always the powers that be had become corrupted by this new power. The politicians, the powerful men of the time, began to misuse it, exiling people to other worlds, stealing, using the Node for personal gain and not the greater good. Eventually, the creators took the Node back by force from those who had declared it their own. In an uprising of sorts, they smuggled it out of the country and moved it to a secret location, hidden away from the greed of so?called great men. They buried the key on the far side of the known world, making sure that the gate could not be opened again. Of course the former masters of the Node were furious and the creators had gone into seclusion, creating the Order of Earthly Knowledge to protect the Node and to continue the original work ? to discover more about the world around them. The Order, according to Lockhart, was the basis for the many Illuminati legends that had spanned the last five hundred years.

Harry paused, looking up from the book. What had Flamel told him? Harry knew it had been shut down centuries ago out of fear and buried. He knew that the key was hidden somewhere else and that Flamel had found it. Certain facts were true, but there was much more to it. The only way to know for certain would be to talk to this woman himself. Was she still alive? Apparently she had lived in a house on a Turkish island. Lockhart didn’t say which one, in the interests of protecting her identity. Even though he was an idiot, he still protected his sources it seemed.

More likely, thought Harry with wry humour, was that he didn’t want her telling the world he was full of dung.

Another, more disturbing, thought crossed his mind. Why wasn’t any of this information in the Quibbler article? Lockhart would surely have loved to show this to the world, had he really found the Node. The article was written two years before the great buffoon came to Hogwarts, so it wasn’t like he never got around to publishing it. Why had he kept this to himself? What made him put aside his considerable ego and not publish? It was suspicious, to say the least.

Harry re?read the whole story of this woman in the Quibbler and then the diary again, looking for any points that would prove that the diary and article were not related, any glaring contradictions. Most of it matched up, but the diary went into significantly more detail than the magazine. It seemed like an account that matched the article, which suggested that it truly was Lockhart’s diary, but Harry just had a funny feeling about it.

He read it again very slowly, looking for a point of reference from which he might find where this woman was located. Hopefully Lockhart would give a clue as to where he had been when he met her. The diary said he had been somewhere on an island, a Turkish owned island, although thousands of years ago, it was apparently part of Greece. Harry had a vague idea where Turkey was, but no idea about its islands. Lockhart apparently hadn’t either and from his notes, it seemed he had arrived there by accident. He found the woman by chance when his boat ? what had he been doing sailing? ? came ashore in a bay. Desperate, he knocked on the door of a house, and it happened to be hers.

An island with a bay ? well that narrows it down, thought Harry bitterly. The only real clue he had was a comment Lockhart had made about the bay. "Virgil claimed it was big enough to hide the greatest fleet ever assembled from Trojan eyes. Standing atop the cliffs, I can see what he means." Harry was vaguely aware of who Virgil was, but knew nothing about the Trojans except that they fell for the old wooden horse trick.

Come on, Harry, think! He had no idea about the fleet Lockhart referred to or anything like that. This meant he needed another night in the library looking over Greek mythology. If that yielded no results, then Harry would need to speak to Binns again, and if that failed...he would need to get a copy of Virgil's book from Muggle London. Since he had no Muggle money, it was not a prospect he was looking forward to.

Suddenly Harry’s stomach gave a loud rumble. Startled, he quickly looked around to see if anyone had heard but luckily there was no one around. However, it was dinner time, as Harry found when he checked his watch. The pills had cured his head for now, and he actually felt up to eating something.

Looks like I’m over it, he thought. "Probably just the flu," he said aloud to the empty room. "Malfoy’s curse didn’t help."

With a groan he remembered that this evening he had a meeting with Riddle. Grumbling, Harry closed the diary and stood up. He was still no closer to getting home and he needed to find a tiny island in the big, wide world. Mission: Impossible.

Grumpily pulling on another jumper as it was getting cold again, Harry made his way down to dinner. He didn’t even bother greeting those who said hi as he arrived, sliding into a seat near to Katie and the crew but not directly next to them. As Harry began to eat, Hermione was trying to explain what they had all done in potions yesterday to Ron, who seemed to be still having issues with his homework. Harry had managed a quick essay last night. It wasn’t Shakespeare, but it was good enough. It was all about two potions, each perfectly normal, safe and useful, but when combined result in a poison. They had moved on from calculating dosage to improvised antidotes. Before they could do that, apparently they needed a basic introduction to poisons. Composite poisons were not easy, but Harry got the general gist. That was about it. Naturally, the Slytherins were doing rather well.

"No," said Hermione looking exasperated. "The missing ingredients that make it a poison are hidden in the first potion. Let’s say there was a poison that used coffee. It’s a stupid example, but bear with me. What you could do, is make the poison without the coffee, and then put it in a biscuit. Any poison test would come back negative, as it isn’t toxic yet. But if the victim were to dunk their biscuit in the coffee or eat it right after a drink when they have coffee in their stomach, then both elements are combined. They mix in the stomach and become a poison. That is why finding an antidote can be so hard. You have the symptoms, possibly traces of the second potion, but you need to find the first to work out what the whole thing is, and then you can create the antidote. That’s what we are going on to next week."

Ron was looking confused still. "But why make a poison in two parts?"

"To get past any poison screening?" suggested Hermione. "Or, because some idiots don’t read the bottles. You should never take Dreamless Sleep within twelve hours of having had Veritaserum, because the two combine to create a poison in the blood?stream. Those accidents are where this comes in useful.

"Oooh," said Ron, but Harry doubted he really understood.

"Think of it as a kind of Trojan Horse," said Hermione. "If you..."

But Harry had stopped listening. The word Trojan had brought his thoughts back to the diary. It couldn't hurt to ask Hermione. She hadn't been of any use with the Arithmancy, but she might know a little about Greek mythology.

"Pop quiz, Hermione," said Harry interrupting, not able to see a subtle way of getting the question into conversation. "Speaking of the Trojan Horse... As the horse moved into Troy, on which island did the Greeks hide?"

He wore a cocky smile, as if tempting Hermione to answer. He knew that if she knew the answer she would have to tell him, just to prove she was a match. He felt a glimmer of guilt manipulating his friend, but it wasn’t anything serious.

"Why do you want to know?" asked Hermione, raising an eyebrow.

"I don’t want to know," Harry bluffed. "I already do. Just testing. Call it Harry’s useless fact of the day."

"Have you read the Iliad, or the Aeneid?" asked Hermione, sounding doubtful.

"No, just basic Greek mythology," said Harry shrugging. "So where was it?"

Hermione thought for a minute before answering. "I haven’t done anything on the Greeks since Primary School," she said, with a reminiscent smile.

Harry’s heart sank.

"However," she said, "the summer of year five I had just done my project on the Ancient Greeks and for our holiday that year we went to the Mediterranean. I was nine at the time. My parents thought that after I had studied it, I might like to visit."

"So you’ve been there?" asked Harry, trying to keep the astonishment from his voice.

"Oh, yes," said Hermione. "We walked along the beach you refer to."

"Okay, now I’m impressed," said Harry. "I don’t feel quite so intelligent now."

"So where is it?" asked Ron, who looked thoroughly confused.

"The island of Tenedos," replied Hermione smugly. "Except now it's called Bozcaada. I have never been so sunburnt since."

"Correct," said Harry, his insides jumping for joy. "It’s part of Turkey now, isn’t it?" He had to prove he had some knowledge of it or he would look stupid.

"Yes," confirmed Hermione. "Wouldn’t mind going back there," she added her eye glazing over. "With Umbridge waddling around like a big pink goose, I really need a holiday."

"We’ve only been back four weeks," Ron pointed out. "And if Hermione is losing faith, is there any hope for the rest of us?"

Harry grinned as Ron was rewarded by an elbow to the ribs from the girl in question.

"And on that note," said Harry with a flourish. "We will end Harry’s useless fact of the day."

"You do realise I’m going to demand a useless fact every day from now on," Hermione said, sounding rather like Professor McGonagall.

Harry wasn’t sure if she was joking or not, but smiled innocently at her. "We’ll trade off. You go next."

She smiled warmly, her eyes lighting. It seemed her brain was already whirling with possibilities. "Deal."

"So, can we get back to helping me?" asked Ron through a mouthful of mash potato. Hermione shot him a disapproving glare, but did turn her attention back to the subject of potions.

Harry returned to his food, managing to hide the grin on his face. He looked around the hall, careful to conceal his happy mood. He knew where to go. He needed to check on an atlas where Tenedos was, but at least he now knew. He assumed he could Flame that far, though he had never tried it. He would have to wait until his flu passed, though. His head felt fine at the moment, mainly because he had taken a pill less than an hour ago. Still, Harry thought he was over it and his magic would return in a few days. Then he could have an hour or two on holiday in the Mediterranean. Lovely. He was already looking forward to it.

It was then that his eyes feel on Riddle. Harry felt part of his anger return at the sight of him. The image of a sandy beach faded from his mind and was replaced by the vicious face of Lord Voldemort. Harry glared at the Headmaster who sat in place at the Head Table calmly eating his dinner.

Liar, thought Harry angrily. He could imagine his mother, wreathed in flame as the ward exploded around her. He could imagine her pain, her fear, and the senseless loss of life. She hadn’t been a target. She had been without a mind for years, but still she had died. The figure in black was to blame, but Harry also felt angry with Riddle for covering it up. It was then that he remembered he had a meeting with Riddle at seven. It would take all his self control not to explode in his face: he could destroy Riddle’s office more easily than he had Dumbledore’s if he really wanted to, but to what end? Would running rampage on Riddle’s personal possessions help him, or get him nearer to home? Would it make his life easier? No, it accomplished nothing. He would have to grin and bear it. He knew Riddle was a monster, it was just a shame that Katie did not.

He glanced at Katie laughing with her friends over some joke he hadn’t heard. For her sake he needed to expose Tom Riddle and show her that underneath those twinkling intelligent eyes lay the heart of a killer ? a killed named Lord Voldemort. Harry knew he could never leave this world in peace until he had accomplished that task, and he would relish it when it came. Of that he was certain.

~~~~ + ~~~~

Harry knocked on the door of the Headmaster’s office at seven that evening, right on schedule. His head was still fine, thankfully ? the hideous inky pills were a god?send and he was profoundly grateful he had swallowed his pride and sought out the aid of Madame Pomfrey. He felt a bit more relaxed now he had had time to cool off, and the thought of a holiday to the Med would bring a smile to his face whenever he pictured the sunny paradise. If Riddle pushed his luck, Harry need only think of the beach, of the waves crashing against the shore, just like in his Occlumency. Only this time he’d be picturing the shore of a distant Turkish island where he felt certain the answers to all his problems laid waiting for him.

After a few seconds of waiting, a voice called from beyond the door, beckoning him in.

Taking a deep breath, Harry pushed open the door. He had spent the entire walk from the Common Room to here Occluding his mind, concentrating on the waves he had last heard in the Room of Requirement. As he had reached the gargoyle, he was more or less satisfied that he was prepared. The deep breath was just to reassure himself. After all, tonight he faced not only the man who had killed his parents, but a suspicious and highly devious bastard. A deceitful, conniving, liar.

But that’s okay, Harry reassured himself, I am calm. My mind is Occluded... my emotions and memories are hidden, he cannot touch me.

As Harry entered, he felt a rush of warm air rush past his face, escaping into the cold night though the now open door. Quickly Harry stepped in and closed the door, a force of habit after Uncle Vernon’s constant lectures about leaving doors open and saving money on the heating. As Harry shut the door, he looked around. The office was warm and the glow from the fire and the oil lamp now burning on one of the shelves, bathing the room in a welcoming orange light.

Mindtricks, thought the Dark Knight. He is trying to catch me off guard.

Harry took another cautious step into the room. On the desk was a silver tray filled with a tea?pot, cups, saucers, milk and a plate of biscuits. He couldn’t help but wonder if they were laced with Veritaserum or something of that ilk. Out of habit he felt in his pocket, checking that his wand was where he could get at it quickly.

"Ah, Harry," said Riddle brightly, entering the office carrying a plate of scones. Harry turned to face him, thinking of nothing but the waves. The Headmaster moved to the desk and placed the tray down before sinking into his chair. He gestured to Harry to do the same. Harry did, his entire body on edge, his eyes not leaving Riddle. There was already a kettle floating unaided above the fire and a pair of cups set out ready for them. Harry was naturally guarded about the drink. He almost laughed at the thought. Was he turning into Moody with all this paranoia? No, he was just in the company of Lord Voldemort. Any suspicion was justified one hundred times over.

"Tea?" Riddle offered, gesturing to the cups.

"No thanks," said Harry bluntly. Riddle raised an eyebrow, before casually pouring a splash of milk into his own cup. Somehow Harry felt it right to justify his rudeness, and perhaps tip Riddle off that he was on to his game. "Too much time in potions ? it’s made me paranoid about accepting drinks from other people."

Riddle chuckled, but the mirth did not reach his eyes. They remained locked on Harry, appraising.

"Yes, lessons on poisons can do that to a young mind," said Riddle. He pointed his wand at the kettle in the fireplace, which abruptly floated across the room and emptied itself into the tea?pot. Harry smelt the rich aroma of tea wafting out of the kettle. It was somewhat soothing. He didn’t detect the smell of any potions, but then again Veritaserum was odourless. Riddle seemed completely unfazed by Harry’s caution and stirred the teapot with a silver spoon. He then replaced the lid, leaving it to brew.

"Speaking of fear and paranoia," he continued, looking up at Harry once more. "I remember, back when I was here at Hogwarts as a student, I shared a dormitory with a young man who wanted to become a Healer. He spent hours pouring over books about the symptoms of various conditions. Any symptom you had, he could tell you what it might be, ranging from common colds to tropical diseases. Can you guess what happened to him?"

"No," said Harry flatly, not really caring. He couldn’t help but wonder why Riddle was telling him this, what was the point of it all. What angle was he playing?

"He kept seeing terminal illnesses in the slightest symptom," said Riddle, looking almost sad. "He became a hypochondriac and suffered from acute paranoia. One day he was in detention cleaning out a broom?cupboard, and all the dust made him sneeze. He was up in the infirmary in three minutes flat, telling the matron at the time that he had sinusitis. The boy was committed to St. Mungo’s shortly before he was due to take his NEWTs. He was scared to go out lest he contract a disease. He was afraid to have visitors for fear that they contaminate him, and he was scared to eat, in case he got food poisoning. He lived in constant fear."

"There is a difference between that and a potions lesson," said Harry, trying not to sound patronising.

"True," conceded Riddle. "My friend had a history of mental problems, but I think you will agree, Harry, that the principle is the same. Potions lessons on poisons have a similar effect, just as Defence Against the Dark Arts can. Once you move on to the next module, your worries about being drugged or poisoned will fade. It should also serve to remind you why this is not taught until NEWT level, when we hope you have matured sufficiently to deal with it."

Harry gave him an unconvinced look. Riddle looked back with amusement.

"You should never let fear govern your choices, Harry," said Riddle. "And certainly don’t let fear force you to give up something you want. Some people do some truly awful things when they are scared, just to be free of their fear. We should never not do something solely for the reason that we are scared."

"Are you telling me to be reckless?" asked Harry, his tone mildly teasing, but his mind cautious to a fault.

"Not at all," replied Riddle. "If you do not want to do something, then by all means, decline. But your reason should be much better than the fact you may be scared. My friend, the would?be healer, became so consumed by his fear that he spent so much time running he forgot to live his life. Don’t make the same mistake, Harry."

"So what was your great fear?" asked Harry flippantly just for the hell of it. He already knew, but Riddle’s response might answer one of his burning questions about the peculiarities of this world ? what had stopped him becoming Lord Voldemort?

Riddle regarded him carefully before answering.

"There was one thing that I was scared of," he acknowledged at last. "Something that I spent so long trying to avoid... I did some things I am not proud of to try to protect myself from it. But it was just an illusion, my fear. It took the death of someone dear to me for me to realise how irrational my fear really was, Harry. I came to see that running would not help and that only by facing it could I be free of it."

"Your friend," said Harry. "Was it him?"

He gestured at a portrait on the wall.

Riddle looked sadly at the portrait of Dumbledore hanging on the wall. His head sank slowly into a nod.

"I was there," he said slowly. "Over fifty years have passed since then, but I still feel his influence."

"He shall only truly be gone," said Harry quietly, his eyes locked on the image of Dumbledore snoozing in his frame, "when none who remain are loyal to him."

Riddle regarded him carefully. "Albus told me that once," he said softly, his eyes scanning Harry.

"I read that somewhere," said Harry offhandedly. "Might have been in that book about Hogwarts headmasters, though I could be wrong."

Riddle paused for a few moments before shaking his head and rising to his feet. He crossed to the wall several feet from Harry where a small curtain was covering something. He watched as Riddle waved his hand across it and the curtain opened, revealing a cracked mirror.

"Perhaps this will put your mind at ease," said Riddle softly. "Do you know what this is?" he asked, not turning back to face Harry, but regarding the glass.

"A Foe?Glass," Harry replied, his tone flat. "It shows anyone who means you harm."

"Do you see me in it?" asked Riddle.

"No," he said coldly. "I see you standing in the way of it though." He crossed the office towards the glass for a better look, curiosity getting the better of him.

Riddle turned, a look of amusement on his face. He stepped aside as Harry approached the mirror. Figures swirled in the mist as he stared into the glass. He saw no faces, nothing that for certain was Riddle. He noticed that it was significantly emptier than when he had last seen one. In this world, significantly less people intended him harm.

"If I wished to poison you, Harry," said Riddle, sitting back behind his desk, "You would see me as clear as crystal."

With that he picked up the tea?pot and began to pour two cups of tea. Harry’s eyes didn’t leave the glass. He stared at the figures moving in the background, but he didn’t see them. His mind was contemplating another great question. Did Riddle see Harry when he looked in the Foe?Glass?

"I would offer a sneak?o?scope," said Riddle, "but in a school there is so much mischief going on that they never stop spinning. Sugar?"

"No thanks," said Harry, turning away from the glass. "I'm sweet enough."

He looked along the line of portraits of Headmasters, recognising a couple but only from their appearance. The names on the frames meant nothing to him. As he neared the end of the wall, he came to a set of shelves. On it was a large photo of what appeared to be the entire seventh year from long ago. It was a photo of Riddle’s graduation ceremony. Harry picked him out in an instant, a smile on his face that didn’t quite reach his eyes. The young Riddle was so alike to the one that had climbed out of the diary that he had to look away. Harry wondered if Riddle had had any friends at school or if he really was as nasty a youth as he had been in Harry’s world.

"What was his name?" asked Harry.

"Who?"

"Your Healer friend?"

"Adam Thicket," said Riddle, absently stirring his tea. "Does the name ring a bell?

"No," said Harry, shrugging.

"I thought it might," said Riddle, his tone sombre. "He was a resident of Ward 49 for the last few years."

Harry froze, turning back to face the portraits, realising the gravity of that last sentence. He could almost feel Riddle’s eyes burning into his back, as Harry realised his mistake. It was a mistake that would not be lost on the headmaster.

"He died in the same fire as your parents," continued Riddle.

Harry felt the anger well up inside him at the words, a reminder that Riddle was lying to him about his parents, about his own friend. Was there no level to which he would not stoop? Could he not honour the dead and let the truth be known? Harry’s fists clenched in anger at the deceitful person who before him.

Riddle on the other hand seemed not to notice.

"Can I offer you a Cream Tea?"

The headmaster gestured to a plate a scones, before taking one himself. He began to put jam and cream on his own scone before looking back up at Harry who hadn’t moved a muscle.

Through it all Harry managed to keep the anger he felt from showing, though only just. Calm yourself, Harry. He’s trying to flush you out. Stay calm and be careful.

"Would you care for a scone, Harry?"

"You mean scone, not scone," said Harry correcting his pronunciation just to be annoying. He crossed to the chair opposite Riddle and sat back down. Deliberately he raised the prepared cup to his lips and took a sip of tea since the Foe?Glass suggested he would be okay. Riddle watched him the entire time, and raised an eyebrow at Harry’s impertinent correction.

"I will not get into an argument on how to pronounce the word scone," said Riddle, though there was a glimmer of amusement in his eyes. "You can rhyme it with cone or gone, it does not matter one iota to me. You could even rhyme it with done if you wished to be original."

Harry grimaced at the poor attempt at humour. He eyed the plate for a second before he relented and reached out to take one. He remembered once drugging Crabbe and Goyle with that same trick in his second year, but the Foe Glass reassured him that it was safe. As he added the cream and jam, he glanced every now and then across at Dumbledore’s portrait. It was several minutes before anyone spoke. This time it was Harry’s turn.

"It’s funny that Thicket should have died at the same time as my parents," said Harry matter?of?factly. He was staring into the swirling tea in his cup. Having stirred in more milk he watched the spiralling vortex as he spoke, his mind on the waves, occluding his mind. "In the fire and all...an accident."

Riddle paused for a moment. "Accidents always seem senseless. They are by definition without blame. Would having someone to blame make it easier? Would fuelling the darker side of human nature, the desire for revenge, make your suffering any less?"

"No," said Harry. "It only adds guilt. There are always others to blame and all the time you are just running from the truth."

"Very philosophical," said Riddle. "You almost sounded like Albus then."

Harry felt a glimmer of pride at the statement, but managed to keep from blushing. He suddenly had an idea.

"I say it," he said, "But I am not sure I could follow it."

"What do you mean?" asked Riddle, picking up the second half of his scone.

"Well," said Harry, deciding to test the headmaster. "I seem to have invented a faceless person to take the blame."

He looked up at Riddle who was sitting calmly listening.

"It’s stupid," Harry continued with a small laugh. "...Inventing a phantom dark wizard, just so in my mind I have someone to blame."

"Such things can be harmful," said Riddle carefully. "It does not do to dwell on blame, any more than a ‘what if’."

"I know," Harry said with a secretive smile, determined to get as close to the truth as he could without revealing too much. "It just sort of came to me in a dream. I was back on Ward 49, visiting my parents with Professor McGonagall. We met the healer. Professor McGonagall left us alone for a bit, just before it happened. In my dream, this other man came in, a dark, hooded, faceless man who wanted to speak to the healer. He had a box with him. He spoke to the healer in private and then...then nothing."

Riddle was staring at him, his face emotionless, his appearance calm, but he made no move to speak.

"I know it’s stupid," said Harry laughing again. "I mean I never remembered him before. I thought it might be a repressed memory that I had buried because I didn’t wish to face it. I thought it might have come back to the surface, but then I thought that was ridiculous. The Aurors, what’s his name, Bolt?something?or?other, would have told me if it was murder. Aurors have more honour than to hide something like that. I’m just looking for someone to blame."

Riddle stared at him for another minute before he spoke. "Your reaction is natural, Harry," he said simply. "We would all like someone to blame, and so you invented this character. But it does not do to dwell on dreams, lest we forget to live. You must put aside thoughts of this mysterious figure in black. It is your subconscious trying to avoid having to face the loss of your parents, I think."

Harry had said what he wanted, and heard what he had feared. He had offered Riddle the chance to come clean, but he had failed. On top of that, Harry had never actually said the cloaked figure wore black. Riddle knew. He was a cowardly deceitful bastard after all. Any warming Harry might have felt towards him had evaporated with his lies.

"Did you know your parents?" asked Harry, his tone level.

"No," said Riddle after an awkward pause. "My mother died when I was very young, and my father...I never knew him."

"You never tried to find him?" asked Harry. "Tried to track him down?"

"A long time ago," said Riddle, staring into his cup.

Harry had the feeling he had pushed Riddle too far. This conversation was nearing a rather more abrupt ending than Riddle had planned. Harry was sure Riddle knew this ‘chat’ was out of control.

"I made peace with my past long ago. It cost me more than I would have liked, but it is over now." He stared absently over his cup at the desk.

"I can begin to appreciate how Katie must be feeling," said Harry, trying to sound casual. "She lost her parents in a senseless way. She has nothing outside these walls. Hogwarts is the only real home either of us has now."

"I once felt that way as well," admitted Riddle. "I would have given anything to live here, and not in the orphanage to which I had to return every summer. You, Miss Bell, and I all find Hogwarts to be our true home. You feel a kinship with her, perhaps?"

Harry shrugged.

"My point," said Riddle, putting his cup down, "is that although you feel that you are in the same boat, she is unique and very different. With all that has happened to her, all that is happening around us now, and all the things that have yet to happen."

"What are you trying to say, Professor?" asked Harry, concentrating on the waves.

"Only that there are others in similar ships to yourself," said Riddle. "But not Miss Bell. I know that you have become friendly with her, Mr Longbottom, Miss Granger, and the others. You must be able to see that she is unique."

"I can," agreed Harry, deciding to push Riddle a little more. "The castle is full of rumours about her. She has fought dragons, Dementors, and the Dark Lord himself. It sounds wonderful when you phrase it like that, almost like something out of a novel or comic?book. The distant, tortured hero ? or in this case, heroine ?with a dark and troubled past. We see Batman, not the sad little boy who lost his parents when he was a boy. We only see the suit, the legend, not the pain Bruce Wayne feels when he remembers growing up alone. Every time he sees a family, or children playing with their parents, he sees a life he never had. But who cares, because he's Batman and he keeps us safe. Poor Katie. The Girl?Who?Lived, the Chosen One. We never stop to see the girl herself, only the determined face she is forced to present to the rest of us day after day. To have the weight of her past and the Dark Lord bearing down on her... it isn't glorious, it's horrific. How can any of us understand that? Even those closest to her, who think they have her best interests at heart know nothing of what it is to be her, to suffer as she has suffered. I even asked her if she knew why it was her the Dark Lord chose."

He stole a glance at Riddle who managed to keep his face neutral.

"She has no idea why it was her the Dark Lord picked on Halloween all those years ago," said Harry coldly. "All that she has been through, and no one has told her why. Can you imagine being hunted every second of every day for a reason you cannot understand? Glorious? Attention seeker? ...No, Katie is none of those things, and I am very grateful that it is not me who has to suffer this burden."

"You seem to know her quite well," said Riddle, his brow furrowed in thought.

"No," said Harry, shaking his head. "Not really, not intimately. She doesn't seem to like me much, certainly doesn't trust me. I can just...I see the truth in her eyes. I only wish I could do something about it, but I am not the one in the know. So, I'll just stand by her, doing whatever I can so long as she'll let me."

Riddle stared at him for a moment. Harry took the opportunity to pour another cup of tea, his hand as steady as a rock. He was in control now and he decided to wait, to let him sweat a little. It would be interesting to see where the Headmaster took it from here. As it happened, Riddle changed the subject entirely.

"The reason I asked you here today," said Riddle, drawing a file from his desk. "Was regarding your parents."

"What about them?" asked Harry, struggling to keep his voice impassive. If he was going to admit it was murder and not an accident that killed them, why not do it when Harry had brought them up? Did he want to do it on his terms, or was it something else?

"The Aurors who have been investigating since December have finished their investigation," announced Riddle his hand resting on the file.

"Really?" asked Harry, sitting up and leaning closer to the desk. He was not feigning interest now, for he really did want to hear what Riddle had to say. He wanted to know what the lying little snake would come out with this time. Would he acknowledge that it was murder? Unlikely. Would there be any truth in what he said? Probably not. Still, Harry wanted to hear him out.

"I have a full copy of the report here if you wish to see it," said Riddle, offering him the file. "To summarise, the result is accidental death from the fire. If it makes you feel better, St. Mungo’s Maintenance Department is being investigated over why the fire?systems did not put out the blaze sooner."

Harry remained silent, merely nodding his head. Inside, he was struggling to conquer his anger. The man dared to sit here and lie to him about his parents, and to pass the blame on to others. The sprinklers or whatever magical equivalent they had may have been to slow, but that did not mean that innocent workers should be tried for incompetence when a blatant murderer was getting nothing. This was not justice.

"Do you want the report?" asked Riddle when Harry did not move to take it.

Harry shook his head. "I'd rather let them rest in peace. If you dig up the past, all you get is dirty."

Riddle nodded, accepting his answer.

"There is just one more thing though," he said, regarding Harry closely. "It seems that earlier today, there was a break in at St. Mungo’s. Apparently someone tried to steal security footage from the day of the fire."

"What happened?" asked Harry, trying to look shocked.

"The thief attacked the chief of security," Riddle informed him, his eyes boring into Harry’s. "Whoever it was assaulted several of the security team, stole some security footage, and nearly destroyed some of their monitoring equipment."

"Were they caught?" asked Harry, attempted to sound concerned.

"No, alas they got away," said Riddle nonchalantly. "The perpetrator knew enough to destroy the day’s security recordings, so the only clue the Aurors have is a description of the assailant which could fit thousands of people. The Aurors continue to investigate the matter, but I felt it best you hear it from me rather than in the Daily Prophet."

"Thanks," said Harry. For a second he had been worried Riddle might ask him why he thought someone would steal such a thing. Then again, Harry was not an Auror, not in the Order, and was not in Riddle's confidence. Why on earth would the conjecture of a student be useful? But Harry didn’t believe for a second that Riddle was telling him out of kindness. Did he suspect Harry? More importantly did he have evidence?

Riddle nodded, and then placed the file back in his desk. Harry got the distinct impression that tea was over. He glanced down at his watch, which read five past eight. He had been here for an hour, though it had not felt like it.

"Is there anything else?" he asked.

"No," said Riddle, shaking his head. "I have offered you the report that you are legally entitled to, and you are now aware of the incident in St. Mungo's. Aside from that, I merely wished to make sure that you were settling in alright, and that everything was going well."

"It is, thanks," said Harry, eager to be gone.

"Yes, indeed," Riddle agreed. "You have rekindled old friendships, your extra work seems to be going well, and there have been no mishaps, have there?"

Harry didn't respond.

"I trust you are feeling better, though?" Riddle continued, "I understand you had a touch of the flu?"

Harry nodded, while trying to work out an answer. Riddle clearly knew about his illness ? so much for the Hippocratic Oath ? and probably the irregularity of it as well. Was it another test? Was he looking for an admission? He should know that Pomfrey suspected it to be caused by a curse, and Riddle had just made the comment about mishaps. He was testing Harry, a prospect that caused Harry's anger to boil all over again. Only the icy control of the Dark Knight kept his frustration in check.

"I'm feeling much better now, thanks," replied Harry coolly. The fact that Riddle was becoming less subtle with his tests signalled it was time to leave. Harry had to get out before he slipped. "Well, I think I had better be going," he said. "I need to pop to the library before I go to bed. Curfew and all that."

"Then I shall detain you no longer," said Riddle, nodding, although Harry got the impression he would have liked Harry to stay longer.

Harry nodded and with a half smile rose and headed for the door. He paused for a second, expecting Riddle to make one final comment. When it didn't come, he slipped out of the door and then ran most of the way back to the Common Room. It wasn't until he was safe in his dormitory that he breathed easy once more. His head was beginning to pound again, as the medicine wore off. Despite it being early, Harry changed into his pyjamas and lay on his bed, staring at the ceiling and replaying the conversation in his head, trying to discern truth from the carefully woven lies.

~~~~ + ~~~~

 

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