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A Stranger in the Promised Land Chapter V (part3)   

2009-07-17 18:42:54|  分类: HP转载 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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A cool wind swept in through the open window, gently stirring the curtains before sweeping lightly over the skin of the boy in the bed. He was tucked beneath white sheets which came up to just above his waist. Next to his bed was a chair over which clothes had been folded. On the other side was a cabinet with a jug and a glass of water, as well as a small clock and a pair of glasses.

As goose bumps surfaced all over his skin under the wind, Harry Potter became aware of the world around him. He opened his eyes, and the light came flooding in. As the image came slowly into focus, Harry found himself in a sea of white. He was in a bed, one of several beds in the room, three more of which were occupied.

Shaking his head to rid himself of the sleepiness, Harry propped himself up into a sitting position. Looking around he saw that he was in the infirmary. A glance at the clock told him it was ten forty?five in the morning. He was not alone in the room as three of the other beds were occupied. There were groups of younger students around two of the beds, suggesting that some younger kids had gotten hurt in classes. In the bed opposite Harry laid the sleeping bulk of Gregory Goyle. Half of his face was salmon pink rather than his normal pale complexion. Harry instantly recognised it as the later stages of burn treatment. Another day or so and the pink would be gone, but he had clearly suffered burns to half his face, probably due to the fireworks. Harry didn't exactly feel pity for the brute though he was glad he hadn't died or lost a limb.

He turned again to the table next to him; lying next to the clock were his false glasses. My disguise!

Harry’s hand flew to his forehead and he ran a finger lightly across his forehead. He breathed a sigh of relief as his finger felt only smooth skin without the jagged edge of the scar. He looked at himself in the glass clock?face. Yes, the scar was still covered, hidden beneath the make?up. Harry wasn't entirely sure how it was still covered ? surely it would have rubbed off by now. He vaguely remembered hearing Lavender talking about magical make?up remover, and how some stuff would only come off with specific removers, rather than water. Shower?proof make?up. Harry guessed that was what he had nicked, thank goodness.

"Ah, Mr. Potter," said a voice as Harry reached for his glasses. He put them on and looked up to face the speaker. Madam Pomfrey had immerged from her office and was striding over to him. "Did I not tell you to come back to see me if it got any worse?"

"What happened?" he asked, staring at her expectantly.

"Actually, I was rather hoping you would tell me," she said briskly. "You were found unconscious up near the Astronomy Tower."

"I was...?" asked Harry, at a loss as to what she meant.

Suddenly the memories came flooding back ? the running, the exhaustion, the locked door to the tower. The last thing he remembered was collapsing, pain beyond pain, and then...light, fire, burning. Images flashed through his mind, but what he saw made no sense. He saw himself as if seen by someone standing next to him. He was wreathed in flame, yet not burning. It was almost as if it was a cleansing fire. Of course, that wasn’t possible, was it? He vaguely remembered feeling really hot, and then being consumed by power, and then...nothing.

"You were found by Mr. Filch," Pomfrey informed him, her voice breaking through his vivid flashback.

He blinked and then looked up at her, trying to keep his face neutral.

Pomfrey continued to explain what had happened. "He was going his rounds when he came across you lying unconscious at the top of the Astronomy Tower stairs. Apparently your body was steaming and you were very hot to the touch. He also said you looked 'odd' and 'like you had been up to no good'. It is clear why he is not a healer," she added dryly.

Harry smiled at her joke. "He always was such a poet," he agreed.

"Quite."

Harry sighed and then leaned his head back, resting it on the headboard and staring up at the ceiling. He felt surprisingly wide?awake and the cold, curse, or whatever he had been suffering from last week was gone. It was such a relief not to have his head pounding like a bass drum and to feel sick every few minutes. A small smile crept onto his face, and this did not go unnoticed by the matron.

"So, Mr. Potter, please tell me... what do you remember?" Pomfrey asked, staring at him expectantly.

"Nothing," said Harry, Occluding his mind in case Riddle was around under an invisibility cloak. He smiled, trying to make his face the very picture of innocence. "I don’t remember anything since yesterday’s dinner. Well, I say yesterday...what day is it?"

"As of today, you have been unconscious for nearly sixty hours," said Pomfrey. "It is now Thursday morning."

Wow, had he really been out for that long? He felt extremely refreshed rather than knackered, as he usually was when he woke up from days of unconsciousness. Of course his body really had no major injuries to recover from this time, so it made sense that he would wake up feeling better than usual. Still it was back to the grindstone now, and Thursday after lunch was...

"Potions," said Harry, reciting his timetable. "Oh joy."

"Yes, speaking of potions," said Pomfrey, her voice accusing.

Harry instantly was on his guard, wondering what 'inconsistencies' she had stumbled across now.

"Have you been taking the potions and pills I gave you?"

He had indeed taken them, though because the headache pills reminded him of slugs he had only taken them when he needed them, rather than at regular intervals as she had advised. Still, he had taken them, and they had worked...to begin with.

"Yes," he answered honestly. He was cautious to elaborate as she was clearly suspicious of something ? he just didn't know what, and he had no desire to dig himself a deeper hole. "Why do you ask?"

Pomfrey looked at him, her eyebrows furrowed in thought. After a few seconds she answered.

"Because I can find no traces of any of them in your blood," she said, taking a seat on the edge of the bed. "In fact, while we are on the subject, I can find nothing physically wrong with you at all. Well, to be more specific, your arm was in quite a state, but I healed that. My point is on a microscopic level, in your blood, for example, there is nothing wrong at all. You are in perfect health."

If that was so, why was she not happy that she had done a good job? Something was wrong.

"Surely that's a good thing?" asked Harry, trying to flatter her. "It means what you gave me worked, right?"

"Yes, I am glad you are in perfect health," she said, giving him an exasperated look. "But my point is that you are too healthy."

"Is that even possible?"

"Let me explain," she said, adopting her preaching voice that she used every time she explained to someone exactly why they needed a month of bed rest. As soon as Harry heard that tone, he feared the worst.

"Unconsciousness is normally the body shutting itself down to repair itself. It is usually caused and characterised by a lack of oxygen to the brain, i.e. shock. With me so far?"

Harry nodded.

"However, with you, even when you were first brought here, the levels of oxygen in your blood were completely normal. The levels of sugar, water, and every other vitamin were fine. There is no sign of head injury, or any other injuries for that matter. I can find no medical cause for your apparently mini?coma."

Harry relaxed. This wasn't that serious ? she couldn't prove he was from another world, after all.

"Not something left over from December, perhaps?" offered Harry, making it up as he went along. An 'aftershock' of his alleged coma following the fire might persuade her.

"Unlikely," said Pomfrey, shaking her head. "However, it goes deeper than that. I thought it might be your cold or flu or whatever it was you came to see me about last week, but I can find no trace of that either. People unknowingly have a few cells of flu and cold with them all the time, but their immune system can deal with that. That is why you are more susceptible to colds away from home, as your immune system is great for the Surrey version of flu, but not of the variant found in Newcastle, for example. Hence the so?called Fresher's Flu that everyone gets in their first year. However, in your case, your anti?bodies and immune system are working normally and there was no trace at all of any viruses or anything, and I mean literally no trace at all. There is nothing at all wrong with you."

"Good," said Harry, grinning. "Fit as a fiddle, and you can tell that to Riddle." He didn't have to stay in bed for a month, he was free to go. Now he was fit, he could go to Tenedos, find the key, and then it was a matter of sorting out the Arithmancy. Well, there was no use lying around, it was time to get cracking. Harry swept the covers off and stood up. He was relieved that Madam Pomfrey made no move to stop him. She sat on the end of his bed, her hands in her lap. He noticed for the first time that she looked oddly sad and subdued. Harry hesitated.

"Professor Riddle is no longer here," said Pomfrey, looking up at him, her face neutral. "It is my duty to inform you that Professor Umbridge has taken over the role of Headmistress. Professor Riddle is now a fugitive."

Harry understood at once. Somehow between all the talk of being found, of him being in perfect health, he had forgotten why he had been running in the first place and what was going to happen next. Of course, he had seen it all before. Harry's fists clenched. While he had no love for Riddle, even in his current form, amazingly he had less for Umbridge. Harry had tried to stop this happening, tried to help the RA. He guessed Katie must have been caught somewhere on the way back. The scene played out in Harry's mind of Fudge trying to evict Riddle, of his escape, though this time without Fawkes. Harry shook his head.

"Umbridge kicked him out?" asked Harry, remembering not to show too much foreknowledge.

Pomfrey’s lips pursed. "Merlin help us all, but yes... Professor Riddle is now a fugitive."

Harry mulled that over is his mind. He had no love for the man and part of him ? the part that had been tormented by Lord Voldemort for years ? felt relieved that he was no longer here in the castle keeping tabs on Harry’s activities. But a nagging doubt in his mind persisted. Without the balance of Riddle here, where would that leave Katie and the rest of the students? There was no one to protect them from Umbridge anymore. This Riddle seemed to genuinely care about the Girl?Who?Lived and the students of his school. Harry hated to admit it, but Hogwarts needed Tom Marvolo Riddle.

Madam Pomfrey sighed, and when she spoke, her tone was almost despairing, as if she could not be bothered any more. "Get dressed Potter. Since you are in such good health, there is no need for you to take up space in my infirmary. Your clothes are over there." She pointed to a changing area in the corner. Her eyes narrowed. "But if anything changes with your health, anything at all, I expect you to report back to me immediately, understood?" Her tone lacked its usual strength, and it almost sounded like her heart wasn't in it anymore.

Harry nodded. "Yes, Ma’am."

She stood tiredly before dismissing him and returning towards her office. "Off you go then." Harry suddenly felt really sorry for her and the need to offer her a bit of hope.

"He'll be back," Harry called after her. She paused halfway to her office. "It's only a matter of time. Riddle will return and I wouldn't want to be Dolores Umbridge when he does."

She nodded to him with a small smile before disappearing into her office.

As Harry stepped behind the screen to change back into his robes, he felt a sinking feeling in his stomach. A few seconds ago he had been feeling light as a feather and care?free, as if things were moving forwards and he was now able to take the next step. With this knowledge he was back to feeling sick, though it was a different kind of sick. Umbridge was now running the school. Harry didn’t know why he felt surprised, or why it sent chills running down his spine. He didn’t know why he felt as if his freedom and happiness were under threat, when he knew that he could lie low and avoid this conflict. This wasn’t his problem, but it still crushed down on his heart, still made him feel like he had to fight. He had known it was coming, but hadn’t dared think it would be so soon. He had become complacent, he realised, suddenly angry with himself. Things were happening much quicker than in his world and it was possible that he had a hand in making it so, but Harry couldn’t help but wonder, how soon before Katie went to the Ministry?

Do I have the right to intervene? he wondered. Could he grab her, tell her what was to come? No, of course not. For a kick off she wouldn’t believe him, and she would want to know how he knew everything. That meant telling her who he was and how he had gotten here. If she knew, Riddle would soon know, and if Riddle found out about the Node then Lord Voldemort would have the power to move between worlds. No, that must never happen and if that meant Katie was kept in the dark, then so be it.

Still, he had to find out exactly what was happening. If Umbridge was doing anything that she hadn’t done last time, anything that Harry was not expecting, it would limit his ability to move around her. He had an advantage as long as he knew what was coming. As soon as she deviated from her previous plan, Harry’s knowledge was void.

Knowledge is power, Harry thought.

He realised that, assuming history repeated itself perfectly, once Katie had been to the Ministry, once Fudge acknowledged Grindelwald's return, then they would have reached the end of Harry's knowledge. After that point he was as vulnerable as anyone else. Harry knew he had to get out of here as soon as possible. He had to get to Tenedos, and then he needed to sort out an Unspeakable to do the Arithmancy for him.

Harry thanked Madam Pomfrey for her help, and then left the infirmary, pausing for a second to look at Goyle's burns. He wouldn't be disfigured, and the brute could do with a dose of pain. Harry just regretted that it was all in vain ? Katie had been caught, the RA was dead in the water, and Riddle was gone.

Harry descended the steps and started along the corridor heading back to Gryffindor Tower, still lost in thought. Aside from the changes to Umbridge's position, a lot had happened to him as well in the last few days. He thought back over the escape from the RA. He remembered feeling awful, having no energy, no magic, and feeling near death. He couldn’t get rid of the image of his flesh burning, and then...nothing. Then he had just woken up, days later, completely refreshed. Harry pulled out his wand, ready to test a theory.

Lumos!

The silent spell lit up the end of the wand, shining a faint flickering beam of light onto the wall. It wasn’t as strong as he had hoped, but it was definitely working. He didn't feel drained or sick because of it. Harry was confident his illness was finally over and his magic would return. That was definitely good news.

Now to test something else... Harry looked around and checked he was alone before concentrating on a point several feet to his right. He closed his eyes, focusing on his destination as he had so many times before.

Nothing happened.

He opened his eyes and looked around. He hadn’t moved an inch. He tried again, closing his eyes and concentrating hard, imagining himself at the point several feet to his right. After so much practice, he could instinctually call the flames that would transport him anywhere, but not today.

He stared down at his hand, remembering his Animagus training in the very first session with McGonagall. He concentrated on the hand, picturing the feathers of the phoenix, willing his hand to become the wing.

Nothing. He didn't feel the pain as his body condensed itself, nor the hypersensitivity of Phoenix. There was nothing.

Bollocks! cursed Harry inwardly.

He continued walking, suddenly angered, though he now had a fair idea what had happened. He was a phoenix, and he had done what all phoenixes do: he had burned, regenerated, refreshed, whatever phrases he wished to use.

The phoenix had drained his power to fuel the burn, leaving him weak and ill. That was why he had felt so awful, why he had been unable to do magic. Then, during his escape, he had burned. He remembered McGonagall saying that the phoenix was bound to his magical bore, not his body. It was his magical core had been burned to a crisp, and then reborn, and was slowly returning to him. This, of course, meant that he had to wait until he was back to normal before going to Turkey. Harry supposed he should be grateful that he didn’t completely regenerate his body and become a baby again like Fawkes had. That would be strange. Worse still, he could have ended up naked if his clothes had been burned to a crisp. Not only would that be embarrassing, but finding someone naked and injured, let alone unconscious implied sexual assault, and there was no way Harry could hush that up. He would have been backed right into a corner and everyone would be asking from very penetrating questions. Then he, he reasoned, there was no reason why his clothes should burn. He burst into flame every time he Flamed anywhere, and his clothes thankfully were always unharmed. Come to think of it, he had taken people with him, and they had not been burned either, nor the objects in his pockets. Still, thought Harry, pushing the technicalities aside, he felt refreshed and, like Pomfrey had said, he was in perfect health.

He continued walking, lost in thought. If he could regenerate, did that mean that he couldn’t die? He remembered Fawkes swallowing the Killing Curse in the ministry last year and bursting into flames. Harry doubted it, and he certainly wasn’t willing to test the theory. The curse had destroyed Fawkes and he was born again from the ashes. Harry’s burning didn’t revert him back to a baby, just his magical core, leaving his body more or less as it was. The regeneration wasn’t as powerful as Fawkes’, and he remained biologically human. His magic burned to a crisp and regenerated, not his body.

No, Harry was sure he remained as mortal as the next man.

Harry was also aware that phoenixes burned in cycles. Did that mean that this was to happen again? Did he now have a ‘time of the month’?

Let’s think, he told himself. He had first managed to turn completely in late November. Then again, the phoenix had first brought him back from the dead after the dirty bomb had gone off in the Ministry, which had been in late October. It was now mid February. So it was roughly quarterly, if it followed a pattern. Harry grimaced that meant that every few months he would burn. He would have a week with no magic, unable to defend himself. For one week every three or four months, Harry was as good as useless. He would have a week of feeling like hell. Then again, he thought. He had fought off this...sickness with medicine. Maybe, fighting it off had only prolonged it. Harry would have to wait until next time, and he had no desire for that to come round in a hurry. Another point to consider was Malfoy’s curse. Was it completely irrelevant or had it somehow triggered the burn? Perhaps it wasn’t so much time, as the amount of magic that affected his burning. Unfortunately a pattern needed to repeat before Harry could spot any traits and that meant waiting months for it to happen again. Harry wasn’t overly concerned ? it wasn’t as if he looked forward to being without magic and feeling like hell.

Then there was the matter of his inability to Flame around. Harry was fairly sure it would return in time as his magic was doing. It was as if the phoenix inside him had to grow up again before it could transport him. Harry quite liked that analogy, as if he had a pet inside him. However, in the meantime he had no way to leave the castle. He was truly stuck here until his power returned. That meant no holidays to Tenedos. Harry hoped with any luck, it would only be a few days before he was completely back to normal.

~~~~ + ~~~~

Katie sat in the common room, glowering out of the window. Two days had passed since she had been forced to watch that cow oust Riddle from his own school. She had stood there, unable to help, as Riddle had hexed Dawlish, Umbridge and Fudge, and even poor Kingsley. She had been there as he had been forced to run. She had been there when Umbridge had taken control of Hogwarts. As she saw it, she was there the moment when freedom died. The resulting Educational Decree had been ripped from the Gryffindor notice board and ceremonially burnt in the fire within two minutes of it appearing. However, the image was still in her minds eye and the words repeated over in her head.

Dolores Umbridge has replaced Tom Marvolo Riddle as headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

Katie grimaced as she stared out through the glass. Her breath turned to mist on the icy pane, which was being assaulted from the outside by an icy winter's storm. The droplets running down the outside reminded her constantly of the tears she refused to shed. The last few days had been Hell on earth. Without the RA, without that little bit of resistance, it seemed that all hope had faded from the world. Over the last year, in fact over her entire life, she had never felt as alone as she did now, and the events of three days ago replayed over and over in her mind.

She had been caught by a trip jinx ? a trip jinx. She cursed her stupidity, clenching her fist tightly, digging her nails into her palm. She deserved it for such a basic error ? how could she expect to have people listen to her and learn from her when she herself fell to such a juvenile mistake? Malfoy, of all the people it had to have been Malfoy! She’d had to endure his smug expression all the way up to Riddle’s office, Crabbe holding her in a Full?Nelson and Malfoy strutting alongside, twirling her wand in his fingers. She had made a valiant attempt to remove his chances of having children with her foot, but she had missed.

So it was that she had been paraded unceremoniously up to the headmaster’s office and thrown roughly to the ground where she came face to face with a pair of pink high?heels. Umbridge had dismissed the Slytherins and then marched Katie at wand?point into the office. Katie had stood helpless as Umbridge and Fudge, backed by Dawlish, Kingsley, and another Auror she didn’t know stood victorious in front of the desk. Katie had to endure Umbridge telling Fudge how much of a juvenile delinquent she was, how she had flouted the rules, galvanized dangerous clubs, and told mammoth lies. She had listened in silence while Umbridge charged Riddle with creating an army, essentially high treason. The only saving grace was that there was no evidence, just Umbridge’s word. Kingsley has modified Marietta's memory and Harry had Hermione destroy the parchment, leaving Umbridge with mere circumstance and speculation as evidence. Still, it was enough to convince Fudge who was now more paranoid than ever.

Through it all, Riddle sat there, not looking at Fudge, certainly not looking at Katie, but appearing fascinated by his quill. Katie had tried to catch his eye, but he seemed to be inspecting the feather with growing interest, almost as if he was deliberately avoiding her.

Even when he had escaped, even when he had knocked Kingsley, Dawlish, Fudge, and Umbridge to the ground in a single move, he had not so much as looked at her. He had ignored her completely, essentially telling McGonagall to get rid of her, just in fewer words.

What concerned Katie the most was that as she had left, as Riddle had moved past her, for a second, just a second, their eyes had met and something had happened. This deep routed desire had suddenly flared up. She had felt a powerful desire to kill, to hurt. It had lasted a fraction of a second, but for that time, she could imagine wrapping her fingers around his neck. She had longed to watch the life fade from his eyes as she choked the last of the air out of him. It was as if a beast had reared up inside, ready to strike.

She shivered. Riddle was not in her good books for this year, and when she finally got her hands on him she would give him a piece of her mind. Oh yes, she had things to say and Riddle would damn well listen. She had even rehearsed what she would say to him and she didn’t care that it was punctuated with words she would not repeat in front of Mrs Weasley. However, she had no desire to hurt him, strangle him, and certainly not to kill him. So where had this phantom desire come from?

She didn’t know, but she couldn’t help thinking back to Grimmauld Place. Was she safe to be around her friends? Would the beast return and would she find herself wrapping her fingers around Neville’s throat or Hermione’s? She cast the thought aside. She had another problem now, of course. Since that night Malfoy was Umbridge's new golden boy, possessing the power to give detentions, take house points, and essentially do what he liked. His influence was on par with the Head Boy now. Ever since that night, there was a smirk curled across his lips whenever he had seen Katie. She had been docked five points this morning by Malfoy for possession of an offensive haircut.

Then there was Harry. He had disappeared once they split up, and had not made it back to the Common Room. Even when McGonagall had delivered Katie back, Harry had not returned. Katie had spent much of the night worrying about him, the only one who had not returned. By some miracle, the others had made it to the brooms and a rather surprised first year had let them in the window. They had been the very picture of innocence as Katie had arrived back. Ron and Ginny were playing chess, while Hermione and Neville, the sixth year prefects, had been berating some first years about leaving litter around ? "you mustn't take house elves for granted," Hermione had been saying.

Harry didn't reappear at breakfast either, causing much speculation. When Katie had asked McGonagall during her first period Transfiguration lesson, she had been told that Filch had found him near the Astronomy Tower, unconscious, or ‘half dead’ as he had phrased it. He had apparently not gotten very far, which was unsurprising considering how ill he had looked. Katie had been to visit him once as he lay unconscious in the Hospital Wing. Although Pomfrey refused to tell Katie what was wrong with him, she was sure that someone must have cursed him for him to spend several days unconscious. One of Umbridge’s cronies must have cornered him. With no one around to witness it, no one to protect Harry or to report his attacker, the Slytherin responsible must have seen an opportunity to vent his or her spite. Probably Malfoy, thought Katie. He definitely had a grudge against him. Poor boy. The message was clear though ? the Inquisitorial Squad were now above the rules, and the weaker amongst them like Harry would pay the price.

Truth be told, Katie felt a small pang of guilt as she had sat watching him sleep. As they had found out in Riddle’s office, Harry had not betrayed them. As he had said, he had never told Umbridge and it seemed from his attempt at a rescue that he truly was on their side. Were it not for Harry, they would all have been caught and all of them would be in a world of trouble. As it was, Umbridge could prove nothing, though it didn't stop her punishing those she suspected. They all had a lot to thank Harry for, and as she had sat at the foot of his bed listening to his gentle breathing, Katie had found that what she wanted most was for him to wake up. She wanted to see those emerald eyes open, for she needed to speak to him. She had said a lot of things about him that weren't true, and he deserved better than what she had done. He deserved an apology. Even as she lay on her bed the following night, when she closed her eyes the figure in the hospital haunted her dreams.

Katie thrust the thought aside, and glanced down at the fresh scars on the back of her hand.

It had been Marietta Edgecombe all the time. The lying, deceitful, little bitch, thought Katie venomously. Stupid, treacherous... Her fists were clenched as she glowered out the window, cursing the ground on which Marietta walked. She’ll probably pass her Defence NEWTs because of me, thought Katie. And this is how the bitch repays me.

"You look pissed," said a voice, as Neville flopped into an armchair near the window?seat that Katie occupied.

"Who isn’t," said Katie icily. "When I get my hands on that pathetic, two?faced, double?crossing...."

"Woah," said Neville. "Hold your hippogriffs. With Umbridge around, you can’t touch her so don’t try. Riddle will be back one day and then you can nail her to a cross if it makes you feel better, but right now he needs to be smart."

Katie knew he was right, but the duplicity was so fresh in her mind that she couldn't stop thinking about Marietta and what she wanted to do to her.

"The war council’s gathered," came another voice as Ginny arrived with her brother, who evicted a first year from a nearby chair, and Hermione, who evicted Ron and returned the chair to its previous occupant.

"Quite the opposite," said Neville, checking that there was no one close enough to hear. He lowered his voice in light of the first year who Ron had tried to evict. "The RA needs to lay low. No more meetings, but we do need to stick together."

"Vive la résistance," muttered Hermione. Neville turned to her and grinned.

"Now listen very carefully," he said in a French accent that reminded Katie of Fleur Delacour. "I shall say zis only once."

"Good moaning," said Hermione, laughing slightly. The joke was completely lost on Katie but she didn’t interrupt. They needed a little cheer these days, and she didn't wish to rain on their moment of joy with her dark thoughts about throttling Marietta ? even without the help of whatever had made her want to kill Riddle.

"My point is that we need to avoid trouble," said Neville, serious once more. "Umbridge is in charge and we can't change this from inside the school. Only the Ministry can remove her. We can't do that, but the Order can. But we do need to keep a line of communication open to the Order...oh."

Something caught his eye and he abruptly stopped, his eyes focused on the door.

"What?" asked Ginny.

"Harry’s back," answered Neville, his eyes fixed on the new arrival.

Katie's stomach clenched at the words.

Sure enough as they all turned, Harry Potter climbed though the portrait hole into the Common Room. He was looking noticeably healthier than the last time Katie had seen him. His skin was no longer pale and clammy, but a healthy bronzed colour. His eyes were no longer tired with dark shadows, but alert and twinkling. Harry stood framed in the doorway, surveying the room like a predator scanning for its prey and stopping as his gaze came to rest on Katie. She recoiled slightly under the penetrating gaze, but to her surprise, Katie saw the pity deep in the emerald green.

Harry slowly made his way over towards them, his eyes sweeping across the group as he approached. As there were no more seats, so Katie took her legs down from the window seat freeing up space for him. Harry saw the movement and for the first time, he hesitated. He paused for a fraction of a second before sitting down on the arm of Hermione’s chair.

Fine, thought Katie petulantly, putting her feet back up on the seat.

"’ello," Harry said casually, as he perched on the arm. There was a short pause.

Katie didn't want them to appear to be a clique but she couldn’t think of anything to say to him. Luckily, Hermione took the initiative.

"How are you feeling?" asked Hermione kindly.

"Better," answered Harry, shrugging. "Fit as a fiddle."

"You looked better," Ginny told him. "You looked like death warmed up at the meeting."

Was it Katie’s imagination or did Harry’s jaw clench at the words ‘death warmed up’. No, she must have imagined it. Then again, it was only the one of hundreds of things he had done or said that made her suspicious. He had saved them from Umbridge, or tried to, but did that mean he was completely trustworthy?

Harry shrugged, looking at Ginny. "Yeah," he admitted, nodding his head. "I was pretty bad. Flu, Madam Pomfrey reckons."

There was another awkward pause before someone broke it.

"Speaking of the meeting," said Neville, his tone accusing, "I think someone has something to say."

He shot a determined look at Katie. She hadn’t been paying attention, as her mind had been on Harry’s odd behaviour these last few weeks.

"Eh?" she asked.

"You have something to say to Harry?" added Neville, sounding very much like Mrs Weasley.

In truth, she was feeling slightly guilty about some of it, but she couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that there was something wrong about him. She took a deep breath, knowing that all eyes in the group were on her. She felt a flash of anger that Neville would force her into this, but deep down she knew that she hadn't been the nicest person to Harry. This wasn't how she had envisioned apologising to Harry. In her mind they were alone, and in her mind he had forgiven her. It seemed that in reality things were going to go differently.

"Harry," she began. "I’m sorry I jumped to conclusions. I know it wasn’t you who betrayed us. We should have invited you long before we did."

Harry stared at her, the unblinking, uncompromising stare that seemed to see into her very soul. He definitely wasn’t going to make this easy on her.

"What I am trying to say is," she stammered, "is that I haven't been the nicest person to you. You've been through a horrible experience, and all I did was shun you. You deserve better, and I'm sorry." She finished the sentence, feeling strangely drained and nervous, as she stared at him expectantly.

Neville and the others turned back to Harry and, like Katie, waited for a reaction. She had no idea what to expect; anger, disappointment, or for him to shrug it off. Harry was utterly unpredictable these days.

He paused for a second, staring at Katie thoughtfully, the same hard stare that had first made her so mistrustful.

"In your position," he said slowly, his eyes never leaving hers. "I wouldn’t have trusted me either. Don’t worry about it."

The atmosphere which had suddenly turned cold seemed to melt as a roguish grin spread over his face and his eyes left Katie's. Katie felt an odd tingling in her belly, along with a peculiar sense of relief, as if a great weight had been lifted from her shoulders. However, it was coupled with that nagging doubt, that strange feeling that never left her when Harry was around. The boy in question was now speaking to Neville.

"So, what’s happening with Umbridge? Pomfrey told me she’s in charge now, right?" The smile had vanished from his lips and he looked around the circle.

"Yes," grimaced Neville then laughed. "Apparently she's Headmistress, but the office won’t let her in."

"It only opens to the true Head of the school," said Hermione, "which is Riddle. She spent most of yesterday trying to break in before accepting defeat."

Katie noticed Harry crack a smile, but he didn't seem to react with any form of surprise. It was almost as if he already knew what he was being told. Maybe Madame Pomfrey told him.

"The office won't let her in, but she's still running the school by force, isn't she?" asked Harry. He looked around the group and the grim expressions seemed to answer the question for him. "The RA is dead in the water then?"

"Yes," confirmed Neville before Katie could answer. "It draws too much attention to us."

"And its members?" asked Harry. "Is everyone alright?"

"Well, since Hermione grabbed the list Umbridge doesn’t know who was in it," said Neville. "Though she suspects most of us. So far, Katie is the only one she can confirm. I think we should be thanking you for remembering that list too."

Harry nodded. "S’okay. I’m just glad I thought of it." He paused again then asked, "So what did happen that night?"

Katie took it upon herself to explain.

"Riddle convinced Umbitch, Fudge, and the Aurors that it was the first meeting," she informed him. "With no list, she had nothing to go on. The others made it back in through the windows on brooms, so the only ones known to be out of their Common Rooms are you are I, with the exception of the Inquisitorial Squad, of course."

Harry grimaced.

"She’ll be round to ask you what you were doing," Ron warned him. "She's desperate to find some evidence. She's randomly searching bags and pockets, breaking up any meetings of more than three students, and as for her Inquisitorial Squad...Malfoy seems to think he's running the school now. Be careful, Harry, the old cow will corner you sooner or later."

"I’ll make something up," shrugged Harry, as if Umbridge were nothing to worry about.

Katie couldn't help wonder why he didn't seem to care about Umbridge or his own safety.

Then he said it. "Shouldn't be too hard to convince her. I doubt she’s a Legilimens."

Katie froze, her entire body tensing at the words. What the hell did he know about Legilimency and Occlumency? It was a rare art, an 'obscure branch of magic', Riddle had said. Katie only knew about it through her own lessons, and even Hermione had had to look it up. There was no way Potter should know about it unless he had been involved with it somehow. It was one hell of a coincidence that he should be familiar with it just as she was learning it. Was he a Legilimens? Could he do Occlumency? If he could cover his lies so well, how could she ever trust him?

Every time.... As soon as she warmed to him, he said something that made her doubt him all over again. What was up with Harry? How long would she have to wait for answers?

~~~~ + ~~~~

Harry was curled up in an armchair in the Common Room making notes from his Potions book. It had been two days since his return to Gryffindor Tower, and sure enough, his magic had continued to return. The one exception was his phoenix abilities. When he had tried last night, he had still been unable to Flame anywhere and was also incapable of his Animagus transformation. This he was sure would return in time, but until it did, he could not go about finding the key to the Node. It was a matter of waiting, and with Umbridge in command that was not easy. She had cornered him yesterday, demanding to know what he was doing out of his Common Room on the night the RA had fallen. Since none of the Slytherins could prove his whereabouts, Harry had been able to convince her that he had been up there after dinner to get some fresh air and to be alone when he had passed out. Since this was hours before the RA meeting, he couldn't have known anything about this so?called army. Unable to prove otherwise, Umbridge had begrudgingly let him go. Now it was a matter of waiting for his abilities to return, before he could go to Tenedos.

His classes that morning had been more or less fine, which made a pleasant change, and now he had taken a little time to browse through his Potions book. To the casual observer he was making notes for the quick test that Slughorn would be making them do on Thursday, to make sure they knew what they had covered over the last few weeks before going on to another module. However, if anyone were to get a little closer to Harry, close enough to read his notes, they would have discovered that Harry was not revising for a test, but rather making a note of some of the additions made by the Half Blood Prince. Harry was not stupid however; he had chosen a chair with its back to the wall from where he could see the entire room and no one could sneak up behind him.

He wasn’t copying down the updates to recipes, for example adding an anti?clockwise stir here and there, but rather he was noting down the spells that the Prince had invented. Top of his list were the ones he knew, Levicorpus, Muffliato, and also the newly discovered ‘Sectumsempra’. Having seen its effect on an enemy in Borgin and Burkes, for which the Prince had apparently intended the spell, Harry made a note to only use it in emergencies, as it seemed to be quite a grizzly spell. He wasn’t stupid enough to use it on Malfoy, for example, now he had seen what it could do.

Harry checked his watch. It was twenty?five to one on a chilly Tuesday afternoon in February and he had been reading from the book since his previous lesson had finished at midday. Today he had a free period after lunch, and then a Charms lesson at half past three. That left him several hours to himself.

Harry closed the book and headed upstairs to his dorm where he placed his Potions book back in his trunk. Since he was alone, he’d decided to test the Phoenix once more. Using his wand, he closed and locked the door, grateful to be able to do magic again. For a moment he sat on the end of the bed to relax himself before raising his hand in front of his face. Starting right back at the beginning of his training, Harry began to inspect his hand, memorising every detail of the fingers. He wouldn't try to get them to become a wing just yet, but rather to try the first simple steps.

He stared at his hand for a good few minutes before attempting to lengthen them. Concentrating hard, he imagined himself with eight?inch fingers, and began willing them to grow. He longed to feel the little place inside him where the Phoenix resided, that little part of him that could make him transform.

Closing his eyes, he imagined the bones lengthening, the flesh extending, and his hand expanding, reaching for the ceiling. He pictured the longer hand in his mind, willing it into reality. Suddenly he felt a twinge in his fingers, a stiffness take hold of them. Harry's eyes flew open to find his fingers now several inches longer than they should be and the darker murky?brown colour that was the phoenix's flesh beneath the bright plumage.

OWW!

As he lost concentration, his hand shot back into its original shape, jarring the bones together so quickly that Harry hissed in pain. It was nowhere near as easy or a comfortable as it had been before, but like the rest of his magic it was returning. Harry felt a wave of relief come over him and a smile creep across his lips. It was coming back!

Was his ability to Flame also returning? There was only one way to find out. He concentrated hard on the other side of the room, willing the flames to take him. Since the transformation was returning this should he too, in theory. Harry concentrated for nearly a minute before attempting the jump. He turned on the spot, willing the flames to take him. There was a flash before his eyes as the flames leapt out of his skin, consuming him, but there was no feel of being forced through space. It felt like an electric shock, and as his limb convulsed Harry fell to the floor with a thud, right where he had been to start with.

Grimacing, he decided to call it a day. He picked himself up and brushed down his robes before checking his watch. It was time for lunch, and he had a craving for a Panini. He unlocked the door and headed back down the stairs in a good mood, confident that his full powers would return in a few days.

There were others in the Common Room when he arrived, having returned from their morning lessons to drop off their bags and wait for friends before going to lunch in groups. Harry didn't have this problem, as he normally ate alone. Looking around, he saw that Neville and Hermione were in the corner talking animatedly, and unless Harry was very much mistaken, they were arguing. Their movements were aggressive, they were red in the face, and Harry knew an annoyed Hermione when he saw one. Harry watched them for a second before starting across the room, making for the door. This was none of his business and he had no desire to argue with either of them. He wanted lunch, and then to sit back and wait until his powers had returned. He had almost reached the Portrait Hole when he saw a movement to his right.

"Neville!" Hermione hissed looking angry.

Harry turned to see Neville heading towards him, a determined look on his face, and Hermione holding on to his arm trying to pull him back. Neville brushed her off and looked over at Harry who had clocked him the second he had moved. As he approached, Harry saw that he was holding a small piece of parchment in his hand. Hermione by this time was on her feet, following Neville, her face a storm.

"Err..." said Harry, looking between them and getting the feeling that he had wandered in on some domestic dispute. "Can I help?"

"Maybe," said Neville. "You were fairly good at Divination last year, right?"

"Err..." stammered Harry, having no idea if he had been or not. "Was I?"

"Well, better than me and Ron at least," shrugged Neville, earning another disapproving look from Hermione. "Anyway, we..."

He was interrupted as Hermione gave a shrill cough that reminded Harry of Umbridge, so much so that several students looked around in panic, ramming Fred and George's sweets and any other contraband into their pockets.

"Okay...I was thinking," continued Neville. "Well, wondering actually, if you could make any sense of this." He held out a piece of parchment.

"What is it?" asked Harry, reaching out and taking the folded sheet.

"Oh, just a poem that Firenze was singing before Umbridge got to him," replied Neville.

"So what's your interest in it?" he asked, foxing Neville with a piercing stare. Harry saw a look of smug victory appear on Hermione's face and she made an 'I?told?you?so' grunt. The smug look vanished as soon as Harry turned his eyes to her, but he knew he had seen it. Did Hermione not want him to see this?

"Firenze said it was important," said Neville, trying to sound casual. "Said it would be worth my while to read it, and something about seeing it in the stars. You know how Seers are ? mad as the March Hare."

"Tell me about it," muttered Harry, unfolding the parchment. He cast one glance at Neville, who looked expectant, and Hermione, who looked worried, before turning his attention to the text and reading aloud.

"He shall come to you on swift wings, a stranger from an unholy land," he began aloud.

Then the gravity of his words hit home.

Harry’s eye nearly bulged out of his head. He froze, his stomach leaping up into his chest and his throat going dry. He felt the blood drain from his face and his knees go weak. The words echoed around in his head ? the Stranger from the Unholy Land ? ME! It wasn’t possible! Surely not!

This was no poem of Firenze's ? this was a Prophecy, and most likely by a human since it didn't mention planets. Harry continued to read with a sense of dread, his stomach clenching tighter with every line. It was as if this world had closed in around him. No longer was he no?one, a spectator, for if this was right, he was about to be dragged into this fight.

Taking a deep breath to calm himself, he read it again silently.

He shall come to you on swift wings, a stranger from an unholy land...

Swift wings? It was probably a reference to him appearing to Katie as a phoenix to watch over her. If so, that part had already come true.

...and disaster shall follow in his wake.

It wasn’t hard to fathom what that meant. So far nothing too bad had happened, but disaster would happen eventually he was sure, probably when everyone realised who he was.

My last shall be re?written, your future re?cast.

A new future? My last? Had Trelawney given this prophecy? Was the old Prophecy now void, and this one was to take its place? That meant that Harry no longer knew what was to come. He was now in uncharted territory and far from safe.

But beware your guardians; each will tempt you into their own darkness...

Riddle. Ha, I knew it. Even the fates know that Riddle is an evil git, thought Harry. Katie should be warned about him. Riddle would certainly tempt whoever this was about, Katie most likely, like the evil devil he was.

Choose wisely, Chosen One....Your fate and the Knight’s are now entwined. He is not as strong as he appears. His life now hangs in the balance, but it is you who must choose for him, and with your choice he may forever be lost to this world.

Harry read the last few lines, and then read them again. It felt as if someone had punched him in the gut and it took all his energy for his knees not to buckle out from underneath him. This was how he had felt when he had heard the first prophecy. It was like seeing the Grim all over again, but this was real; like seeing his own death, and it sent chills up and down his spine. He suddenly felt sick as a wave of fear crashed over him.

"Harry?" asked Neville, looking concerned. "Are you alright?" He exchanged a worried look with Hermione, but Harry barely noticed. His mind was racing ahead.

Jesus Christ! Another prophecy has been made! Most of it was for Katie to deal with, but the final line kept repeating in his mind. Katie and the Knight ? the Dark Knight: him ? were now entwined. Harry's life hung in the balance, but it was Katie's choice. He was in grave danger and it was a danger that apparently he had no control over. Katie, the Chosen One, was going to choose if Harry lived or died. He had always thought that he was in charge of his own destiny, but to hear that he wasn't, that his life was in someone else's hands, was such a shock. He felt alone and vulnerable, and a desperate desire to be with his mother, to be safe at home with his family.

He stood staring at the parchment, the final line repeating in his mind.

"Harry?" asked Hermione laying a hand gentle on his forearm.

Harry jumped as she touched him, his mind being torn from his thoughts and brought back to reality.

"You look...odd."

Harry looked from Neville to Hermione, aware that both were scrutinizing at him with worried expressions. "I'm fine," he said, trying to keep his voice casual. He flashed a smile at them as best he could, and then looked back down to the Prophecy. "Can't really help, I'm afraid," he said. "Makes no sense to me."

"Are you sure you're alright?" repeated Hermione, staring at him appraisingly.

"I'm fine," said Harry. "If you'll excuse me."

Before they could argue, Harry had turned and disappeared up the stairs back into the dormitory. As he left them, he heard a fraction of their conversation.

"Did you get the impression he knows something?" whispered Hermione.

"Something spooked him." answered Neville.

"He looked like he'd seen a ghost," agreed Hermione. "But why didn't he tell us?"

"No idea," replied Neville. "I'll ask him."

As soon as Harry was around the corner he broke into a sprint, surging up the stairs and into their dormitory. Spinning on the spot he aimed his wand at the lock which clicked shut. That done, he ran to his trunk and pulled from the front pocket a sheet of parchment torn from an atlas in the library.

His head was pounding in his chest, and the thought of his own death was at the forefront of his mind. He’d had enough. If his life was in danger then he was getting out of here. He knew what he had to do. It had to work, it just had to. Necessity was the driving force of achievement. Harry had always been able to do spells when he needed them the most.

"Please," Harry said aloud to the heavens. "Please work."

Thud!

Neville had arrived at the door outside and was trying to get in.

Harry summoned up all this strength, concentrating as he had never done before. He focused on his destination, trying to relax, to let the growing Phoenix swell from within to take him. Calling forth every ounce of magic he possessed, he turned on the spot and disappeared in a ball of flames just as the door burst open and Neville stepped in to find an empty room.

~~~~ + ~~~~

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