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The Road Not Taken Chapter One: The Proposition
Harry was back at Privet Drive and feeling as though he had hit rock bottom. His birthday was the next day, and not even that fact cheered him at all. Sirius was gone.
Every time he wedged his way into his thoughts, Harry compulsively grabbed his wand as if wishing he could have another chance to save Sirius' life, to do something, anything for his lost godfather. He wasn't aware how hard he was gripping it; he only felt rage and grief coursing through his body.
Suddenly, his wand vibrated for a split second and grew very hot, and he felt a searing pain in his scar. He cast his wand to the floor and kneeled down, feeling as though he were going to faint and throw up from the pain: and then just as suddenly as it had come, it disappeared. The painful stabbing in the scar on his forehead was nothing new: it was now more of an annoyance than anything. But what happened with his wand?
He got up from the floor and stood up rather stiffly. His window was open, allowing the night's breeze to flow through his room. He was all too quickly aware of how quiet everything was. There was nothing, no insects humming, no young birds screaming for food from the nest in the tree just outside his window, no sounds of passing cars… just nothing. Suddenly the lights on the street started to go out, one by one. He remembered the Put-Outer and the advance guard and felt a shock of excitement. Were they coming to get him at last?
"Haaaaarrrrrrrrrryyyyyyy,” echoed a chilling voice through the dark street.
That was not the voice of anyone he knew. But it was frighteningly familiar. It almost sounded as though it was toying with him. He jumped to his window sill and searched frantically. It wasn't Voldemort; it just wasn't: He remembered the high-pitched screaming too well to know this man was not him. He saw a man with what he guessed was black hair and swishing robes walking onto the Dursley's front lawn.
What in the world was Tom Riddle doing outside his window at Privet Drive?! He remembered the sixteen year old Tom, and this man was identical to him in every way, only he seemed to have aged a few years into an unhealthy-looking adulthood. How had Voldemort retrieved his old body? Was this some sort of joke, some strange hallucination, or the work of dark magic he didn’t understand?
"I know what you're thinking Harry. You're wondering why I'm here. Don't worry, I'm still wondering myself," he called up from the lawn very coolly.
Harry hadn’t actually been wondering why Tom Riddle had rather instantaneously appeared on his street half so much as how. He could feel his throat going dry, his face going hot, and a sickness and peculiar sort of rage welling up in him all at once. It was almost too much to take. His eyes quickly searched around for his wand, where had he thrown it? He wasn’t prepared to defend himself against Voldemort or Tom Riddle or whoever he was calling himself, but what other choice did he have?
"I'm not here to hurt you Harry. I was just fancying a little chat. You are sixteen tomorrow are you not? I'd say you've grown up quite well," Riddle hissed with an absolutely soul-penetrating smile on his face.
He felt fury and total confusion. What was he doing here? And why was he trying to reason with him. This was not the Voldemort he knew. The Voldemort he knew was a bloodthirsty murderer, not a smooth-talking negotiator.
"Not in the mood for talking tonight I take it? That's alright; all you have to do is listen to what I have to offer."
He looked around for someone, anyone, but the only living creature around was Hedwig, and she was sleeping soundly in her cage. The Dursley's had gone to bed hours ago, and the same seemed true of all the neighbors. Not that the Dursleys would give one tinker's toot if he was murdered in cold blood.
The only thing he could think that would bother them the most was if the surrounding neighbors heard his screams, but then again, any neighbor or passing policeman would be as defenseless as he felt at that very moment, so it made no difference.
"As I was saying, our existences are going nowhere Harry. We're to be locked in a dead lock forever, do you understand that?" He questioned in a saccharinely sweet voice.
Harry was beginning to feel faint. He imagined it was much the same feeling a mouse would have being batted around by a cat waiting to eat it. This man was responsible for so much pain, for all of his own pain, and he was stating the glaringly obvious to Harry in a tone so kind it was almost condescending.
"I take it to mean that you do, Harry. It took me ages to admit there was a possibility you might really be my equal and have the ability to defeat me. I so gravely underestimated you Potter, and both of us are living with the consequences to this day.”
Harry nearly shouted in fury but managed to contain himself out of fear for the lives of any casual passersby or neighbors who could possibly be awake and listening. He wanted more than anything he possessed to make him shut up.
“I know what you're thinking. It has something to do with your sweet mummy and daddy. You could have them back you know."
His blood froze. Surely he had misheard? Everything he had ever heard about the magical world had told him that it was impossible to bring the dead back to life. What was he talking about? Moreover, why would he do it? Voldemort didn’t care about others, not unless it was for his own murderous benefit. But he didn’t want to think about that. What could possibly be done?
"Ahhh, I see I've captured your full attention at last. The problem with you Harry is that you are my equal, my only equal. I have heard of the prophecy too.”
He paused, glancing up at Harry curiously, clearly enjoying the effect his words were having.
“You must understand that while I did transfer some of my powers to you the night that your most beloved parents died, you carried with you your own inherited magical prowess. You surely must be aware that two equals cannot win a battle against one another. To do so would require one to be stronger, faster, cleverer, and yet we are both of us equals. I have understanding that you could never dream of, and you have your dumb luck. What is to be done?”
He had to be joking. Harry was no match for Voldemort and he knew it. For the past five years he had spent at Hogwarts, he couldn’t help but feel a strange feeling that he had lucked out so many times, had so narrowly escaped his own death just a few times too often. He had risked his friends’ lives, and two had already paid for it. He looked down at Voldemort standing in his lawn, but could not look him in the face. Harry was being watched by two very cold and callous eyes, and it wrought fear and hatred down to his very soul. For a few moments, Voldemort remained silent, watching Harry, and making him feel more and more distress at the situation of having a notorious killer standing on the grass that his uncle took such pains to care for.
"You must be wondering when I'm going to get to the point. I have a nasty tendency to go on about things, do forgive my drabbling," he said sarcastically.
"Would you ever take back history Harry? If you could go back to the events of two months ago and retrieve your dearly loved godfather, would you?"
He must have sensed Harry's immediate interest in such a proposal from his eyes. They lit up and shone fiercely, craving whatever knowledge Riddle possessed, and it was the hook he needed. Riddle raised his hand to interject something else before Harry's mind went on a goose chase trying to imagine a world with Sirius in it.
"Would you take back history so far as to even have your parents back?" Harry's heart skipped a beat and he felt chills running down the course of his spine.
"Yes," he stammered, not fully aware that he seemed to have no control over his own answers because he wanted such a thing to happen with the entire core of his being.
"You do have a voice after all," Voldemort replied with enough sweetness to corrode holes through Harry’s heart.
"I did think so. Perhaps you would do well to sleep on it. I am sorry things didn't work out between us. You have been my pain and torment for so long Harry, as I'm sure I have been for you. I knew we could both be adults and let it go," he said with a sort of feigned civility.
"Oh, and I do believe you dropped this?" he said, holding up Harry's wand. "It's a fine piece you know. My wand is so very like yours. You should be thankful for that, for it is the very reason I was able to make such a proposition to you tonight."
“What are you saying?” Harry blurted out. “Why are you doing this? What are you doing?”
In the blink of an eye and with a loud crack, he was gone, and Harry looked over to his bedside table and saw his wand on the floor. It made no sense. One by one the lights came on again. He didn't go to bed until the sun was nearly up. His mind was teeming with more thoughts than he reasoned were humanly possible. He felt like Riddle had been torturing him in a bizarre sort of way, offering things he knew he could never have.
Had Riddle even been real? He did think it very possible under the circumstances that he could be hallucinating. He was so weary and full of sore emotions since Sirius' death, and eventually, sleep and dreams overcame him. It was the most unusual night of dreaming he had ever had too.
He dreamed away a whole lifetime of memories: he saw himself at birthday parties with his parents, his father showing him how to ride a broomstick, his mother nursing a scabbed knee, himself trying on the Sorting Hat at Hogwarts: it was a life of general obscurity that he never realized he had wanted so desperately. "Happy birthday Harry!" came the shouting voice of a woman. He woke with a start. That was not Aunt Petunia he was hearing.
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The Road Not Taken Chapter Two: Of Keys and Scars
He sat up and almost passed out again from the shock of where he was. He was in a room at Grimmauld Place, and his mother was grinning mischievously at the threshold of the door. He looked at her with a frightened expression and she beamed at him.
“You don't have to look at me like I have rats crawling out of my ears. I'm still your mum, and I can bug my son whenever I want, especially on his fifteenth birthday!" she smiled broadly.
He was scrambling to get out of bed as fast as he could when the next person to walk down the hall made him fall out onto the floor. Sirius walked by eating an apple and waved frantically at him, trying to speak through the bits of apple in his mouth. At last he swallowed it and said:
“It's about time you woke up. Your dad's downstairs and he has been wanting you to get up since about four this morning. We were all worried you were going to sleep through your birthday."
He felt like some mysterious force was slapping him around in the face. He sat on the floor stunned and his mother gave him a curious look.
"Are you ok honey?" she asked, somewhat concerned.
She walked over to where he was sitting on the floor and he got up as fast as he could and hugged her so tight he could almost feel her ribcage buckling under his arms. She hugged him back lovingly. As he touched her he felt a wave of memories rushing back to him. He could see her sitting by his bed when he was sick; laughing with him at a place he knew to be somewhere in Diagon Alley, hugging his father while cooking dinner, reading a book on a couch.
"You must really be sick to want to hug me," she laughed.
He looked at her in total wonder.
"Yeah, uh, let me get dressed. I'll be right out."
She left the room and he got dressed faster than he ever had in his life. He was half-afraid if he let her out of his sight for long that she would disappear. In about fifteen seconds he burst out of the room and saw her standing at the top of the staircase about to go down to the living room.
"That was fast," she laughed. "Your shirt is inside out."
"Whatever," he replied nonchalantly, staring at her and almost expecting her to disappear.
"Do I have a boogie in my nose or something?"
"No. I love you mum."
"I love you too Harry," she gave him a sideways grin and a kind of mystic look.
They walked downstairs together. There were several people in the room he had never seen, and his father. His back was turned and he was reading the paper, but his hair was Harry's. He felt his heart flip over in his chest as he inched towards him.
"Dad?" he whispered.
James Potter turned in his seat and had a huge grin on his face. He even had Harry's smile. He had seen his father at sixteen in Snape's Pensieve a while back, but seeing him sitting in a chair, reading the Daily Prophet as though he had never been murdered made Harry feel more emotional than any self-respecting male should feel.
His mind was teeming with memories again. His father was behind him on a broomstick holding him steady, playing in the snow, tucking him into bed, sitting under a Christmas tree.
"Do you feel any older?" James asked.
"You really have no idea," Harry said without breathing, beginning to shake his head in nervousness.
"Fifteen is important you know. Your mother and I both thought we'd get you something this year that could be useful to you."
“Fifteen?” he asked, completely bewildered.
“Why, how old to you want to be?” his father laughed.
Harry felt a bit foolish, but the day before, before this bizarre turn of universe, he had been almost sixteen.
“Well, no matter how old you feel, you’re still fifteen, which is why your mother and I, and everyone else, wanted to give you this.”
He handed him a small box. Harry held out his hand to take it, and felt the weight of the package in his hand, but was speechless, for lack of a better word. He had gotten presents from the Weasleys and the Dursleys had been kind enough to send him a tissue once, but this was something totally different unto itself.
His mother sat down next to him, squeezing him between himself and his father.
"Uh, thanks dad."
It was marvelous to be able to say such words: he almost couldn't believe he was hearing them come out of his mouth. He sat there gawking at everyone in wonder as vague memories started taking form. He sensed in the back of his mind that this could possibly be dangerous, but felt that he hardly cared.
“Are you going to open it?” his mother asked impatiently and with excitement.
He awkwardly unwrapped the package, unsure of what to say to his parents giving him a gift but still more unsure of what to do with a set of parents.
It was a key, just like the one he had from Gringott’s.
“We wanted to get you your own vault so you could start growing up more."
Harry had already had a key from Gringott’s for a while now, but it was the best present he had ever had. It was so perfect.
“Do you like it?” his dad asked nervously.
“We all chipped in, so you have a nice amount of gold to spend too,” came a voice behind him.
It was Percy Weasley. Harry was still finding it difficult to find words, as everything was so strange to him. It was strange to see Percy smiling. He almost looked, nice. His most recent set of recollections about Percy were all interrelated to Dolores Umbridge.
"Are you ok Harry?"
"Yeah. I'm more than ok," he answered quickly, plastering on a smile.
Suddenly a familiar face poked her head out of the kitchen and her face lit up. It was Mrs. Weasley, and she was grinning almost as widely as he was. She looked as radiant as ever.
"What do you want for breakfast, birthday boy?"
"I think we're fresh out of that. Anything else?"
"Toast?" Harry said weakly, unable to think of what else to say.
"Hey, it's your birthday," she remarked with a roll of her eyes.
He sat on the couch, totally stunned. Someone sat down next to him and he turned to see who. It was Percy again.
“How has your summer been Harry?”
“It’s been- great,” he stammered, still refusing to believe what was happening and uncomfortable talking to Percy even though he seemed normal.
“I must tell you Harry, I’ve had the strangest dreams lately-” he began.
He was cut off in mid-sentence when Sirius walked out also carrying a copy of the Daily Prophet.
"They're slamming poor Neville again, as if that poor kid deserves it," he said disgustedly. Like he hasn't lost so much already, they want people to treat him like a leper too."
"Neville? Neville Longbottom?" Harry asked, stumbling through more confusion.
"Yeah," Sirius answered lazily as though everyone should know that.
"Because of what happened to him last year during the Tri-Wizard Tournament," Sirius answered as though he were trying to jog Harry's memory. "They still don't believe him that Voldemort's back. The Ministry goes to such ridiculous lengths sometimes to ignore things."
"Neville Longbottom?” he thought.
Sirius was still going on about it but got very quiet all of a sudden. Neville Longbottom had entered the room, rubbing his forehead. Harry out of habit began to rub his own. But it was strange, there was nothing there. He looked over to Neville and felt bizarre gazing at the scar on Neville's forehead.
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The Road Not Taken Chapter Three: Surprises and Jokes
Neville let out a yawn and stretched.
"Morning Harry. Happy birthday."
"Er thanks?" was all Harry could think to say.
"Oh," Neville began "I was just thinking up a new move I'd like you to try out."
"A new move?" Harry questioned, not sure what he was talking about.
"Yeah, Quidditch. I don't know how I'm going to put this team back together. Angelina tried you know, but now that I'm captain I was hoping to make some changes in a few things. I wasn’t sure if I should make everyone try out again or not. In a lot of ways I really think it would just be a waste of time."
"Neville Longbottom- Quidditch Captain?!" Harry thought in total shock.
To Harry the idea of Neville on a broomstick seemed about as safe as running with twelve pairs of scissors in each hand up an icy embankment full of potholes with a blindfold on. Perhaps that was a bit drastic, but still, it seemed so unreal. The idea of him as the Gryffindor team's captain was even more outlandish.
Just like they had all morning, the memories surfaced again and he saw visions of Neville winning house points for Gryffindor at the end-of-year ceremony, swerving bludgers and calling out plays to Harry though a Quidditch match in the rain, battling the Hungarian Horntail that Harry remembered all too well from his last year. He was beginning to notice that each time his consciousness was flooded with these memories, the sense he had of his previous life left him a little more.
He struggled to recall what his life at Hogwarts had been like, hoping that another small stream of memories would come to him, just as they had in the dream and a moment ago. A voice suddenly rang out from the narrow hallway to the kitchen.
"Breakfast!" Mrs. Weasley called.
Suddenly people came flocking from corners of the house, all wishing Harry a happy birthday. He stammered thanks in reply and gave a half-smile to try and hide his confusion over the whole scene. He saw two people that he vaguely remembered from a picture Moody showed him last summer, Gideon and Fabian Prewett. That was definitely them, and they were definitely supposed to be dead as well.
He wanted so badly for someone to talk to about what had happened, but what was he supposed to say? How was he to explain that just the night before most of them had been dead? Who on earth would take him seriously? Did he even take himself seriously? Should he try and explain the conversation he had with Tom Riddle the night before?
No, that would not work. Things were better than he could have ever imagined. He saw his mother leaning her head on his father's shoulder talking and he realized, why ask why or how? Why not just accept it, and perhaps even enjoy it? Sure, things were peculiar, but in all honesty the last twenty minutes had been the best of his life. He was feeling so fantastic that he felt as though he could conjure up a thousand Patroni. Tiny thoughts that plagued him in the back of his mind concerning the purpose of his visit into an alternate reality remained in the back of his mind.
"This is just not real," kept playing over and over again in his head.
Under the table he pinched his arm hard, so hard that he drew blood up to the surface of his skin to leave a small, welted purple bruise. The blood was real, and so were the pain and the bruise. This was real. It didn’t really matter the circumstance right now, reality was reality. He was resolved. No matter what, he was going to keep this to himself.
Suddenly he saw Ron and his eyes lit up. Seeing his parents and everyone else was a dream turned real, but seeing his best friend still made his new experiences that much better. Ron had always been the person to rescue him from the Dursleys’, and though they had their rough spots like any good friends, he knew that Ron was as good a friend as anyone could ever ask for.
"Happy birthday," he said, somewhat mischievously.
Then it suddenly hit him. Hermione! Of course!
"Hey, where's Hermione?" he asked Ron as they were walking into the kitchen to eat.
"Hermione? Granger? I guess that she's probably off somewhere with her parents, wherever it is that they live," he answered, looking at Harry in a way that would ask why Harry himself would bother with such a thing.
"What are you talking abou-” Harry cut himself off in mid-sentence.
It would probably be better to listen for a while rather than say much. As far as he knew, he seemed to be the only one with any idea that things were a touch amiss, and he had already decided to keep his old life to himself.
Unfortunately the Harry these people expected was a Harry much like his father had been at his age, loud, cocky, and much too sure of himself. People kept asking him if he was feeling alright, and he finally just claimed to have a headache just to make people try to stop paying attention to him. He was unsure exactly how he was supposed to behave, and jumping right into it was proving to be a most difficult task.
Mrs. Weasley was just getting breakfast out on the table when she looked around and asked “Where’s Alice?”
Harry had no idea who she was talking about so he just shrugged with everyone else. Ron was talking to him about something, and he was half-trying to listen. He was saying something about Quidditch, and soon Neville joined in their conversation so that Harry could just listen to everyone else.
He had been sitting at the table for only five minutes when a girl came up from behind, bear hugged him, and then kissed him hard on the cheek.
His father was smiling at him and shaking his head. Harry turned around in his chair to see Ginny. He had another wave of memories that came flooding into his mind like a dam. He saw himself playing in a sandbox with her, chasing her around a yard, playing Quidditch with her, dancing with her at the Yule Ball in the year before last.
She looked so different. She had on makeup, she had done her hair. It wasn’t the Ginny he knew, but there was no mistaking her cute, childish freckles and her flaming red hair. She carried herself differently too. She seemed more confident, more bold and outspoken.
“Ginny?” he gasped.
“Who’s Ginny?” she asked suspiciously.
Mrs. Weasley came in carrying a plate of sausages and sighed when she saw Ginny, or whoever it was that had just kissed Harry.
“It’s about time you showed up for breakfast honey. It’s not polite to keep people waiting on their birthdays, even is that person is your boyfriend.”
“Who’s Ginny?” the girl Alice asked a little more firmly.
“She’s er, no one.”
Alice told Neville to shove over, which he gladly did and she took a seat next to Harry. She seemed so flirty: he couldn’t understand it.
“You’re awfully quiet,” she mused aloud twirling her fork in one hand and her hair in the other.
“Uh, yeah, I’m just, er, admiring your beauty,” Harry said.
It was so clichéd, so cheap, but she seemed to like it well enough and it satisfied her. He suddenly became aware that he would have to play as confident in his surrounds as her, even though it was like he had fallen through some time warp and everyone was speaking in different languages that they all expected him to understand. The cooing, petting, and praise were what she wanted.
“So, Alice,” he began. “I love your name.”
“Awwww, you’re so sweet to me,” she said, giving him the most playful and lusty look he had ever seen anyone give. It made him uncomfortable in a way; it was like having his own sister fancy him.
“Where’d it come from?”
Neville choked from the other side of Alice. She gave him a searching look, looking at him as though she were trying to peer through him. Neville tried to act like he had not heard and stuck up a quick conversation with Bill.
“What’s with you?” she whispered.
People began singing Happy Birthday to him. He stared at her with a blank look of utter confusion. Her name was Ginny. The name Alice just didn’t fit her.
“I thought everyone knew why I was named Alice. After living around mum for sixteen years I would have figured she told you the story at least twenty times- but maybe not. I was named for Neville’s mother. They died the night I was born,” she answered as though it should be obvious, lowering her voice so as to try to keep Neville from hearing.
The song had ended and people were clapping. She smiled, hugged him tightly and looked around. She seemed to love attention. He smiled too, but there was an odd feeling in the pit of his stomach that was making him feel sick.
After breakfast, his father asked him to play chess with him, and Ginny, no Alice, went with Ron to play a game of Exploding Snap in the corner of the room while he and his father played chess on the coffee table. Sirius whispered hints in his ear and his mother tried to help his father out. Things were definitely eerie, but they were worth it he reasoned. Yesterday he would have given anything to sit here and play a game he was terrible at with his parents and his godfather, and now he was. But what is it that he had given up?
He couldn’t help but wonder. Dumbledore had made it very clear in his third year that time and events should never under any circumstances be altered. Yet it had been Dumbledore who had suggested he and Hermione change things to save his godfather in his third year. So what did it all mean? Was it alright to accept his present situation? By Hermione’s ability to reverse time Sirius had been spared that night, and even though he was thrust into this unusual scenario with someone he would have rather not trusted, it seemed to have worked out even better than before. Not only was Sirius alive, but his parents were as well, along with a few members of the original Order of the Phoenix. But at what cost had that come?
He glanced across the room at the girl he would always consider to be Ginny. The girl, Alice now, saw him looking and waved seductively at him. He tried to think of her as Ginny again, as Ron’s shy little sister, the young girl who had always fancied him silently and probably giggled about him in corridors with flocks of other girls. But she was Ginny no longer. Ginny had disappeared along with the misery of his soon-to-be-forgotten life and in her place stood Alice, the brash, outspoken, vixen who seemed to have difficulty keeping her feelings in check and her hands to herself.
Alice: her name was Alice because Neville’s parents had been sacrificed in his own parents’ stead. His own personal joy had caused someone else his previous life of personal pain. Was it fair? What had he lost?
His wondering was cut very short when his father made a joke and he found himself laughing. Seeing the happiness he felt around him in the room, he began to think that whatever it was he had lost last night, Ginny Weasley, his quiet and humble reputation, and his friendship with Hermione, it couldn’t be so very important.
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The Road Not Taken Chapter Four: Acclimation
He could find a way to talk to Hermione, to play himself down, and perhaps convince Ginny that she and Ron themselves should maybe do the same. He would find a way to restore order and sense to his new life. He glanced around at the happy circle of friends and family around him once again. No, whatever he had lost last night was not so very important at all.
Harry's next few days were something out of a sublime dream. There were moments when he could not believe the setting around him was as lucid as it really was. He found himself touching everything, everyone, just to assure himself that they were a part of the reality he was in. The earlier feelings of guilt were beginning to wash away, and he was beginning to feel like, for the first time in his life, that he was a part of a family.
The waves of memories continued to wash up in his mind and he could feel himself beginning to put together part of a past. He lived in Godric's Hollow still, though at the present he was currently staying at Grimmauld Place, he had been dating Ginny, or Alice rather, since his second year, and he played a lot of Quidditch. There was nothing terrifying about that, and it felt good to be part of a family rather than simply borrowing Mr. and Mrs. Weasley from Ron whenever he was able.
What worried him the most was the not the recollection of the new memories, but a lack of recollection of old ones. He still had all his former memories of the Dursleys, and of the many times he had played the hero inside the halls of Hogwarts. The thing he had the most difficulty with was delineating between the memories that were real and the memories that weren't. He wasn't sure what the people he was surrounded by remembered him as, the things they knew he had not and not done. And in a way, he wasn't sure if any of them were real, or if all of them were. He couldn't figure it out.
He had talked to Neville a bit, and was amazed by how much the once haunted, quiet, and timid boy was now changed. He seemed surer of himself; he was still quiet, but he didn't have the impression about him that his thoughts were terrorized by visions of his parents. He reflected upon his earlier feelings about what he had done to Neville. Perhaps by the death of Neville’s parents he had freed him. He tried to imagine what it would be like to live your life knowing your parents were alive but also knowing that they didn’t know you. Maybe his agreement with Riddle really had been for the better for everyone concerned.
Ron too was very much altered. He was confident bordering on conceited, and Harry was not entirely sure where that came from. At best all he could assume that he and Ron were good friends and the tendency toward arrogance of his father had rubbed off upon him, and in turn had rubbed off upon Ron as well. That's the only way he could think to explain Alice too, for she now seemed to play the part of a fun-loving wild child, obsessed with Harry but even more obsessed with herself.
Things were not bad by any means however. They were only new, and as with all new things he just would need time to adjust and acclimate himself to his new surroundings.
He received occasional reminders of how little he knew about the little things, such as middle names, exact dates, classes he had taken, certain pranks he had supposedly pulled, and each time he had to creatively talk his way out of it. He figured it would be wise to listen rather than ask, and allow information to come slowly to him; he only asked if there was something he really craved to know, but did try and limit it no more than a few a day, and did his best to keep it subtle. The problem was that the people around him were not used to a reserved, unnoticeable, listener. When someone began talking about something he had no clue about, he figured it was in his best interest for the appearance of his sanity to smile and nod along, but it seemed to bother everyone, spurring on comments about his health and happiness. He must have appeared very ignorant, but he was beginning to grasp his new world and with each passing day was loving his life as he never had before and was feeling less tense at the possibility that it would disappear.
He did not ask about people at all. After having seen Gideon and Fabian Prewett, he could not really be sure of who was alive and who was dead. He honestly really didn’t care to know. There were a few faces he hoped would turn up, and the answer to their fates often came in with them through the door or at hushed discussions during dinner.
Fred and George Weasley were missing from the crowd, and he was rather missing their banter and antics before they turned up one evening looking as though they had been dragged through a sewer and had serious hangovers. They seemed to have a Mundungus Fletcher quality to them, more so than they had before. He wondered about their joke shop. What had happened to it? He then realized that he had given them the money with which to open it, and since it was Neville and he who won the Tri-Wizard Tournament, the Weasley twins had never shared in the winnings. What he could gather was that they had been expelled last year for whatever reason (as if the Weasley twins needed one) and had been homeless ever since, and they showed up at Grimmauld Place when they got too hungry to bear it anymore. They almost seemed broken and afraid to face their mother. But Molly Weasley, being the dear soul and caring mother she always had been, took them back in under her wing and did not easily let them go out again, much to the chagrin of the twins.
Mad Eye Moody had apparently died sixteen years ago like a hero. Harry was in a way glad for that. Moody had been a very wise man, but Harry took some ease in knowing that he did not get the chance to fade into the ghost of a once great Auror, a scared old man, a paranoid man, waiting for his own demise at the hands of a conspiracy.
One person he missed more than any was Remus Lupin. He had made no entry into the dreary Grimmauld Place, nor did he make an entry into the conversations of either his parents or anyone else. He feared the worst, for he knew that often a tragic death leaves scars deep within and people unwilling to talk about them. If Remus were in fact dead as he feared him to be, he also felt glad for him, for when he remembered Lupin with his graying hair and patched robes, he remembered that the life of a werewolf was not easy, and would be thankful for him to have a release from such torment if he were in fact no longer among the living.
But through having to discover the new destinies of everyone around him, he did uncover something in those few weeks that he had longed for all his life. His parents were fun. His mother was so very witty. He loved talking to her because she could make anything into a wry joke, into a comedy of sorts. She was a great cook too. He had always partaken in Mrs. Weasley's cooking with much relish, but there was something about having a meal prepared for him by his own mother that made it taste better. She was embracing and she loved him very much, and in a few short weeks he loved her as he had never understood possible.
His father was an absolute good time all to himself. He could also keep up with his mother on the sharp-tongued comments, but was easy going and very relaxed at it by comparison. They played chess together, talked about Quidditch together, and on one memorable Sunday morning he had even helped Harry set off some Wet-Start No-Heat Fireworks in the bathroom because he felt things were getting too tense and that the monotony of Grimmauld Place needed to be broken. Things were definitely as he could have never imagined them.
On the last night before he would begin his sixth year at Hogwarts, they were sitting down to a great farewell dinner and also a dinner celebrating Ron and Alice's appointments to prefect. Harry found it odd that the one thing that had come as a shock to him in his past existence without parents was one of the only things that was still real. Ron was still a prefect, but Harry didn't care at all. He was rather content not to have the responsibility.
Ginny, Alice rather, was on his right side chattering away about something and Harry was nodding at appropriate moments and Ron sat at his left going on about what they would do once at Hogwarts to Harry under his breath so as to keep his mother from overhearing. His parents sat not far away.
"I wonder who's going to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts this year?" Harry wondered aloud.
In the years past that he could remember Dumbledore had to keep getting more and more creative in his hiring of people for the particular job. Everyone knew it was cursed. He knew instantly that he had said something stupid and out of place by the way Ron was looking at him.
"Uh, Lupin, the same as it's always been?" Ron said, as though trying to jog Harry's memory.
"Oh, right. That's right. I heard a rumor or something," Harry said, trying to explain his question away plausibly.
“Where are you getting your rumors from mate, Loony Lovegood?” Ron chortled with a bit of food in his mouth. “Anyway, about the girls' dorm, the way I figure it, we can get up there by-"
Harry tuned him out again. It was strange. Remus had taught the class for one year but had to give it up because of what he was. If he had taught them all five years without anyone finding out he was a werewolf then he was rather impressed with Remus' ability to cover himself, but thinking about it consciously, he had been a werewolf nearly all his life so he had had ample time with which to think up excuses.
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The Road Not Taken Chapter Five: Checkmate
After dinner, he stayed up late to play a game of Wizard’s Chess with Ginny. He was having a most difficult time remembering to refer to her by the correct name: almost as difficult a time as he was explaining over and over again the rules. It was as though the once sharp Ginny who had usually beaten him at this particular game before had become stupid.
“So can I move my pawn forward two spaces now?” she questioned lovingly, not taking her eyes from him.
“Only on the first move, remember?”
“This is so hard, how am I supposed to remember all these trivia things?”
“Trivial things?” he corrected.
The expression on her face was completely empty. She smiled innocently, and pulled a vial of lip gloss from her pocket and liberally applied it to her lips, pouching them out. She leaned forward over the chess board, tapping her finger on his chess pieces one by one.
“Aren’t you going to kiss me?”
“What? Now?” he blurted out.
“Of course now. Why not?”
She flashed him a lusty smile and with a single fell swoop, knocked the chess board onto the floor, causing the pieces to scatter every which way. He supposed she meant it as a sexy gesture, but it was kind of disappointing. He would have had a checkmate in another couple of moves. More than disappointing, it was also a bit disturbing. He didn’t like watching her act like that sort of girl.
Her face was dangerously close to his and he pulled back at the last moment, trying to hide the look of revulsion on his face. The look she gave him in return was enough to know that he was probably going to pay for it.
“Are you ok?” she asked, adding a dangerous emphasis on the last bit.
“I, er, dinner, it made me feel a little sick. I’m sorry.”
Her expression softened slightly, and though she looked a little disappointed, she smiled. She stroked his unruly hair and brushed it out of his eyes.
“Maybe you should go to bed. We have to leave tomorrow you know? Besides, I’ve been cooped up here all summer long under parental supervision, and I’m ready to get back to school so we can pick up where we left off.”
He shuddered. He didn’t want to know what that meant and prayed against hope that another flash of memories wouldn’t hit him at that moment. He felt a headache coming on and his stomach actually was becoming a little upset.
“I think I will go to bed, you’re right,” he smiled weakly back at her, touching her shoulder as he rose to his feet.
“I’m always right. Do you want me to come tuck you in?” she teased. “It would be a great excuse to spend some alone time together,” she said a little more quietly, glancing over to her mother on the other side of the room.
“No,” he said with a firm tone of certainty in his voice, “I think I’ll be fine. We’ll be alone together soon enough.”
His heart sank as he trod up the stairs. How on earth was he supposed to get out of this? His previous thoughts about trying to reason with her, to tame her, to make her act a little more, well, decent was probably going to fail. At the top of the stairs and out of sight he wiped his mouth from where she had kissed him. It hit him at that moment.
He supposed he had sort of liked her before. He seemed to return more and more to visions of what Ginny used to be, smart, confident, and pretty (without strawberry-flavored lip gloss and heavy makeup) and he really liked what he remembered. Maybe he had just never realized it before, but now it was like it was too late. Her name was Alice, and he harbored a sneaking suspicion that nothing he could ever do or say would make her like the girl he used to know.
He snapped out of his thoughts and back into the present. He had been so consumed with his own thoughts that he had not only walked straight past his bedroom, but he had actually wandered into a part of Grimmauld Place that he had never seen before. He was standing at the end of a very narrow hallway. The portraits of the witches and wizards on the wall were eyeing him suspiciously, murmuring to one another, and pacing around in their frames.
He turned to go back from where he came but panicked. He was in a closed corridor, and it didn’t look like there was any way out. He knew that Grimmauld Place had been enchanted by the Black family for generations to make it safe from Muggles and to conceal things from magical authorities, but how had he arrived in a hallway that had no entrance? Perhaps he was so tired and faint that he was hallucinating? He did his best to remain calm, but a feeling of minor claustrophobia washed over him and he began to frantically rip open doors, searching desperately for a way out.
He was in a complete state of panic. Each time he opened a door, he was coated in a thick layer of dust. It was like he was opening a gateway to the past with each door he attempted, as though these rooms had remained undisturbed for years. There was only one more door left and in agonizing desperation, he tore it open and stepped inside. There was no way out.
He stood in the threshold of the room gasping for air, feeling lightheaded and anxious, with one hand on the doorknob and the other on his sweaty forehead. This room looked as though it had been occupied recently. It was immaculate, even by Mrs. Weasley’s standards. The bed was made and the air in the room didn’t even smell like the whole of Grimmauld Place: it was light and seemingly void of the dust that caked much of the enormous old house still, in spite of everyone’s efforts to clean up.
Another sort of fear began to clench in his stomach and his heart was well on its way to racing its way out of his chest. The scene of Voldemort standing on the Dursley’s lawn flashed before his eyes, and he began to feel like he was about to understand the meaning of his purpose in this new life. He waited for something to happen, he waited for what felt like hours, but nothing happened. He took a few nervous steps forward: still nothing.
As he ventured into the room, he left the door wide open to allow light to spill in from the hallway. He reached into his pocket for his wand. He knew students weren’t allowed to use magic outside of school. But this new Harry didn’t seem much for following the rules. He held his wand at about shoulder height and uttered ‘lumos.’
He looked around. The room was spotless. The bed was made, and there was no dust or grime to be found anywhere in the room. It was empty and sterile-looking, with no pictures on the walls or decorations of any kind. The room frankly gave him the creeps. It was so out of place in Grimmauld Place. He turned to leave, he caught a flash of green light out of the corner of his eye and he froze again.
Turning back around, he noticed something that he had not seen before. There was some sort of charm or pendant hanging from the bedpost. It was the only ornate thing in the room, and it was quite sizable. He approached it cautiously, knowing the House of the Blacks to be stocked full of dark magic. There was something about the locket that made him believe without a doubt that it was dangerous.
“Nox,” he muttered, and replaced his wand in his pocket.
He reached his hand up to take the locket from its resting place. Would it be stealing? Was there someone staying in this room? Did the locket belong to another member of the Order perhaps?
He heard a voice calling from somewhere down the hallway and slowly backed out of the room and looked. The hallway was exactly as he had remembered it before, wider, and with the same dark furniture and cracked mural along the back where it ended. His mother stood at the end of it, staring at him with a look of concern.
“Harry, what are you doing? Alice said you were going to bed because you weren’t feeling well.”
“I wasn’t. That is to say, I really don’t. I’m not sure,” he stammered.
She began to walk towards him and he turned back around to show her the room, but it had vanished. He found himself standing before a portrait of an ugly wizard with cracked yellow teeth who was shaking his fist at him. His mother walked up behind him and felt his forehead.
“You feel a little feverish,” she commented.
“Mum, there was just a door here,” he said, touching the wall underneath the portrait. “You’ll never believe it, but there was a hallway with no entrance and all the rooms were old and untouched except for this one. It was like there was someone living there now.”
She gave him the most curious look and glanced back and forth up the hallway, wearing a look on her face that told him that she wasn’t sure if she believed it or not.
“I’m serious,” he insisted. “It was clean and the bed was made and none of the furniture was covered.”
“Hmmm,” was the only reply he received. “I think it’s time for you to go to bed. You’re not feeling well and you’ve got to be up early for school tomorrow.”
“I know, mum, but I telling you there was a room here, right here. Does Sirius know about it? I mean, it was his house. I just have a bad feeling about it.”
“It’s probably nothing sweetheart. Let’s get you to bed.”
Bed sounded more inviting than anything else he had heard that day. He was exhausted. He quickly changed for bed and his mother came in and pulled a thin, handmade quilt up to his chin and kissed him on the forehead. It felt marvelous.
“I love you mum,” he whispered.
“I love you too Harry,” she smiled. “You stopped letting me put you to bed a long time ago, it’s nice to feel needed again.”
Maybe it was a bit childish to have his mother tuck him into bed at the age of fifteen, and though thanks to the streams of memories that continued to wash over him intermittently he had vision-like memories of this ritual, he was still longing for it. Things were going so well. Well, with the exception of one thing. As she stood and wished him sweet dreams and turned to walk from the room, he blurted it out.
“Mum, what do you think of Alice?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, she’s so, crazy sometimes. And I feel like I’m her pet most of the time. It’s like, she asks me to do things and it just feels like she’s really telling me. I even feel like I’ve been a bit, well, not so nice in the past.”
His mother gave him a slight frown which then turned into a half-smile. The truth was, he had no idea why people accepted Alice’s manners, or from what he had picked up from other people, his own, and he even had to admit that Ron sometimes gave him a sense of being a little reckless and cruel.
“You remind me so much of your father when he was your age. Granted, it took him a little longer to realize that people weren’t playthings and that he should be a little more, well, nicer. You seem to have changed so much this last month Harry. I’m not sure if being cooped up in this old house is doing it to you, but I must admit, I’ve sort of liked the change.”
“Why did you let me act like that? I mean, why not tell me to straighten up?”
“Your father always let you get away with quite a bit of stuff, especially when it was incredibly creative or innovative. And I suppose to him, most of it always just seemed like harmless pranks.”
“I love dad, I really do,” he admitted, being extremely sincere, “but I just feel like I haven’t been the best person, and I don’t really like the people I’m around most of the time, not like I used to. I mean, they’re still my friends, but, you know,”
“The Weasley family has always been very good to you, and to us. Alice is just young like you are, and she just needs time to grow out of it.”
“Well, I was talking about Ron too. It’s like anything I say becomes a game to him about how we can turn it into a prank.”
“Harry, I don’t mean this to sound like I’m accusing you of anything, but you’ve always been the ringleader. Anything you suggested they’ve always gone along with, because they love you and because they’re your friends.”
“So you’re saying it’s my fault that they’re like this?” he snapped, a bit more bitterly than he would have liked.
“That isn’t what I said. I don’t think you’re a bad person, and I don’t think they are either, I’m only saying that I’m proud that you realize you’ve made mistakes and feel as though you would like to change.”
“Hmmm,” he said, wanting desperately to continue their conversation but unable to do so because he could barely hold his eyes open.
“I love you Harry,” she whispered, patting the wrinkles out of the quilt.
“I love you too.”
He quickly fell asleep into a most peculiar dream. He was standing in an abandoned room, more like a dungeon really, and there were whispers echoing and resonating from the cold stone walls, though he couldn’t make out the words. He had an odd sense that he was not supposed to be there, and felt horribly like he wanted to leave, but he felt as if he could not compel himself to do so. Then he heard it: a voice from behind him, calling his name. He turned, and faced a most horrifying sight. He sensed the hairs on the back of his neck stand up, and started to believe he was no longer dreaming. Opening his mouth to scream, he felt like he was being smothered. White hot pain shot through his body, almost worse than the Cruciatus Curse. He fainted.
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The Road Not Taken Chapter Six: A Farwell with a Vow
“Harry? What are you on about?”
He rolled over on his stomach and slammed the top of his head on something. He felt a knot growing on the back of his head, and rubbed it. He felt out of breath, and could sense the lingering pain that had been there so authentically before.
He rolled over to find Ron standing over him. He was lying on the floor of the bedroom he shared with Ron and Grimmauld Place. His friend was giving him an intense stare.
“You alright?” he asked nervously.
“Fine,” Harry lied.
He couldn’t explain why, but he wasn’t feeling all too keen on letting Ron know anything. Ron would probably find it interesting in a most twisted way.
All too soon, breakfast was over and people were getting ready to leave. He found himself packing quickly, eating as he did so, and preparing to return to Hogwarts. When they arrived at Platform 9 3/4, he and Ron tossed their trunks into the undercarriage and Ron went to go talk to someone about the Chudley Canons. Alice smiled at him intensely and told him she would be waiting for him in their usual compartment. He was sure he would have an adventure trying to find the usual compartment when nothing about the last few weeks had been exactly usual.
He saw his parents standing by the front of the train, deep in conversation with Sirius. He briefly wondered if it concerned the mysterious room he had stumbled upon the night before. He began to walk over to them, feeling slightly choked up over bidding them farewell.
He turned to his father and suddenly felt the pain of a goodbye that he hadn't ever felt before. No one had ever really seen him off on the train. Mrs. Weasley had always been there, sure, but she also had a slew of biological children to say goodbye to as well.
"See you soon son," he said proudly.
"Bye dad," he answered back, trying to understand exactly what he was feeling.
"Hey Harry, I know I say this every year, but don't do anything I wouldn't do," Sirius said grinning, and then followed up with "...unless it's Alice. I know you kids must surely have great fun together with no one around telling you what to do."
Harry wasn't sure about what to say about Sirius handing him out advice about his love life, moreover about his love life with a girl who barely a month ago had been like a sister to him, but he smiled, turning red, which in turn made Sirius' smile widen as though he had corrupted a younger brother. He was struck with the memory of the conversation he had with his mother the previous evening, and gave Sirius a quick hug.
"I love you Harry, stay safe, and we'll write as always," his mother said.
"I love you too mum," Harry said, beginning to feel rather like an emotional idiot.
Goodbyes had never been hard for him before, but he had never had much to say goodbye to before. In fact saying goodbye to the Dursleys had been one of the high points of his entire year. He felt as though he hadn't spent enough time with his parents, but it was too late now.
"I'll write all the time," Harry said sincerely.
"Ok, that would be nice," his mother smiled, though half-looking as though she would believe it when she saw the letters.
"I love you son," his father said again. .
Harry compulsively gave him a hug, and his father hugged him back but appeared to be somewhat surprised by his son's desire to display his affection so publicly, though he didn’t seem to mind in the least bit.
After about a hundred goodbyes later, he finally boarded the train and almost felt tears in his eyes. He was being stupid crying over saying goodbye to his parents. When he found the compartment Alice and Ron were staying in, he joined them and Alice promptly hopped into his lap. The Ron he had once known would have thrown up his kidneys through his ears to see his sister engaged such with a boy, but he didn't even seem to notice.
Harry watched his parents and godfather grow smaller as the train pulled out of the station, and he lapsed deep into thought, allowing Ron and Alice to keep the conversation flowing. He was bothered by parting from the people he held dear, but he was perhaps more bothered by the Harry they expected him to be. He hated the Harry they were accustomed to, and was vowing to change everything about him. He did not want his mother doubting that he would write her often or his father to be surprised by a hug. Yes, things were going to change.
When they arrived at Hogwarts, Harry found himself being steered by Alice to a seat at the Gryffindor table and she sat down next to him on one side and Ron took a seat on the other. It had been that way ever since his arrival at Grimmuald Place on his birthday; he didn't know why he thought it would be any different at school. He was beginning to feel as though he were holding court; a queen on his right and a footservant on his left.
His eyes darted over to the staff table and sure enough as Ron had said, there was Remus Lupin, though it was Lupin as Harry had never seen him before. He had a fresh and energetic look about him rather than an expression as though he had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel. He noticed that he no longer wore shabby or patched robes and that his hair was no longer prematurely graying. He looked so healthy. He caught sight of Harry and he winked at him, and Harry nodded back.
In the seat next to him Harry saw Snape. He couldn't explain why, but he still loathed him more than just about anyone in the free world. His hatred of him had been intensified last year after Sirius' death in the Department of Mysteries. Ok, perhaps it was true that Sirius was now back among the living, but there was still something about him that Harry could not stand. When he came to think of it, he hadn't seen Snape once in the month he stayed at Grimmauld Place, nor did he ever hear him spoken of. Was Snape still siding with Voldemort? If so, why was he working at Hogwarts?
He averted his eyes away from Snape when he sensed Harry looking at him. Harry's eyes traveled back to the students and he did note a few new faces among their number. He did nearly duck when he saw Colin and Dennis Creevey approaching where he was sitting, but they walked right passed him and perched themselves next to Neville. The Creevey brothers' attention was not necessarily something he would miss, even though they were nice kids, they could be a bit much.
In fact he was glad Neville took all attention off him. It was Neville being written about in the papers, Neville that they so cruelly clobbered in the papers, and it was Neville that was getting all the peculiar stares. The Ministry was still denying the existence of Voldemort. Taking that into account, he had never been down to the Department of Mysteries, assuming that Voldemort was still searching for the prophecy and was trying to peer into Neville's brain as he had Harry's in the previous year. So that left Harry assuming that all the Death Eaters were still very much on the loose, which ever ones were still alive.
Next to Neville he saw Hermione, or at least he thought it was Hermione. He nearly gasped.
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The Road Not Taken Chapter Seven: Handling Hermione
She looked so different: her hair was far too short for being as thick as it was, she could have even passed for a boy, an ugly boy, and she was much diminished. She was so much thinner than Harry remembered her, and she seemed defeated, lost, broken. Neville appeared to be talking to her, but she was gazing up at the Enchanted Ceiling above: she almost seemed to Harry to be praying, begging.
When she looked away from the ceiling, her eyes glanced past where he was sitting and he waved vigorously to her, trying in any way to attract her attention. She didn't see him, or if she did, she was ignoring him.
"Who are you waving at Harry?!" came an accusing voice from his right side.
"Oh, I was- waving at Neville," Harry stammered dismissively.
Her face was brewing up into a nice shade of red rage and he knew instantaneously that she didn't believe him in the least.
"No, I was just wanting to talk to him about Quidditch: he was telling me something about a new strategy." He was amazed how fluidly the lie slipped off his tongue and was relieved to see her face soften somewhat, though not entirely.
"What is with you lately? Ever since your birthday you've been acting weird. I just don't get you anymore. It’s almost like you were pretending to be sick last night," she said in such a way that told him that she did not approve of the way he was carrying things off.
He didn't know what to say just then but thankfully Ron chose that moment to snort. Alice rolled her eyes and gave up on talking to Harry further and turned to watch the Sorting.
"Granger's hair! Look at Granger's hair!" he said through fits of muffled laughter.
"Yeah?" Harry said, unsure of what Ron was getting at.
"You are a genius. Completely brilliant. Putting a Cementing Solution in her shampoo like that. I bet she cried when she got home and she found out she was going to have to cut it all off. It does seem to have grown out a bit though. I still say it would have been funny if she came to school bald."
Harry sat in his seat astounded. Why would he have done something so cruel to Hermione? And why would Ron delight in it so? Ron's voice reminded him eerily of Draco Malfoy; he could envision Draco Malfoy's utter and complete glee at seeing Hermione with a head of hair so short one would have trouble gripping it between pinched fingers. He glanced over towards the Slytherin table but didn’t see Malfoy there.
"Well, uh yeah. I guess so," Harry said weakly.
All too soon the Start of Year Feast got underway, and he buried himself in his food to avoid talking to Ron or even just talking at all. Alice tried to provoke him into conversation a few times and was beginning to anger over his lack of words, but he didn't really care at the moment.
Putting a Cementing Solution in someone's hair? A girl's hair? That was beyond a practical joke. It was even beyond cruelty, for he knew how sacred hair was to girls. When he remembered Alice as Ginny, she had spent hours arranging it in thousands of ways in front of the mirror at the Burrow.
He was very much troubled by the Harry of this world now. Before on the train he had been bothered by his parents' thinking that he didn't love them, and now he was disturbed by the way everyone expected him to act. Alice wanted him to be a complete exhibitionist and practically make love to her in public, and Ron wanted a Harry who loved to play viciously mean jokes. Jokes on a person who had once been one of their best friends, someone he had always sworn that Ron had fancied. He wondered if his father had ever done anything so heartless in his stay at Hogwarts, and Harry suddenly remembered the incident with Snape. Had Harry become his father? Was that even something to be ashamed of?
He went to bed with a heavy heart that night. Things were different, far different than he could have ever imagined, but tomorrow would be a new day. He could make things right. He should at least try.
He woke early and went quickly down to the Great Hall for breakfast. Once he arrived there, he saw Hermione sitting at the end of the table. Cautiously, he approached her and was about to sit down next to her when she jumped up and looked at him wide-eyed as though he were a demented serial killer. Then her look of fear turned to anger and he could feel the wrath of yet another girl about to bear down on him.
"What do you want?!" she snapped.
"I just-" he began, uncertain of what to say.
"You just want to ruin my hair again?! You just wanted to put spider eggs in my book bag again?! You just wanted to stamp ‘I love Harry Potter’ logos all over my robes again?! Don't think I don't know it was you Potter!" she fumed.
"I'm-" he tried to get out weakly, but was again feeling even worse than he had last night.
He threw his hands up as though to call a temporary physical truce and backed away and went to sit at the other end of the table. He noticed that it was only after he had sat down when she did as well, cautiously, like an African mammal at a watering hole.
After breakfast he and Ron went to their first class, but only after Alice and seen fit to practically feel him up in front of everyone. There were a couple of catcalls, and he tried to gently shove her away but the more he pushed her off the more she clung to him and the more erotic the action got. Kissing her the night before had been horrible enough, but this was a million times worse. Here he was, with her tongue down his throat, in front of people, at school. It was almost bad enough to make him feel like crying. Crying would probably be a bad idea. The punishment for crying after kissing her would most likely be severe.
He finally managed to free his tongue from hers, feeling as though he had just committed a despicable incest. Glancing down at his new schedule, he sighed, and he and Ron traipsed up to McGonagall's class for Transfiguration.
He watched Hermione at a distance. She seemed to squirm at the idea of having to be pent up in a room with Harry and Ron for so long. Ron had even started to throw wadded up bits of paper at her before Harry told him to lay off it. Ron seemed surprised by his lack of wanting to open fire on such an easy target, but he did what Harry said, grumbling as he did so.
He was wondering why she hadn't tried to find a way to grow her hair back. He was sure that there must be hair-lengthening charms or something along those lines. The old Hermione he knew would have most likely knew a charm or potion right off the top of her head to fix it, but perhaps she was more altered than she appeared on the outside.
After class instead of going to lunch, he went straight to the library. He had Madame Pince looking all over the library along with him, and just before the bell rang to signal the end of lunch, he came across exactly what he was looking for. After checking out the book, he thanked Madame Pince endlessly and she scoffed at him and returned back to whatever it was she had been doing.
He nearly arrived for Defense Against the Dark Arts late. He was overjoyed to be in the classroom for once. Last year he had been ready to strangle Umbridge every time they met for class, but he knew Lupin was just not that way. He needed a sound mind to talk to anyway. He saw a seat next to Ron at the back and was happy that Hermione was sitting on the same row, though quite a few spots away so as to avoid being in their line of fire.
He dropped the book off on her desk with a note stuck to the front simply saying "Page 194." She didn't look back at him, but to Harry's delight she did open the book and she seemed to stiffen. Through the rest of the lesson, she deliberately avoided looking at all in his direction, though he spent much of it trying to catch her attention. After class she practically ran from the room, and Harry hoped for the best. But meanwhile, he needed to talk to Lupin.
He approached his desk and Lupin seemed to be more than glad to see Harry.
"Hey, sorry I couldn't stop by this summer or wish you a happy birthday, but I was away on business," Lupin said slowly and discreetly as possible.
Harry didn't know exactly what he was talking about, but he was at least confident it was about the Order. It was his last class of the day and dinner would not be for a few hours. If anyone might understand, Lupin would.
"Can I talk to you?" Harry said uncertainly.
"Yeah, what about?" Lupin asked genuinely.
"It's going to sound ignorant, but, well, everything."
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The Road Not Taken Chapter Eight: Developments and Ironies
"Like what Harry?" Lupin asked.
Harry paused for a moment to make sure the rest of the students had left the class. Ron had thankfully left without him, chasing after Hermione. Chasing after her for whatever reason, he was not sure, but likely it wasn't to pay her a compliment. He would have to confront Ron about that later, but for the moment he had more pressing issues to get settled.
"Is it possible for one person to change the past of another?"
"I am really not sure- why would you ask that?"
"Well-" Harry stopped himself short. "No reason I guess."
"There are a few ways in which to change the past by meddling with time, but such actions are very heavily punished by the Ministry."
"Like a Timeturner?" Harry said excitedly.
"A Timeturner is one way, though they're tightly controlled by the Ministry, and there is also a very complicated potion I think I have heard of, but I do not believe it is possible to make anymore as the key ingredient is the feather of an Egyptian ibis, and they disappeared centuries ago. There are probably other ways, but none that I know of.”
"Is there any way it can be done with a wand?" Harry asked, trying not to sound as though he thought it was possible.
"Um, there could be, but I'd have to look into it. Why do you want to know?”
“Just wondering really,” Harry answered sheepishly. “Do you know of any books it would be in? I mean, I could always ask Hermione but-”
He froze. Ask Hermione? It didn’t exactly seem the sort of thing the “new” Harry would do. Professor Lupin seemed to agree and raised his eyebrows in suspicion.
“Well, I mean, a nerd like that probably has thousands of books. I bet the girl sleeps with them or something.”
He hated himself for making fun of his dear friend. It felt positively awful, and the reproving look Lupin was giving him wasn’t helping matters.
“Oh, trust me, information on altering time won’t be found in just any old text book. Anything you’ll find is bound to be in the Restricted Section of the library.”
Harry’s heart sank still further.
“If you tell me why you want to know, I’ll do a bit of research on it for you,” Lupin continued.
“I’ve just been trying to get some extra credit work done. Plus, I- er- I find the subject interesting.”
It was such a huge lie Harry didn’t even believe it himself. Even his old self wouldn’t have bothered to do extra credit only but in the most dire of circumstances, and when he had done it in the past, it had never been on such a complex topic.
“Well, ok Harry. When I get some free time on the weekend, I’ll look and see what I can find for you, but I don’t know what all you’re expecting from me.”
Harry felt a sigh of relief: Remus would help him.
"So how are you Harry? Did you have a good birthday?"
"Yeah, it was the best I've ever had," Harry said truthfully.
"That's good," Remus said with a broad smile on his face.
There was something so different in his face, in his entire being. He was so healthy looking. The contrast between the Remus standing before him and the Remus he had once known was just as astounding as the two Hermiones. Was he even a werewolf? He had to be: he had been one in his years at Hogwarts as a student, and time couldn't have gone back that far.
But how to ask Remus without offending him or looking like a complete idiot for not knowing something that was apparently clear to everyone else?
"Professor? What do you know about werewolves?"
Remus' face fell, but then captured a look of intense curiosity at the profundity of Harry's question.
"More than many people could claim I suppose."
That was hardly an answer. Harry felt frustrated, but refused to give up so easily.
"Well, like what?"
"Harry, I trust you very much: I've known you your whole life, and I was even there when you were born. I can tell you anything you need to know about werewolves. Very few people have ever known that I was once was one."
That he was once a werewolf? How once but not now?
"I trust you not to tell anyone that information. People still have a lot of fear about the condition, and aren't exactly friendly to anyone that once suffered from it. You're a good kid most of the time and you're exactly like your dad was at your age, that much I can tell you, so I trust that you'll keep that between us. So what is it that you want to know really?"
"Oh, I don't know really. I was- I was- uh- reading about them in a book. Just curious, you know," he lied, trying to think of anything to say. “More extra credit,” he laughed nervously.
Lupin raised his eyebrows at him and Harry wasn't entirely sure whether he had bought that excuse or not. Did the Harry Lupin knew open books? Did he even know how to read? At that point nothing would have shocked him in the least. It did seem a bit off though, for even in his other life he didn’t often stay after class to converse with his professors about time traveling and lycanthropy.
"I didn't mean to startle you Harry but the truth is that I really was once a werewolf."
"Oh, you didn't at all. I need to get to the library and look something up and then I have to post mum a letter."
"Your mum will like that, but the library, twice in one year? Surely not," Lupin laughed.
"Yeah, uh, I'll talk to you later."
"Good bye Harry."
He sprinted up to the library and by the time he arrived he was very much out of breath. He turned the corner to ask Madame Pince to help him with what he was looking for when he saw Hermione. Her face was once again hidden behind a veil of long, bushy hair. So she had found the Hair Extending Charm on page 194 of Broderick Brody's Book of Beauty that he had deposited on her desk before class. He felt so thankful.
She was handing in that very book to Madame Pince and was turning to leave when she caught sight of Harry. She looked at him as though he had sprouted another head and slowed her walk but didn't stop walking altogether. Her look was so searching, delving, questioning. Then she was past him and out of the library and he felt stupid for not trying to say something to her.
He approached Madame Pince and her eyes dashed him with inquisitiveness and she took it upon herself to say very nearly the same thing Lupin had.
"Twice in one year? How peculiar."
”I need everything you have on werewolves."
She seemed to think that was an unusual thing to ask for but in what seemed like seconds she had stacked about twenty books on a table and told him to try those first. In what seemed like no time he had immersed himself between the pages and couldn't manage to get out.
After what seemed like hours he found what he was looking for in a copy of A Howling History: A Werewolf's Tale. A man named Edgar Bones accidentally stumbled upon a cure for the affliction of werewolves twelve years ago while attempting to- Harry honestly wasn't sure what he had been trying to do, it sounded very scientific- Harry skimmed over charts and wordy paragraphs but read and reread the part about the cure. It was made from a very complex potion. But why hadn't it existed before? Why had the Lupin of two months ago been a werewolf?
He read the passage again, and it hit him. Edgar Bones- the name struck him like a bell and rang back and forth in his head for a moment. Death Eaters had killed Edgar Bones and his family, Moody had told him so the summer before last when he had shown Harry a morbid photograph. But twelve years ago? Clearly Bones had survived the first war against Voldemort. Harry tried with much difficulty to remember having seen him at Grimmauld Place sometime over the summer, but he had spent so much time with his parents and there had been many people who had come and gone that he couldn't recall ever having seen before. At any rate, it didn't matter, because according to A Howling History there was a cure for a werewolf bite.
Harry absentmindedly pulled his wand from his robe pocket and twirled it between two fingers, tilted his chair back on two legs and tried to reflect on the world around him. How different things were. No, they weren't even different. It was like something from a twisted dream. How could his parents' survival and Neville's parents lack thereof have caused such a shift in his paradigm?
For some reason he looked down at the wand he was spinning between his fingers. It was not his. It was of approximately the same length and color of wood, but it was different. A bit shorter maybe? Whose wand had he ended up with?
He then felt very stupid. It was likely that Neville had his wand, his eleven inch, holly and phoenix feather wand, since its brother had belonged to Voldemort and Neville was now filling in for Harry. He felt a bit disheartened. He had been rather attached to his wand, and thought he tried to convince himself that a wand was a wand either way; he just couldn't shake the deep feeling of loss.
He wasn't aware how long he had sat in the library but when he became aware of the time Madame Pince was no longer behind her little desk and the light no longer streamed in through the small, high windows near the ceiling. It was 9:20. He had spent four and a half hours reading about werewolves and questioning his new existence.
He stuffed the imposter wand back into his pocket and left the library, feeling slightly guilty about leaving Madame Pince with a stack of books to put up in the morning, but he needed to go to sleep. The halls were quiet, disturbingly quiet; there was no Peeves, Mrs. Norris, Filch, Snape, prefects, nothing. There was only the silence of the castle and the deafening pounding of his thoughts to keep him company.
When he came back to the Gryffindor common room, he saw Ginny, no he saw Alice (he would never get used to that) sitting by the fire looking rather beside herself with concern and Ron playing a game of Wizard's Chess with Seamus Finnegan and clearly was winning by the rather unsportsmanlike comments he was making about Seamus' playing.
"Harry!" Alice squealed with delight. "Where have you been? I was so worried when you didn't come for dinner!" she leapt out of her seat and onto him like a starving puma that had caught its first meal in months.
She was squeezing him so tightly that he was having trouble breathing and was kissing his face all over so he was having even more difficulty taking a breath. She was a lot more affectionate towards him now that they were at school. Ron rolled his eyes and made an unnecessary twirling motion with his hands, moved a piece on the chessboard, and declared a checkmate against Seamus.
"Yeah mate, where were you?"
"The library," he shrugged
His eyes flashed excitedly.
"What are we going to pull next? I'm sure it's brilliant."
"Aren't you a prefect?" Harry said, trying direly to understand what it was about Ron that made him need to cause deliberate mayhem and pain towards others.
"That's the beauty of the system. Who's going to catch me if I have a position of authority? So what are we going to do?" he asked, his words rambling off into unimportance.
"Are you going to spend time with me tomorrow? What I was thinking-" Alice was dawdling off into her usual run of brainless chatter and Ron was still going on about nifflers or something when he finally had had enough.
"I'm tired, I'm going to bed."
And without a second look back, he shot up the stairs and closed the door to the dorm before he could hear whatever it was that the two Weasley terrors would say to his wanting to leave their presence.
Neville was sitting up in his bed looking through a scrapbook of pictures and tried quickly to put it away when Harry entered the room.
"Hi Harry, doing alright?" he said with a more than falsely cheery voice.
"Uh, I think so," was his truthfully uncertain reply. "You're not going to bed right now are you? I need the light. I wanted to post a letter to mum," Harry felt a squeamish pride in saying that, but also felt deep sadness at having to be parted from her.
"Oh, I wish I could," Neville said with a touch of remorseful sarcasm, lowering his voice quite a bit as though he hadn't wanted Harry to hear that, but he heard it anyway.
Harry sat down on his bed and pulled out a quill and some parchment. He really felt for Neville.
"You know," he said without really thinking of what he was saying "I know how you feel."
"How could you possibly know how I feel? Your parents are alive," Neville said, glancing at Harry with a look of deep sorrow and intense hurt in his voice. “No, you have no idea Harry.”
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Chapter 9: Dreams, Draco, and Soon-to-Come Dungeons
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The Road Not Taken Chapter Nine: Dreams, Draco, and Soon-to-Come Dungeons
Neville was sitting in a cold room surrounded by the echoing of a voice he didn't know with a fire blazing in the fireplace in the distance.
"Neville..." came a cold, shrill voice from a high-backed chair turned towards the fire and away from him.
Neville wanted to shake violently, to pull out his wand and defend himself, but he was frozen to the floor of that bitter place with severe fright.
"Harry Potter, he is your enemy you know," the voice said again.
Harry Potter? His enemy? How could that be? He could be malicious, but he really was quite generally harmless.
"He wants so badly to be you. He would kill you for it you know," the voice continued.
Neville began to feel terrified. He had heard that voice somewhere in his lifetime. It sounded so dreadfully familiar, it sounded like the voice of the man who had killed his parents, the man he had faced in the graveyard in the previous year, it sounded like Voldemort.
The man stood up and Neville could feel his heart pounding in his chest, his head was throbbing and he felt himself bursting with rage. He wanted to badly to destroy that man with every ounce of conviction he held in his body. The man turned around to show a handsome though thin face. His voice was suddenly cool, temperate, fluid. Not at all like the eerie, echoing he had heard a few moments ago.
"Neville?" he asked. The man smiled politely, and Neville began screaming.
Neville woke up with a violent start. He was thrashing, screaming. That man, he couldn’t describe it, but he was just so- awful.
"Neville, what's wrong? Are you ok?"
It was Harry sitting on his bed and looking at him very curiously. Neville nearly fell off his bed in fright, trying desperately to put as much distance between himself and Harry as possible. As soon as his hand touched the cold knob of the door that he was about to run out of, he seemed to come to his senses a bit.
"Oy! Neville! Cram it! I need my beauty sleep!" Ron yelled without even opening his eyes from the bed on the other side of Harry.
"Hey mate? Are you alright?" Harry asked him again.
Neville was looking at him with a look of intense fear, almost animalistic fear.
"Uh, yeah. I just, you wouldn't know. I had this weird dream. I get them sometimes."
Harry was about to say that he perfectly understood about unexplainable dreams for he could recall vividly the dreams of his previous year concerning a dark corridor and Voldemort. Instead, all he could simply say was "Oh."
Neville got back into his bed and had a great amount of trouble going back to sleep. He knew Harry wouldn't ever hurt him, but he just couldn't shake a sickening feeling. Going to sleep around someone he had been warned against, no matter how little he trusted in the advice, just didn't seem wise. He had had dreams of Voldemort before, but never one quite like that.
Harry went back to trying to write a letter to his mother. He hadn't really ever written letters before: he had passed notes about how he was doing to Hermione and Ron and Sirius before, but this seemed different. What did one write to one's mother? He also knew that it wouldn't be wise to put too much in there other than a usual greeting, for he had learned a painful lesson last year that owls could be intercepted.
At long last he managed to scrawl out:
School's great. Things are good with me, all my classes are fine. I’ve been working on some extra assignments already. I’ve thought a lot about the conversation we had last night. How about you? How's dad? Tell everyone hello for me.
Well, it was short, sweet, and rather to the point. He was exhausted. He realized at he no longer had Hedwig, but he could use one of the school owls.
"I'll mail it tomorrow," he thought.
The next morning he woke up early; everyone else was still asleep. He quickly dressed himself, grabbed the letter to his mother and went off to send it.
When he reached the bottom of the staircase he caught sight of Hermione perusing through some books by the fireplace. She looked so content and at peace, or at least she did until she saw him and her whole body tensed up. He couldn't help but notice how she seemed like a deer; she was always such a quiet and gentle creature until she saw predators, or more namely him or Ron. He couldn't stop thinking how absolutely horrible he had been to her, even though he still wasn't sure of the extent to the damage he had caused. She was still staring at him. He was wondering if she thought she could blend in to her surroundings, to disappear.
"Good morning Hermione," he said for lack of anything better to say.
"Uh, sure," she said back while appearing to brace herself for something.
"Uh, well, see you then," he said sheepishly and feeling rather foolish.
He sat at the breakfast table alone, staring off into space and wondering if there was any way to remedy the things he had done. Students slowly began to show up, as did teachers. He saw Dumbledore take his seat at the staff table and wondered how things were going with the Order. Seeing as how he no longer carried a scar above his forehead, it was not his unfortunate privilege to know much about the Order at all, but Neville's. He found himself fleetingly worrying about his parents: what was it exactly that they did for the Order, and what was the Order up to?
Breakfast finally drew to a close and Ron showed up just as students were beginning to file out of the Great Hall for their morning classes.
"You're up early," he said to Harry.
"You're up late," Harry shot back.
"Whatever mate, whatever," Ron said, stuffing two pieces of toast in his pockets.
They had Herbology with the Hufflepuffs first thing that morning. They walked out onto the cool, dew-covered grounds, and Harry was taking in all of his surroundings while Ron was making fun of a Hufflepuff girl with pimples. Harry resisted the urge to slap him, but couldn't help smiling when he thought of a Ron who once turned down Eloise Midgen. She had had pimples too, and according to Ron, her nose had also been off center. He was really beginning to miss Ron.
They sat down at the tables and class shortly got underway. A few minutes after Professor Sprout began telling them how to water Fire-Breathing Hibiscuses without creating too much steam, Harry heard the greenhouse door open and someone enter.
"Mr. Malfoy, would you care to join us? Five points from Hufflepuff."
Harry whipped his head around in surprise and saw Draco Mafloy standing in the doorway with a look on his face that Harry would have never thought him capable of. It was a mixed kind of embarrassed apology...
"I'm sorry Professor Sprout. I woke up late."
"Hardly an excuse, but take a seat."
The only open seat was next to Harry, and he occupied it.
'Hi, you're Harry right? I haven't really ever talked to you before. It's funny how you can go to school with someone for more than four years and not really ever talk to a person you have class with nearly every day."
Draco Malfoy? An apologetic and polite Hufflepuff? Why not? Things had gone so strangely since his birthday and since his arrival at Hogwarts that if a line of Cannes Cannes dancers came high-kicking in through the greenhouse he wouldn't have been in the least surprised.
"Uh, yeah, it is a small world," he laughed with a slight roll of his eyes.
"You're really good at Quidditch I've been told."
"Yeah, I've been told that too," said Harry, pondering whether he really was or not.
"I just made my team this year. I play Seeker, isn't that what you play?"
"Uh," he played Seeker, right? "Sure. So what’s your family like?" he asked, wanting to change the subject and figure out why Draco Malfoy was acting like a human being.
He seemed to waver a bit between an answer before telling him.
"Well, both of my parents are- gone. They’re gone. So I live with a relative of my mum's, Andromeda Tonks," his face held an expression of dejected pain and also a look of trying to cover it up.
Harry had to stop himself from choking in surprise. Andromeda Tonks was Nymphadora Tonks’ mother. Malfoy had probably grown up with Tonks as a big sister, and Tonks was, well, she was cool.
"I'm, I'm really sorry about your mum- and dad," he added quickly, wondering what had really happened to them.
"Don't be. Dad did some rather evil things; he deserved what he got," Draco said, his face stiffening; Harry decided it would be better to drop it.
People began choosing partners to work with and Ron went chasing off after the poor pimpled Hufflepuff girl and forced her to work with him, shooting Harry a grin as he did so. Harry knew Ron's interest in such an unfortunate looking girl could mean nothing good. She seemed close to tears when Professor Sprout handed them a labsheet and commented on how nice it was that she and Mr. Weasley were working together.
So instead of working with Ron, as he might have, he decided to work with Draco, which wasn't really all that bad. He was alright really. It must have always been his father that made him such as he was. Harry was beginning to think. When class was over, Harry couldn't help but believe how much the world must have been turned on its head and beaten until everyone inside it was no longer as they should be.
He looked down at his schedule and saw that he had Potions class next, which was still taught by Snape. How much could Snape have changed? That was a good question. He had never been sure of Snape’s alliances before, and now, well, who could really guess?
He headed up to the owlry to post the pitifully short letter to his mother and headed for the dungeons, unsure of what to expect.
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The Road Not Taken Chapter Ten: An Afternoon of Bad Luck
He entered the dungeons with quite a bit of trepidation, feeling sure that Snape would still despise him as always. He and Ron took seats next to Neville, who oddly enough seemed cool and collected. The Neville Harry had always known got ripped apart in Potions class and tore himself apart before the lessons even began for fear of what Snape would do next.
Snape was more or less the same: same cruel manner and taunts, same impossible expectations, and same snide remarks about everything, including but not limited to Lavender's stupid hairstyle and Dean's very near tardiness. He clearly hadn't stopped playing favorites either, for when everyone got up to go to the storage cabinet for supplies, Crabbe shoved Parvati and she hit the floor and Snape took ten points from Gryffindor for her rough housing.
Harry couldn't help but notice how much the dynamic of the class had changed without the goading and guidance of Draco Malfoy. The atmosphere was tense enough, but it was not unbearable. Hermione's urgent desire to show and tell everyone all she knew was also absent; Harry had noticed she spent more time studying than she had before (if that was possible) and less time being a know-it-all. He was just beginning to wonder if a person's head could explode from knowing too much about halfway through the class when Snape stopped at Harry's far too thick mixture of Confidence Concoction.
Nice work Potter," he sneered. "Do try in the future not to waste my time or supplies brewing your usual garbage."
Snape was still Snape. At least that would probably always be constant.
The rest of the class passed by with Ron making rather lewd faces and gestures about Snape behind his back and even Harry couldn't help sniggering at them. Messing with Hermione and other defenseless people was one thing, but Snape had it coming.
They had Charms class next. When he thought about it, he hadn't seen Professor Flitwick at the staff table and when they walked in Professor McGonagall was rustling papers around on the desk and looking rather harassed.
"I wonder where Flitwick is," Harry wondered aloud.
"Who?" Ron said very loudly and blatantly.
"Mr. Weasley. This might not be my class but I am teaching it for the moment, so could you please stifle your need to talk?!"
Ron shut up. Silently he was a bit proud of the shrewd old woman.
"As I was telling Mr. Weasley, Professor Weasley cannot be here for the rest of this week, but he shall return very soon. Until then, I am teaching this class and I expect the same respect from each of you in Charms as I would in Transfiguration."
Her gift for murdering noise, chatter, and discussion in a class was awesome. Professor Weasley? Which one? There were so many really. Thankfully Ron answered his question before he had to ask it.
"Percy is and always has been a prat; I'm not taking orders from him anymore this year than I did since the last one. Can you believe the number of times he put us in detention last year?"
Harry frowned a bit but the thought of Percy as a teacher did make a bit of sense, even though he had always thought Percy more far-reaching and goal-oriented than to ever become a Hogwarts professor. The rest of the class was devoted to taking notes from McGonagall's lecturing and even Ron the Rebel lowered himself to taking notes, though he did shoot venomous looks at her every once in a while.
The rest of the day passed by slowly. It was as though time were dragging Harry's face through his new reality to make sure that it scraped up every inch of him and left him a person he no longer could recognize. That night he lay awake in bed feeling helpless to control his own happiness. Life had become a real kick in the stomach.
Things had been so perfect over the summer, but now at school and away from his parents and godfather he was left with a tyrant for a best friend and a trashy and attention-loving second-in-command for a girlfriend and Snape as usual. At least destiny could have granted him a sweet and caring potions teacher, but no. It was the typical, derisive, scorning Snape.
Well, at least Malfoy was human. The thought of that made him laugh, and his laugh in the silent dorm room to the symphonies of sleeping boys only intensified his new existence. Sleep was a very long time in coming that night.
The next morning he went downstairs and into the Great Hall extremely tired and beaten by his own thoughts. As soon as he reached the table Alice spied him with and squealed like an irritating piglet as she sat down next to him and began chattering as usual. Too bad he hadn't paid attention more in Charms last year. How were Silencing Charms supposed to work again? It would be something he would definitely need to investigate.
Hermione would know how to do a Silencing Charm. He looked down the Gryffindor table at her; she was sitting with Neville again and they had a book open between them and were writing on something, probably essays or something along those lines, and she also seemed to be giving him pointers. He couldn't explain it but he felt a sting of possessiveness. She seemed so at ease with writing and studying in general and something in that made him smile. That was Hermione, scribbling away as usual on a paper that was already guaranteed perfect marks in an effort to try and make it better.
"Hello?! What is wrong with you?!" Alice looked furious.
"What?" he asked, uncertain of what he had done.
"You might want to dam up the string of drool hanging from your face! Hermione Granger? Are you looking at Hermione Granger"
There was something in her words that deeply troubled him, about the way she had said "Hermione Granger." It was like she thought she was far superior to her, better than her. And why? Harry began to feel wholly annoyed and even angry and she was still going on about it and beginning to raise her voice.
I mean honestly, look at her! She's-"
"Why don't you just lay off her! What did she ever do to you?!"
Alice looked like he had just spat in her face and began to shake with what Harry assumed must be a combination of rejection, fury, and hurt. She grabbed her glass of milk and threw it on him and stomped out of the Great Hall. It hadn't even been creative; the Weasleys as he was beginning to know them would have at least done something more drastic, like set him on fire or worse.
He wiped the milk off his robes and noticed that there were a few people staring at him and he rolled his eyes and told them to mind their own business.
"Bad luck? Well, Alice can be a bit of a hassle. You don't live with her; you're not the one who has to spend days waiting outside while she makes herself pretty for you," came the lazy voice of Ron as he approached the Gryffindor table, grabbed a piece of cantaloupe and stuffed a few bagels in his pocket.
"Time for Defense class Harry. Chop chop. And when are we going to do something fun? This year is so boring."
Harry suppressed an intense need to hit Ron, snatched up his things, spied a copy of the Daily Prophet laying ownerless on the table and snatched that up too, and followed Ron to Lupin's classroom. Maybe Lupin would have news about changing time, for he had said he would look into it. Things might be looking up all of a sudden.
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The Road Not Taken Chapter Eleven: Touchy Subjects
Harry was ready to scream when he got to Lupin's class and it was all his professor could do to shake his head at him. That meant he had nothing; no information, no news, no nothing. Harry wasn't sure what he would do if he found out anyway, so perhaps it was better to not know.
He sat down next to Ron and Ron was still harassing him about his sister throwing a glass of milk on him and he very conspicuously began to ignore him as he opened up the copy of the Daily Prophet he had found lying on the dining table.
He skimmed through it and founds articles branding both Dumbledore and Neville as liars. He had heard the stories scoffed at and discounted while he stayed at Grimmauld Place over the summer but had never taken the time to actually read them. They were loads of rubbish anyway, but he felt a smug satisfaction in them. He had endured that all last year: the awkward glances, and people skirting around him in the hallways. He kept sifting through the Prophet to see what else there might be when he uncovered an article by none other than Rita Skeeter.
"That stupid cow," he breathed angrily to himself.
She had written a story questioning the judgment of some magical beauty pageant and was making these beautiful women out to be snaggle-toothed three ring circus freaks. He looked over at her rather obnoxious looking photograph and definitely thought she was a pot calling the kettle black. The Rita in the picture was adjusting her hideous horn-rimmed glasses with one hand and picking something out of her teeth with the other.
"That's attractive," Harry thought to himself.
"Hey, they look pretty nice," Ron said, looking at the pictures of the posing and modeling pageant contestants.
"Here, help yourself, you pervert," Harry snapped, throwing the newspaper at him and feeling agitated again.
Ron could only grin at that. Harry began to pay attention to Lupin's lecture over Patronus Charms, something he had been doing since his third year when Lupin himself had taught him how to ward off dementors. He rolled his eyes; this was going to be a long day.
He couldn’t deny that his classes were much easier this year. Having learned much of this material already, he found that he absorbed it much more quickly the second time around.
Directly after class he was walking down to lunch with Ron trailing behind, still carrying the copy of the Daily Prophet and making disgusting comments about what he would do to the models if given the chance when Neville told him they were having their first Quidditch practice that afternoon. Ron's head finally turned away from the paper and seemed rather excited at the thought. Ordinarily, Harry would have been too, but the very idea of spending another minute with Ron made his skin crawl. What had happened to his best friend?
At lunch, he saw Alice and she ran up to him very dramatically, gave him another side-splitting hug, and profusely apologized for what she had done that morning. Harry's first instinct was to not forgive her, and he was even about to tell her so when she started going on and on about her hair refusing to behave no matter what she did to it.
The rest of the day Harry felt harried by everything around him. With a lot of bitter sarcasm, he accompanied Ron down to the Quidditch pitch. He carried with him a Nimbus 2000; he couldn't explain what had happened to his Firebolt, but it didn’t matter. Being back on a broomstick would be a nice change and give him a bit of time to think.
More than anything he was interested to see who played what, and how good, if at all they might be. He and Ron were the last of the team to arrive and as he looked around, he spied Neville, Katie Bell (scratching her head in a very unladylike way), Jack Sloper and Andrew Kirke (he had been told that they played very badly), and a small, timid looking boy he had never seen before.
It didn't take long to figure out who now played what. To his intense and immediate relief, he still played Seeker, Katie, Jack, and Andrew were Chasers, Ron and the ridiculously small boy were Beaters, and Neville played Keeper. It might as well have seemed a carnival or a support group for people who couldn't play Quidditch. Harry knew it wasn't exactly nice to think of all these people's playing abilities in such a way, but it would honestly be interesting to see how it turned out.
And turn out everything did, but not exactly as well as it could have. Tons of girls were walking around below, watching the practice and distracting everyone, Alice among them: she wouldn't stop waving and hollering at Harry until finally to his great chagrin he flew down and gave her a kiss. He found that kissing her had also gotten much easier over time, but it still made him feel disgusting. He couldn't help but notice the look of ownership she gave to the other girls on the ground, and that only made him more annoyed. He was beginning to feel like a pet, an animal, and a trained monkey.
Things weren't made better by the fact that the small boy was only in his second year and kept hitting himself with his own bat. After a long while, he finally knocked himself out and had to go to the Hospital Wing. He was probably better off there anyway, because the practice was turning uglier by the minute.
Ron spent so much of his time showing off for a number of girls standing down at the ground level that he had run into people several times. The only thing that had made him stop was when Harry seized his Beater's bat and smacked him in the head with it, which did make him stop, but also made him laugh so hard for whatever idiotic reason that he fell off his broomstick.
After what seemed like an eternity, Neville called the practice over. Harry was glad for the reprieve. They were all walking towards the castle, Alice, and the rest of the team fan club included, for dinner when Neville had the gall to say:
"Well, all in all, I think it went ok."
Harry stared at him with furious disbelief. In all truth, the practice had been so bad that any self-respecting Quidditch player would have snapped their broomstick in half and refused to play if forced to play for the current Gryffindor team. It was all Harry could do to keep himself from tearing his hair out and ranting at Neville for such a wild and obviously untrue comment.
Out of nowhere, Hermione appeared. She had been sitting under the very beech tree where Harry had spied his father last year from Snape's Penseive. He suddenly had a sick sense of Déjà vu, and prayed that things would not turn out for her like they had for Snape. Judging by Ron’s post-Quidditch practice feeling of elation, it was wholly possible. She hadn't seen them either until just at that moment.
Harry could sense the taunts that were coming, he knew what was about to rain down on Hermione by the way that Alice and Ron stared hungrily at her like a pair of jackals, and he was about to tell them to keep their mouths shut when Neville did it first.
"Hey, don't bother her," Neville said smoothly, and oddly enough, the brother and sister assault team complied.
He had to admit, it gave him another level of respect in his eyes. He had handled everything so well lately it seemed, and his successful defense of Hermione was amazing. He doubted he could have done it at all. Just as they entered the castle, they were heading towards the Great Hall to eat when Alice turned and whispered to Harry:
"Hey, meet me in the usual classroom on the sixth floor by Percival the Pudgy after dinner. I'll be waiting," and with that, she winked, and took off, going not in the direction of dinner, but up the stairs.
"I'll have to get out the Marauder's Map and figure out just where that is," Harry groaned to himself, intensely curious about what was going to be done to him in a moment’s time as he sat down at the dinner table.
That was when it hit him: the Marauder's Map! He didn't have it anymore. The absence of his most useful map was just another pain in his side, so it was no wonder that he cut his food with a bit of battling irritation.
After he had eaten, he went up to the sixth floor and looked around for a time.
"Percival the Pudgy?"
After quite a long time, he did find the classroom and Alice sitting inside with a few candles burning for light. As he entered, she smiled at him, and he was beginning to feel completely uncomfortable.
"Hi stranger," she smiled very seductively at him.
"Uh, Ginny," he said hesitantly, avoiding looking at her in the eye.
Another slip of the tongue. He gave up all hope that she hadn't heard that when even in the dimly lit room her could see her face beginning to boil with fury.
"Who is Ginny?! Who is this Ginny you keep talking about!" she bellowed. "I demand to know!"
Harry threw up his arms in exasperation and waited for her tirade to hopefully pass over, but she kept yelling. After a few moments, she burst into tears and ran sobbing like a little child from the room. He stood there for while, trying to calm himself down but he just couldn't anymore. As he turned to walk out the door, he punched the wall, knocking a hole in it and feeling somewhat better, in spite of a now bleeding hand.
It was very late. He had spent so much time looking for the classroom that it was now well past curfew. Harry was just thinking the last thing he needed was to get caught outside his common room after hours by Snape or someone similar when Filch came around the corner.
Harry dodged as silently as he could into another empty classroom and held his breath. Had Filch seen him? He had been looking at a piece of paper and seemed rather occupied. Could Harry dare hope?
He watched Filch stop and look around. He stuck his nose up in the air like some kind of hound, which in Harry's opinion made him look a bit snooty.
Harry backed as silently away from the door as possible. As he turned around, he was so very lucky he didn't scream out in surprise, for there was a man standing just behind him: black hair, thin, foreboding. Tom Riddle?
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The Road Not Taken Chapter Twelve: The Scar Erised
He stopped in shock and stared at the man, but quickly realized that he wasn't Tom Riddle. The man was thin and had black hair, yes, but he also had glasses; Harry's glasses. It was himself. It took only moments to understand that he was standing in front of a massive mirror: the Mirror of the Erised. It looked very much unchanged since he had seen it for the first time in his first year; it was huge and set into a highly detailed gold frame with the usual inscription at the top.
But it was only himself standing there and he felt a jolt of wonder at that. Dumbledore had told him that any man who was truly happy would look into the mirror and see only himself, but as the day had gone that day, he was more irritated and frustrated than he could remember ever having been. He just stood and beheld himself. What did this Harry know that he couldn't know even after having experienced to awesomely different existences?
He didn't smile or wave at all; he only stood there watching him from the mirror with his hands behind his back. There was absolutely no sign that he even knew Harry was there at all. Harry drew himself closer towards the mirror to attempt to make sense of it all, and that's when he realized it.
The Harry in the mirror still had a scar. What did that mean? That he wanted his old life back? Things were confusing as they were now, but surely he didn't desire deep in his heart to return to a world without parents, a world without Sirius, a world with the Dursleys? Why would anyone want that?
He jumped a bit when he heard a bang on the door. The knob creaked and someone was coming inside. With as much silence as he could muster, he flung himself behind a mountain of disused desks and prayed he wasn't as visible as he felt. Even if no one could see him there he felt for certain that his rapid breathing and thundering heart were as audible as a shout anyway. He was trapped and he well knew it.
He could hear footsteps echoing around the room but dared not look to see who they belonged to. He couldn't tell how close they were, or where they were. Then he heard them stop, and they sounded dreadfully too close for comfort. He could see who it was that was hunting him down.
It was Percy Weasley, and his head was turned in the exact direction of where Harry was now sitting. Did he know? Had he been seen? Percy's eyes began to scan and survey the room, still looking and it took Harry everything he had to keep from letting out a scream of relief. Percy continued to stalk around the room, hunting for something and Harry couldn't help but notice how different he seemed.
He was quiet, fearsome, and very much bitter-looking. There seemed to be years of anger carved into his face: quite unlike the pompous and flaunting young man he had known what seemed like ages ago.
"He's not here," he whispered and with that quietly exited the room.
Harry sat in silence and wondered exactly who it was Percy was looking for. Was Percy looking for him? Anyone in general? Harry couldn't explain how he knew but he sensed that getting up and moving from his spot wasn't the best of ideas, and then he knew it for certain when he saw a shadow fall into sight from between the crack in the door. Percy was still standing out there.
Harry really had no idea how long he sat like that, his body balled up and crunched low between the stack of desks, but it seemed like eternity. After a time he drifted off into sleep, uncomfortable though it was. Like a jet of lightning, a dream bolted into his head and began to torment him.
He was standing in a cold, echoing room with a fireplace on the opposite wall and a high-backed chair faced away from him. He had seen this room before once, in a dream from his fourth year. There were drapes about the furniture that was stacked in the corner and the room was so deathly, deadly, cold.
"Hello Harry," the icy voice made him jump back though he could feel himself filling with rage. It was Voldemort.
"Shy I see. Well, you never did seem one for talking. I suppose I shall have to do it all again. Neville is your enemy you know, he wants you dead."
Harry shook his head vigorously, refusing to believe what he had heard, and refusing to believe he was standing where he was at all. He felt a sickening feeling in the pit of his stomach that he was about to discover Voldemort’s motive behind altering time.
"All his life he only wanted to be you Harry. He is watching you."
"Why are you telling me this?" Harry suddenly found the ability to speak.
"Why? Why? Do I need a reason why?"
A man stood up from the high-backed chair and turned to face him. It was Tom Riddle. Harry's screams began to echo, reverberating back and forth over the walls and he couldn't stop himself. He screamed until he found his eyelids opening and the morning sunlight from the high windows of the abandoned classroom burning into his face.
He was back into lucid reality, and it struck him with full force. He had just spent the entire night curled into the most uncomfortable position behind unused desks and when he tried to stretch his limbs out, they hurt and ached as though they had not been used in years.
He shook his head. The dream had been so real. He had been standing there, in Riddle's house, and Voldemort had been telling him that Neville of all people wanted him dead. It hardly made sense.
He quickly wound his way back to the common room, thanking his lucky stars that it was a Saturday and he had no classes. It was still early, and a few people were spread about the common room talking about one thing or another and no one really took note of his entrance, for which he was also thankful.
He was just heading up to his dormitories to change out of the clothes he had been wearing yesterday at Quidditch practice when he spied Hermione propped up in a chair with a book open, as usual. He couldn't help but notice how pretty and at peace she seemed like that.
Her eyes glanced up towards him and she lifted her eyebrows in shy curiosity.
"What?!" he stammered, and for some odd reason he couldn't help but blush.
Why was Hermione making him act like a fool all of a sudden? He hadn’t ever really thought of her in any way besides a friend, but now it was like she was making him feel absolutely silly, sort of in the same way Cho Chang once had.
"Uh, hello? Where were you last night?!" Alice called very conspicuously from behind him with a rather venomous voice.
Hermione quickly averted her eyes and Harry turned to face Alice, dreading what was to come next.
He was not in the mood to be yelled at, if such a mood even exists, for often times when it is asked of children by their parents if they want a spanking, the obvious rhetorical answer would be 'no.' It was the same case for Harry.
Alice did seem a bit put out, but her face softened and her voice lowered as she tried to address him again.
"Where were you last night, Harry?" she said with what seemed like all the sweetness she could muster.
"I was walking back to the common room when I almost got caught by Filch and I had to wait there until he was gone, and I just fell asleep," he said truthfully, though leaving out the parts about Percy and the odd dream.
He dared not look in the remote direction of Hermione or meet Alice eye to eye. Thankfully, Alice seemed to believe him and she gave an annoying squeak of delight and sucked him into a big hug. Harry was sure one that soon one of her fitful embraces was going to leave him with set of broken ribs.
“I’m so sorry we had a fight last night,” she whispered in his ear.
Harry honestly was too, but not because he felt like he had been wrong about anything. He just didn’t like the way she turned every little thing into something.
"Oy Harry! Where were you last night?" Ron called to him from the top of the stairs.
Ron was the last person he wanted to talk to at that moment. Alice rolled her eyes and went off to check the bulletin board while Ron began going on about enchanting the chalkboards to spit chalk dust at professors. Harry was so close to telling him to shut up when surprisingly Alice did it for him.
"Ron! Hush! This is important!" Alice came stumbling back to the boys with a notice in her hand.
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The Road Not Taken Chapter Thirteen: New Weasley Woes
Harry looked over at her, wondering what his next task as Alice's toy boyfriend was going to be when she so happily informed him.
"There's a Hogsmeade trip on Halloween! There aren't classes that day for the third years and above that can go! Oh, it's going to be so much fun! I was looking for an occasion to get that dress that mum bought me! I need to think about what you can wear so you can match me."
That was where Harry needed to draw the line. He was no doll to be dressed in cute or frilly sweaters at Alice's whim.
"No," he said very simply to her.
"No what Harry?" she asked innocently, pausing for the briefest of seconds to allow him time for speech.
"I'm going to wear whatever I want to wear, whenever I want to wear it, wherever I want to wear it, and however I want to wear it," he said through gritted teeth.
She seemed slightly taken aback. Apparently the Harry she was accustomed to had allowed her to doll him and dress him in any number of ways, but to him it was just downright unreasonable. He did not like fighting with her, and up until that moment had done nothing to provoke a fight. He was beginning to feel that they would fight about nearly everything anyway, so he might as well fight some battles worth fighting.
"What's wrong? Don't you want to go to Hogsmeade? Don't you want to match me?" she asked, looking somewhat hurt.
She was playing the guilt card, but Harry still refused to give in that easily. This girl seemed well-acquainted with all varying types of manipulation, and he wasn't going to lose to her like that. But he wasn't going to yell at her either, and give her just cause to yell and scream at him and cause another scene.
"Yes, I do want to go to Hogsmeade, but I'll wear what I like," he said, restraining the frustrated bitterness in his voice.
She looked at him with a sickeningly saccharine look that told him that she was going to let it go for now, but on Halloween he would find himself stuffed into whatever she had chosen for him. He didn't care. That was something that he would fight tooth and nail to the death if necessary.
The rest of the weekend went by as if everyone were walking on eggshells, nervously skirting around the subject of clothing, Hogsmeade, and Halloween altogether. At breakfast that morning, he did see Percy sitting at the staff table, looking very tired and cross. There was something so off about him. He didn't carry about that pompous air that was so typical to Percy, but rather a grim expression, a hateful one.
The following Monday dawned raining and windy. He woke quickly after another terrifying dream in which Tom Riddle told him Neville was trying to cross him and hurt him and could hear nature outside thundering at the window as though it were trying to break in. That was the second dream he had had like that, and it was really making him begin to question his purpose in this different life, not that he hadn’t thousands of times already.
He thought of Tom Riddle, and of his family, and of the mysterious room he had located in Grimmauld Place. He thought about writing to Sirius to find out if anything had ever come of it, or if anyone even remembered it at all. He was kicking himself for not asking him on the platform before leaving for Hogwarts, but he had been so caught up in saying goodbye.
It did remind him that he hadn’t heard word back from his mother. He had promised to write her, but she had never given him return correspondence. He thought about trying to write to her again, but what would he say? The first letter had been painfully short anyway.
He dressed quickly, went down to the Great Hall for breakfast, and again saw Hermione sitting by herself.
"Hi Hermione," he said politely, and for the first time since his birthday, she looking up and bid him a good morning back, though her greeting was somewhat empty and void of emotion.
A greeting was a greeting: at least she was beginning to acknowledge that he existed, and his heart soared, at least for a while, until Neville came and sat down next to Hermione and she smiled at him. He hadn't gotten a smile. What was it that Neville had that he didn't? Or that he would even want? Certainly not the scar. He had had that scar for sixteen years and was glad it was positioned on Neville's forehead. But what about the Mirror? Why had the Mirror of the Erised shown what it had?
He had to admit to himself, things weren’t necessarily all better than they had been when he had borne the scar, but in so many ways they were better too. Harry lost himself in his own thoughts, but not for long, because what seemed like after only seconds, Ron came running up to him and slapped him on the back, causing him to choke.
"I’ve got it! It'll be the best ever! All we need are a bunch of fireworks, a few cameras, a willing stake out, and a way into the girls bathroom!"
"No," Harry said flatly before he could even finish his thought.
He had stood up to Alice once that week: why not try standing up to Ron as well? Ron looked at him with a bit of disgust.
"What's been up with you lately? Alice is right, you're starting to act all weird. You’ve gotten so uptight."
"What would you know about weird?" Harry asked Ron, his voice getting dangerously low, thinking silently to himself that "weird" didn't even begin to describe his life as he was coming to know it.
Ron eyed him in a peculiar manner, grabbed a banana, and stalked out of the Great Hall.
* * *
Classes were going quite well for Harry. He had taken these classes once before, in the lifetime he had had before the present one. There was little to keep him occupied other than schoolwork anyway, for his heart was no longer into Quidditch, he had a ferret-tongued controlling girlfriend, and a horribly nasty and annoying best friend.
Transfiguration was becoming a breeze to him, and in their first Charms class taught by Percy, Hermione was the only person to manage a Multiplying Charm faster than him. He had a sneaking suspicion that it had to do with his new wand. It wasn't the same as his old one and he still wasn't comfortable with it, but he controlled it with such perfect ease and for the first time, he actually found himself wanting to go to classes.
Percy as a teacher was much as he expected him to be: tireless, demanding, ridiculously high expectations. He was almost worse than Snape. He had assigned them two essays to write that would be due before the following Thursday, and again, Harry found himself eager to write them. Well, perhaps not eager, but he'd rather write essay upon essay upon lengthy essay than fight with Alice over what he had or hadn't done or listen to Ron torment students in years beneath them.
That same evening he sat on his bed in his dorm room, hiding from everyone and reviewing what he had written on Charisma Charms. He brushed his quill beneath his chin; it just didn't seem quite complete. He reached over to his bag, looking for his copy of Charms: A Guide to Common Spells, but to his dismay he couldn't find it.
He smacked himself on the forehead, realizing his book was still in the classroom beneath his chair where he had placed it. He looked at his watch and noticed it was only eight-thirty. He had half an hour before curfew, so he might as well retrieve it while he remembered. He snuck out of the common room with as much stealth as possible, deeply wishing that he still possessed his Invisibility Cloak. Luckily, no one that spoke to him paid attention to his departure, and he made it free and clear out of the Gryffindor common room and was bound for Percy's Charms classroom on the second floor.
As he neared the room, he marked that the classroom was locked, but the door to the adjoining office that Percy used was slightly ajar and there was firelight flickering from the fireplace. He could hear voices, one of which he believed to be Percy's, so he figured there could be no harm in asking Percy to open the door to the classroom so that he might have his book back. The Percy he was acquainted with would be more than ecstatic to see Harry delving into the world of study, so why not ask? He had come all that way and had gone through all the trouble to get there. He approached the door but stopped dead in his tracks when he began to clearly hear the conversation coming through the crack in the door.
"No. There is nothing from either," he could hear Percy protesting.
"You might try to make yourself more useful and get closer to the both of them," came a hissing voice that Harry had a sneaking suspicion he had heard before, though it seemed altered by the cracking of flames. “You have been sloppy Weasley. They are searching the house for the room, did you know that?”
"I did not know, I am sorry My Lord," Percy began to beg.
"My Lord?!" Harry thought. His mind was racing. Percy was talking to Voldemort.
The speaking had stopped and he could hear footfall inside Percy's office. He only just managed to conceal himself behind a statue of Byron the Bloody as Percy stuck his head out of the door, looked around, and retreated back into his office with a slam of the door.
Harry's heart was racing. Percy Weasley of all people working for Voldemort? It wasn't possible. He had probably just misheard him, or misunderstood. But Harry felt deep in his gut that his instincts were right. Why would Dumbledore employ someone working for everything that Dumbledore worked against? It made no sense. Unless he knew about Percy’s newfound choice of friends; he knew just about everything. He knew things about people that people didn't even know about themselves, so how could he miss a Charms teacher laboring on the wrong side of the fence? It just didn't figure up.
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The Road Not Taken Chapter Fourteen: Snatched, Snitches, and Sneaks
He went back to his common room uncertain of what to do, or even think. There was no sign of Alice anywhere, and for that, he was deeply grateful. He didn't have time to concentrate on her prattling when his mind was already overflowing.
As he sat down on his bed, Ron looked at him angrily and asked him "What's wrong this time?"
Harry didn't know how to tell him what he had just heard about his older brother. He wasn't even sure Ron would believe him. Or maybe Ron already knew. At that point Harry figured that anything was possible, so he said nothing, only that he was tired.
"Well, that owl's been waiting for you for quite some time. Impatient little bugger really," Ron commented.
As he said that, a simple brown barn owl swept down from its perch onto of Harry's bed and landed upon his shoulder. It was carrying a small note, which Harry took, uncertain who would be sending him mail at such an odd hour, opened it, and recognized his father's slanted handwriting.
I can't say much. The Daily Prophet will have the story tomorrow, but do know that it's not true and everyone here is working to sort it out. It'll be ok son. Destroy this after you have read it.
What could it possibly be now? What wasn't true? He understood that his father couldn't put much into a letter but the contents seemed so laughably short and without point that he might as well have written nothing at all. Reducing the piece of parchment to cinders with his wand as his father had instructed him to do, he put the letter in the back of his mind and went back to trying to finagle more into his essay.
The next morning when Harry woke up, he dressed lazily, halfway forgetting his father's note, and meandered his way down to the Great Hall for breakfast. Seamus Finnegan was sitting down, his head lolling side to side slightly, and he had a copy of the paper laying next to him on the table.
After asking him if he could read it, he gathered it up and didn't even have to read the headline of the front page to be seized with horrible shock at what he found there.
Sirius Black Arrested on Suspicions of Breaking and Entering
Auror Sirius Black was arrested yesterday evening when found attempting to enter the heavily guarded Department of Mysteries. Black refused any comment when asked by interrogators what business he had there, but Head of the Department, Perseus Brody, said that it was unlikely Black could have even gotten past the entryway, for the Department of Mysteries is guarded by many charms and spells to prevent such unauthorized entry.
Black is known to be in league with mad-man Albus Dumbledore, who just last week published a statement still maintaining the rebirth of Who-Know-Who, who is known to have died when he tried to kill Neville Longbottom.
No date for a trial has yet been set, but ...
Harry read the rest of the story in a daze, hardly believing it true. Sirius had been arrested and sent back to Azkaban. Well, he had never been to Azkaban in the first place, but the sunken and hollow look his godfather had once held was the result of that foul prison, and he was back there, back there waiting for his soul to diminish and die, back there to the company of dementors and painful memories.
He had been guarding the Department of Mysteries. The prophecy must still be there. But had he been forced to enter it, just as Bode had? He remembered quite clearly that Bode had fallen mysteriously ill when he had been ordered under the Imperius Curse to break in and steal the prophecy for Voldemort, and then had been murdered in his hospital bed by a potted Devil's Snare. Was Voldemort still attempting to reach Neville and send him to the Department of Mysteries? It was highly unlikely. If he had knowledge and memories of the life he had lived before, then wouldn’t the person who had offered to change it also?
If that was true, then the Order was on the wrong trail. He had sworn to himself to remain silent about what had happened, but this was serious. Sirius was in prison awaiting a trial, and Voldemort was up to something that the Order was probably not expecting.
He read the article again to make sure that Sirius hadn't been hospitalized or injured but it said nothing of that. He thought of his father's letter and he had said something like the story wasn't true and they were working to sort it out. It would be ok; he had faith in his father's word.
Just then Ron came up behind him and Alice a few paces behind, seemingly slowed up a bit while trying to put an obnoxiously large hooped earring through her ear.
Ron stopped short when he caught sight of the huge, bold headline and gave a short gasp.
"He's- he's- he's been arrested? What for?"
He allowed Ron to read the clip and when he was done, the paper fell from his hand and he looked as though he were in total shock. Harry was amazed that Ron had the capacity to show concern for the welfare of another human being. Ginny looked over at them, having successfully place the oversized and tacky piece of jewelry in her ear at last.
"Who's been arrested?" she asked lazily.
"Sirius," they both replied in stunned unison.
"Oh, isn't that just awful. Well, anyway Harry, I was just going to ask you if you wouldn't mind wearing something in a dark blue on the Hogsmeade trip on Halloween because-"
Harrry couldn't believe her. She didn't even care! He came quickly from his state of shock and stared at her. She seemed to roll her eyes slightly, and then had the nerve to say "Ok, you can wear a dark green if you would like, I suppose that might go just as well-
"Don't you get it!" he roared at her. "There are things more important in this stupid world than clothes or ugly earrings! My godfather was arrested for something he didn't even do!"
She looked slightly taken aback and frowned a bit. Harry grabbed his things and stormed out of the Great Hall, angered even further when he distinctly heard her say to Ron "So he doesn't like my earrings?"
It took him quite some time to calm down. He felt instantly a tad bit better when he entered Lupin's classroom. Lupin would know something for sure that the Prophet hadn't told about. He thought the class dragged on for hours and every time he looked at the minute hand on his watch, he was sure time was going backwards. He just needed class to be over so he could talk to him.
The bell rang graciously an hour and a half later and students slowly filed out. Ron lingered a bit; it seemed that he had wanted to ask Lupin the same thing as Harry.
"Go. I need to talk to him privately, but I'll tell you what he tells me about Sirius." Harry said.
Ron looked a bit put off but nodded and left the room.For a fleeting second it was like having a best friend again. Lupin looked up at him in a way that told Harry he had been expecting such a talk to take place.
"I can't tell you much Harry," he whispered as Harry came close to his desk. "I can tell you that Sirius is safe, however safe Azkaban might be. I know it probably sounds strange to hear, but being in prison is likely more safe than being out."
"What was he doing in the Department of Mysteries? Was he guarding the prophecy?" Harry realized a fraction of a second too late his slip of the tongue.
Lupin's face fell and he seemed rather shocked. Harry probably wasn't supposed to know about the prophecy between Neville and Voldemort.
"How do you-" Remus began.
"I just, I heard that they keep records of prophecies made down there. I figured there must be something because I overheard you and dad talking about it once," he lied, praying that Lupin would buy it.
He seemed to relax at hearing that, and his doing so made Harry relax as well.
"He didn't try to break in as he's being accused of. He was merely right outside the door, leaning against it to read the paper and was seen by the wrong people. You know Sirius, he can be a bit cheeky, and he got himself arrested. It doesn't look good, Harry, but in all actuality they have no proof."
Harry felt his heart nearly skip a beat. Sirius would most likely be ok. He hadn't been forced to enter and hadn't been hurt in the process; he had only been rude and gotten smart with the wrong people. It took a second for that to sink in, and Lupin began saying something else.
"I'm still looking into a spell to change time too. I think I could be close; I found some books in the Restricted Section that have a lot to do with magical theories of time. In a way I'm kind of glad you asked because I've learned quite a few things on this search that I might never had thought of otherwise. "
Harry's heart skipped another beat. Lupin was going to help him. Things were going to be fine really.
“Have you written to your mum lately?” Lupin continued.
“Er, no, actually,” he replied, feeling slightly guilty. He hadn’t written to his mother, but in all fairness, she hadn’t written to him either. “I’m still waiting for her to answer my first letter.”
“Oh,” Lupin answered. “Well, she’s got a lot on her plate right now Harry.”
“I know, I don’t doubt that. I’ll send her another letter I suppose.”
He turned to leave the classroom as a group of sixth year Ravenclaws began to file into the room. What had happened to his life? Lupin was still on his side, and though things were bad, he had a sense that they would be ok.
* * *
The following Saturday Harry wanted to take back everything he had thought about things being ok. They were playing Ravenclaw in their first Quidditch match of the year, and from everything he had heard of Ravenclaw, they were quite the team to beat. He was not only plagued by that, but thoughts of his imprisoned godfather kept trickling into his mind, causing his train of thought to wander away from what he was doing, which was not at all a good thing in a highly dangerous sport.
Just before the match got underway he spied Cho Chang, flipping her hair around to allow it to catch the sunlight and he felt a bubbling of a weird emotion in his stomach. She hadn't changed much. The way she carried herself seemed to indicate to the world that she was better than them, above them in some way. It was extremely reminiscent of Alice. He recognized her hair tossing as just one more sign that she was too good for lesser mortals to have. She smiled at him and winked and in that instant he wanted to beat her and the Ravenclaw team into a shameful loss.
Neville was quite a good player, but he wasn't flawless. Both teams were in a dead heat for goals and the playing was getting to be rather fierce. Harry was looking for the Snitch as much as his mind would allow him to search, but he kept wandering off at everything that reminded him of Sirius. No matter what Lupin had said, he just couldn't shake a horrible feeling from the pit of his stomach that something very wicked was about to come underway.
He rolled over in the air on his broomstick after nearly having been hit by a bludger.
"Oy! Keep an eye out!" said Ron gleefully, pummeling the offending bludger to the far corner of the pitch.
He had too much on his mind to play such a close game. He looked over at the scoreboard, and they were tied. Half a second later, Gryffindor was up, 110 to 100. He caught his eyes wandering over to the stands and saw Hermione there, for whatever reason, he couldn't explain. He just couldn't fathom her wanting to show up to a game that she hated in a crowd full of people that didn't like her.
"I wonder if she's watching me?" he found himself thinking.
Just then, a bludger grazed his shoulder. He had been hovering in the same spot for nearly ten minutes not paying any attention at all to the game around him. He swung violently, nearly falling from his broom, but managed to clutch it enough in spite of his reeling senses to stay on.
Had he been on his Firebolt, perhaps he might have been able to dive out of the hit in time. He hadn't noticed how very different the Nimbus and the Firebolt really were; not that the Nimbus was a bad broom in any sense, only that it was just not as precise or swift.
He looked over to the scoreboard and saw that it was now 130 to 140, in favor of Ravenclaw. This match needed to end soon, and almost as if it had heard his thoughts, the Snitch appeared to him about 20 feet below, circling around the center goalpost of the Ravenclaw Keeper. He dove, and so did Cho, but luckily he was closer to the goalpost than she. Perhaps is had paid off for him that he was doing his worst job of Seeking ever rather than flying about the expanse of the field looking for the Snitch.
With a triumphant swoop he caught the Snitch and the game was finally over, 280 to 140. Cho looked deeply upset. She landed and then stomped away in tears. He landed shortly after her and people were flocking out onto the field in congratulations. Someone caught him hard around the neck and pulled him into a rather gross display of public kissing. Alice. Of course it was Alice. Anywhere where people would pay attention Alice showed up to in the blink of an eye.
She made a great to do with huge, deep, passionate, wet kisses for all to see, but so many people were crowding around them that Harry couldn't push her away. People were starting to make catcalls and he knew that he was blushing furiously, but there was nothing he could do.
After a while, he found himself back in the common room where Ron was throwing a huge party in celebration of their narrow win. It was chaos. People everywhere were drinking and destroying things, laughing loudly and yelling. Alice wouldn't let him go; she had sat both of them down in a huge armchair and commenced to doing whatever she liked to him. She seemed to have stuck herself to Harry with a Permanent Sticking Charm, and nothing he could do would free him of her, despite growing discomfort at Alice's wandering hands.
At around midnight people began to slow down as the Firewhiskey set in. Alice had fallen asleep on his shoulder and he slowly pushed her away and got up to look around. A group of people was sitting in the corner, laughing hysterically at a set of Exploding Snap cards. They were completely drunk.
He needed a walk. He snuck out of the portrait hole, totally without direction or purpose. He couldn't stop thinking of Sirius in prison, Hermione in pain, the missing room at Grimmauld Place, the dreams he had been having, and Percy wandering about the school, probably aiding Lord Voldemort. Things were just too different for comfort. He thought of his parents and wondered what they were doing right at that moment. Did they think of him often?
He wandered about the halls for nearly an hour before it occurred to him what could happen if he was caught out of bounds so late in the night. Deciding he had already had one close enough call with Percy and Filch, he decided it would be wise to return back to the common room. Again, almost as if his mind was being read, Percy came whipping around a corner. He dodged into the nearest door to avoid being seen and almost laughed aloud at where he had just come into. It was Percy's office.
He rolled behind a huge armchair and prayed Percy would walk past his own office and go to bed, but he heard the door open and Percy walk in and approached the fireplace.
He heard rustling around and saw a fire being lit in the fireplace. He wanted to scream in horror when he noticed that the light from the fireplace cast his shadow behind the chair and he hoped against hope that Percy would not glance over to where he was hiding.
"Riddle House, Little Hangleton!" he heard Percy shout into the flames and saw a greenish haze come over the room.
That settled it. Percy was definitely working for Voldemort.
He wanted to scream and run from the room as quickly as possible. What would they do to him if they found that he had overheard a private conversation? The possibilities were endless.
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The Road Not Taken Chapter Fifteen: Exposure
"My Lord, I have no new information for you. I need only a few more days."
"I am glad to know that you have all the leisure time in the world, but I need answers Weasley," Voldemort hissed.
"My Lord, I am sorry," Percy begged "Just two more days. I only need two more days."
"I need to know that things are working. That is all I want to know Weasley, and you can't even do that. That foul group led by Dumbledore is starting to figure out that I am not seeking the prophecy. Can you tell me what they might do if they were to find that out? Can you Weasley?" his voice was beginning to hiss in a dangerously low tone.
"Just another day. Just one day," Percy wailed, seemingly knowing that a good deal of torture was about to come his way.
"I do believe it was you who told me that your brother was Potter's best friend, and you still have nothing on Potter either.”
“Why do you care so much about Harry Potter my Lord?”
Questioning Voldemort was clearly a mistake. Percy definitely seemed to sense it.
“My Lord, I am sorry, I only crave to know what such a master as yourself desires to know about a disgusting boy, a boy not worthy-”
“Save me your trivialities Weasley,” Voldemort replied. “Come here, I have a bit of an errand for you."
Percy hesitantly stepped through the flames and was gone. Harry sat behind the couch for a number of minutes trying to make absolutely certain that Percy and Voldemort were both clearly gone through the fireplace.
He nearly sprinted back to the common room. Things were just getting too weird to explain and far too weird to even sit down and think about rationally.
Once he reached the threshold of the common room he looked around in disbelief. The place looked like a war zone: people were lying everywhere passed out drunk, pictures were hanging askew from the walls, and someone had crashed over the balcony from the girl's dormitories and the railing to the stairs was hanging loosely.
He quickly spied one person moving about the wreckage of the party: Hermione. She was stooped over Ron with a mixed expression of anger and fear.
"He's a prefect," Hermione whispered as he approached her. “Why would Professor Dumbledore make him a prefect?”
"Yeah, I know," he said.
Then it suddenly hit him. Why not tell Hermione? If anything else, who was she going to tell? Would she even listen?
"Hermione, can I tell you something?" he asked, hardly daring to breathe.
"Like what?" she asked in return.
"You're going to think I'm insane, but do you think time travel is possible?"
"Well, of course it's possible. I've been using a Time Tuner to get to all my classes ever since my third year. What does that have to do with the state of the common room?" she implored, still in total shock as to what to do with the debris and not really paying attention to what he was trying to say.
"No. I'm talking about time travel with a spell. If I tell you this, you have to swear not to tell anyone."
"Sure. I swear. But why would the great Harry Potter want to tell Groveling Granger such an important secret? Why not tell your fan club or your lovely girlfriend?" she asked bitterly, finally starting to listen to him.
He ignored the tone of disgust in her voice and grabbed her by the shoulders, looking her dead in the eye, which made her take a small step back, almost as if in fear.
"I'm not who you think I am. I had a totally different life at one point, with totally different friends. You were a sweet and sharp person with a lot of self-confidence, Ron felt insecure about everything and wasn't at all like he is now, a lot of people were dead that are now alive and are alive that were supposed to be dead. Like my parents-" he choked, unable to look at her anymore.
"Harry? You're making no sense-" she began but he couldn't stop and refused to let her finish.
"Somehow something happened with my wand and I woke up in another place with my parents and at first everything was perfect. But then I came here and I saw you and everyone else and everything was just so different."
She stood there in silence and he took his hands from her shoulders and tried again to look her in the face. She didn't say anything for such a long time that he felt compelled to speak again.
"Do you think I'm crazy?"
She seemed to consider his answer and all the while her face was growing an expression of sadness and then promptly said "Well, yes, I rather do. But I do believe you."
Her last statement rang bells and made him soar. She wasn't writing him off as a total lunatic.
"Why?" he asked, uncertain of what to say.
"Because you changed so much when you came back from the summer holidays. You used to be far meaner than Ron Weasley is now, and now you're just quiet and stick to yourself. For the first part of this year I stopped going to the library because you were there. You never used to go to the library. I didn't think it was possible for people to change so much. How did you change so much?" she had tears in her eyes and was choking on her own emotions.
He took her into a monumental hug and she latched onto him and sobbed rivers into the sleeves of the dirty scarlet Quidditch robes he hadn't yet had the chance to change out of.
“I want to change too,” she cried, hugging him more tightly.
"I'm so sorry for everything that was done to you. I'm so sorry," he whispered to her through her thick blanket of hair as she began to really get into stride with her crying.
"How did you change so much? How did you change?"
"I don't know how it happened exactly. Someone's helping me out with everything, but there's still so much about this place that I don't understand. What I need is someone who can tell me everything that happened sixteen years ago with Voldemort's downfall without asking any questions."
She shuddered when he spoke the name of Voldemort and slowly pulled herself from his tight embrace. She seemed so beautiful without even knowing it. She then spoke slowly and in short sentences for she was out of breath and still trying to calm down.
"The library. They keep old newspapers. In a small room. I don't know (hiccup) how far back they go. But I know they keep them."
His heart almost skipped a beat. That was exactly what he needed. It was so perfect.
"Thank you Hermione."
He didn't know exactly what to say to her. He was beginning to feel a bit uncomfortable, and the silence was starting to throb in his head and he all of a sudden didn't know what to do with his hands and found himself worrying if she would think what he might say next would be stupid. Oddly enough, she seemed to sense the same thing. He just could not believe that she believed him.
Part of him wanted to say something about the scene he had just witnessed with Percy, but that was something completely different. Percy was still a teacher after all, and Hermione still worshipped the ground that any professor walked on. She likely wouldn’t want to believe it, and even if she did, he didn’t want to frighten her for no reason when she was already terrified to death of half the Gryffindors anyway. If anything else, he would just try to find Lupin tomorrow and tell him everything of their Charms teacher.
"Um, well, goodnight then. Sorry about Ron and all," he said at long last, uncertain of what to really do.
With that he went up to the dorm. Neville was the only person in bed; Seamus, Ron, and Dean were all passed out drunk somewhere in the mess that was their common room.
He felt so much better having gotten his plight off his chest. True, he hadn't exactly told Hermione the whole truth, but enough to take bite out of his irritation and impatience with his new surroundings and put the both of them at ease with each other, transforming their relationship from one of prey and predator to mutual acceptance.
He fell asleep more quickly than he had in a while, sleeping in comfort of knowing that he was not alone in his confusion about everything, and wondering if she was thinking about him at that very moment. He thought of his parents and was just thinking that he ought to post another letter to his mother when a state of total sleep overcame him at last.
It was peaceful at first; his dreams often began of memories from earlier in the life that he was currently existing in: recollections that really had no place in his memory but seemed for some odd reason to be a part of him. That particular night he dreamt of a summer he had spent with his parents on the beach when he might have been about six or seven, and his father and mother were competing against each other as to who could build the best magical sandcastle. He was admiring his father's flying buttresses and steeple on the sand castle that his father was working on when all of a sudden he felt himself pulled from that dream sequence as though he had been sucked into a Portkey.
The next thing he knew, he was standing again in Riddle's house in the cold, empty room with a fire blazing in a distant fireplace. He felt his body tense up and then heard the voice of Voldemort again, thundering quietly about the sad stone room.
"Harry? How much longer are you going to pretend that Longbottom is your friend? I am telling you Potter, Longbottom wants you dead, he thinks about it all the time, dreams about it, it consumes him."
“Why are you telling me this?”
“Because you are worth more dead to me than alive, and dead you shall be if you don’t heed my warning soon.”
"Why would he want me dead?" he found himself asking back with a strained voice. “I thought my death was all you ever thought about anyway.”
"Because of the girl you fool, and because he blames your parents for the death of his. Vengeance consumes him and it will destroy you."
"No," Harry whispered back, uncertain as of why he was starting to believe him.
"Very well. You will understand soon enough."
Harry felt himself coming from his sleep as though he had just jumped into a well of cold water. He was soaked in sweat and unsure of anything around him. That's when he saw him: Neville was standing over his bed with his wand slightly askew. He was peering at him curiously, haunted, and seemingly filled with rage.
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The Road Not Taken Chapter Sixteen: Sifting Through Lost Memories
"Neville?!" said Harry with a spot of fear in his voice.
He remained in his place above Harry, watching him murderously as if in a trance. Harry was about to make a huge leap for his wand on the bedside table when Neville seemed to break from reverie and shook violently before looking back at Harry with a look of surprise.
"You alright Harry?"
Harry dared not believe what Neville had just spoken. Was he alright? He wasn't sure exactly what had just come over Neville in that moment, but it had been too frightening to just shrug off as though it was nothing.
"I'm fine. You?"
"I'm a bit tired. Don't know what woke me really. I was just having this awful dream about this cold room and a weird man and then next thing I knew, I was standing by your bedside. Some party they threw last night huh? Well, I don't know about you, but I'm going back to bed."
Harry sat up in his bed long after Neville had lain down, struck to pieces with confusion and fear. Neville was having dreams about cold rooms too? Neville seemed not to be telling the whole truth; it was just so obvious. There was something really wrong, and Harry knew it for certain by Neville's lack of snoring. He was still awake, likely afraid to go to sleep. Harry knew the feeling; his mind while in the world of dreams was an open field for anyone to break into as well and it was just as true for him now as it had been last year.
He lay awake wondering how it could be. He had no scar anymore: he shared no connection with Voldemort anymore. So how was it that he could invade Harry’s dreams as easily as he used to?
Harry continued to lay awake, watching the minute hand on the clock resting on the bedside table whirl around and around until it finally read five forty-five. He knew Madame Pince opened the library at six, so he got dressed quickly and nearly ran from the wreckage that was now their common room, stopping briefly to wonder what Professor McGonagall was going to do when she found out, but then rushing from the portrait hole as though his life depended on it.
He almost beat the door to the library down and Madame Pince threw it open with a look that told Harry he was about to be assaulted for his impatience and loudness when he begged her to let him in.
"It's not often I have students trying to force their way into my library just before six on a Sunday morning," she said briskly.
"Well, this is important. I was told you have old newspapers here, and I was wondering if I might look through them."
"You're most unusual Potter. No one has asked to read through my newspapers since Percy Weasley was a student here," she said, seemingly both surprised and impressed by his request. "Actually, he was looking in here at the beginning of the summer, come to think of it. Right this way."
She led him past rows and rows of books and straight up one aisle to a very small door, probably no higher than five feet tall, and he had to stoop just to get through it. The room was narrow; just wide enough for two thin people to stand side by side and was very long.
"Right side is the Daily Prophet and the left side is the Evening Prophet. It only goes back to 1953, which starts at the end there against the far wall and come to this morning's edition just right here. Happy hunting!" she said, yawning.
Harry wanted to laugh at all the volumes and volumes of paper and information in here. This was going to consume all of his day, likely all of the rest of his fifth year and probably much of his sixth. He walked down the narrow pathway and stopped at the section labeled '1979'. It was as good a place to start as any.
He picked through the papers for nearly half an hour before he found anything that caught his attention, but just suddenly, he picked up the edition from December 26, 1979 and found an interesting bit of information.
”Regulus Black Murdered”
Late last night, it is believed that followers "Voldemort" broke into the house of the recently deceased Orion Black at #12 Grimmauld Place and in cold blood murdered his younger surviving son, Regulus. Neighbors report nothing out of the ordinary and from across the street, Marjorie Diggle only saw two people leaving the residence in the early hours of the morning.
His body was found by his father later that afternoon. Orion and Walberga Black refused to comment on the death of their son, and have not allowed authorities to investigate the house. While no arrests have yet been made, an investigation is underway to determine the identities of the two men seen leaving their house and the connection they have to the murder.
His death has come in the wake of new legislation to ban certain curses, most notably, the Killing Curse, along with the Imperius and Cruciatus Curses. With the death of Regulus Black and numerous deaths in recent months, these laws are expected to be catapulted into the law books by the first of January...
Hadn’t Sirius’ younger brother been in league with Voldemort? Harry would have sworn that Lupin had once told him that he had been killed by the Death Eaters just after the fall of Voldemort, yet the Daily Prophet from late December of 1979 said he had been killed in his own home before Harry was even born. He suddenly wondered if the room he had stumbled upon had belonged to Regulus. But he was dead. It all seemed so strange.
He put the paper back into its respective slot and continued to look for anything that would tell of who had murdered him in subsequent editions of the paper but found nothing. He went on perusing through old want ads and wedding, death, and birth announcements until he happened upon another story from February 1, 1980 that nearly struck him dumb.
"Mad-Eye Funeral Went Off with a Last Bang"
Recently deceased ex-Auror Alastor 'Mad-Eye' Moody had one last tribute to his paranoia during his open funeral when a Muggle "watermaine' burst and water exploded into the street outside Godric's Hall Funeral Home yesterday morning.
Arrests of people suspected in his murder were made later that day. Lucius Malfoy and Peter Pettigrew were picked up by members of the Magical Law Enforcement Squad and taken to Azkaban without comment...
Harry could hardly believe what he had read. He had never even given Pettigrew a second thought when he had arrived in this new life. So he had been arrested with Malfoy for killing Moody? He read the rest of the article, which went on to say that they had cornered Moody in his office at the Ministry late at night and attacked him without warning. He scanned the rest of the story and didn't find out much, other than that the broken water main still continued to shower as a fountain near Moody's new gravesite. He was too stunned about what to think.
He continued to drift through the papers, not finding much and skimming over the trials of Lucius Malfoy and Wormtail until he came across the headline of March 4, 1980.
"Malfoy and Pettigrew Convicted"
He briefly scanned through the story with grim satisfaction, feeling as though Moody and in an odd way his parents and Sirius had gotten some kind of justice as he learned that they were both going to serve life sentences in prison. He paused briefly when it mentioned at the end of the article when it mentioned that his wife, Narcissa Malfoy, had committed suicide after her husband’s sentence was handed down.
He went back to reading articles and snippets of stories, finding familiar names and faces featured every now and then. He found it particularly funny to read the birth announcements of September 1 and find a picture of himself, wrinkled and pinched looking, along with his parents. His father was beaming and hugging his mother who looked understandably worn and tired. It was so wonderful to be now living in a world where he could know them, for it only enhanced his appreciation for the small section of the September 1 paper that was devoted to him.
He looked at the picture for a long time, refusing to put it back on the shelf with the other yellowing versions of the Daily Prophet but at last returned it and went on in his search.
He wasn't exactly sure how long he had been looking but his stomach was growling angrily from lack of a normal meal, but he continued to search in spite of it. Paper after paper after paper was taken and replaced on the shelf, pointless in content.
The rest of 1980 brought news of more deaths and disappearances. He began to notice that the Prophet began calling Voldemort varying versions of You-Know-Who and He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named rather than by his actual assumed name somewhere around November of that year. He scanned over articles about the capture of Evan Rosier, Hagrid's appointment as Ambassador to Giants, and more mysterious deaths.
Hours had gone by as he finally made it to the story of November 1, 1981: the day after Voldemort fell to Neville.
"The Boy Who Lived"
The Wizarding Community is celebrating at the fall of You-Know-Who late last night to the small son of Frank and Alice Longbottom, Neville. No one is certain what happened, but somehow the young boy survived a Killing Curse issued by You-Know-Who after he murdered Neville's parents and the curse was somehow deflected back on him.
Neighbors reported that they heard screaming and the loud cracks of a duel and were going to investigate when the house gave a "shudder", according to a resident of a few houses down, Robert Fitzpatrick. No sign of You-Know-Who could be found, but the boy Neville, now called by many to be the Boy Who Lived, was found seemingly unhurt in his crib, bearing a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead as a testament to his encounter.
Next door neighbor of 55 Pennyfield Lane Eunice Simmons confessed that "They weren't even supposed to be home. They were supposed to be going to a party in honor of James Potter's promotion to Auror but just didn't go for some reason..." When asked if she had seen anything of the murder, she refused further comment.
There are some speculations that You-Know-Who is not dead and vanquished. Albus Dumbledore said early this morning to Prophet correspondent Martha Skeeter that "He had many spells and protections guarding him against death. Of that we are certain. It is likely that he managed to achieve some success in his experimentations with immortality, and I desperately urge the Ministry to continue to search for him..." The Departments of Aurors and Magical Law Enforcement have issued a release to foreign countries warning of his possible entrance into their borders, but no search by the English Ministry of Magic has yet gotten underway.
Aurors have been sent out to search for the remaining followers of You-Know-Who, however, though no arrests have yet been made. For a list of names and descriptions of suspected Death Eaters, turn to page 8.
As for the Boy Who Lived, Neville is going to live with his only surviving relative, his paternal grandmother Augusta Longbottom after he has been released from St. Mungo's, where he remains for observation.
Meanwhile, loud parties have sprung up from all corners of the country, and Authorities are encouraging people to remain calm and discreet in their celebrations. Several people have even been issued fines for performing magic in the full view of Muggles..."
Harry felt a lump growing in his throat. Had they written anything like this for him and his parents when it had been he who was the Boy Who Lived? He felt deeply disturbed about the part where their neighbor had mentioned "They were supposed to be going to a party in honor of James Potter's promotion to Auror but just didn't go for some reason..." Why hadn't they gone? In the dreams he had been having of Tom Riddle, Riddle had told him Neville blamed him and his family for the deaths of Neville's parents. So did this mean that it was true?
Harry put the papers he had strewn about back onto their shelves, and whether they were in the right order or not, he didn't care. He was getting ready to leave the small, narrow, and much too cramped room when he spied a slip of parchment sticking out from the section of newspapers labeled 1984.
He extracted it from between the old editions of the Evening Prophet and noticed that it was a small envelope lacking a letter, addressed to Percy Weasley and on the back in a different handwriting was the message "Arcus Temporae."
He wasn't sure what that meant, whatever it was, but was beginning to feel a knot in his stomach that told him he had likely just stumbled upon something he wasn't supposed to find. Who was writing to Percy? Was Voldemort able to smuggle mail into Hogwarts?
The door creaked open and he felt his blood run cold. He reached his wand into his pocket for his wand and swallowed.
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The Road Not Taken Chapter Seventeen: Breaks, Breaks, and More Breaks
"Mr. Potter, you've been in here for quite some time."
He almost fainted with relief as Madame Pince entered the threshold of the small doorway, hands on her hips and a tired look about her indicating to Harry that she would rather like to close the library for the night.
Harry shoved the envelope discreetly into his robes and stammered out a mumbling response that he had merely lost track of time. Her foreboding look traveled along with him out of the tiny room and he still felt as though he could feel it five minutes after walking through the corridors and away from the library. Madame Pince was just like that.
He slinked into the common room and by the grace of some unknown force, he avoided both Alice and Ron's lines of sight. She was busy brushing her hair and gazing off into the distance of night through one of the large windows in the common room and Ron was looking rather foreign holding a book open about six inches from his face, as though it were in Japanese. He found it hard to believe that Ron, either Ron he had known, would read a book with that much interest. The only explanation Harry could muster was that the book was either full of naked pictures or perhaps the book was on practical jokes and the print was just really small.
Harry felt a pang of jealousy as he miraculously skipped straight by them. He wished he could be as foolish and brainless as the both of them were. Moreover, he wished he had a Pensieve just as Dumbledore did, only he couldn't help but think how much he would rather like to dump all his memories in a bowl and forget them altogether instead of just store them away in the off-chance that he was going to forget them. His entire head had become a Pensieve for it felt so full of recollections that he felt didn't belong to him in a way; rather it was overflowing with the memories of two lifetimes, and half belonged to Harry Potter, the Boy Who Just Was, not Harry Potter the Boy Who Lived.
Things were becoming just too complicated. He couldn't even remember the things he had done and hadn't done, according to the people he was now surrounded by. And in spite of reviewing the newspapers in the library, there was still so much he just didn't know. He still didn't know exactly what sort of people he was drowning in, as in the distinct cases of Percy, Hermione, Neville, Ron, Ginny, no, Alice, his parents and everyone else. It was as though they had all been jumbled up and reassembled by someone with an odd sense of humor.
He lay in bed with his mind too full to think, too full to lie in bed, but too full to do anything else. Neville was thankfully not in the room with him, for it was only eight thirty and no one besides himself was thinking about sleeping at such an early hour. He had no threats of homework hanging over him which was a nice change for once. For a fleeting second he thought he might have to try doing it when it was assigned should he ever return to the life he once knew, but quickly shut that thought out of his mind. Why go back to a world full of dead people and nothing but grim expectation of more death? Was it really so different than the situation he found himself in though? No one had died yet, at least that was true.
He tried to write another letter to his mother but was horribly stuck as to what to put in it. Part of him wanted to confess to her everything he had confessed to Hermione, but what was he supposed to say? Gee mum, don't know how to say this but you and dad should have died a long time ago, and oh, Sirius should be dead too, along with a few other choice people and I'm the chosen opponent of Voldemort, not Neville? He'd be in St. Mungo's before he had time to snap his fingers. He knew silence was hardly a safe thing to practice in this situation, but what choice did he really have?
Lupin had reminded him at least a few times since he had asked about time-travel that the unauthorized and unsupervised use of it was very heavily punished by the Ministry. He couldn’t imagine what the penalty would be if anyone knew he had accepted the offer to do so from a criminal whom everyone besides the Order assumed was dead. Perhaps he should write about Percy? But what would the Weasley family say? He hadn’t even mentioned what he had seen to Ron or Ginny, not that he wanted to see them much these days. He also carried with him the sense that his credibility was probably lacking, likely even with his parents. Harry Potter, the boring and typical Harry that everyone expected was the epitome of practical jokes.
He wanted so badly to write to his mother, but he truly had nothing to say. Everything seemed too complicated to write down. She had yet to post a letter in reply anyway. Why could he just not tell his mother everything?
Telling Hermione had been so easy. She had been so small and sweet, soft even when he held her, allowing her tears to cascade down his shoulder. She had understood and believed him, and at that moment he felt closer to her than anyone. Why was he thinking of Hermione in such a way? Yes, things were just too complicated for words.
* * *
Weeks of autumn trickled by with no end in sight. Many of the Gryffindors had a week's worth of detention for the party they had thrown in the common room, including Alice and Ron, so for a week at least he had a couple hours for himself a day without their terrorism to bask in his heinously wretched friendships. But soon enough the detentions were done and then October became excruciatingly long and drawn out, and for the first time in his life he wanted the Christmas holidays to arrive early so that he might flee the stagnant pool of upturned thoughts and befuddling behavior from people he once thought he knew.
He went to Quidditch practices reluctantly for flying had no joy in it for him anymore. Things just weren't the same. In their second match in mid-October, they played Hufflepuff and sure enough, Draco Malfoy played a good Seeker. Harry couldn't remember if he had always been so good and he just never noticed because he spent a rather good deal of time hating him and wishing he would fall off his broomstick into the Slytherin section and crush one of them or if he was just good in this parallel universe he was forced to acquiesce to, but at any rate he was hard to beat. The match against Hufflepuff had been closer than the match they had played against Ravenclaw, but after it was done with Gryffindor still came out on top and Draco played quite a fair sport and for that Harry was glad. The last time Draco had lost to him that Harry could think of, he had lost his playing privileges because he had decked Malfoy for insulting his parents, but perhaps he could just let that be water under the bridge. Malfoy was far more tolerable than any of the people he was rooming with by far.
He went to Charms class even more reluctantly than Quidditch practice, for seeing Percy only reminded him of everything evil that had ever been a veil over his life. Percy seemed to be getting thinner and Harry even once saw him roll the sleeves of his robes up for a brief instant while demonstrating a Combining Charm and then quickly unravel them back down and nervously look about the room to see if anyone had noticed any distinguishing marks on his arm. Harry on so many occasions wanted to tell Ron or better yet Dumbledore, but each time he stopped himself, thinking that the last time he had meddled in something like that, his godfather had died. It also didn’t help that he assumed no one would believe him anyway.
The dynamics between Ron and Percy were enough to keep him occupied during classes anyway. It was clear that neither could tolerate the other's behavior and several times he heard verbal reminders of that when he heard the falsely bright and cheery tone of Percy Weasley echo across the room that Ron had another detention for speaking out of turn, bewitching the notes on the blackboard to say dirty things, or any other number of foul things. Harry himself avoided all contact with Percy that he possibly could, much to the inward chagrin of Percy it seemed.
He seemed to be trying to talk to Harry, and it made him grossly uncomfortable. He remembered the brief conversation they had had at Grimmauld Place, and it made him shudder. He knew in the back of his mind, though he hadn’t heard it out in the open, that Voldemort was trying to get to him through Percy, and any words Percy might speak to him would probably be extremely dangerous.
Lupin still had no information about time switching spells and each day when Harry arrived for Defense Against the Dark Arts and Lupin shook his head before Harry could even ask, he felt only that much closer to wanting to tear his hair out and scream in mounting frustration. If he was going to be a part of this new world, he at least wanted to know how it had come to pass, but alas, nothing. He felt so trapped.
The Road Not Taken Chapter Eighteen: A Visit to Hogsmeade
He woke early on Halloween without really thinking of what day it was. He took a long bath, almost trying to drown out the world or at least wash a few memories away but after forty-five minutes his mind still felt so deeply dismembered that he gave up and got out. There was a set of robes lying across his trunk at the end of his bed, and without stopping to think how they had gotten there he put them on and went down into the empty common room. He sat alone for so long that he was just nearly on the verge of sleep when people from everywhere began to stir.
"Harry!" squealed Alice from the top of the stairs of the girls' dormitories.
She was waving obnoxiously at him and had on a black and white polka dotted dress, not at all close to the Hogwarts school uniforms. And then suddenly Harry remembered: Halloween- they were going to Hogsmeade. He felt a pang of disappointment because he had stayed up late the night before practicing complex Shield Charms for their defense lesson that day. He almost had to laugh at himself for wanting to go to class. He was becoming so like Hermione.
"I’m glad to see you put on what I chose for you. I knew you'd come around. I switched my dress so that we could still match and those were the nicest set of black robes I found in your closet so I figured, why not?" she babbled on with a huge smile on her face, throwing her hands to her hips and looking back and forth from her dress to Harry's robes with a bit of empty-headed admiration.
"What?!" Harry said, abandoning all thoughts of Hermione and staring back at Alice in anger-charged shock.
It didn't matter that he would have willingly worn those robes anyway. It didn't matter that he wore them all the time. If Alice told him that he was going to wear them, he wanted to take them off as fast as he possibly could, burn them, and dispose of them in a place deep into the Forbidden Forest for dragons to drop dung on them before anyone could see him wearing them.
"I'm going to go change." he said curtly to her, almost enjoying the satisfaction he got watching her face flush the same color as her hair.
"Why?!" she spat back at him, unable to move with perplexed fury.
"Black's not my color," he lolled with a roll of his eyes that thankfully for his own sake she couldn't see.
"Harry James Potter! Stop this instant!" she looked more enraged than Malfoy had when Moody had turned him into a bouncing ferret in the fourth year.
Her command was what did it. Before she had been subtly trying to manipulate him, and if she hadn't had to comment on what he was wearing in the first place there would have never been any argument at all, but after barking commands at him as a washed up drill sergeant might, it was war.
He pulled out his wand and seared a huge hole in the bottom of his robes and looked at her triumphantly, as though daring her to say something. He couldn't wear those robes now; she would never let him go out in public with clothing like that. Her face retracted its look of blazing anger into one of amused confusion. She had pushed him so far that he was willing to burn holes in his clothing and all she was able to do was stand there smirking with a look on her face indicating to him that she thought he was the greatest idiot she had ever met. Harry suddenly began to feel a bit foolish.
* * *
Things had smoothed out a bit but were not totally forgotten as they entered the village of Hogsmeade. Ron had gone off with Dean and Seamus and for that Harry was more than thankful; he wasn't sure he was going to survive a day with Alice by herself, let alone one with the deadly fork-tongued dynamic duo. He had never really realized exactly how lonely he was.
He had changed robes and she kept giving him skeptical looks as though he had a boogie hanging from his nose or something and thought it would be funny to not tell him about it. He was just about to yell at her to stop staring at him like that when she practically shoved him through the door to Madame Puddifoot's.
He found himself seated in a small booth next to the window. Next to the window where every passing student could see what a puppet he had become. He was about to check his arms to make sure there were no strings attached to it when a squat, bleary eyed woman came up to them and Alice ordered a coco for herself and a coffee for Harry. He felt so humiliated, so dejected. She was ordering his drink for him like she was his mother or something, but rather than rant about that, he decided it would be wise to just let it go.
The day was going to be the ultimate test of his patience, it was already so obvious, and it just wouldn't do to have a huge row before the day had even really gotten started. It was just a cup of coffee. He didn’t like coffee.
Alice began talking about some terrible harp and lyre playing band and Harry began to engage in selective listening, all the while watching happy students running around the grounds of Hogsmeade. He would have given anything to join them; moreover, he would have given anything to spend the day talking with Ron and Hermione, sitting in the Three Broomsticks, talking over Quidditch and anything else that might come up.
He heard the bell above the shop tinkle and in entered the person he had wanted to see more than anyone else, Hermione. He thankfully stopped short of jumping up in his seat when she entered and he felt a bit sick to his stomach thinking of what Alice might say if he wanted to talk to her. Then someone entered behind her: Neville. Neville was blushing a bit, and Hermione was beginning to blush as well. The only available table was the one right next to Harry and Alice's, the one that Harry sat facing.
He watched on as they were seated and completely drowned out everything Alice was saying, absorbing himself in watching Neville and Hermione. What would the two of them be doing in a place like Madame Puddifoot's, a place reeking of romance and dripping in all kinds of fluffy affections? He watched Neville place his hand on the table, watched Hermione do the same, and watched both hands slowly and uncomfortable inch towards each other. How badly he wanted to cut Neville's hand off.
Alice turned in her seat to see exactly what it was Harry was so infatuated by at the table behind her. When she turned back to Harry, her look was not kind. It was full of a sort of blank derision, scorn almost. She completely failed to identify the look on Harry's face as one similar to a pit bull who has eyed a small lap dog running off with a possession.
"Can you believe they let stuff like that in here? Neville is a sweet boy, but he has no taste," she said loudly enough for anyone who was listening to hear.
"What's it to you?!" he shouted back at her without caring or worrying about what she might say for a fraction of a second.
Ordering coffee was one thing, but insulting a girl that had never done anything to her was something completely different. Heads began to turn in anticipation of the scene that was surely to come. The only people who didn't whip around to watch were Neville and Hermione, who both sat conspicuously rigid and blatantly oblivious to the impending confrontation.
"You know what?! You have turned into as much of a freak as she is!" Alice said, her face going ghost white instead of the brilliant red he would expect as she jumped from her seat and pointed an accusing finger at Harry. And she didn't stop there.
"Don't think I don't know you haven't been cheating on me! I know about this Ginny person! You're so ignorant that you've even mentioned her to me! I tried to just ignore it but it's time the entire world knew what a dog you are Potter!" she said in such a way that was beyond any recognizable furious emotion Harry had ever seen.
Her fists were balled up and she had tears streaming down her face and Harry at last felt satisfied. She walked dramatically to the center of the room in a fashion that any Shakespearean lover of tragedy would have envied, and cried:
"I've wasted enough tears over you Harry! I deserve better than you! And to think we might have been married someday!" she had worked herself up so much that she was having trouble speaking through her hyperventilating gasps.
Harry felt a tinge of annoyance combined with a huge laugh swelling inside him as Alice kept on ranting about what a dog he was. She not only thought he had cheated on her with someone named Ginny (He didn't even want to think of the irony in that), but she was going on about how they could have been married, confirming Harry's worst fears that she was indeed every bit of a maniac as he had believed her to be.
Harry got up from the table, tossed down a bit of money, and exited the tiny restaurant as quietly and inconspicuously as he could with every set of eyes in the whole room watching him, with the exception of course of Hermione and Neville. He felt so exposed, almost as if he was walking away naked for everyone to stare at him. He had had an experience like this last year with Cho Chang, but at least she hadn't been crazy enough to tell him she wasn't going to marry him anymore because she thought he had cheated on her with herself.
Without paying attention to where he was going, he stumbled down the street, abandoned to the rest of the world and again delving deep into the recesses of his mind, completely at a loss for what to think about his present situation. He was passing the Shrieking Shack and he suddenly noticed two figures coming from the Shrieking Shack.
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The Road Not Taken Chapter Nineteen: A Horrible Pain
Given the very strange circumstances he had been party to lately, he thought it was odd. He had wild thoughts that it might be Voldemort, but that seemed almost too ludicrous for words.
He tried to follow them but they were moving too fast. He was so busy trying to think of who could be coming from the Shrieking Shack of all places to hurry quickly after them. They took off through the Forbidden Forest and Harry, even though he was curious, knew better than to go chasing off after them. He was feeling the same sense of frustration that had plagued him so many times in the year at Hogwarts already.
He spent much of the rest of the day by himself, wandering about the village with no particular destination. He went into the Three Broomsticks by himself and sat down at the bar and chatted with Madame Rosemerta a little bit. He left when two fourth year girls tried to sit down and talk to him. He felt badly, because they were nice and not too bad looking at all, but the last thing he needed was to have Alice walk into the tavern and see that. He tried to let them down as gently as he could and then went into Honeydukes, wondering why Alice was still so capable of controlling his life even when she wasn't around.
The village just wasn't the same by himself. He was glad when dusk finally set on the horizon and the carriages came to take them back to Hogwarts. He rode back with some fourth years in silence, all the while wondering if Alice was really and truly gone. He would give anything for her to be gone and stay there; stay wherever as far away from him was.
"Oy Harry! What's this about Alice?" Ron was coming up behind him as he entered the castle.
"Yeah, it just, well, it didn't work out," said Harry lazily, wanting to engage in a conversation with Ron about as much as Hagrid's relative Grawp.
"What do you mean, it didn't work out?!" Ron shouted, his voice vibrating with anger.
Harry was a bit surprised that the boy who had no problem with his sister acting like a tramp in many public places would now be trying to defend her honor in according to some twisted code of chivalry that Harry had obviously not been informed of.
"Well, she's a bit mental Ron," was all he could think to say.
"She's my sister!" he shouted back, clenching his fists in a way that made Harry smile.
If Ron wanted to fight him, the challenge was more than accepted. He had wanted to clobber Ron for some time, and after everything that had happened to him in the past few weeks, he was ready to blow off a bit of steam, even if it had to come at the expense of a detention and a few lost house points.
Then the worst possible thing happened. Alice entered the Entrance Hall right behind Ron and caught sight of Harry before he could duck away.
"Oh!" he heard her cry out and then promptly burst into tears again.
"She's being a bit dramatic," he thought to himself as he rolled his eyes and looked for a way to escape before she could make another scene.
He miraculously found his way free of the pair of them and sat down at end of the Gryffindor table. Sure, he was glad to be rid of them, but it was awkward to be alone. The feast was as good as it ever was but he couldn't help but feeling watched. Not by Percy or by any teacher, no, but by Ron and Alice and seemingly the whole Gryffindor girl population, as well as some girls from other houses.
"News must travel fast," he thought grimly to himself, but then laughed as he then thought that of course news would travel fast by the mouth of a rather loose girl.
He tried not to think things like that, he really did, but it was just becoming too weird. Whispers were beginning to start and when he would turn his head to find the source of the rumor-spreading and stamp it out, all would become silent and smirks would grace the faces of the hordes of girls and everyone in the general vicinity would become very interested in their food. The 'divorce' from Alice had come at a high price, but it was still worth it.
* * *
November dawned as ominously for Harry as October had been. He spent much of the rest of the weekend hiding away from the Weasleys and all of the girls at Hogwarts. He had always known girls were strange but there was something about their new behavior that just couldn't grasp.
Some of them gave him filthy looks and seemed totally loyal to Alice, same gave him lusty looks which made him feel a bit uncomfortable, and the rest gave him a mixture of the two. He felt a bit like an animal at market, but it was interesting to feel like he was at least wanted by someone.
On Sunday he was walking down the corridor by himself on his way to the library when he ran across Lupin. The memory of the two men walking from the Shrieking Shack suddenly came back to him, and he felt a deep urge to pass that piece of information on to him.
"Um, sir?" he said, still after so much time uncertain of what to call him.
"Yes Harry? I've been looking for you."
"Really? Do you have anything on time switching?" Harry said excitedly, briefly abandoning all worries of the two men in Hogsmeade.
"No, but I did just check a book out from the library that I think might have some information on that very subject, so don't think that I'm not looking," he said reassuringly. "Why don't you come by my office this weekend, I might have more then."
"Oh, well, ok then," Harry answered.
"Alright," replied Lupin, turning to leave.
"I wanted to tell you that I saw two people coming out of the Shrieking Shack yesterday. I thought it was kind of weird, " he said rather disappointedly before Lupin was out of earshot.
Lupin turned and his face stiffened and he gave Harry a very questioning look.
"Did you see who it was?" he asked, sounding almost panicked.
"Well, no, but they were both men, I think. Tall and thin men, that's it," Harry said.
He felt a lump in his throat and wanted to add quite a bit more to the information. Things like Percy working for Voldemort, the strange room at Grimmauld Place, and the fact that he wasn’t the Harry everyone supposed him to be. He bit his tongue instead and tried to smile. Lupin approached him and put his hand on his shoulder.
"Well, I know that I can trust you Harry. Goodness knows, you're James' son," he replied, his voice getting softer and softer with each word he spoke. "You do remember when I told you that I used to be a werewolf? Well, I used to go to the Shrieking Shack to transform once a month. It's not haunted like everyone says it is, and if you saw two people leaving it, then it's likely that the building is being used again. For what, I don't know, but thank you very much for telling me that."
Harry stared back at Lupin, trying to look surprised by what he had just heard but in all truth, it was all old news. It made him feel so guilty. Before he realized what he was doing, he blurted it out.
"And Percy. I mean, Professor Weasley, he-"
"What Harry?" Lupin asked curiously.
There was so much that he wanted to tell him, so very much more: everything about him talking to Voldemort using the Hogwarts fireplaces, everything he had heard about Neville and himself. So many questions were running through his mind.
"He, er, he gave me dention, so I don't know if I can come by your office this weekend," he finished weakly.
"Finally getting back into the swing of things Harry?" Lupin laughed. "We can talk about it tomorrow after classes. Ok?" Lupin said, smiling..
"Sure," Harry felt as though he had just been shoved off again.
"Anyway, I heard about Alice, are you ok?" Lupin asked nervously.
Harry could have laughed aloud at what Lupin was insinuating. He almost acted as though Harry was supposed to be sorry that the crazy red-headed hate-fiend had dumped him. It was the best he had felt in a while being free of her, in spite of the raging stares he was getting from everyone and the fact that he really was alone and without friends now.
Yeah, I'm ok," Harry said, trying to brush it off. He suddenly wanted to get back to the library very badly: talking about girls with Lupin was a bit embarrassing.
"Oh, ok then."
"Well, actually, how'd you know?" Harry asked, for surely Lupin didn't go sticking his head in all the students' business enough to overhear nasty conversations going on about Harry.
"Well, your mother sent me a letter. Alice wrote to her and told her what happened and then Lily wrote me about it. She said she had written to you too, didn't you get any post this morning?" Remus confessed, his face growing red.
Alice had written to his mother?! And his own mother wrote to someone else about his silly girl troubles?! He felt so betrayed, exposed and naked. So much for any bit of privacy he had left. So much for the conversation he had had with her about trying to get away from Alice.
"I didn't mean to upset you Harry."
"No, I'm fine," Harry lied obviously through gritted teeth.
"Well, I'll see you tomorrow in my study after classes, ok?" Remus said awkwardly.
"Sure," said Harry with a forced smile on his face.
* * *
The rest of the day had gone by painfully slow. He had posted a letter to his mother. Another painfully short, tired little letter going on about how he was done with Alice and that things just hadn't worked out. He wondered what might have happened to his letter that she had supposedly sent to him.
They had had no correspondence since Harry had come back to school but he felt as though letters wouldn’t be enough anyway. There were just things that he could not convey on a piece of parchment that he wanted to express to her and to his father both. He thought of Sirius and had heard no news about his getting out of Azkaban. His heart went out to his godfather and he wanted to kick himself for forgetting to ask Lupin about it. He could ask tomorrow.
After he left the owlry he had no where to go but back to his dormitory. Dinner was out of the question for him. He had in fact been avoiding meals ever since the Halloween feast, choosing to eat only very early or very late when there were few people in the Great Hall. He had never been so shunned since he had been the Hogwarts champion in his fourth year.
He made it back to his four poster bed and shut the curtains in an effort to shut out the rest of the world and all his confusions with it. Things were so different. He knew that he ought to be grateful that the worst problem he had at the present moment was the lack of any good friends, but he just couldn't shake the horrible feeling that fact gave him. He missed Hermione; he missed her quite a bit. He hadn't gotten to properly talk to her since their night in the common room surrounded by their fellow Gryffindor alcoholics and it bothered him. Was she avoiding him? And Sirius was in prison again.
There was just too much circling around in his head and it was making him nearly sick thinking about it all. He heard the creak of the floorboard and he snapped back into reality.
"Hey, you awake Harry?" he heard the nervous voice of Neville ask.
Harry ripped back the curtain to his bed and looked back at him. He seemed flushed and sweaty, like he had either been running quite a long distance or had been choked nearly to death by a rather persnickety clipping of Devil's Snare.
"Can I ask you something? You seem so different lately and I don't know who else to talk to about this but I need to talk and-" Neville began mumbling with his eyes concentrated very hard on the floor.
"Just get it out Neville." Harry said bluntly.
"This is so stupid, I know, but how can you tell if a girl likes you?" he asked, blushing so furiously Harry would have sworn he might burst into flames at any given moment.
To Harry it was a rather stupid question, just as Neville had said it was going to be, but it struck a nerve deeper than anything he had experienced up to that point.
"I have no idea," he said rather shortly, sitting back in his bed and preparing to slam the curtains of his bed shut again.
"Oh, ok then," he heard Neville call back, seemingly hurt by Harry's unwilling to help tone.
It took him hours to fall asleep. He heard the other Gryffindor boys come in and he heard snickering and he was certain that they had been talking about him and he felt a surge of white hot anger. He wanted to smash Ron's face into the carpeting and rub it around until it was nice and red, but it would be of no use. He knew it wouldn't make him feel better, but it was still a happy thought.
Soon he found himself standing again in the same all-too-familiar room with the long cold walls and the grimly burning fireplace in the distance. He knew it was a dream, or at least he thought it was a dream, but it was all just too real.
"Harry, do you believe me now?" the same old voice rang out through the freezing room.
"I don't- I don't-"
There was a searing pain blistering up his spine and he wanted to scream out in pain but felt as though his airway had been pressed shut. He knew this pain so well; it was just so unforgettable.
"Do you believe me now?!" screamed the hateful voice.
And then the most familiar pain of all struck him, though he was writhing in it too much to wonder why he felt a pain in his forehead when he bore no scar there.
The world went black around him and there was no pain left.
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The Road Not Taken Chapter Twenty: Time in a Nutshell
"What's his big deal?" he heard a fuzzy voice call from above him.
"Didn't you hear him screaming?"
"Wouldn't you say he's a bit old to be having bad dreams?"
"What do you know about dreams?"
Harry heard them arguing back and forth and he felt as though his head was much too heavy for his body and very much sick to his stomach. He was shaking, vibrating almost, covered in a chilled sweat after having been tortured in his dream and the people standing above him could do nothing more than argue over how they had stopped having bad dreams and wetting the bed years ago.
"Harry? Harry? Are you alright mate?" he heard Neville ask nervously. Harry did the best he could to ignore scoffs coming from whom he presumed to be Ron and tried to shake the daze from his mind.
"Yeah," Harry said, feeling a bit stupid at making such a spectacle of himself.
"Do you wanna go to the Hospital Wing Harry? You really-"
"No!" said Harry, mortified at the thought of appearing in the Hospital Wing, being dolled up by Madame Pomfrey for thinking that Voldemort had tortured him in his sleep. No, it would not only being embarrassing, it would be silly.
He looked over to Ron who was scowling at him and wanted so badly to have a friend back, someone he could try and explain everything to. He might as well have hoped to talk to a blood thirsty Hungarian Horntail and expect it to understand.
* * *
He didn't really sleep well for the rest of the night and fell out of bed at five-thirty and took a really long hot bath. What was it about his new life that made him cringe and recoil from everything? Moreover, why had he felt such a pain in his forehead that he was long sure had gone?
He went through his day rather rushed, anticipating his talk with Lupin that would come later that evening. Unfortunately, time refused to hurry itself along for Harry and he toiled away in class on the edge of his seat, tapping his feet on the ground and constantly looking at his watch. He ignored the whispers and giggles all around him while his blood continued to simmer over it all.
When classes were over at four, he took off from the astronomy tower and almost broke the door to Lupin's study trying to get in. He pounded on the door and almost fell flat on his face when Lupin opened it suddenly and unexpectedly.
"Glad to see you too Harry," said Lupin with a wry smile.
"Well what? Come in, I take it that there's a lot you want to know."
Harry quickly rushed into the room and slammed the door shut and turned to stare at Lupin with wide eyes. Did he have any answers?
"Did you find it? The time thing?"
"I did, as a matter of fact. I had to dig up practically the entire Restricted Section, some of those books haven't even been opened in two centuries, can you imagine? It's funny you know, I found a curse that can grow another head on a person, it's rather scary-"
"Time, Professor Lupin, time. I want to know about time," said Harry through his grinding teeth, so anxious was he for any answer Lupin could offer.
"I really hope you get a lot of extra points for this. I’ve spent a lot of time looking for it myself. Since you ask, there is indeed a way to alter time with a spell according to this book called The Clock Chronology, but it's so impossible, so complicated-"
"How's it done?!" Harry said unceremoniously and a bit more forcefully than he had expected to.
"Well, it takes very special conditions. First of all, the wands must possess the same core, and the very odds that any given witch or wizard would meet someone else with a wand core from the same animal have to be, well, impossible."
Harry nodded at him furiously as though demanding he go on. Remus gave him a curious look, seemingly wondering why Harry was so deeply passionate about a highly obscure spell that no one had probably performed in centuries.
"Well, it's called the Arcus Temporae Charm, and, one moment, let me get the book-"
Harry felt his blood curdle and his heart beg to stop beating. Arcus Temporae?! He put his hands into his robes and extracted the small envelope that he had found in the library archive over a week ago and had just failed to take out. He was afraid to look at what it might say, and sure enough, the scribbled words "Arcus Temporae" were etched onto the back of the envelope addressed to Percy Weasley. There was a connection there.
"Ah, here it is," said Remus, violently slapping him back to reality.
The Arcus Temporae Charm is performed in a duel between two wizards fighting with twin wands with the incantation Arcus Temporae. Two spells must be cast simultaneously from the dueling pair, one of them the Charm itself. The two beams must connect to form a gateway through which one wizard and one wizard alone can pass willingly through it. The so formed gateway is invisible to the eye and is closed immediately after one opponent steps through it, thus sealing it off permanently or until another Charm is performed, opening another portal.
The destination point is reached in the mind of the traveling subject. The exact location of exit is reached by the last conscious memory that the traveler had before entering the gateway, thus preventing travel forwards into the future. There is no apparent change to the outside world, and the only people that have knowledge that anything has occurred are the two owners of the twin wands which formed the gateway. Time is not repeated to the outside world, rather, it is only repeated by the wizard who entered the gateway, so that no one will have any recollection that any change has been made in the web of time except for the owners of the wands who created the archway.
Harry looked at Lupin with his mouth wide open, hardly daring to believe that he had heard any of that. It was too much to take in all at one time, and none of it made sense.
He had not dueled with Voldemort at all. All he could remember was that Riddle had seized his wand without him knowing, but he had returned it. He couldn't have formed any kind of gateway by himself. It had to be impossible to cast two spells at the same time with two different wands. Right?
Moreover, he had gone through no kind of archway, gateway, portal, or anything else that the stupid dusty book had mentioned. He had only gone to bed and then woke up in the joke of a place that he found himself standing in now. And he still remembered everything of his old life? Did the book mention that?
He asked Lupin for the book and read and reread the short passage searching for clues while Remus stepped out of his office to take the other books on his desk back to the library.
"The two beams must connect to form a gateway through which one wizard and one wizard alone can pass willingly through it."
But he hadn’t passed through any gateway.
"The destination point is reached in the mind of the traveling subject."
He hadn't traveled anywhere; he had only woken up to find his mother knocking at his door. None of it made any sense. The effects sounded exactly like what had happened to him, but he had done none of the process to get to the end result. The answer finally bit him hard in the last line of the second paragraph.
"...no one will have any recollection that any change has been made in the web of time except for the owners of the wands who created the archway."
He hadn't created the archway at all, but his wand had. And it was not he who had traveled through the invisible archway, it was Riddle.
That's why he had shown up at Privet Drive that night: he had needed Harry's wand. He hadn't needed Harry or anything about Harry, other than his wand. But why had he appeared to Harry in the form of Tom Riddle, not the image of Voldemort. How had he managed that?
He read the passage again, looking for a way to reverse the spell and feeling sick to his stomach when he found nothing there. How was he ever going to get back? He pondered that thought for a moment, trying in vain to decide if he would ever go back if he had a way or the chance.
Lupin came back in the room and Harry's heart was still thumping around so fast. He felt shaky and nervous, and the physical changes only reminded him of the dream he had had just the night before and he felt sure that he was going to pass out when Lupin asked:
"Did you find what you were looking for?"
"More or less," Harry said, biting his tongue to keep from crying out at the bitter truth he had just discovered in the dusty pages of a dirty old book.
"Are you alright Harry?"
"Yeah, I'm fine. Just great really," Harry said, using every attempt to strain the sarcasm from his voice so Lupin would just let the conversation drop.
"I understand that you're probably upset about Alice-"
"I'm not upset about Alice. Believe me, it's got nothing to do with her at all really." he was about to get up and leave Lupin's study when he remembered Sirius.
"Professor, is Sirius still in Azkaban? I haven't heard any news from him about mum or dad, and I haven't really had access to a newspaper in the last couple of days."
"Harry, he has a trial date set for December 23. His case wasn't supposed to go to trial at all, but Dumbledore just couldn't get him off. He doesn't have that much pull anymore you know? No one believes Neville that Voldemort has returned, so his credibility isn't the best. But they still can't really prove anything so don't worry. Azkaban is frightening, but the world outside is scarier these days," Lupin said grimly.
It came as another blow to the chest. His godfather was still holed up in Azkaban and would be for nearly another two months. There was also no guarantee that Sirius would be cleared of the charges.
"Well, I need to get to the library. Thanks Professor," he said half-heartedly as he put the book down on the corner of his desk and swiftly left the room.
He couldn't go back to his old life. Sirius was still alive here and now in this world. Sure he was in Azkaban, but he was alive. Maybe he wanted to go back anyway.
He wanted to slap himself for thinking about going back to a time and place where his parents had been murdered but it was still a tempting thought. It suddenly occurred to him that he no longer had the twin wand to Voldemort and his heart sank only that much more. Where was his wand? His holly and phoenix feather wand? Neville must have it.
Of course! Neville had to have it because he was now the intended opponent of Voldemort! It made such perfect sense. If he could only get his wand away from him, switch it somehow.
But that was a vain point too he thought disheartened. Even if he got his old wand back, he still didn't have Voldemort's and couldn't form the archway without it. And given the slim possibility of him ever coming across Voldemort's wand lying around for him to find, there was still no guarantee that he could even perform the charm, unless he was feeling crazy and wanted to challenge him to a duel. He laughed at his own sick joke.
He felt so furious and helpless. He gave up pretending that he didn't think about it and just ran through everything in his mind. Why did Riddle have to switch him and Neville in the first place?! Why had he wanted to change over to Neville so late in the game? It made no sense. What could he see in Neville that he hadn't? Why couldn't he have just let Harry fulfill the prophecy? Or let Harry be destroyed by the prophecy?
Another realization smacked Harry in the face with all the love of a bludger. How had Riddle known that Neville and Harry were so closely linked, and that either boy might suit the prophecy that had been made by Professor Trelawny? He had found out about the contents of the prophecy somehow himself. And if that meant what Harry thought it meant, everyone in the Order was in grave danger. Voldemort already had everything he wanted, and now there was nothing to stop him.
The Road Not Taken Chapter Twenty-One: Hurtful, Healing Holidays
The rest of November faded by into nothingness as Harry endured thoughts of his godfather, his situation, and the people around him. Alice still gave him horrible looks as though she was telling him to crawl into a hole in the earth and die, but thankfully the rest of the Hogwarts girls didn't see him that way so very much. A few weeks after the discovery in Lupin’s office, a very attractive Ravenclaw girl with sleek brown hair and sweet brown eyes asked him to show her a few tricks on a broomstick because she wanted to try out for the Ravenclaw Quidditch team in the following year. Harry would have liked for nothing more than to spend time alone with her and show her a few things, but his heart just wasn't it in, and though he knew he was being idiotic, he had turned her down.
Still over and over his thoughts turned back to Hermione. It didn't seem like she was avoiding him, it only seemed as though they just couldn't find the time to coordinate greetings. It really bothered him, for he had completely opened himself to her and now she was never around.
On December 21, he went back to Grimmauld Place, and even Ron and Alice's presence there could do little to dampen the excitement that was brewing in him on the long train ride back to London.
It was Mrs. Weasley who collected them from the train station, and Harry couldn't help that she seemed a bit stiff with him, which no doubt had everything to do with Alice. Neville was daydreaming off in his own world and Ron and his psychotic sister were shooting him viper-like looks every few minutes as though trying to make sure he was kept in place, and Mrs. Weasley practically ignored him altogether. He was beginning to feel a bit down until they walked through the entryway to Number 12, Grimmauld Place, and suddenly the world was so much brighter. He saw the same round of familiar faces and for the rest of the evening, he felt normal.
Then, at ten o'clock that night, his parents came back from watching what he assumed was the door to the Department of Mysteries. He watched them come into the ragged old house from the sofa in the next room, and as soon as he saw his mother's weary but smiling face his heart nearly burst in his chest. Seeing her smile had been worth the last few months of hell at school.
Hugs and affections were exchanged and Harry felt as though it were not enough. He wanted to talk to them to just experience being around them, what they discussed or did wasn't of the least importance, only that he was able to do it. He was so ecstatic to be back with them that he almost forgot to worry about Sirius' impending trial that would come in the next two days. And for the first time since he honestly could remember, he slept somewhat peacefully that night.
The next morning his mother went with Emmeline Vance on some kind of Order errand and he got to spend much of the day with his father. They talked about stupid things for quite a while, and James had the intuition not to ask Harry about Alice. As blind as he had been about Lily's emotions for him in his school days, it was just hard to deny that Alice absolutely despised his son with the way she turned her head away every time Harry entered the room or slammed things unnecessarily loud in his presence. And since he still wanted to keep the peace with the Weasley family, he knew it would just be better to stay out of it.
They were sitting on the ugly couch again in the former Black family room talking about Quidditch postings when a comfortable silence came over them. Harry began to think of everything that had been eating him away inside for the past several months when for some reason it just occurred to him to ask.
"I was wondering, why didn't the Longbottoms come to your party the night that, well, you know-"
James's face grew cold and pale as he turned to face his son and inquire why he would ask such a question. Harry appeared so unknowing of everything, and seemed to just generally want to know, rather than want to pry.
"It's kind of amazing that you never asked me that before. I never really talked to anyone about it, not even your mum. Well, Frank and I used to be good friends at Hogwarts. He was a few years ahead of me, but he was awesome at Quidditch and he was on the team and to me, he was just always kind of a, well, mentor I guess you could say. When I graduated from Hogwarts and I told him I wanted to become an Auror as well, he seemed happy about the idea. He helped me out while I was at the Auror Academy too. He was just a great guy, you know?"
Harry couldn't help but pick up the wistful and almost pained tone in his father's voice and he felt the pain with him.
"Well, what happened?" Harry asked, half-afraid that his answer would really and severely upset them both.
"Well, around the time that you and Neville were both born, things were bad. People were disappearing left and right like they had never even existed, and your mother and I, along with the Longbottoms, had narrowly escaped Voldemort on several occasions. Then in December Regulus was murdered and well, and it was Frank who had been on call that night at the Ministry. I was stupid for doing it, but Sirius was so angry," his voice began to crack a slight bit and Harry was so sorry that he had ever brought the subject up, but his father regained his composure and went on.
"He blamed him for not watching the Apparition network better. In those days we kept tabs on certain people and while the tabs aren't always accurate, they are better than nothing. Well, Sirius got drunk and went to Frank’s house and screamed at him to come out. He threatened to kill him if he didn’t. It’s really nothing against your godfather, you know that right?”
Harry nodded in reply, though he couldn’t deny that he was sort of surprised. Sirius hated his brother.
“Well, a duel broke out between them and Frank was pretty badly injured. I was barely able to keep Frank from pressing charges. It was one of many times I saved your godfather from a pretty serious accusation I might add. And well, things were just never the same between Frank and I, and I myself was torn. Sirius is my best friend, we were thick as thieves we were. I imagine Frank assumed I would have taken his side, so after that, we hardly talked. Rumors got spread around the Ministry, and before anyone knew it, you’d think that Frank wanted the both of us dead and vice-versa. Your mother sent them both an invitation to my Auror's graduation party without my knowing, trying to make peace: your mother did always and still does does that better than anyone," he said with a pained half-smile "and Frank and Alice accepted, but when they showed up at our doorstep in Godric's Hollow, I answered the door and didn’t know what to say. They left and went home."
Harry sat there stunned. He could imagine the feeling that he would have if he had almost directly sent people he was close to, or even anyone at all to their deaths, for that was exactly what had happened to Cedric Diggory. He wondered how it weighed on Sirius’ conscience.
"Of all the things that I have done in my lifetime, I will never regret anything as much as I do that. And I'm not sure how I can ever apologize to Neville or his grandmother for it."
“But I thought Sirius hated his brother,” Harry mused.
“Well, I won’t deny that the two of them really did hate each other when they were young. It got worse after Regulus first joined the Death Eaters. But he had a change of heart. The night before he was killed, he told Sirius, myself, and Dumbledore quite an interesting piece of information, and swore that he was willing to do whatever it took to make the things he had done right again.”
“So Sirius was upset because he never got to mend fences with his brother?”
“Pretty much. Imagine how you might have felt.”
“Do you know where they found his body?” Harry asked, wondering again about the disappearing room.
“Not much from the case was ever released,” his father replied. “His parents were close to death and supported Voldemort, so they refused an investigation. Of course the murder had to happen three days before they finalized legislation stating that any murder or disappearance with a possibility of being related to Voldemort was required to be investigated too. Sirius always did think it was a part of a huge conspiracy.”
“I don’t suppose you ever came here to visit him when you were at school, did you?”
“Ha!” James laughed. “Like Augusta Black would have one of the Potters roaming around her house. Your grandparents and I were from the side of the Potter family that Sirius’ side of the Black family always wanted to forget about. Why do you ask?”
“Well, do you know where his room was?”
“He and Kreacher shared a wing of the house that was hidden from the main part. I think he told me one time that only the lost could find it.”
Harry’s heart skipped a beat. So he hadn’t been crazy at all.
“Are you asking because you found it this summer?” James asked lazily.
“Yeah, how did you know?”
“You mother does tell me things you know.”
“Well, did anyone find it again?”
“We did, but there was nothing out of the ordinary about it really.”
It hardly made sense. The room had been so spotless while the others were covered in dust. James and Harry sat again in silence, but this time their comfort and happiness was mauled by the passage of the serious conversation they had just had. The rest of the day, Harry agonized over the outcome of Sirius' trial the next day and his father tried reassure him that there was really no proof, but Harry knew Fudge and the rest of the so-called Wizengamot didn't need proof, for if they didn't have any they were likely to just make it up, but after the conversation he and his father had just had, he decided it was better to not push bad emotions any harder.
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The Road Not Taken Chapter Twenty-Two: A Final Fracture
That night at dinner he listened more than talked. He sat between his mother and Tonks and gave a good deal of attention to the arrangement of the food on his plate until his mother spoke to him.
"Sweetie, are you losing weight? You just seem so much thinner."
Harry thought it was a rather odd question for her to ask, considering that she looked as though she had lost a few pounds herself and wore heavy bags under her eyes. He was saved from issuing a response to her by Mrs. Weasley's raising voice.
"...and they never come around anymore at all! The last I heard of them was back in September when they had said they found a place to stay in Hogsmeade. Well, I'll have you know that I sent letters around to every open inn in Hogsmeade and the surrounding area and they aren't there! I don't know what we're going to do about them Arthur! They just won't give up the joke shop! And they can't even so much as write to their worried mother! And Percy, he's never around either. You'd think hsi willingness to join the Order would have made him want to spend a little time with us as well, but no."
He sat in silence for much of the rest of the meal, just taking in that fact that he could ask his mother to pass the bowl of potatoes and she would hand them to him. His mother. It was a feeling that even if he lived to be as old as Dumbledore he would never forget. He felt his heart bursting with pride at everything about his mother and father. Though things were a lot different now then they had been during the summer, he would never forget these moments that he got to spend with them.
* * *
Leaving to go back to Hogwarts was excruciating. He felt as though he had been kicked in the chest mercilessly, unfairly, and wrongly. Christmas had gone quite badly.
Sirius had been convicted of attempting to break into the Department of Mysteries, proving Harry's point that Fudge didn't need evidence, he just needed a will to accomplish a conviction and it would be as good as done. He had been sentenced to twenty-five years in Azkaban, twenty-five years.
And now he was being parted from the two people who could really comfort him about it and being asked to return to a world where he was as welcome as a troll in a dress shop. Ron and Alice had lightened up a bit on him in lieu of Sirius' sentence, but if it had come between the two Weasleys hating him forever and Sirius' freedom, there would have never been any question as to which he would have preferred.
He embraced his parents tightly together to say goodbye; he was more than glad that both of them could be there to see him off to school again. Separating from them was worse somehow the second time than it had been the first. There was an odd sense of foreboding and it was making him never want to let them go, but then the train whistle sounded and their bonds were broken yet again.
He sat quietly on the train in the same compartment as Ron and Alice (Neville had gone off somewhere again) and there was subdued silence. There was no longer any hatred there, bad feelings of course, but no hatred. Sirius' conviction had helped put a lot of things in a different perspective. He had a terrible Christmas morning in spite of it being the first one he had ever really spent with his parents, and everything else about the world was now shadowed too.
He wondered to himself if he ought to have told his parents about Voldemort no longer needing the prophecy. Guarding the Department of Mysteries clearly hadn't worked out in Sirius's favor (twice no less), nor for Bode in a lifetime what seemed like a millennium ago. But in the end he had fatefully decided against it, reasoning that they might think him insane or overprotective.
The fields stretched out for miles and miles when he looked out the window. Mounds of snow were clumped in patches here and there, and the sky hung a dark gray, promising snow and other things to come.
* * *
He was beginning to hate the halls of Hogwarts. He arrived with the slews of other students and had dinner with Ron and Alice and they continued to avoid looking at him or talking to him, which was more than fine by Harry. His mind drifted off into so many things... why was he in this world? How could he go back? Should he go back? Why had the scar that he didn't even have anymore hurt? Was it possibly Fred and George who had come from the Shrieking Shack that afternoon in Hogsmeade as Mrs. Weasley had unknowingly hinted? Why did Sirius have to be found guilty? Why was Percy working for Voldemort? Why was he in this world? How could he go back? Should he go back? The questions just continued to cycle over and over as more students left the Great Hall on their way to bed.
He was very nearly the last one to leave from the table and he trudged wearily up to his dorm room, not at all anticipating falling asleep and anticipating even less the prospect of tomorrow.
"You should be getting to bed Mr. Potter."
He whirled around to see Snape standing just behind him with his arms folded in front of his chest. It made him a bit angry to be told to do something that he was already going to do, especially by Snape.
"You should be minding your own greasy business," he muttered through clenched teeth.
Snape gave him a superior smile and stalked off through the hallway. He was likely going to double back and follow Harry to his common room to make sure he went there. The Harry of his former life hadn't done much to help his credibility any, though it wasn't as though he had ever had much credibility with Snape anyway. He would take the long passage back to his room: no need to get into a fight with Snape over nothing.
He was walking down the hallway on the fourth floor on the way finally to his common room when he heard something that he could have been much better without having heard.
"I like you too Neville."
He ducked behind a statue of an ugly peg-legged wizard before the pair could see him. He watched on in pain as Hermione and Neville kissed, touched, kissed some more. It was like having his heart slowly wrenched from his chest and put on display before him. So that was where Neville had been? He now added a few more questions to the ones already cycling in his head. Why Hermione? Why Neville? Why Neville and Hermione?
When he did reach his common room, he stalked up to his bed half full with raging fury and half full of disheartened loss. He lay in bed for quite some time, thinking to himself how very right Riddle might have been about Neville in the first place. He felt so betrayed, so left out in the cold.
He was drifting in a lake a summer not too long ago in the wonderful place that was his dream world. It was an escape, and it was free of torture and free of Riddle. Then suddenly there was someone calling him, calling him back, calling back everything to its proper fate. He turned around to find himself in the lost bedroom at Grimmauld Place, and facing Percy Weasley and Voldemort.
He woke up with a jump and almost screamed when he immediately noticed someone was standing right over him, wielding a wand and ready to strike. It was neither Neville nor Ron, someone else, tall and more foreboding than ever.
"Mr. Potter? I know that it's late, but the headmaster needs to speak to you at once," came the stern voice of Professor McGongall. It was almost eerie how sinister she seemed bordered by dark silhouettes and crouching over him like a starving tigress.
"He wants to speak to me? Harry stuttered. He had been sure at least that the days of being waken in the middle of the night were gone with the scar he once had, but perhaps not. "What's this about? Why now?"
"Just come with me Potter. Get dressed and come with me."
Her voice seemed almost remorseful and hollow, like she was the bearer of terrible news. He felt a knot rising in his stomach as she left the room and he quickly threw on his bathrobe and pushed his glasses onto his face.
He followed her through the disconcertingly dark hallway and down several flights of stairs before he really knew where he was going. When they reached the stone gargoyle Harry could feel the lump rising so far up in his throat that he was very near throwing up from the anxiety.
"Licorice Wand," Professor McGonagall said quietly.
They entered into the familiar realm of the headmaster: there were familiar trinkets and toys cast all about and rows and rows of former headmasters gazing down upon the room. Dumbledore himself sat in the cozy seat behind his desk, massaging his temples and looking far too worn.
"Sit down Harry," he said quietly, though not in his usual cheerful way.
Harry looked about the room for any place to sit but found none. He didn't want to bother with a chair anyway: he needed an explanation as to why he had been called down to Professor Dumbledore's office at two-thirty in the morning. The anticipation was beginning to eat at him.
"Oh, I nearly forgot, one can forget things you know," he said, trying to feign a light tone as he flicked his wand and an overstuffed maroon armchair appeared before Dumbledore's desk.
Professor McGonagall quietly exited the room and Harry sat across from Dumbledore in a fashion similar to fiercely debating foreign dignitaries. Harry needed an answer; the suspense of not-knowing was hurting him intensely.
"There's been an attack," Dumbledore began.
"Not that. Anything but that," Harry thought to himself, grieving before he even knew what had happened or to whom. In a way he already knew.
"Your parents have been taken to St. Mungo's Harry. There was a confrontation at Grimmauld Place," Dumbledore's eyes seemed to be keeping tears at bay as best as possible, but there was a glint of a tear forming in his left eye and Harry concentrated on that, watched it grow larger and larger and then briefly fall from his face and onto his robes as though it had never been shed at all. It was just easier to watch the tear than believe that his parents were.
"Are they?- are they?-" he couldn't finish the sentence and part of him didn't want it answered.
"They are alive, Harry-" and for a fleeting moment he felt the fear lifted from his shoulders "but I do not know to what end. They were tortured Harry. I don't wish to tell you this, no one should ever have to hear it, but they will never be the same again. It is too early to tell how much of a recovery they might make, if any-" Dumbledore trailed off, and Harry couldn't help but observe how he couldn't look him in the eye.
His parents shared the same fate now as the Longbottoms. Not the dead ones, but the original Longbottoms. Why? Who? And How? He forgot to be stunned, he forgot to feel pain. The only emotion he sensed was white, hot, rage brewing deep within him that he had never felt before. It was for the first time that he felt bloodlust and the direst urges of revenge.
“We believed the house to be nearly unable to be breeched, however, we must have been wrong. We now think that it was someone from within our own group that betrayed them. It had been protected by many Charms Harry, so we still do not know how it happened.”
“They were attacked in Grimmauld Place?” Harry whispered, choking as he did so.
"It was a dangerous job Harry, and they knew that going into it. Just no one could have expected it at the Black residence. There are just things-"
"What do you know about dangerous?! What do you know about anything?!" he screamed back at Dumbledore, hardly daring to believe he would discount their incapacitation as just a part of a job.
"There are things that need to be protected, things that are worth dying for-"
"Well, they weren't lucky enough to die, were they?! Instead they're going to live out the rest of their lives in the crazy ward at St. Mungo's! There is nothing that needs to be protected you idiot! He doesn't need the prophecy! He never did!”
He didn't feel as guilty screaming at Dumbledore as he once had. Dumbledore seemed blown away by the last part of the outburst and slowly began to rise from his seat. Harry, on the other hand, had had enough. He jumped out of the conjured, high-backed arm chair and sped quickly out of the room, feeling so murderous that it was a fortunate thing that no one crossed his path on his way back to his dorm room.
That’s exactly when he knew. He needed out. He needed Neville's wand so he could go back to his old life. He had no idea what his plan of action might be when he did get a hold of the wand, but it didn't matter: he needed revenge. They had been marred senselessly, and it was just something that he wouldn't ever let go of.
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The Road Not Taken Chapter Twenty-Three: The Flight
He left the Fat Lady in a bit of a fright from his homicidal demeanor, but he could care less. He wrenched the door to the dorm room open so fast that he almost ripped it off its hinges. The other four sleeping boys turned in their sleep and groggily woke up. His eyes focused on Neville, and then quickly darted over to the wand lying on his bedside table.
"Harry?! What're you-"
"What's this about-?"
Neville was only just breaking from his bout of sleep when Harry seized the wand from the little table by his bedside.
"What do you think you are doing?!" Neville shouted boldly in a manner that didn't altogether suit him.
"Leaving!" Harry shouted back, halfway deranged as he turned to leave the dorm room once again.
"Harry, come on mate, what do you think you're doing? It's like three in the morning. Just put the wand down," Ron pleaded, showing more sense and compassion than Harry had seen him show in months. To Harry, it was odd that he chose to act decent at such a time as that, which only spurred his anger that much more.
"Yeah, we wanna go back to bed," Dean agreed.
Harry could only laugh at them for their ignorance. What did they know of pain?! It wasn't just something he could sleep off! For six months had had parents in his life, only to have them snatched away again by a man whose sole purpose was to destroy, and he had had enough. It was time to get things squared away, one way or another.
"Put my father's wand down Potter!" Neville hissed dangerously, the rage in his face igniting into a passion parallel to Harry's.
That statement hit him like a jolt of lightning. In the lifetime before Harry could recall Neville telling him in the Department of Mysteries that his formidable grandmother would kill him for breaking his father's old wand, but surely he wasn't still using his father's wand in this one? He needed that wand to get back, he needed it to set things right. He looked down at the wand in his hands. It was much too long to be Harry's old holly wand, far too long, and a bit too narrow.
"What do you mean your father's wand?" Harry yelled, his voice cracking a bit and refusing to believe it was possible.
"That was my dad's wand Potter, and put it down before I hurt you," Neville shot back, trying and failing to look dangerous as well.
"Hurt me!? Hurt me?! Hurt me with what Neville? You don't even know!" he raged, a hatred welling up inside of him so fierce that he could feel his pulse all over his body, thundering with each thump further into madness.
"What do you mean I don't know? I don't know about hurt?! My parents died Harry!" Neville shouted back, stumbling from his bed and standing to face Harry as Harry screamed:
"My parents died twice!!!"
Neville's face contorted into a startled look and he recoiled a slight bit but was not giving in and was not going to ask what Harry was talking about.
"Give me my father's wand, my wand."
The coolness in Neville's voice when he said it sent Harry into a mad frenzy. He was on the verge of attacking Neville and strangling him with his bare hands when a slight thought seemed to occur to him. Ollivander's: his wand, the holly and phoenix feather wand must still be in Ollivander's shop.
"Fine, come pry it from my cold, dead hands if you're so determined!"
And Harry took off from the dorm room, likely appearing very childish to the other boys but too full of pain and rage to care. Neville stood there stunned, uncertain of what to do or say and brimming with rage himself far too much to care to find words at the very moment.
He ran so fast down the stairs that he almost ran into the fireplace itself. In his fury, he nearly broke the little jar holding the Floo powder but it didn't matter, nothing mattered. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw someone approaching him.
"Diagon Alley, Ollivander's!" he shouted, pelting the Floo powder rather viciously into the fireplace.
By that time, Neville had come to his senses enough to chase after Harry and was rounding the top of the stairs when Harry disappeared through the fireplace.
He was too confused and angry that Harry had taken off with his wand in the first place to wonder much as to why. But seeing as how he already had two wands in his possession, why would he need to go to Ollivander's for more?
Harry was fumbling around the dark, closed little shop at Ollivander's prying open box after box after useless box in the hunt for the wand he needed. He didn't care that he was breaking and entering into the store of the eerie little man: what would it matter anyway? He had no parents and no godfather to punish him over it anyway. The thoughts of them spurred him on. He needed out, and right then. He didn't care that he didn't know where Voldemort was: if he wanted to attack Voldemort, he was sure to come across the opportunity sooner or later.
He found a wand with cherrywood and dragon heartstring. He chucked it to the side. Teak and unicorn tail: that one went on the floor next to the cherrywood wand. Cottonwood and unicorn tail was added to the growing stack of abandoned wands behind him.
"Expelliarmus!" and the next oak and dragon heartstring wand zoomed out of his reach and was caught into Neville's hand.
He hadn't even heard him come in through the fireplace as he had, for he had been so direly scavenging for the right wand, his old wand.
"Give it back now," commanded Neville briskly.
"Why? It looks like you already have one," snarled Harry.
He wasn't sure what it was that made him hate Neville so very much at that moment, but it was Hermione and Sirius, and more than anything his parents that drove him into that particular loathing with such ferocity. He barely recognized himself at all.
"I'll hex you, I will," Neville screamed.
Harry might have laughed in a world before, but this Neville stood in front of him as a confident and able, opponent. It was what Harry had been waiting for: all the anger building up in him over Ron and his sister, over Sirius' arrest and girls treating him like a snot rag had all peaked with the torture of his parents and now he was going to vent it off.
"Stupefy!" Harry shouted, raising Neville’s father’s wand in attack before Neville could raise his wand in response.
Neville ducked with the reflexes of a cat, righted himself quickly, and cried, "Impedimenta!"
"Protego!" Harry screamed as the thrill of attacking Neville set in. He no longer faced the pitiable Neville Longbottom, rather, the boy who stood before him ready to hurl another curse was an actual challenger, which was not unlikely, considering he now carried the fraction of Voldemort's powers that he himself had once had.
"Sanguino!" screamed Neville back, narrowly missing his own deflected hex and hitting Harry square in the face with a Cutting Curse.
Harry felt a huge gash open on his cheek that led all the way up to his eye and through the red haze of his left eye, he could see blood flecked all over his glasses. Things were serious now. They had moved to a different level of dueling, for no longer were they only trying to impede the other, they were out to cause damage.
"Ossa Frangere!" bellowed Harry at Neville, this time hitting him dead on in the chest and he heard the cracking of Neville's ribs and felt a sick pleasure that he had never known before.
Neville gave a small squeal as he doubled over in pain. Harry felt a slight twinge of guilty fear, but held firm to the grip on his wand.
"I'll kill you," he hissed at Harry through the foaming blood that was now appearing on his lips.
"What do you know about death?" Harry cried angrily, his breathing was staggered and his cut eye pulsed badly.
"Your dad and your godfather are the reason that my parents are dead, I know that now."
"So you're going to kill me?!" Harry shrieked devoid of reason. "You'll be glad to know that my father is as good as dead now Neville! You'll be glad to know!"
Neville was standing as well as he could and prepared to face Harry to strike back when the door to Mr. Ollivander's shop opened, and Harry and Neville found themselves hopelessly trapped in front of an army of Death Eaters, and Voldemort himself standing proudly before them, wand out and ready to murder.
The Road Not Taken Chapter Twenty-Four: Through the Gateway
"Hello Potter, and Longbottom. We all get to finally meet. How sentimental it is," rasped Voldemort. He was the sickly-looking Riddle no longer, but the fire-eyed, soulless slayer of innocent people.
The figures behind him swirled into the room and the shop door closed behind them and they heard the lock click. He could sense Neville tensing to his right and he himself clutched the wand tightly in his fist, his sweating, panicked fist. Harry was still murderously angry, but not feeling as bold and reckless as he had moments ago himself.
Judging by the look of things, he and Neville had no chance. They were two students who hadn't even graduated from school against ten or fifteen Death Eaters and Voldemort himself, cornered in a shop in Diagon Alley and no one even knew they were there. He had faced better odds last year in the Department of Mysteries.
"I can not express to you what a feeling it is to finally see you both die after sixteen years of waiting. Fifteen years, so much can happen in fifteen years. But this is no time for sweet recollections. Goodbye to the both of you."
"Why?!" Harry screamed as Voldemort raised his wand.
If he was going to be murdered so senselessly, he wanted to know why he was there in the first place. Why had Voldemort switched his and Neville pasts? Why? He was shaking in vehemence and was clutching Neville's father’s wand so firmly in his hand that he could feel it bowing as though it were about to break.
"Why? I would have thought you were smarter than that Potter. I did for a time fear that you would see right through the dreams and would go straight to that Muggle-loving fool Dumbledore. And you Longbottom, you were so close that night but then you had to wake him up and the Imperius Curse was broken. It was so hard pitting the two of you against each other," he said almost wistfully.
Voldemort had pitted the two of them against each other? “Why?” Harry wondered madly.
"...but then by torturing Potter's parents into insanity, I provoked the thing that I've spent the last few months trying in vain to agitate. It was unexpected, I admit. I never would have even known the two of you went off to this shop to duel had Weasley not made himself useful for the second time in his life and entered your filthy little common-room right as Longbottom went through the fire."
"What?!" Neville cried.
"You have been rather kept in the dark Longbottom, I would tell you, but my time and patience is wearing thin."
He raised his wand again to attack but Harry refused to die without knowing, and raised Neville’s wand in defense. He wanted to know why.
"That's not good enough! Why?!"
"Manners Potter, manners," he snapped, frustrated, but oddly enough, still willing to explain himself and buy both Harry and Neville more time. "I needed a different opponent. I found out from Weasley a few nights after you left Hogwarts about the prophecy. They discussed it at that little club of theirs, what is it? The Order of the Phoenix?" he laughed to himself, causing a murmur of laughter from the Death Eaters.
"Percy had been a spy in the other world too?" he felt another tinge of anger added to the massive hate already swelling inside him. The wand he was holding was very near fracturing from the strain of his grip.
“So I told Weasley to remain at Grimmauld Place to spy not only on their meetings, but on you, knowing of a secret corridor that would be perfect for a secret stay, after having murdered a foolish boy there once anyway.”
Percy had been staying in the room. He should have known. It made such perfect sense. Meanwhile, Voldemort continued.
"Do you know why? Come Potter, think. You are more powerful than you realize, surely you know that? Your father was a pleasure to kill, not nearly as defenseless as the slime I was used to killing, and I can see so much of that power in you-"
"Shut up! Shut-" Harry yelled.
"You wanted to know why Potter, so I'm telling you why," he said in a coldly quiet murmur. "I switched you and Longbottom because there is a deep power in you that I now acknowledge. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me four times, shame on me, no? It was my only option. I did of course consider not attacking either of you as children, but there would have only been another prophecy made about how to destroy me, and instigating this at least gave me the benefit of knowing what was to come."
“You tortured my parents!” Harry screamed, mostly devoid of reason.
“Me, oh no. I did not. That was Weasley. That was the other purpose of his stay at your silly little Order, to do whatever was necessary to make sure we met here tonight. If I had done it, they would not be alive to tell their story.”
I am sorry my Lord, there wasn’t time-” a voice whispered from amongst the Death Eaters.
Neville looked a mixture of absolute confusion and rage, and Harry was wholly unrecognizable from the unspeakable fury on his face. He took a few small steps forward, toward where the voice had come from. He wanted Percy dead so badly, worse than he had wanted to hurt Bellatrix Lestrange the year before.
“What are you saying?!” Neville cried.
Voldemort looked upon Neville with a look of utter revulsion and turned to face Harry again, not even acknowledging Neville further.
"I wanted your parents dead. I remember what happened the last time your foolish Muggle mother died for you, and I needed to unleash the irrational and bold side of you that brought us here tonight. So I arrived at your stinking Muggle residence in Surrey, seized your wand, and used time against you. I switched the both of you. I put my power into bumbling Longbottom, and left you as you were. All I had to do was make you fight, make you finish each other off, and keep my hands clean as I watched from a safe distance as you both died. I was not going to risk killing one and having the other rise up against me, so it made sense to dispose of both of you. There would be no more mistakes; you both had to die. Do you see now?" he said curtly and sarcastically, as though still beaming at his own brilliance.
Harry's mind was too full of hurt to care about what was being said, but it was so obviously clear. Percy had found out about the charm over the summer and had gotten in contact with Voldemort, thus explaining the letter in the library's archives. Voldemort then came to Privet Drive and sold Harry on the idea of having his parents back. In doing so, he transferred instead his powers to Neville so that they could finish each other off. If they were both dead, there was nothing to stand in his way at all. It was brilliant, and Harry certainly might have thought so if the lust to kill every man standing before him wasn't so great, and his fear over how unlikely that was to happen grew even greater. He just wanted to get to Percy, to put his hands around his neck, and to squeeze, and his desire to do that was beginning to outweigh his fear.
"Now that that is done, I say goodbye to you both again,” Voldemort said, raising his wand at last.
The desire for revenge in both boys sparked violently, and though they knew they stood no chance, for a split second their thoughts connected and they stood resolved to avenge their parents and lost friends in the best way that they could. There was no time to think of the nobility in it, only time to act.
"Avada Kedavra!" cried Voldemort as the Death Eaters began to swarm into a frenzy to pull out their wands.
Neville and Harry both ducked away from the shocking green blast emitted from his wand and darted in opposite directions. Neville landed behind the sales counter and Harry behind an aisle of boxes containing thousands of wands. His eyes furiously scanned the room for Percy.
"Come now boys. Potter, you should know better than this, we have discussed this before. Fight me like a man, just as your father did. Longbottom? Your father didn't have much time to put up a fight, I am sorry to say, but you might at least have to decency to fight me like a man as well."
Harry's heart was beating too hard in his chest to take in the full weight of what he was saying, but it angered him even more, if possible, that Voldemort of all people might talk of decency. Decency was clearly not killing hundreds of people, decency was not torture, and decency was not killing two boys who were trapped in a shop in the dead of night.
Harry finally got the jolt of anger that he needed to stand and curse the foul excuse for a man with everything he had, but Neville had beaten him to it.
"Crucio!" he heard Neville scream.
Harry jumped out from behind the aisle of boxes just in time to see that Neville's action, while though it had taken Voldemort and his Death Eaters by surprise, was not going to be successful. His spell had missed and Voldemort was recoiling his wand back to strike as a snake might, and almost as if in slow motion, without hearing he saw several blasts of green light strike Neville all at once, and the sweet boy who had never done anything to cause anyone ill, the Boy-Who-Lived, the boy who was the hope for the survival of good as it was known, fell backwards into the counter. Neville was dead.
Harry stood there in shock for the briefest of moments and Voldemort let out a cry of triumph and there was murmuring amongst the Death Eaters behind him, but it only took them a fraction of a second to realize that their second target, him, had yet to be destroyed. Standing free of the aisle he felt so exposed and naked, as though he was standing nonchalantly in a war zone about to be bombed.
He looked over at Neville's lifeless figure, certain that he would share the same fate in a matter of moments. If the only boy who had the power to vanquish Voldemort had died so simply as he, what chance did anyone stand?
"Expelliarmus!" Voldemort hissed, and Harry was thrown back against the aisle, there was blood running down the back of his head, and he was now lacking a very necessary wand.
His hand dived in among the boxes, he grabbed blindly for a wand with which to defend himself and grasped one at last. There was a sudden warmth in his fingers and he dared not to hope. It was indeed his wand, the wand he had been searching for.
In the back of his mind he heard the phoenix song and thoughts and memories flashed through his mind. He would not let Neville die in vain, he would not let his parents' death and torture go unpunished, he would not let the lives of all the people Voldemort had destroyed go on without the needed justice, he would do it for Sirius.
It occurred to him at the very last second that it was his chance out, and the desire to live reared itself in his head and the last thing he could remember was:
His body pitched forward and he felt the breath flee from his body. The world swirled black around him, and then there was nothingness.
The Road Not Taken Chapter Twenty-Five: It Has Made All the Difference
There was screaming and loud crashes coming from all sides of him and he could hardly see. Flashes of dazzling light of all colors shot past him and he stumbled forward onto someone and they both fell to the ground with a thud. Was it Neville? Had his Arcus Temporae Charm worked? Was he dead or not?
A jet of light hit him hard in the side and he doubled over. The pain was so intense, like fire, like the Cruciatus Curse, but far worse than either. He screamed and retreated back into the shadows from which he had just come, the world going completely black and all sound muted and otherwise ceased to exist.
* * *
There was murmuring above him that sounded muffled in a way, like someone was holding a pillow over his hears.
"Was he dead?"
He opened his eyes but saw only bright, white light glaring angrily into his face. There was nothing but whiteness all around him.
"Was this what it was to be dead?"
He saw figures materializing in front of him slowly, gray shadows were swarming around and he felt prickling sensations on his arms. He couldn't breathe: he was trying to force air into his lungs but there was none to be had. He felt like he was on the bottom of a swimming pool looking up at the blazing sun and couldn't surface for air. He was on the verge of panic when he felt a pop in his chest and sight came slowly back to his eyes and he drew deep breaths of air into his lungs.
"He's awake! He's going to be alright!" he could hear a woman screaming.
"Albus, Alastor, Remus, come here, quick!" she sounded so familiar, so real and so recognizable.
"Mrs. Weasley?" he croaked hoarsely.
"Harry, oh Harry! We were so worried!" she screeched as she grasped him in a tight hug.
His ribs and entire body hurt so badly from her embrace. What had happened to him? Where was he, and moreover, what day was it?
He heard people rush into the room and could make out that they were, or at least who they appeared to be: Professor Dumbledore, Mad Eye Moody, and Remus Lupin. His mind began to fill with thoughts so quickly that it was almost painful. Mad Eye was supposed to be dead.
His senses were slowly coming back to him and the room and the people in it were beginning to become more focused and vivid.
"Harry? It's good to have you among the land of the living again," said Remus in a soft voice.
"I- where- what's today?"
"Today? You have been out for quite some time Potter; you've slept through much of June. Today's the eighteenth," Moody muttered.
"It's June 18th?" he gasped. "It was just Christmas a few days ago!"
"Poor dear, he must be delirious, it's no wonder, considering," Mrs. Weasley fawned.
"Wait! I don't understand. What happened? I was dueling in-" he thought the better of saying that he had been dueling in Mr. Ollivander's shop, for he still wasn't certain where he was. "I was dueling and then-" he also thought it would be better to leave out the part about the Arcus Temporae Charm" then I fell on top of someone and then there was this awful pain."
"It was a very foolish thing you did a few weeks ago, you could have-" Mrs. Weasley began to reproach before Dumbledore interrupted her.
"I would rather like to speak to Harry alone for a moment, if the rest of you could leave for now?" Dumbledore requested politely.
The others left the room and he sat up a bit in his bed and looked around. He was in St. Mungo's and he and Dumbledore were now alone in the ward.
"You were very brave a few weeks ago Harry, but Mrs. Weasley was right, you were a bit reckless, but your actions resulted in good all around I must say."
"My actions a few weeks ago?"
"Your memory may be a bit hazy. You fled to the Department of Mysteries, along with Mr. and Miss Weasley, Miss Lovegood, Miss Granger, and Mr. Longbottom-"
"That wasn't a few weeks ago, what are you talking about?" Harry asked in disbelief. "That was like, a year ago."
Dumbledore's furrowed his brow and gazed deeply into Harry's eyes and straight into his soul, searching.
"Is there something you want to tell me Harry?"
There was no getting past Dumbledore on anything; Harry had always known that, but he wasn't sure how to explain any of the events of the past months to him. Part of him wasn't even sure if it had been real. What if he had been dreaming? What if there was no such thing as the Arcus Temporae Charm, what if he had been hospitalized after the incident in the Department of Mysteries and had been asleep ever since?
"Professor, is there such a thing as the Arcus Temporae Charm?"
"Yes Harry, why is it that you ask?" asked Dumbledore, almost as if he already knew the answer.
"Riddle came to my house last summer and somehow he got a hold of my wand and he did it. He went through the gateway or whatever it is that it's called. And when I woke up I was at Grimmauld Place and my par-” he couldn't bring himself to finish the sentence over the gush of tears that trickled down his cheeks and the immense grief growing inside him once more.
"Harry, do you know why Voldemort might have performed the charm?" Dumbledore asked, again seemingly as though he knew the answer.
"He said it was because Neville would be easier to kill. He tried to force us to fight one another so that both people who could have fulfilled the prophecy were dead."
"Yes Harry, there was indeed a prophecy made about you and Voldemort which both you and Neville might have fulfilled. I understand that you know that somehow. There are certain things about you and who you are that given some of Voldemort's power would make you a very formidable opponent indeed. Though I daresay people discount Mr. Longbottom too much. He has a power all his own that he doesn't have the confidence to see in himself. I would have thought Voldemort might have known that. But with all things considered, it must have been a very different place you woke up in."
"My parents were alive, Sirius was free and alive too," he could feel himself choking up but he didn't want to stop, he needed to get it off his chest, but at that very moment Dumbledore again interrupted him.
"Are you wondering if it was real or not Harry?"
"Well, yes, I rather was. How could it have been real, I mean, things were just too different."
"There have been many people who have altered time and when they went back to change it back, often times they wonder if it was all just a dream, and there is no one who can tell them the answer to that but themselves. Many great men have gone mad meddling with time. That is why it is under such strict Ministry control."
"So how do I know if it was just a dream? How do I know that I didn't take a bad Stunning Spell at the Department of Mysteries and dream it all?"
"As I said, only you can know that."
"Professor, one night I was having this dream and it was so real, I was being tortured, and my forehead, you know, where my scar is, it burned. But see, I didn't have a scar."
"Well, I can tell you that though time may have been changed, the mark that was left on you will be there forever. There is no denying who you are or what was done to you. You could do everything you could to change time and yourself, but the echoes of that mark will be there forever."
"So it wasn't a dream, or was it?" Harry asked solemnly, tears dropping from the bottom of his chin silently as he thought of everything he had lost.
"It is impossible to tell you that Harry, as I said before," was the only answer he got.
"But there are so many people suffering in this world. It's not fair. It's not fair!" Harry cried, his voice rising again and anger beginning to rise in him as well. It was an emotion he had become quite familiar with over the last few months, if those months had even been real.
"Well, the halls of time themselves refuse to be fair, it's-"
"Lupin wasn't a werewolf! My parents were alive! Sirius was alive!" he shouted, refusing to believe that those things were true no longer. Why had he wanted to leave so badly? What had it gotten him?
"Well, there is nothing I can do for Remus, or for your parents," he added quickly "but Sirius is still very much alive. When did he ever die?"
Harry's heart skipped a beat, it felt as though it skipped several beats. How? How could he possibly be alive?
"I can see you look puzzled, and you did receive a rather nasty blow from Bellatrix Lestrange which you likely don't remember, so I shall explain to you what happened as best I can."
Harry watched him speak, hardly daring to listen to what he heard next.
"The rest of the students and you had taken some serious blows, but no one was injured beyond repair, you are the last to leave the hospital. But several Order members and myself were alerted by Professor Snape when you fled the castle with Dolores. Do you remember that?"
Harry nodded his head furiously and gave him a look to hurry and go on.
"People were dueling everywhere, and I'm not sure exactly what happened after that, but from what I gather, Sirius and Bellatrix were dueling, and he was very close to falling through the Veil of the Beyond, but you somehow fell on top of him and the both of you landed just off to the side of it. Bellatrix then hit you with a severe Stunning Spell, and from there, I'm not sure what happened. There was more dueling and though Voldemort and several of the Death Eaters got away, there are some that we caught that are now sitting in Azkaban."
So if he had dueled with Neville and Voldemort in Mr. Ollivander's shop and the Arcus Temporae Charm had indeed worked, he had come out in the duel at the Department of Mysteries and had narrowly saved Sirius' life? It didn't seem possible.
"Where is he?! Can I see him?!" he yelled almost in Dumbledore's face.
"He is not here at the moment. He is down at the Ministry of Magic having his name cleared as we speak," Dumbledore said softly. "It is good to see him a free man after so many years; captivity just didn't suit him."
Harry's head was spinning. It wasn't possible, no, it couldn't be.
Dumbledore looked at his watch and frowned.
"I am sorry Harry, but this is where I must leave you. I have a meeting with the Minister." he said grimly.
"One more thing Professor."
"If I saved Sirius' life when he was supposed to die, is that wrong? I mean, what will happen?" he asked panicked.
"Sirius is a lucky man. That is all I may say. It is not as though you haven't saved him from a terrible fate before," Dumbledore said with a half-smile.
* * *
The rest of the day he was babied and pampered by Mrs. Weasley and many Order members came to visit, Fred and George, Moody, Tonks, Kingsely Shacklebolt, and so many others that Harry began to forget who. Two people he could not forget, however, were Ron and Hermione. It was an incredible feeling, having friends again.
But seeing Hermione was more different than it ever had been. She was still just as pretty as he remembered her, if not more so now. She held herself in such a confident way now, and that only drew him to her more. He would have to remember to tell her that someday.
The next morning he was allowed to leave St. Mungo's and it hurt a bit to get out of bed. As he got slowly dressed, he looked into the mirror just behind the bed in which he had been lying. There he was, scar and all, but there was something else as well. There was a slight cut that was still healing. It looked as though it had been much worse, and he knew that it had. It was the cut Neville had given him in Mr. Ollivander’s shop. It was likely no one else had thought anything of it, but he knew it for what it was.
That was all that was left of the life he both loved and detested. It was what remained of his parents. Everything considered, if given the choice to do it all over again, he wasn't sure that he would have taken it. It had been nice to see them, to hold them in a hug, and just to experience them, but now he knew exactly what it was that he missed so much before he had known them. He continued to gaze into the mirror, but no tears came. He had made his peace with them, and loved them so very much. Maybe they would meet again someday; a long day off when he was ready to face death, but there was so much more he had left to do.
As he walked out of the hospital room, he was greeted with a few cheers and welcomes from the members of the Order who had come to pick him up. They all seemed a bit foreign, as did the world he was in now.
"Hey Harry!" came a happy and very familiar voice behind him.
He looked over to see Sirius there, a free Sirius with his arms raised in the air and a huge smile on his face, and looking at him standing there in the hallway at St. Mungo's was when Harry knew exactly how he felt. The trip had been wearisome, but it had made all the difference.
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