Harry opened his eyes, and saw he was once again in the misty white room. Gryffindor stood nearby. Harry opened his mouth to say something, but the man raised his hand, forestalling Harry's words.
“No time to talk, you must go now,” the ancestor said, and the mist rose up again...
.....darkness, and pain......
...“I think he's back,” said Hermione's voice.
“Out o' the way, then,” said an unfamiliar voice. “Lemme look at him.”
Harry felt hands going over his body, then resting on his chest.
“Yep, there's a heart beat goin'. And he's most definitely breathing.”
Harry coughed. Opening his eyes, he saw Hermione leaning over him anxiously, beside an old, scrawny wizard with a squat nose and a bald pate.
“There, see. He's awake now. No need to worry.” The wizard leaned forward, staring at Harry. “Ye feel alright, lad?”
Harry assessed his condition. “I feel...sore,” he said.
The wizard nodded. “Yar, ye would,” he agreed. “I did the best I could with me lotion and spells, but yer still gonna feel some of it.”
“Who are you?” asked Harry, sitting up. “And where am I?” he glanced quickly down at the area around his body. He noticed dimly that he was in a very barely decorated room. It seemed the abode of a man who didn't hold a whole lot of belief in material possessions, although there were a bunch of what looked like newspapers piled on a nearby table. But something was missing...
“Where's the sword?” he asked, squinting up at the wizard.
“The sword...it disappeared,” said Hermione, frowning. Harry looked to Ron questioningly.
“Sorry, mate,” added Ron. “No sign of it. After you were thrown by that blast, it sort of slipped my mind. Can't really blame me, what with the shape you were in.” He reached out to Harry as Harry attempted to vacate the bed. But the healer grabbed him and firmly steered him back into place. Harry winced at the pressure on his still-sensitive skin.
“Easy there, fella,” said the healer. “The fella's right. You damn near died. Don' wanna stress yerself out too much. And as for where ye are...yer in me cottage. I'm Oscar Strang, by the way. Nice ta meet ye, Mr. Potter.”
“Likewise,” Harry answered, shaking Oscar's proffered hand. He looked at Hermione. “How long are we staying?”
“As long as it takes,” said a gruff voice, and Harry nearly fell out of the bed with shock. He looked wildly around, and spotted the man who had spoken. His gaze was drawn to the large green eye spinning in the man's eye socket.
“M-M-Moody?” he stammered. “Is that really you?”
“Yep, it's me. Who else would I be?” replied the grizzled Auror.
“But, you were dead,” protested Harry.
“Yeah, I've already heard several versions of the damned story,” Moody growled, his eye darting around. He jerked his thumb at Harry's friends. “Ron and Hermione told me what Bill said. Of course, he wouldn't have understood about my eye...” His eye focused on Harry. “But I'm not concerned with me. That's done and over with. I'm waiting to hear what you're doing running around with a Death Eater's wife.”
“She's helping us,” explained Harry.
“Helping, or pretending to help?” asked Moody. “Things aren't always as they seem, Potter. That's been proven to me countless times.”
“Yeah, same here,” said Harry. “And I trust Narcissa.”
“First name terms, eh?” commented Moody. “Well, I don't trust her one wit.”
“Neither did I, at first,” Ron said.
Mad-Eye looked at him. “You're bloody brave, Weasley, and damn stupid.”
“He's my best mate,” said Ron. “I couldn't leave him to go off on his own.”
Mad-Eye's eye focused on Ron. “I can admire your loyalty, Weasley, but you're a damn fool to put up with this.”
“You don't have to trust her,” Harry said. “You don't have to travel with her, so there's no need-”
“She's staying here, isn't she?” snapped the Auror.
“I was planning on leaving as soon as possible...” said Harry. “I have things to do.”
“You aren't in the condition for adventures, Potter,” growled Mad-Eye. “You're staying right where you are.”
Harry shook his head. “I can't.”
“Will you stay if he tells you more about how he survived?” asked Oscar.
Harry looked to Oscar, then back to Moody. “I am really interested to know how you managed to live after that Killing Curse...” said Harry.
Moody sighed, then muttered, “If that's what it takes to keep you down.” He glanced at Narcissa. “And you...” he snarled, “you sit and don't move a muscle. I'll be watching...”
“I'm sure you will,” she murmured.
Moody turned back to Harry. “Well,” he began, “You know about that magic eye of mine...”
“Yeah,” replied Harry, “the one that could see through anything, even Invisibility Cloaks.”
Mad-Eye nodded. “Not even I knew everything that eye could do. I knew what was needed, and that was about it. It was Oscar here who gave it to me.” He nodded to the healer. “Made it himself.”
Oscar grinned. “One of my greatest creations, especially considering what it's done.”
“Anyway,” continued Moody, “that eye had lots of little tricks in it. And one of those tricks saved my life.”
“Did it?” wondered Harry.
“Yep. I was on that broom, and I got hit by that curse. Or rather, the eye did. Pulled the curse right to itself.”
“A variation of the Spell-Suction Charm?” inquired Hermione. Oscar nodded.
“Right in one, Miss. My very own sort, too. Took me a month to perfect the spell. A brilliant bit of work on my part.”
“Well, the eye took the spell and converted it to a somewhat more harmless spell,” said Moody. “A particularly powerful Stunner. Put me in a coma.”
“And how did you survive the fall?” asked Harry.
“Oh, a Height-Sensing Charm,” Oscar answered. “Could tell how far up Alastor was, could tell he was out of it, and cushioned his fall. Still broke a couple bones, but nothing I couldn't mend.”
“A miracle-worker, him,” remarked Mad-Eye, looking at Oscar with something akin to fondness. Harry was amazed at the emotion.
“And then,” continued Oscar, “the Notification Charm I put on there...a modified one, o' course...sent me a message that Alastor was hurt. I used a charm I had placed on the eye to take me there, and-”
“He made a doppelganger to replace me,” interrupted Mad-Eye. “Real life-like, too. Showed me later on what it looked like, and I myself could hardly tell the difference. Tells me he took out my eye and put it in the fake me. After all, they would be able to detect a fake eye. Needed the real thing for the poser to pass as me. And then, he brought me here, and healed me.”
“Amazing,” said Hermione. “You have a wonderful friend.”
“Well, thank ye very much, Miss,” said Oscar, gray eyes twinkling. “I pride meself in takin' care o' those who need it.”
“Like me,” Harry put in.
“Enough about m, Potter,” growled the ex-Auror. “Let's hear about you. You got a lot to tell me, from what I've been reading, even if it is a bunch of rubbish.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Harry, still preoccupied with Moody's tale. He suddenly paid attention as Mad-Eye grabbed a newspaper from the nearby pile and tossed it to him.
“You have a lot to explain, lad,” muttered Oscar, eying him.
Harry looked the paper over, while Hermione took another and asked, “Is this today's...yes it is,” then riffled through it, only to come to a complete stop.
“My god...” she whispered, studying the article that had caught her attention.
“What's that?” demanded Ron, leaning over to peer over her shoulder. He stared. “Bloody hell...” he muttered. “Phoenixes did that?”
“That's what it says,” responded Oscar, switching his attention from a silent Harry to the astounded pair. “Poisoning the fields, and some small animals besides. Never would've believed it, but ther's the evidence. A damn shame.”
Harry was only half listening. He was incredulously reading an article that detailed the events at the Chudley Cannons tryouts. While maintaining complete accuracy, it made very nasty speculations as to the cause, mostly aiming all blame at Harry. Harry skimmed over the rest of the article, feeling sad and annoyed. It was happening all over again...
“Who wrote this?” he asked. He searched for the reporter's name, and froze.
Tari S. Treke.
He read the name slowly out loud, and Ron blinked at him. “Is that the same reporter we heard about in Diagon Alley?”
“It seems so,” Harry answered. He shook his head.
Ron voiced his thoughts. “Just what we need,” he snarled. “Another Rita Skeeter.”
Mad-Eye gave a rather loud snort. Hermione looked up, and Harry and Ron looked at the old man. “What?” asked Harry.
“'Another', the lad says,” muttered Moody darkly. Oscar looked at the young adults.
“Alastor's got his own theories about this new reporter,” he explained. Mad-Eye glared at him.
“New?” he demanded harshly. “If I'm right, there's nothing new about this fraud!”
“What are you saying?” asked Harry quietly. Mad-Eye looked at him, his eye gleaming.
“Well, first of all, how many people named 'Terry' spell their name like that?” he asked, gesturing at the paper still clutched by Harry. Harry looked down at the paper, puzzled.
“Exactly,” said the ex-Auror as though Harry had answered. “Very few, if any. I'd say none. And so, I looked closer at that name. Try rearranging the letters of her first name, and see what you get.”
Hermione shifted closer, peering at the paper Harry held. Her eyes moved over the letters, then she frowned and looked back up at Moody. “'Rita'?” she asked skeptically.
“Keep going,” he urged, waving his hand for her to proceed. “Don't stop there!”
She bent down again, going over the remaining letters. Her eyes slowly widened. “'Rita...Skeeter'!” she breathed. She straightened, staring at Mad-Eye. “You don't really think...?”
“What more would that dratted reporter love,” replied the man, “than to hide her continued existence right under the nose of the very community she's hiding from?”
“It's a stretch...” said Harry dubiously, setting the paper aside. “Though if it's true, I'd love to catch her in the act.”
“So would I,” muttered Moody. “But you still haven't told me your tale yet.”
“Oh, right,” said Harry. And he began to talk. It was a while later when he finished.
“You always manage to land yourself in the thick of it, don't you, Potter?” said Mad-Eye.
“It isn't my fault,” protested Harry. His exhaustion made his objection sound a bit weaker than he would have liked.
“I know, I know, they tried to eliminate you, then failed, and drew you straight to them. Wouldn't have been a problem if you weren't hiding a few surprises of your own.” What might have been a smile flashed across the grizzled Aurors face. “Heir to the founders...who would've thought? And an egg besides!” Moody glanced at the backpack.
Harry smiled faintly, then yawned.
“Right,” replied Oscar, nodding. “And now, if ye don' mind, Mr. Potter, I think ye should take yerself a kip. Ye need some sleep for yer body to renew itself. And a tired man don' fight well.”
“I don't want to fight at all,” Harry muttered. Oscar looked at him sadly.
“'Fraid ye don' have much choice 'bout that, Mr. Potter,” he said quietly. “Ye've bin fightin' since ye were a little tyke. An' it isn't goin' to change.”
“I want it all to stop,” whispered Harry, looking down. “And it won't...”
“Shhh,” said Oscar. “Ye can stop it. Ye were meant to. And yer goin' to. Ye jus' need to rest first, is all.”
“Yes, Harry,” Eve said softly. “Sleep. We'll all feel better in the morning.”
“Are you sure we have time?” asked Harry.
“We need to take time,” Eve answered. “And so we shall. Now sleep. We move in the morning.”
Harry yawned, then slowly closed his eyes, and was almost immediately deep asleep.
* * *
There was water raging below him, and roars of fury, as though a large beast were enraged. Harry could feel desperation pounding through his system.
“Harry!” cried Hermione. “It's coming! We have to get to shelter NOW!”
Harry looked at the blue monster struggling before them.
“We might not make it...” said Harry...
With a thrash, Harry jerked awake. Weird dream, he thought. And usually, dreams like that meant something...
“Harry, you awake yet?” came Ron's voice. “We're waiting for you, mate.”
“Why?” asked Harry groggily. “Why didn't you just wake me up?”
“Because you needed to rest,” replied Eve. “But now that you're awake, we must move.”
“Right,” muttered Harry. He stretched and yawned. “Is there any breakfast?” he asked.
“'ere,” offered Oscar. He held out a glass of pink-white liquid. “Drink this. It's a breakfast shake. Made it special, for ye.”
“Thanks,” said Harry, gulping it down. It tasted of oranges and strawberries. “It's good,” he murmured. Oscar nodded.
“Very well,” said Eve. “Let us be off.”
“Don' be a stranger...” said Oscar.
“Beware, Potter,” growled Moody. “Things are never at ease for long, and I sense a long road of trouble ahead of you lot.”
“Thanks,” replied Harry. “I'll bear that in mind.”