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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