- Ginny Weasley/Harry Potter
- Harry Potter
- The Harry Potter at Hogwarts Years
- Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire
Published: 09/18/2001Updated: 03/30/2002Words: 425,244Chapters: 21Hits: 583,257
Harry Potter and the Time of Good Intentions
- Story Summary:
- During his fifth year, Trelawney did a Tarot reading for Harry. She told him he would have to make a choice that could "change the world as we know it." At the beginning of his sixth year, Harry chooses, and the world does change. Does it change for the better? If he wants, can Harry change it back? Or is giving Harry exactly what he wants Voldemort's ultimate revenge? The sequel to
- Read Story On:
Chapter 16 - The Nomads
- Chapter Summary:
- During his fifth year, Trelawney did a Tarot reading for Harry. She told him he would have to make a choice that could "change the world as we know it." At the beginning of his sixth year, Harry chooses, and the world does change. Does it change for the better? If he wants, can Harry change it back? Or is giving Harry exactly what he wants Voldemort's ultimate revenge?
Harry Potter and the Time of Good Intentions
(or: The Last Temptation of Harry Potter)
Harry woke up to a combination of sounds he hadn't heard since he lived with the Dursleys in his other life: chirping birds, the thunk of a newspaper landing on the front step next door to the Peltas, and the peaceful, tranquil sound of--
An hysterically screaming Draco. Wait, he thought; that was never part of living on Privet Drive....
"Aaaah! Aaaah! Get it out of here, Harry! Get it out!"
Harry opened his eyes groggily and looked around. What was he going on about? Harry jumped down from the top bunk and stooped over to look at his friend, and when he did, he could see Draco lying back in the bottom bunk, his blanket pulled up above his nose so that his eyes were peering over it. There was a large grey cat sitting on his chest, calmly washing himself, oblivious to the terrified screaming. Harry tried not to laugh, he really did, but he just couldn't stop it bubbling up from inside him now, and soon he was bent double, holding his stomach, positive that if he looked in a mirror, his face would be bright red.
Draco looked at him; Harry could only see his eyes, but they were very angry eyes. Oh, well, Harry thought. I guess that's something that's still the same. Draco didn't like Mrs. Figg's cats, either. He thought the cat looked like the grey tom that Ruth had put out, and he picked it up, bracing himself to feel its claws dig into him, since he was a stranger to the animal. Instead, the cat started rubbing the side of his face against Harry's hand and purring loudly, then licked his fingers a little with his sandpapery tongue. Harry smiled. Cats generally liked him, he'd discovered. Crookshanks used to love curling up on Harry to sleep, and both Ron's little kitten Argent and Ginny's cat MacKenzie liked him and would spontaneously come to him for petting and a lap.
Harry reached for the Invisibility Cloak and threw it on, still holding the cat, who was purring very loudly now. "It's Ruth's cat. I'll just take him to the kitchen door; maybe someone will hear him and give him his breakfast."
Draco just waved his hand at his invisible friend, anxious for the detested creature to leave the tent. Harry stepped onto the wet grass in his bare feet, shivering in the morning cool, glad of the warm, furry animal in his arms. When he reached the Pelta's kitchen door, he put the cat down and stepped back; the animal sat on the mat, washing patiently, confident that his people would take care of him. Sure enough, less than a minute later, the door opened, and Ruth emerged, wearing her school clothes. Harry smiled; she looked very young suddenly in her knee socks and dark pleated skirt, her crisp shirt with its necktie and deep burgundy vest, her dark blazer with its school crest on the pocket.
"There you are, Spazz! Get in here; Bubbe has some nice tuna for you...."
The cat trotted into the house with its tail erect, dignified, knowing he would receive his due. Ruth carried a rucksack which groaned with books, and a pair of running shoes tied together by the laces was looped over one of the straps. Harry heard a voice stopping her, speaking in a language she didn't understand. Ruth answered in the same language, returning to the recesses of the kitchen again briefly, then emerging with a paper sack in her hand. Harry stepped to the side so she wouldn't barrel right into him, and discovered that another girl about Ruth's age had opened the garden gate and was walking toward the kitchen door, dressed in the same uniform as Ruth. Her severe black-framed glasses were very squarish, her short blond spiky hair had deliberate black streaks in it, and she held a cigarette lighter in her hands.
"Hey, Ruthie! All set?"
Ruth grabbed her friend by the coattails and pulled her behind the house. Harry was afraid they would both see the tent, but they stayed on the side of the shed away from it.
"Just give it to me," Ruth said breathlessly, a desperate look on her face. Her friend took a pack of cigarettes out of her blazer pocket and Ruth quickly removed one from the pack and fumbled with the lighter, finally igniting the end of the paper-wrapped tube, then inhaling the smoke and exhaling it again in a silver cloud, an expression of relief on her face. She took another drag and handed it to her friend, leaning back against the shed and exhaling more smoke, her eyes closed. The smoke made Harry's nose tickle and he pressed his finger against the skin above his upper lip, trying not to sneeze.
"Oh, Dee, I have been dying for a fag all weekend," she breathed with relief.
Her friend smiled, exhaling smoke through her nose and flicking some ash on the ground. "Really? I thought you were too busy to meet me this weekend. You could have--"
Ruth straightened up suddenly. "Right. Well I--I had to go see a sick friend. He needed some chicken soup and--and company. Give me that," she said, yanking the cigarette out of her friend's hand again and dragging on it. Her friend smirked now.
"He needed chicken soup, did he? Who's this, then? Why haven't I heard about him?"
Ruth colored and drew more smoke from the quickly dwindling cigarette. "Just someone I met during the hols, down in London," she said with forced casualness.
"Uh huh," Dee said, taking the last drag from the cigarette, then crushing it out with her large black oxford shoe. "That's why you look like--"
"Listen," Ruth protested. "He was sick and needed help. And--and his girlfriend just died. And his brother and sister and mother. I mean--it's just awful. Okay? I'm not pursuing someone who's in mourning, especially for his girlfriend. I mean--he asked me to teach him the Kaddish, for goodness sake. That's been known to lead to countless romances, I know..." she stressed sarcastically.
"Yes, well, your last romance grew out of even less auspicious beginnings, if I recall..."
Ruth made a face. "You mean Bruce?" Ruth sighed. "My luck. A perfectly good boyfriend whose parents decide to move back to Australia, as though he'd be safer there. I'll write to you every week, he says. I'll never forget you, he says. How many letters do you think I've received from Australia in the last seven months? One. That was a month after. Since then--nothing. Give me another of those things--" she said, reaching for the cigarettes again.
"Whatever happened to that other school you were going to go to, anyway? The one up in Scotland?" Ruth froze when Dee said this. "What was it for again?"
"Erm--music. I was to be on full scholarship. But, er, one of the board members embezzled the money. Big scandal all around. I'd rather not talk about it." Dee patted her friend's back, commiserating.
"Well, we'd better go or we'll be late," Dee cautioned, but took out a cigarette and handed it to Ruth anyway. Ruth lit it and sighed. Dee motioned to the paper sack. "Last day of freedom, is it?"
Ruth looked down at the sack as though she'd just as soon fling it over the privet into the next garden. "Last day of the challah. Whitefish, I think. The bread's going stale; soon it'll be good for a doorstop and not much else. I couldn't convince mum to go to Klein's to buy any fresh yesterday morning because she said we'd just be getting rid of the extra today anyway." She flicked ash from the end of the cigarette. "Now it's a week of matzos."
Her friend clucked in sympathy. "Well, I thought I'd go ruddy mad during Lent. I had to resort to sneaking into McDonald's."
"You see? That's why you're always dieting and I'm not. Kosher food is naturally healthy." She took another drag on the cigarette. Yeah, Harry thought; that's really healthy.
"Yes, it's vile stuff, but it's at least meat. Mum's been on such a religion kick lately. Thinks she impressing Father Mike by telling him no one in our house had any meat until Easter Sunday. Gah!"
"Your mum still waiting to hear the voices?"
Dee rolled her eyes. "I am so tired of living with Joan of bloody Arc. Now that she's heard Princess Di is considering becoming a Catholic she's worse than ever. I swear, Ruthie, I'm this close to becoming C of E or just a sodding atheist. Or maybe I'll do like your brother. What is he now? A Sikh? "
Ruth snorted. "Buddhist. Mum and dad are trying to be philosophical about it. He's at uni, he's experimenting..."
"How did that start?"
"Oh, he was studying karate, looked up the history, discovered it began with Buddhist monks on Okinawa, and it mushroomed from there. But he and Sarah are still going to Seder at Hillel House on campus. Mum and dad would kill him if he didn't. Dad went to yeshiva with the rabbi who's the Jewish chaplain at Durham. He'd find out if Joel didn't go, even if Sarah lied for him--which she would."
"No one else in this bloody country is religious, why do our families have to be so barking mad? At least I have it easier than you though; Father Mike isn't my dad. And frankly, if I don't go to mass, he's easier on me than Mum is. I confess to him that I lied to Mum about going to mass, he gives me a few Hail Marys...I'm lucky Mum doesn't check up on me and ask Father Mike if I've been. I think it's been over three months. Soon, of course, he may notice that I'm always confessing the same thing, and he might tell me he can't give me absolution because I'm clearly not remorseful...."
"What would you do then?"
Dee shrugged. "Who cares? I'm only at confession because Mum goes and drags me with her. She takes ages in there. She raised her voice once, after she'd been confessing for a while. I think he fell asleep!" she laughed, and Ruth joined in. "You'd think she needed that much time to confess to being involved in drug trafficking or something illegal. I wish she were; at least then my life might get interesting." At the word "illegal," Ruth began coughing and slapping her upper chest, no longer laughing. Harry grimaced. Ruth seemed to think Dee was too close to the mark.
She plucked the cigarette out of Ruth's mouth, as though that were the cause of Ruth's coughing fit, and took a last drag on it herself before crushing it underfoot. "We should go. We'll be late. The Dominatrix will have our arses if she catches us sneaking in again. And aren't your parents probably going to leave soon?"
Ruth had recovered; she seemed grateful that her friend was no longer discussing illegal activities. "Yeah; Mum's taking the rest of the tref food to the soup kitchen at St. Alban's. It's near her office at the Centre. That way she can feel very virtuous about throwing out food."
"I'd have taken it if my Mum would let me, but you know how she is..."
"How'd you convince her to let you come tonight?"
As they walked toward the garden gate, Harry heard Dee admit to Ruth, "Well...strictly speaking, she just thinks I'm going to be doing GCSE revision with you....If I had any nerve I'd tell her I'm converting to Judaism, just to see what color she'd turn...."
"Say chutzpah. It'll be more convincing...."
"At least it'll give me something different to say at confession next time...."
Their voices faded as they moved onto the pavement and down the street. Harry was going to go back to the tent when the kitchen door opened again and a woman Harry assumed was Ruth's mother emerged, carrying a cardboard box against her middle. Harry couldn't see what was in it. She had short-cropped dark hair with a touch of grey around her face, small oval glasses with dark metal frames and an older version of Ruth's face. The deep smile lines around her mouth and eyes made her look like a very stern but also very understanding mother. A moment later her husband emerged, looking as Harry had seen him Friday night, but wearing a sweatsuit and carrying a larger box which was closed with a lot of Sello-tape.
"Abby! How many are you bringing tonight? Bubbe says you still haven't told her."
Abby Pelta stopped and her brow creased as she considered this question. "Well, there's Rose. She's the new Fellow. And she said she wants to bring her fiancé, Winthrop or Winslow or something like that. Very upper-crust. Don't snap at him if he acts a bit like he's at the theatre; he's never been before."
Her husband harrumphed. "Probably Lord of Something-or-other, had a father or grandfather who was a Nazi sympathizer. Is that it?"
"Now, Jon, stop that. You can be such a reverse elitist. No. There was someone else...Let me think...Oh, right. Ruben said he can make it. So that makes three."
She rolled her eyes. "My research assistant."
"I thought his name was Curtis."
"It is. Ruben Curtis. I've called him Curtis for over seven months. Then, the other day he finally told me that he took exception to it, so I'm trying to remember to call him by his first name. Turned out that's why he'd been so growly all this time. Americans. Incredibly tetchy. What are you doing?"
"Just taking some more dishes to the shed before I go for my run. This is the last lot."
Harry panicked; what if he noticed the tent? But Jonathan Pelta put the box down with a grunt; clearly it was very heavy. He put his hands on his lower back and grimaced. Not lifting with his legs, Harry thought.
"Finally," his wife said with a sigh. "I supposed Bubbe is--"
"Yes. Scrubbing everything in the kitchen to within an inch of its life. Don't worry, Abby. She'll be fine. She's old, but she likes doing it. Keeps her busy."
Ruth's mother looked up at her husband with moist eyes. "Busy enough that she hasn't heard the news?"
He nodded. "You know how she is. If the news isn't in Yiddish, it doesn't exist."
"Don't I wish..." His wife sat down on the kitchen steps with her box on her lap and he sat next to her, his arm around her shoulder. "What are we going to do, Jon? It's happening, it's finally happening...."
He nodded and put his cheek on her hair. "We knew this was a possibility...."
His wife jerked up. "You're damn right we knew! But would anyone listen? No, it sounded wonderful to everyone that the driving age was being lowered to sixteen. Parents wouldn't have to cart their children around any more--children who were old enough to leave school, but not old enough to drive legally. It sounded like a perfectly logical, practical move. Goodness knows I do find it convenient that Ruth can drive herself. Of course, at the same time, they slipped in the new conscription age, and the fact that it's mandatory for young men and women. How long do you think they've been planning this war, Jon? How long do you think they've been intending to sacrifice our sons and daughters on some political altar? I mean, look at the situation with 'non-essential' appliances like tumble-dryers. There's this mysterious shortage for more than ten years, and all the government will say is, 'No comment.' What have they been doing? Using the metal to build more instruments of war? How long do you think they've been stockpiling?"
"Now, now--we don't know there's actually going to be a war..."
"Not going to be a war! You heard the news this morning! The Soviets caught a British spy in Helsinki. He had a briefcase full of American currency. That's what's used for arms deals. Well, that and drug deals. And they say they have evidence that the money was part of an arms sale to the rebels. With the Soviets on one side of the Finnish civil war, and us on the other...."
"It's not just us and you know it. The Americans have had that 'peacekeeping force' there for a year."
"Right. A lot of bloody peace it's bought. But they've got so many people in America; they haven't had mandatory conscription during war time since Viet Nam. They can just use reserves, they have so many people. We don't have that luxury here...
"I know it's not just us; it's all of NATO. And if there's a war, it'll be all out. Us and them. You heard the report; Castro is issuing an ultimatum to Washington: get out of Finland or else. And the Chinese and Vietnamese are getting involved now too. It's going to be the entire Communist world versus the non-Communist world. It's going to be a bloody disaster, and Helsinki isn't going to be the only front."
Ruth's father sighed. "And now that our government, in its infinite wisdom, has enacted mandatory conscription for anyone sixteen or older who's not enrolled in school--"
"Joel," she whispered softly, looking up at him pleadingly. He shook his head.
"I don't know what it is with him. His A-levels were fantastic, and then, as soon as he started at Durham, it all went to hell..."
"That was two years ago. And he started one week after they lowered the driving age and passed the new conscription law..."
"Sarah's marks are fine..."
"Yes, but you know what will happen if Joel has to leave uni and go into the army. She'll follow him. They're twins. Even though she's a girl and he's a boy....she'll find a way to be near him. I never wanted my daughters to serve in the military, Jon. I know that doesn't sound very feminist....But that's why I didn't want to move to Haifa when the twins were small, even though that flat on Einstein was perfect, and so close to the market....And a lot of good it's done us now, not to move to Israel. We still have to worry about terrorism, we still have to worry about our daughters going to war, and at a younger age than any other industrialized nation. And now one of our spies is about to cause World War Three."
Harry felt his knees buckle under him and struggled to stay on his feet. The Muggle political situation was far worse than he realized, just from looking at the fragment of newspaper he'd brought back to Hogwarts from Maggie's flat. And now he knew why he had felt compelled to ask Ruth how old she was when they were preparing to drive to the park....Somehow, the legal driving age from his old life had become rather fuzzy in his brain. Now he remembered: It used to be seventeen. He had had no expectation of learning to drive a car in this life (truthfully, he hadn't had much of an expectation of this in his old life, either) and so it simply wasn't an issue for him.
But war? This government had led the country to the brink of war? Harry thought back to Heir, to the recitation of crimes he had given....Harry tried to remember whether a civil war in Finland was mentioned. This was his doing, he knew. The Heir's. But technically, it was someone else's fault.
It was all his fault.
If he hadn't changed the timelines....
He watched in a daze as the Peltas kissed each other goodbye. "You'd better go," Ruth's father told his wife, "before Oxford Road becomes a car park." He watched his wife carry her box to the car, then he picked up his own box again, carrying it to the shed to put it away. Harry saw him look right at the tent, then away, opening the shed door, then locking it when he was done. Afterward, he looked at the tent yet again, frowning, but then the kitchen door opened and Harry saw a very old woman standing there, speaking rapidly, presumably in Yiddish.
"I'm coming, Bubbe, I'm coming..." he said, his voice tired, as he returned to the house. So much for the morning run, Harry thought, missing this morning ritual himself. He returned to the tent and took off the cloak. Draco was sitting at the table, chewing and looking at Harry strangely.
"Took you long enough," he said through the food in his mouth. He swallowed. "All you were supposed to be doing was putting the cat out."
"I know, but things are very, very bad." Harry explained the political situation to Draco, who looked nonplused. "You don't understand," Harry said with more than a little frustration. "It's all my fault. This isn't how things were before. We have to change the timelines as soon as possible...."
Draco still didn't look like he was taking the situation as seriously as Harry needed him to. Draco had always been thoroughly of the wizarding world. He'd never given a second thought to Muggle politics. "Fine. We'll get the train to Leicester tonight. Soon we'll be in London, then we'll head to Dover. We're making progress. If it all gets changed, none of this will have happened, right? So what's it matter if we rush about?"
Harry drew his lips into a line. "People will still be suffering. And that suffering is real."
Draco sighed, as though he were the one who had given up on trying to talk sense into a stubborn person. "So. How do we get the train tickets?"
Harry furrowed his brow. "Ruth just left for school. I suppose we'll have to wait until she gets home."
"Why don't we write in the diary some more?"
Harry mulled it over. How did he know Draco hadn't been writing in the diary while he was standing outside, listening to the Peltas and Ruth and her friend? The book was sitting in the middle of the table, the quill resting atop it. Harry looked in his friend's face for some sign, but this morning Draco looked friendly and guileless.
"I suppose. I'll go first."
As Harry picked up the quill, he looked at Draco again. For a second, Harry thought he had an odd red light behind his eyes. Harry squinted and looked again, but now it was gone. He shook his head and opened the book. Had he really seen that, or had he just imagined it?
Harry put the quill to the paper and began to write....
They heard Ruth return home in the late afternoon, calling to her great-grandmother, and then they heard her go out again. A moment later, the kitchen door opened for a second time.
"Where are you going?" her mother's voice carried to the tent.
"To see that sick friend again. I'll be back soon."
"Ruthie! This isn't the time! We're almost ready to start, our guests are in the living room, including Dee...."
"Mum, it will just take a few minutes, honest! Come on, it's a mitzvah..."
Harry heard her mother sigh. "All right, all right, just drive carefully...."
The kitchen door closed and Harry heard the car start. He realized too late that Ruth would go to the park, fail to find them, and worry....
But by the time he had pulled out the Invisibility Cloak to run to the car and stop her, she had sped off. He returned to the tent and pulled off the cloak again, sitting down dejectedly on one of the chairs. Draco was napping on the lower bunk. Harry thought he might be a bit drained from writing in the diary. Harry was feeling a bit drained from writing himself. He glanced at the diary warily, wondering how strong he would be by the time Riddle could emerge from it, how well he would be able to be the one in charge, in control of the situation. He remembered confronting Riddle in the Chamber of Secrets, and the trip into the diary he'd taken, seeing the young Dumbledore and the former headmaster, Dippet, who had had no idea that Riddle was responsible for Myrtle's death because he'd released the basilisk from the chamber. And Hagrid....it had changed Hagrid's life....
At length, Harry heard the car door slam again, and heard the back door open. "Ruth! Where have you been?" came her mother's voice. "We've been--"
"Oh, Mum!" Ruth cried, tears in her voice. "He's gone! He isn't there! I looked all over. Oh, I'm so worried...."
"Ruth--" her mother said more softly now. Harry heard her footsteps on the pavement. He put on the cloak and went out into the garden, and near the kitchen door he saw mother and daughter embracing, Ruth's shoulders convulsing while he mother tried to reassure her with a shaking voice. "I'm sure--I'm sure he'll be fine, love--"
Ruth shook her head, and Harry could see the tears running down her face. What must she be thinking? he wondered. His stomach clenched as a fresh wave of guilt washed over him. Great, he thought. One more thing I've botched.
They went inside, a rectangle of light spilling onto the walk for a moment and then disappearing. Harry turned to Draco and shook his shoulder to wake him. "We need to pack," he said when the grey eyes had finally opened. "And we need to let Ruth know we're all right and get the tickets from her."
Draco rubbed his eyes and sat up. "How are we going to do that?"
"Well--" Harry hesitated. "I suppose I'll just go knock on the door and ask to speak to her. The train doesn't leave for more than two hours, but it'll be leaving without us if we don't."
Draco nodded and started moving slowly. Harry brushed past him impatiently, and Draco gave him a look which made Harry freeze; there it was again, a flash of red behind his grey eyes, like someone who'd had their picture taken with a Muggle camera while they were looking directly at the bulb. Once again, it took only a moment to pass, and soon the two of them had reduced their portable belongings to the usual small, manageable size. Harry had Draco wait on the walk while he went to the door. He knocked tentatively, but there was no answer. He tried again. Nothing.
He turned to look at Draco, who shrugged. "Maybe they can't hear," he suggested. "You know, if they're not in the kitchen. We should try the front door."
Harry nodded and they walked out the garden gate and around to the front of the house, but when he saw the door, Harry was startled. He stopped, confused. The front door was open. He could hear voices spilling out through it, and smell wonderful aromas which made his stomach move within him, longing for something other than the sandwiches and tea on which they'd been living. He could see the flickering of candlelight and sometimes a person moving back and forth, too quickly for him to tell who it was. The two nomads stood in the circle of light from the lamppost, looking longingly into the house, and finally Harry decided, This is stupid. They know she's been visiting someone sick. I'll just go knock at the door and say it's me...
He took a breath and walked toward the door. He could see through the opening that the living room had been turned into a large dining room, and Harry realized that he hadn't noticed the existence of a dining room in the small house; they must normally eat in the kitchen. But this looked like a special occasion. The table was laid with pristine white linen and beautifully painted china, silver glittered at each place and each diner had a crystal wine glass and one for water as well.
He heard Jonathan Pelta's voice speaking as he had when he was giving his sermon on Friday night, rather than the way he'd sounded when speaking to his wife in the garden. "This year, we are here, next year in the Land of Israel. This year we are slaves, next year we shall be free...." Then he said something Harry thought might be Yiddish. Perhaps he was translating for his wife's grandmother. Harry remembered his wife talking about why she had decided against their moving to Israel. Did she think Israel might be safer now that war with the Soviet Union might be imminent?
He waited for Ruth's father to finish speaking and was raising his hand to knock when he heard Ruth's clear voice saying, "Why is this night different from all other nights?"
He would have stopped himself if he could have, but his hand was already heading toward the door, and he had knocked before he knew what was happening. He saw a young aristocratic man with honey-blond hair turn in shock, his blue eyes opening wide. Then a very, very old woman swung the door open, and upon seeing Harry standing there, with his long hair and beard, looking weary and travel-worn and with a tent slung on his back, she backed up with her hand on her chest and would have collapsed had her granddaughter not grasped her around the waist.
Ruth's mother also looked in shock at Harry, while she hugged her grandmother to her and repeated, "Bubbe, Bubbe..."
Ruth had stopped her recitation and came running around the table from where she'd been sitting, throwing her arms around him. "Oh! You're all right!" she cried. Then she abruptly disconnected herself, coloring deeply and looking furtively at her parents. Her friend from the morning, Dee, was looking at the two of them with one eyebrow raised, a smile playing around her mouth. Ruth had the presence of mind to dash to her great-grandmother to find out how she was. Harry heard a quick exchange in Yiddish, then Ruth returned to him and said in a rushed whisper, "What are you doing here? You weren't in the park when I went..."
"I'm sorry. We had to leave. Someone from the Ministry of Magic came..." he said as quietly as he could, looking at the other guests' reactions to the uproar he'd caused.
"Yes, well--now Bubbe thinks you're Elijah. Congratulations," she said in the same frantic whisper.
"She thinks I'm--what?" his voice rose slightly. Ruth's great-grandmother pointed at him in silent horror, her eyes wild. Ruth whirled on her, and she and her mother simultaneously tried to reassure the old woman in rapid-fire Yiddish.
Harry had a chance in the meantime to glance around at the other guests and smile feebly in mute apology. In addition to Ruth's friend Dee, who was wearing a purple cardigan and jeans instead of her school uniform, and the wealthy-looking blond man Harry had already noticed, there was a very self-possessed dark-haired woman of about thirty who rather hung on the blond man with an air of possession. Harry guessed that she was Rose, the Fellow at the University of whom Ruth's mother had spoken, and the blond man must be her upper-crust fiancé, of whom Ruth's father had spoken in distinctly uncomplimentary terms. That left the small, twitchy bespectacled man who seemed to be in his mid-twenties (despite his receding hairline) to fill the role of Ruben, alias Curtis, alias Ruben Curtis, Abby Pelta's research assistant from America.
When they had gotten the old woman settled in her chair again with a glass of water and explained to her that Harry was the sick friend Ruth had been visiting, Ruth was able to explain to him that they were celebrating the first night of Passover with a Seder, as they would also on the second night (that would be at the Centre for Jewish Studies at the university, where Abby Pelta was known as Professor Pelta). She also explained that at every Seder, an extra place was set at the table for the prophet Elijah and the door left open for him, just in case he decided to join the family for their repast. Harry grimaced upon realizing that he was so hairy and travel-worn that an old woman had mistaken him for a five-thousand-year-old prophet. He took in the place setting that sat before an empty chair, realizing that that was Elijah's place.
Then more mayhem erupted when Draco suddenly knocked on the doorjamb, saying, "What's taking so long?" then freezing when the elderly woman began her screams anew and Ruth hurriedly explained to her and her parents that this was the friend of the sick friend.
When the dust had settled, Harry and Draco were both invited to stay, and another place was laid for Draco so that there were now ten at the table. Ruth had introduced them as 'Hal' and 'Drake,' not giving them a chance to give their Dudley and Piers aliases, which they hadn't told her. Dee wouldn't let up grinning knowingly at Ruth, who had been visiting not one but two young men without telling her best friend. Then Dee turned to Jonathan Pelta and said, "Shouldn't we set another extra place? Now that the one that was laid is being used?"
Ruth's father looked thoughtfully at Harry and Draco, and Harry decided that he liked him quite a lot as a slow smile spread across his face. "I don't think so. I can recognize prophetic visitors when I see them." He gave them a wink, and Harry couldn't help smiling back at him, and feeling very welcome.
The meal and ritual finally continued. Harry was next to Ruth and Draco was next to Dee, who was looking very appreciatively at him. Draco was less admiring of her, but took notice of Rose, the university Fellow, and in fact, seemed intent on memorizing the pattern on her dress while Ruth picked up the slim book on her plate and resumed the recitation which Harry had interrupted when he'd knocked at the door.
"Why is this night different from all other nights?" she read in the same clear voice. "For on all other nights, we do not dip the vegetables even once; and on this night we dip them twice. For on all other nights, we eat both bread and matza, and on this night we eat only matza. For on all other nights we eat all other herbs; and on this night we eat bitter herbs. For on all other nights, we eat sitting up or leaning, on this night we all eat leaning..." Harry watched her profile in the flickering candlelight, feeling almost like he was out of his body, like when he was doing the pain-blocking. He could be in any time or place through the centuries when people had gathered in their homes with friends and family and reenacted this ritual....
When they were given a paste-like dollop of something on small plates, he put some on his fork tentatively, hesitating before putting it in his mouth. "Why aren't there any apples in the charoset?" Rose-the-Fellow said in a whine. Her sudden interjection brought Harry abruptly back to the present, and he looked about to try to determine what she was talking about.
Ruth's mother smiled stiffly at her colleague (or was she really more like her student? he wondered) and said, "This is haroset all'italiana. This year we're doing an Italian and Sephardic Seder, with foods and traditions from my husband's side of the family. They're from Spain and Italy. Last year we did an Ashkenazy Seder, in honor of my family's traditions. We take turns. Haroset all'italiana is a paste of ground dates, oranges, raisins and figs. It's really a very nice change from the apple-based charoset. Give it a try."
Now that Harry knew what was in front of him, he tried it. It was very thick and almost cloyingly sweet, but it was also a relief to have some sort of fruit after weeks of eating from the paper sack. Rose looked less than enthusiastic about not having the sort of Seder to which she was accustomed.
Harry, however, was in food heaven. Not since Hermione had prepared the Greek dinner at four, Privet Drive had he eaten so well, and that included a few fabulous feasts at Hogwarts, in both his lives. Readings were interspersed with the food, but once he had begun, Harry largely noticed the food. Next they had carciofi alla romana, a simple dish of artichokes prepared with chopped parsley; minced garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. Harry closed his eyes while he ate, chewing slowly, and he thought Draco would actually kiss Dee if she told him he had to in order to get some more of the delicious artichokes.
When they were presented with cubes of fried white fish in an herb vinaigrette with caramelized onions, Harry thought he heard Rose muttering something about gefilte fish, whatever that was, but if this was another aberration in the Fellow's mind, her objections were soon drowned out by the "Mmmms" and, "Oh, that's so good," being uttered almost unanimously around the table. Harry was surprised that the egg-drop soup did not have the matzoh balls that had appeared in the chicken soup Ruth had brought them, but then he remembered that that was her great-grandmother's soup, and this was a dish from her father's family.
He received quite a shock when the main course was--lasagna. It turned out to be tortino di azzine, a matzoh lasagna which included vegetables and lamb. Jonathan Pelta also passed round something he called insalata alla Sefardita, which was a salad of romaine, dill and green onions with red wine vinaigrette. Just when he thought he couldn't hold any more, Ruth carried out ricciarelli di Siena from the kitchen, which were very, very rich almond-paste cookies rolled in powdered sugar.
Draco leaned over the table while dessert was being eaten and gestured to Harry. Harry leaned over to hear Draco say, "Are you sure we can't go to Italy instead of Do--?"
"Sssh!" Harry said suddenly, then froze when he realized they were all looking at him. He had shushed Draco rather loudly, but he'd been desperate for no one to hear the word "Dover." He smiled feebly again and the conversation continued, although Harry noticed that Dee was looking very interested in what he and Draco had been saying, and he wondered whether she would be able to figure out what it was.
Then Ruth explained to her parents that "Hal" and "Drake" needed to get a train, and that she wanted to drive them to the station. Her mother looked at her husband with a dubious expression.
"Your father will go too, Ruth."
"It's late. That's all there is to it," her mother said with finality, and Ruth shut her mouth abruptly, but Harry could still see the rebellion in her face. Remembering her sneaking a smoke near the potting shed that morning, he realized she had more than a little rebel in her.
"I have to get something first," she said indistinctly, running to the stairs. Harry assumed that she was fetching the train tickets. When she returned, she was wearing her coat. Harry and Draco thanked the Peltas for letting them stay and followed Ruth and her father to the car.
Harry and Draco sat in the back seat after Ruth's father helped them put their things in the car's boot. He started the car, but didn't put it in motion, instead turning about to look at Harry and Draco.
"You're like Ruth, aren't you?" he said suddenly, and Harry had a sudden urge to run, but found that he was frozen in place. Had Ruth told her father about them? His mouth hung open and he looked at Ruth, who likewise looked at her father in amazement.
"Ruthie didn't tell me. I guessed. When she's been contacted by strangers in the last four months, we've usually found that they're other--people like her. Like that girl who plays the cello--"
"Hermione Granger, Daddy," Ruth said, rolling her eyes. "She's only somewhat famous."
"Yes. Well, at least she remembered that she could call you on the phone." He turned to the back seat. "Do you know she sent a letter to Ruth using an owl? The bloody thing practically gave me a heart attack, and I'm much stronger than my wife's grandmother." Harry tried not to laugh; he wasn't sure now whether he should have helped Hermione buy Sebastian. "Anyway--we've always known that Ruth was--special. But sometimes it was a little hard to remember why..."
Memory charms, Harry thought. Although that wouldn't have been the rule until Ruth was around six or seven. They would probably have memories of times before that, if any, when she'd performed accidental magic.
"So she told you about the concert in London during the holidays..." Harry said slowly. Her father nodded. "And about the school..."
"Yes. And now it's not going to happen, of course. An odd man came to see us a few weeks back to tell us about that. But he also said Ruth and the family would no longer be 'obliviated,' whatever that is, when she accidentally does--things. Although they'll still investigate to make sure Duggles don't see any of it."
"Muggles," Harry said automatically.
"Oh, right. Muggles." He turned to smile at Ruth. "I guess that would be me, eh?"
"Yes, Daddy, normally, but he meant anyone outside of the family," Ruth said, and even in the dim light, Harry could see her coloring. Harry felt strange, this Muggle rabbi with the witch daughter knowing that they were wizards.
"So," he said, turning to speak to them again. "I know you're--what you are. I know you're off to get a train and that you've been sick. What I don't know is why you're traveling at all, and using such pedestrian methods. I thought your sort would have other ways of getting around."
Harry and Draco looked at each other, and Harry had opened his mouth to speak, but Draco did it first "We're trying to avoid other wizards. We're spies, and we're trying to avert a war. The civil war in Finland has largely been stirred up by Dark Wizards, and we're attempting to stop them. We can't afford to be seen by anyone who might recognize us. It's very dicey, but it's also against our laws to interfere in Muggle politics as they've done." Where had that come from? Harry wondered. Draco's voice sounded very odd, not quite like his own.
Ruth's father opened his eyes very wide; Harry realized they hadn't actually given Ruth a rationale for why they were traveling, other than Harry escaping from prison, and she turned around and gave them both such an admiring and hopeful gaze that Harry sincerely hoped they'd be able to fix the timelines and avert the impending war before any more lives were lost.
Jonathan Pelta turned around to the steering wheel now and put the idling car into motion. "Right! We're off, then! We've got to do something to assure that peace breaks out!" He smiled at them over his shoulder, and Harry returned it, wishing Draco had let him do the talking, but admitting to himself that it was a pretty good story, and partly true, after all. If they succeeded, they would be averting a war.
Or hurtling right into the middle of a different one....
Their train was leaving Manchester Picadilly at ten o'clock and they managed to reach the station twenty minutes before that. Harry wished he could have more time to talk to Ruth and her father, but time was very, very short, and Harry was hoping that, having called attention to themselves in Manchester the previous evening, there weren't Ministry Aurors lurking somewhere on the platform, trying to find out whether the Disarming Charm had been performed by Harry Potter, escaped convict.
When the train arrived, Harry turned to Ruth and said quietly to her, "You've no idea how much--I mean--" He had no words; she had been an immeasurable comfort at a dreadful time, and on top of everything else, to have had the patience to teach him the Kaddish....
"It's a mitzvah," she said thickly, the same thing she'd said to her mother. "Don't worry about it." But her voice was thick and her eyes were shining. Harry smiled at her and leaned over to kiss her cheek briefly.
"Thank you." She swallowed and nodded, then he had to turn away from her and follow Draco onto the train. When he turned to look, Ruth and her father were still standing on the platform; Jonathan Pelta's arm was around his daughter's shoulders, and he looked down at her fondly and--Harry thought--proudly, as well. Harry thought of her resignation at learning that she wouldn't be able to go to Hogwarts after all. That was another reason for fixing the timelines. You're supposed to be at Hogwarts, he thought. You're supposed to be Ginny's friend, you're supposed to be learning everything you need to know to be a well-educated witch. As the train began moving, he lifted his hand to her and smiled, and Ruth and her father lifted their hands in response. When he could no longer see them, he leaned back next to Draco and closed his eyes, remembering her at the large table in Hagrid's garden for Ginny's birthday party the previous spring in his old life, and looking forward to seeing her in her proper place at the Gryffindor table in the Great Hall of Hogwarts again....
They disembarked at Stafford and waited just a few minutes for the connecting train to Nuneaton. It was now after eleven o'clock at night. In less than half-an-hour they were in Nuneaton and disembarking again. The next train showed up promptly, less than ten minutes later, and soon they were on the last leg of their trip. As the lights in the town gave way to the dark countryside, towering trees and tranquil fields sped by, and Harry felt himself being lulled to sleep. He allowed it to happen, as they would probably have to walk for a bit to find an unpopulated place from which to take flight, and he needed enough rest to make both the walk and the flight possible. He hadn't actually flown since before he'd come down with the fever, and he didn't imagine he'd be able to go very far this night.
From the train station they headed southeast; they'd asked an old man outside the station where the nearest farms were (Harry made it seem then were looking for work), and that was the direction he pointed. After trudging along for an hour, they came to a place called Stoneygate, but it still had the air of a prosperous suburb and had too many houses for Harry's comfort. Moving on, they reached Evington after another half-hour, but that still wasn't quite right. When a sign by the edge of the road announced that they'd reached Stoughton, Harry knew they'd be all right. There were several large farms or estates on either side of the main road, and a spinney in the distance on one large, rolling piece of property. Perfect terrain for take-off. It was two-thirty in the morning, and no one should be around to see them.
Harry started to give out, however, after only about a half-hour in the air. Not wanting to spontaneously transfigure in mid-air, he set down at a place called King's Norton. There was a lot of open land, more big estates and farms. They set up camp in a copse of trees and settled in for the night. To save batteries, they didn't turn on the torch and write in the diary, but went right to sleep.
The next morning they resumed walking, keeping a steady pace, but they'd only gotten as far as Welham when they'd been walking four hours. They'd actually set out six hours earlier, but had rested for two in the middle. And they hadn't set out until noon, sleeping rather late.
Harry didn't try to fly that night, and the next day, they walked for four hours again; resting for two in the middle still seemed necessary. They did manage to leave earlier, though, setting out at ten o'clock in the morning. They reached Rushton, Northamptonshire by the time they'd walked their four hours. Life was still uneventful. They both wrote in the diary, Draco still a little more than Harry. Harry thought about all of the dreadful things that could happen if they didn't fix the timelines soon, and wished he dared stop in a village to buy a newspaper, find out how bad things were. Had Washington responded to Castro's ultimatum? Were China and Vietnam really involved? What about the captured British spy?
Harry decided they'd dawdled long enough and he wanted to speed things up again. He was going to try flying this night for three or four hours, with twenty minute rests every forty minutes. After they'd had their first sleep, they woke and packed up the tent without talking. Harry transfigured and spread his wings and Draco climbed onto his back, bearing all of the other gear. Harry leapt into the sky, beating his wings back and forth, wishing they'd dared to bring brooms. He tried not to think about being tired or fatigued, but pushed on. He could do this; he'd done it before. All that rest from being ill had made him soft.
But after only about half an hour, Draco suddenly cried out above him. It was a dreadful, pained exclamation, and Harry felt the clutching fingers leave his mane. What is he doing? Harry wondered. He'll fall for sure...
And as soon as he thought it, it happened. Draco's body was hurtling out of the sky and Harry, in a panic, beat his wings frantically against the suddenly very heavy air, trying to get under him again. He succeeded for a moment, then felt odd, and started falling himself. He'd been jolted out of his Animagus form and was also going down, down, and an excruciating pain was radiating throughout his body, originating in his left forearm. The Dark Mark. The Death Eaters are being summoned.
He had been jerked out of his Animagus form by the activation of the Mark, that's how powerful it was. The ground was rushing up at a frightful rate. Harry was falling with Draco above him, and he put all his effort and concentration into transfiguring back, trying to ignore the pain, but he spread his wings too late and landed awkwardly, and Draco fell on top of him and then onto the ground with a loud thud and a sickening crack! Harry immediately took on his human form again, and the moment he did, the pain radiating from his left forearm took over his body again, joined now by the pain emanating from his right wrist, which had bent back in a way it wasn't meant to when he landed. He glanced at Draco, who was screaming and holding his left ankle with one hand and his arm with the other.
Harry wasn't sure how long they'd been on the ground, rolling around in pain, when he finally thought of doing the pain blocking. But he glanced at his best friend, face contorted in agony, and decided he too could tolerate it. It just didn't seem fair for him to be able to escape the pain when Draco couldn't. They both bore the Mark.
At length, the pain subsided and they were left with just the throbbing wrist and ankle to worry about. It took them far longer than usual to erect the tent, and when they had, Harry couldn't bear the thought of trying to pull himself up into the top bunk, and he collapsed on the ground, hugging his wrist to him, hoping sleep would eventually take over his mind and give him some respite from the pain.
Harry wasn't sure what woke him, the voices or the eerie feeling that creatures, large, fast and dangerous creatures, were streaking by the tent. He could hear hoofbeats and sensed a lot of movement beyond the confines of the canvas walls, and felt uneasy. Where are we? he wondered. Had they inadvertently set up in the middle of a town? Last night, even in the dark and the delirium from their mutual pain, it had looked like any grassy meadow on any farm. Normally, they would have sought the shelter of a copse of trees, or a spinney, but Harry knew that Draco's ankle made it impractical to try to move any farther at the moment. And with his damaged wrist, Harry couldn't begin to contemplate carrying him. They'd set up camp exactly where they'd fallen.
Harry resisted the urge to look outside, to find out what was going on. Whatever it was, everyone seemed to be blissfully ignorant of the wizarding tent in their midst. The Muggle-repelling charms were still working, he thought thankfully.
But he'd no sooner thought this when he heard the unmistakable sound of hooves biting into the damp sod near the mouth of the tent, as though a horse had just made a jump and was preparing to continue on. Harry heard an agitated whinny and a female voice trying to soothe the beast, saying, "There, there, Granny, take it easy....It'll be all right...."
Then there was another whinny and an oof! and a thud, and Harry heard the hoofbeats retreating into the distance. Next, he heard someone struggling to their feet, and then angry footsteps in what turned out to be very expensive riding boots heading straight for their tent. Uh-oh, thought Harry. If a Muggle is angry enough, do the charms not work?
Then he got the shock of his life when the thrown rider put her head into the tent. She, in turn, appeared equally shocked as her body followed her head, looking amazed that she could stand up straight, that it was a small room instead of the tiny space implied by its outward appearance. She stared at the furniture, then swallowed and took off her riding gloves and dome-shaped helmet, shaking out her gleaming cap of golden hair, glancing around at the tent's interior. There was a great deal of mud on her posterior, probably from the fall, Harry assumed.
"Bloody hell," she breathed while she looked around, then when her eyes lit on Harry, her wrath returned anew. "Listen, I don't know who the hell you are or what you think you're doing setting up a tent here, but we're trying to run a charity point-to-point and this bloody thing is right where I was trying to land when Granny jumped that hedge. It's the best spot, if you go through the cut...."
Harry stared at her. "Granny?"
She looked extraordinarily hacked off. "Granny's Ghost. The grey I was riding. Was being the operative term. She was spooked by the damn tent and dumped me off. Bloody lucky I didn't break anything." She rubbed her rump, wincing. Harry was trying not to smile, but it was difficult.
"You mean a ghost was spooked?" He managed not to laugh outright. She drew her lips into an obstinate line.
"This is not funny--"
"Alicia, calm down--"
"I will not calm--what did you say? How do you know my name?" Alicia Spinnet scrutinized him more closely now, but still didn't seem to have any clue as to why he would know her. Then Draco started to wake and stretched, yawning hugely, his eyes still closed. He sat up, then swung his legs to the ground and put his head in his hands, rubbing his eyes, still not looking around. Finally, he lifted his head, and upon seeing her, swore colorfully and put his head back in his hands. She smirked.
"Good morning to you too. As I was telling your friend--" She stopped and squinted at Draco, looking like she was thinking furiously. "You look familiar...."
Draco ran his hand over his shorn hair, grimacing. "You saw me with more hair at the concert in London." So, Harry thought, he recognizes her too.
Her eyes opened wide. "That's it! You're--um--you're--"
"Draco Malfoy," he drawled. "Glad I'm so memorable," he said, sounding a little snitty. But she ignored him and turned to Harry.
"But who are you?"
Harry shuffled nervously. He finally just blurted it out. "Harry Potter." She frowned, then opened her eyes wide.
"Good Lord! It is you! Didn't you--"
"Escape from prison after being sent there for killing my mother. Yes," he said quietly, not bothering to make excuses. She couldn't very well go running to a telephone out in the middle of the field. Her rather tight riding clothes didn't seem to allow for a telephone.
"She was trying to kill someone else and he stopped her," Draco said, making Harry's excuse for him. "Not that anyone gave a damn about that."
Alicia looked around the tent, still dazed. "So this is--"
"A magic tent. Yeah," Draco said, almost sounding bored. "Muggles see it, but forget about it right away."
"Oh, that explains it. It looked to me like the horses knew something was wrong. I could see that from some distance; they were all hesitating just a bit. But the other riders didn't notice anything wrong, so they were just slapping their horses, telling them to get on with it and buck up and all that....I noticed, and I suppose Granny felt me hesitate or something..."
"You're not a Muggle, you're a witch, so the Muggle-repelling charms don't affect you. Sorry it's got in the way of your little horse race. We didn't know we'd set it up in the middle of bleeding Ascot."
She put her hands on her hips, reminding Harry of the Head Girl he'd known in his other life. "Don't you get snide with me. It's not a track; my mother's club is holding a charity point-to-point to aid Finnish refugees. The money is made by people placing bets; all the money that isn't won goes to the refugees. I've been trying to get the grey ready for a race in a few days; she's been nervous and temperamental lately. I thought the point-to-point would be nice for her, running on grass, racing across the countryside instead of going round and round like at the track. But she's gone off without me now. And I've only just recently talked my mum and dad into letting me ride Granny when we race her; I've been trying for years to convince mum especially that I don't want to do dressage forever. Dressage is for ladies, you see; racing is for hooligan men. I mean, yes, I'm good at dressage," she said, without a trace of self-awareness at how vain this sounded, "and I was on the Olympic team and all," she continued, "but it just gets bloody boring."
Harry admired her compact little body; she was rather small, smaller than many adult male jockeys he'd seen, so that was an advantage. And she certainly seemed determined, which couldn't hurt, he supposed. Her only problem at the moment was that she suffered from a distinct lack of horse.
"Well, we have a bit of a problem ourselves," he told her, holding out his damaged wrist. "The reason we set up here is that we're both injured. It's worse for Draco; it's his ankle."
"You're lucky you didn't camp one field over. Those aren't cows, you know, they're bullocks. And as we've seen with the horses, I don't think animals are affected by your Muggle-repelling spells."
She set about examining each of them, looking very experienced about it, Harry thought. She'd probably suffered numerous fall-related injuries over the years, he assumed, working with horses. After looking at Harry's wrist and Draco's ankle, she gave her verdict.
"Sprains. Both of them. You each need an ace bandage and you," she said, pointing at Draco, "need to keep off that ankle."
Harry and Draco looked at each other. "The problem is," Harry said, "when you're on the run, getting rest is a bit dicey. And we've recently both been ill, and resting far too much. We have to keep moving. It's taken us since Monday night just to get here from Leicester. By the way--what day is it?"
"Saturday. The twenty-sixth. Of April."
"We knew it was April...." Draco drawled. Harry gave him an evil look.
"Where do you need to go?" she said, her eyes wide. "Or doesn't it matter? As long as you don't get caught by your wizard police."
"Aurors. And, well--getting caught would be bad, but we're not just randomly running. We have to go to a few places. London, for a start. We're trying to avert war."
She frowned. "What?"
"The war in Finland. It's been fomented by dark wizards. It's rather a long story...."
She opened her eyes wide. "Really? And what can you do about it?"
Harry and Draco looked at each other. "We can't tell you," Harry said. "Sorry."
She didn't speak, but looked like she was thinking hard. Finally, she said, "Listen. I have my own place on my parents' estate. Used to be the lodge. I'm nineteen now, and I couldn't stand having Mum sticking her nose in my private affairs all the time. I mean, she acted like I was proposing murder every time I wanted to have a boyfriend over...." She glanced at them nervously. "There's no one right now, don't worry. I can fix up the two of you, right as rain, and you can rest there for the next week. Then I can just drive you down to London. It's only about an hour and a half from our place."
"Is that where we are? Sywell?"
"No. You're in Thorpe Malsor. Near Kettering. But our place is only about eight miles south of here. You're actually on Keaton's Folly Farm. Don't ask. The owners aren't named Keaton, either. It's an old name, like Thorpe Malsor. Where in London do you need to go?"
"Fulham. A place on Wardo Avenue."
She nodded. "I've been in the area. I know just how to go. I had a boyfriend lived around there for a while." Harry was starting to wonder how many boyfriends she'd had. Draco looked like he wanted to kiss her.
"Drive?" he said breathlessly. "Did you really say drive?"
She nodded, as though it were ludicrous to think there was any other way to travel about Britain. "Of course. We can do it next Friday. That'll give both of you some rest. I was going to meet some old school friends at the National Gallery that day. I can drop the two of you in Fulham first."
Harry grinned for the first time since spraining his wrist. "I don't know how we can thank you enough. And I'm--I'm sorry the thing with Hogwarts never happened. I still think you should have the chance to study magic...."
She sighed. "I don't know that I'm sorry. I mean, I'm out of school, and good riddance. I'm just glad I know what's going on now when strange things happen..."
Harry nodded. "Your parents must be relieved to know, too. You probably did a lot of odd things when you were younger."
"My parents? They don't know," she said, as though he should have guessed.
She sighed. "I thought of telling them, but there just didn't seem to be any tactful way of saying, 'Oh, by the way, Mummy and Daddy, I'm a witch.' There don't seem to be any greeting cards in the shops for an occasion such as this. And then when that odd fellow showed up from your Ministry of Magic, telling me that because you'd escaped from prison I wasn't going to their ruddy school after all, I was so glad to live alone. He just appeared when I opened my door in the morning! Out of thin air! My dad would have had a heart attack. Mum would have taken so much of her migraine medicine she'd be in danger of an overdose."
Harry swallowed. He hadn't really thought about what things were like for the Muggle-born witches and wizards. One minute they were told they were magical and going to a school of witchcraft and wizardry, the next moment they were told, Sorry, change of plan....
Draco had another concern, however. "You, um, wouldn't happen to have a car nearby, would you?" He looked at her hopefully. She frowned, and he pointed at his ankle.
"Oh, quite right! Well, I can't take the two of you to the lodge straightaway. First I have to trudge back to the start of the point-to-point. That's probably where Granny's Ghost went. I'll just tell Mum and Dad she was spooked and leave it at that. Luckily, this isn't a part of the course where there are spectators. I'll come back for you later. I can drive my Range Rover over the fields without a problem."
Harry looked at her earnestly. "Thank you. Thank you so much."
She shrugged prettily. "It's all right. But you know," and she nodded at Harry, "you really could use a shave and a haircut." Then, abruptly, she left to begin the trek back to the spectators. Harry smiled. He could manage the shave and haircut once they were in her house; she'd get quite a shock, he thought, remembering Ruth.
They ate and wrote in the diary a little while waiting for her. Harry wasn't sure how long it was, but when he heard a rumbling motor advancing on their position, he resisted the urge to put his head out of the tent to check that it was her; if it wasn't, he'd be seen. The tent had Muggle repelling charms on it, but his head did not.
Harry felt the ground shake as a vehicle came to a halt near the tent. A minute later, Alicia entered, wearing jeans and a close-fitting pink T-shirt. She looked very young suddenly.
"Come on then. Let's get him to the car," she said to Harry, nodding at Draco. Getting out of the tent was awkward, but once they were out-of-doors, Draco put one arm across Harry's shoulders and one across Alicia's, and they half-carried, half-dragged him to the Range Rover. Harry and Alicia returned to the tent and she helped him take it down and pack it up, marveling at the small size. They returned to the car and Alicia climbed into the driver's seat, while Harry took the place next to her. She started the car with a business-like air, and soon Harry had to grab onto the door with his left hand as they bumped over ruts and hillocks before finally driving onto a dirt track that eventually led out the gate of Keaton's Folly Farm. It only took about twenty minutes for them to reach her house in Sywell, the lodge on her parents' estate. It was a cozy-looking stone Neo-Gothic structure, the middle-ages romanticized. Harry and Alicia served as Draco's support again on the way into the house, and they deposited him on a sofa near the hearth in Alicia's living room. He looked relieved to be back in civilization.
She had soon bandaged up the two of them, and Draco sat by the fire with his head back, his foot on a pillow on a large ottoman. Harry had a sling around his neck in which his bandaged wrist rested. Surveying her patients with satisfaction, Alicia strode toward the door.
"You're all set. I'll be back soon."
"Wait!" Harry cried. "Where are you going?"
She turned. "Oh, sorry. I eat dinner up at my parents'. I hate to cook. I was going to nick some food from their kitchen to bring back for you. There are some biscuits in the kitchen and you can make yourselves some tea, but not much else, I'm afraid. I worry that if I'm around food, I'll just eat it without thinking. If I want to be the jockey for Granny's Ghost, I have to be careful of tendencies like that. The weighing-in is very important. Can't take any chances."
Harry nodded, and bade her goodbye. When she left, he sat down at the other end of the couch from Draco and reached for the television remote control on the ottoman, just as Draco was reaching for it. Harry got it first.
"Hey! I was going to try that. Erm--what is it?"
Harry grinned. "Too slow. And--you'll see." The black box sat on a large Regency-style chest of drawers that also held a stereo with impressively large speakers. When Harry pressed the power button it came to life. He flipped channels impatiently; finally, he found the news. He assumed that if Alicia was going to eat dinner with her parents, it was probably about the right time for the evening news.
Soon, he wished he hadn't checked and he had just found an old movie or an American comedy, as Draco wanted to do. It was too depressing. Footage was shown of men in fatigues crawling on their stomachs carrying rifles, doing drills; more footage was shown of shivering Finnish rebels, wrapped in layers of scarves but wearing fingerless gloves to manipulate their weapons better, and then there was a report from Moscow on what the Kremlin had to say....
Harry swallowed and stood. "I'm going to take a shower." He hadn't asked Alicia about this, but he really felt the need.
"Does that mean that I get to watch what I want now?"
"If you like..."
Draco leaned back and began to flip through the channels, reminding Harry strongly of the way he'd been at Mrs. Figg's during the summer. "Wish wizards had this," he said with feeling, going through four more channel changes before Harry had even reached the doorway.
"They could do," Harry said, shrugging. "All you need is electricity. Plenty of wizards probably live close enough to Muggles that it would be thought strange if they didn't have electricity."
"I suppose..." Draco mumbled, going through three more channels, his eyes starting to glaze over. Well, thought Harry, better he turn into a zombie because of the television rather than because of Tom Riddle.
He realized once he'd disrobed that he wasn't certain whether he could take a shower; he removed the sling that had been supporting his arm, but he didn't know whether he was allowed to get the bandage wet that was immobilizing his wrist. He drew himself a bath instead, carefully keeping his right arm elevated above the water. It was awkward to handle the soap with his left hand; he kept dropping it. He concentrated very hard and reduced his facial hair to nothing, and shortened the hair on his head as well. (Less of it was easier to wash, especially with one hand.)
He was emerging from the tub and wrapping a towel around his waist when suddenly the door swung open and Alicia was standing there looking anxious. "Harry! Draco said--" Then she froze at the sight of him. "Oh," she said simply now. She shook her head suddenly and continued. "Um--Draco said you were taking a shower. You--you didn't get your bandage wet, did you?"
He held it up for her to see. "Dry as a bone. I decided on a bath for that very reason."
"Oh. Well. Good." She suddenly seemed at a loss for words, and seemed to be trying to appear not to be looking at his chest, then not looking at his legs. "I see you shaved and cut your hair," she finally said.
He ran his good hand through his hair; his head felt oddly light. "Actually, I use magic. Less messy."
"Oh. Right. Of course. You don't, er, need any help dressing, do you?" Harry couldn't tell whether she looked hopeful.
"Actually--do you have a washing machine? And an extra dressing gown, so I have something to wear while the clothes wash?"
"We'll have to wash the clothes tomorrow. I can take them up to my parents' house. But I have plenty of clothes for you to choose from. Follow me."
In the corridor outside the bath there was a freestanding wardrobe. She opened the door to reveal a hanging compartment and some shelves upon which were folded some very nice shirts.
"Let's see....You look about the same size as Franny..."
"Two--no, that's not right--three boyfriends ago. Francis, really. Lovely, he was," she said wistfully, then sighed. "He raises quarter-horses. Went back to Dublin. He still rings me up, but the time before last he said he was seeing someone, so last time I said I was about to go out on a date and had to ring off. That was a few weeks ago, and I haven't heard from him since. Here we go! His rugby shirt. Don't worry; it's clean. And he's never actually worn it to play rugby. If he ever tried, he be eaten alive. Not exactly an athlete. And here are some jeans."
"Thanks," he mumbled, taking the clothes from her. She closed the wardrobe and he took the clothes into the bathroom to dress. When he emerged he had only the jeans on, which had been hard enough with one hand. "Can you help me with the shirt?" he asked, feeling foolish for turning down her help. She smiled and held it out for him, and he put his arms in the sleeves, wincing slightly; she raised it up and pulled it down over his head, then pulled it all the way down for him, as though she were dressing a small child.
He thanked her, looking down at her, wondering how strange her life had been. Accidental magic, memory charms, the Olympics, finding out she was a witch, having a fugitive wizard show up....
"Alicia," he said softly. "If there is a war--what will you do? Since you're out of school."
She frowned. "Mum wants me to go to uni, but I don't want to. Daddy says he's good friends with Lord Baines, and he can easily get me a commission and a position as an aide de camp. Glorified clerk, really. Me...I have different plans..."
"Well....I've been talking to Hermione Granger." Harry was startled; it seemed Hermione had been a busy girl. Contacting Ruth and Alicia. Had she been in touch with all of the Muggle-born witches and wizards who'd come to the concert?
Alicia looked around furtively, as though someone could overhear them. "She's planning to go back to America, and if she does, I'm going with her. She said we could find out how to contact the wizarding community there and really learn about our abilities. She's got to think about the war too; she's also done school. And a cellist and a jockey can work just as easily in America as in England."
"But won't they be in the war as well?"
"Probably. But they probably won't send us back here to go into the army. And anyway, we could always go underground in the American wizarding community if we had to. You wizard types don't seem to show up on government radar. As far as I can tell, you don't pay taxes or have passports...."
Harry looked sheepish. "It's sort of like being a citizen of a country within a country."
"Like--like the Native Americans?"
"Well, they have these things they live on called reservations, and they can do things like gamble legally on the reservations even if they're located in places where it's otherwise illegal. It's a bit like a different country, but not exactly. And it's obviously not secret, like the wizarding world...."
"I see," he said, not seeing at all, but finding that she was standing very close to him. "Erm--is there anything to eat?"
"Oh, yes. I left it in the kitchen. Come on down...."
They managed to pry Draco away from the television (old episodes of Dallas--Draco wouldn't stop going on about how he liked J.R. Ewing) and Alicia sat with them at the kitchen table, watching them eat right out of the plastic tubs she had surreptitiously removed from her parents' fridge. Harry opened one at random and found yellow rice with a slight scent of saffron and cumin. She heated it up in a microwave and handed it back to him; the plastic was rather hot now, and he avoided touching it as he ate. Draco opened a tub and found some chicken, which he immediately started to eat cold; Harry couldn't believe how ravenous they both were, but then he realized that the seder was Monday night, and it was now Saturday.
There was also some salad and she'd brought a large crusty loaf of bread as well. Harry ate his fill, as did Draco; soon after, he felt like his eyelids were incredibly heavy and he just wanted to put his head down....
Alicia led the two of them upstairs to the bedroom. There was a very large bed and a luxuriously thick carpet on the floor. "You two can sleep in here, I'll just kip on the couch...."
"No," Harry said immediately, feeling awful. "We can't kick you out of your own bed. We'll sleep downstairs...."
"But it's a big bed. And there's only one couch."
"No," Harry said again, firmly. "This is your house." Alicia looked thoughtful now.
"So you're saying I have to sleep in my own bed."
"Very well. One of you can share with me and one of you can sleep on the couch."
Draco and Harry looked uncertainly at each other. Was she suggesting--
"No," she said immediately, noticing the looks they were exchanging. "We're all going to be sleeping." And yet, she looked a little unsure of that.
"Draco," Harry said suddenly. "Why don't you take the bed with Alicia and I'll just use some blankets on the floor next to the bed, all right?" This put him somewhat in the role of a chaperone, but it seemed like the best solution.
"And then tomorrow, you can have the bed and Draco the floor," she said, smiling at him. He nodded feebly. She fetched pajamas for them from the supply of former-boyfriend clothes and they changed while she was in the bathroom. They both found it awkward, but at least Harry didn't have to worry about a shirt, since he slept without one.
When Alicia returned from the bath, she was wearing a knee-length black T-shirt and yawning profusely. She stopped when she saw Harry, walking over to him slowly. Harry held his breath. "What's that?" she wanted to know, pointing at the basilisk amulet.
Harry looked down; he'd hardly touched it since Ginny died, since he'd left Azkaban. it was four weeks since he'd escaped. "A basilisk," he said simply. "The king of snakes." She nodded and reached out her hand to touch it tentatively; he felt her fingers brush his skin and he shivered. At length, he stepped away from her. "I'm rather tired. I think I'll go to sleep now." She nodded and swallowed, then began to turn down the bed in a brisk fashion. She was on the side of the bed farthest from Harry, who could see Draco's hand hanging off the side of the mattress when he looked up in the moonlight. Draco had given him a sly grin just before Alicia had turned off the light, as though he might not let a chaperone ruin his first chance to be in a bed with a girl for a long time. What bothered him about this Harry couldn't pinpoint. Perhaps he was a little attracted to Alicia? He had let himself give in to her kiss temporarily, in his other life, but he'd been fine when she'd gone to the ceilidh with Draco. Maybe it was because it seemed just a little like Draco was being unfaithful to Jamie. But Jamie was dead. It wasn't possible, strictly speaking, for Draco to be unfaithful to her....
Harry tried not to think about it as he put his head down and closed his eyes; instead he thought about Ginny, and the last time he'd seen her, and when he finally dozed off, he imagined that he was holding her in his arms once more...
He awoke at dawn to sounds of thrashing on the bed. Oh, no, he thought. Don't tell me they're actually--
Good heavens, he thought. He's calling her Jamie. He remembered Ron and Parvati and wondered how long it would take Alicia to throw them out or report them to the authorities if Draco was calling her Jamie while they had sex.
"Jamie, I understand, your mum has just died, don't worry, I love you, I'll always love you--"
Harry sat up, suddenly very awake, realizing that Draco was not. Harry stood so he could see the two of them on the bed. They had gotten rather cozy during the night. Draco had rolled onto his back and Alicia had crawled close to him, her right hand thrown over his chest, his left hand on her waist. But they were both fully clothed and fast asleep. Harry thought about what he'd heard. Did Draco sleep with Jamie or not? he wondered. He rose and, after using the bathroom, padded quietly downstairs, knowing he wouldn't be able to drop off to sleep again. He thought about turning on the television, but instead he went to the stereo, sorting through her collection of cassette tapes for anything interesting. It was all pop music, except for some film soundtracks. He inserted one of these and pressed the play button, sitting back to let the symphonic strains wash over him, thinking of Ginny, and his mother and sister and brother....Then he turned the music off and sat in the stillness, and closing his eyes, he began softly to sing the Kaddish Ruth had taught him....
"Yis'ga'dal v'yis'kadash sh'may ra'bbo, b'olmo dee'vro chir'usay v'yamlich malchu'say..."
He remembered his sister putting her head on his lap when Remus was taken away...
"...b'chayaychon uv'yomay'chon uv'chayay d'chol bais Yisroel, ba'agolo u'viz'man koriv; v'imru Omein..."
He remembered his little brothers pulling pranks, the identical mischievous grins, part Severus Snape and part Lily Evans....
"...Y'hay shmay rabbo m'vorach l'olam ul'olmay olmayo. Yisborach v'yishtabach v'yispoar v'yisromam v'yismasay..."
He remembered meeting Ginny at the Quidditch World Cup, and kissing her behind Hagrid's old hut...
"...v'yishador v'yis'aleh v'yisalal, shmay d'kudsho, brich hu, l'aylo min kl birchoso v'sheeroso, tush'bechoso v'nechemoso, da, ameeran b'olmo; vimru Omein..."
He remembered holding his mother as she cried, telling her that he loved her, and seeing her crumpled lifeless body on the cave floor....
"...Y'hay shlomo rabbo min sh'mayo, v'chayim alaynu v'al kol Yisroel; v'imru Omein..."
He remembered carrying his brother's coffin on his shoulder, and Dudley's coffin, and carrying Cedric's body back to Hogwarts....
"...Oseh sholom bimromov, hu ya'aseh sholom olaynu, v'al kol yisroel; vimru Omein."
He repeated some of the words when he was done: "Y'hay shlomo rabbo min sh'mayo, v'chayim..." May there be abundant peace from Heaven, and life, upon us...
He had to do what he could to assure peace. To limit the loss of life. He had to. There was so much more at stake than his little life, or even the lives of those he held dear. It wasn't just about him any more....
He frowned; there was an odd sound coming from the upstairs, from the bedroom. He walked up the stairs, not realizing what the sound was until he was right outside the slightly-ajar door.
Damn, Draco! he thought. He couldn't even--
"Stop it, Alicia. Please."
Harry froze; did Draco Malfoy just ask a girl to stop doing something? In bed?
"You can't pretend you weren't enjoying that..."
"Alicia! I--I can't help it if my body just--just responds naturally to you. I'm only human. But--but all I can think of is Jamie...."
Harry saw through the crack that she was kneeling in front of him, and she'd removed her nightshirt. The sheets were bunched around her hips. At the name "Jamie" she threw herself down on her back, a pouty expression on her face. Harry glimpsed her chest for a moment, catching his breath, then backed up guiltily so he couldn't see her.
He heard her sigh. "I should have known. All the cute ones are. Does that mean Harry is too? And who's this Jamie fellow? Ex-boyfriend?"
"No, no," Draco said hastily. "Ex-girlfriend. Harry's sister, in fact."
"Ooooh," she said with understanding.
"Actually--not ex-girlfriend, not really. Late girlfriend."
"Oh," she said more tersely this time. "You mean--"
"Yes. About a month ago."
"Gah. I'm so sorry. I had no idea..."
"I know you didn't. I'm just not--not ready to move on, really...."
Harry heard them moving, and when he took another peek through the crack, she had moved to pillow her head on Draco and had her arms around him. She still wasn't wearing anything from the waist up, though.
"I know, I know, love," she said softly. "Sssh...it's okay..." They lay quietly for a few minutes, then Alicia spoke again. "Did you two, er, you know..."
"Sleep together?" He sighed. "We were going to. Had it all planned. It was going to be on her birthday. I had to convince her to wait; she'd have attacked me sooner if I'd have let her..."
Harry heard Alicia giggle. "I can't blame her...."
"Stop that! Hey, watch the hand..." Harry remembered with irony the scene behind Hagrid's hut on Ginny's fifteenth birthday. We've talked about the hands, Draco....
"Anyway--" she prompted him.
"Anyway, unfortunately, her birthday was also the day her mum died. We met just as we'd planned, late at night, and went up to the old Muggle Studies classroom..."
"Oh, right. Go on."
"But even though were were, er, naked and well--doing stuff, we just couldn't--we didn't--"
"I mean, her mum was dead and her brother had been taken into custody by the Ministry of Magic. It really didn't seem to be a good time for shagging, you know? So we dressed again and I just held her while she cried...."
"So you never--"
"--and we never really had another opportunity after that. Before she died. Before she was killed, I should say. You know she died to save her brother?"
"You mean Harry?"
"No; when she was killed he was in prison. Her younger brother. She just stepped in front of him and took the curse...." His voice hitched, and Harry felt his eyes water, thinking of his sister's bravery and sacrifice. That was Jamie, he thought. As much as she talked about how annoying the twins were, she'd sung like an angel at Stuart's funeral and defended Simon's life with her own....That was just what you did. What Jamie did, anyway. That's who she was, he thought.
He heard the covers being thrown back on the bed as Draco rose. "I'd better get up. Can't languish all day in bed with a beautiful half-naked girl, as appealing as that sounds..."
Harry slipped back down the stairs and went to the kitchen to see whether Alicia had brought back any breakfast cereal. He didn't find anything in the fridge, but a tall cupboard there were some boxes of cereal. He found a bowl and poured himself some corn flakes, starting to spoon it into his mouth just as Alicia and Draco entered, Draco on crutches.
"I found those in the wardrobe upstairs. I'd forgotten that Rodney had left them here after he'd recovered from his kneecap surgery...." Harry momentarily wondered how many boyfriends ago Rodney was, but he didn't ask. He might get an answer.
Alicia was wearing jeans again today with a tight light blue T-shirt that seemed to be all she wore from the waist up. Harry looked away from her, remembering seeing her upstairs. I wonder how I'll fare trying to sleep in the same bed with her, he wondered, wishing they'd both been cads and had gone along with her original idea to give them the bedroom while she slept on the couch.
When they'd finished eating breakfast, she invited them to come to the stables with her. They went back out to her Range Rover and she drove across the estate along a dirt road that cut a brown swathe through the rolling green. Harry saw a large stone Georgian house in the distance, but it seemed a world away, and he knew that was how Alicia liked her relationship with her parents: it had some distance.
Alicia took them to see Granny's Ghost, a beautiful dappled grey mare with soulful eyes and a mouth that tickled when Harry held out some sugar cubes for her. Alicia took out a currying brush and began to work on the grey's flanks.
"The grooms will do it as well, but I like the rhythm of it," she explained, smiling as she brushed the quivering flanks. Draco was standing at the door to the next box.
"Here's a beauty..." he breathed, and Harry looked up to see a majestic chestnut stallion with a white lightening bolt on its brow. He was jolted momentarily.
"That's Magic Man," she said smiling. "My old horse. Funny, isn't it? I named him when I was quite young. He does stud service now." For some reason, Harry felt himself flushing. Draco patted his nose and gave the chestnut some sugar cubes. There were more horses in the other boxes, but it was Granny's Ghost who was Alicia's focus now. They stayed with her, talking about the wizarding world while she groomed the horse and spoke lovingly to her. They watched her exercise the mare a bit and afterward they returned to the lodge house for lunch, finishing the food she'd nicked from her parents' kitchen the night before.
"Cook will start to notice soon if there aren't any leftovers in the fridge," Alicia cautioned them. Harry was startled; her parents had servants. With a house that size? Of course they did. "I'd best do a trip to buy groceries. What sort of food do you like?" Harry and Draco looked at each other; after Monday night's meal, the decision was unanimous.
"Italian," they said together.
"All right, that's not too hard. I can pick up some spaghetti and tomato sauce and a few other things. I'll be back soon."
Harry surprised them both by cooking dinner that night (spaghetti and meatballs--she told her parents she was out on a date) and when it came to be time for bed, just after they'd turned out the lights, he felt Alicia's hand on his shoulder. Uh-oh, he thought. Trouble.
He tried to ignore the hand. He tried not to think about the way she'd looked in the bed that morning, with Draco....
The hand didn't move, and after what seemed a long time, she withdrew it. But then he heard her soft voice saying, "Harry?" He didn't answer. Let her think I'm asleep, he thought. She said his name again and when he still didn't respond, she rolled over and he tried not to heave a great sigh of relief. In the morning, he rose again before the other two, drawing himself a bath and washing carefully, to keep the bandage dry. He found a shirt and some pants in the Old Boyfriend Repository, as he'd mentally named the wardrobe in the corridor, and went down to the kitchen to see about breakfast. He discovered that she'd bought some eggs and bacon for them, and he was touched; he knew she shouldn't eat anything of the sort, so this was clearly for their benefit. He woke the others with the smell of the sizzling bacon, and Draco hobbled into the kitchen on his crutches with his eyes partially closed, following the aroma with a dreamy smile on his face.
"In the shower. She said the bacon smelled great, but she didn't want to risk temptation and ordered us to eat all of it before she comes down so there's no chance of her having any."
Harry shrugged. "Well, that's one way to do it..."
He served up the bacon and the scrambled eggs he'd also cooked and they both sat down to eat, shoveling their food in hungrily, not having had hot breakfasts since Hogwarts. When they were almost done, Harry said to Draco, "You never did sleep with Jamie, did you?"
His best friend jerked his head up and looked him in the eye. "No, Harry. But not because you told us we couldn't. Because--"
"She was mourning our mum," he said softly. Draco nodded.
"I wanted to be there for her, to comfort her. If she'd asked me to do that to comfort her, I would have. Well, you know what I mean. I would do whatever she asked. Since she asked me to just hold her, that's what I did. It was completely up to her. But a part of me--"
"A part of you wishes you had done it, since she's gone," Harry said quietly, finishing for him. Draco nodded. "And now--" Draco frowned at him.
"Now--you're not ready to move on yet." Draco still stared at him. "With Alicia." No response. "Um, I saw the two of you yesterday morning..."
"Ooooh!" Draco finally responded, slapping his forehead. "Yes, yes....Well, she didn't know. Evidently your girlfriend let something, er, slip about my reputation when we were down in London for the concert..."
It was Harry's turn now. "Oh," he said simply, as though he'd been the one to tell. "Well, she seems to understand now. I just pretended to be asleep last night and I got up early this morning. I mean, she's very pretty and all, but I'm just not ready for anything new either...."
Draco smirked. "You could have fooled me. The way you and Ruth were--"
"She was teaching me a song!" he protested, but he felt himself flush. When Alicia walked into the kitchen, their conversation ground to an abrupt halt, and Harry was glad she hadn't entered a few minutes earlier.
On Wednesday, Harry grew his hair and beard again since he would be leaving the confines of the Spinnet estate. Alicia wanted them to come see her ride Granny's Ghost, and Harry had to admit that it seemed unlikely that there could be any risk in their attending. There would be huge crowds of people there to watch and bet on the races, and the likelihood of any of them being either Death Eaters or Aurors seemed slim.
Alicia's parents were lunching at their club and sitting with their friends to watch the races. Harry, Draco and Alicia climbed into her Range Rover and followed the groom who was driving the horse trailer out onto the main road toward Towcester. Since the trailer was right in front of them, they could look into the soulful eyes of Granny's Ghost the whole way to the racecourse. The drive only took about half an hour. Draco sat in the back seat with his leg up. Harry was glad for once that it was his right wrist he'd sprained, as this meant his left hand was free to clutch the door of the car as Alicia careened left onto Park View from Overstone Lane. He didn't mind as much when they had to turn right onto Wellingborough Road from Raglan Street, as his left side simply slammed into the door (he had made quite sure he'd locked it securely). Even though he was wearing a seat belt, he still felt like he was likely to wind up in Alicia's lap whenever she turned left, and he was afraid she just might take that the wrong way.
Finally, they arrived at Towcester Racecourse. It seemed that the entire county of Northamptonshire had turned out; Harry saw people frantically counting money and staring at racing forms, trying to figure out how to make themselves rich. As they followed Alicia to the horse trailer, Draco whispered to Harry, "How much Muggle money--I mean, money--have we got left?"
"Sixteen pounds eleven p." They'd been very frugal. Draco looked around at the hustle and bustle of the racecourse. "We should bet it. All of it. It wouldn't be risky. We could, you know, guarantee that our horse would win. We could pick a real long shot and--"
"No," Harry said adamantly.
"Just like that? No, without any discussion or--"
"No. We can't fix a race." Harry looked at the groom; he thought he might have heard the words fix a race, and Harry realized that was the last thing anyone should be heard saying at a racecourse. "We're not betting the rest of the money," he said quietly but firmly.
"Oh, it's all right for you to cheat at golf, but I can't suggest--"
"That wasn't illegal!" Harry hissed at him. "What you're suggesting is. That was just a private game between two people. This is regulated. There are all kinds of safeguards against cheating. Do you know how much is at stake here? How much money people bet on races?"
"And how much they win?"
"And how much they lose?" Harry reminded him. "We're just here for Alicia and to have a chance to relax at the races before she drives us down to London the day after tomorrow. No betting. And no--that other thing you suggested. That's that." Harry looked at the groom nervously, but he seemed occupied tending to Granny's Ghost. Alicia had gone off to change into her silks. When she returned, she was resplendent in bright red with a black and yellow harlequin pattern on the left half of her shirt and the opposite leg of her knee-length trousers, which disappeared into tall black shining boots. Her hair was pulled back into a very small ponytail, and she carried her helmet, looking exhilarated. She had been weighed already, and she walked up to the grey, talking softly to the horse and letting her nuzzle her palm, then patting her sides affectionately. Harry smiled at her.
"What are the odds on Granny's ghost?" he asked her. She looked around.
"I'm not sure....You there. Can I see your form?" She accosted a passing young man who was looking at her very appreciatively. He handed her his racing form without question. Alicia scanned down the closely-printed listings, muttering, "Granny's Ghost, Granny's Ghost....Ah, here we are. Granny's Ghost in the fourth....nineteen to one."
She sounded a bit dispirited when she read that. Harry took the form from her. "That's--that's not too bad. Look at this; plenty of horses have got longer odds than that. Amanda Lou is thirty-five to one and Spencerian is fifty to one, in the same race." Alicia didn't look cheered by this information. The favorite in the fourth race was Alpha Omega. Just as he read this, Harry looked up and saw a trailer unloading a beautiful black stallion with white around its hooves and a white blaze from its nose to its forelock. The groom patting the horse's shining flank was saying, "That's it, Alphie, there's my boy, you're going to show them how to do it, aren't you...."
Harry bristled. He looked again at Granny's Ghost, at the nervous white-rimmed eyes and dappled grey coat, the anxious prancing hooves. For a moment he had an urge to fix the race to do something to put Alpha Omega in his place--last place. But the moment passed, and he and Draco wished Alicia luck and went up into the stands with the other spectators. Harry made sure he put his hand in his pocket frequently, to check that the sixteen pounds was still there. That would be a pitifully small bet anyway, he thought, when it did momentarily occur to him to bet it on one of the favorites (but not Alpha Omega).
It was very exciting to watch the races. In spite of the fact that they weren't betting, they managed to get hold of some abandoned racing forms and picked their own favorites for each race. In the third race, the horse Harry picked to place actually came in second, so he was very pleased with himself. Then Alicia was moving toward the starting gate on Granny's Ghost, and Harry crossed his fingers for her. The race began and the horses were all straining to get out of the gate, stretching out their necks and pounding the earth with their frightfully hard hooves, jockeys leaning forward, imperceptibly nudging or caressing their animals, pulling on the bit, whispering a bit of encouragement in an alert ear....
Harry watched Alicia, growing more and more excited. She seemed to be one with the mare, letting something of her magic, perhaps, flow into the animal. He saw that Alicia let Granny have her head and simply followed along, and she passed one horse after the next, until finally, the grey was neck-and-neck with Alpha Omega and Harry and Draco were both yelling madly, beside themselves. At the last, Granny's Ghost's neck seemed to grow another two inches, and as the horses crossed the finish line, it was proclaimed a photo finish. Had she transfigured the horse, ever so slightly? he wondered. Would it show up as accidental magic? He remembered Hermione playing the cello, her hand stretching. That hadn't brought any Ministry types running, but then, that was more like the Animagus transfiguration, and as Dumbledore noted, if the Ministry could detect that, there wouldn't be any unregistered Animagi.
In a few minutes, the verdict came in: Granny's Ghost had won and Alpha Omega had placed. A horse called Kitchen Kapers came in third. Harry could see that Alicia was exultant, punching the air with her fist, and when the groom lifted her down from the saddle, she threw her arms around him. Harry and Draco made their way down to her (it was awkward for Draco, with the crutches), and she told a security guard to let them through. They enveloped her with hugs, and Harry's face hurt with smiling so much. It was nice to know he could still smile this much. He'd never seen anything so thrilling.
Then suddenly, amid the flashbulbs recording the upset win of Granny's Ghost, the world was full of flapping wings and feathers, and the mare was rearing up on her hind legs, whinnying like mad; it was all the groom could do to hold her in check. An eagle owl had landed on Draco's shoulder, a parchment tied to its leg. Harry tried to untie it with just his left hand, but he couldn't do it, and Draco was trying to hold onto his crutches. Alicia dashed over to help after seeing that the groom had the mare under control.
"What's going on? Why is that owl on your shoulder?"
"Well," Harry hesitated, "I don't know if this came up when we were all talking after the concert, but we use post owls to deliver letters and things...."
"We?" She looked baffled, then the revelation hit her. "Oh! We. Right. I think Hermione mentioned that. Do you need help?" Harry nodded.
Alicia tentatively approached the owl and untied the parchment. As soon as it was free of its burden, the bird dug its talons painfully into Draco's shoulder and took off, a number of people in the crowd pointing at the unusual sight of an owl flying about in the daytime. Alicia looked at Draco. "It has your name on it," she said, handing it to him. Draco unrolled it with one hand and Harry held the edge with his left hand and read it with him silently. Draco did not protest.
Why have you neglected your correspondence to me these last four weeks? I have had to find out from Zabini what you have been up to. While it seems your academic performance is adequate, he says you have not been sleeping in the Slytherin dormitory at night. Please explain this. I understand you are still without a head of house as Professor Snape has taken a leave of absence. This is no excuse for flouting the rules; you are to be in your dormitory bed every night. Zabini has also told me that Sirius Black is teaching Dark Arts and the headmistress has returned to teaching Transfiguration.
It is true that Severus Snape has suffered some recent personal tragedies, but what has that headmistress done to replace him and his late wife? Nothing. And yet you do not write to me to tell me what is going on, even though you have fewer classes than you were accustomed to. I cannot believe she has Black teaching Dark Arts. Is she mad? He's an ignorant fool. Zabini tells me that Potions and History of Magic classes have been cancelled for a month, with no excuse given for Professor Binns' absence, and that your Care of Magical Creatures teacher is also on a leave of absence. Leave of absence! I declare that the headmistress has taken leave of her senses! That school is falling apart. And they want to admit Muggle-borns!
I am taking you out of that excuse for a school as soon as possible. I am friends with the headmaster of Durmstrang. He has assured me that he would be happy to take you for the last two months of the term, and that he has heard from a number of other Hogwarts parents as well--not all of them in Slytherin--so you will have the company of other former Hogwarts students and other young witches and wizards from Britain.
I am asking the chair to call an emergency meeting of the board tomorrow concerning this travesty, and I will likely resign. I will be coming to the school on Friday to officially withdraw you as a student. We can travel to Durmstrang over the weekend and get you officially enrolled, so that you can begin proper classes again on Monday.
Draco looked up at Harry, horrified. "I forgot to tell Dumbledore to write to my dad pretending to be me. He hasn't gotten a letter in about a month." His voice was soft and frightened.
"And how can your dad take you to Durmstrang when that's not really you, that's Dumbledore?" Harry said sotto voce.
Draco looked up into the sky. "The damn bird is gone, isn't it? Bugger! We need to send this on to Dumbledore so he knows my dad is coming! We need a post owl!"
Harry shook his head. "We don't have a post ow--" he started to say; then he thought of Sebastian. He turned frantically to Alicia, who looked mystified about the entire affair. "Alicia, do you have Hermione's phone number?"
"Yes. She gave it to me when she contacted me about the concert she gave in London. Why?"
Harry felt very grim, after the jubilation of Alicia's and Granny's win. "We need her to send us her owl."
"It's a long story...."
They were able to tell Alicia the long story in the Range Rover on the way back to her house. "We don't have much time," Harry said. "We need Sebastian to get here, then we need to draft a letter to Dumbledore and send the letter on from Draco's dad along with our letter to him. And we have to hope that Sebastian gets to Hogwarts in time, so Dumbledore knows not to Polyjuice into Draco, because if he does, Mr. Malfoy's going to drag him off to Durmstrang, and whenever the potion wears off, he's suddenly going to find himself talking to the former headmaster of Hogwarts instead of his son."
"And," Draco added, "we have to hope that the owl doesn't deliver it to him at a time when he's being me, or if it does, that no one notices that it says 'Albus Dumbledore' on it instead of 'Draco Malfoy'..."
Harry turned and gave him a horrified look. "We can't send owl post to Dumbledore!" he realized suddenly. "Even if he's looking like Davy White, if someone sees him receive something that has his real name on it, that could be very dangerous for him!" Harry furrowed his brow, wondering when Dumbledore had received his owl post about the Invisibility Cloak. That didn't seem to cause a problem; the owl might have come to him when no one else was around. But now the former headmaster was spending a portion of every day as the caretaker, and a portion as a sixth-year Slytherin, so it was going to be much more complicated to contact him. It was also very important that they contact him, before Lucius Malfoy came to take his "son" to Durmstrang.
"Well," Draco said, "at least he won't have to pretend to be me any more. He can just stop taking the potion, it will look like I've disappeared, and they can occupy themselves searching all over Aberdeenshire for me while I'm down in London." He looked a little smug about this.
"Yes," Harry said, "but now it will look more conspicuous for us to be traveling together, because you'll also be missing from the school." Draco was silent at that. Alicia turned into the drive leading to her lodge house and Harry slammed against the car door painfully. He wanted to rub his painful left shoulder, but he couldn't reach it with his right hand with his arm in the sling.
When they reached the house, Alicia rang up Hermione, then handed the telephone to Harry, who was about to speak into it when he realized that Hermione probably still thought he was a murderer, having heard about his escape on the Muggle news. He thrust the phone back at Alicia. "Don't mention me," he whispered. "I think I need to explain my situation to her in person. Just ask her to send the owl."
Alicia did just that; Harry could vaguely hear Hermione's perplexed voice on the other end of the line, but finally she seemed to agree, and Alicia hung up.
"Why wouldn't you let me tell her?"
"What if she hung up and didn't wait for an explanation? What if she just called the Muggle police and told them I'm holding you hostage here or something? I think this is the sort of thing that needs to be explained in person. If someone had told you over the telephone that you were a witch, would you have believed them?"
Alicia admitted that this was unlikely. She told her parents she had a date again and she drove into Kettering to get some Indian food for their supper. While Draco was scouring the inside of a container that had held Tandoori chicken, trying to get every last morsel, a large owl came flapping in the kitchen window they'd left open for him. Harry recognized Sebastian, and breathed a sigh of relief. He wasn't sure how quickly the owl would be able to get to Alicia's from London.
They composed a brief letter to Dumbledore, saying basically that Lucius Malfoy's letter would explain the problem, and then they composed a letter to Professor McGonagall, asking her to pass both letters on to Davy White.
"Do you think we can we trust her?" Draco asked. Harry remembered that in this life she had only been the headmistress of the school, while for Harry, she had been his head of house and someone who had worked with him closely every night for months on end to train him to be an Animagus.
"She knows Dumbledore is Davy. And she prides herself on not being nosy; she would never read a letter addressed to someone else. We can safely send the owl to McGonagall and trust that she'll give the other letters to Dumbledore."
That was good enough for Draco. Harry had been relieved to see that since the Seder, he had been much more like his old self. He suspected it was because he wasn't writing in the diary as much. They sent the owl off with his burden after giving him some food, so he wouldn't have to spend a lot of time hunting on the way to Scotland. Harry watched Sebastian go with a lump in his throat, hoping he would be in time...
They were preparing to go to London on Friday morning when Sebastian returned. The letter was addressed to Alicia Spinnet, as per the instructions in the letter they'd sent Dumbledore. However, Alicia took one look at it and handed it to Harry.
I have ceased using the potion and DM is now considered to be missing. I still have some of the hair, so I may still use the potion to give some people a merry chase, perhaps somewhere near the west coast or even in Ireland. Please do not take any unnecessary risks. I understand that you had good reasons for contacting the person to whom this has been sent, but doing so was still risky. Use extreme caution at all times. I will do my best to assure that Mr. M is quite far from you. Thank you for warning me of his imminent arrival.
Harry sighed. "That's something," he said, handing it to Draco, who smiled when he read it. "Ireland! Dad'll be miserable if he goes looking himself. Whenever he's been, he says he can't understand a word anyone says."
Harry frowned. "It's not hard to understand someone Irish."
Draco gave him a lopsided smile. "My dad is as anti-Irish as they come, Harry. They could all use perfect British diction and it wouldn't matter to him." He looked again as though he had a very amusing picture in his head of his father looking for him in Ireland. "I almost wish I were in Ireland now, so I could see my dad's face...."
"The last thing I want to see is your dad's face. No offense."
Draco shrugged. "None taken."
They climbed into the Range Rover, and Harry tightened his seat belt, hoping that he could take Alicia's driving all the way to London. It only took them about twenty minutes to reach the London Road, and about an hour after that they reached Craven Park Road. Harry's side was aching and he almost wished he'd sprained his ankle instead of his wrist so he could have been sitting with his leg up in the back seat.
In only another fifteen minutes they were turning onto Fulham Palace Road, and then Wardo Avenue and Hermione's building. Harry turned to Alicia, unsure of what to say. She'd been much more subdued at night when it had been his turn to use the bed, and when he had awoken to find her with her head on his chest and one arm across him, he didn't have the heart to push her away, but closed his eyes and held her, remembering the simple comfort of holding Hermione in his dorm before their relationship had become much more physical. Perhaps that was why Alicia had had so many boyfriends, he thought; she just didn't like sleeping alone. Once she'd discovered they weren't interested in anything other than actual sleep, she'd been fine with it. Harry worried about her momentarily; would she flee the country if there was war? He tried not to think about the many lives that would be disrupted by this, and reminded himself that he needed to fix the timeline so that none of this would ever have happened.
"Goodbye, Alicia. Thank you for everything."
She smiled and nodded, but her eyes were wet. Harry leaned over and kissed her cheek, and then opened the door. She got out too and came around to help Draco emerge from the back seat, handing him his crutches.
"These are yours," he said. "Don't you want them back?"
"You're the one who needs them right now, not me. Just--just take them--"
Draco looked at Harry, at a loss for how to handle this, but then Alicia threw her arms around Draco, and he staggered slightly, and Harry saw him wince from putting his weight on his bad ankle. Then she extracted herself from him and quickly swiped at her eyes. "I should go. Meeting people for lunch. Take care, both of you." She quickly climbed back in the Range Rover and drove off without looking back. Harry and Draco looked at each other; Harry had grown his hair and beard again since he was in public, and they turned to Hermione's building now.
"What if she's not home?" Draco said uncertainly.
Harry shrugged. "We take that chance. Hopefully she is. I'll stand out of the way; you buzz her flat and ask her to let you in. She presses a button that lets you open the door down here. We'll both go in, and on the stairs, I'll put on the Invisibility Cloak. I'll follow you into the flat. Once we're both in, I'll check to find out whether her teacher is there. If the three of us are alone, I'll take off the cloak and we can explain what's going on."
Draco nodded, looking like he hoped Harry wouldn't ask him to repeat the plan to him. Harry heard Hermione's surprised voice when Draco pressed the button for her flat, and they both dashed into the building when they heard the click that meant the outer door was unlocked. On the stairs Harry donned the Invisibility Cloak and when Draco knocked on the door to the flat, Harry got quite a shock.
In some ways, she looked more than ever like the old Hermione he remembered and not very much at all like the frighteningly self-possessed cellist who had performed at the British Library. Her hair was wild, barely held in check by the ponytail into which it was pulled. She was wearing a loose-fitting grey T-shirt spattered with paint and denim shorts that had clearly been jeans in a previous incarnation. She was in her bare feet, which were also paint spattered, and there was a smudge of white on her nose. Her eyes were very bright, as though she'd been crying, and Harry wondered what on earth was going on.
He followed Draco into the flat, noting that the entire place reeked of paint, and it was easy to see why; dropcloths covered all of the furniture and there was a very tall ladder with a can of paint hanging from it in the middle of the room.
When she had closed the door, she walked silently back to the living room, her arms crossed, and then turned and stared at Draco, looking suspicious. "What are you doing here?" she finally said. "Shouldn't you be at school? That damn school that doesn't want us..." It took Harry a moment, but then he realized that "us" referred to the Muggle-born witches and wizards. Draco looked down at his ankle.
"I've had a little accident while traveling, and I was wondering whether you could put me up for a little bit, until I'm fit again?"
She softened upon seeing this, but then she said, "I don't know. If I sit you in a chair, can you make yourself useful?"
She waved her arms at the painting gear. "Edith and I are getting out. We're both going to America. I have a chance to be the cellist in a quartet of friends from Curtis and she's got multiple offers she's considering from three different conservatories. I'm sixteen and out of school and I'm damned if I'm going into the royal army because the idiots over in Whitehall are sending amateurs to Finland. If it was a cause I believed in, that would be one thing. But this is just ridiculous, and I refuse to be roped in."
She suddenly sounded very American to Harry, and he remembered that she had sounded that way from time to time the first day he'd met her at the library. Perhaps if she did move back to America, she'd lose her accent after a while.
"So you're painting the flat because..."
"Because we already painted the flat."
Draco looked perplexed. "So you're painting it again?"
"We weren't ever supposed to paint it. The landlord never knew. We're painting it white again because that's what it used to be, and if we don't, we stand to lose a lot of money."
"But," Draco said, "isn't the paint costing you a good bit? And all the gear?"
"Not as much as if we don't."
"Oh." He paused and looked around at the incomplete painting job. "So," he went on, trying to sound casual. "The two of you are painting the flat...."
Hermione sighed. "Nope. Just me. Edith did some, before she flew off to Boston. She's interviewing there. She did the bedrooms and bathroom, so at least I no longer have to sleep and shower with this stench in my nostrils all the time. I'm handling the public rooms. But since you're here now, if you wouldn't mind helping with a little magic..."
Draco smiled nervously. "Right. Well--I don't really, er, know any painting spells. But if you want an extra hand or two--"
"--or three," Harry said, taking off the cloak.
"--we're happy to oblige," Draco finished.
Hermione screamed and dove for the telephone.
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