Remus Lupin was not a happy werewolf, and that was putting it mildly.
Harry could see the tension in him as he sat at the table. His pose was deliberately casual but it was obvious that every fiber of his being was as taut as a bowstring. His cool grey eyes locked onto Harry as the door swung closed behind him.
"Where have you been?" he said in a calm tone, not moving a single muscle.
"Out." Harry didn't care if his answer sounded childishly obstinate because that was exactly how he felt.
"Don't give me that, Harry!" Remus snapped. "I want to know where you were."
"It's none of your business."
"Yes, Harry, it is my business."
"No, it isn't."
"Stop acting like a child, Harry. Tell me where you were."
"Why is it any of your business where I was? Are you going to tell me where you were?"
"I've been right here waiting for you!" Remus growled. Harry had never seen his former Professor lose his temper, not even with Pettigrew in the Shrieking Shack, but Remus was close to it now, and it surprised Harry that he cared so little.
"Well then you've wasted your day." He turned to leave the room but with a wave of his wand Remus sealed the door.
"Sit down, Harry, we need to talk about this." The voice was calm again but Harry could see the veneer was hair thin.
Harry plopped into a chair and said, "Why?"
"A little more specific, if you please," Remus answered, still struggling to maintain his control.
"Why do we need to talk about it? Why is it any of your business? Why should I tell you anything?" Harry was being churlish; he knew it and he didn't care.
Remus took a deep breath and slowly released it. Harry could see that he was struggling with his temper and was glad for it. Something, something deep within him, wanted to prod the werewolf, to push him over the edge.
"Harry, the Order is here to protect you. If we are going to do our job then you are going to have to start cooperating. That's why you need to tell me."
"I don't want your protection. And to be perfectly blunt, it hasn't been particularly protective in the past, has it?"
The teacup that Remus had been holding in his hand, hurled past Harry's head and shattered against the wall.
"SIRIUS DIED SAVING YOUR MISERABLE LIFE, JUST LIKE YOUR PARENTS DID! IS THIS HOW YOU REPAY THEM?"
"I KNOW HOW THEY DIED! I WAS THERE, REMEMBER!"
The two stared at each other across the kitchen table, both furious beyond measure and neither willing to back down. Harry's mind flashed back to his third year, when he had been caught sneaking into Hogsmeade under his father's invisibility cloak. He remembered the shame he felt at belittling his parent's sacrifice, but he felt none of it now just as he should have felt none then. Back then, everyone had thought that they were protecting him from some great evil looking to kill him when, in fact, they were preventing his godfather from finding him. They were leaving him trapped with the very person who betrayed his parents and keeping him from the one person who knew the truth. Evidently, Remus was thinking of the same incident but from a different perspective. When Remus spoke again, it was the same calm, controlled tone he normally used.
"This is just like at school, Harry. You're taking foolish risks and…"
Harry cut him off. "Yes! It's just like last time! You were wrong then and you're wrong now!"
"We were protecting you, Harry."
"NO!" Harry screamed. "You THOUGHT you were protecting me! But you weren't. What you were doing was keeping Sirius away and HE was trying to protect me." Harry drew a deep breath and continued more quietly, each word carefully chosen and enunciated to give it maximum impact. "You weren't protecting me. You were keeping me trapped with Scabbers, with Pettigrew, with the scum that betrayed my parents, trapped with the one person who DID want me dead. And that's exactly what you're doing now."
Remus was stunned. He had felt the guilt of wrongly believing Sirius guilty but he had never thought of what else his actions meant. By keeping Harry under lock and key back then, they had... no, HE had actually put him in more danger, not less. He staggered back until he struck the counter and he could retreat no further.
"No, Harry," he whispered, "you're wrong..."
"No, Remus, I'm right. All your good intentions did was almost get me killed, then and now. They did get Sirius killed."
"No," but there was no confidence left behind the words.
"But Harry," he began shakily, "Voldemort is out there and he wants to kill you."
"Yes, he wants to kill me," Harry answered. "But he's not out there." He brought up two fingers and tapped them against his temple. "He's in here. And how do you propose to protect me from that?"
Remus drew a ragged, uncertain breath and Harry took advantage of the pause. He wrenched open the door, which gave way readily now, and strode out of the room. He didn't hear the popping noise of Dissapparation behind him.
After two hours of fuming in his room, his transfiguration book on his lap but his eyes glued to the wall across from him, Harry came back downstairs for dinner. The Dursleys all sat around the table, which had been set for only three, Harry noticed, enjoying a roast. Harry circled around them and took a plate from the cupboard. On the plate, he made a pair of large sandwiches from what was left of the roast, leaving nothing for Dudley to have as seconds, and took the plate and two glasses of lemonade out into the garden.
Harry sat at a small wrought-iron bistro table in the back garden and set out his dinner. He took one of the sandwiches and pushed the plate to the other side of the table. Harry began to eat his dinner and, out of the corners of his eyes, watched the opposite chair. By the time Harry was half-way through his sandwich he noticed the other chair move slightly. He deliberately ignored the plate, and the sandwich quickly disappearing from it, and looked instead into the house where his Aunt Petunia was stacking the dinner dishes in the sink. He watched as she finished clearing the table and, with an imperious wave, indicated that Harry should get in and start the washing up.
He sighed and said, "Oh well, I guess I need to be getting back inside now, more chores to be done."
A garbled voice, as if its owner were attempting to speak around a mouthful of food, said, "Aye, but I do thank ye for the snack. Not as good as Molly's, mind, but better ‘n I'd've ‘ad otherwise."
"Your welcome, Dung," Harry answered, noticing that the plate he had brought out was now empty. "I hope I didn't leave you in a fix when I left today."
"Nah, Remus was a mite put out though, just not at me. I think he aims to nick your cloak, so's I'd be careful with it if I were you."
Harry smiled at this information. "I will, thanks. Oh, I won't be going out again tonight, so you can relax a bit."
"I thank ye for that, Harry, but after those Dementors last summer, that lot back at the Order would skin me alive if I so much as blinked on duty."
Harry chuckled as he stood and walked back inside. "I won't say anything if you don't," he said over his shoulder and closed the door.
Before going to sleep that night, Harry tried to empty his mind but thoughts of his fight that afternoon with Remus kept returning to him. The more he struggled to push them from his mind the more they entwined themselves. Finally, filled with frustration, he turned off the lights and gave up.
As the dream began, he saw himself standing in a wide sunny glade, long grass blew in the light wind as cloud shadows passed slowly by. His dream-self was laughing. Harry watched himself and couldn't remember, in his waking life, ever having laughed so hard or so purely. Dream Harry clutched a red Frisbee in his hand and, after a moment, curled back his arm and threw it as far as he could. In a heartbeat, Harry was chasing it. The grass flew past as his paws tore at the ground. An errant puff of breeze caused the disc to bank off into a different direction and he turned after it. The disc skidded to a halt in the grass and in a thrice Harry was on it. Holding it in his teeth, Harry carried it back to his dream self, watching the young man kneel to meet him and wrap his arms around his neck. With a grin, dream Harry took the disc and once again threw it across the glen, but instead of chasing it, Harry jumped onto his hind legs and knocked his dream-self to the grass. Pinning him down, Harry started to slobber his tongue over the young man's face, dripping goo into his hair.
"Geroff me, you great beast!" his dream self managed to get out. "Go and get the Frisbee, Snuffles before I turn you into a cat."
Harry awoke startled and breathless. In her cage, Hedwig gave a concerned hoot and looked at her friend. Harry rubbed his hand against his scar but there were no feelings there, just a tingling feeling like his hand was asleep. Had this just been a normal dream, or was it the beginning of some new attack by Voldemort?
The next morning, Harry arose early and went into the garden to begin his chores. Kneeling in the dirt with a small pile of weeds beside him, Harry felt his scar begin to prickle. Rubbing it absently, he bent back to his work when a voice sounded softly from behind him.
"You're up early, Harry," said an invisible Tonks.
Harry spun to face her, his eyes fierce. Under the invisibility cloak, Tonks started at the look on the boys face. She had seen him angry, and she had heard about the fight between him and Remus the day before, but she had never dreamt that a fifteen year old boy could hold such hatred in his eyes. It was almost as if they were glowing.
"Who's there?" Harry called. Tonks began to answer but something held her back. "Who's there, I say? Who's watching me?"
Harry rubbed frantically at his scar; it was burning now and was almost more than he could bear. Harry turned back to the garden and attacked the weeds with a vengeance. Tonks watched in silence until she was sure Harry was not going to bolt and then quietly moved into the front yard and down the street before Apparating to 12 Grimmauld Place.
Immediately after breakfast on Tuesday morning, Harry went back up to his room. Taking the stack of Muggle bills he got from Gringotts and stuffing them into his pockets, along with a handful of Galleons, Harry wrapped himself in his father's invisibility cloak and walked back down the stairs and out the front door.
As Harry began to walk down Privet Drive his nerves began to jangle. He didn't know what to expect. Would Remus jump out from behind a parked car and carry him back to Privet Drive? Would Mad-Eye hex him? Maybe Tonks would just trip him and break his ankle, ensuring that he couldn't go anywhere? But, in the end, nothing happened. Harry crossed the street at the intersection and began to head towards the local rail station to catch a train towards London.
Two hours and three train changes later, throughout which Harry could detect no one, friendly or unfriendly, attempting to follow him, Harry emerged from the Underground near Charing Cross Road. As he turned and started walking towards The Leaky Cauldron, he watched as the door opened and someone walked out onto the sidewalk. Harry was debating diving back down the stairs when he saw that it was Cho. Calling out, he jogged up to her.
"Cho! You made it!"
"Of course, silly, I said I would, didn't I?" she replied.
Cho smiled at him. "So, do you want to go back in and get some lunch?"
Harry chewed at his lip for a moment. "Well, how about we just stay out here and walk a bit?"
"You mean here?" she asked. "In the muggle part of town?"
"Well, yeah. That is, if you don't mind?"
"Sure," Cho said, "I've never spent much time in muggle London. Have you?"
"Not a lot, but I was raised by muggles so I can find my way around."
The young couple began walking, and talking. Truth be told, Cho did the talking. She spoke of the first time Cedric asked her out, the first time they kissed, and their date to the Yule Ball. Through all of this Harry was thoroughly bewildered as to what he should do. He settled on just walking alongside her and occasionally mumbling some incoherent word whenever she paused. Finally, after nearly an hour of walking and talking, Cho spoke about how, on the evening after the second task of the Tri-Wizard Tournament, Cedric had told her that he loved her. The dam that had been threatening since the beginning now burst and Cho began to cry. Harry hadn't a clue as to what to do, but Cho knew what she needed. She buried her face into his shoulder and wept. Out of pure reflex, Harry wrapped his arms around her and held her as she sobbed. What seemed, to Harry, like an eternity passed until Cho's tears slowed and she regained her composure. Harry looked around in embarrassed silence, staring at anything but her.
"I'm sorry, Harry," she managed between sniffles.
"It's OK, Cho, this is what we're here for, isn't it?"
"Yeah, but it can't be any fun for you, being saddled with a crying female on a beautiful day like today."
"Well, at least I'm outside and that's more than I'd be if I weren't here."
She looked over at him and dabbed at her eyes again. "What do you mean by that? Why wouldn't you be outside?"
Harry hesitated, he didn't want to admit to being watched constantly, then changed the subject. "It's getting late, if we're going to be having lunch then maybe we ought to be getting on with it. You hungry?"
"Yes, I am. What do you want? Is there any place around here to eat?"
"Well, there's a fish ‘n chip shop on the corner over there. Would that be OK?"
"Oh, yes! I love it when they serve that at lunch at Hogwarts. We don't eat it at home."
"Why ever not?" Harry asked and then continued with a smile, "Never mind, let me guess, it's not Chinese and you come from an old-fashioned home."
Cho grinned and said, "Right in one. Let's go."
They crossed the road and went into the shop. A few minutes later they were back on the sidewalk, each with a paper cone of food in their hands. Harry let his cool for a minute but Cho carefully plucked a piece of fish from her cone and blew on it before taking a bite. She chewed carefully for a moment before coughing.
"This is…" she said around her mouthful of food, "this is… really… Oh Harry, this is awful!"
Harry almost laughed at the broad grimace on Cho's face. "I know, it's nowhere near as good as at Hogwarts, is it?"
"No, I mean this is absolutely terrible." She used a paper napkin to remove the greasy bit from her mouth and threw it into a trash bin, along with the rest of her lunch. "Do people actually eat that rubbish?"
"Well, the shop has been open for awhile so, yeah, I guess they do," he said sheepishly. "I'm sorry, would you like something else? We could just keep walking and see if we can find a decent café?"
"Well, I don't want to be a bother, if you're enjoying that. Are you?"
"Not really." Harry then dumped his lunch as well. "I guess it's an acquired taste."
"Or an acquired lack of it," Cho responded.
They continued to walk haphazardly down streets, with Harry taking frequent looks over his shoulder to see if anyone was following them.
After a block spent in silence, Harry ventured, "So, you really liked Cedric but you don't know if you… you know?"
"Yeah, I know. I liked him but did I love him? I don't know. How many teenagers say they're in love? Most of us, I'd guess, but how many really mean it? Do any of us really understand what love is yet? Did Cedric?" She wiped at her eyes but didn't, much to Harry's relief, begin to full-on cry again.
"But you really liked him?" Harry asked. Cho nodded. "And now you feel guilty about liking somebody else?" She took a few steps and then nodded again. "Why?"
"I don't know. That the frustrating part. I know I shouldn't, but sometimes I feel like I'm cheating on him. It's like we didn't break up but we're not together anymore so I don't know what to do, or think."
They were passing an American hamburger place but Harry decided that if the fish & chips didn't go well then a Big Mac was clearly out of the question. Another block along, they came to a little sidewalk café where the signs were all in French and sat at one of the sidewalk tables.
After a minute, a waiter came over and Cho ordered something called ‘Croque Monsieur' for the both of them. Harry was pleasantly surprised when they were served a pair of toasted ham and cheese sandwiches. They sat quietly for a time, eating their lunch. The bill came and Harry paid before they returned to their walk.
"Now THAT was much better," Cho said.
"Yes, it was nice. A lot better than what I suggested, thanks."
Cho smiled and slipped her hand into his companionably as they strolled.
"So, do you like Michael" Harry asked after two blocks.
"He's nice enough, I supppose. He's safe though, and I think I need that."
"You know, he's nice and kind of sweet, but there's no real danger there."
Harry hesitated a moment before asking, "Was I... you know, safe?"
Cho seemed surprised and amused at this. "You? Safe? I should say not! You, Harry Potter, are VERY dangerous."
Harry stopped dead in his tracks. Half a step later, Cho faltered and looked back. She was shocked at the stricken look on his face.
"Harry, what's wrong?" she asked.
"I don't mean to be," he stammered. "I mean, I would never want to put you, or anyone, in danger. I can't help it if things just seem to happen to me. I didn't want anyone to die... It's not my fault."
Cho was at his side in an instant and took his hands in hers. "Harry, what are you talking about?"
"I don't mean to be dangerous," he continued. "I don't want to be."
"Oh Harry, I didn't mean it that way. Not at all," she said, raising her hands, and his, to her chest and holding them there. "No. I know you wouldn't deliberately hurt anyone, you know that. That's not what I meant." Harry just looked at her with a haunted gaze that frightened Cho deeply. "I didn't mean physically dangerous. I meant emotionally." Harry just shook his head mutely.
"Look, Harry, when I said Mike was safe, I meant that I liked him but not so much that I was risking anything. I mean, if he turned me down, or we break up, I really wouldn't care that much. I like him but I don't really like him. He's just... he's safe. No risks."
"And I'm risky? Emotionally?" he asked, trying to come to grips with this.
She squeezed both his hands tightly. "Harry, a girl would have to be very careful around you. You're the type of bloke that a girl," she blushed, "any girl, could really lose herself to. I mean really. Then, if something should happen, if you broke up, she would really be hurt."
"I'd never hurt a girl like that."
"I know you wouldn't consciously do it, but sometimes these things happen. How many couples that get together during school actually last? Who meets their soul-mate while a teenager?"
"Nobody, that's who. Maybe once in a generation, but you can't bank on that. You have to plan that any relationship you get into this young is going to end. You're going to split up. And so, why get so deeply involved with someone that you get hurt when it happens."
"You mean like with you and Cedric?" he asked.
Her eyes shone, "Yeah, that too. If I had known how close we were going to get, maybe I wouldn't have gotten involved with him. You have to figure that you're going to break up, but I didn't expect..." She began to cry again and this time Harry didn't hesitate. He wrapped his arms around her and drew her close.
As her tears began to subside, Harry said with a gentle smile, "So, I'm dangerous, eh?"
She sniffed and returned his smile, a little at least, "Yes, Harry, you are definitely dangerous."
"I can live with that. Even if it does mean that no girl will ever want to go out with me."
"Now I didn't say ‘ever'. You're just going to have to accept the fact that no girl will be dating you lightly. You are never going to be a casual boyfriend. Any girl that gets involved with you is likely going to take things very seriously."
"In other words, no snogging in the Astronomy Tower for me this term," he was trying to keep his tone light but Cho saw through it.
"Well, likely no, but you'd probably get chased out by Filch anyway. You know how that goes." Harry nodded, not wanting to admit that he didn't know. "Harry?" she asked, "can I ask you a question?"
"Sure, Cho, ask away," he answered.
"Well, it's about what happened at the end of last term, I know that something happened and that it involved Umbridge. Then something happened at the Ministry of Magic. You-Know-Who came, and you and Dumbledore fought him. Fudge saw it, and a group of Aurors saw it too. So they had to admit that he was back. A bunch of students were involved too, I heard. Were they from the D.A.?" Harry nodded. "What happened? I want to know the whole story."
Harry intended to just gloss over the story, to tell her just what was in the papers, maybe give her a couple of names they had left out, but, before he knew it, he was telling her everything. He told her about his dreams, how they had started just after he returned to Privet Drive, how he saw Arthur Weasley being attacked, Sirius getting tortured, everything. He just couldn't stop himself. It was like floodgates somewhere had been opened up and he couldn't stop the words from pouring out of his mouth. Not until the end, until he had told her everything.
"So, Professor Snape was tutoring you in Occlumency?" she asked when he finally wound down. Harry nodded. "Did it help?"
"I dunno, I suppose, but I always felt worse at the end of his lessons. Like I was weaker rather than stronger."
"How did he teach you? What books did he use?"
"You're starting to sound like Hermione, you know that. Not every answer can be found in a book."
Cho swatted his arm lightly and said, "Never say that to a Ravenclaw. We take it quite personally. So, what was it?"
"What was what?"
"What book did he use, of course."
"He didn't. He just told me what to do."
Cho was dumbfounded. "He just told you?" Harry nodded again. "What did he tell you?"
"He told me to empty my mind, that I had to master myself."
"Then he cast a spell that probed into my memories. I reckon he wanted to see if I could block it."
"Did he give you any practice? Did he show you how to block the attacks?"
"Well, he did tell me what to do. I just couldn't do it," he said glumly.
Cho shook her head. "Harry, you need to learn Occlumency."
"I know that, I've been trying." Harry didn't want to whine but somehow that's how it came out.
"Yes, but now it's time to try it the right way, the Ravenclaw way." She took his hand again and led him off down the street.
"Cho, where are we going?"
"Where else? To a book shop! I know of a good one too, just off Diagon Alley, it's mostly Chinese stuff but they have some English books there, as well. I'm sure they'll have something for us."
Harry hesitated, "Cho, I, ah, I can't go into Diagon Alley. Someone's liable to recognize me."
Cho paused and looked back at him. "You're that worried?"
"Yeah, well, maybe I am a bit paranoid – spending too much time around Mad-eye Moody, I reckon – but he is after me and who knows who I'll run into in Diagon Alley." Harry paused for a second then continued in an almost whisper, "And, I don't want to put you in any danger."
Cho looked at him for a moment and said, "I understand and I appreciate your concern Harry, but like I said when you started the D.A., anything I can do to fight him, I'm going to do. Right now that means helping you to keep him out of your mind." Then she added with a wicked grin, "There's not much room in there to begin with."
"All right, but I can't just go strolling down Diagon Alley. It's just too much. Dumbledore would have my head on a pike, not to mention what Remus would do."
"Remus Lupin," Harry explained. "He taught us Defense Against the Dark Arts a couple of years ago."
"Yeah, I remember, he was the werewolf. He was a really good teacher. He's a friend of yours?" Her tone of voice made it sound incredible that a student could become friendly with a teacher outside of school.
"He was a close friend of my parents and he sort of looks after me, especially now that Sirius is gone."
"I'll never get used to the crowd you run around with, Harry," she said. "Now, on to the problem." She cocked her hip to one side, raised her fingers to her lips, and stared at him. "What we need is a disguise."
"Like a wig and such?"
"I don't think we need anything that elaborate. Do you have any more muggle money?" she asked and Harry nodded. "Good, then I think all we need to do is change your look. Everybody knows that grunge-waif look you use, so we'll just change it."
"What grunge-waif look?" Harry asked, oddly disturbed.
"That look," she said, pointing at his clothes.
Harry looked at himself. He was wearing his normal muggle clothes, which meant they were Dudley's cast offs and at least three sizes too big. His t-shirt was a little ragged from wear – the oldest ones fit best, so those were the ones he usually wore – and his jeans were pulled tight around his waist with a belt that had several extra notches punched into it. His trainers were even more battered than the rest.
"I reckon I do look kinda raggedy, huh?" he said finally.
"Yeah," Cho replied, and then she thought about this for a minute. "You mean to say that this isn't a deliberate look?"
"What's a look?"
"Hmm," she pondered. "Take a look at me and tell me what you see."
Harry glanced at her. "I see you, Cho Chang," he said with a shrug.
"No, Harry, not at ME, at my appearance. If you just saw me on the street for the first time what would you think?"
Harry looked at her more carefully, trying to imagine he was seeing her for the first time. He noticed the soft curve of her hips, and the swell of her… NO! Don't go there, he thought. He concentrated on her appearance. She was wearing khaki pants, not tight but not too baggy either, they looked comfortable, along with a chambray shirt that wasn't tucked in. The tails were gathered in the front and tied just above her waist. Underneath she wore a white t-shirt and on her head was a red ball cap with the twin T's that were the logo of the Tornados, her Quidditch team. Topping it all off was a pair of sunglasses, not on her face but resting on the bill of her cap. She looked, not plain, but rather ordinary, in a pretty sort of way. The kind of girl you would look at twice but not turn around to follow down the street.
"You look nice, I guess," he managed to say. "Pretty but not made-up."
"Exactly," she smiled, "I wanted to look nice but not like I spent a lot of time trying to look nice, sort of casually cute."
Harry thought for a moment and said, "So, how much time did you spend trying to look like you didn't spend a lot of time?"
She swatted his arm. "Don't ask." She looked him up and down and said, "So, what we need is a different look for you. Now what should it be? Maybe sophisticated? Nah, that would draw too much attention. I think just plain normal would be best. The sort of look that people see but don't notice."
Harry nodded; he liked the idea of looking normal, having people not notice him.
"So, let's go shopping!" Cho said brightly. Walking down the street they walked onto the first department store they came to. In the Young Men's department, she started looking around.
"Nothing too flashy now," she said as she chose a pair of faded jeans. "Don't want them to look too new," she added. Then she picked out a tan polo shirt and brought them over to Harry.
"Here," she said, "try these on for size."
The shirt felt a tad small, and the jeans were still too loose, so Cho selected another size. The shirt, she said, was just fine. The third pair of trousers that she pulled out seemed to satisfy her. Telling the salesclerk that Harry would just wear them out, the two young women circled Harry, clipping tags and pulling off labels. Harry paid and while walking back out of the store he stopped, on an impulse, and bought a new pair of trainers and some socks.
By the time they got back out on the street, Harry was grinning broadly. "It feels kinda nice," he said. "Not wearing hand-me-downs." Cho ginned back and took the bag containing his old clothes and dropped it in the rubbish.
"Good, now you just have to get used to it."
Harry suddenly stopped dead on the street. "Wait a minute," he said. "We forgot this." He tapped his finger against his scar. Cho looked at him and thought.
"Not a problem," she said and she took the cap from off her head, tugging her ponytail through the gap in the back as she did so, and set in on his. She adjusted it so that it sat low and concealed both his scar and his trademark unruly hair. "Oh, one last thing..." She plucked off his glasses and replaced them with her own sunglasses. "There, no glasses, no scar, neat clothes, nobody will ever recognize you."
Harry looked at his image in a storefront window. Squinting to get his image into focus, he had to admit that even he wouldn't have recognized himself.
Cho smiled and said, "Proof positive that the clothes do indeed make the man. Now come on, we've got some books to buy."
She took his hand and led him, since he couldn't see to lead her, back towards the Leaky Cauldron and through into Diagon Alley. Harry was nervous as they walked up the bustling street, people looked at them and then their eyes just passed by, as if he weren't anything worth looking at. Harry began to like this and slowly relaxed. At the far end of Diagon Alley, completely opposite the end where Knockturn Alley was located, Cho turned down a narrow lane. Harry noticed a sign reading, "Dyeurn Alley". Most of the people on this street were Asian Harry saw, before Cho pulled him into a book shop. It was dark and smoky inside and Harry had to stifle a cough. Cho looked around the shop for a moment then, standing on tiptoe, she called something out to one of the clerks in rapid Chinese. The clerk replied in kind and pointed towards the back of the shop.
Cho went and began to scan the shelves. Most of the books were in what Harry assumed was Chinese but some were in English. Cho efficiently selected an armful of the English ones and started looking through them. Most she quickly placed back on the shelves but a few she handed to Harry, for him to look at. Without his glasses, and considering that he was wearing her sunglasses in the dimly lit shop, Harry couldn't begin to read so he reached out to Cho and quietly asked for his glasses back.
"Oops, sorry," she said, "Here you go."
Harry placed his glasses on his nose and began to scan the books. Most of it sounded uncomfortably like Divination, with lots of references to things like ‘Mystical eyes' and drawing from your ‘Inner Well'. Harry was about to forsake any hope of finding anything remotely useful when he came upon a slim volume written by a man named D.T. Suzuki. The book was small, but it was clear and the things it said seemed to make sense. Harry looked at the growing stack of books before Cho and quickly pulled out all the others by the same author.
Cho looked at the books Harry was holding. "Nice choice," she said. "He writes of eastern thinking with a decidedly western slant. He would probably be a lot easier for you to follow than some of the more esoteric ones."
Harry took his stack up to the counter and paid for them. Heading towards the door, Cho grabbed his arm and stopped him.
"Ah, Harry?" she said, pointing to his glasses. Harry smiled and removed them. Giving them back to her to stow in her bag, he put her sunglasses back on and they left the shop.
Back on the muggle side of the pub, Cho gave Harry a quick peck on the cheek and said that she needed to be heading home. Harry nodded and took his glasses back. He watched her go back inside before he headed off to the Tube to begin his roundabout journey back to Little Whinging.
Harry spent most of the next two days immersed in the books. It seemed that, just as he suspected, the attacks he had undergone during his initial training with Professor Snape had weakened his mind rather than strengthening it. According to the books, what he needed to do was to empty his mind and the best way to learn to do that was through meditation. He tried some of the exercises the books described, deep breathing and staring at lit candles. He had some success, but only enough to make him realize how little progress he had made. He needed to be able to shut his mind to Voldemort if he was ever to hope to fight him.
At night, he would lie in his bed looking at the ceiling and trying not to see it. He kept his breathing deep and slow until his eyes closed and he drifted off to sleep. Each night a dream would come to him, not a nightmare but a dream. Each night he would see himself, sometimes romping in a field as in the first dream, sometimes walking through a forest, or sometimes just sitting in one of the worn and cushy armchairs by fire in the Gryffindor Common Room. His dreams were odd, he always watched himself but he never was himself. His scar never hurt during or after these dreams and each morning he would awaken refreshed and calm.
On Friday morning Harry was sitting in the garden behind Number 4, just watching the butterflies and smelling the flowers. His mind was going over his dreams, trying to sort out if they meant anything or not. It had been so long since he had had just a dream that he couldn't accept that these didn't mean anything. The front doorbell rang but Harry didn't stir. No one looking for him would bother with the bell. People from the Order would just pop in front of him and Death Eaters would start by throwing curses. Then he heard Dudley's voice calling out.
"Mum! There's some foreigners at the door. They want to talk to him!"
This got Harry's attention. He was out of his chair and moving around the house before he heard his aunt say something and slam the door. He got to the front of the house a moment later. Standing at the door was a Chinese man and a teenage girl; Cho. That meant the man must be... her father. They were standing on the front stoop, staring oddly at the door. The man, Mr. Chang, reached out a finger and pressed the bell. The door opened and Harry heard the man begin to speak.
"I gather I didn't make myself clear before. My daughter, Cho," he placed a hand on her shoulder, "is a friend of Harry Potter's. I was hoping to speak with him. You and your husband are, of course, welcome to join us."
His aunt replied in her snootiest voice, "You made yourself perfectly clear, and as I said before, we have no wish to become involved in any of his affairs." She gave Cho a sneer that would have warmed Snape's heart. "Especially, his personal affairs. Now good day!" With this she closed the door firmly in their faces.
Harry rushed up to the pair, his ears bright red.
"Cho, what are you doing here? I wasn't expecting you, I mean, I'm glad you're here but..." He blushed even further. "I'm... I'm really sorry about that. My aunt, well, I told you they don't really like me."
"Harry," Cho interrupted, "I'd like you to meet my father, Chang, Wang-tzu. Father, this is Harry Potter."
Cho's father wasn't much taller than Harry but carried himself with an air of dignity that made him seem much larger. Harry shook his hand and was about to continue his apology when Mr. Chang spoke.
"Harry, it is a pleasure to meet you. My daughter has spoken very highly of you and what you have done, so I felt that we should meet. How do you do?"
"I'm fine, sir. I'd like to apologize for my aunt just now. It's just that she doesn't like magic much, or magical people for that matter."
"That's entirely all right, Harry. It was not your fault, nor your behavior. Think nothing more of it, please."
"Thank you, sir. Uh, could I offer you and Cho something to drink, or maybe something to eat?" Harry looked around, he was trying to think of something he could do that wouldn't embarrass the Changs or get his aunt angry.
Mr. Chang spoke again. "Harry, I would like to speak with you, but I don't wish to make your family upset. Is there someplace we could go, perhaps?"
"Well," Harry said, "there's a coffee shop on the corner, a block down. That is, if you don't mind the walk?" Harry's cheeks were starting to turn red again.
"That will be fine. Do you wish to tell your aunt where you are going?"
"I'm sure it will be all right with them, as long as I'm not here, they're happy." Harry tried to smile.
Mr. Chang just nodded and Cho moved towards the walk, so Harry started down to show them the way. They were all uncomfortable for a few moments until Mr. Chang began to speak again.
"Of course, Harry, we have all heard of the circumstances that brought you to live with your relatives, however, I was not aware that they felt as they do about magic."
"Well, I reckon it's not one of the things that make it into the papers. My aunt, uncle, and cousin are muggles, about as muggle as you can get actually. When my mum found out she was a witch, she was muggle-born obviously, it caused a bit of a problem in the family. I've heard that her parents were thrilled to find out about the wizarding world but her sister, my aunt, wasn't. I reckon, it caused a lot of strain in the family, and my mum and my aunt were never close after that."
"But, she agreed to take you in, after your parents were killed." Harry was actually relieved that Mr. Chang just came out and said this. He hated it when people tried to skirt around the fact that his parents were killed, like he didn't already know it.
"Well, actually, I get the feeling that Professor Dumbledore didn't really give them much of a choice. But yes, they took me in."
"But they didn't want to?" he continued.
Harry thought for a moment about how to answer this and decided on the simple truth. "No, they didn't. They don't like me and they don't like magic. They tolerate me for the summers now and it's only a year or so more before I'm of age and then I don't have to come back here anymore."
"Where will you go then?" Mr. Chang asked.
"I don't know," Harry answered, "maybe to stay with my friend Ron and his family until I start my last year of school."
"And what about after you finish school?"
Harry thought for a moment, about Voldemort and the odds that he would ever live to do anything after school, or even just finish. "Well, I suppose that depends on a lot of things."
Mr. Chang just nodded.
They walked on in silence until they reached the shop. They took a small table in a corner and Harry ordered a pot of tea.
Mr. Chang sat looking at Harry intently. Harry tried not to squirm and just sit quietly until Mr. Chang decided to speak. It seemed like a long wait but finally, Mr. Chang nodded, as if he had finally seen what he was looking for.
"My daughter tells me that you are attempting to learn Occlumency, why?" he asked.
"Well, sir, my scar... it acts like some sort of link to Voldemort," Harry was pleased to see that Mr. Chang did not flinch on hearing the name. "It used to be, before he returned last year, that I would dream of things that he was doing. I could see it, sort of, and the information could be used to fight him. But now that he's back, he can use the link too. This past year he was sending me dreams, and now I can't tell whether or not what I see is really happening or is it just what he wants me to see."
"So why don't you simply ignore these dreams?"
"I can't, it's the dreams... I see him hurting people, people I care about. I can't just ignore them and spend all my life waiting to see which of them come true."
Mr. Chang was looking at him again, with an intense gaze that spoke of eternal patience.
"Like last Christmas," Harry continued, "I dreamed that I was this huge snake, like the one that Voldemort keeps as a pet, and I attacked Mr. Weasley. He's the father of my friend Ron. I saw it. I... I did it." Harry's breath hitched and he closed his eyes for a moment to calm himself. "If I had ignored that dream, if I had not taken action, Mr. Weasley would have died."
Mr. Chang nodded slowly.
"Then a fortnight ago, I had another dream. I was Voldemort again and I was torturing someone. It was my godfather. I was torturing him, and I was going to kill him."
"And this dream wasn't true?"
"No, it wasn't," Harry said quietly. "It was a lie but I... I didn't know that then. I went off again. I wanted to rescue him but it was a trap. Voldemort wanted me, he wanted to kill me. He almost did. My godfather, and some other members of the Order, came to rescue me. He, my godfather, got killed. I wanted to save him but I wound up killing him." Harry's voice was hoarse and he took drink of his tea.
"Yes, I can see that simply ignoring the dreams would not be an acceptable option, and barring the ability to discern which dreams are true visions and which are induced, it would be best to be able to block them entirely." Harry nodded. Mr. Chang continued, "The study of Occlumency is quite common in China, a good deal more common than here in the West. We also approach the subject from a different, and if I may venture, superior vantage point. How have you been going about your studies?"
"Well, at school, I was being tutored by one of the Professors. It didn't go that well. Then, when I spoke with Cho about it, she took me to a bookstore." At this point Cho interrupted and spoke briefly to her father in Chinese. After she stopped, Mr. Chang looked again at Harry, who continued, "I got some books and I've been reading them. It seems to make sense, and I've been trying to do the exercises they talk about. It's just really tough to empty your mind, you know? It seems like every time I get my mind empty, a thought comes along and I try not to think about it but then I wind up thinking about not thinking about it."
Mr. Chang grinned. "Yes, it is a difficult concept to put into practice, focusing on emptiness. Have you tried using a mantra?"
"I read about those in one of the books, but they never explained what they were."
Mr. Chang continued, "A mantra is a phrase, almost any phrase will do, but there are several traditional ones that are useful. The mantra is a tool to focus the mind, to aid in clearing it."
"How does it work?" Harry asked.
"Quite simply, actually, you simply speak the mantra, repeating it over and over again. You concentrate on the mantra, on the sounds of it. This gives the practitioner something to concentrate on rather than trying to concentrate on nothing."
"But what happens when some new thought comes into your mind, how do you fight it off?"
"You don't. When you fight your thoughts, you fight yourself, and that is never productive." Harry thought about his for a moment, and Mr. Chang continued. "When a stray thought comes to mind, do not try to force it out of your mind, this would give you two thoughts to contend with; the original, as well as your attempt to dispose of the original. Instead, concentrate on the mantra, repeating it over and over again in your mind. The stray thought will gently be nudged out of the way without causing additional disturbances."
"Hmm, that makes sense," Harry said. "What sort of mantra should I use, ‘I hate Voldemort'?"
Mr. Chang smiled and said, "I assume that would work but may I suggest one of the traditional Chinese mantras? What about ‘Myoho Nhomei Rhingho Kyo'?"
Harry tried to repeat it. "Me oh no... What does it mean?"
"Myoho Nhomei Rhingho Kyo. It means ‘The Sutra of the Golden Lotus is the Most Important Sutra', but that is not important. It is merely a sequence of sounds for you to repeat. Over the centuries it has endured and remains one of the most popular in my country."
Mr. Chang repeated the phrase again and made sure that Harry had the pronunciation correct. It took several tries, and then he had Harry repeat it several times to make sure.
"Are you finished with your tea, Harry?" he asked when they were done.
"Ah, yeah, sure, I reckon."
"I think it may be helpful if we practiced it in application, while I'm still here."
Taking a final sip of tea, Harry, Cho and Mr. Chang left the shop and walked to the small park. Finding a small stretch of empty ground, Mr. Chang took out a handkerchief and laid it on the ground. Holding out his hand, Cho reached into her purse and removed her own. While he laid that out on the ground, Harry reached into his own pocket. His handkerchief was stained but clean. With a sheepish look, he handed this over as well. Mr. Chang didn't look twice; he simply spread it on the ground next to the others. Waving his wand, he transfigured the small pieces of cloth into thin cushions and then sat on his own. Removing his shoes, he placed his feet upon his upper thighs and sat there tranquilly, waiting. Cho followed suit and Harry tried but couldn't get his feet to stay.
Mr. Chang smiled easily, "Don't worry if you can not fully duplicate the Lotus position. It is unusual for you and will take you a while to become comfortable with. Try your best and remember to maintain proper posture. That is important; if your Chi, your energy, is to flow properly you must maintain good posture."
Harry finally just crossed his legs and sat up as straight as he could.
Mr. Chang began to say the mantra. Repeating it over and over again. Cho joined him and after a moment so did Harry. At first, he felt embarrassed but he concentrated on the mantra, not on his emotions, not on his embarrassment on sitting on the grass in the park chanting in a foreign language. He just spoke the mantra. He heard it in his mind and focused on the sounds. Some time later, Mr. Chang spoke again.
"So, Harry, did it seem to be of some benefit?"
"I think so," Harry answered. "It was strange, when I would start to think about something, I would just concentrate on the mantra and the other thoughts would fade. But then, after a few minutes the mantra itself would fade and I would just be... "
"Empty?" Mr. Chang asked.
"Yes, is that what's supposed to happen?" Mr. Chang nodded and smiled slightly. "But it never lasted for long. It's like I would become aware of not being aware and then that would trigger other thoughts and things would start all over again."
"Yes, that is frequently the way of things. In time, those periods of emptiness will become longer and soon you will not need the mantra to maintain them."
"And that is Occlumency?"
Mr. Chang smiled again, "No, that is merely the beginning of your studies of Occlumency. You must learn to be empty first." At Harry's confused look, he answered, "These things take time."
Harry struggled to his feet and almost fell. His legs had gone numb from being crossed so long. Both Cho and her father smiled indulgently and Harry felt his ears redden.
"Harry, I'm afraid I have business that requires my attention. It was a pleasure meeting you." Harry nodded at the older man and continued to rub at his legs. "Cho, we will be expecting you home before dinner." Before Cho even had a chance to reply he had Apparated away, leaving the two teenagers alone in the park. Harry turned to look at his companion.
"I didn't even get a chance to thank him," he said.
"That's all right, Harry," Cho responded. "He knows. Well, it seems we have the whole afternoon together. Anything you'd like to do?" She gave Harry a grin that made him blush.
"Well, I'm kind of hungry, do you want to get some lunch?"
"Yeah, that would be fun," she said brightly. "You know, I think my father likes you."
"He does? He left sort of quick, didn't he? I figured if he liked me he'd stick around so that I could thank him."
Cho answered, still smiling, "No, silly, if he didn't like you, he never would have let me stay by myself. My being here is his way of saying that he trusts you to look after me."
Harry thought for a second, "Given my track record, I reckon that is saying a lot. So, where do you want to go for lunch?"
They wound up eating at the same little shop where they had tea almost an hour earlier. Over her salad, Cho began to chatter about life with her family, and how it differed from most western families. They finished their food and began to walk back towards Privet Drive, still talking.
"I noticed that you were a lot quieter around your father. You usually aren't like that," Harry said.
"Oh," Cho responded with a sly grin, "did you like it? Is that what you want, a dutiful little girlfriend who walks three paces behind you?"
"Nah, I wouldn't want that."
"Well, it would make it a lot harder to hold hands, wouldn't it?"
Cho blushed prettily and slipped her hand into Harry's. "It is nice, isn't it?"
Harry didn't answer but he didn't let go of her hand either.