Disclaimer: The world of Harry Potter is a marvellous sandbox that J.K. Rowling has graciously allowed us to play in. Nevertheless, it is her name along with those of Warner Bros and Scholastic Press that is engraved on the fence surrounding it, clearly marking the territory as theirs. Regardless of the fun I have shaping sandcastles using my imagination, I do not own Harry Potter.
Chapter 1 – Ring-ring! Hello?
A man-sized thundercloud hung in the centre of the Granger's living room. The viciously boiling mass of dark grey heavily contrasted the calm and soft pastel colours of the couch cushions and the sizzling arcs of electricity left angry burn marks on a nearby painting of what had previously been a very peaceful nature scene.
Like a vacuum cleaner in a doll's house, the cloud was sucking the very air out of the room. Many a bauble or trinket went flying, to be swallowed by the obviously magical construct.
Harry felt his hair and clothes being rustled by the wind and he cradled little Teddy as close to his chest as possible, shielding him with his body. Desperately he wished he could take the both of them out of the room, but the door through which the elder Grangers had managed to flee was on the opposite side. He didn't dare cross with everything but the furniture flying around.
The noise was incredible: all the sounds of an indoor thunderstorm, edged with an unnatural high-pitched whine, like a swarm of Cornish Pixies ice-skating across a chalkboard.
It made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up and with his free hand he grabbed hold of an oak bookcase, his grip so tight that the wood groaned under his touch.
A standing floor lamp tilted precariously, fell with a crash and was dragged across the floor until it picked up speed and lifted off completely. For a moment the cord drew taut and the lamp remained suspended in the air, tethered like a kite, until it detached from the wall socket with a snap and disappeared inside the cloud.
Wide-eyed, Harry watched it all happen. Whatever the thing was, once it got hold of something there was no retrieving it.
"Harry!" Emma Granger screamed from the open doorway where her husband had dragged her out into the hall, "What the hell is that thing?"
"I don't know!" he yelled back, frustrated. "I've never seen anything like it!"
The cloud broiled. On the other side of the room a large plant that had been on the verge of toppling over suddenly straightened again, though the leaves still looked on the verge of abandoning the stem. The bookcase Harry was holding on to, however, started vomiting books, the volumes hitting Harry in the head and shoulders.
He could feel the bruises forming and instinctively hunched his shoulders. Instead of relying on his single arm to anchor him in place, he braced both legs and tried to flatten himself as much as possible.
"Fuck," he muttered, when he was forced to sway to the side to avoid a paperback novel hitting him in the face.
With his elbow he hastily shifted some books aside until Teddy could be awkwardly shelved in between dentistry journals and a dictionary, the space closed off by Harry's stomach. This freed his second hand to grip onto the bookcase as well.
The suction was incredibly powerful and Harry was only just able to keep himself in place. He didn't dare try for his wand, as either it would go flying before he got a good hold of it, or he would himself without two hands to keep him where he was. With his luck, probably both.
"Get out of there!" Emma screamed again, panicked.
"How?" he yelled back sarcastically, but with a hint of fear. Like that hadn't occurred to him before.
The cloud broiled again and the far side of the room calmed down even more, enough for Emma to peek around the doorpost. Harry was not so lucky and his thighs were impacted by heavy, leather-bound volumes of an encyclopedia that suddenly went flying.
The pain paled next to his worry when he could feel invisible tendrils start to play with the flapping edges of his shirt. Twice now talking had made the thing pour on the power. He resolved not to make another sound.
Stroking, almost caressing, the tendrils went up and down his back, butt and legs, sending ice-cold shivers up his spine, until one came in contact with the bare flesh of his ankle. Like a snake, the tendril swiftly coiled around it and drew taut.
Time stopped for a moment as the universe seemed to hold its breath and Harry's eyes went impossibly wide.
The tendril yanked harshly.
With a yell, Harry lost his balance and only his awkward grip on two shelves kept him from tumbling over. It did, however, expose the shelf Teddy was hidden on. The toddler slid across the shelf before his feet came to a stop against a protruding journal, barely keeping him in place. His big blue eyes looked uncertain and his hair was slowly shifting between black and mustard yellow. Clearly, he was enjoying the slide and playing hide and seek, but found the noise and mess off-putting.
The toddler kicked his tiny feet, dislodging the journal he rested against even more.
Fear coiled in Harry's gut and he desperately shook his head, mouthing, "No, no, no!" over and over as he silently urged Teddy not to do that again. He tried to edge closer and hide the little tyke from whatever was happening behind him, but the tendril around his ankle would not let go and kept yanking and dragging his leg until he had to keep his weight completely on the other. Desperately he searched for something, anything to help him, to hold Teddy, to kill the whatever-it-was-
Teddy cooed, gurgled and happily kicked with all the force his sixteen-month old legs could manage.
The journal gave way.
A shot of adrenaline caused his heartbeat to spike and Harry lunged for the boy – consequences be damned.
He caught him in mid-air and immediately dropped to the floor, landing on his side with Teddy cradled protectively in his arms. Without anything to hold on to, however, they were pulled with increasing speed toward the thundercloud.
The skin of his arms burned from being dragged by his feet across the carpet and his eyes wildly darted around, looking for purchase, something to hold on to. Most of him, however, was focussed on the toddler in his arms and he involuntarily squeezed the boy even tighter. He didn't know what was happening, but he needed to keep his godson safe. Nothing was more important than that.
Now that it got a hold of Harry it seemed the cloud had lost interest in destroying the rest of the room. From the corner of his eye he saw both Emma and Dan cautiously peeking around the doorpost, looking horrified.
It gave him an idea.
In a single smooth movement he rolled onto his back and followed through by swinging the arm cradling Teddy, bodily throwing the boy at the Grangers. With both hands free, he reached for the wand up his sleeve and pointed it at the flying boy. "Depulso!"
The Banishing Charm hit and his godson went rocketing towards the doorway. Emma caught him and staggered backwards into Dan's open arms from the force of the impact.
A sense of satisfaction bloomed in Harry's chest and he grinned viciously. Take that you miserable piece of-
The cloud sucked him into the broiling dark.
The sensation of being forcefully sucked through a straw was much like Apparition. There was no light or sound or smell. Instead, it was pitch black and silent as the grave.
The squeezing, however, was supremely uncomfortable but all the same familiar. Harry held his breath, knowing he had to wait it out. And wait. And wait.
That's when the differences from Apparition made themselves known.
A twitching of the straw by his left arm felt like it suddenly formed a cheese grater on the spot. His elbow burned as a strip of skin was sliced to ribbons in less than a second. As they were torn off by the friction, Harry could feel the cold of the void around him soothe the burning for a split-second before blood welled up, making it just feel sticky and wet.
That's when the pain hit in full force.
The first slice was followed by another and another. His clothing tore and blood streaked in rivulets down his shirt and pants. The pain built and built.
Harry's mouth opened wide, muscles drew taut in his neck and his hands balled into fists. His back arched until it felt like he was putting his entire body behind the intent of screaming.
But just like Apparition there was no air to draw breath with, so the scream never came.
More than anything else that inability to do something as basic and primal as screaming in pain drove down how truly helpless he was. Manically, Harry flailed his arms and kicked his legs, flinching from every new cut and slice. His body contorted hideously, desperately trying to get away from the torment.
The squeezing just got tighter and tighter as if the straw was shrinking, until there was a bump, like crossing from a hose into a hydrant.
Unlike the straw, the hydrant didn't give and Harry felt himself being physically forced into a too narrow tube.
He didn't fit.
There was a tearing feeling as his right shoulder dislocated, but the sharp pain when his left clavicle broke came only moments after. Like an egg being squeezed in a fist Harry felt he was on the verge of violently imploding. First one rib snapped, then another and had any sound reached his ears the wet snaps alone would have made him retch.
But there was no sound and other than blood, tears and bits of shredded skin and clothing nothing else to mark his passage.
The final difference from Apparition was that it was not over quickly. The sucking and grating and popping continued on and on and on...
Something in Harry gave.
When he had learned he was a horcrux Harry had resignedly set out to die. When Voldemort tortured him in the bowels of the Ministry Harry had wished for Dumbledore to finish it, to take the monster with him when he died. But here, in this void, where never-ending pain was all he could feel and dream of for the future, where there was no reason or adversary to outwit, Harry's wished for death to take him for himself.
In possibly the most cruel twist of fate imaginable, the moment he truly gave up the vortex spat him out. The bloody mess that was left of him impacted a hard surface with a splat.
While the sound registered in his ears, the bone-jarring impact didn't even rate a raised eyebrow compared to the pain he was already in. Instead, Harry reflexively tried to finally unleash the scream he had so longed for, the scream that he was due.
Instead of sound, a torrent of bloody chunks exited his mouth and cramps and tremors wracked his body. His muscles clamped so tight that he was unable to even expel a breath and was left with his mouth forced open as wide as it could go, muscles corded in his neck and a terror-struck expression on his face.
Unable to cope he felt unconsciousness beckon and he grabbed onto it with desperation born of terror.
Harry awoke to the sound of his own moans. Conscious thought was a while in coming, but when it finally did return after an indeterminate amount of minutes, the fact that he cried out so loud that he woke himself out of unconsciousness worried him a great deal.
Then he remembered the pain and while his worry did not lessen, he at least felt justified in his behaviour.
He was in a bed. The linens were soft, the sheets slightly coarse wherever it reached his bare skin, which was in odd places on his torso and legs and they smelled familiar...
"Finally waking up, are we?" came the familiar voice of Madam Pomfrey from beside the bed.
Oh. He was in the Hogwarts Infirmary. Again.
His throat burned and as Harry tried to answer all he produced was a croak.
A harsh cough caused his muscles to clench painfully. Instead of speaking he just moaned miserably.
"It would be unwise to speak for the moment," the nurse said in her oh so adorable bedside manner.
Harry weakly glared at her as he violently repressed the urge to yell at her not to ask any bloody questions then.
"In fact, I'm sure you would be quite better off asleep just now."
Instinctively Harry shook his head, causing a tearing sensation in the skin his stiff neck and he winced. Still, he was adamant he didn't want to immediately go to sleep again. Sleep would make him remember the pain...
Madam Pomfrey scowled at him and threw her hands in the air. Muttering something about stubborn idiot patients with no regard for their lives or health she bustled away.
Harry tested what in his sore body still worked.
Everything ached horribly and that moving was definitely ill advised. Still, the world was slightly blurry, but his surroundings were unpleasantly familiar. He needed his glasses
With slightly awkward movements, Harry hesitantly reached for the bedside table where he could usually find them after waking up here. Fortunately, aside from the full body ache and some protesting muscle cramps he could do so without screaming in agony. Unfortunately, his glasses weren't there.
"Croak," he complained, drawing the attention of the nurse who determinedly came striding in his direction. Instinctively he flinched back a little. Merlin, but that woman was frightening.
It seemed this was one of her better days as she handed him a cup of water with a straw. Greedily he sucked on it and let the cool water soothe his parched throat.
"Slowly," the nurse cautioned him – as if he didn't know that – but he slowed his drinking to a small trickle until she stopped looking like she would take the water away again.
She made some approving noises. "Very good. Can you tell me your name, young man?"
Harry blinked. That seemed like an odd question to ask. "Madam Pomfrey?"
His voice was hoarse and scratchy.
"Yes, I'm the healer here at Hogwarts. Have we met? I'm sorry, but I don't recognise you."
"What?" Harry asked, very confused now. "It's me, Madam Pomfrey. Harry."
Her expression remained pinched, but her cheeks pinked slightly. She bustled out of his line of sight to appear on the other side of his bed. "I'm sorry, but that's still not ringing any bells. Harry who?"
Well, if she was that forgetful she deserved to be played with. "I think I'm offended. I've been here often enough."
"Yes, well, aside from Miss Potter's record-breaking streak of life-threatening injuries I don't actually keep track of who visits here the most."
A lead weight settled itself in his stomach and Harry stared at her incredulously. Miss Potter?
"What happened?" he asked instead, "How did I get here?"
She frowned. "I don't know exactly. Professor Dumbledore brought you in, though he didn't say where he found you. Are you saying you don't remember?"
Hesitantly he shook his head. He was going to have dinner with the Grangers and then... a thundercloud? Or something?
The nurse looked at him with pursed lips. "Well, I can tell that you were exposed to a great amount of Dark magic, though I'm unsure as to what spells exactly."
She hesitated briefly, but then clinically and dispassionately started listing a litany of injuries. "You had nineteen broken bones, with four broken multiple times and three pulverised completely. There were a multitude of cuts, with your skin literally flayed off in some places. A collapsed lung and pierced bladder with your throat both collapsed and pierced. A great many blood vessels were burst, though fortunately your major organs seemed mostly all right besides being some bruising after being tossed around inside your body. One of your testicles was ruptured. Finally, your nervous system looked like someone had set it on fire."
Harry's face paled as he listened to her list more and more injuries and he was desperately trying to remember what the hell had happened to him. It sounded like he had been tortured and badly at that. But he would remember something like that, wouldn't he? Had a thundercloud done this to him?
"The good news is that I managed to repair all of it, or am currently in the process of doing so."
Harry let out a small sigh of relief but wasn't really surprised. It was Madam Pomfrey after all. She'd always patched him right up.
"However, there were some side-effects."
Harry stilled and his eyes widened. It felt like his heart skipped a beat. His throat was suddenly parched again, forcing him to swallow. "What kind of side-effects?"
"As I said, whatever happened to you, Dark magic was involved. Those kind of wounds are notoriously hard to heal."
Panicking, Harry brought both hands up to his face. His arms were covered in bandages, but he still counted all ten fingers. Frantically he started wiggling his toes. Everything seemed to still work all right...
"There was scarring, Mr... Harry. Severe scarring, if you'll permit me to be blunt. You are whole, with all your extremities intact, but your ordeal has left marks all over your body."
Harry choked back a hysterical sob. Marks. Such a marvellous turn of phrase. He'd been exposed to Dark magic before, and that mark had ruled his life for close to seventeen years.
Merlin, what the hell happened?
"I, um..." To his horror, he noticed that he was breathing so fast that he was on the verge of hyperventilating and he forcibly took control of his lungs in an effort to calm down. In and out. In and out.
Fuck, at the tender age of eighteen he was a new version of Mad-Eye Moody.
"Do you-" He coughed. "Do you have a mirror?"
She looked him over as if judging if he was going to pass out if she either acquiesced or denied him his request, but eventually relented and disappeared into her office to fetch him a mirror the size of a small book.
Harry fumbled with it, clumsy with his hands covered in bandages and his muscles still occasionally twitching. Eventually he placed it face down on his chest so he could get a good grip on it with both hands slowly tilted it upwards and stared.
For once he didn't mind his blurry vision.
Most of his face was bandaged, besides essential orifices, but his chin and the top of his head were clear. There were angry red lines on his jaw, disappearing under the bandage over his cheekbone and the one covering his neck. Harry counted four. It reminded him of the white cutting board in his kitchen at home after slicing a few peppers.
However, what really startled him was his hair. It was grey. Surrounded by bandages it looked exceptionally messy, but it was streaked with white and darker stripes.
Harry furiously blinked away tears. Even his hair was scarred.
Frightened, he let the mirror fall back on his chest and slumped into his pillows.
"Perhaps you'd best get some more sleep," Madam Pomfrey suggested.
Harry looked at her pleadingly, not sure at all what it was he wanted but didn't protest when she tipped a small flask over into his mouth.
The syrupy taste of Dreamless Sleeping Draught coated his tongue.
Harry didn't fight the surging drowsiness. Hopefully this would all turn out to be a weird dream.
Several times Harry awoke only to be put back to sleep in minutes. Finally, however he opened his eyes and felt much more like himself.
Most of the bandages around his torso and legs were gone, though his glasses were still missing, but he didn't let that stop him from inspecting the damage.
It was much as Madam Pomfrey had said. He was scarred. He wasn't Moody quite yet, but lines criss-crossed on every part of his body and where skin had been regrown they traced areas like landmarks on a map. Some were an angry red still, but most of them had sunken into his skin, forming a recognisable pink that he feared would never fade away.
For the first time he wondered how long he had been in the hospital. He remembered several days passing, but with his injuries as severe as the nurse hinted at he had undoubtedly been unconscious long before that. A week must've passed at least. Maybe even several.
A small hand mirror lay on the bedside table and Harry hesitantly lifted it to inspect his face, fearing it would look like so much hamburger all the while.
It was better and worse at the same time.
His face still looked like a face. It just didn't look like his own. Green eyes were offset by angry red lines of scarring. The familiar lightning bolt one was only partially visible as two thirds of it was obscured by a new one. Worse, his jawline and cheekbones looked different, as if Madam Pomfrey had regrown his bones without knowing for sure what they were supposed to look like.
The mirror dropped from his unresponsive hands and clattered to the floor. Harry felt an urge to smash it, but a very similar scene at the end of his fifth year stayed his foot.
Feeling faintly disgusted, Harry covered himself with the sheet once more. He wanted to hide under the covers in a childish effort to pretend this was all a bad dream. For a moment he allowed himself to do so, until familiar sounds and smells protruded into his brain and an urge to move, to run, to escape filled him.
He always felt like that here – he didn't like Hospitals – but this time it was much stronger than ever before.
Cautiously he peeked from between the sheets, but the nurse was nowhere to be seen. Well, if he was ever going to get out of here, now would be the time.
Except... he was practically naked apart from the flimsy hospital gown and there were no clothes in sight. More worryingly, neither was his wand.
That was a problem he could do something about though, and Harry grabbed the opportunity like a lifeline.
"Um, can I get help from a Hogwarts house-elf, please?" he spoke hesitantly.
A pop sounded to his left. "Master calls for Tilly?"
The high-pitched voice reminded him so very much of Dobby that Harry felt a pang shoot through his heart and he swallowed back a sob. While he saw Kreacher regularly, his croaking made him sound so very different. This was the first time since... that day that he heard such a young and squeaking voice again.
"Hello Tilly," he said a little wistfully, "My name is Harry. I can't find my wand or my glasses and I don't have any clothes so that I could go look for them. Do you know where they are?"
The little elf blinked his tennis-ball sized eyes and tilted his head. "Is Master a student?"
A corner of his mouth lifted. Hermione had certainly pleaded for hours to return to Hogwarts and while Ron had caved to his new girlfriend, Harry had put his foot down. She had, however, got him to agree to study on his own to take his NEWTs at the end of the year. Her parents were very encouraging taskmasters while Andy Tonks proved herself quite the tutor.
"Not for a while now, Tilly."
The elf frowned. "Is master a Teacher?"
He bit back a snort. "No."
The elf pulled gently on one of his ears in agitation. "Then where should Tilly go look for Master's things?"
That... was an annoyingly astute observation. "That's a good question, Tilly. I was hoping you'd know where they are, but since you don't I'll just have to make do for the moment. Could you bring me some clothes, though? Things that nobody uses any more, that got left behind. From the Come and Go Room, maybe?"
"Tilly can do that." With a happy bounce the elf popped away, to return a few minutes later standing triumphantly on a pile of both muggle clothes and wizard robes two feet high.
This time Harry did snort and quickly pointed out several items that looked worn but were otherwise in decent shape. Again he felt the loss of his wand as he had no means to resize them, but Tilly was very willing to help him out.
"Are there any shoes there that would fit me, Tilly?"
His head bounced up and down in an enthusiastic nod. "Tilly finds shoes for training and slipping and booting and heeling."
Harry blinked and forced himself not to laugh. "I'd prefer trainers, Tilly."
The elf obliged and five minutes later Harry was comfortably dressed in well-fitting second-hand clothes.
"You're amazing, Tilly," he said, causing the elf to beam. "You've been a great help."
Suddenly the elf went shy and started shuffling his little green feet. "If Master can't find Master's things then Tilly could get glasses and wands from the Come and Go Room too?"
"That... might not be a bad idea. If nobody uses them anyway, I'll at least be able to walk around without running into things."
"Tilly go search," he announced enthusiastically.
Finding glasses that worked for him was decidedly harder. However good the elf was with clothes, he had no idea about prescriptions so in the end he just brought a small pile over and Harry started trying them.
There weren't very many – how often do you lose a pair of glasses anyway? – and most didn't even come close to his prescription. Two different ones were obviously enchanted to see through clothes – inevitable in a school filled with hormonal teenagers – and Harry would now forever know what a house-elf looked like naked.
He did not foresee a sudden surge in wizard-house-elf relationships based on this new information.
In the end he settled on a set with horn-rimmed frames – reminding him of Rita Skeeter – that he thought would make him look ridiculous. It allowed him to see though, if not as well as his usual glasses so it was better than nothing.
Finding a wand was nearly a bust.
He'd always been picky – even his first visit to Ollivander's took close to an hour – and none of the wands Tilly brought responded to him. Worse, most made him feel uneasy. Since most of these wands were probably hidden on purpose Harry had some very unpleasant thoughts on why they felt that way.
Frowning, he stared at a twelve inch length of ash in his right hand. It was the best of a bad lot.
"This'll have to do then," he murmured.
Movement from the corner of his eye made him realise that Tilly was feeling unsure of himself so he quickly tried to calm him down.
"You did very well Tilly. Better than I was hoping for, really. Thank you very much."
The elf choked out something even higher pitched than normal, obviously emotional, before popping away. Harry stared at the empty spot of floor.
He was alone again. Come to think of it, that was decidedly odd. How often was the Hospital Wing unattended?
Quietly, he left through the double doors to wander the empty halls of the castle once more. Moving hurt a little, but it was nothing he wasn't used to.
Ruthlessly he quashed the surge of memories of bloodied stone and sounds of screaming. They were the main reason he had been adamant about not returning to school. He didn't want to walk past the places where the bodies had lain; didn't want to see the forest where he had willingly walked to his death.
Quashing the memories, however, forced him to confront his current predicament
What the hell had happened to him? He remembered some sort of sucking thundercloud at the Grangers that tried to eat Teddy and then pain. Lots and lots of pain. Shuddering, he tried to remember anything but that. It was in vain: there was nothing until he woke up.
Madam Pomfrey hadn't exactly been a font of information, knowing only that he'd been brought in-
He stopped dead in his tracks.
What in the name of Merlin? She'd said he'd been brought in by Professor Dumbledore. Someone who Harry viscerally remembered being murdered in front of him years ago. Had he heard her wrong? He must have, but then there was the frightening fact that she hadn't recognised him. At all. And her mention of a Miss Potter, someone who he was quite sure didn't exist.
"Tilly," he called out, voice unsteady and leaning heavily against the wall. The elf appeared in seconds. "Can you find me a recent newspaper?"
Pop. The sound of heavy, somewhat panicked breathing. Pop.
"Yesterday's paper, Master Harry."
With jerky movements Harry accepted it and clenched his teeth as he searched the front page for the date.
June 25th, 1996.
Harry felt as if someone had drenched him in ice water.
He was back in the hellish summer after Sirius died. There, the Prophet was nattering on about the Chosen One and... the Girl-Who-Lived?
In a daze Harry read through the article, and then several more, detailing how Iris Potter, the Girl-Who-Lived was the only one who could save them from He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
The information he was reading just didn't add up and he felt like his brain was stuttering, because this didn't make any sense! What the hell had happened to him?
Finally getting his feet under him again, Harry determinedly strode to the Great Hall. Regardless how empty the castle seemed, there had to be someone there. Someone with answers.
He was right: the corridors were empty, but there were people in the Great Hall. As soon as he opened the door the entire Order of the Phoenix as he remembered them stood and pointed their wands at him.
Harry just stared.
He was seeing dead people. Vance, Diggle and Moody. Dumbledore. Remus. Tonks.
Bloody buggering fuck, he was standing right in front of little Teddy's parents. And judging by the distrustful looks and pointed wands, none of them recognised him.
Dumbledore, ever the diplomat, broke the tense silence first. "Ah, it seems our mystery visitor is awake. Won't you please join us?"
For the first time Harry realised that everybody was sitting at the end of the Gryffindor table, with Dumbledore in one of his extravagantly decorated conjured armchairs at the head.
Still, these people made him uneasy. It wasn't just the pointed wands, which they were slowly lowering at Dumbledore's urging; it was that there were dead people among them and how it was immediately obvious that they didn't know him. Despite the familiarity of their faces he didn't know these people either.
So instead of taking the seat next to Dumbledore that the old man was gesturing at Harry sat at the Hufflepuff table where he could keep them all in sight.
They didn't like that. Dumbledore simply looked disappointed. Moody he could see tensing up for a rant on how he was dangerous. Time to nip that in the bud.
"What's going on?" His voice was loud, and somewhat raspy since it was his first time raising his voice since he woke up. It caused everyone to quiet down and tense.
Dumbledore, however, looked unruffled. "An excellent question, and one I would be more than happy to answer. However, first introductions are perhaps in order. I am Professor Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry."
Harry stared at him. He had some very mixed feelings towards this man, and the fact that he remembered touching his broken body at the foot of the Astronomy Tower didn't help any.
"I know," he said finally. "I'm Harry." He was not throwing the Potter name out there with so many questions swimming in his head. "Now, what's going on?"
Instead of taking offence at his curt tone Dumbledore looked delighted. "You've heard of me? Excellent."
He shifted as if making sure he was comfortable, steepled his fingers, and took a deep breath. To Harry's utter and complete bewilderment, he then started giving a summary of the first war with Voldemort. How the Ministry had been on the verge of collapse until Iris Potter, the Girl-Who-Lived, had saved them all. Fast-forward thirteen years and how Voldemort used some Dark ritual to get him a new body. And how, only weeks ago, the man had been exposed in a running battle in the bowels of the Ministry building.
"There was a prophecy, you see, made before even her birth. It was locked away, deep below the building. Very few even knew it existed. Voldemort found out and these good people here fought him over it."
"We won," he said, but he did it with a grimace. "Unfortunately he had a backup plan. Sybill Trelawney, the Seer who made the prophecy was kidnapped while we were all engaging his Death Eaters. Thus, while it had been a secret, Voldemort now knows the prophecy. Worse, he leaked it to the press, so now everybody knows the prophecy."
Harry stared at him, open mouthed. It was surreal to hear all the pain and misery that was his life – or Iris Potter's life – summarised so succinctly and even more surreal to then have him recite facts that were wrong. That wasn't how it happened. He felt like he was dreaming and any time now the Bloody Baron would float through the wall carrying a vat of raspberry jam and start a food-fight, or something equally ridiculous.
"That is a fantastical story," he heard himself say, disbelief that this was actually happening colouring his voice, "but where do I fit in? Why am I here?" Oh, the irony.
"That little history lesson was important, because the public is clamouring for Miss Potter to resolve the situation, whereas she simply isn't ready. She is only fifteen years old. People, however, don't care. So we, the Order of the Phoenix, sought to help her."
Perhaps Dumbledore could sense his impatience, because he started talking quicker. "We recently got access to a large library with numerous never-before seen texts. One of those detailed a ritual to call for aid. After a long debate we decided to enact it. It brought us you."
Harry blinked. He opened his mouth but closed it again when he didn't know what to say. "I'm sorry, what?"
"A ritual transported you to Hogwarts. Judging by the fact that you knew me, but I don't know you and more importantly that you knew Poppy Pomfrey, who doesn't know you, the world you come from is similar to ours."
Harry's mouth hung open. "The world I come from?"
"Ah. When I used the world transported I was perhaps a tad unspecific." Dumbledore removed the glasses from his nose and absently cleaned them on his robe before putting them back on. "A dimensional rift was opened between your world and ours and the magic brought you here."
Harry's head was swimming. Dimensions? That stuff wasn't real, was it?
"Tell me, on your world, do you have a Voldemort also?"
In a daze, he shook his head. "No. I mean, we had one, but he's dead now?"
That bit of news was well received, judging by the muted cheers and excited whispering.
Dumbledore leaned forward and his eyes captured Harry's, leaving him unable to look away. "Can you tell us how?"
"Er, sure. But our worlds are different. Some of that stuff never happened back home, and we don't have a Girl-Who-Lived."
A glimpse of dismay crossed Dumbledore's face, to be replaced by steely determination. "Tell us what you can."
Harry took a deep breath. Merlin, this was surreal. Still, if he could help these people... prevent all those deaths...
"All right, it's quite a long story. How long do I have, anyway?"
Dumbledore dismissed his question with the wave of a hand. "These meetings usually last only half an hour more at most, but I'm quite sure everyone is anxious to hear anything you can tell us. Take all the time you need."
Harry chuckled. "Good to know, but that isn't what I meant. How long am I staying here? This ritual you did, how long does it last? When will it send me home?"
Nobody answered and more worryingly, people didn't meet his eyes.
"Ah, you seem to be under the mistaken impression that you'll be automatically returned after a certain timespan has elapsed," Dumbledore said cheerfully, not looking at all concerned. "You don't have to worry."
Harry felt something unclench in his chest. "Oh, so you'll have to do a separate ritual to get me home then? All right."
For a moment he thought on where he should begin his story. He didn't want it known that he was the Boy-Who-Lived and especially not the fame that came with it. Maybe he could tell it like he was a bystander? Like it had happened to someone else?
Absently his eyes flitted over the familiar faces in the room before they stilled on Mrs. Weasley who looked just like he remembered, except for the tears in her eyes.
"Mrs. Weasley," he said softly, "Molly." She almost jumped out of her seat. "Why are you crying?"
She looked at him like a deer caught in the headlights but didn't answer and Harry felt his gut tighten. Something was wrong. Very few things could make the woman look like that. Was it something he said? Voldemort's demise should be cause for celebration, right? Unless...
He narrowed his eyes. "This ritual to get me home," he said softly and watched the woman flinch. "Is there something wrong with it?"
She shook her head, but didn't meet his eyes.
"Have you looked it over."
A single head shake.
His eyes narrowed further. "Has anyone looked it over?"
He glared at Dumbledore. "Tell me about the ritual to get me home."
The old man sighed. "Dimensional travel is a rare phenomenon because it is unnatural and imprecise. It has only been successfully attempted a few times in recorded history. In every case an unfocused summoning occurred, blanketing all realities and converging on the ritual site. Unfortunately, the reverse, namely banishing, disperses from the point of the ritual site without focus as one would expect."
Harry tried to wrap his head around that, but couldn't make heads or tails of it. Moreover, he was sure Dumbledore did that on purpose. "Say that again," he growled. "In English this time."
It was Remus who answered. "The summoning brought someone from some world here. Similarly, there exists a ritual to banish you to some world. There is, however, no way to specify what world that should be."
"I'd have to rely on luck?" he asked angrily, jumping to his feet. "How many worlds are there?"
This time Remus too dropped his eyes. "Too many to count," he said softly. "Theoretically an infinite number."
Harry goggled at that. "To get home, I'd have to do that ritual again and again, without any real chance of it working?"
Dumbledore winced and Harry's head shot around to immediately focus on him.
"What else?" he growled.
The man took a deep breath and with forced calm met his eyes. "Judging by the state you arrived in, it is likely that you would not survive another trip, let alone more than one."
Harry staggered back until his knees hit the bench and he collapsed onto it.
"I can never go home?"
A/N: Welcome to 0800-Rent-A-Hero, which is finally developed enough to start posting the first bit of it. This'll be a novel-length story, though as it is currently unfinished I dare not guess how many words it'll end up as. For as long as I have a small buffer I shall endeavour to update once a week.
The storyline of summoning Harry to another universe to succeed where they are failing is not a new one. I myself first encountered it in Yet Another Universe by Silverfawkes, but there are many others. No doubt I'll make use of some cliché's and tropes, but I find enjoyment in ignoring and subverting whatever cliché I can get away with. Expect surprises. Except, well, by definition you can't, so... Yeah. I'll just go on and pretend you're all amazed at my creativity.
Thank you for your thoughts.