Everything belongs to J.K.Rowling. I own nothing.
Massive hugs to Sean for beta-reading.
Be warned: Later chapters will consist largely of slash fiction, and some will be rated 'R'. If you are under 17 and/or don't like slash, this is not the story for you. Otherwise, please read on.
The Herbology essay that had taken forever to research and write was nearly finished. Harry only needed to read up on the correct way to propagate Creeping Fireweed seedlings, and he'd have it done by dinnertime. He sat on his cloak in a quiet spot between the edge of the forest and the lake, and shivered in the chill of early evening. 'An A to Z of Combustible Perennials' sat open in front of him as he scribbled notes on a scrap of parchment. It was beginning to get dark and he was struggling to make out the intricate calligraphy, but it didn't occur to him to finish the assignment in the warm, bright common room.
'Lumos!' he muttered, and stuck his wand in the branches of a nearby tree, to act as an overhead lamp. As he turned back to his cloak, something caught his eye. Was that a slight movement, just beyond the edge of the forest? He squinted into the gloom...and a large, ugly black bird flapped its way out of the undergrowth, squawking angrily. Harry let out the breath he'd been holding, and berated himself for being so jumpy. He sat down and got back to work.
'Let's see...the roots must be treated with a Fridgidio potion, before the seedlings are separated, to prevent them exploding as soon as they are exposed to light...'
Absorbed in his research, Harry barely noticed the clouds overhead becoming darker. The wind picked up, rustling leaves and rippling the surface of the lake. It wasn't until he heard the first rumble of thunder that he looked up. The sky was the colour of ink, and the trees of the forest loomed menacingly, thrashing their gnarled branches in the wind. Harry was not perturbed by the coming storm, in fact he quite liked thunderstorms, but something wasn't right. He stood up and frowned, trying to put his finger on what was wrong.
He glanced towards the castle. It seemed very far away - had he really walked that far to get here? A sound from behind him made him spin around and stare into the trees. The sound of the leaves rustling was almost like...whispering. Like lots of voices, all whispering together. Wait...that is whispering, surely. Harry strained to hear. There were voices, definitely voices, and they were coming nearer. Harry began to panic. This was all very familiar - and not in a good way, he was sure. Where had he heard those voices before? If he could only hear what they were saying, maybe he'd remember.
The first drops of rain plopped into the lake, and Harry stooped to pick up his cloak. He wrapped it around himself, and began to think it might be a good time to run to Hagrid's hut. Something was terribly, terribly wrong. He turned...and stopped dead in his tracks. Cloaked figures were emerging from the forest. The whispering became clearer, murmuring '... advocare circulus...' Harry froze in terror; he'd seen cloaks and hoods like those before. Death Eaters! There seemed to be hundreds of them, bearing down on him. Their chanting filled his head, and he knew he had heard it before. Surely he had been here before, just like this...and something dreadful had happened.
He willed his legs to move and turned to flee towards the castle. He only got a few yards when... WHOOSH! A jet of flame erupted right in front of him, so close it singed a few stray strands of his hair. He leapt back in shock, and tried to side-step the column of fire. Another one shot up at his feet. He tried running in the opposite direction, but everywhere he went, a new fire would spring up from nowhere, driving him back and scorching his robes. Soon he was surrounded by a ring of roaring fire, flames shooting high into the air. The only gaps in the circle were behind him, where the death eaters blocked his path, and in front of him, his only possible escape. He would have to swim for it.
Shedding his cloak he waded into the lake. He glanced over his shoulder at the Death Eaters. They weren't following him. They closed the gap in the circle of fire, still chanting, but made no attempt to approach him. He turned back to the lake and took a deep breath, preparing to dive in. Something made him stop. The sense of deja-vu was overwhelming. He had been here before, and something told him that diving into the lake would be a very bad idea.
He scanned the surface of the water. A thick mist had descended, and the rain pummelled the water almost into a froth. It was now too dark to see very far, but the light from the magical fire cast a flickering glow, which added to the illusion that the lake was boiling into steam before his eyes. The Death Eaters' chanting, the lashing rain and the crackling of the fire filled his head and a feeling of terror and dread overcame him as he realised too late what was about to happen.
A tall, cloaked figure emerged from the mist, hovering above the water. Red eyes flashed in a pale, skeletal face beneath the black hood. Voldemort! Harry reached into his pocket for his wand...it wasn't there! Of course it wasn't there, it was still in that damn tree, glowing away cheerfully. Voldemort laughed, and the high, cold cackle resonated in Harry's head, chilling him to the very core.
'It's happened before, I know it! What did I do? How did I get away...?'Harry looked helplessly back at his wand, just as Voldemort pointed his own wand at Harry. Instinct took over and Harry flung himself to the ground just as Voldemort uttered 'Crucio!'. The curse whizzed over his head and hit one of the Death Eaters, who screamed and doubled up in agony. One of the fires in the circle abruptly fizzled out.
Harry frantically scrambled backwards away from Voldemort, splashing in the shallow water at the edge of the lake, hands and feet sliding on the slippery pebbles beneath him. Voldemort didn't bother to finite the miscast Cruciatus curse, but left his follower writhing in agony while his comrades continued their sinister chant. Harry struggled to his feet and half ran, half crawled in the wet grass to where he had sat to write his essay. He lunged for the branch where his wand was propped, just a second too late.
'Impedimenta!' screeched Voldemort, and this time the curse didn't miss. Suddenly Harry felt as though he was wading through treacle. His arms felt as heavy as lead, his feet felt as though they were glued to the floor. He summoned every ounce of strength, and grunted with effort as he reached up and closed his fingers over his wand. It slipped from his grasp as if it was greased. He groped blindly for it, his fingers numb and stiff. He finally caught it, and struggled to turn and face Voldemort, raising his wand with one last enormous effort.
The second curse (Confundus!) hit him before he could speak. Now he couldn't remember what he was going to say. How did it go again? Expelarus? No, Expendi... um, Exeli....
Voldemort's laughter echoed in his head once more. Coherent thoughts gave way to confusion and helpless fear. He couldn't remember a single spell, not even a simple levitation charm. From the corner of his eye he spotted the gap in the circle of fire, the result of one of the death eaters becoming incapacitated and unable to chant. He staggered towards it, but knew it was hopeless. With every step he felt as though he were dragging a ten ton weight, and Voldemort was raising his wand again.
The ground beneath Harry's feet began to soften, and slowly he sank up to his knees in the mud. He stared down in horror, still clutching his wand. It might as well have been an egg-whisk, for all the good it would do while he was Confunded, but he clung to it in desperation. He reached up, struggling to grab at the lower branches of the tree but only succeeded in sinking up to his waist. Voldemort drifted closer, and glared down at Harry.
'There will be no escape this time,' he hissed. 'You were supposed to die fifteen years ago, Potter. You will do so this evening, after I have repaid you for the years of agony you inflicted on me...Crucio!'
Harry screamed and his whole body jerked as if he'd been electrocuted. Every inch of his skin stung as though he was being flayed with a thousand whips, every muscle clenched in spasm until he was sure his bones would snap. The very air he breathed felt like shards of glass in his lungs, and every sound echoed and amplified in his ears until he thought his skull would split open. His helpless convulsions dragged him further into the mud but he was only vaguely aware of the cold stickiness creeping up his chest to his neck. The light from the fires scorched his eyes like hot branding irons and he squeezed his eyelids shut, but it didn't stop the pain.
He was beginning to black out. A small part of his consciousness prayed to be dragged under - suffocation had to be preferable to this. But even in the worst pain imaginable, Harry couldn't bring himself to give up. He hadn't survived the curse of the most evil wizard in the world only to die at his feet fifteen years later. Between the stabbing jolts of pain, he tried to overthrow the curse, as he had learned to do with Imperius.
'Snap out of it, Harry! You still have your wand, you can do it...concentrate...AAARgh!'A fresh surge of agony shot through him, like hot needles jabbing into his spine. Think, Harry! Clear your head! Wake up....WAKE UP!
Of course! That's exactly what he had to do. Wake up! That's why all this was so familiar. 'It's not real, Harry,' he told himself. 'Wake up...it's a dream...wake UP!'
'Wake up, Harry!' Another spasm shook him, but - hang on, it didn't hurt. The mud was closing in around his shoulders though, he couldn't free his arms...but he wasn't cold any more...was he dead?
'HARRY! It's me, Ron! Wake up, it's just a dream!' Harry felt something shake him by the shoulders and snapped his eyes open, expecting to see the vile, gloating face of Voldemort. Instead, he saw a blurry, freckled face, pale with worry. 'Bloody hell, Harry! Are you alright? You were screaming blue murder.' Harry blinked and looked around. He was safe in the dorm, and it was almost daylight.
'Yeah, I'm alright...I guess.' It was an effort to sit up. He'd managed to get so tangled up in his blankets that his arms were strapped to his sides. He fought his way free and reached for his glasses. The world came back into focus, and for the first time he noticed Dean, Seamus and Neville watching him anxiously.
'That sounded like a bad one, Harry,' said Seamus, perching on the end of his bed.
'Yeah it was...bad,' Harry admitted. He'd always been prone to nightmares; it was hardly surprising given his past. This was new, though. A recurring dream, always the same, or almost the same. He was always alone, by the lake, and he always ended up about to die a horrible death. The last time had been a week ago. In that one he'd tried to escape by swimming across the lake. He swam straight into Voldemort, who cast the full Body-Bind on him. He'd been about to drown when Ron woke him.
Harry sat up and glanced at the grandfather clock in the corner, which was bewitched to tick quietly and only chime during daylight hours. It was ten past six. A bit early for a Sunday, but he wasn't going to sleep any more, that was for certain.
'Think I'll have a bath and then get some work done,' he murmured, rubbing his eyes. The other boys still looked worried, so he smiled a wobbly smile. 'I'll be fine, go back to sleep.'
Ron didn't look convinced but he got up and flopped back onto his own bed. Harry peeled off his sweaty pyjama top. His shaky hands fumbled with the buttons, so he gave up and pulled it over his head. Then he padded off to the bathroom, with the familiar queasy feeling that always came over him after one of his nightmares.