A/N Written for the very lovely XxMookinexX, who submitted the 100th review for Names. Thanx Mooks, and everyone else who reviews my work.
I watched him as he ran, fleeing the dark shapes behind him. Around him the wind whipped the sand up, grating red lines across his face and blowing his hair into his eyes. It obscured my vision, so I raised a hand and parted it, allowing me to see him more clearly. I hovered easily, a little way above the hungry desert sand, but he ran through it and it swallowed his feet, so that each footstep was an effort. But still he ran, because he knew that they were coming closer and if they caught him then it would be the end. I felt his fear, insistent, desperate, hammering in my own chest as hard as it hammered in his. The sun was far away; it never shone here. Just the yellow-grey sand whirling around him and stretching before us, and the shapes behind him, gliding across the dunes as if they were made for this place. They were. This was their home and he was intruding, and I could feel his terrible certainty they would tear him apart. His foot caught in the sand and he fell to his knees, gasping, choking. The dark shapes were so close now. One appeared in front of him, emerging through the veil of sand, stalking towards him. He saw it and the terror intensified. Low-slung, with thick black fur and slathering jaws and red eyes, it crept closer. Tears were torn from his eyes by the dry, rasping wind, as he sat on his knees, facing destruction. I edged forward, intrigued. It moved closer, and he didn't reach for his wand because we both knew that it wouldn't be there, knew there would be no way out. He hadn't seen me yet; he was too intent on the beast in front of him. The creature suddenly leapt for him, darkness and doom hurtling towards him, and he screamed in terror, throwing his arms up across his face.
"Oh, really," I said, half-mockingly. I raised my hand and halted the creature in mid-leap. He jumped at my voice and opened his eyes cautiously. The creature was frozen half a metre in front of him, poised as if about to land on him, but unable to move so long as I willed it so. Its eyes glared hatred at me as I walked through the whirling sand to stand beside him. There was both terror and confusion in Harry Potter's eyes as he recognised me.
"Voldemort," he whispered. He appeared to be still frozen, unable to move. I sighed, and reached down, taking his hand and hauling him up.
"Must you dream so loud, Harry?" He jerked out of my grip, wobbling in the sand. I glanced around, exhaling slowly. "This truly is a miserable place. Surely you'd prefer…" I waved my arm and the sand beneath me simply melted away. It only took a little concentration, and then bright sunlight lanced through the whirling dust storm, clearing the air. We were standing on a gentle grassy plain, blue sky overhead, the sun beating down on us.
Potter's eyes opened as wide as saucers as he stared at the new setting.
"How?" he breathed. I shrugged.
"Controlling your dreams is easy enough, Harry." I took a step towards him, and he edged away, warily. I laughed; amused at the fear that still filled his eyes. "You should try it sometime. Instead of forcing me to endure all of your petty nightmares." Again he backed away, nervous as a wild animal. "I can't hurt you here, you know."
"I don't believe you," he replied, distrust resonating in his voice. "Before… when I thought you were torturing Sirius… it hurt."
"That wasn't a dream, it was a vision," I replied. Didn't Dumbledore teach him anything? "The dreams about the prophecy didn't hurt, did they?"
"No," he replied grudgingly. I glanced around and smiled. It was a beautiful place that I had built, such as I had almost forgotten.
"Play in the grass or something. It's still the early hours of the morning. You won't have any more nightmares tonight." I turned to go.
"You're leaving me?" he blurted out, before he could stop himself. I halted, fixing my eyes on those anxious green ones. Don't leave me, they were begging, and I knew that he was wrapped in that primordial fear of the dark that plagues everyone.
"Do you really want me to stay? Remember who I am, Potter." I extended my arm, hand open. "In an instant," (the hand closed, as if I was clutching his heart) "I could make you believe you were falling off a cliff to your death."
"You said you couldn't hurt me," he mumbled. I showed my teeth.
"Oh I can't hurt you in your dreams. I could torment you with horrific images until you turn insane though." He gestured at the grassy plains.
"Then why bring me here?" I shrugged.
"I'm trying to sleep. Your mental discipline is appalling. I don't enjoy being bothered by your fear. Goodbye, Harry."
"Wait," he cried, but I had already drawn the clouds around me, and vanished from his dream in an instant.
Two days later I visited his dreams again. It was different this time: he was drowning alone in an immense grey lake of cold water, whilst purple clouds darkened overhead. I floated above the lake's surface, rippled by a chill breeze, and laughed at his distress as he thrashed vainly in the water. He glanced up at my voice and hope (hope!) gleamed in his eyes.
"Help me!" he begged. I allowed myself an amused smile, and hovered just above his grasp. Desperately he reached up, trying to claw at me, and I teased him by dipping down for a second.
"You appear to have forgotten who I am, Potter. Why should I help you?"
"You did before," he said. I laughed.
"But Potter, it's time to stop relying on others. You can do exactly what I did, if you only concentrate."
"How?" he asked, coughing water.
"Just tell yourself you're not drowning. It's only a dream. In real life you're thrashing around in your bed." He screwed up his face, and sank beneath the black surface. When he came up his face was red and he spluttered frantically.
"I can't. It's too hard."
"Try harder," I purred. Again his brow furrowed and his eyes closed. Above me the sky cleared a little and weak sunlight broke through the darkness. I grinned nastily. "Potter?" He opened his eyes, suspiciously.
"What?" I waved a hand.
"Just to show you how easy it is to manipulate your environment…" He turned to see what I had done and gave a yelp. Triangular fins sliced through the water towards him.
"They're going to eat you," I taunted. "They're going to tear you apart. You can almost feel the teeth closing on your leg." He lost concentration completely, and the clouds grew again, blotting out the few rays of sunlight that had managed to break through.
"Stop this!" he cried, as the fins drew closer.
"Why don't you?" I mocked. "It's not real." He kicked, trying to swim, trying to reach up and grasp me. I hovered slightly higher, away from his snatching hands. "Oh come on, Potter. This is simply pathetic." The panic on his face was wonderful to see. "They're going to rip you apart, you know. Pain. That's what you're scared of, isn't it? Pain… They'll tear your flesh and strip your bones."
"It's just a dream," he wailed. The closest shark was almost upon him, its dim shape visible beneath the dark surface of the water, its mouth open, its teeth glinting wickedly. The black, soulless eyes fixed on its target and then rolled back into the sockets for protection as it lunged for the kill. Potter cried out in horror…
In that second I dipped down, gripped his clutching hands and lifted him clear of the water with no effort at all.
"Pathetic," I sneered. "You can not control your own emotions, you can not master your fear." He shivered with cold, but tried to concentrate. A warm breeze lifted, blowing away the clouds, allowing sunlight and warmth to bathe us. A small flicker of pride burned in his eyes. "Oh it's easy enough when you feel safe," I scoffed, quenching the flame. He let go of my hand, forcing himself to hover on his own above the lake surface. Beneath him the sharks circled. One of them leapt from the water, snapping at him, and he almost slipped back into the lake in his fright. I grabbed him in the nick of time and yawned. "Potter, you are most boringly disappointing tonight."
"Do forgive me," he snapped bitterly.
"You obviously haven't learnt at all from our previous encounter," I said, uninterested in his petulance.
"I cleared the clouds," he protested. I cut across him.
"You could not save yourself. If reality was the same as dreams you'd have died a long time ago." He shot me a look of alarm and I revealed my teeth. "What? Had you forgotten that I am still out there?" He shuddered and I leant closer. "The dreams are only a taster of reality, Harry. When we meet again you will ache for a world where your own will can make the nightmare end." He pulled away and I laughed inside. "Goodbye, Harry."
I waited a whole week before paying him another visit. This dream was similar to the first one. He was running again, and it was dark. You really are scared of the dark, aren't you, Potter? Around him shadowy Dementors glided between the black trees, their robes flapping. Their icy cold penetrated right to my bones, until I wrapped myself in a bubble of warmth. Potter's breath misted in front of him as he ran, but this time he had directionality. I realised he was running to meet someone, or find something, and slid silently after him, indistinguishable from the Dementors in my black cloak. Between the trees I caught the glint of water, and realised that we were heading for a lake. Unusually for Potter's dreams the sky was clear overhead and the brilliant full moon gilded his pale skin and dark clothes with silver.
As he broke free of the trees the Dementors converged in on him. He made his way to the edge of the lake, stumbling on the uneven ground, and fell to his knees beside something which lay there. I floated closer as the Dementors circled him, close enough to hear his voice.
"Sirius? Sirius! Wake up, Sirius!" He shook the limp body he held in his arms, and I could see now the Azkaban scarred features, couldvsee the dark hair and tattoos which gleamed in the moonlight. "Sirius, please!" The Dementors whirled around him, closer and closer, feeding on his pain. As I watched he weakened, almost falling forward over the body. "Sirius!" His voice grew more determined. "I can make you wake up." His face screwed up in concentration, and I drew closer in horror. The dead body was twitching, as he struggled with the nightmare, struggled to force his godfather alive. I broke the spell as quickly as I dared.
"That is enough!" Instantly the body vanished, along with the hungry Dementors. It was just the two of us, standing beside the deep lake. The surface of the water glittered in the moonlight behind him, as he turned on me, furious.
"How dare you! He was waking up!"
"Your godfather is dead," I snapped. "Reincarnating him in your dreams is not healthy."
"Why do you care?" he asked sourly. I willed myself to be right in front of him and hit him across the face. He fell back, shocked.
"Don't you care?" I shouted. "All those people died for you, Potter, and all you can do is try to live in the past. Didn't Dumbledore tell you not to dwell on dreams?" His expression was enough of an answer. "And you listened to him, didn't you? So why try and break that now?"
"But I'm learning!" he yelled. "I'm learning to control the dreams. I've been practicing. I can do it!"
"And what if you can?" I scoffed. "This is my dream too now, Potter, and you are in it. I could make you dance if I wanted; I could make you sing for me."
"You said you couldn't hurt me!" he shrieked.
"Just because I can't physically harm you doesn't mean I can't control you, can't turn your mind inside out," I threatened.
"This is my dream," Potter snarled. "I'm in charge!"
"Oh really?" I cried, reaching forward and grasping his arm.
In an instant we were back in the whirling sand, and the wolfish creatures circled us. Five of them, padding lightly over the shifting sand whilst the dry wind rasped at us. Potter lifted a hand and tried to make the creatures halt. I willed them to come on towards us. And as they slunk forwards, jaws open, eyes gleaming maliciously, he fell backwards in terror, clutching at me to save him.
"Make them stop then," I mocked. "Come on, Potter! You said you were in charge."
"Stop it!" he yelled. "Call them off!" I took hold of his arm again, and he flinched in pain under my hard grip as I moved us.
With a splash we fell back into the lake. Water washed over his head as he coughed, struggling to stay afloat. Around us the sharks circled, hungry.
"Same scenario, different location," I told him. "Why don't you lift us out of the water?" He tried, but his panicked efforts were futile, his concentration completely broken by the fear as he kicked and splashed. I waited until the sharks were almost upon us, and then lifted him out and away. He huddled close to me, eyes closed. When he opened them we were back on the grassy plain, with a soft breeze blowing and the sun overhead. Neither of us said anything. I brushed him off, then sat down and admired my handiwork, watching a herd of unicorns canter in the distance. Potter stared in moody silence at the blue sky.
"Of course you're stronger than me," he said finally. "You've been doing this far longer." I sighed.
"It's not about experience, Potter. It's about discipline." He rolled over and looked at me.
"Are you never frightened?" I laughed.
"Only a child is afraid of the unreal. Dreams are but shadows of real life. The fear may feel real, but in truth it is just a reflection of what you would feel if you really were drowning in a lake."
"I'm 17 now," he said quietly. "I'm not a child."
"Really?" I replied in a bored tone. I met his gaze steadily. "Then try acting your age. Goodbye, Harry."
He really does fear the darkness, I reflected, as I broke into the dream. I was standing underneath the night sky, but the moon and stars were hidden by clouds this time. I willed flames that only I could see by to illuminate the scene for me. As I recognised where we were I raised an eyebrow. But of course. I should have expected this from the beginning. He was alone, I noted. Tied up and unable to run. Pale with fear… and the fear was stronger than I had ever felt it to be. I walked into his field of vision and he stiffened. I shook my head.
"It's not me you're waiting for."
"Come to gloat?" he asked quietly.
"I've come to see what you'll do," I replied softly. There was a soft whooshing sound, and around us my Deatheaters appeared as they had on that night. I instantly concealed myself from their eyes, not wanting to interrupt this drama. Potter stiffened as the clouds overhead shot down tendrils. The tendrils hit the ground and whipped up around each other, forming the figure of a tall thin man with burning scarlet eyes. Me. Three years ago. The day I was reborn.
It stood taller than me, and its eyes burned brighter than mine. Built up by fear, grown stronger through feasting on terror, the child of nightmare turned towards the figure strapped to the headstone.
"Harry Potter," it hissed, its whisper echoing around and around us. The Deatheaters laughed and closed in. Suddenly the ropes around Potter had vanished; he was kneeling on the ground before it… before me. That's not right. He never kneeled. The nightmare laughed, a terrible chilling laugh. Silently I observed it. This dream told me what I had always needed to know. Potter feared me. Oh, he feared me more than anything else in this world. I felt like dancing.
The nightmare raised a hand and Potter was lifted to his feet. He was ashen and shaking, and I could feel his heart thundering faster and faster, knew the blood was rushing in veins, tasted his terror. The nightmare bent, bowing to Potter. Potter cried out in pain as he was forced to bow back. Gritting his teeth, he tried to fight the nightmare's grip, but lost, his back curving against his will. They straightened, facing each other, and the nightmare curled its lips back in a predatory grin.
"Look behind you," it whispered. He tried desperately to fight its will, but again it was too strong. Turning, he staggered back as a grey-skinned boy I half-recognised stepped towards him.
"You led me here to die," it wailed, thinly, sadly, the words flying away on the wind. "Harry… I died."
"Cedric. I- I'm so sorry." He was nearly crying, terrified out of his mind. There was no self-control left. He hadn't a chance of fighting the grip of the nightmare as it turned him around, to face it again. It stepped closer to him, and he shrunk back. One step, two steps. It wasn't the pain after all, I realised. It was the anticipation of pain. The fear of what was about to happen… that's what was destroying him. His breath came in choking half-sobs.
The nightmare raised its wand.
"A little pain first?" it asked, leering at him, tightening its hold over him, until he was held like a rabbit in lamplights, drowning in those scarlet eyes. Again the nightmare laughed. It wouldn't act, I realised. It hesitated to act… because that was where its power lay. It advanced on him… and then the spell broke. He spun around and he bolted. The creature screamed in rage, and sent a spell after him.
"Crucio!" It missed, of course. The fear of what will happen is what counts. He ran, stumbling, gasping, not daring to look behind him. I followed, gliding silently between the faceless Deatheaters. He disappeared from view and the nightmare paused, smiling to itself.
"I'm coming," it called. "I'm going to find you." It stalked slowly forward, its power increasing with each delayed step, with each second as the fear grew. I left it and glided down besides Potter. He was sitting with his back against a gravestone, arms wrapped around his knees, shaking. His face was turned away from me, staring intently around the rough edge of the gravestone at the advancing figure. I tapped his arm and he jumped, crying out. The nightmare laughed.
"I can hear you, Harry," it said. "I'm coming. Ten, nine, eight…"
"Potter," I whispered. He stared at me in fear for a second, his tear-stained face ghost white, then lunged forward and held onto me.
"Keep me safe," he begged.
"From myself?" I asked, amused. He clung on, tighter.
"The nightmare… I can't stop it."
Sighing, I stretched out a hand to halt the nightmare. It didn't stop. It felt my will resisting it, felt the snare encircling it, and it broke free.
"Bloody hell," I hissed. "What have you been feeding this thing, Potter?"
"Three, two… have you got a friend there, Harry?" it asked, stopping of its own accord.
"What do you mean?" he asked, trembling and huddling next to me.
"How many times have you dreamed this dream?" I asked tightly. He blinked.
"I've lost count."
"I can smell two of you," the nightmare said softly. "Two little mice, shivering in their hole." A strange feeling, almost akin to fear, spread through me. This wasn't like the other nightmares. This one had been dreamt so many times it had started gathering a mind of its own. This nightmare had initiative. It had been feeding off his soul, growing stronger every time he faced it. The shadow of me… but even shadows have life in them. And it fed on fear…
A tight smile played on my lips as I stood up and turned to face it. Its face creased with surprise.
"The mouse wants a fight," it hissed. I met its crimson gaze steadily and, was it my imagination, or did it shrink a little bit?
"No," I told it. "There is nothing to fight. You are not real."
"I am Lord Voldemort," it whispered. It raised its wand slowly. "And tonight… you will die."
"No," I corrected it again. "You have no power over me because I do not fear you." Again I tried to will it to stop and this time it really had to struggle to break free.
"I am stronger," it said softly.
"Of course you are," I replied. "What force can compare with raw fear?" It took a step forward and I concentrated.
The nightmare froze and stared in confusion.
"Where are you, mouse?"
"Look behind you…" I whispered. It turned and shrieked. I towered high above it, greater than it ever was, more powerful, more terrible. "You may be built of his fear," I rumbled, my voice echoing around the gravestones. "But I am the reason he is afraid!" I barely had to concentrate this time, but was able to catch and hold it easily. "Come out, Harry," I called. He emerged from behind the gravestone, pale but determined. His gaze took in the nightmare and it took in me. I reached down and lifted him up in my hands.
"Don't feed the shadow, Potter. Remember who the real nightmare is." He met my gaze and said softly, "I have made a vow to destroy you." I laughed at that.
"Until we meet again, then." I blew drowsiness into his face and his eyes fluttered closed. A little later I left him lying on the grassy plains that I'd built for him twice before, his chest rising up and down steadily, his eyes closed in dreamless sleep.