Harry laughed as he ran through a field with wind blowing in his hair and the strands of hay tickling his hands. He heard a bark from behind but before he could turn, something collided with the small of his back and he flew to the soft ground. Rolling around, he saw a black dog standing before him with a dog-like grin on his face. Moments later it was a smirking man.
'You're it,' Sirius grinned, and then ran off with a wolf on his heels.
At first, the occupants of Grimmauld Place twelve thought it was the product of their imaginations, so no-one said a thing. They all lived there, in that house, because there was that feeble hope that Harry and Sirius might appear. Dumbledore had said that it wasn't uncommon for those being eaten away by the current to return to the places they had once resided in.
After a week, it had become clear it was something much more real than mere imagination. Once, in the middle of the night when Hermione had gone to get a glass of water from the kitchen, she had seen a blackhaired man standing by the fireplace staring into the flames. He had disappeared when the girl had went closer. Another time, during the day, Ron had went into the library to get a book to get his mind off things even for a second, and seen someone standing by the window. This figure had been blurry around the edges and had shifted oddly every other second so that first he was tall, then shorter, then mid-length. Ron hadn't gotten close enough to see his face before he had disappeared.
They could all hear barking and howling sometimes. Upon inspection, they found nothing, but thought they could hear the clicking of long nails on the wooden floor, distancing away. And sometimes, they heard laughter which seemed to be coming from the house itself, from the shady corners and the deserted fourth floor where no-one dared to go.
'Where is this?' Harry asked as they lay on a bed and watched the flickering reflections of the sun on the white ceiling.
'I have no idea,' Sirius replied. Then they both burst out laughing and held onto each other.
Two weeks after the incident, during lunch, the kitchen door opened all by itself. The silent, muffled conversations which had been going on were cut off as if a scythe had went through them, and they all stared at the doorway.
Tonks and Fred saw it first because they were sitting closest to the door, but little by little it got stronger until everyone in the room could see it. It was like a shady mirage, blurry and inaccurate but perfectly recognizable.
A ghost-like Harry walked into the room, appearing to be absentminded but happy. He looked back and laughed, and the sound seemed to come from afar. Moments later Sirius entered, combing his fingers through his hair and laughing as well, and then they both disappeared as if vaporized.
The very air in the room seemed to have gone still until Dumbledore lowered his cutlery to the table. "It won't be long now," he said quietly, and his voice seemed loud in the silent kitchen.
Harry opened his eyes and saw the flowery field. Birds trilled and he could hear the light murmur of the stream somewhere in the woods, hidden in shadows. He spread his arms and fell back onto the soft flower-bed.
The sky was blue, so light-blue it almost hurt to look at it for a long period of time, and a few clouds were traveling across it. Harry let his eyes rest on the whiteness, watching it move over him to the west, as he bathed in the warm sunlight. He was feeling carefree and light, and couldn't remember the last time such a feeling had warmed his chest. Memories of what had happened recently twirled lazily in his mind, but he didn't get caught up in them. He had long since realized he didn't know what was going on and although that had bothered him a great deal at first- it had bothered them both- now he just accepted it. During the long period of time they had been here, he and Sirius had had much time to get used to it.
The grass rustled and Harry smiled, reaching out with his hand. It was taken into a warm hold and Sirius sat down next to his head.
'Did you find anything?' Harry asked.
'Nah,' the man replied. 'It's the same no matter how far I walk.'
'I wonder why we got stuck here. I mean, before, we jumped from here to there to there-there and back again but...'
'Who knows,' Sirius chuckled.
Harry closed his eyes again. Now they could take it calmly, but at first it had been such a shock. He remembered being in some dark place where shadows didn't exist. He remembered being in there for a long time, and could only faintly remember the days he'd spent at Grimmauld Place after leaving the St Mungo's before that. He remembered hearing an odd sound, like water rushing down a cliff, and then he'd been surrounded by a different darkness and Sirius had been there with him. At first he had thought it to be a hallucination- it was like his mind had insisted on it being a hallucination- but as time had went on, it had stopped mattering. It felt like everything had stopped mattering.
The scenes had changed so rapidly. They had been here, in the flowery field, like it was a starting point from where they had been transported- almost hauled- to places they both knew. Grimmauld Place had been one, Hogwarts another. There had been more, too, so much more, but those two had kept reoccurring over and over. But no matter where they had gone, they had always been alone, just the two of them. At first they had been wondering what was going on; neither of them seemed to clearly remember how they had ended up in this world where their every request was handled instantly like they were in an endless Room of Requirement; they had talked about it, but never reached a conclusion, and finally, it had stopped mattering.
Harry opened his eyes and looked up to the sky. He saw the clouds ripple and lowered his gaze to Sirius. 'I love you, you know,' he said. It was random, he knew, but suddenly he just felt like saying it.
'Do I know?' Sirius teased and then laughed and ducked to avoid the patch of grass aimed at his head. 'I guess I love you too,' he said and leaned in to press a light kiss on Harry's forehead.
'Fine, fine. I know I love you,' the man laughed.
'Good,' Harry said and looked up to the skies again. 'Something's happening again.'
Sirius glanced up as well. 'Oh shoot,' he groaned but with a playful taint to it.
Harry sat up and together they watched the world around them melt away. The birds stopped singing, the water stopped running, and the entire field seemed to sink into blackness as the sunlight faded away. They sat in the middle of it and watched. Harry remembered being upset by this sight at first, but that had been a long time ago. According to the made-up days they had conjured up in accordance to when they went to bed (the night always came when they so wished) they had been here for a month and a half already. During that time, he had seen their world melt away hundreds, if not thousands of times.
The blackness came complete as if it was a balloon someone had blown full.
'Here we go again,' Harry muttered and sat up straighter- not that it mattered that much.
A bundle of twisting colors appeared before them and they were sucked inside. It was a whirl much akin to the one connected to traveling by Portkey, but without the sickening tug. It lasted for about half a minute, and then they landed on Grimmauld Place Twelve's dimly lit foyer. The foyer was a lot cleaner than what Harry had come accustomed to, and after a second, when someone came running down the stairs, he understood why.
A fifteen-year-old Sirius ran through his older counterpart and Harry without seeing them. If Harry looked at his own hand, he could see it reforming from the mist it had scattered to when the boy's arm had swept through it. Being inside either of their memories was much akin to that of being in a Pensieve, but not quite.
'Do you want to follow him?' Harry asked from Sirius. The man shook his head.
'I'm probably just going to eat before leaving. It aint't that interesting," he said. 'Let's try to go out.'
Harry didn't bother pointing out that it never worked, but only followed Sirius to the front door. He watched the man's hand go through the door-handle. 'I think it sucks we can't leave,' he said. Sirius agreed.
They had learned at some point that no matter which memory they were visiting, they couldn't go out of its frame. That was much akin to being in a Pensieve. The lousy part of it was that there were no guarantees about how long they were going to stay in one particular memory. The record was a whole week, and they had been stuck on Privet Drive Four when Harry had been five.
'I wonder why this keeps happening,' Harry said and leaned against a wall. It was solid behind his back.
Sirius just shrugged. Just like Harry, he didn't feel like exhausting that topic yet again.
They stood there in the foyer for good ten minutes before young Sirius came up. He took a coat and left without a word, and as the door clicked shut at his wake, the foyer started to melt away.
'Oh thank god,' Sirius said and straightened. The field appeared before them before getting sucked away again. 'Hey no fair, my childhood isn't that interesting,' he said with a half-groan, half-laugh, and Harry chuckled.
And then, they went on to visit another memory.
At first, when they had first gotten stuck in where-ever they were, Harry had asked Sirius how they'd ended up there. The man said he didn't remember and Harry had believed him. He couldn't remember it himself, either- it was like a half-remembered dream from years back. It had stopped mattering surprisingly soon when they had been tossed from one memory to the other in no order at all. One moment, they could be in a memory of Sirius in school or at work, then jump to his or Harry's childhood and then straight to Harry's fourth year in school. It was all a mess.
During the breaks- sometimes long as the seasons, sometimes as short as seconds- from reliving their pasts, they had imagined up a house near the woods, next to the stream. It looked a bit like the place where Sirius had taken Harry during last Christmas but its interior was a mixture of many places. In reality, it wouldn't have been possible to have a living-room which was the Gryffindor common room and a park at the same time, not even with magic, but here it was possible.
They didn't need to eat, but still they had a kitchen. They didn't actually need sleep but still they had a bedroom. To its door was nailed the calendar they had made up. It showed how imaginary days turned into weeks, which in turn eventually turned into months. Their time was filled with reliving their own and each other's pasts, and when they weren't doing that they circled about the flowery field and tried to find a way out. They were sure that if they just looked long enough, they would find the door through which they had entered, but the problem remained that neither of them remembered coming there.
Five months after getting trapped in their dream-like limbo, Harry discovered that he could do magic. He had been bored so he had been sitting in their garden poking dead leaves- even the seasons changed if they so wished, so now the baxk of their house was inflamed with autumn colors while the porch was warmed by the early spring sun. The thought had suddenly come to him and he had muttered Incendio. The leaves had caught fire, burned, and turned to ash. When they'd still been smoking Harry had run inside to tell Sirius.
Gradually, as time went on and they couldn't find a way out while finding out even more about each other, they could do more. And more. And even more. There seemed to be no limit as to what they could do. Even spells which had caused Harry trouble in the past were now as easy as breathing. Everything about magic seemed to suddenly be as easy as breathing. They experimented to their limits, rested, and then tried a bit more. Everything in their world responded immediately and accurately. It could never become boring, though they did wonder. The wonder ceased to exist when they could mold the water rushing down the cliff they'd created into a castle by just linking their fingers and thinking about it.
The power was intoxicating and they wanted to know their limits. The visits they made to memories became a hindrance because it stole away the time they had in the field- on their playground. Everything about it was different now. Buildings and structures which defied the laws of physics and even sanity rose from the ground, blocking away the sun. Even the moon and stars were part of their experiments. By the end of the tenth month, Harry could reach out and take the moon to his hands, where it lay in a sphere of silvery light. Then he tossed it back and felt the energy it left in his hands.
After thirteen months there was nothing they couldn't do. Harry was more intoxicated about it than Sirius- that much power made him feel almost almighty.
Then came the day when he went too far. Combining the moon and the stars so that the moon had a collar of twinkly spots around it had become too easy to him, so he wanted to see what would happen if he put together the sun, the moon and the clouds. Sirius was away to take a walk so Harry was alone. As of late, Sirius had taken on the habit of taking his long walks, and Harry let him. He could keep himself entertained, and had thought about doing the combining for a while now but didn't want to try it in front of the man in case he failed. But if he succeeded, he could show Sirius his creation when the man came back.
Harry walked to their backyard, which was filled with flowers they had aided to grow, trees which grew vertically, and the gazebo which hung upside down from the skies. He passed the gazebo and finally stopped near the treeline.
Harry looked up, feeling excited and a tad nervous, but still there was a smile on his face. He knew he could do this.
He rolled up his sleeves and brought the moon to the sky. Then, as if drawing a line to the air, he pointed first at the moon, then the sun shining high on the sky, and then drew a circle which included a few clouds just passing over their house.
At first, nothing happened. Harry's heart-rate slowed down a notch- or rather, his heart thudded heavily in his chest in his disappointment. He already knew he wasn't going to tell Sirius about this. Then... The ground shook under his feet, just a light tremor but he felt it. Harry frowned, and then looked up to the sky. What he saw made him go pale and paralyzed his mind.
The sky had gone deep purple-violet- just the color they had created for their perfect sunset. But this color didn't give a feeling of relaxation but of deep anxiousness- it was an angry, furious color. The sun and the moon had come closer together alright, but the clouds were under them and not around them as Harry had intended, twisted into a madly grinning mouth full of sharp teeth. And as Harry looked closer, he could see that the moon and the sun were eyes which were staring down to him.
He stumbled back and tried to cancel this. The cloud-grin only split wider and the sky went darker. Now Harry could feel the tremor strengthening and becoming constant. He felt anxious and unwell in the pit of his stomach.
The sun-moon eyes seemed to grow bigger. Harry realized with a twist on his insides that they weren't just growing: they were coming closer. The face drew neared until it was hovering right over him and now the ground wasn't just shaking- it was crumbling apart.
Sirius was suddenly by his side, but Harry's mind was paralyzed by the shock of what he'd done and he didn't notice.
'Harry, what did you do?'
The cloud-grin split open and the world fell apart around them. Harry could feel Sirius's magic rushing around him and past him as the man tried to undo what he'd done. He tried to tell Sirius it was impossible but his throat didn't function. Then a darkness unlike anything else wrapped around them.
Harry shouted. It felt as if there were cold, sharp claws against his skin and then they started to tear him apart. He tried to destroy them, to struggle away- he kicked and twisted and turned- but nothing helped. His magic was futile. The claws were stronger than him and they were ripping him to pieces. At first he managed to stay conscious but when the claws reached deep enough, to that place within him where his magic was restored, the pain which followed knocked him right out. Then, he stayed in that darkness for a long, long time.
Harry awoke slowly, lazily. It took a long time- his mind felt as if it didn't want to wake up, like it wanted to stay in that place of disarray and chaos.
The first thing he noticed was how calm he felt. Calm and peaceful, serene even. Like there was no care in the world for him to preoccupy his mind with, like it was all... perfect. It felt absurd- a small part of him was trying to make it feel absurd without succeeding. Something echoed in his mind like the warm flutter of butterfly-wings, soft and light. It was again absurd, but the first thing he thought of was a field glowing gold in sunlight.
Slowly, Harry regained sense of his body. It felt groggy, heavy like he'd slept too long on a day off, and his mind was acting accordingly. He was feeling warm and content, and couldn't remember the last time he'd felt like that. Not after long a light sleep washed over him again and he fell asleep.
The next time Harry woke up, he could feel someone lying next to him. His mind worked slow, and he had to concentrate hard to focus on the light pressure against his forehead and knee. It took a long time for him to connect those sensations to a memory, and even longer for his hand to rise and then land on an arm he was pressing his head against.
He felt warm skin under his palm and only now, belatedly, his eyes fluttered open. A distorted flicker of a memory filled with darkness, blindness and fury filled his mind for a split of a second before sunlight stung his eyes sharply. He squinted, and raised his head.
He was laying on Sirius's bed in Grimmauld Place. The room was filled with sunlight that was making the floorboards glow and caught particles of dust from the air. Harry blinked and the room cleared out. He blinked again and lowered his eyes to the one laying next to him.
Sirius was asleep, right there next to Harry. His head was turned away and he looked peaceful. Then a light frown, like a shadow, swept over his face and Harry felt a flicker of something in his mind. He frowned as well and rose to lean to his elbow. His fingers were almost on Sirius's shoulder to nudge him awake when suddenly a bad feeling- almost like a premonition- swept over him. His hand halted and clenched into a fist. He tried to study the feeling but it slipped away until it felt as if it had never been there. The only thing left was a bad taste in his mouth.
Harry swallowed, and with a shaky hand shook the man's shoulder.
Sirius turned his head away before his eyes fluttered half-open. He blinked, and when Harry shook him again his eyes jumped over to him.
For a long time, they just looked at each other. Then, Sirius raised his hand and, after brief hesitation which seemed to last for a long time, brushed the tips of his fingers against Harry's cheek. He had a look of marvel on his face, like he believed he was still dreaming.
Slowly, Harry took that hand. It was warm and soft and solid and he was holding it. He knew this wasn't a dream, nor a hallucination. It just couldn't be.
Just as slowly, Harry brought their hands to his lips. Sirius's eyes followed him intently, unblinking, like the man was afraid that if he blinked Harry would disappear. Harry understood; he wasn't blinking either.
Then, as if of silent, mutual agreement, they hugged. It was an awkward position and they were almost careful about it at first, but when Harry felt it all- Sirius's chest against his, his arms around his shoulders, and the brush of hair against his cheek, a very violent tremble went through his body. Sirius held him tighter.
"Is this real?"
"Yes." Pause. "It has to be."
They held onto each other tighter and Harry closed his eyes. After a moment he realized he could feel Sirius's heart beating against his chest. He concentrated on the regular beat. Thump ... Thump ... Thump ... Thump. Harry was dead-certain he could feel it. This was no illusion. When he inhaled, he could smell Sirius. It was real. When he moved his hand, he felt hair against his palm. He couldn't have imagined it. Just a light press of his leg and Sirius's leg pressed tighter against his. He could feel it.
"I'm not imagining this?"
A flutter of bundled up memories appeared in Harry's mind. The first he could make out was a distant image of a castle built of rushing, foamy water.
"Was that real?"
"...I think so."
The memories went on like a half-remembered dream. Harry shivered and Sirius held him tighter.
"We don't have to think about that."
Harry pressed his face into the pillow and tried not to think. But still, the image of a horrible, twisted face kept popping up inside his mind until he couldn't take it anymore and rose again.
Harry couldn't say. The face was in his mind again, flickering over his eyes, and he hoped he could share that vision with Sirius. He didn't want to voice that, to give it a form.
Sirius sat up, too, and looked back to his pillow. It had a slight dip in the middle and his fingers reached out to touch it. But just when they were inches away, Sirius let his hand fall down. Harry felt something, like a memory, going through his mind, and suddenly a funny sort of thought struck him.
We didn't leave any dips on our pillows in there. Where? he asked himself, sure he could and more importantly should remember, but it was like trying to grasp a dream he had seen in the middle of the night. It just slipped away.
"I don't know."
"We're at Grimmauld Place, aren't we?"
"I think so, yeah."
Harry looked around. It felt like it had been a long time since he'd last been in that room. It looked so different from what he remembered. But then again it was the same, and it confused him. After a while he realized what it was: the room looked like someone had left it a long time ago and the other occupants of the house had kept it in the exact same condition out of dutifulness rather than anything else. It felt cold, and abandoned, despite the sun shining in and the clothes disregarded here and there on the floor.
"This don't feel right."
"... I know what you mean."
They looked at the bed, and even that looked empty even though they were sitting on it. Suddenly Harry got the desire to cringe away from it all like it was something disgusting.
"What's going on?"
"Who knows..." But the answer came belatedly, and Harry got the impression Sirius wasn't being entirely truthful with him. He looked over to the man and saw Sirius looking- not at the room- but at his hands. Harry couldn't understand what could be so interesting in a pair of hands but leaned closer still. And what he saw felt somehow off.
"You see it too?"
"What's wrong with it?"
Harry wanted to say "Nothing" but couldn't. He shifted to stand on his knees, leaned an arm on Sirius's back and looked again. There was something off in Sirius's hands. He glanced at his own on his knee and then brought it next to Sirius's.
Sirius looked up from his hands. "You look off, too."
Harry raised a hand to his face like he could see himself like that. "I do?"
"Dunno. It's just off." Sirius's eyes narrowed and his fingers combed through Harry's hair. He needn't even ask.
"You look a bit off, too. Dunno how."
"... Was it a dream? That."
A flickering memory, slippery like dipped in oil, briefly danced over Harry's mind's eye, showing him the field and the cliffs and the upside down gazebo. He almost remembered more, but then it escaped from him. "Yes." And he was as certain as can be.
"Are you sure?"
"Are you sure?"
"I'm not sure of anything. Except-" Sirius clenched his fists. "This could be real. No memory. No... that."
"What is 'that'," Harry murmured, but clenched his fists too. He had a feeling he should have felt a surge of energy when he did that but now it was just his hands closing and muscles tensing before he relaxed again.
As they had talked, the sun had moved and left the room. Now it was getting dark and the room seemed even colder, even more abandoned and lonely.
"Should we sleep?"
"We just woke up."
And then they both laughed and lay back down. Harry rested his head on Sirius's shoulder and enjoyed his warmth. After closing their eyes, they fell into unconsciousness immediately.
"I'm telling you, I heard something!"
"Ron-" Hermione tried to catch up to the longer-legged wizard who was striding up the stairs three at a time. "Ron, there's no-one there. There has been no-one there since-"
"I know that but I say I heard something, alright?" Ron didn't even turn or bother lowering his voice- everyone in the house was still up. "And don't gimme that crap about letting it go," he snapped before Hermione could even respond. "I'm not losing hope-"
"I've never said we should lose hope, but Ron, really-"
"I heard it," Ron said and then he was on the fourth-floor landing. He was already regretting going downstairs to tell Hermione about the voices he had heard a while back and wished he had just come here by himself. But the truth was that he had been- and still was- scared of the abandoned, shadowy fourth-floor. "There's probably nothing here," he continued. "Let's just make sure."
"Yeah," Hermione said. She glanced around and pulled her sweater tighter around herself even though it wasn't cold up there. "Yeah. Where did you hear it from?"
"I'm... not sure," Ron said. "I was just going down when I heard it, anyway, so I can't tell for sure," he said with a slightly explaining tone, like Hermione was accusing him of not being certain. "Let's just check both rooms."
"Yeah, good idea," Hermione said, but didn't make a move to go to either of the doors looming in the shadows. After a while of standing around Ron realized why- the girl was just as terrified as he was, both terrified and sickly hopeful. For the last three weeks it had been nothing but being terrified and sickly hopeful. Almost every door they opened, they wished it led to Harry and Sirius. They wished they could meet them in the library, where the two of them would be dusty and exhausted but apparently happy after digging through a mountain of books for no apparent reason. They hoped against hope every time they went to the kitchen that they would find them there, Sirius rocking with his chair and Harry munching an apple next to him as they argued over the crossword-puzzle in The Quibbler. Every door they opened they hoped would be the one, and the feeling had intensified daily since Dumbledore's announcement four weeks ago.
Ron's heart was beating against his throat as he turned to Harry's door. This's it, he suddenly thought as he reached for the doorknob. They'll be here. I just know it. But when the door swung aside (Ron had stopped breathing when he pushed it open) they both stared into the vacant, dark room and Ron tried to swallow down bitter, sour disappointment and ever growing dread. Because how many doors were there in that house? They had opened them all, and while Ron, nor Hermione, nor anyone else remembered when or why they had become so fixated with doors, he felt in his heart that they were running out of time.
Ron didn't look at Hermione as he pulled the door shut and went for Sirius's. This has to be it. Please, let it be this, he thought almost desperately and again his breath caught in his throat as he turned the doorknob and pushed the door aside. He saw only darkness and desperation poured down his throat like acid.
"No, wait!" Hermione said when Ron was about to pull this door- this very last door- close and finally succumb to the idea that maybe his best friend really was to never return from behind the border. She rushed beside him and placed a hand on the door to prevent it from closing, even though Ron had frozen to stillness the moment she had spoken. Then, her hand fell limp to her side and her voice was an incoherent mumble. "R-Ron," she said out of breath. "Ron!"
Ron looked, and his hand slipped from the doorknob as every bit of strength left his body. There was a lamp on the desk beside the bed and now, belatedly, it was flickering to light. In the soft halo it cast on the bed, they saw Sirius and Harry, sleeping soundly close together. Very close together, in fact. They saw Harry move, his hand clutching onto the front of Sirius's shirt, and Sirius's arm wrapping around him loosely. Harry sighed lightly through his nose and Ron and Hermione looked at each other before running downstairs so fast they almost broke their necks.