Harry appeared out of thin air, and immediately fell down on the dusty floor of the secret passage. Time-travel had never felt so rough before, but then, he'd never travelled back for more than two days before this. He sat still for a few minutes; feeling too sick and dizzy to move.
He forced himself to move after a while, and started the half-hour trek down the passage to get out of the range of Hogwart's wards. The passage looked no different to when he had used it last, six years in the future. Harry was glad his younger self was not at Hogwarts yet. It was strange enough to think there was a ten-year-old version of himself at Privet Drive, without the younger-him being literally minutes away on the other side of the secret passage.
After about twenty minutes of walking Harry stopped as he felt himself pass through what felt like a warm ripple of air. He looked around but there was nothing to see. He stood for a moment, frowning thoughtfully. He was quite sure that had been the wards. He'd never felt them before, but he had noticed that sensing magic was getting easier ever since he had learned how to sense his own. He could only imagine what actually seeing the magic would be like. He took off his cloak and stuffed it in his pocket, together with the time turner. Concentrating on the image of the Leaky Cauldron, he turned on the spot and vanished.
He appeared with a loud crack in front of the Inn. He pushed the door open and went inside. Tom wasn't there; instead an old man with wild grey hair Harry hadn't seen before was reading a copy of the prophet behind the bar. He looked up as Harry entered, his rheumy brown eyes blinking at him curiously.
Harry nodded to him in greeting. "Hello, sorry to come in so late, but I'm afraid I was stuck late at work, and I don't want to wake up the friends I'm staying with. Do you have a room available?"
The old man pushed himself to his feet and grinned at him "Late at work, eh" he said slyly. "Not to worry, young man, the old Leaky is open at all hours". He motioned for Harry to follow him. "Just for the night, then?" he asked.
"Yes, I'll be off in the morning after breakfast," replied Harry.
The old man led him to a room similar to the one he'd stayed in during third year, and left after telling him to pay his bill in the morning.
Harry wrapped his invisibility cloak around his satchel and stuck it next to his pillow, mentally reminding himself to practice the security charms in his books. He fell asleep wondering why the old man had sounded so amused when he told him why he'd come to the inn.
He woke the following morning feeling refreshed but ravenous. It seemed to be quite late, judging by the light coming through the windows. He washed up quickly then gulped down a mouthful of the leftover Polyjuice potion. He walked down to the bar after he transformed. Tom was there this time, serving breakfast to a number of people. Harry supposed the other man must have been the night manager.
"Good morning," he greeted the Inn keeper. "I'd like to pay the bill now please". Harry wanted to get to Romania as soon as possible, before anyone started asking any questions about who he was.
"Mornin" said Tom with a smile that showed his toothless gums. "That'll be a Galleon for the night". Harry paid him and left through the muggle entrance.
Charing Cross Road was full of shops and it wasn't hard to spot a number of bookshops after just a few minutes of walking. He entered one of the big chain store bookshops and made straight for the travel section. A few minutes of browsing and he had a small stack of books on Romania.
He rummaged around in his satchel until he found one of the bundles of muggle money Kreacher had brought to him what seemed like years ago. He peeled of a couple of twenties and got inline at the counter to pay.
No one looked at him twice. He was wearing a pair of wizarding made slacks and shirt that were supposed to go under open style robes, but they were close enough to muggle clothing for anyone to take any notice of them.
He left the bookshop and went to the cafe next door. He bought a sandwich and sat on one of the outside tables and started reading one of the books as he ate.
A half an hour of reading left him feeling a little concerned. Apparently Romania was going through a political upheaval at the present, their last president having been executed four months before on Christmas day. They must have really hated him. Harry could see why, Ceauşescu sounded like a real piece of work. Too bad the wizarding community couldn't take a leaf out of their books and do the same to Voldemort. No matter how powerful he was, he wouldn't be able to escape a few thousand wizards all trying to kill him at once.
He discovered that Romania was holding an election in just a couple of weeks, but that things were still unsettled in the country. After thinking about it for a while he decided that so long as he was careful, he wouldn't need to change his plans. He paid special attention to the pictures of Bucharest, the capital city. He needed to find a safe place to Apparate to. Nothing he'd been able to find out mentioned any rules against apparating into another country so that was the method he was planning to use. You had to register yourself within three days of arrival, however, whatever your method of travel.
He laid a tip on the table and left the cafe, intending to visit one of the many currency exchange shops in the area. No one batted so much an eye when he asked to change several thousand pounds into Romanian Leu. The wonders of a big city. No one cared what you were up to. He ducked in a corner when he felt himself changing back. Not even city folk were so blasé they would ignore someone transforming right before their eyes.
He spent the rest of the day wandering around muggle London, collecting supplies. He was planning to go to Romania as a tourist who was interested in learning the Romanian language. It was almost true. Harry didn't want to drink Polyjuice for the entire month before the ritual, and he didn't want to rely on charms that could be cancelled out, so he decided to disguise himself the muggle way.
A visit to an optician's had him emerging an hour later with coloured prescription contacts that turned his bright green eyes into a light brown. The hairdressers next to the opticians took care of his unmanageable hair by straightening it, and a quick dye job turned it into a dark brown. His hair would go back to normal in six weeks, but he wouldn't need a disguise by then. A folded bandana wrapped around his forehead took care of hiding his scar and he bought a few jeans and casual outfits to better fit in with his tourist disguise. Harry was amazed at how different he looked. He almost didn't recognize himself.
He waited until it was almost dark, then packed away all his shopping in a big backpack to complete the picture of a young carefree tourist. He walked down to Charring Cross tube station and went down the stairs, then spent some time wandering around until he came to an empty spot. He put on his invisibility cloak and after making sure no one was close enough to hear him, he focused on a picture of a pretty old church he'd seen in one of his books and vanished with a crack.
Harry was glad to see there was no one around when he reappeared in front of the church. He took of his cloak and stuffed into his pocket, then made his way to the nearest street. Harry had chosen the church because it was out of the way, but still close to the heart of the city. Within a few minutes he was in the midst of a busy teeming road, lit with electric lights and the glow of neon signs. There were people everywhere, a significant portion of them clearly foreigners. Harry was surprised at the number of wild dogs roaming free in what was clearly a modern city. He quickly found a hostel and checked in, relieved to see the manager spoke English, albeit not very fluently.
He spent the next few weeks wandering the streets of the city, chatting with the locals. Apart from the comprehension charm he cast each morning, and the do-not-notice and locking spells on his satchel, he tried to cast no other spells, lest they be picked up by the local wizards. He did have to glamour up a passport with a visa. He'd totally forgotten about that part of muggle travel.
Sometimes he went to the cinema with people his age he met while walking. He went to the beach, amusement arcades, museums, ice rinks, anywhere he could think of. Harry had never been on holiday before and he'd decided to make this a real holiday, and not just an opportunity to learn the Romanian language.
Although he tried not to worry about it too much, the knowledge that soon he would no longer be the Harry Potter he'd always been was never far from his thoughts. He knew that it would be unlikely he would ever be able to have a holiday like this again, no matter what happened in the future, so he did his best to make the most of it. He threw himself into having as much fun as he could, went to places he never would have dared normally, talked to people he never would have before.
The first time he got drunk he decided to stick with non alcoholic drinks however. Harry didn't know why anyone would deliberately inflict something like a hangover on themselves. He also resisted the temptation to get a tattoo when one of his new acquaintances managed to get a picture of a girl tattooed on a very embarrassing place.
He never spent too much time with any of the people he met; he didn't want questions on how he was picking up the language so fast. He was learning Romanian faster than he'd thought possible, although that was partly due to the fact that Romanian seemed very close to Latin, and you couldn't spend so many years casting spells based on Latin without picking up a bit of the language here and there.
He moved around from hostel to hostel, going from one end of the city to the other, and every night, after he retired to wherever he was staying he practiced meditation. He hadn't bothered to get any of the Somnio Conscius potion because he'd decided not to go back to the mindscape until he learned how to get it to it without any assistance. He spent the first week just learning about how meditation worked.
He discovered quickly that there was more than one type of meditation. There was the meditation used to create a positive and peaceful state of mind. To relax, increase awareness, find clarity and sharpen mental focus. It sounded nice but it required the working through of all negative thoughts and memories and Harry had no intention of disturbing the unstable mess of emotions he'd locked away.
He focused his attention on learning the meditation techniques that let someone enter a state of trance where you could access the parts of yourself that was normally inaccessible; the subconscious. This part was easier because instead of learning to deal with and become at peace with yourself, you simply learned how to dismiss all your emotions and then when your mind became totally clear, and aware, you could send yourself into a deeper trance where you could enter your mindscape.
He spent a couple of hours practicing the meditation exercises every night, and perhaps because he'd already known how to clear his mind, he found at the end of a couple of weeks he could send himself into a shallow trance, although any slight disturbance usually managed to get him out of it pretty quickly.
The days and weeks sped by until he found there was only a week left until the 12th of May deadline. Harry bid his new friends a reluctant goodbye. He still needed to buy a property and cast the Fidelius on it. And he had to prepare for the ritual as well. He knew where Alain had died because of the picture in the newspaper so he would be able to apparate there, and the paper had mentioned that there was a village nearby, but he had no idea where in Romania it was.
Harry double checked his packing as he got ready to leave the city. He had enough Polyjuice to last him for several months, and supplies to make more. He'd nicked quite a bit of hair from a young Romanian guy getting his hair cut in a barbers he passed by one day, so there were no worries there. He'd already prepared a flask full of Polyjuice using the hair, and he took a swig of it now.
Strangely enough, he didn't look all that different from his normal self. Harry had always thought Romanians were Mediterranean looking, but they had a mixture of all types, from blue eyed blonds with fair skin to olive skin and dark curly hair. Right now he had dark blue eyes and wavy black hair, and his skin was the same tanned shade as his real body.
He made sure the rather large number of trinkets and souvenirs he'd acquired were packed away safely. He was quite surprised by their number. The bottomless satchels made shopping quite misleading. The cauldron that held the precious potion sat securely in his first satchel, stasis charm keeping it still and safe.
When Harry could no longer find any tasks to delay him, he reluctantly wrapped himself up in his cloak and apparated out to the clearing in the forest where Alain and his Grandfather had been murdered. He appeared with the usual loud crack and Harry reminded himself, again, to look into how to apparate silently.
The forest clearing looked like any you could find in the Forbidden Forest. Spring made the trees green and lush, and the sounds of many small animals came from the dense undergrowth. Bright sunlight lit the leaf strewn path leading away from the clearing. It did not look like the scene of a violent battle.
Harry shivered in his cloak and got out his wand to use the charm that found the nearest human. It pointed due east, and he set off walking. Almost an hour later he started seeing signs of habitation.
The trail he was following widened out and scattered village houses with large gardens full of wildflowers came into view.
Ancient looking watering troughs carved from tree trunks stood in front of some of the houses. The village looked quite pretty; it had cobblestone streets and an interesting fountain by the main road. There seemed to be what looked like a ruined castle somewhere in the distance.
He asked a toothless old man sitting on a bench outside a pub for directions to the nearest hostel and he directed him to a nearby bed and breakfast. He followed the narrow cobblestone alleys to a big two-storey house. There were stacks of neatly-cut firewood in front, half covered with lots of different kinds of flowers. A friendly middle aged couple greeted him and he made arrangements to stay until he found a more long-term place.
There were a few other tourists around, so he did not stand out too much. He told the curious he was a writer doing research on the beautiful Romanian forests and asked around for someone who was willing to sell him a small place. He'd decided back in the capital not to try living in a big city. There were just too many dangers there and trains to the capital were always available if he really needed anything from there.
The very next day he was directed to an old widow living not too far from the bed and breakfast who had a small cottage she wanted to get rid of. She did not seem to be too pleased to see him, even when he told her why he'd come. She showed him around the cottage. It had a single large room with a small underground cellar and a tiny bathroom. The over grown garden that came with it was three times the size of the cottage. It was completely empty apart from a small couch shoved in a corner. The cottage had clearly been abandoned for many years. Harry didn't dare ask the lady why, the look on her face forbade the asking of any questions.
He found out later from the couple who owned the bed and breakfast that the cottage had belonged to the widow's son, who'd bought it just before he was about to get married. Then his fiancée had died in an accident and the son killed himself.
The couple offered to arrange the sale for him and he agreed, not wanting to upset the grieving old lady. They took care of arranging everything with the local notary and the bank. He was glad he'd changed his pounds to the local Leu in Bucharest after he found out that locals were not allowed to have too much foreign currency. He paid a bonus to the friendly couple and left for his new cottage.
The first thing he did was cast the Fidelius charm. A sense of relief filled him. At last he had a secure place in which to plan out the rest of his immediate future. He spent the rest of the day casting cleaning and repairing charms. By night, the cottage looked almost liveable, although he still had no furniture apart from the old couch.
Harry decided not to bother getting any furniture and set up his tent instead. It was much more comfortable than the cottage could ever hope to be.
He spent much of the following few days familiarizing himself with his mindscape. He always made sure not to look into the mirror. He had absolutely no desire to see what it showed again. He came to realize that all the items in the cupboard room symbolized something about him. The roaring fire in the massive stone fireplace felt a lot like his magic, and no matter how hot it felt, it didn't seem to hurt him. He'd actually taken to spending a lot of time just standing in the middle of the roaring fire. It made him feel wonderfully alive and full of energy.
Harry found the books in the bookshelves symbolized his knowledge. Every spell he knew, all the potions he could brew and all the other things he'd learned over his life, both mundane and magical, seemed to be in those few books. He found the small number of books disheartening until he realized there was no way the amount of things in each book would be able to fill an ordinary book. He felt much happier after that, although he resolved to learn more as soon as he could.
There were a lot of items in the room he couldn't figure out what they were supposed to symbolize. Was the kitchen supposed to show his ability to cook? Harry didn't know, but since the book had said to learn his mindscape he spent as much time as he could memorizing all the items.
Once, quite by accident he looked into the mirror. It didn't show his wraith-wrapped reflection this time; instead the massive black snake he'd glimpsed before lay coiled on the ground, looking a lot like Nagini now that he could see it more clearly, and standing atop it, its talons hooked on the snakes head was a magnificent blue-grey falcon, it's wings wide stretched for balance. Its liquid black eyes stared straight back at him.
Harry watched them warily for a while, but they didn't do anything except look back. He frowned thoughtfully. It seemed he would need to learn a lot more about the significance of the things he saw and exactly what they were supposed to symbolize.
Sometimes he let himself enter one of his more enjoyable memories. It kept the feeling of loneliness at bay. He'd been so busy ever since he'd first decided to run, first with preparing for his escape, then his learning holiday at the capital, he'd never actually had much time to miss his friends. Now, everyday the feeling of loneliness and homesickness seemed to increase.
He forced himself not to go to the village. Spending time with the friendly villagers he'd met might have eased the loneliness, but it was safer by far for him if he stayed away. He wanted the villagers to completely forget about the stranger who'd bought a cottage and then vanished, together with the cottage. These people were muggles, but a lot of them still believed in magic and they might very well finger him for what he was.
Instead he spent the time going through the books he'd had Kreacher buy for him, learning spells he'd always been interested in learning, but never got around to. He started with practicing battle spells, but had to stick to precision and controlled spells after he blew out the back wall with a powerful lightning hex.
He found a section on cosmetic charms in one of the books that seemed to be pretty useful. He was pretty sure they were for witches who wanted to pretty themselves up, but the spells to lighten or darken skin, to subtly alter the shape of your face, could work just as well to disguise how someone looked. Then there were the grooming spells for when you had no quick access to a bath, from spells to clean your body, to changing the way you smelled, to styling hair. There was even a spell for cleaning out waste products from the body, although it was recommended not to use that spell for continuous use, in case the body came to rely on the spell and forgot how to get rid of the waste by itself.
He'd also finally learnt what made the cracking sound of apparition. Apparently when someone apparated they went outside the space-time of the normal world and entered a sort of parallel plain. Forcing the entry and exit points open created the sound, but lessening the power used would decrease it. It required a level of control over their magic not many people achieved, hence the reason most people made the cracking sound.
He continued practicing his Occlumency every night, and at long last he figured out the connection between the grey mists and the boundary between them. The grey mists were simply the soul and life energy that everyone put out, and they appeared that way to him because he didn't have the ability to see what they actually looked like. When he developed his OtherSense he would be able to see it more clearly. The boundary between them turned out to be the faint natural shields that everyone, muggle or wizard was born with.
When he left his body he was approaching his mind from the outside, the same way a Legilimens would, and because he didn't know how to breach shields, his own natural shield kept him out. Unfortunately natural shields were too fragile to keep out any one trained in the mind arts. He spent a lot of time simply feeling his way around the shield, learning how it felt.
As the week neared its end Harry made his first attempts at making a shield. The starting point was pretty easy; you just built upon the shield already in place by gradually infusing raw magic into it. He quickly learned not to try putting in too much magic at once after losing consciousness for several hours, then having to spend the rest of the day in bed, paralyzed with pain.
On the final night, Harry did not go to bed. He spent most of the night leaning against the sitting room window, staring out at the darkness. He could not sleep. Tonight was the night Alain had died, which meant he would have to complete the ritual tomorrow. His eyes turned inward, as he thought about what it would mean for him. Would he be still Harry inside, or would he be irrevocably changed? The ritual was not supposed to change who the person was inside, but this was magic that dealt with the strongest of forces. Who knew what could happen.
A faint frown crossed his face as a niggling thought at the back of his head tried to make itself heard. He had the feeling he was missing something, as if he'd forgotten some important detail in his plan. Harry frowned harder, perplexed. Everything was ready for the ritual, had been from the first day he'd arrived. There was nothing left to arrange so why...
His thoughts trailed away, a look of sickened comprehension dawning on his face. He stood stock still for one moment, his face white, finally realizing the flaw in his plan. To him, Alain had never really been alive. The first time he'd encountered his name, it had been in a death certificate. So the fact that Alain was alive in the here and now had never really registered.
Intellectually Harry knew he was six years back in the past, but it had not occurred to him what that would mean. He exploded into motion, not even stopping to put on his boots. Faster than he'd ever done before, he turned on his heel and apparated out to the clearing in the woods, hoping against hope that Alain and his grandfather would be still alive.
He appeared in the midst of a nightmare. His eyes could not take it in all at first, the darkness masking the mutilated bodies; the pieces of bodies strewn across the forest floor, the liberal amounts of blood splashed everywhere.
But the darkness could not mask the terrible stink of death, the foul stench of ruptured organs and stomachs ripped apart.
He reeled back, stomach heaving, and fell to the ground with his hands outstretched. He landed on something wet and squishy, and he scrambled madly backwards.
Frantic, he tried to wipe his hands clean on the grass, but instead touched what was clearly a head, longish hair feeling miraculously clean and dry. Heart in his throat, he lit his wand, and looked down into the face of a young boy, grey eyes filmed over in death, gazing sightlessly at the sky.
He threw himself sideways, gagging, as he vomited up what felt like all the food he'd eaten in the last few days. Every time he stopped it started up again, the horrible smell of blood and guts leaving him feeling too sick to make himself stop.
No, no, no, not again, not again, the refrain ran through his mind, over and over again. It was like Cedric all over again, except this time was almost worse. He'd known in advance when Alain and his grandfather were going to be attacked. He'd lived in the village, only a few miles from here for a whole week. At any time he could have warned them, prevented this from ever happening. He'd done the same for Buckbeak, just a few short years ago.
He didn't stop throwing up until there was nothing left in his stomach, not even bile. Self-loathing and despair almost threatened to cripple him, and Harry took refuge in a familiar escape. He blanked his mind forcefully, shoving all emotions to the furthest corners of his mind.
He turned to where the little boy lay and picked him up. Face blank and eyes empty, he cradled him close and apparated back to his cottage. For several long minutes he just stood in the middle of his living room, staring at the wall with unseeing eyes.
He had the time-turner. He could go back. He could warn the grandfather about what was to come. Even if they did not believe him, he could force them to listen with the Imperius. What then?
Find another dead child? It would be the same thing all over again. The time-turner could be used to save that child as well. For the first time, Harry understood why time-travel was so closely regulated, why people were forbidden from interfering with events that had already happened.
Tears dripping silently down his face, Harry carried the boy to the coach and lay him down, uncaring of the blood and filth that immediately stained the cover. He knelt on the floor and brushed his hands over the boy's face, closing the glazed grey eyes.
He watched over him for all the long night, unmoving from the place he knelt. Finally, the rays of the rising sun penetrating through the window made him stir.
Moving like an old, old man, he walked slowly to the stone cellar. He stopped in the centre of the room and summoned an iron knife from the kitchen. With a vicious jerk, he slashed his palm open to the bone. Uncaring of the pain, he paced out a circle, letting his blood fall to the ground, slashing at his hands twice more when the flow of blood stopped before the circle of blood was complete.
Mouth tight and with eyes that felt like they were burning, Harry went back to the living room and picked up the dead child. His face almost looked as if he were sleeping.
He laid him down carefully on the floor a few feet away from the outside of the circle and just looked at him for a moment. There was not much blood leaking from him now. Harry didn't know if that was because it had all drained out or if the blood had congealed inside his body.
It did not matter. There was more than enough for what he needed. Jaw clenched, he carefully scooped up some of the blood in his uninjured hand, and started marking a new circle inside the other one.
Finally done, he wiped his hands on his jeans, not even noticing the pain from his right hand.
"I'm sorry," he whispered.
Gingerly holding his wand, he vanished the dirty clothes form Alain's lifeless body and levitated him over the cauldron before carefully dropping him inside. Almost at once the contents of the cauldron changed into a bubbling, ominous smoke-like mass of deep red, which billowed out of the cauldron until it filled the entire area inside the double circle of blood. It churned and frothed as it twisted itself into a spinning pillar of pure deep red that churned and twisted like some maddened beast.
Harry could feel nothing from where he stood; the circle contained all the raging power released by the near completion of the ritual. Now the only thing left to do was for him to get inside the circle for the last step.
Harry swallowed. To voluntarily walk into what looked like the very mouth of hell filled him with a fear he had seldom felt before. A sense of powerlessness filled him. Harry had always hated the feeling of helplessness that resulted from not being in control. He had had plenty of that with the Dursley's.
He took a deep breath and vanished his own clothing before setting aside his wand. Then he stepped into the swirling vortex. At first nothing seemed to happen, then all at once he felt a crushing force hit his body as all the red whirling mess of power converged on him and sank into his body before starting to reshape it. It almost felt like the effects of Polyjuice, multiplied a half-dozen times, except that Polyjuice had never affected his mind.
Even as his body started reforming he was hit with what felt like the worst Legilimency attack he had ever felt. The hammer blow of force rocked through his shields as if they were nothing, tearing through all the layers of his mind, leaving nothing intact. All the emotions he had locked away, every painful thought and feeling he had been repressing since the start of the whole nightmarish ordeal were ripped free. And that was not all. Tendrils of foreign thought and memories were swept in with the ferocious mental wave that washed through his mind. They were as nothing compared to his own emotions and memories, only remnants, memories of memories, an imprint left by the departed soul and magic that had once inhabited the body now irrevocably melded with his own.
And yet, added to his own newly freed and unstable mess of emotions they were enough to rock the foundations of his sanity. Harry tried to find some way of escaping the chaotic storm of fury and pain that was ripping his mind apart. But every attempt to return the poisonous memories and emotions to their cages failed, the anger fed on itself and seemed to grow, until there was nothing left of his mind but a raw, jagged seething hatred.
The blood-red ferocity of madness threatened to devour every aspect of the Harry he had been as he tried to bring himself under control, until finally he was overwhelmed, and the frantic need to kill, to destroy, to avenge himself against those who wanted to destroy him, transformed him into a hate-maddened animal with only the need to destroy or escape filling every crevice of his mind. With no where left to turn and his mind incapable of thinking, instinct remembered by one part of his body managed to find a way to escape.
His body ripped itself apart in an explosion of terrible pain and reformed itself into a huge black wolf and he howled, all his grief and hatred and broken sanity screamed out of a monstrous mouth to an uncaring world. He turned and raced out of the cellar and into the garden, jumping the gate in one massive leap as he ran towards the open forest.
Thanks to everyone who read, and everyone who reviewed :)
I am a reader, not a writer, so it's been quite amazing to me that so many people liked this. Thanks again everyone :)