** Dimension Wander **

By Tvillinger

Life Two -- Part Four

"What is that?" Hermione asked, seeing the creature first. At first, Remus didn't understand what she was talking about until she pointed out the metallic object glittering with the last rays of the fallen sun. "I don't think I've ever seen anything like it."

The werewolf watched for a moment then shrugged. "I have no clue," he admitted honestly, "but it looks too small to be of any real harm."

"Plenty of small things cause big trouble," Hermione muttered darkly. Remus merely shrugged again and continued collecting firewood, small dry twigs scattered around the ground. Hermione eyed the creature a moment longer before turning to help him, every so often turning to see what the flying beast was doing.

The animal was still a ways off and by the time she could discern any real features aside from a small body with wings, the sun had fallen and the stars were out. Remus was gone, leaving her alone in the cave he'd set camp with the reason of needing to contact his superiors. They'd been heading north since leaving London, going straight to Hogwarts. Hermione herself had no real idea how to deal with the information; she'd left the magical school to try and save her parents (who'd died despite her best efforts) and since then had devoted her time to saving as many innocents as she could. Returning to Hogwarts would be safety for her, but it would also go against everything she'd spent the last year of her life doing.

'Mum, I wish you were here.' Absently, she began trailing her fingers in the dirt, making little spirals. The small fire Remus had made before leaving provided a minimum of heat, which was fine because the summer was hot enough as it was, and the fire was the first thing that alerted her to the beast's presence.

The flames flickered. At first, Hermione supposed the flicker to have been a breath of wind, but the open-ended cave didn't allow for any wind to enter. On guard, Hermione fisted a pile of pebbles and spun, ready to attack whoever had entered.

"Ha!"

Her pebbles rammed through the air like small bullets but bounced harmlessly off the other side of the cave. Before she could start feeling silly, she heard the slightest of croaks coming from back behind her.

It was a small dragon. Seeing it, her breath caught. The little demon was incredibly small, a body of scales and talons the color of gold no wider than a few handspans across the chest. It was very long, though, it's body the length of her arm and its tail twice that.

The little demon had sneaked in behind her and was currently curled up inside the fire! Holding back a shriek, Hermione pushed herself up against the wall, hands quickly searching for more rocks in case the small dragon decided to attack.

Until it looked up at her. The thing let out the barest of squeaks, sounding all but ready to die.

"Hermione," Remus chose that moment to come back, and he froze when he noticed the beastling in the fire. Scrambling inside the cave, the werewolf reached Hermione's side. "What is that?" he asked, then shook his head and before she could even answer, changed his question to, "That's what's been following us?"

"I think so," Hermione answered hesitantly. She reached a hand forward until her fingertips were about three inches from the dragon's snout, as close as she could get while it was still fire-bathing. "I don't think it's here to attack us."

"No." Hermione turned to look at Remus when she heard the note of wonder in his voice. "No, it's not here to attack us at all. Look. Up close, you can see some burns on its snout." His fingers caressed the air above the dragon's nose, and the creature snorted before rising up and pressing into Remus's hand, making an almost purr. "It's probably just gotten out of a difficult situation, if my guess is correct."

"You know what it is?"

Remus shook his head. "No one does. I've just received more information on Harry's disappearance," he indicated a small piece of paper in his hands, "and it seems that before he disappeared, he and the younger two Weasleys stumbled into the Chamber of Secrets." When he paused, Hermione nodded to show that she knew what he was talking about. When she'd left Hogwarts, she'd brought along with her a small collection of books to read, idealistically believing that going into hiding in London would leave her plenty of free time to read and stay caught up with her classmates.

"So it does exist? Wait, how did they get into the Chamber in the first place?"

Remus shrugged. "I've no idea. I haven't been to the castle since dropping by to pick you up last year. Anyway, they were in the Chamber and when the three got out, Harry unexplainably showed up with a small dragon." The dragon, tired of getting its scales scratched, lowered its head back into the blaze. Its body was completely curled up and Hermione inspected it again with a new intensity.

"You think this is it?"

"I've been advised that Harry's dragon doesn't like to leave his side, and to look for it if I want to find the boy. Since no one's ever heard of a dragon this size, I have to say that this is Harry's."

Excitement filled Hermione, and she stood so fast her head scrapped against the cave's wall. "Is Harry nearby, then?" she asked, looking towards the cave's open wall.

Remus was studying the dragon, his chin cupped in one hand, and he shook his head. "I'm not sure," he answered after a while. The dragon was purring again, deep rumbling noises that were still almost pleasant. It raised its head, eyes open and staring at Hermione without blinking. "I'm not sure, but my guess is that it'll lead us to him."

*

As Potter and his muggle-lover disapparated, Voldemort grinned from the shadows. The little fool. Had he forgotten so quickly that now, his every thought could be held under scrutiny?

Nodding to his most loyal followers, Voldemort made the motion to start. "Trail them in," he ordered quietly, "but make sure they don't see you." The Death Eaters nodded, disapparating to Hogsmeade where they'd be able to track Potter soundlessly.

"This should get interesting," Voldemort murmured to himself, his grin still plastered on his face.

Harry apparated breathlessly, still clinging onto Ginny whose body was shaking so hard Harry thought she was having a seizure. "Ginny! Ginny, it's all right. We're safe."

The first-year gradually stilled, breathing hoarsely into Harry's collar, her tiny fists ironing wrinkles in his robes. Within a few more minutes time, she slowly lifted her eyes around, the brown irises wide with traces of panic. "W-where are we?" she asked quietly, hushed.

"Hogsmeade," Harry reminded gently, bringing a hand up to softly stroke her hair. She looked so young! "Don't worry, no one else is here." He looked around quickly, sickened again at the sight of the destruction of his favorite village in the world. "This place... it looks to have been deserted a long time ago."

"Oh Harry!" She collapsed again against him. "We were there, weren't we?" Uneasily, Harry nodded, and the girl immediately began shaking again. "We... we could have..."

"Hush," Harry gently shushed her, cupping her chin and forcing her to look up at him. "Stop that. Nothing happened. We're safe, all right? We're safe." It took a good fifteen minutes to calm her again, and then more time to convince her that standing absolutely still was not the best thing to be doing when being chased by Death Eaters.

Looking around, Harry thought about simply sneaking back into Hogwarts, but immediately banished the idea. If what Voldemort said was true, then waltzing into Hogwarts through secret passages was the same as pointing the way in to the Dark Lord. But even if he couldn't go back to Hogwarts yet, he sure as anything wasn't staying here, in the ruined remains of Hogsmeade. The village had been the first place he'd thought to apparate to. Somewhat cynically, Harry wondered about how bad Diagon Alley had to be if the only wizarding village in the world had become so destroyed.

The thought was like a lightbulb going off in his head. Gently taking Ginny's shoulder, Harry lifted her head again.

Ginny unsteadily raised her eyes, and Harry grinned at her, trying to lighten the mood. "Hey, don't be like that," he chided. "Just think about what we've done! We've gotten captured by Voldemort, sure, but so have a lot of other people." Her expression was turning back into its frozen mask of fear, telling Harry that a cheerful attitude wasn't exactly what she needed. "What I'm trying to say is that even though we got caught, we got away scot-free! Who else can say that? When we get back to Hogwarts, we'll be absolutely famous."

Just saying that made his hands tingle with the memory of rope burns and blood, and even as he was talking Harry realized that getting back to Hogwarts relatively unhurt after capture wouldn't be cause for celebration--Dumbledore would probably have them put under trial for conspiracy with the Dark Lord. Add to all that the current inverse-scar side effect leaving Voldemort audience to his every thought, and there really was little to be happy with after escaping Voldemort aside from the simple fact that they had escaped.

His dragon was probably flying free right about now, Harry reflected with a little envy. Lucky little bugger got off scot-free every time! He hoped it got something to eat during the night, but didn't really worry. It had proven time after time that it could take of itself.

Ginny bought it, though, and her face slowly lit up with childish wonder. "Really?" she breathed. Harry nodded firmly, and the girl gave a final shudder before a shy smile invaded her face. She had dimples, Harry noted absently. "Well, then let's get going. If we can get back fast enough, can't we tell Dumbledore where the Death Eaters are camped?"

"Uh..." Harry looked around the place, and his stomach provided the answer, grumbling unhappily. He grinned. "I'd go, but right now I'm about as hungry as I've ever been, and escaping like that's made me tired as anything. I wouldn't be able to get through the passage even if I tried." Her face fell, and Harry hurried to add, "But, how about we go back as soon as we take a real quick break. After all, this is the first time you've been out of the castle, isn't it? Let's take our time. The Death Eaters probably don't even know we're gone yet."

Ginny thought about this a moment then looked up longingly towards the setting sun, obviously giving in to the idea.

Before she even nodded, Harry grinned. "Good, because everything is much better at night. We can't go back until you've seen the stars!" He thought he saw a golden gleam, but when he looked it was only the dying sun reflecting off a piece of metal. That dragon had better be safe or he'd...

Thinking quickly, Harry went through a list of places he knew well enough to apparate to, wondering whether anything would still be standing. He finally settled on one place he really did not want to return to, but the only place he knew would still be in one piece. Hopefully, Voldemort's destruction was limited only to the wizarding world.

Holding out a hand, Harry locked eyes with Ginny. "Come on," he said, "I know just the place." And his dragon knew it, too. They'd hopefully meet up with it there.

Privet Drive looked exactly as it always did.

*

When Petunia Dursley heard the knocking on the door, she thought for a moment that it was just an extension of her nightmares, but after lying in bed for a minute the woman groaned into her pillow. She certainly didn't want to get up and go open the door. "What time is it?" she muttered, flailing in the bed's giant comforter until she managed to roll to a sitting position, sleepily scrubbing her eyes before glancing at the bedside clock and groaning again.

The knocking continued despite the time, and Petunia irritably stood up, legs shaking before steadying, and she slipped on a robe before leaving the bedroom.

"Just a minute," Petunia shouted as the knocking got louder. She stopped for a moment to check on Dudley, still asleep, then headed downstairs. She hesitated at the door, pausing to sneak a glance to the window and desperately wishing Vernon was there. She could hardly see anything, only dark muddled shapes. Who could it be? Was it a burglar? The possibility sent a chill down Petunia's spine and she backed up, stumbling to a nearby closet to withdraw a bat.

"Who is it?" she called out, stepping close to the door again. She could hear voices, two of them at least.

"Aunt Petunia?"

Petunia's forehead wrinkled. "What?"

"Aunt Petunia, will you please let me in?" It was a boy, high-pitched voice beside the matter.

Confused, Petunia leaned to the window again, pulling the drapes away. The night's cloudy sky was blocking out most of the moon, but enough clouds had moved so that, squinting, Petunia could just barely make out a face in the shadows. The messy black hair and green eyes couldn't be mistaken.

The face moved closer to the window, enough to let Petunia see a jagged scar running down his forehead. "Aunt Petunia, it's me. It's Harry." The boy's young face crinkled in puzzlement. "You know me, right?"

"Oh no," Petunia shouted through the window, blown away in a rush of panic. "Get away from here! Leave me alone." She snapped the drapes back, jumping back from the window and staring at the door, shaking. Would he force it open, like those others had? When nothing happened, Petunia collapsed against a wall in relief. She couldn't hear any voices. The boy must have left.

She buried her face in her hands, stilling her shaking shoulders. Why wouldn't they leave her alone? First, Lily, then those black-robed men, and how many others--all pounding on her door, trying to break apart her perfect family, trying to kill her. "I don't know where they are," she murmured under her breath, seeing in her mind the red-eyed gaze of a man whose face she couldn't recall. "I don't know... they don't tell me anything... they're all freaks!" The man... she couldn't remember what he'd done but nearly a year of her memory was just gone. Dudley was worse.

Thinking of her child, Petunia forced herself to stand and start up the stairs, the bat supporting her like a wobbly cane. She sneaked into Dudley's room, careful not to wake him, and gazed lovingly on her comatose child. Dudley, as always, was asleep. She took a seat next to his bed, picking up his unresponsive hand. "Don't worry, Duddikins," she crooned. "Mummy won't let anything happen to you, not again."

There was a noise in the other room, the small spare room, that made Petunia jump. Mystified, she stood and walked drunkenly towards Dudley's door and stopped at hearing more voices in the hall. Recognizing the voice, her face curled up into a mask of hate. Potter!

She found them sneaking in through the room's small windows, and when the boy tried to plead with her, Petunia firmly and deafly threw the little monster out with the girl he'd smuggled in.

It had been the price of her son's life: the red-eyed man had allowed Dudley to live as long as Petunia held no contact whatsoever with Potter and his family. It was a price she'd happily paid. Too many others had died in this unseen war going on between those freaks. Vernon had died.

Shutting the front door again after marching the Potter brat and that redhead girl out, Petunia turned around and stomped back up the stairs, determined to go to sleep.

She stopped when she heard the rattling of the back door in the kitchen, stopped halfway up the stairs. By the time she'd turned back to go to the kitchen, the rattling had stopped. Her eyes narrowed and she waited for a moment, leaning against the stairway banister. Maybe it was just the wind... When the lights flipped on, she stormed down the stairs.

The two were in the kitchen, sitting at the table as you please, both with tall glasses of water. Potter looked completely at ease, and his little girlfriend was nervously swirling her cup in her hand, her red hair shining in the kitchen light.

"Out, out, out!" Petunia screamed, throwing her hands in the air and pointing to the door so stiffly she nearly took Potter's head off.

"But Aunt Petunia-" The boy held up his glass imploringly.

"OUT!!!" They took their cups with them.

She waited in the kitchen for nearly five minutes, prowling around like a raptor, waiting for any hint of a sound. When ten minutes passed, she smiled in satisfaction and started out of the kitchen.

They were both sitting in the front room, shoes off and placed by the door. Petunia stared, eyes whirling from the kitchen to the spare room and back to the two, quietly talking with Potter motioning with his hands. Seeing her, the little brat had the guts to smile and gesture to the two cups both still held. "You don't have any lemonade, do you?" he asked amiably.

Petunia's mouth fell open, little noises escaping from her throat. This couldn't be happening. How did the freak get in? Why was he tormenting her?

Potter frowned faintly, then rolled to his feet and shrugged. "It's ok," he said as he walked by into the kitchen. "Water's good, too. We're a bit hungry. Do you mind?"

He left her alone with the girl, who was self-consciously shifting in the sofa. Petunia's face dropped and wordlessly, she stumbled and fell into the couch. "What do you want?"

The girl's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "E-excuse me?"

"What will it take for you to leave?"

"Oh, oh!" The girl flushed and looked down, her toes tracing circles in the carpet. Petunia glared, but her glare wasn't even seen. "We're... you see... it's like this," and the girl looked up with a shaky smile, "we're only staying until Harry gets strong again. And maybe until that dragon shows up. Then we'll leave because we need to get back to Hogwarts."

Petunia's mouth fell open again. "D-dragon?" she repeated dumbly, visions of fire in his head.

Potter walked back in again, bringing with him three neat sandwiches. The first he offered to the redhead, and then the second he placed in Petunia's own hands. "So," the boy started with a cheerful grin, "how's Dudley?"

The question was a slap to the face, and unable to take anymore Petunia let out a scream and threw the sandwich at the boy's head before running upstairs to her baby's room. She caught a glimpse of Potter's surprised face before the door shut.

Footsteps up the stairs were no concern of hers. She pushed a chair against the door then crawled over to Dudley, grabbing his hand again and pressing it against her cheek. "It'll be all right," she murmured again, ignoring Potter's shouted questions. "It'll be all right."

"What the..."

"Oh man..."

She ignored the voices as the door opened, but couldn't ignore it when Potter kneeled down next to her and looked at his cousin with an expression of utmost shock. "Aunt Petunia, what happened?" She glared at him wordlessly, and Potter sighed before leaning closer to Dudley, eyes almost scanning the unconscious body. The boy turned. "Ginny?"

Petunia noticed the redhead walk up and kneel next to Potter, noticed her give a small shake. "I don't know."

"I'll tell you what happened," Petunia bit out venomously. "You! You and that freakish sister of mine. You disappeared and when they came looking..."

Potter's twelve-year-old face turned to stone. "Voldemort." The name brought to Petunia's mind the memory of her wonderful husband lying eagle-spread on the ground, of green flashes of light, of Dudley's tortured screams, and of red eyes. "He did this."

The redhead girl shifted closer, and Petunia nervelessly fell back, eyes clouded with the memories. "What is it?" the redhead asked.

"Probably the Cruticus curse. Hermione's parents were kind of like this-"

"Hermione?"

"Oh... this, uh, girl I knew. Anyway, the point is that Dudley's suffering from being held under too long." Potter's forehead wrinkled with frustration. "I only know a little bit of how to deal with Crucio shock..."

Petunia leaned against the wall, lowering her head as the two kept up their whispered dialogue, and when she woke up she hadn't even realized she'd gone to sleep. It was morning; sunlight was streaming in through Dudley's window. Blinking, she found no one in sight. Petunia wrapped her robes closer and stood, body aching after having slept at such an awkward position, and hesitantly checked on Dudley only to find her son's condition unchanged. Had last night all been a dream?

She slowly walked outside of the bedroom and her nose caught the scent of sizzling bacon. With a quiet groan, Petunia walked to her own bedroom and collapsed in the bed, shoving her head under the pillow. The brat was still here.

Hunger finally drove her out, and dressed Petunia started downstairs. Going to the kitchen, she stumbled into the brat's girlfriend, who promptly smiled. "Good morning, Mrs. Dursley," the girl greeted. "Harry cooked some breakfast if you're hungry." Without waiting for an answer, the girl walked off, holding a pair of clothes under her arms.

Potter was just washing up the last of the dishes in the sink, and he gave a small nod towards the oven when he saw Petunia. "There's some bacon and eggs," he offered, drying a pan and placing it in a cupboard. "And toast. Ginny even made some of that orange juice from the cartoon, but she made a mistake somewhere between adding water and stirring so I suggest you just go for milk."

He stepped back from the sink, drying his hands, and flashed her a quick grin. "Thanks for letting us stay over, Aunt Petunia. Dudley seems to be getting better, so I wouldn't be surprised if he even woke up on his own sooner or later." He glanced to the clock. "We've better get going."

Petunia wordlessly sat down at the table, staring at her nephew. Who was this child? Certainly no one Lily could have raised. He was almost someone she, Petunia, could be proud of.

Potter gave her one last smile then left the kitchen, and Petunia scrambled to get up. "Wait," she called out hoarsely, hit by a moment of impulse. Potter stopped and looked at her, one eyebrow raised. "W-what did you say about Dudley?"

Potter laughed quietly, shaking his head and half-turned. "It's amazing, actually," he answered in a contemplative tone. "You see, I know a couple of people who've gone through what Dudley has, and even now I have no idea how to help them. No one does. But Dudley... well, I guess all that fat really does have a purpose. It acted as sort of an insulation against the pain, if you understand what I mean. So, right now, even though any other person would have completely lost their minds, Dudley's really just in a simple coma. He's recovering fast. All the healing spells I cast were practically useless when compared to his own body's healing rate. Wait for another month or so, and he'll be up again."

Potter's grin abruptly faded, and he shook a finger at her. It looked positively absurd; the kid was Dudley's age, Petunia remembered, only twelve and here he was chastising her! "After he gets up, or better yet before, you should get out of here. What were you thinking, staying here where anyone could find you?"

The pure incredibility of the situation nearly slapped away her senses, and Petunia could only gape as the young boy helped himself to another slice of bacon before leaving the kitchen. Petunia followed him, stomach still growling but her hunger not as important as making sure Potter really left this time. Just when she was about to say something, though, the doorbell interrupted her.

"Harry?" the redhead asked, coming down the stairs, her hair wet like she'd just taken a shower. "Who's that?"

Potter, only a few steps away from the door, paused and shook his head in perplexity. "I have no idea," he admitted, the serious expression on his face contrasting greatly with his young body. Petunia was beginning to realize that there was something seriously different about this boy than any other child his age. Reaching for the door, the boy opened it a crack and peeked outside. "Yes?"

As soon as the door opened, even the slightest of cracks, a small golden thing shoved its way in. When Potter let out a yelp, Petunia nearly fainted. Had the wizards come back? Were they here to finally finish her and her son off?

She nearly fainted at that, but regained some of her strength when she saw Potter break out into a huge grin. She did faint, however, at the realization that the little gold thing was actually, without a shadow of doubt, and unexplainably, a miniature dragon. Her head hit the floor, completely stuffed up from the events of the last twelve hours, and she thankfully remembered no more.

*

"Oh, brother," Harry muttered, pushing his dragon away when he noticed his aunt fall down.

Ginny hesitantly stepped beside the unconscious woman, struggling to get her in a sitting position. The first-year glanced at Harry. "I think you overdid it."

"What?" Harry turned to face her, his face incredulous. "Overdid nothing! I'm telling you, that woman had it coming. Be glad we're in a hurry, or I'd really pull out the pranks." Overdid nothing, he repeated in his mind viciously, staring at his aunt. Although, Petunia had handled the whole thing rather better than he'd imagined. "I wonder where Vernon is..."

"Oh!" Ginny noticed the dragon, and she gave out a squeal of delight. "It's ok!"

Harry rolled his eyes and grinned, scratching the dragon's nose. "Of course it's ok," he replied indignantly. "I told you it would be."

The dragon was purring like it did when it was especially happy, pressing its snout against Harry's throat. Harry winced when its dozens of small spikes raked scratches along his skin. The dragon sniffed at him, sneezed, then went back to purring, apparently satisfied at whatever it had discovered.

"Here," he pulled his dragon off his neck and handed it to Ginny, "I think it likes you better." The dragon let out a half-snarl towards Harry, struggling to get out of Ginny's hands, but Harry had already turned back to the cracked open door. Something wasn't quite right about the whole situation. He slowly opened the door all the way.

And found, waiting, two of his oldest and best friends.

Harry grinned madly, almost jumping up at the sight of Remus and Hermione, and even their worn-down appearances couldn't stop his smile. "Remus!" he yelped, throwing his arms around the werewolf. "How are you doing? What are you doing?" Without pausing for answer, he turned to Hermione. "Long time no see, Hermione. You should have heard Ron. He was going all on about how... you..."

Memory hit him midsentence, and sheepishly he backed off from the shocked expressions of the strangers.

Remus was almost gaping, and Hermione was measuring him up. Harry rubbed the back of his head and looked around for something--anything!--to get him out of the situation. Even Ginny, who'd grown to completely trust him since yesterday's fun and escape, was giving him a weird look. "So..."

"Harry?" Hermione recovered first, and she gave him a confused smile. "Harry, what in the world are you doing out of Hogwarts?"

"Uh..."

"How did you get all the way over here?" Remus demanded, and his tone was the no-nonsense kind that he got when he was completely serious. "You only went missing yesterday."

"About that..."

"We apparated, of course." Harry silently groaned as Ginny joined his side. The dragon had calmed down, but when she gave it a thumb-space of freedom, it nearly ripped away from her and rejoined Harry, wrapping itself so tightly around him that he nearly suffocated. Its claws dug into his shoulder, making him wince, and despite the dragon's obviously innocent look Harry had a sneaky suspicion that the little demon had reverted back to physical torture.

"What?" both shouted after a moment of stupefied silence.

"Ginny, Ginny, Ginny," Harry murmured quietly, "when will you learn to be quiet?"

The redhead turned on him, part angry and part confused. "What did I do?" she demanded.

Harry leaned in and whispered, "You know all that stuff I told you yesterday?" She nodded. "I thought you swore not to tell anyone."

"Ohh..." Her eyes went wide, and she stared at Remus and Hermione. With a small smile, she shrugged her shoulders. "Never mind?"

"Harry Potter, explain what's going on," Remus shot out, the touch of anger in his voice surprising Harry. Remus never got angry! His perching dragon let out a low hiss, a small puff of smoke emerging from its nostrils in response to Remus's tone.

Hermione started, and Harry finally forced himself to really look at her, keeping in mind everything he knew about this dimension. She looked tired and hard, no surprise after what she'd probably been through. Remus was the same, but more tired, hard, and totally deadly. Whatever the reason, the werewolf had completely lost his humorous side, exchanging it for a lethality that chilled Harry.

'Well, you do what you do to survive,' the trapped teenager thought to himself. "What's going on?" Harry repeated innocently, and shrugged. "I don't know what you're talking about."

Remus took a step forward, and Harry instinctively took a step back. His dragon, unsettled from the movement, squawked and batted at his face with a wing before sliding its tail around his neck and lowering its wings down like arms to cling around his upper arms, practically melding into his skin if its humplike body could be accepted as normal shoulder shape. Harry grunted; the little bugger was getting fat!

"Harry," the werewolf practically breathed, "stop playing these games now. Your parents are very worried about you. Dumbledore himself sent me to find you." The resentment packed in those words startled Harry into rashness.

"Oh yeah?" Harry smirked back. "Well, maybe I don't want to go back to that stuffy old castle. Maybe I feel better out here, where I can actually do something."

For some reason, his words were like a shock to the werewolf, and Remus instantly lost his edge, looking lost.

Harry dropped the smirk and continued in a sincere voice, "It's horrible in there, Moony. It's almost like everyone's just waiting to die. I mean, I know I probably don't know anything about what's really going on," 'and boy, do I mean that!', "but I'm willing to do whatever I can. Who knows, maybe a little kid like me can make a difference." His dragon let out a low hiss, climbing up his head to perch magnificently in a nest of black hair--and ruining any effect Harry's words might have had. Irritably, Harry swatted it away and it flew down with a soft roar, floating to strut in the air in front of him for a moment before landing on the stairway banister.

Remus had shuddered at his nickname, and was now staring at Harry with something akin to amazement on his face. Hermione, on the other hand, smiled at him and stepped forward to envelop him in a huge hug. "My thoughts exactly, Harry," she quietly murmured.

Out of the corner of his eyes, Harry could see Ginny pale, and Remus suddenly slumped over. Hermione was nearly ripped out of his arms as the dragon dove from its perching spot to attack.

"What a touching scene," a cold, high-pitched voice chuckled, "but really, Harry, I think we've wasted enough time. Right now, you're going to lead me to Hogwarts--and remember, it's whether you want to or not."

Harry didn't have to turn to realize that the voice was Voldemort, but he turned anyway when the expressions on his friends' faces turned from happiness to betrayal. Harry glared at the wizard and meant to spat out that he would rather die before helping Voldemort anywhere, but when he turned some powdery substance was flung into his face and he blacked out.

*

"What an assembly," Lord Voldemort commented, looking over the three conscious people watching him. He smiled and made a rolling motion with one hand as if introducing something spectacular. "All gathered in honor of today?"

Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw a shimmer of gold. Almost negligently, Voldemort waved his hand, sending the dragon down. It hit the ground, hard, and gave one twitch before going completely still. Curiously, Voldemort examined the mini creature, then made a motion with one hand. One of his servants stepped forward, bowing so deeply he was almost groveling.

"This is the creature?" Voldemort asked, but really didn't need to hear the answer. From the thousands of memories that had assaulted his brain when he'd healed Potter, one of those he could still recall clearly was Potter's memory of the day this dragon was created. Voldemort could almost taste Potter's childish excitement that day, then the fear that the dragon would be reduced back to a key, but though he could remember those emotions Voldemort couldn't recall exactly what Potter had done to bring the dragon to life in the first place. Creating a familiar was secret work.

Pity the boy wasn't awake now. Conscious, Voldemort would have been able to dive through his waking thoughts and pick out any bit of information he wanted.

"Yes, my Lord."

Voldemort summoned the power to float the small dragon into the air. Potter had done quite well in creating it, using amazing imagination and sharpness in calling out its thousands of spikes, talons, and fangs. In the air, the dragon gave a small shiver, and on the floor Potter reflected the movement. Intrigued, Voldemort sent a spiral of power through the unconscious dragon, causing its leg to twitch. Potter let out a low moan.

Interesting.

"Bag it," he ordered, grinning at the thought of how the dragon would certainly react upon finding itself once again trapped in a bag. The Death Eater mumbled a humble reply, snatching the dragon from the air and moving away.

It was still only midmorning. Not wanting to waste the day, Voldemort leaned over to where Potter was still spread out, and viciously he landed a kick in the boy's side. "Wake up, Potter," he ordered.

There was a flicker of consciousness, then a flood of thought, all of which Voldemort was privy to. Most of the thoughts were unconnected ideas, meaningless phrases, junk and rot that filled up Voldemort's mind and slowly started giving the wizard a headache. In retaliation, Voldemort kicked the boy again. The boy's thoughts instantly cleared up and converged on a certain dozen ideas and memories. Most of the thoughts were half-panicked realizations of exactly what the situation was and some dark, evil even notions on what Potter planned to do when he got up.

Voldemort chuckled. "Really, Potter," he drawled in amusement, "would a Gryffindor really do that, even to his most hated enemy?" Potter gave a low growl, and Voldemort laughed, kicking Potter again. "You have the most interesting ideas, but right now I want you to stand up."

And so, his thoughts turning even darker, Potter stood up.

The flood of ideas and information really was giving him a headache, so Voldemort growled out, "And stop your thinking!"

Mercifully, Potter's mind went blank.

Voldemort grinned, then turned to the now speechless three who were watching. He gestured to Potter. "Amazingly obedient, isn't he?" the Dark Lord purred.

"What-what did you do to him?" The redhead girl was the first one to recover her wits, or maybe she had just been the stupidest of the bunch, calling attention to herself by speaking. She had, Voldemort recognized, been the Weasley girl Potter had been dragging around for the last day.

Ginny. The name popped up from Potter's mind.

"Nothing, Ginny, nothing at all," Voldemort answered silkily. "At least, nothing Potter can't handle." A memory bubbled up from the boy's mind, recent, only a few days ago, and Voldemort added, "He survived a basilisk, didn't he?"

The girl paled and looked away, swallowing hard. He could remember meeting her just the other evening. She didn't strike him as a particularly brave girl then, and now she looked ready to fall over.

Amused, Voldemort looked to the others. One was a werewolf, Dumbledore's agent. Voldemort recognized him easily; the werewolf had foiled enough operations to raise him to the Dark Lord's personal attention. Voldemort gestured, and the werewolf was dragged away despite the girls' gasps. The one girl left over glared at him so hatefully that Voldemort paused, trying to recall why she would be so angry. He came up with no answer, but Potter's memories bubbled over again and her name came up.

"Don't worry, Hermione," he said quietly, elongating her name so it almost sounded like he was hissing. "Your turn to be taken will come next."

The girl flinched at her name, then, eyes downcast, she muttered, "Just because you know my name doesn't mean you're all-knowing."

"Is that so?" Voldemort raised an eyebrow.

The girl raised her eyes, still glaring defiantly. "Yes," she answered firmly. "Besides, I know your name, too. I know all about you." Her voice was rising, as if she thought that by speaking faster and higher she could escape from his anger. "You act like you're better than all of us, but you're really just the same. You're just like what you're trying to kill."

Voldemort shook his head slowly, amused again by her blind courage. She was willing to die right then, and the only reason she was still alive was because she was amusing. His Death Eaters, scattered along the house's front lawn and porch, were already eyeing her with displeasure, practically twitching as they waited for the order to silence her disrespectful mouth. Instead, Voldemort just motioned for her to continue.

She flushed, but her words came faster and faster. "You're Tom Marvelo Riddle, and you're just like I am. You're no better than I am. You're a-"

Her words turned into screams, and Voldemort glared down at her from where she curled up on the floor, all traces of amusement gone. He thought he felt a twitch from Potter, but investigating he found that the boy was still completely under the powder's influence. "Take them away," he hissed at his servants, face nearly white with vivid anger. All the Death Eaters cowered. Off to the side, a limp bag twitched in the hands of a Death Eater.

Voldemort turned and stormed inside the house, burning with the need to kill someone. He didn't want to hurt the mudblood just yet. She'd wait until after Hogwarts was taken over, when he could take all the time he wanted to make her regret her words. And the Weasley girl was a pureblood, despite her parents' shaming loyalty to Dumbledore. She could still be shown the light. The werewolf was probably getting tortured already.

Upon entering the house, Voldemort noticed the limp muggle lying in the middle of the hall, and it took a moment before he could place her. Potter's memories called her Aunt Petunia, but Voldemort knew her personally from somewhere...

"Ah," the Dark Lord breathed, placing the woman. He scowled at her. "Evidence again. I thought to be merciful to you, muggle, because you believed that muggles should be kept away from wizards, but what do you do with my mercy? Allow wizards into your house, feed them, take care of them?" He shook his head and looked around. There had been a fat man and a fattening boy. He was pretty sure the boy was left alive, but could see no sign of him.

Voldemort left the house, disgusted by the even small betrayal of the muggle. "Burn it," he ordered a Death Eater. Another twitch came from Potter, and Voldemort was certain of it this time. That was cause for some pause. Potter's memories showed him to be almost immune to the three unforgivables, and even though the powder was an enhanced version of the Imperius, Potter might be able to overthrow it. Well, that would be dealt with later.

Against the backdrop of a burning house, Voldemort addressed his Death Eaters. Those gathered with him were him most loyal, except for Severus whose only purpose was to provide the powder in controlled amounts. They were all still semi-cowering, cautious of his anger but more excited about the prospects of finally ending the war.

Standing in front, Voldemort informed them that today was the day when all their goals would finally be realized, when the wizarding world was cleansed. They cheered as one and, as one, apparated to Hogsmeade.

*

For years, Hogwarts had been under constant siege. Dark creatures and Death Eaters huddled in masses outside the castle walls, supplying a continuous bombardment on the stone walls. Because of this, all outside classes were cancelled, and all doors or windows were locked tight. There was no obvious way in. Dumbledore, however, had the help of secret passages and hidden apparation zones to continue directing the fight against Voldemort.

But because Hogwarts had been under constant siege for years, no one could tell when the tide shifted and the battle strategy of the Dark Lord changed. Inside, with all the doors locked and windows closed, no one could see the masses of Death Eaters and dark creatures funneling towards a single person in the middle of the field.

*

Harry felt like was beneath the waves of a dark ocean. The feeling was like the second task at the Triwizard Tournament, and he languished in relaxation for a few minutes before he realized that, under the water, he couldn't breath. No matter how hard he struggled, however, he neither rose nor sank in the dark water. Calming down, Harry tried to think.

Murmurs reached his ears. Screams of pain. Harry struggled more, viciously now, throwing all he had into rising and for a moment his head rose. Not enough to breath in the fresh air above the water, but enough so that the water wasn't so dark anymore.

He paused there, forcing himself to relax. With a slight frown, Harry tried to see where he was, but when he paused there was a pressing pressure suddenly all around him, forcing him deeper into the water. Harry gasped in a mouthful of water, choked on it, and spat it back out as he sank to where he had been in the first place.

Frustrating. Harry slowly stretched out once the pressure was gone, reached his fingers out as far as he could. The murmur of voices was still around him, but he ignored all sound as he started to swim forward again. The experience, Harry thought with a wry expression, was much like those magical ropes; slowly, if Harry went slowly, then he could manipulate the water. Somehow, he could push himself up again, and that pressure was gone.

Harry swam an inch forward, then another, and by the time he realized exactly where he was, the air was only a few inches beyond his fingertips.

Voldemort had done something, something that sent Harry into this ocean of water where he couldn't breath but he wasn't dying yet. The feeling was like being held under the Imperius Curse. 'That has to be it', Harry decided, swimming closer to the surface.

The murmurs had become clear. Harry could hear Voldemort ordering people around, and curiously Harry swam closer to the surface of the water, letting his nose breach.

The pressure came back immediately, but Harry understood an order to burn something. Feeling sick, Harry let the pressure push him down a few feet, relaxing until it went away, then he slowly swam back up to the surface again without letting anything go beyond the water. The water must represent the curse, and Voldemort could probably feel whenever Harry tried to escape. Going still, Harry quieted his mind and tried to listen to what Voldemort was saying.

Every once in a while, Harry felt a small twinge go through his body, and with every twinge his mind automatically focused on some certain bit of information. Ginny's name. The Chamber of Secrets episode. Hermione. Aunt Petunia.

'He's going through my thoughts,' Harry realized with horror. The next time he felt that twinge, he tried to focus on something completely unrelated to whatever Voldemort was looking for. A search for Harry's memory on creating the dragon, Harry was able to force his thoughts to focus only on how the dragon destroyed Snape's potions room. The pressure came back for a moment, but since Harry hadn't gone past the water's surface, it disappeared, leaving behind a trace of irritation.

Harry grinned. This could get interesting.

Voldemort tried to discover where a secret passageway into Hogwarts was; Harry threw back at him the memory of a time when Harry threw mud at Malfoy after sneaking through the passageway to get to Hogsmeade. Voldemort tried again, and this time Harry focused on meeting up with Sirius under the Whomping Willow's tunnel, recalling in special detail just how frightening that night had initially been.

The pressure came back, searching just above the water's surface so intensely that Harry couldn't move for a few moments, and then Voldemort tried to search through Harry's thoughts for apparently random memories. Harry confused him by showing first a memory of his childhood with the Dursleys, then a memory of his childhood with Sirius. His first year at Hogwarts as a fifth year was followed by his first time meeting Ron and Hermione. Harry tried to blur the two memories so that, altogether, nothing made sense and he could feel Voldemort's frustration leaking through.

Harry focused on his memories in the Chamber of Secrets, switching back and forth between two different dimensions so fast that his different memories collided and became one. Yes, Lockhart had been there. Yes, another Harry had shown up. Yes, Fawkes saved him. Yes, his dragon was incredibly helpful. Yes, Dumbledore believed him. Yes, Dumbledore accused him of being evil.

Eventually, Voldemort pulled away, and Harry could feel his confusion. What he didn't count on, though, was the wizard's order for Harry to start thinking again.

Bam!

Harry blinked as he looked around. He was at Hogwarts. There was a twinge in his head as Voldemort tried to sneak into his thoughts, so Harry pulled up his different memories of how the castle looked. First year, seeing the castle for the first time as he crossed on a boat with Ron and wondering how the castle would be. Crossing on a boat with a little girl who had fast reflexes and getting thrown into the water as Hagrid tipped the boat. Second year, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh--all the memories muddles together until Harry himself was getting dizzy.

Voldemort was muttering something, and the twinge disappeared. Grinning madly, Harry cheerfully told the wizard, "I told you hopping was terribly confusing." Then Harry apparated without spending a moment thinking where to go.

He ended up on a street, ruined and completely trashed. Harry looked around, didn't recognize anything, then took a deep breath and apparated again. He was going against all the rules of apparation, the biggest one being concentration. When he'd gone in to get in license, the wizards had stressed over and over again that if he wasn't thinking, he'd end up splinching himself.

Harry had no idea where he was. It was too dark to tell, but that was because he was in a cave of some sorts. Closing his eyes, he took off again and ending up in the middle of a muggle street. Everyone stared at him and started jabbering, eyes wide. Giving a small smile, Harry closed his eyes and apparated again.

There had to be some place he could escape to, some place he could get to Dumbledore and tell the old man everything that happened without jeopardizing Hogwarts' safety. With that thought, Harry closed his eyes and apparated again.

When he opened his eyes, he found himself standing in the middle of Dumbledore's office, with Fawkes giving him an odd look.

"What the...?"

Harry looked around. It had to be Dumbledore's office! Before he took a step, though, he felt a twinge in his mind. Harry immediately closed his eyes and thought about the street he'd just been on, with all the muggles goggling, and mixed that memory with the image of the ruined street, trying to cross the two pictures to confuse Voldemort as to where he really was. The twinge went away.

Breathing a sigh of relief, Harry walked outside of the headmaster's office and looked around, wondering where the old wizard could be. Dumbledore must have set up a secret apparation point, one that Harry luckily stumbled across. Seeing no one, Harry cursed softly, knowing he could hardly stay in the office much longer, so reluctantly, Harry simply grabbed a parchment from the wizard's desk and scribbled out a hasty message.

He really, really did not want to stay here any longer. The halls were clear as Harry started down towards the potions room, recalling all the potion ingredients he'd need to get back to his original dimension, where hopefully he'd be able to figure some things out.

Everything was empty. Breakfast time, Harry decided as he zoomed through the potion ingredients. But just when he was about to take the drink that would send him home, Harry looked at the smoking vial and stared at it.

He couldn't. He couldn't just abandon this dimension. Fate, in her own funny way, had been telling him that no matter how hard he tried to run, Harry couldn't get away from his responsibilities.

"And my responsibility is Voldemort," Harry quietly murmured and he put the vial down, capping it as he slid it into a pocket. He sighed, giving himself a shake, then slowly started back up towards the Great Hall. "Time to get to work, then."