Chapter Six – You Can Sleep While I Dream

-Nov. 9, 11:45 am-

Hermione was feeling very left-out of something.

She had no idea what was going on, but it had been bugging her since Potions class. Despite Professor Snape's ominous pre-class warnings, nearly everyone had been whispering and muttering to each other. He ended up taking off points from Slytherin itself for a lot of the chatter (the fact that he found some ridiculous reason to renew those points a few minutes later was irrelevant), but even that did not deter everyone. She was not close enough to make out any of what anyone was saying, and thus, when Potions ended an hour later, she was still frustratingly ignorant of what exactly was so interesting. Herbology didn't get her any answers, either – they were continuing the elongated lesson on Mandrakes, and as such spent the entire period beleaguered by a pair of fuzzy earmuffs.

The same situation had appeared when they went to Lunch – everyone was clumped in tight, nervous-looking groups, whispering to each other. She had thought briefly that it had something to do with Colin Creevey being petrified – the announcement had come out yesterday – and while that had created a great deal of fear among the first years, whatever was going on now seemed to be affecting the mid-year students more than anyone else: second, third, and fourth years.

She had wanted desperately to find out what was happening, but she and Ron had instead chosen to eat quickly and leave so that they could spend the rest of their lunch period visiting Harry.

She had been expecting – rather morbidly, she would admit, but also realistically – that Harry would be in the same position that he had been since the accident; laid out on his bed, white as the sheets that covered him, with his broken arm held stiffly at his side and his head still wrapped in bandages.

This was not the sight that greeted her when the Hospital Wing double-doors swung open; Harry was indeed in his bed, and his head still had the bandage around it, but –

"Hermione! Ron!"

Hermione couldn't help the squeak that escaped her lips, nor could she really help the fact that she was at his bed and pulling him – stupid, blundering, heroic, one-minded, noble, very much awake and healthy Harry Potter – into a Granger-worthy hug in the blink of an eye. Harry squawked and tensed just slightly, but the hug was returned a second later. When Hermione pulled back, they were both smiling.

"Took you long enough to get your lazy arse up, Potter," Ron said as he came over to the bed. Harry grinned at him.

"Turns out getting the shite knocked out of you gets you a couple of free all-day lie-ins. You should try it. Besides, I think I might've gotten a good ten centimeters or so taller with all of that sleep."

Ron snorted and came back with, "You need it."

"Hey!"

"Ron," Hermione said, giving him a half-hearted glare. The red-head just smirked back at her, and she turned back to Harry. "How are you feeling?"

"Surprisingly well. Head still hurts and my arm feels…tight, I guess, but Madame Pomfrey has assured me that they'll fade in another day or two."

"Are you cleared to leave?" she asked.

Here, Harry ducked his head, embarrassed, it seemed. "No, not yet. Madame Pomfrey wants me to stay at least one more day."

"Then why are you in your school clothes?" Ron spoke up, looking confused. Harry had been in the issued patient gown the previous visits, but this time, not. Instead, he was sitting on the Hospital Wing mattress in a very wrinkled pair of trousers and an equally-rumpled jumper, both part of the school uniform and very much not the standard aforementioned medical gown.

Harry looked down at himself and frowned; something flickered across his face for a brief moment – confusion? caution? concern? – before he looked back up and smiled again. "I was all ready to leave when I woke up this morning, and I thought Pomfrey was going to go for it." He shrugged. "Guess not. But she hasn't made me change back yet," he added.

Hermione frowned slightly at her friend's response, but she nodded all the same and put it out of her mind. She took a seat on a nearby stool, placed her book bag on the floor and after unzippering it began to dig around. "In any case," she said, voice even, "she hasn't 'gone for it' yet, and until she does, you're still stuck here with nothing to do."

"It's not nothing-"

Hermione emerged from the bag and slapped a considerable stack of parchment onto the floor next to her. It effectively silenced whatever weak argument Harry was attempting to reply with. "You need to catch up on the classes you're missing, Harry, otherwise you'll be lost when you come back in." She returned to the bag.

"Come off it, Hermione, he's been conked-out for a few days, not months – with three classes a day at most, it's not like he won't have plenty of time to make it all up," Ron said.

"Time which he has plenty of right – now," she replied seriously, extracting another hefty collection of papers and setting it beside the first.

"Just because a bloke's got time to do all his homework doesn't mean he's gonna want to – Harry, back me up."

Harry felt a little grin quirk at his lips at his friends' interaction, and he shrugged. "I really should. Snape especially is gonna give me hell if I'm not an expert on whatever we're doing-"

"-Dehydration Draught," Hermione piped up.

"-by next class," he finished. "And besides, what else do I actually have to do?"

Hermione beamed. Ron blew a raspberry and held his hands up in surrender. "So when'd you wake up, then?" he asked, turning to Harry curiously.

"Just a few hours ago, actually. Madame Pomfrey was pretty happy about that, but she got kinda miffed when she tested me four ways 'til Sunday and came up with nothing."

"She wasn't able to figure anything out?" Hermione asked next to her two sizeable stacks of parchment – with another growing steadily as she pulled more out of her bag.

Harry shrugged. "Not a clue. She told me that Malfoy woke up sometime really early yesterday and left the Hospital Wing-"

"-yeah," Ron put in, "he wound up in Snape's office during breakfast; I guess he and Snape were talking about something for a while, because it wasn't until his first Potions class started that the greasy git escorted Malfoy back up here. I heard one of the first years saying that he was gone for the nearly the first half-hour of class."

"Probably the best Potions class they've had yet," Harry muttered. In a normal tone of voice he continued, "She ended up keeping him for the rest of the day. Daphne Greengrass woke up later in the afternoon, and Pomfrey had her stay the rest of the day too. She tried everything she could think of on the both of them, but she hasn't been able to figure a thing out. Don't let her hear you, but I think she's going 'round the bend about this whole thing," he confided with a grin.

Ron chuckled, but Hermione looked at him reprovingly. "That's not funny, Harry," she scolded as she transferred the three stacks of parchment onto the small table by his bed. "She's worried about what happened to you – all of you – and it's not right to make fun of someone, even lightly, for caring."

"Yeah, I know," Harry said grudgingly. Then – "You read the Prophet now, Hermione?"

"Sometimes," she admitted as she began stuffing her belongings back into her bag. "Why?"

"Probably 'cause you've got yesterday's and today's issue laying out on the floor."

Hermione shot Ron a weak glare and looked at the floor; and, indeed, two issues of the Daily Prophet – November 8, 1992, and November 9, 1992 – were on the floor next to the rest of the contents of her schoolbag. She frowned, and something clicked into place in her mind.

The whispering, hushed conversations, and fear had only begun towards the end of breakfast that morning – after Owl Post had come and gone. After the Daily Prophets and The Quibblers and the Wizarding Britain Posts had been delivered and had begun being read.

She stowed yesterday's issue back into her bag and picked up the 9th's, sitting back properly in her seat. She shuffled the paper back into order and looked at the front page, and she gasped.

Well – that certainly explained the fear.

She shakily turned the paper around to her expectant friends, allowing them to see the headline news.

ESCAPE FROM AZKABAN!

Ron, for his part, was appropriately shocked. Harry, however…

"What's Azkaban?"

"Big bad wizard prison," Ron answered shortly. "How the bloody hell did someone escape?"

Hermione didn't even chastise him for swearing. She was quickly flipping through the rest of the paper and paled further. "Not 'someone', Ron…" She swallowed. "Someones."

"What?"

The ginger attempted to grab the paper, but Hermione jerked it out of his reach and read another headline aloud: "'The Inescapable Fortress – Beaten'" and then another "'Inner Circle Death Eaters, Out'" and another "'Six of You-Know-Who's Closest Followers Run Free'".

"Six?" Harry repeated, his voice low – he might have been ignorant of the situation at hand, but the seriousness of it was obvious. Hermione just nodded.

"That – that's impossible," Ron managed, his face paradoxically alternating between bloodless white and flushed red as his emotions warred. "You don't just – you can't just escape from Azkaban! There're all sorts of enchantments set around the tower, not to mention the Dementors-"

"-the Dementors were all under lock and key, Ron-"

"-and were replaced by about 50 of the Ministry's best Aurors, you told me that from yesterday's paper, Hermione!"

"If there's anyone who can escape a prison, it's half a dozen of the worst criminals-"

"-that's a load of bollocks, Hermione, that place's been spelled and warded so many times specifically to keep that lot in-"

"-and yet they still got out, Ron-"

"It's on an island in the middle of the bloody sea, Hermione, where're they gonna – where did they go?"

"We don't very well know that, but it happened, Ron, and don't try to deny that."

"Hey!" Harry spoke up, cutting Ron off before he could retort just as harshly. "Settle down. Both of you," he added warningly, seeing Hermione, too, puff up with indignation. "Now, what exactly is a Dementor – and could I get a better description of this supposedly-impenetrable place beside 'big bad wizard prison'?"

Hermione sighed deeply and handed the Prophet over to Ron; he could peruse its contents while she dropped knowledge on the uninformed. Then, gathering herself up in what was semi-affectionately called her 'lecture mode', she began. She'd only first heard of Azkaban the previous day, after it was mentioned in the paper, but in between her slight case of hysteria over the comatose Harry, the rest of her schoolwork, and the plagues of questions that the Blue Wave had brought up, she'd looked up Azkaban in the Library.

Azkaban, she'd found out and as she explained to Harry, was widely regarded as the worst prison in the entire wizarding world. It had been harshly criticized by outside nations for being cruel and barbaric and downright evil; it was such criticisms that came from places like Russia, Kenya, Brazil, the States – places known, places famous for having some of the most notorious prisons in the world in their cultures' pasts and presents, Magic and Muggle alike – that went so far into displaying just how horrific Azkaban truly was. In fact, the only group of people that seemed to be willing to tolerate its continued existence was the very people that lorded over it – Magical Britain.

Azkaban had been built sometime in the 10th century, and had remained virtually unchanged since its conception. There were no exact blueprints of Azkaban, but it was widely known that it had five levels: three aboveground, two beneath. The sub-levels housed the lesser criminals – underage murderers, accessories to murder, etc, etc – and they were more or less protected from the effects of the Dementors, who stayed aboveground (for the most part). But with each level up, there were less and less protective wards, less countermeasures against them, and at Level 3 – home to the cold-blooded killers who slaughtered multiple people, the genocidal maniacs, the insane scum and the absolute Worst of the Worst – there were virtually none. They received the full brunt of a Dementor's chilling effects, and would continue under it until they died in their cells.

She tried comparing a Dementor to the Nazgul of Tolkien, hoping that as a fellow muggle-raised Magical he'd get the reference, but she was sadly disappointed when Harry just looked at her blankly.

It was halfway through her dumbed-down explanation of the detestable wraiths that Ron spoke up.

"Um, Harry?" He couldn't have sounded more awkward or nervous if he'd tried.

"Yeah?"

There was a long, uncomfortable silence. Ron refused to meet anyone's eyes, keeping his own locked onto the paper in his lap. "D'you…I mean…" He cleared his throat and shuffled awkwardly. "Have – have you ever -"

"Oh, spit it out, Ronald," Hermione snapped at him, slightly irked at the unintelligible interruption.

Ron stood very, very still and asked, "Does the name Sirius Black mean anything to you?"

Harry furrowed his brow as he thought; when he came up with nothing, he looked at Ron and shook his head. "No. Should it?"

After another long pause, Ron very reluctantly handed the paper over to his friend.


-3:48 pm-

"-and you'd think that all was lost – you would, wouldn't you Mr. Finnegan? Yes, of course you would; a more hopeless situation could hardly be imagined, I should think – so you'd think all was lost at that point – but!" The word was punctuated with a very firmly upheld index finger. "But you would be wrong! Sure, I may have been wandless, bruised, trussed up, starved, and without my specialty brand of hair-care products, but I was far from beaten! You see, earlier that day, I had given a few galleons to some poor Muggle chap in exchange for a few of his little stick matches – the ones that make fire if you strike them just so? – because I had this terrible sense that I might need them. And lo and behold, need them I did! I maneuvered one of my bound hands into my trouser pocket and took out a stick match, and as there was no rough surface in reach, I was forced to strike the stick match on the only thing I could get to – my own flesh!" At this, a thin, dainty-looking wrist was held up in the air, and a small unidentifiable mark was revealed on the otherwise-unblemished surface – supposedly where the life-saving stick matches had been struck. "Yes, it took sixteen tries and three other stick matches, but I had created fire! And as you should know from reading my books, the Yeti, or Abominalis Snowamanus, detests fire of any size or shape …"

Normally, one of Lockhart's ridiculous anecdotes would be heard with rapt attention; normally, the very sound of his voice would have the females in the classroom staring and drooling; normally, several of the males in the classroom would be coming up with new and daring ways to commit suicide, because Lockhart was really that bad.

But not today. Death Eaters had escaped from Azkaban. Murderers were running free. They had no time to listen to Lockhart spout his fairy tales of heroics today. Not when there was a very evil, very real threat hiding in the shadows now, far worse than some unknown thing Petrifying something once every few months.

Few people knew of this threat like Neville Longbottom did. After all…

His hands curled tight on his desk, fisted until his knuckles turned white.

…Bellatrix Lestrange was one of the escapees.

He swallowed thickly and kept his tears at bay.

Bellatrix Lestrange. Sirius Black. Augustus Rookwood. Antonin Dolohov. Walden Macnair. Bracken Yaxley.

Some of You-Know-Who's closest followers. His most loyal. His most dangerous. His most deadly.

They'd escaped. The first recorded breakout from Azkaban in history, and it had to be six of the worst psycho-killers this side of the Atlantic. They'd broken out of their cells close to midnight, had killed over fifteen of the Auror guards, relieving them all of their wands as they went, and then they were just…gone. No fuss, no big battles, it was as if they'd all just strolled out the front door and walked away across the water.

It was nerve-wrecking; it was terrifying. These were people who completely ruined the lives of the Longbottoms, the Potters, the Bones, and so many others, who had done unspeakable things to people numbering in the hundreds, who by every right should have been given the death penalty the very moment they were captured – who were now walking free.

He wondered if anyone else was as terrified as he was; probably not. Everyone else was so much braver than him: Harry Potter. The Weasleys. Susan Bones – she wasn't even a Gryffindor, but being raised by her aunt had given her the grit and tenacity of one very stubborn and fearless woman. Far more than even Neville could claim; he was just a crybaby…like Malfoy had said last year, he was just a big fat crybaby. A crybaby who nearly wet himself at the very idea of Death Eaters, who wasn't brave like the others, who couldn't deal with something this enormous all on his own – because he was all on his own…

Neville swallowed, forced emerging tears back, and laid his head down onto his desk, ignoring the continued prattle of Lockhart (who had, apparently, managed to set the Yeti completely on fire, because it had apparently taken a liking to his specialty brand of hair-care products which, like so many other hair-care products, were flammable. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was how he had taken out the first [of many] Yeti!). He let out a shuddering breath, and told himself that whatever he was feeling, he was not going to cry.

He wouldn't cry…


-7:55 pm-

Stampede,

I find myself forced to admit that I do not have any influence or capacity in the area of which you are alluding to; rest assured, though, the matter is being researched heavily by quite a few of our Best and Brightest. I am unable to provide you with any information that you would find useful, and it is thusly that I extend my sincere apologies. However, there is little reason for you to fall into despair, for my colleagues are hardly the only ones to be researching the phenomenon that has your interest so piqued. If you want answers, I recommend that you try for a more British education, you bleeding uncultured Yank.

P.S. this does not bode well.

With an absentminded wave of his hand, Auror-on-suspension Simon Ulysses Jenks dismissed the small, eager owl that had delivered his post. He tapped his finger upon his leg as he thought.

The letter, though short, was most definitely the response he had been looking for. He hadn't expected to receive it in such a short period of time – he had, after all, only sent his preceding letter earlier that day, and his contact was a busy man – and was therefore pleasantly surprised that it had been so.

The Department of Mysteries, as expected, was looking into the Blue Wave; unfortunately, his contact was not involved in the research and thus could prove no further use. However, the man redeemed himself in the last bit of the letter, freely revealing that the Department was not the only organization / people that were pursuing their curiosities upon what had happened.

The Department of Mysteries, as a rule, was a very isolated structure. They dealt with magic – all kinds of magic, old, new, lost and forgotten – but only magic. As such they were ignorant of a great many things, things Natural or things Muggle, and it was for this reason that the Unspeakables, as knowledgeable as they were, could not be counted on to think of everything.

His contact was acknowledging this, and allowing Jenks a new avenue to pursue: a 'British education'.

A school.

Hogwarts.

Because if there was anyone who needed to know what had happened, it was Albus Dumbledore. He had his fingers in more pies than he had digits, and his knowledge was rivaled by only a handful of people in the entire country, possibly the world. The old man just couldn't stand not knowing – it was one of his most well-known compulsions, right up there with his bizarre Muggle candy fixation. So if there was one place Jenks needed to go, it was where Albus Dumbledore resided. And thus…

With a wave of his Ministry-issued wand, the letter burst into flame.

…he needed to get going.


-time unknown-

It was several hours later that Harry, sleeping soundly in the Hospital Wing bed, was suddenly and inexplicably jerked awake. On instinct his eyes were flicking around the room, looking for anything out of the ordinary, anything suspicious or otherwise odd that could have possibly aided in the sudden transition from the sleeping world to the waking one, and his arms came in close to his chest protectively.

He didn't know what it was, but something was off. Usually, this went hand-in-hand with Dudley sneaking into his room to rough him up in the middle of the night, or his dormmates snoring a few decibels too loud, or Hedwig tapping on the window for entrance from a late-night flight. Whatever it was, it was something that wasn't in the norm for his typical sleep cycle, and he was on guard because of it.

But when nothing made itself known, when the only thing his eyes met with was perfect stillness, he slowly began to relax. His limbs unfurled and with a long sigh, he set his face into his hands.

And that was when it hit him:

Nothing was moving.

Nothing was moving.

He slowly raised his head, letting his hands drop into his lap, and he took another careful look around the Wing. There were no snores. There was no tossing and turning, no rustling of sheets. There was no crackle of torch, or whisper of wind. The curtains remained still despite the wide-open window. The flames on the bracket-held torches were frozen in place. The resident of each bed was as unmoving as so many mannequins.

And it was all bathed in luminescent blue.

For almost a full minute, Harry stared blankly at the non-world around him; his mouth was suspiciously dry, his mind worryingly empty. When he finally roused himself from the stupor, he couldn't quite figure out if he was excited or terrified by what appeared to be going on…because he was either experiencing the same sort of dream as he had the previous night, which could be anywhere from 'kinda creepy' to 'completely wicked'…or he wasn't dreaming.

In which case he had every right to be terrified.

He was still clad in his school clothes, the same ones he'd worn the entire day, the same ones he'd gone to sleep in, so when he pushed the sheets off of his body and slid to the floor, the only thing he had to put on were his trainers. Fully dressed, he looked around once more and noticed that, exactly like the night before, he could see perfectly without his glasses.

Only…

He looked back down at his hands. He'd just woken up, so he didn't think it strange – some grime still in his eye or something – but his hands were…blurry? Almost like he was looking at them without his glasses in normal-time.

He looked down at the aforementioned pair of glasses; they lay on his bedside table next to his wand, clean, whole, and completely repaired. Hermione had put them back to normal with a few practiced flicks of her wand that afternoon…

That afternoon, he'd learned of Dementors. He'd learned of Azkaban, and of Death Eaters.

He'd learned of Sirius Black.

Harry left the Hospital Wing, the anxiety and prickling fear ebbing back as his mind descended into turmoil.

Sirius Black hailed from the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black, a line as Dark as their name. Black, in his earlier years, had appeared to be the odd one out, being sorted into Gryffindor instead of the ritualistic Slytherin and generally disliking everything that was even remotely related to the Dark Arts. He was quite the charmer and prankster during his schooling, and was best friends with one James Potter. That friendship, however, seemed to have been for naught, as just a few years after their graduation from Hogwarts, when James Potter had married one Lily Evans and borne a child, Black sold them out to Voldemort.

The reason why was never investigated, never questioned; but the thing was that he had done it. And as if hadn't been enough, directly after Lily and James had been killed and Harry had beaten the Dark Lord Voldemort, Black then attempted to hunt down another one of his friends by the name of Peter Pettigrew. He succeeded. And then, further, he blew up a street full of Muggles, killing thirteen and injuring nearly twenty others.

He'd been laughing as the Aurors dragged him away.

And then he'd been locked away. Over ten years – almost a full one-third of his lifetime – he'd spent behind bars with only the Dementors as company.

But now he was out. Free.

Harry stumbled and almost fell down the stairwell.

He was scared, more scared than he'd ever been; when he'd faced down Quirrel-Voldemort the previous year, which had been the most terrifying thing in his young life, he'd at least known what he'd been facing; the threat, the object of terror, had been right in front of him. But here…he had no idea what Black would do; he could leave, run away, and Harry could never see the man in his life…or he could come after Harry and finish what he'd started, and Harry would never know that he was coming.


They walked calmly up the immobilized stairways, their ice-blue eyes closed in a facsimile of peace, their pale hand trailing ever-so-gently across the rough stone walls.

They were almost close to what a normal person might call 'happy', had, of course, such emotional capacity been possible for them; the most they managed to reach on any given day was a skewed form of contentment. The reason for this almost-emotion was that tonight, they weren't going to follow the Boy-Who-Lived; they were going to meet him.

This had been a long time coming. Even before the Blue Wave had swept over Hogwarts, before the Hospital Wing, before they began Seeing things, a meeting with Harry Potter had always been something necessary to achieve, a need that could only become more insistent as they grew older.

Tonight…

They were not aware of where exactly he was inside the castle; they were not particularly concerned with this gap in their knowledge, because they did not need to find him; he would come to them, and they would see him, meet him, before this blue night ceased to be. They had Seen the interaction, Seen him and his voice and the Room they were to meet in, Seen it a long time before the night's Midnight came, Seen-

-through the darkness, a form strapped to a table; a girl who should have been crying and screaming but only stared blankly at the ceiling, and in a swirl of color opened her mouth and said in a voice that was not her own,

"Don't touch me, Potter, I neither want nor need your heroic assistance", the spots of pink dusting her cheeks illustrating her unnaturally-emotional state; he stepped forward, to do what he wasn't certain, but before he could figure it out-

-there were four men, having been caught unprepared by the sudden beginning of that which was stopped, having been swept away by unmerciful waters, and having their wands, unjustly taken as they were, grabbed away by the chilling sea; they held to each other with what little strength they had left, looking and hoping in desperation for something, anything to save their lives, and the waters churned and the darkness overtook them-

-and in a room far away from what he'd once considered a home, he and those who had joined him sat around a table; he sighed deeply, weary and tired, but his voice was strong and unyielding as he looked at those before him and said, "We're going to need some outside help." And he shook his head and cursed mildly and said

"For I walk once again, and neither time nor darkness is able to stop my steps forward." The shadows in the corners of the room extended and enveloped its occupants, and-

-among the trees, Draco Malfoy stood all alone in front of the abyss; he spoke, but words were not what left his lips and words were not what-

-are we doing here, then?" Her face moved, and he thought she may have been smiling – and she looked out a window that he had not noticed was there before – and he thought that perhaps she seemed content as blue and un-light and shadows bathed her face – and she replied, "We're waiting for the end."

- flashes and images, splintered from events that had not yet happened, that would invade their mind without care, concern, or mercy. No time, no warning.

Their face twitched, and a crease appeared upon their forehead.

The only unknown that remained of their fated interaction was the time, but such a detail was as of now unimportant. As it was, there was no doubt that they would meet, be it four minutes from present or forty; if things had changed, they would have Seen something different to account for the skewing of the present.

They may have only had such Sight for the last few days, but it, their interpretations given, and the conclusions drawn from it had yet to be wrong.

So, satisfied in their certainty, they continued up the frozen stairways at their own leisure and very softly began to hum.


Harry, for his part, had once again ended up at the enormous double doors of the Entrance Hall.

He put his hand to the magicked wood and shuddered; behind the doors, vast and unknown, lay the outside. He felt confident in saying that even in this Blue Time the interior of Hogwarts held no danger to him. The outside, though…he didn't know what it was, what those splotches of out-of-focus were, what was out there. And the forest…

The Forbidden Forest had been nagging at his mind all day. He'd known since the previous year that some really nasty things lived there – after running into Voldemort's wraith and angry centaurs and car-crushing trees, that fact was pretty well-cemented into his mind – but he'd never truly feared the place. But now…now he couldn't help the feeling of dread that crept up over him at the thought of it. He'd spent most of the morning – after Madame Pomfrey had been [dis]satisfied and before Hermione and Ron came to visit – by the window, just staring outside, and whenever his gaze lingered on the vastness of the Forbidden Forest, a chill had cut down his spine.

There was just an awful offness about the Forest. And while it settled ill in his bones, he couldn't help the stubborn, hard-headed curiosity that rose up in challenge. As much as he wanted to stay away, far far far away, he also wanted to barge straight in and find out for himself what in seven bloody hells was making him feel so scared. Then get rid of it.

Apparently, he thought as his body pressed hard against one of the entrance doors, he was going to go with the latter option. Damn him for being a Gryffindor, because he was really starting to see what Hermione meant when she lectured him on his run-in-headfirst thing.

The blue light from the not-moon washed over him as he stepped out onto the cobbled path, glancing brightly off of the bits of metal clasps that dotted his clothes. His eyes flicked around – the lake, smooth as glass, black as obsidian, Hagrid's hut off in the distance, still and unmoving, the Whomping Willow even further off, limbs frozen in time – before settling upon the expanse of the Forbidden Forest.

His mouth turned dry.

The Forest, much like last time, was blurred, out of focus, like a heat haze had passed over it and stubbornly settled down to stay. And with it had come that distinct wrongness. It made Harry feel sick just looking at it.

He drew his wand from his trouser pocket. The weight and the feel of his holly-wood wand brought him more comfort and confidence than he thought was possible; it tempered the fear, soothed his unease. Something to do with the phoenix-feather core, perhaps. In any case, Harry swallowed thickly, stood up straight, and walked down the cobbled path. Away from the protective embrace of the castle. Towards the unknown terror of the Forest.

He passed by several of the out-of-focus spots, and he couldn't help the shiver that crept up over him when he realized that the blurs – each and every one of them – led a trail of unfocus straight back into the Forbidden Forest, like the tentacles of some unspeakable, nigh-invisible monster; almost as if there was something that actually created the blurs as they roamed about, something that inhabited the Forest, and something that came out at night to prowl about the frozen grounds of Hogwarts.

A few days ago, before he'd been pummeled by a rouge Bludger, he would have easily dismissed the thought as fearful paranoia. Now, however – now he was only too willing to believe it.

The grip on his wand tightened.

One tense minute later, he was standing at the edge of the Forbidden Forest. He looked right and he looked left, and he noticed how strangely straight and even the edge of the Forest actually was; it was as if the trees had run into an invisible wall at the edge of the Hogwarts property, and weren't allowed to grow out anymore. Spells, maybe? Could a Headmaster have magicked a sort of unseen barrier around the school to keep the Forest from overrunning it?

He shook his head and dislodged the idle thoughts; he took one deep, reassuring breath, and he stepped into the arms of the Forest.

He had been expecting it to grow progressively darker as he went deeper into the Forest, as the trees grew closer and the branches intertwined and the leaves blocked out the blue moon, but the deeper he delved the more he realized that this was not the case; in fact, everything seemed just as bright and glowing blue as it had outside on the main grounds, exposed to the not-moon.

And he realized that it wasn't the not-moon that produced blue light from its sun-spot self, but rather that everything was the blue color; as if the not-moon itself removed all other color from the world around him, leeching away all signs of life and movement and leaving behind the dark, cold, unfeeling blue.

As he stepped through the half-dead grass and the foreboding forms of the trees, Harry couldn't stop the recurring chill that crept down his spine, nor could he stop that faint, rational part of his mind from yelling about how what he was doing was incredibly stupid and lacking in any form of common sense. As he had been doing for the last un-timed ten minutes or so, he steadfastly ignored that logical bit and continued to stubbornly tromp through the Forest in stereotypical Gryffindor fashion.

Or, at least, he did do so – that is, until he heard something.

Harry had learned something fairly basic in the limited amount of time he'd spent in these frozen-blue-times, and it was as such: when everything around you is frozen in time, you are essentially the only one around capable of making any sort of noise whatsoever. Thus, as a corollary, if you hear something [a noise not created by your own movements] when everything around you is frozen in time, then clearly you are not the only one around capable of making any sort of noise whatsoever, and are not the only thing that has remained unfrozen in time.

So when he heard a noise emanate from within the trees around him, his wand was up and in front of him immediately, and his eyes were narrowed and staring hard into the blurred forest; because even if he couldn't see very well in this godforsaken Forest, he'd still be able to notice something moving in a world of stillness.

Not that he wanted to see anything moving, though. After all, while he did have some idea of what monsters lurked in the Forbidden Forest at daytime – and those were plenty bad enough, thank you very much – he had no idea what sorts of nasties could come crawling out in this blue nighttime, and he had no inclination to find out.

Then he heard the noise again and, resigned and terrified at the same time, he turned towards it; he was able to identify it this time as a growl. He wasn't much of an animal person, so he couldn't tell what sort of creature could have been growling at him in the first place, but he could tell about all he needed: the growl was deep, and it was powerful – like thunder – and it was very, very threatening. The growl alone caused all the stubborn tenacity that had gotten him into the Forest to promptly flee in terror, and the sight of it was not much better.

One moment, there was nothing but trees; and the next, without a sound, it was there. An unidentifiable mass of bulk and shadow, twice Harry's size and, even in its anonymity, fifty times as scary. Two slitted purple eyes and several rows of wicked-looking teeth were the only things that gave it some form of identity, as they were the only things that stood out against the blurred bulk of its body.

Fear began to pour into Harry's system in earnest, freezing him in place as its eyes locked onto him, and as it slowly began to move. It made its way through the multitude of trees between them with careful, quiet steps; four legs were revealed as it moved, tipped with several razor-sharp claws; and it moved fluidly, shifting around the trees with ease, keeping its eyes trained upon the young wizard the entire time, and closing the distance between wizard and animal with almost shocking speed.

Finally, when it was almost upon him, energy – the need to do something about what was about to happen – surged through him, and his wand snapped back up and trained upon the animal, and with every bit of magical intent he could feel, shouted "Incendio!" and –

- and…and nothing happened.

There was no light that sprung from his wand and exploded in the creature's face.

No flames issued and lit the animal up like a kebob.

There was no spell.

There was no magic.

Harry stood there, deep in the Forbidden Forest, head-to-head with a monster of unknown origins, strengths, or temperament, and the one thing he'd been counting on for his safety and well-being, the one thing that he had been sure wasn't about to vanish inexplicably or alter all of a sudden due to this frozen blue time – his magic – had simply and utterly failed him.

The out-of-focus monster growled again, and it rattled every bone in his body. Fear began trickling into him once again, and he took a step back, away from the animal, and swish-and-flick-ed his wand at a nearby log – his magic couldn't be not working, it wasn't possible, he just needed to try again and it'd be okay; he'd levitate the fallen tree and bash the monster over the head, like Ron had done last year to that troll – but the log didn't move.

His magic did not work. Not here. Not in this world.

Not when time was stopped.

Fear, panic – raced through his body – utter terror fell over him – he couldn't beat this thing without his magic!

Harry turned and fled.


Two pairs of eyes opened.

In unison, the owners of said eyes sat up, rubbed their faces vigorously, and looked around.

"I say…"

"This is decidedly odd."

"But very interesting."

"Like what I thought gettin' caned was like."

"Mmm. Lucy in the sky and all that."

"Quite so – although, how sure are we that we're not simply dreaming this?"

"Good point. We have had tandem dreams in the past, so even with the confusing setting that has been presented-"

"-it's still very possible that a dream is only a dream."

"Can't think of a reason why we'd dream something like this, though."

"Not without some fun influence beforehand, at least."

"Precisely. But I haven't done any such thing, least not to my knowledge."

"Nor I."

"Hmm."

"Hmm indeed."

"I say – look over there."

"Well, she does look familiar, now, doesn't she?"

"One of Ginny's friends, yeah?"

"Don't live any more than five or so kilometers away from us."

"Just over the hill, yeah. Lovebird?"

"Oh, don't speak nonsense. It was Lovegood, if I remember correctly."

"You usually do."

"Glad you agree."

"Why do you think she's here?"

"Not a clue. Unless this is a dream and you had some sort of pseudo-pedophilic crush on her when you were going about forgetting her name?"

"That doesn't sound like me at all."

"Agreed. Ridiculous."

"…so?"

"So. Not a dream?"

"Don't think so."

"Definitely not."


His heart pounded in his ears as he ran, his breath coming out in sharp gasps, his legs and arms a blur of motion as he pumped them to and fro. His wand – his absolutely useless wand! – was still clenched in his hand in a white-knuckled grip, and had come close to jabbing him in the eye as he ran.

Frozen branches stretched across his path, reaching at him like claws, scratching and tearing at the exposed skin of his face and arms as he fled. He didn't much care, or rather, he couldn't afford to care – a few scrapes and cuts were nothing compared to what that animal could do, what it was going to do to him if, or more probably, when, it caught him.

For its part, the Animal was like a ghost in the shadows. Swift, silent, unseen, it kept up with Harry easily, moving like liquid through the darkness, with the darkness, around trees and holes and over the brush and leaves. Its too-intelligent violet eyes never wavered from him – he could feel its gaze locked upon him – and its teeth, gleaming in the not-moon and as sharp and wicked-looking as knives, were bared in anticipation.

Harry ran, and the Animal chased. Harry ran, and the Animal hunted.

And finally, after what seemed like forever, the trees began to clear. A surge of hope, of success and adrenaline, surged through his body and he bolted forward with new energy – if he could just get out, he'd be free, he'd be okay, if he could just get out of the Forest if he could – he burst out of the last line of trees into the clear green plains of the Hogwarts grounds, and in his haste and excitement and success he misstepped, tripped, and tumbled.

He hit the ground hard. His lungs emptied and his right arm flared with pain; his wand fell from his grip.

He lay there, facedown in the grass, arm awkwardly pinned beneath his stomach, and he probably would have stayed there for a good deal longer had his mind not remembered one very important thing, a passing thought that had slipped into his mind before his little expedition.

The out-of-focus spots, the out-of-focus lines, the areas blurred that littered the Hogwarts grounds all led back to the Forbidden Forest; as if there was something that created the blurs, leaving behind a trail of unfocus as they roamed about; as if things that inhabited the Forest chose to come out at night, coming out and marring the clarity with their very presence.

They could come out.

Harry lunged to the side, grabbing at his wand where it lay, just as the Animal's enormous clawed foot crashed down where he himself had lain. His feet were underneath him and he was running again before he could adequately keep track of what was happening – relying on instinct was all that was left, was the only thing that he could depend on in this mad situation – and the air behind him shifted as the Animal lashed out at him with its other razor-tipped paw, catching the very hem of his jumper and shredding it, making Harry jerk to the right, stumble, almost fall again – but he kept running.

He kept running.

Behind him, out in the open now, the Animal wasn't the shadow-being that it had been in the Forest; where in the cover of the trees it was swift and silent as a ghost, out in the open it was somehow the exact opposite. It had blended in with the darkness in the Forest, but outside its black coloring only made it a very easy and unmistakable target; its steps, swift and sure, had not made a sound among the trees, leaves, and dried branches of the Forest, but in the open its footfalls were heavy upon the ground; it had not made a sound in the Forest since that original snarl, but in the public grounds, it snarled and spat with fervor, almost in anger.

It was in a fury, and it was still gaining after him, and the only thing that had kept Harry alive even this far was his speed, his endurance, his reflexes, and for quite possibly the first time in his admittedly-short life, he gave thanks to his relatives' harsh treatment of him, because if he'd been loved and pampered as much as his cousin, he would have been dead already.

And he kept running.

The door to the Entrance Hall was still open, and as his feet transitioned from short-cut grass to cobbled pathway, his heart pounded loud in his chest; his breath came out in loud gasps; his ill-fitting trainers clapped loudly against the stone. Even more loudly behind him, the Animal bounded after him, its own footfalls heavy against the stone.

There was a sound like thunder behind him – Harry only barely recognized it as a roar – and he heard the footfalls cease.

He made it to the doors, not slowing down by a second, and without hesitation leapt through the opening; and almost as soon as he passed the threshold of the Great Hall, an explosion of wooden chunks and slivers followed him, chips and splinters tumbling through the air as he did, flying from several long, thick, deep gouges in the heavy, wooden double-doors.

And when he had crossed halfway through the Great Hall in a few lengthy strides, Harry slowed, just a little, and glanced back, because surely the Animal wouldn't be able to come any further, not with the castle's enchantments, not with the castle's wards and protections in place, strong and powerful as they were.

But he was once again reminded that magic of all kinds did not seem to work in this Blue Time, for the sight that greeted him was not a good one; a sight of the Animal shifting, squirming, forcing its considerable bulk through the stubbornly-unmoving doors, its claws raking and screeching as it tried to find purchase against the stone and wood, tried to enter the Castle; and as its enraged violet eyes stared furiously into his own, Harry knew that it would only be a few seconds more before it succeeded.

He was tired of running; tired of fearing; he wanted to stand, stay, and fight. He wanted to beat this thing, drive it away – but all of these things he could not do. He had no magic, he had no weapon, he had no strength in numbers nor in power; the only thing he could do, as of now, was be as far away from it as possible.

So, shame and anger burning in his chest and obscenities he'd only ever heard from Vernon spitting from his lips like molten flame, Harry kept running.

He ran from the Great Hall and as he reached the next set of enormous double-doors, leading to the staircases and luckily already-open, the sound of a great deal of wooden door being demolished reached his ears. And as he ascended the staircase, when he had reached the next floor up, he heard it again, and the rhythmic pounding of heavy footfalls began anew on the stairs below him.

The sound awoke terror in him anew, and with a cry he began to throw things – something, anything that he passed – behind him as he ran: abandoned books ranging from worn and ragged to brand-new, prank items frozen in the middle of their purpose, the battered, hardly-together remains of the old suits of armor that lined each floor, a pair of shoes; and when those became less he turned to the classic torches that lined the walls, plucking them from their brackets and flinging them behind him.

Unfortunately, although rightly so, in his panic he wasn't able to or about to chance a look behind him to see the effect the objects had, strewn as they became in the path of the Animal. For if he had, he would have seen this:

He would have seen the Animal, large and hulking and catlike in appearance, spit and snarl as books, collections of words and numbers, bounced down the stairs or flew by. He would have seen the Animal stop in its tracks and snarl at the battered metal of the bits and pieces of armor, eyeing it warily, fur on its end, before passing by, careful even in its hate-run advance not to touch the centuries-old steel. He would have seen the Animal pause and give the rather random pair of shoes and very deliberate snuffling sniff. And he would have seen the torches arc through the air, would have seen them bash against a wall or against the stone steps, would have seen the glowing, pulsing, frozen-blue flame split and fly apart at contact with the hewn rock, seen it explode into a hundred tiny globules of frozen blue flame that bounced briefly around the stairwell before falling inert to the ground. And in those brief instances, he would have seen the sheer terror, much like his own, that reflected in the Animal's violet eyes.

But he didn't see these things. He was running for his life, and he kept running.

As he reached the seventh floor, though, passing through a stretch of corridor as he went for the next set of stairs up, his steps had begun to finally falter, his breaths had become more labored than he could ignore, and he noticed that the sounds behind him had changed; gone were the roars, the yowls, the scraping of claws on stone and the rhythmic footfalls that signified the stride of the Animal. Instead, something reached his ears that sounded like…

Wings?

He threw himself down against the ground only moments before something very large and very unfocused shot out overhead. A noise issued from the thing, something like a twisted combination of an owl's screech, a wolf's howl, a hiss of a snake, and he was aware of it turning around as he pushed himself to his feet.

Its eyes met his, and they were the same shocking violet of the Animal.

And just as it dove for him once more, intending for it to be the last, a pair of arms sprouted from the blank expanse of wall beside him, wrapping around his own arm and pulling hard, and his eyes watched the giant winged Animal rapidly approach, wicked-looking talons extended as he passed through very solid-looking stone as easily as through an open doorway. Then the arms released him and he was in a room, and his tired, uncoordinated feet caught beneath him and he was sent tumbling to the maroon-carpeted floor.

Behind him, someone – his savior? – snorted softly, though with what emotion, whether it was amusement or disdain, couldn't be told, and several metal somethings turned and clanked into their respective places, and a thunderous noise – like a giant's fist on a rickety wooden door, Harry thought, remembering his initial experience with Hagrid – boomed through the mysterious maroon-carpeted room.

Harry jumped to his feet, blood pounding through his body anew, his hand still wrapped tightly around his [useless] wand, and disregarded his attentions towards the rest of the room around him in favor of the door. For its part, the ornately-patterned door shook heavily in its frame as another boom sounded, followed almost immediately by the roar that he associated with the Animal. For a second, watching the door shudder from the powerful blows befalling it, Harry thought that it was going to splinter and break like the ones in the Great Hall had; but instead, something very different happened. Something…magical.

Blue light, actual light, different and bright and real, began to form on small points all across the door, on the thick, swirling plates of metal that both decorated and secured the wood. The small, shining points expanded, twirling and conjoining in certain places, systematically-placed they seemed, linking with more of the lights until patterns emerged and small characters of unknown origin or meaning began to take shape on the expanse of the door.

When it was fully lit, shining bright from a hundred little symbols, there was another roar from the other side, and the door shook once more, softer this time, and another roar, a snarl, called out.

And then it was silent.

Harry stared at the door, his heartbeat loud in his ears, and he tried to calm himself with the sudden, oppressive silence that had fallen.

It didn't work.

When he noticed movement out of the very corner of his eye, he reacted like lightning, and his wand had snapped towards the movement before he could even really process what it was that he'd seen.

What he'd seen, as it turned out, was a girl. She was tall – taller than him, anyway, but that wasn't saying much – with blonde hair and blue eyes, and even though his wand was trained on her, her face bore no fear. At least, not that he could see.

Because she was out of focus.

A faint blur clung to her face and hands, and to her arms and her legs, exposed from beneath the school-regulation skirt. It was almost as if she were standing just behind a pane of frosted glass – he could make out her features, make out the important bits, but the rest…it was as if he was looking at her without his glasses, normally, outside of the Frozen Time. Like everything else in the world around him were glasses-on, and only she (and the Forest and its inhabitants) were glasses-off. And no matter how hard he stared or squinted, her face did not clear.

"That was surprising," she said. Harry's confusion, both from the non-sequitor and her state of being, was obvious; the girl noticed and continued with, "That the runes reacted as they did to its presence." She walked over to the door, ignoring him and the wand he had pointed her way.

He blinked and shook his head, trying to get over himself, trying to clear his eyes, but the blurriness stayed with the girl, clinging to her and her alone as she walked across the room.

She knelt and traced a thin, delicate finger across the metalwork that adorned the wood, frowning slightly. "Not that it was a bad thing that they chose to act up," she muttered to herself. "I suppose some wishes do come true…"

Harry's brain, which had taken a momentary leave of absence after all that it had experienced, sputtered, caught, and started up anew, not unlike a very old and out-of-sorts lawnmower motor. Unfortunately, his mouth was rather unwilling to cooperate with the rapid shift of state, so what tumbled from his lips was not a cautious query about her identity, her state of being, and of the situation around him in general as he had been trying for, but instead came out as an unintelligible babble of nonsense. At the very least, though, the noise did attract the girl's attention to his presence.

"Very eloquent," she said, sarcasm ice on her words. She stood up, smoothing her skirt down when she straightened, and turned to face him. "I would have thought that after suffering Granger for a full year, some of her vocabulary would have impressed itself upon you." Something close to a smile flickered across her lips. "Apparently not."

In his discombobulated state, it took Harry a moment to process what she had said. His face was already red from the embarrassment of his attempted-communication, and it only became more so when he realized just how long it took him to realize that she had, in fact, insulted him.

"No snappy comeback, either? I had hoped you, of all Gryffindors, would have some amount of sense or-"

"Why are you blurred?" Harry blurted out suddenly.

If she was offended by the interruption, she didn't show it – leastways, not in a way that he could properly perceive. "No manners either," was her succinct observation.

"I asked you-"

"Put your wand away, Potter, we both know it doesn't do any good here." She turned away from him and began walking towards a lone pair of nondescript wooden chairs that sat in the corner, one bare, one with what looked like a robe draped over its back. "Come sit."

"Hey," Harry began to protest, but she cut him off with a repeat of her previous statement, more firmly. He scowled, but as he had no power in and no clue of the situation, he reluctantly followed her to the corner. She took a seat in her chair, straight, prim, and proper, and Harry in his, slouched and exhausted, but wary. He looked at her, and she looked back at him.

"Now – if you would elaborate on what you meant?" she asked neutrally. "It is not uncommon knowledge that you're blind as a bat without your glasses, Potter – everything's blurred."

"Not everything," Harry said before she could continue. "Not here." He could make out one of her eyebrows raising in what he assumed was skepticism. "Just certain things – the Forbidden Forest; the thing that chased me out of there and attacked me, and you."

"Putting me into the same category as something that came very close to killing you? I would be more careful with the things you so casually say, Potter; I could take offense."

"It's not just you," Harry added quickly, wondering at her choice of words. "I think…I mean, it could be me, too. I noticed when I woke up that my hands were kind of blurry; didn't think anything of it at the time, but-" He took the opportunity to look back down at his hands and he found, with mixed emotions, that he could not clearly make them out. They were out of focus; he was out of focus.

"They look perfectly normal to me," she observed. "Of course, I don't see myself being 'blurred' at all either, despite your claims to the contrary. Perhaps you see a different way than I do."

"Maybe," he muttered. But why on earth would he see differently in a place where time stopped? What sense did that make? Of course, magic in and of itself didn't make much sense either, but… "Does it have something to do with…this?" he asked, waving a vague hand in the air, gesturing at everything. "And I don't suppose you have any ideas what this is in the first place? Or why magic doesn't work? Or what in hell that thing that chased me was? And who are you, anyway?"

She took a long time to answer. Had Harry not been as exhausted as he was – because being chased by giant monsters would tucker anyone out – he would have been angry and impatient. But as it was, he rather thought that protesting and urging her to hurry up would only cause her to take even longer out of spite. After almost a minute of silently staring at him, the girl spoke. "This is a world where time has stopped. I do not know how far this phenomenon spreads, but it reaches at least as far as the naked eye can see. It begins at the stroke of midnight and continues for approximately one hour, at which point the world around us begins moving once more.

"This has never happened to me before, and my first experience with it was when I awoke the Midnight before last. As for the rest…" She leaned forward just slightly – in anticipation? in eagerness? – but did not break her posture. "…I would much rather you attempt to answer those yourself. I've wondered whether or not you actually have any deductive reasoning skills rattling inside your skull, Potter."

A lengthy, drawn-out breath emptied his lungs and he slouched only further in his chair. "How exactly am supposed to figure out who you are if I can't even bloody see you?"

"I would not think that my identity is the most pressing matter at hand."

"It's not," Harry replied. "Just the most annoying."

The girl was silent.

"You're in Slytherin," he began with. She didn't ask for clarification, but he suspected she wanted to be kept abreast of his thought process, so he continued. "The robes on the back of your chair have the crest emblazoned on them."

"I thought you couldn't see me."

"I can't see you – not your skin, anyways. I can see your clothes just fine." There was a pause, and then the girl made a short, thoughtful hum. Harry took this as a cue to continue. "So you're Slytherin, you've got blonde hair…you're taller than me, but that's nothing to brag home about…I don't even know how old you are, or what Year you're in – how exactly do you expect me to narrow the list down enough when I only know a grand total of about ten people from your House? And most of those are from either Quidditch or Malfoy's group of toadies."

"I do not belong to either."

"That doesn't really help me."

"I am not yet able to legally visit Hogsmeade during the scheduled visits," she said, clipped and even and final; and Harry could tell that that little bit would be the only hint he would get.

"Second year, then – or first, I guess, but this early into the year? I'd think you'd still be stuck in the terrified-Firsty stage. I know I was, but that could have been because of the troll…and Fluffy…" Harry trailed off a little, muttering, before shaking his head and rerouting his lost train of thought. "My knowledge of First Years is dreadfully small, anyhow, so I suppose I'll just have to hope you're in mine, yeah?" He let out a sigh and a yawn. "Blonde hair…" He fell into mutters again. "Not Pansy…not Da-Davies? Davers? not her…" Another yawn. "…but maybe?

"Daphne?" The girl's blurred face didn't shift or even noticeably move, and her mouth neither opened nor made any sound, but somehow he suspected – he knew – "You're Daphne Greengrass, aren't you?"

Her lips pursed slightly. "Better," she said. "I was hoping you were going to give that comeback another try, but regardless – it is good to know that Malfoy is not the only Slytherin that you take note of."

"He's just the most noticeable of you lot," Harry replied, almost automatically. "Attracts the most attention. So, Daphne-"

"-Greengrass, Potter. You are not allowed the courtesy to address me by my first name."

"Okay," Harry agreed quickly in the face of her sharp interruption. "So, Greengrass, what are we doing here? And where exactly is 'here', because magic or no magic, it's not often that I have to get pulled through a wall to get into some secret room."

There was a brief silence before she spoke, forced patience lining her voice. "This is a room, Potter, with a hidden entrance in the seventh-floor corridor – an entrance that can only be accessed by first forcing it to appear in its proper place. The room itself, from what I have seen, can be changed upon what you desire it to be and what you wish to be available."

"Like the door, whatever that was? When it glowed?"

"I believe so."

"So you, what, wished that the door would keep that – that – that giant hulking thing from getting in, and the room just went and made it happen?"

"That is my theory, yes."

Harry paused briefly, letting out a sigh and a mutter of "why can't magic just go and make sense?", before he looked up back at her and asked, "So what are we doing here, then?"

Her face moved, and he thought she may have been smiling – or, more likely for a Slytherin, smirking superiorly. "Waiting." She looked to the side, and looked out a window that he had not noticed was there before – or, if she were speaking the truth about the room and its wish-granting abilities, perhaps it had simply not been there before at all – and even blurred he thought that perhaps she seemed content as blue and un-light and shadows bathed her face. He wondered what she seemed so pleased about, and was about to speak up and ask her just that when she spoke again: "The time is almost up, so we're waiting for the end, Potter."

Harry blinked. "The end of what? This frozen-blue-time?"

"No, of the end of the world, because I've seen the future and there's only about six minutes left on the clock." Her face snapped away from the window to face his, and he had the clearest sense that she was glaring at him. The condescension practically oozed from her lips as she continued sharply with, "Of course until the end of midnight, Potter; something which also, coincidentally, marks the same point in time until I can stop being forced to bear your presence and your inane questions."

"Cripes, Greengrass," Harry snapped back, her impatience and anger igniting his in turn, "I get that we're in rivaling Houses and that we basically hate each other on principle, but when it's just the two of us inside a centuries-old frozen-in-time castle don't you think you could be a bit less of a frigid bitch?"

"I do not abide by nor follow the guidelines set by the mere principle of being a member of Slytherin, Potter, and even if I did the reasons I hold for finding you and your attitudes more akin to an annoying child than a maturing boy would not have changed in subject detail or intensity." She stood up sharply from her seat and smoothed her skirt down when it rumpled. "It would be far better for if you were able to accept the occurrence of another person saving your life instead of the other way around, Potter. Remaining as self-righteous as you are now will do you no favors in futures to come." With the parting shot delivered, she picked up her robe and draped it over one arm before spinning on her heel and walking away across the room towards the door.

Harry, slouched in his seat with his hands fisted, was left with a mouthful of angry words and no one to unload them on. "You-!" was as far as he got, and was repeated several more times until he rose from his chair and spun towards the departed Daphne. She was a little over halfway across the too-large maroon-carpeted room, and he started after her, building a retort in the confines of his mind – and that's when it happened.

The world shuddered and shifted, and the floor beneath them shook slightly, and the Blue that had been everything bled away as if it had never been; and as the Blue bled away, so too did the Focus that had encompassed the world around him. Everything around him swirled together in a flood of muddled color, and he squinted as the sudden rush became too much for his weak-again eyes.

"Twelve-oh-one," Daphne said, having briefly stopped in her journey away from the Boy-Who-Lived, her voice clear and loud despite the sudden reintroduction of the world's background noises. She sounded satisfied. "I rather believe it is past your bedtime, Potter, and I think that you should return to the Hospital Wing now that the hallways are free of your blurry beasties."

Harry glared at her and discovered that, once again, the haughty Slytherin was an exception to his vision problems. Her exposed skin stood out in stark contrast to the fuzziness of her uniform, and he was able to clearly see her face when she turned back to look at him.

"Do me a favor and don't try to find me again in tomorrow's Midnight," she said. Her eyes were a crystal-colored blue, as hard and as piercing as diamonds, and her mouth was set in an expressionless line.

Harry swallowed and said, "You're the one who found me."

"And that was perhaps a mistake on my part," she replied blandly. "All the same, if I had not found you and subsequently saved your life, you would be dead, and that serious a mistake would have been unacceptable. You should count yourself lucky that there are so many who find you far more valuable alive." She turned away swiftly and began walking to the door again. "I would prefer you not speak to me until you've learned how to think before opening your mouth," she said, gripping the large metal handle of the door and pulling. There were several metallic clicks and clanks and the door swung open with little resistance.

She stepped through, turned right, and vanished down the stairwell.

Harry stood in the maroon-carpeted magically-changing room, the world a giant blur around him, and the troubles and unanswered questions of one hour weighing heavy upon him. He put a hand to his already-aching eyes and cursed.


-Nov. 10, 2:10 am-

Far, far away from the relative safety of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, on the beaches that decorated parts of Lincolnshire county, a body washed in with the low tide. For several long minutes it simply lay unmoving in the shallow water and wet sand; when it did move, it was with a sputtering cough and a quick jerk of the limbs. Long, thin arms and legs flailed, splashing silt and salt water as they tried to gain purchase on the sand.

The body only managed to move several meters forward before they collapsed back down, breathing as if they'd run a marathon and shivering from the combined temperatures of freezing water and the cool breeze that swept over the Wash. Another breath was taken, almost a strained cry, and in a twist of limbs and a scatter of sand, a large black dog lay where a man had been.


30CK / troutpeoples

Well, I can't very well say 'seven months is better than two' here, no matter how much I would like to. I had this mostly finished a while ago, but I've been busy. I rewrote large chunks of this chapter a good number of times - Harry plunging into the Forest and the latter half of his interaction with Daphne most predominately - but even then I went with the original versions of both. I dunno; I'm just unsatisfied with this one. This story was supposed to be one of my best, but...so much potential in this, but I honestly don't think I'm the writer that should be doing this thing.

I can't tell you what to expect next in the coming half-year (or whenever the next chapter wraps up), mostly because I've lost all of my hand-written plans and ideas for this when I moved from the West Coast to Florida. We'll see, though. 'til then.