Title: We Are Nothing
Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Summary: Snape's Occlumency lessons have shattered the last defences of Harry's mind. Now, unprotected, his dreams have become home to a nightmare other than Voldemort. A nightmare that has taken on a life of its own.
"We are nothing; less than nothing and dreams. We are only what might have been, and must wait upon the tedious shores of Lethe millions of ages before we have existence, and a name." - Charles Lamb, Essays of Elia, Dream Children
He who walks in two worlds
Harry sat stoically in his bed, watching as Madam Pomfrey tended to her other patient. It was only the Calming Draft he had been given that kept him from bothering her.
The Healer finally finished with whatever she was doing and stepped away, allowing him to look upon Hermione's bandaged countenance without obstruction.
In the aftermath of Freddy's brutal attack, the badly injured witch had been moved into Harry's bedroom, which was now serving as a makeshift infirmary.
"How is she," he rasped, his voice still thick from his earlier tears.
Madam Pomfrey paused before answering.
Harry knew from this hesitation that it must be bad, but needed to know.
"Please," he pleaded.
"She has a lot of deep lacerations," Pomfrey slowly reported. "Mostly on the torso and a few on the arms. I've treated them well enough; so they will heal up in the next day or two. Thankfully there shouldn't be much scarring and what little there is will eventually fade away."
She moved to Harry's bedside and began to fuss over him instead. The severity of Hermione's injuries had required her to be the focus of Pomfrey's attention for the last few hours. Harry's wounds had been tended to by the various other adults that had been present; principally Sirius with a little help from Professor McGonagall.
Now that things had finally calmed down, Pomfrey was taking the opportunity to give him a proper check-up. Common healing charms and simple bandages were good enough for small things, but she knew her patient already had enough scars without needlessly having to add any more.
"What else?" asked Harry, knowing there was more there was more going on than some simple cuts, no matter how they had been inflicted.
Pomfrey pursued her lips, not really wanting to answer.
"Both her legs are broken," she finally explained. "Her hips are damaged, though those fractures are less severe. The biggest problem is her back..."
"Her back?" Harry repeated, not liking how she had trailed off. The broken bones, he knew, were from when Freddy had toppled the bookcases on her.
"I'm sorry, Harry, but her back has been broken as well," Pomfrey confessed.
Harry blanched. He swallowed repeatedly, forcing down the bile that threatened to rise.
"Is she... will she..."
Understanding his difficulty in asking the question, Pomfrey supplied an answer. She was professional enough not to let a grimace show on her face. "There is possibly some injury to the spine, but," she held up a hand to stall his reaction, "but, at this point it's much too soon to tell how bad it really is."
Seeing how Harry was swaying unsteadily, Pomfrey gave him the only good news she could.
"There is a very good chance that the damage isn't that bad... and a good potions regime will probably fix things up as good as new."
This did little to comfort Harry, or to ease his guilt, but it did succeed in calming him down.
Harry had to shift slightly to look past Pomfrey, who was now blocking his view of Hermione. He was aware that the nurse had taken out her wand and was waving it about him. He ignored her, preferring to concentrate his attention solely on the small and incredibly vulnerable looking figure of his friend. A sudden surge of anger ran through him at the fact that the Healer was worrying about his seemingly minor by comparison injuries when she could still be focusing her attention and skills on Hermione.
Then the memory of exactly why Hermione was in such a state hit him and Harry ruthlessly clamped down on his anger and snuffed it out. He replaced that irrational resentment with a not much better, but definitely safer, sense of fear. Fearing for Hermione's life and future was much safer that getting angry at Madam Pomfrey for no good reason.
At least that way there was much less chance of Freddy going on a rampage and killing the school nurse.
"Harry, my dear boy."
Harry opened his eyes and stared at his latest visitor. While it was much too dangerous to sleep, he found the darkness soothing. In its black embrace he could pretend, if only for a little while, that the reality of his situation was different. He could pretend that everyone was still alive and that he had played no part at all in their deaths. Most of all, he could pretend not to see Hermione lying motionless in the bed next to him.
His wishful thinking, however, had just been disturbed by a very familiar voice.
"Dumbledore," he said tonelessly, instantly recognising the man sitting by his bedside.
"It is good to see you again, Harry," said the old wizard.
Harry might once have felt something similar, but was currently too tired to care. All he could be bothered to do was observe a rather obvious fact. "You're back."
"Yes," agreed Dumbledore with a ghost of a smile. "Apparently the situation with this 'Dream Killer' is sufficiently dire that the Minister no longer considers me to be a threat to his position. Or at least, no longer the greatest threat. Of course, the efforts of Madam Bones have been a great help, as too was the revelation that Voldemort has indeed returned. I have already been granted a full pardon, provided I help, 'fix things'."
If the newly reinstated headmaster was offended by Harry's summation, he gave no indication of it. Instead he reached out to gently pat him on the shoulder. "You will find a great many people in perfect agreement with you," he said.
"They're hypocrites as well," asserted Harry acerbically.
The hand on his shoulder fell away as Dumbledore retreated with a solemn expression on his aged face. He sighed deeply before speaking. "I wish I could disagree with you assessment, but I cannot," he said. "Unfortunately, as you are well aware, public opinion is a fickle thing."
"Fucking idiots," Harry summed up with a grumble.
"You seem to have developed a bit of a blue streak," observed Dumbledore, though there was no rebuke in his voice. Again, he offered the faintest of smiles. "You best be careful around Molly Weasley, lest she wash your mouth out with some soap."
"Blame it on my 'house guest'," sniped Harry.
"Ah yes, Mr. Krueger," mused Dumbledore thoughtfully.
"It's all your fault, you know," Harry declared, some life entering his voice and posture.
"I beg your pardon?" Dumbledore asked. He blinked in astonishment at the accusation. Over the years he had become accustomed to being blamed for a great many things. He failed, however, to see how he could be blamed for events that had transpired after he had been driven from Hogwarts and had been nowhere near the castle at the time.
Harry fixed him with a flat, but accusing stare that sent a shiver down his spine.
"Snape," he said simply.
"Professor Snape, Harry," corrected the old wizard, with just a hint of rebuke. One should always pay the proper respect for the dead, after all. At the same time, Dumbledore had to wonder why one of Freddy Krueger's only two adult victims, thus far, had any bearing on circumstances.
"Professor Fucking-Asshole-That-I'm-Actually-Glad-Is-Dead," rejoined Harry with a vicious snap.
Dumbledore was appalled. "How could you say such a thing?"
Harry glared at him. "Easily," he asserted. "Your, oh so dear friend Snivellous didn't bother teaching me Occlumency. Not when he had the chance to humiliate and hurt me instead."
"I'm sorry?" asked Dumbledore, a horrible knot beginning to form in his stomach.
"Bastard destroyed all my shields. All of them. Opened up my mind for Freddy to get in my dreams," explained Harry bitterly. He fixed the headmaster with a look of pure loathing. "You're the fool that let him do it - that makes it all - your - fucking - fault!"
Dumbledore closed his eyes and cursed his stupidity. Most especially he cursed his sometimes naïve faith in people. He had known full well how acrimonious Harry and Severus' relationship was. Hardly the proper foundation for what was needed to properly teach and learn the mind arts. Yet, as always, he had hoped his fellow wizards would rise above their differences and work against their common enemy. It was for the greater good, after all.
Instead... this had happened.
"Ah," was all he could manage.
Harry was quite correct. He had indeed played a part in causing all this.
"Yeah," agreed Harry acerbically as he repeated, "Ah."
The bulk of Grimmauld Place's permanent residents were gathered in the sitting room, talking softly about anything they could think of that would take their minds off the dreadful events of the previous night. Things had been bad enough in the dark, but the harsh light of day had thus far proven to be no better.
Muted conversation drew to a halt as Dumbledore returned from his visit with Harry. It did not take much skill to see that his already sombre mood had grown more pensive. Clearly his talk with the Boy-Who-Lived had not gone as well as he had hoped.
"Albus?" called Professor McGonagall.
Dumbledore visibly shook himself free of his thoughts and turned to his deputy. "Ah, Minerva."
"Are you all right?" she asked.
"As well as can be expected, given the circumstances," he replied. "Unfortunately, it seems there is little I can do here to help."
"How's Harry?" asked Sirius expectantly.
"And Hermione," added Remus.
"Poppy has done her usual excellent work. Both children are well on the way to recovering from their injuries," Dumbledore reported. "Now, if you will excuse me, I am needed at the Ministry - the Unspeakables are planning an exorcising ritual in the hopes either destroying or banishing the 'Dream Killer'. I have been asked to assist."
"When will you be back?" asked Molly.
"Late this evening - certainly after dinner."
"I'll keep something left over for you then."
Giving his thanks and saying his farewells, the old headmaster departed through the floo. There was a long moment of awkward silence as everyone present stood and stared at each other. Most of their thoughts were centred on Dumbledore's last statement and the hope that the Unspeakables would succeed. Eventually the various conversations that had paused now resumed, though they remained hushed and subdued.
It was a short time later, as he was looking to see if Tonks had finished with her late breakfast, that Remus noticed a pale face peaking cautiously round the sitting room doorframe. The messy mop of black hair was instantly recognisable.
He nudged Sirius, drawing his friend's attention to where Harry was hiding.
Sirius was about to rise and start berating his godson for being out of bed and not resting, when Harry motioned for the two older wizards to join him. His posture suggested that he did not want anyone else to know he was there.
The two Marauders exchanged a glance and quickly made their excuses.
"Hey, kiddo," greeted Sirius quietly. "You all right?"
Harry stared at him.
Sirius winced and nodded in understanding. "Yeah, you're right; stupid question."
"I need to talk to you," said Harry, leading them back up the stairs.
The three crept surreptitiously along the hallway, stopping only briefly to collect a very quiet Ron from his room. The now four strong group slipped into the infirmary bedroom. Feeling the strain of his exertions, Harry returned to his bed and sat down.
"What's this all about, Harry?" asked Remus. "If you wanted to speak with us, you only had to tell Poppy to call us up here."
Harry stared at the three of them. "I don't want anyone else to know what I'm planning."
"Planning?" repeated Ron.
"To kill Krueger," Harry elaborated.
"You don't have to do anything, Harry," announced Sirius. "Dumbledore and the Unspeakables-"
"Are wasting their time," Harry interrupted. "He told me what they're going to do. It won't work."
"You don't know that, Harry," replied Remus. "The Department of Mysteries has a lot of experience with the sort of thing. I'm sure they'll be able to get rid of this madman. You won't have to do anything."
Harry glared hotly at him. "I think I know a little more about what Freddy's capable of than a bunch of Ministry bureaucrats that never leave their department!"
There was an uncomfortable silence in the wake of Harry's sharp retort. While the two adults tried to find the words to refute Harry's claims, it was Ron that first spoke up.
"This plan of yours is going to scare the hell out of me isn't it?"
"You'd have a better time going to dinner with Aragog," replied Harry honestly.
Ignoring his friend's pessimism, Harry rose for his bed and crossed the room to his trunk. It had barely been opened during their time at Grimmauld Place.
"I want to show you something," he told them as he unlocked the trunk and opened it.
"What?" asked Sirius, his curiosity momentarily overriding his displeasure at Harry's earlier words.
Instead of answering, Harry began to sift through the contents of the trunk. Moving piles of folded clothes and some textbooks, he dug his way down to the bottom of the trunk.
"Harry?" prompted Sirius.
Finally finding what he was looking for, what he had hidden away one morning weeks earlier, Harry closed his trunk and turned back to face his three companions. In his hands he held a dirty and worn red and green banded sweater, which he obligingly held up for their inspection.
"A sweater?" asked Remus.
"A dirty sweater," observed Sirius. "I think my old prison robes were cleaner than this thing."
Harry glared at them both. "Shut and up be serious, will you." He immediately held up a hand to halt Sirius' expected reply. "Actually... just shut up."
Sirius closed his mouth with a click.
"Why are you showing us your dirty laundry?" asked Ron.
"This isn't mine," replied Harry, throwing the sweater across to the redhead.
"It's not? Then who's is it?" asked Ron, turning the sweater over in his hands.
Harry gave him a look and asked, "Who do you think?"
"That's the Dream Killer's sweater?" asked Remus, moving across to pluck the item out of Ron's hands.
"Yes," confirmed Harry.
"But I thought he lived in people's dreams?" asked Sirius, also moving to examine the article of clothing.
Harry reclaimed the sweater and sat back down on his bed. Standing and moving around so much was tiring him out.
"I don't know how it works," he explained, "but this sweater proves it; you can bring things from Freddy's dream world into the real world."
"Interesting," murmured Remus.
"And important," said Harry.
"Why?" asked Ron and Sirius.
"Because if I can bring his sweater into the real world," Harry suggested, "then I might be able to bring him here as well."
Silence greeted that pronouncement. Then, slowly, the idea began to percolate.
"Are you out of you mind?" demanded Ron and Sirius in chorus.
By this point Harry was not sure enough of his sleep deprived sanity to indicate a negative.
"Harry, why would you want to do that?" asked Remus, trying to remain calm.
"Freddy lives in dreams," explained Harry.
"Yes; and I think it's a good idea for him to stay there!" exclaimed Sirius.
Harry shook his head. "He's too strong there. He can shrug of Killing Curses like they were raindrops!"
"Then we sure as hell don't want him out and about in the real world!"
"But he'll be weaker here!"
"What d'you mean?" asked Ron.
Harry struggled to explained, "He's so strong in the dreams because he can control them - he can make it so nothing can hurt him... but only in the dream!"
"So you think he would be vulnerable here, in the real world, where he can't make himself immune to our spells," concluded Remus, realizing what Harry was trying to say.
Sirius and Remus sat back in their chairs, mulling over this little nugget. Ron, who had been left without a chair to sit in, nervously paced back and forth.
"It just might work," mused Sirius thoughtfully.
"Damn risky though," cautioned Remus.
"Which is why I want you three to keep an eye on me," explained Harry.
"Oh, hell no!"
"Shut up and listen to me!"
Sirius reluctantly sat down, though the thunderous look on his face betrayed his displeasure. He crossed his arms expectantly and declared, "Fine. I'm listening. Nothing more."
Harry sighed. He knew he was going to face a lot of opposition to his plan. Having spent more than a decade in Azkaban, Sirius was not exactly right in the head and was insanely overprotective of his godson. Normally Harry would have appreciated such devotion, but at the moment it was his greatest hurdle, followed by Remus' calm and logical arguments.
"The Unspeakables won't be able to do anything to Krueger because he doesn't just live in dreams," explained Harry softly. "He's living in my dreams. With everyone else, he's only visiting their dreams. In the end, he always comes back to mine."
"Because Snape damaged your mind's natural occlumency barriers," concluded Remus, following Harry's reasoning.
"I'd kill the bastard myself if he wasn't already dead," grumbled Sirius.
Nobody knew that it was Harry's anger that allowed Freddy to enter the dreams others. So far as everyone else was concerned, his choice of victims thus far was entirely random. Unfortunately, Harry had a feeling this secret would soon be revealed, which was the only reason he mentioned as much as he had to orchestrate his plan.
"The only way to get to Krueger is to go into my dreams," Harry doggedly continued. "And the only way to kill him is to bring him out of my dreams."
"So, what?" asked Ron. "We wait for you to fall asleep and then? You grab this lunatic and then what?"
"And then you're going to force a dose of Waking Potion down my throat when I give the signal," stated Harry with more calm than he was feeling.
"And how're you going to do that?" demanded Ron. "Last night you had to hack yourself half to death before Sirius there could wake you up - do you really think Krueger is going to let you do that again and just stand there waiting for it?"
"You're also forgetting that you're still suffering the after-effects of veritaserum poisoning," Remus pointed out. "Taking a Waking Potion will probably make your condition worse."
"That's a risk I'm willing to take, Professor," replied Harry. He turned to address Ron's concerns. "I won't have to cut myself - at least not so much." He held up the pocketknife Sirius had given him for Christmas. "When I've got hold of Krueger I'll stab myself with this. That'll be the signal for you to feed me the potion."
Ron stared at him. "Maybe we should wait for Hermione to wake up," he finally said. "Her plans are a lot better than yours."
Harry offered him a weak smile and agreed, "Yeah, they are. And if you have a better idea..."
"Damn right we have a better idea!" exploded Sirius, leaping to his feet.
"What?" asked Harry.
"Teach you occlumency properly, for one," Sirius insisted. "With the proper shields, Krueger won't be able to get in your dreams like he does."
"None of the others had broken shields," countered Harry. "He got into their dreams easily enough - he just couldn't stay."
"Which sounds like a bloody fine idea to me!"
"And because he couldn't stay long; he killed them all," Harry concluded.
Sirius stared at him. Slowly he seemed to deflate and collapsed bonelessly back into his chair.
"There's also the slight problem that learning occlumency will take time," Harry continued. "Rebuilding my natural shields and adding new ones on top of that would take weeks - months."
"During which Krueger will be killing his way through all the children in Britain," finished Remus.
"Yeah," confirmed Harry. "Like it or not, my plan is the only one we have."
Harry looked closely at his godfather. While Sirius had seemingly given up arguing, it was obvious that he was not pleased with the situation.
Sirius sighed and ran a hand over his face. "Fine," he growled. "We'll try it."
Remus looked incredulously at his old friend, "Sirius?"
"Like it or not, Moony, he's right," Sirius admitted unhappily. "The only thing we can do now is help him before he does something even stupider - like trying this insane plan of his on his own!"
Dropping his head into his hands, this time it was Remus that swore. "Bugger."
"You aren't honestly be thinking of going along with this, are you?" demanded Ron in disbelief.
"Like Harry said; do you have a better idea?" retorted Sirius tiredly.
Ron's face flushed such a deep shade of red that Harry was almost worried that the redhead might suffer an aneurysm or something similar. But in the end, even Ron had to admit that Harry's plan did seem like their best chance of putting an end to Freddy's rampage. Like Sirius, he was very unhappy to admit as much and spent most of the next half-hour letting the other three know it. Had his mother been present or managed to overhear him, his choice of words would have resulted in a thorough scrubbing out of his mouth with some soap.
Finally, the impromptu planning session broke up. Ron, Sirius and Remus slipped out of the infirmary to attend lunch in the kitchen, so as to prevent anyone from coming looking for them once things got started. It would undoubtedly be a right balls up if they were interrupted in the middle of something precarious. Once lunch was over, the four would set things in motion.
"I don't like this, Harry, I really don't like it," Ron declared as he left the room, not waiting for a reply.
"Yeah," Harry admitted, speaking out to the nearly empty room, "I don't either."
Trying to ignore the cold pit of anxiety in his stomach, Harry turned his attention back to Hermione. He resumed his silent vigil.
As had been agreed during their short planning session, the group reassembled in the infirmary bedroom a little after lunch. This was a suggestion by Remus, based on the idea that doing this during daylight hours would weaken Freddy further. It also had the added bonus of limiting the number of potential victims if things should go awry, being that most people were awake during the day. Harry had chided himself for not coming up with that idea himself. While he would have still been at Freddy's nonexistent mercy, at least everyone else would have been safe.
"Wotcher, Harry. What's this I hear about you going crazy and trying to kill yourself?"
Harry stared at Tonks for a second before turning an accusing eye to Sirius and Remus.
"Complain if you like, Harry, but four wands are better than three. Even you can't argue about that," said Sirius.
"And the part about me committing suicide?" asked Harry unhappily.
"Oh, don't blame these three for that," announced Tonks with a grin. She drew her wand and twirled it like a baton, her pink hair shifting through several colours before settling on an iridescent violet. "I came up with that all myself after hearing about this crazy plan of yours."
"Well, when everything else fails the only options left are usually the crazy ones," Harry defended. "In fact, you'd be surprised how often it actually works."
"Oh, you're preaching to the choir here, luv," said Tonks.
"I still think we should wait for Dumbledore," said Remus.
Harry vigorously shook his head. "No. He'd never let us do this."
"And that might not be a bad thing," interjected Ron. "This entire plan of yours is insane!"
Harry ignored his friend's outburst and instead asked of Remus, "Do you have the Sleeping Potion?"
Remus nodded and held up a small bottle filled with a smoky blue potion. "Mother's Rest," he announced. "It's actually for nursing mothers who need to rest, but not too deeply in case their baby needs something. It's also fairly weak, so hopefully won't put too much on your system."
"Thanks, Remus," said Harry, accepting the potion as it was handed to him.
"So, how's this going to work?" asked Sirius.
"As soon as I find Krueger I'll give the signal," Harry explained. "Hopefully he'll be too distracted to notice."
"Harry, this is insane," repeated Ron insistently.
"It's better than sitting around doing nothing."
"Have you forgotten what Krueger can do to you? Have you forgotten what Pomfrey said?" demanded Ron. "If Krueger doesn't kill you; these potions just might finish the job!"
Harry rounded on his friend and hissed, "Well, I'd rather die this way than be killed by the Ministry!"
Heaving a deep and tired sigh, Harry explained, "Freddy is living in my dreams, Ron. Not anyone else's - mine."
"So?" asked Ron, not seeing Harry's point.
"So, sooner or later someone is going to realize that the easiest way to get rid of him; is to get rid of me."
Ron spent a second thinking that through. He did not like the conclusion he quickly reached.
It was Sirius who spoke up next; trying to keep them focused and not too morbid. "All right," he declared with a clap of his hands, "Let's get started."
Harry nodded and, much to Tonks' surprise, started to remove his clothes.
"Um?" she glanced at Remus, seeking an answer.
"He's going to strip down to his boxers," Remus explained. "That way we'll be able to see when he cuts himself and not risk missing it because of his clothes."
"That's a relief," she muttered.
Ignoring the brief explanation and trying not to blush as Tonks looked him up and down, Harry continued to strip. Having removed his shirt and trousers, he sat down on his bed. He almost threw back the covers and climbed in, but remembered that he wanted the observers to have an unfettered view of his body for when he gave the signal.
He looked to Ron, who was holding the vial of Waking Potion.
"This fight with Krueger," he asked, "How bad is it going to be?"
"I don't know," Harry replied. "I've got a few ideas that I can try."
Sensing that his friend was dodging the question, Ron pressed, "And what are the chances these ideas will actually work?"
Despite wanting to lie, Harry replied honestly, "Pretty low, unless I can distract him and then take him by surprise."
He almost fell out of the bed when Ron lurched forward and embraced him. "You better be damn careful," he whispered, his voice cracking. "I don't want to be the one to tell Hermione all about how you got yourself killed doing this."
"I'll be careful," promised Harry.
Ron released the hug and stepped back, a suspicious shimmer to his eyes. "Dammit, Harry..."
Harry sighed and nodded in understanding. He did not say anything else, but instead held up the bottle of Sleeping Potion and considered it. Once he drank its contents there would be no turning back.
"Uh, just one quick question?" asked Tonks.
"I get why you have the pocketknife, even if it does weird me out," she said, "but what's with the quill?"
Harry looked down at the simple quill he was clutching. He smiled as best he could and replied, "I'm going to teach Freddy a little lesson about how the pen is just as mighty as the sword."
As his watchers exchanged puzzled looks, Harry uncorked the bottle and downed the Sleeping Potion in a single gulp. Surprisingly, the taste was not that bad; rather like sour apples with a bit of burnt toast for seasoning.
Closing his eyes, Harry lay back against his pillows and surrendered to sleep.
The first thing Harry did, upon finding himself asleep and dreaming, was to check that he was dressed in something more than just his boxers. He was very relieved to find that he was wearing his faded jeans, one of his better shirts and his Hogwarts school robes. A quick pat down of his pockets revealed that the pocketknife and quill were still with him. Even better, his wand was safely (though Moody might disagree) tucked away in his back pocket.
Reassured that he would not be fighting Freddy in his underwear, Harry next took in his surroundings. Looking around, he immediately knew that the situation was a lot worse than he had thought. This was despite having prepared himself for the worst.
He had been expecting to face Freddy in a dream version of Privet Drive, as he had before.
Wherever he was; this was not Privet Drive.
"Wonderful," he grumbled.
Harry licked his lips, suddenly aware that he was now with any possible home field advantage. Freddy could be anywhere in this house and Harry had no knowledge of its layout.
He removed the quill from where it was tucked in his belt. A quick wave of his wand with a good piece of transfiguration and Harry was holding a reasonable facsimile of the sword of Gryffindor. After testing its weight and balance, which seemed to much his memories of three years ago, he returned his wand to its place in his back pocket and transferred the sword to his right hand.
Looking around, Harry studied his new surroundings. It was obviously a house and for what he could see from his spot in the entrance hall, not much larger or smaller than Privet Drive. Of course, size and space were not always constant in dreams, so it was likely there was more to this place than he could see.
Running his free hand over the broken banister lining the stair, Harry grimaced at the amount of dirt and grime that came away. That was certainly another difference between this place and Privet Drive; it was filthy. Aunt Petunia would have had a fit if her quaint little house had been in such a state.
Actually, peering through the gloom, Harry had the disquieting thought that fire might have been involved in creating this mess. He wondered if that was deliberate on Freddy's part or not.
A loud creak caught his attention.
Freddy had appeared and was descending from the floor above. His every step on the staircase was met with the groan of straining wood.
Harry cautiously backed away, not wanting to get too close to Freddy in an enclosed space.
"Welcome to fourteen twenty-eight Elm Street - my old stompin' grounds," announced Freddy in greeting.
Grimacing at the acknowledgement that he was now on Freddy's home ground, Harry licked his lips again and tried to decide on a course of action. Most of his plans up until now had involved meeting Freddy in either number four or Hogwarts, where Harry could use the layout of either building to his limited advantage. That was no longer possible.
Freddy reached the bottom of the stairs and turned to face him. He shook his head as if in disappointment. "You've been a naughty boy, Harry," he said. "You interrupted Uncle Freddy's play time with the know-it-all. Uncle Freddy didn't like that."
"You shouldn't have gone after Hermione," Harry told him, desperately gathering as much of his Gryffindor courage as he could. "I was annoyed with her; not angry - not enough for that."
Freddy rolled his eyes, "You really are an idiot. Angry, annoyed, pissed off... they're all the same thing - it's just a matter of degrees."
Not having much of an answer, not that he wanted to debate the point; Harry held his tongue and instead focused on the task at hand. He had not come here to fight a battle of words and wit.
Gripping his pocketknife in one hand and the sword of Gryffindor in the other, Harry charged.
Ron sat nervously next to Harry's bed, watching as his best friend risked life, limb and sanity in what had to be the craziest plan ever concocted. He could not stop the thought that this would not work and would accomplish nothing more than putting Harry even closer to death's door than usual.
He glanced to where Hermione was laying, hoping that she might miraculously awaken and somehow provide a solution, as she so often had in the past.
But it was not to be. The normally bushy-haired witch remained perfectly still, her hair lying limp and lifeless round her face. The bandages on her chest and arms were slightly stained with blood and would need to be changed later in the day. Hopefully that would be the end of it and Madam Pomfrey's healing magic would have closed the wounds fully by then. With any luck, Hermione would wake up soon afterwards.
A soft rustling drew his attention back to Harry.
His friend was twitching in his sleep.
It was subtle at first and barely noticeable if you were not looking for it. But even as he watched, Ron could tell that the short spasms in Harry's body were getting progressively more intense.
Shifting his chair closer to the bed, he reached for the dose of Waking Potion.
Harry swung the sword of Gryffindor with every ounce of strength his arm could put behind it. He was only using the one hand, as the other held the pocketknife he planned to use to escape. He hoped that the quickness of his attack would make up for the lack of force that a single-handed grip cost him. Besides which, his plan was not to hurt Freddy, though he would not complain if he were able to wound his dream nemesis. His attack was solely for the purpose of distracting Freddy and getting close enough to hopefully drag him back into the waking world.
The sword blade cleaved a downward arc towards Freddy's face. The strike was a blur of motion. With languid ease, Freddy blocked with his knife-hand and stopped the attack with a loud clang of metal against metal. A reverberating shudder from the sudden stop shot down Harry's arm, nearly causing him to lose his grip on the sword's hilt.
"Who the fuck do you think you are, kid? King Fucking Arthur?" asked Freddy, examining the sword as he held it back with his bladed right hand. He shoved casually against the blade and knocked Harry back half a dozen steps.
"Shut up, Krueger," replied Harry, jumping forward and attempting another swing, this time aimed at the burned man's torso. "This is my dream and I'll do whatever the hell I want in it."
Again Freddy casually blocked the attack, though this time there was a small spray of sparks as his knives scraped against the sword's blade. Before Harry could pull the sword back and make a third swing, Freddy reached out with his unadorned left hand and grasped the sword's edge with his bare palm. Harry stared in a mixture of disbelief and horror as Freddy held the sword in an iron grip and prevented him from pulling away.
Freddy smirked. "It might be your dream, Harry, but it's my rules!"
That said, Freddy demonstrated exactly how dirty his rules were. He kicked Harry in the balls.
Ron, Sirius, Remus and Tonks had been watching Harry closely as he slept. Considering how little they had been doing, they were experiencing a considerable amount of stress. This came to a head when Harry suddenly and unexpectedly gave a wracking cough, twisted onto his side and curled into a tight ball.
"Shit!" exclaimed Sirius, levelling his wand in Harry's direction. Remus and Tonks moved to stand back to back and did their best to cover the rest of the bedroom.
"I told him this was a stupid plan!" Ron declared, both vindicated and worried. He nervously fingered the vial of Waking Potion.
Sirius moved closer, standing right next to Ron, and examined his godson closely. "He's not bleeding anywhere," he observed, "but I've had enough of this - let's wake him up."
Ron nodded in agreement and stood up. "Help me straighten him out and then I'll feed him the potion."
Together the pair worked to stretch Harry out on the bed, checking him for any sign of injury as they did so.
"Someone's coming," observed Tonks, standing nearest the door.
"Quickly, Ron - the potion!" commanded Remus.
"Just a second," replied Ron, turning to grab the potion vial from where he had left it on the bedside table. The three adults stepped back and continued to observe the room, just in case Harry was successful in dragging Freddy back into the waking world with him.
It was unto this scene that Madam Pomfrey stumbled. Still feeling somewhat guilty about Harry's condition, due to her having slipped him a sleeping potion, she was coming to give her patients another check up. She was not expecting to find Ron Weasley preparing to shove a potion down his friend's throat while three adults stood back and watched.
"What the bloody hell do you lot think you're doing?"
Harry knelt on the dirty floor of 1428 Elm Street, cupping both hands between his legs. Freddy stood nearby watching him rock back and forth with bemusement. For some reason, probably to draw out the fun of fight, he was not pressing the advantage while Harry was incapacitated.
"Fuck!" spat Harry, pushing through the pain.
"A couple more hits like that, Harry, and you never will," observed Freddy.
Not wanting to even contemplate suffering another such blow to his bits, Harry glared up at Freddy with loathing. The scarred man continued to smirk smugly at him. Harry looked around and was disheartened to see that his transfiguration had failed. The sword of Gryffindor had returned to its original form and was lying uselessly on the floor between the two combatants.
"Heh heh," Freddy chucked, "I guess the pen ain't quite as mighty as the sword, is it?"
Seeing that his primary weapon was no longer available, Harry searched for the second. Removing his hands from his throbbing groin, he scrabbled about the floor for a moment before he finding what he was looking for. Gripping firmly in hand, he staggered to his feet and stared across at the waiting Freddy.
"Oooooh, you also have a little knife," Freddy noted, seeing the pocketknife in Harry's hand. He held his knife-hand up, fingers and blades spread wide and exclaimed, "I got more – and they're bigger too!"
Grimacing in anticipation of the pain, Harry tightened his grasp on the pocketknife and then stabbed it into his right hip. He hoped that by avoiding the bigger muscles he would not limit his ability to move. He had a feeling he was going to be doing a lot of running away in the very near future. Unfortunately the spot he had just stabbed would be covered by his boxers. Hopefully someone would notice the bleeding before too long and Ron would dose him with the Waking Potion. If not, then were going to get very messy very quickly.
Ron was trying to keep Madam Pomfrey from tearing the Waking Potion out of his hand. It was not as easy as he would have thought, for the school nurse was proving to be a lot stronger than she looked. That she was yelling and spewing increasingly vehement vitriol at him was almost as surprising.
"Poppy! Let him go!" shouted Sirius, grabbing Pomfrey by the wrists and trying to pry her hands off the potion vial.
"No! Dammit, Black, do you have any idea what giving him that potion might do to him?" demanded Pomfrey.
"If we don't give it to him; he's going to die!" screamed Sirius, spittle flying from his mouth and splattering her face.
Pomfrey paused at Sirius' pronouncement, relaxing her grip just long enough for him and Ron to pull free. Sirius immediately grabbed her by the waist and literally picked her up, carrying her away from Harry's bed.
"Quickly!" he commanded of Ron, "Dose him!"
"What do you mean, die?" asked Pomfrey, beginning to struggle against Sirius' hold on her.
"He's dreaming, you idiot!"
"Then wake him up!"
"What d'you think we're doing?" asked Sirius incredulously.
"Dosing him with a potentially lethal potion when a simply Waking Charm would work just as well," replied Pomfrey heatedly.
"Because that's how Harry wants it," countered Remus calmly, though his worried expression gave lie to his level tone. It had taken Sirius and Professor McGonagall working together; casting several different Waking Charms multiple times before Harry had woken up the night before. Harry had not wanted to risk such a delay and had been betting that the potion would wake him up a lot faster. Pomfrey's interference had thrown a very large monkey-wrench into that idea.
Further debate became unnecessary, however, as Ron finished pouring the Waking Potion down Harry's throat. He had noticed the small patch of blood on Harry's right hip and realized that the signal had been given.
"You bloody fool!" shrieked Pomfrey in horror.
Ron ignored her, more intent on seeing what the result would be. He silently prayed that he had not just killed his best friend.
Freddy was beginning to get aggravated with his channel. The boy was stubbornly resisting him, and thus keeping him occupied, instead of letting him go about his business. It was so annoying that Freddy was seriously contemplating the possibility that he would have to end him.
He would have preferred not to; there were still so many young witches and wizards whose dreams he had yet to visit. But sometimes, he knew, you had to cut your losses.
Deciding against killing Harry right then, he began to increase the punishment he was handing out. With any luck, he would beat any sense of opposition out of him. If not, well, the boy had served his purpose for long enough.
He looked at the boy, who was standing uncertainly in front of him, favouring his one leg. Why the idiot had stabbed himself like that, Freddy, was unsure. If it was another attempt to wake up, it was hardly enough to do the job.
Faster than the eye could follow, Freddy moved forward and grabbed Harry by the throat. He lifted him up high in the air, his feet dangling nearly a foot off the floor, and shook him about in much the same way a dog would worry at a bone.
"You're pissing me off, Potter," he growled.
Harry was unable to reply, his throat caught in Freddy's unbreakable grasp. He was trying frantically to break free, but even with both hands he was unable to bend one of Freddy's fingers back. In one of those strange moments of mental detachment, he wondered if it was possible to black out from lack of air while dreaming.
Freddy sneered at him and tossed him back, sending him crashing into the far wall. As he slid down to the floor, Freddy was upon him again, picking him up and throwing him across the room into the opposite wall. Again, as Harry collapsed down, Freddy was there to hoist him back up and launch him through the air.
"I don't like having to interrupt my play time to deal with a dumbass little shit like you, kid," Freddy lectured.
He sent Harry flying again, this time directing him to crash through a wooden door and into what looked like a dining room. Harry was vaguely aware that it was far too ostentatious for such a modestly sized house. He tried to climb to his feet, but found that Freddy was standing in front of him.
"I know what you were thinking, Harry," said Freddy. Harry looked up at the burned man just in time to catch a boot to his chin. "You were thinking you could get rid of me - rid of me!"
Harry rolled onto his side, his ears ringing and his jaw feeling as if it had been shattered. He doubted that had actually happened, but the pain was enough that he could almost believe it. "I... hurk..." he coughed, "I am going to get rid of you, Krueger."
Freddy scoffed and kicked him again, sending Harry skidding across the floor, scattering several of the chairs that surrounded the dining table.
"Stupid brat! Do you really think you can play this game and win? Against me? Me?"
Grabbing the dining table with one hand, Freddy tossed it out of his way as he stomped over to Harry. He resisted weakly as his was once again lifted up and hurled, this time with considerable force, across the room. He smashed into a chair, which splintered into pieces under the impact.
"Here in your dreams I am FOREVER!" Freddy roared as he kicked Harry in the ribs, "And no matter what you think - you aren't!"
"Yeah, I'm not," agreed Harry, spitting out a large glob of blood even as he suddenly felt something beginning to shift behind his belly. It felt rather like the initial pull of a portkey. He hoped it was the potion-induced kind. "Pity for you; neither are my dreams."
Freddy paused and stared at him. "What?"
Harry smiled up at him. "Time to wake up, arsehole."
He reached out and grabbed Freddy by the ankle.
Harry woke with a cough, almost choking on the blood filling his mouth. He rolled over in his bed, coming perilously close to falling out, and ignored the question of whether or not his plan had worked as he tried not to vomit.
"He's awake – keep your eyes open for Krueger," announced Remus.
"Dammit, I don't see him," said Sirius, releasing his hold on Madam Pomfrey in favour of scanning the room.
"Nothing here either," Tonks reported.
"You mean it didn't work?" asked Ron. He honestly did not know whether to be disappointed or relieved at the failure.
"Dammit," repeated Sirius.
"He's here," Harry choked out. He was having trouble breathing and had wrapped both arms round his stomach. He shuddered and swallowed, desperately trying to stop the rising bile. "He's here," he repeated, "I know he is."
"There's nobody else in this room but us, Mr Potter," declared Pomfrey, shoving her way passed Sirius and Ron. She moved around the bed to get a bit more room to work with as she began to play her wand over Harry's figure. Her already displeased frown grew deeper as she worked.
Harry gasped as a shuddering convulsion swept through him. He had been feeling progressively hotter, as if with a fever, and now sweating enough that the bedcovers beneath him were already damp. Of course, that was secondary to the spasms wracking his stomach. Coupled with the feeling that his insides were doing their best to crawl up his throat and see what it was like on the outside, he was now fully aware of just how stupid it had been to ignore the nurse's warnings.
"Bloody idiots," grumbled Pomfrey, shaking her head.
She moved away from the bed for a moment, making a quick search of the small cabinet that had been install in the room to hold the various potions she might need. Noting the missing Waking Potion, which Ron had fed to Harry, she shook her head again. Considering the collection of potions, she selected a handful of the smaller vials - too large a dose of anything at this point would only make Harry's situation worse.
Returning to the bed, she handed the first of the potions to Harry. Fortunately he was still stable enough to handle them himself.
"Drink this, Harry," she instructed gently, as if speaking to a small child. She would berate him properly later.
Harry shakily uncorked the vial and, holding his breath, swallowed the grass-green liquid within. He tried not to gag at the taste, but as the potion burned and then chilled it way down into his stomach, he was amazed to find that he was already feeling marginally better.
"Oh, please tell me you're giving him the good drugs!"
Madam Pomfrey had no time to brace herself for the blow, which caught her completely by surprise. All she could do was blink once and stare blankly at the dark form that had suddenly leapt up from its hiding place beneath Harry's bed. She took a moment to note, with professional detachment, the badly burned and scarred features before she looked down to see that a bladed hand had been driven into her stomach. This too was observed with professional detachment, even as the knives were withdrawn and she collapsed to the floor, starting to cough as the shock of the attack wore off and the pain began to register in her mind.
"Shit!" exclaimed Sirius, before he fired of a cutting hex, "Lacertus!"
Freddy spun round to face him just as the spell hit, slicing a deep incision into his shoulder. "Ah, fuck!" he exclaimed, dodging left and right as Ron, Remus and Tonks cast a few curses of their own. They paused, however, as he ducked down and hauled Madam Pomfrey up in front of him, using her as a shield.
"Stop cursing!" yelled Remus upon seeing the badly wounded Healer. Unfortunately, by the time they had registered her presence, she had already been hit by a bone-breaker curse from Sirius, a bludgeoning curse from Tonks and another cutting hex from Ron.
"Ah, nothing quite like putting someone else in the firing line," noted Freddy.
"Let her go, you miserable bastard," snarled Sirius.
"What? Does piss poor Paddy-foot not like this game?" asked Freddy mockingly. "Then maybe you shouldn't have started playing it!"
Sirius fired the blasting curse over Freddy's shoulder; not close enough to risk hitting Madam Pomfrey, but still close enough to get his meaning across.
"Let her go," he repeated.
Freddy considered his position for a moment and then grinned. "You want her?" he asked. "Fine - here she is!"
Before anyone could do anything, he jammed his knife-hand back into Pomfrey's stomach, forcing a weak cry of agony from the injured witch. Grabbing her by the scruff of her neck with his other hand, he hoisted her up above him. He stood there for a second, daring them to curse him and risk having Pomfrey fall.
"Oh shit," muttered Remus.
With a heave of his shoulders, Freddy tossed Pomfrey at Sirius. As soon as he regained his balance he took a quick step forward and kicked the frame of Harry's bed, sending it skidding across the room to crash into Remus and Tonks. The impact was loud and accompanied by several painful cracks of breaking bones, even as Harry himself was jolted over the side and onto the floor.
"Remus! Tonk!" yelled Sirius, struggling to pull himself out from beneath a now very limp Pomfrey.
"My legs! Shit, he broke my legs!" cried Tonks, pinned between the bed and the bedroom wall. Remus was likewise trapped, but had slipped while trying to dodge the moving bed and had been pinned down across his chest.
Freddy watched them struggle and laughed at the success of his ploy. "Gotcha," he crowed, before taking a look around. "Now, where the hell did that little shit bring me?"
His eyes glanced over Harry, who was now lying on the bedroom and retching violently. Apparently his fall from the bed had finally broken the tenuous control he had been able to hold over his queasy stomach. Next Freddy observed Ron, who had managed to avoid the careening bed and was kneeling protectively over his bed. He was the only one in the room to still have a grip on his wand and was still keeping a close eye on Freddy.
He observed as Sirius managed to pull himself out from under Pomfrey and moved closer to deliver a kick to the man's jaw before he could stand. He was about to follow up and begin using his knives, when something in the corner of his eye caught his attention. For just a moment he looked away from Sirius and glanced behind him.
"Ah! Look who we have here," exclaimed Freddy, noticing the other bed in the room and its occupant. "It's Hermy! Oh, Harry, you do bring me the best presents."
"Stay away from Hermione!" yelled Ron, jumping up from where he had been crouched next to Harry.
Freddy grinned spitefully and, with two long strides, crossed over to Hermione's bed and slammed his bladed fingers into her stomach.
Ron's rage filled scream was utterly incoherent and not entirely human as he leapt at Freddy, forgoing the use of his wand in preference for attacking the man with his bare hands. He charged straight at him, not caring about anything else but getting his hands around the other man's neck and wringing his head off. He ran right into Freddy's backhand.
"Ah, sweet love - it makes an idiot out of every man," noted Freddy.
He quickly grabbed Ron before he could recover from the blow and quickly moved him round into the same position he had held Pomfrey. He was just in time, as another slicing curse from Sirius cut a deep gash across Ron's chest.
"Aah!" screamed Ron before Freddy tightened his grip around his throat, cutting him off.
"Missed me again, Paddy!" Freddy crowed.
"You son of a bitch!" roared Sirius, almost stumbling over Pomfrey's body as he moved.
"Heh? What's the matter? Don't like losing?"Freddy shifted so that Ron would provide more cover. He also moved his right hand up, letting his knives hover close to the young wizard's throat. "Better be careful with your mumbo-jumbo," he warned, "or Ronny boy here's going get one helluva smile - ear to ear."
Freddy had been so busy concentrating on Sirius, and to a lesser degree Remus and Tonks, that he had completely missed the fact that Harry had moved from his spot on the floor. The Boy-Who-Lived had crawled to his bedside table, which had toppled over when Freddy had kicked the bed across the room, and reclaimed his wand. From his current angle, he had a perfect shot from the side if the burned man. Focusing all his anger, all his rage, he cast the one spell he knew had affected Freddy even in the dreams, if only for a little while.
A spray of red blood fountained across the bedroom as Freddy convulsively slid his knives across Ron's throat as his body began to spasm wildly. Luckily the four cuts that slashed across his neck were not as deep as they might have been, but it was a terrible injury and caught Harry completely by surprise. He had been hoping to free Ron, not cause his throat to be slit. Cursing himself for making yet another mistake, and possibly killing his best friend, he focused on his hatred for Freddy and poured it into the Cruciatus.
Freddy's scream of pain rose up in pitch to a shriek of agony as he thrashed wildly about, somehow, impossibly, managing to stay on his feet.
"Harry! Harry, stop!" shouted Sirius.
Heeding his godfather's words, mostly because he had something else in mind, Harry released his hold on the curse. Freddy immediately ceased his crazed lurching about and relaxed, drawing in deep and shuddering breathes. His hands were clutching spastically, the knives of his right hand skritching against each other. After taking a second to compose himself, ignoring Sirius and his wand, Freddy stood straight and ready.
"You little sonuvabitch!" roared Freddy, spinning to face him. "That's it! I'm gonna gut you for that!"
"Fuck you too, Freddy," replied Harry. His wand had not shifted in its aim. "Avada Kedavra!"
The look of absolute surprise on Freddy's face was almost worth the pain of this last beating. Harry smiled as the green bolt of magic caught Freddy high on the chest and knocked the Lord of Nightmares flying through the air. Freddy's graceless flight came to an abrupt end as his body slammed into the wall with enough force to crack the plaster.
Harry kept his wand trained on Freddy, still slightly worried that the madman would be able shrug off even this attack. He watched closely, wary that this was merely another game or feint to lure them close enough for Freddy to strike.
Slowly, Freddy faded away as his body slid down the wall to the floor.
Still, Harry kept a vigil on the spot where the body had disappeared. The fact that the man had disappeared from view did not mean anything. Freddy was a creature of dreams - a real body was entirely superfluous.
He was dimly aware of noise intruding into the room, as well as blurred shapes darting about the edge of his fading vision. Vaguely aware that the rest of the Order had arrived, he finally slipped into unconsciousness.
Author's Note: This was the last chapter, leaving only the epilogue/aftermath still to come.
Quite a few people have commented on how Madam Pomfrey kept knocking Harry out with Sleeping Potions, despite however much common sense would seem to dictate that this was a BAD idea. Allow me to retort. Go watch any of the Nightmare on Elm Street movies. Regardless of how many kids Freddy has killed - just about every single adult to make an appearance seems to also suffer from this flaw. On several occasions you'll find the kids being sedated for no apparent good reason other than they're children and adults supposedly know better.
As such, in order to keep to the established formula, I had Pomfrey take leave of her senses on several occasions. Take it or leave it.