23Nothing Important Happened TodayPart II
Mind's eye winks in kind
selectively, often blind
attuned to old frequency
chained before a line of sight
and sound, fine sensory plight
past takes flight, comes 'round again
time traces tighter circles
Circles have no end
–Dorothy Dawes, Fifty-Nine
Harry awoke flailing, scrabbling his limbs against dark surfaces as he lashed out the last remaining spikes of panic. He froze, panting, as the sweat cooled on his chest and forehead and the outlines of his surrounds slowly faded in from the shadows. He felt caged. He couldn't remember where he was. It wasn't until the faint red glow of the digital numbers next to his bed caught in the corner of his eye that he came back to himself. The light emanating from the squat, plastic clock on his bedside table was the beacon back to sanity.
He fell back onto his pillow with a sigh, pressing the heels of his hands into his eyes and pulling his knees up, letting the cool sheets run across the bare bottoms of his feet. He put his hand out to his right, hoping he hadn't awoken… Who? He had been sure there was someone else there with him. The nightmare had been so real that he could almost still see the long hair fanned across the mattress next to him. He felt a pang of embarrassment. Had he been dreaming about a girl? It would be just his luck if he'd said anything out loud. Dudley might have heard him through the walls, and there would never be an end to the teasing.
Harry sat up, straightening out his too-big pyjamas and sliding his glasses on. He couldn't go downstairs for a glass of water without waking Aunt Petunia, but he could drink from the tap in the loo. If there was one thing to be said for his old cupboard, it was the easy access it provided to the kitchen. He sort of missed that. Of course, if those strange letters kept coming for him, he might end up back in there no matter how afraid Uncle Vernon was of… something. Whatever the letters were.
He slid out of bed and walked over to the door. He had just begun to turn the doorknob when a sudden movement to his left startled him. He nearly cried out, hopping awkwardly away and almost bashing into the door of the wardrobe. But, in moving backwards, he'd stepped out of the dim stream of light from the window, allowing it to fall across the corner where the sounds of squeaking bedsprings and rustling sheets emanated, illuminating a tousled head of blond hair.
Harry relaxed, dropping his arms. It was only Scott.
"Bad dream?" Scott whispered, one glinting grey eye peeking out from beneath the pillow over his face.
"I guess so," Harry replied, and then stopped with a slight frown. His voice didn't sound right to him. He cleared his throat as quietly as he was able, and reached for the door again.
"Going to see if Vernon missed a letter?" Scott said eagerly, sitting up.
"No," Harry said glumly. "He's not stupid."
"Yeah he is!"
"He's not blind," Harry amended.
Scott grabbed his pillow from where it had fallen onto the floor, stuffed it up into his shirt, and began pushing himself in a circle on his bed, using his fists. "Hey, who am I?"
Harry tried not to laugh. "A big, dumb gorilla or Uncle Vernon."
"Wrong! I'm Dudley!" Scott cackled.
"Shhhh!" Harry hissed, his eyes darting to the nearby wall. "I'm going to the loo, so be quiet!"
"Maaahurrwaaamuuhaa," Scott said, face down on his pillow. He began pretending to snore.
Harry rolled his eyes and left his excitable… Cousin? Brother? Friend? Scott was… Maybe second cousin. Harry should definitely know that. He fought off a strong sense of disorientation. That nightmare, whatever it had been, had shaken him up more than he'd realised. His whole world was off centre.
The water from the tap was cool enough even in the summer, washing the dank taste of terror from his mouth. He stood back, wiping his lips and studying the person in the mirror. It was definitely his own reflection: a short, skinny boy with a mop of black hair and glasses that were too big for his child's face. He raised a gangly hand and prodded his slumped left shoulder, narrow where it hid beneath a baggy pyjama top loose enough to display his prominent collarbone.
Still, there was something wrong about the image. He thought he had been different in his dream. It would explain why his thin limbs felt as if they belonged to someone else. He shook himself, and turned away from his reflection. He either needed to wake up fully, or sleep it off. His dream was severely affecting him, and he couldn't even remember it.
Wait – dream? He'd been so sure it had been a nightmare just minutes ago. It was starting to seem less malevolent and more weird the longer he thought about it. It danced at the corners of his brain, tugging on his memory and making the world seem disconnected. He'd had enough night terrors to recognise the feeling, though it was rarely so persistent. He even felt a bit dizzy. Wincing, he stumbled back into his new bedroom after nearly turning to go down the stairs out of habit. He reckoned he'd be back in the cupboard soon enough, regardless of how small it was getting. Uncle Vernon wouldn't stay terrified forever.
Harry stopped just at the doorway, frowning. Where had Scott slept? His mind was so foggy he couldn't remember. When they were both really little the cupboard would have been fine, but Scott was at least an inch or two taller than Harry, now. The Dursleys couldn't stuff the both of them back under the stairs, it would never work. Harry was cheered by the thought. Perhaps Dudley's second bedroom would remain theirs by default, whatever happened with the strange letters.
He closed the door behind him and glanced at the second mattress on the floor. In the shadows, he couldn't tell if Scott was asleep or watching him from underneath a pillow. Scott was always observing things. Even at school he always seemed to know who everyone was, who they were friends with, what clique they were a part of. It was an ability Harry had always admired. Dudley might have ruled with a heavy fist, but Scott ensured that he and Harry were left alone, if not befriended. Scott could be vicious, and all the other kids knew it.
Harry fell down onto his bed and put his hands behind his head, staring at the ceiling. Getting off his feet seemed to improve things a bit, though his pillow was unpleasantly damp with sweat. He flipped it over, savouring the dry, cool texture of the other side against his flushed skin. He was almost afraid to try and sleep, in case he emerged once again biting back a scream. Scott wouldn't mind, since he was awake at random hours all the time and never seemed to keep a proper schedule, but the Dursleys would be furious if Harry woke them, especially with all the strange goings on lately.
"Think we'll get to keep our new room?" Scott spoke from the darkness, startling Harry from his thoughts.
"I dunno," Harry said honestly, shifting a bit. "Depends if Uncle Vernon gets more angry than scared."
"Man, we're not even going to fit downstairs!" Scott exclaimed, rolling over again. Harry thought that Scott just liked hearing the springs squeak. It was probably a novelty after sleeping in the linen cupboard (Harry was relieved he'd finally remembered). "All my snacks are down there, though."
"I think Aunt Petunia knows there are crisps missing," Harry warned.
"Whatever," Scott said in a bored tone, perpetually indifferent to the possibility of punishment. He was nothing if not a defiant inmate at the Dursley household. Harry preferred to just be left alone.
"…I can't remember my dream," Harry sighed.
"Was it about ghoooooOOOooossttttssss?" Scott warbled.
"Those aren't even real," Harry scoffed.
"They are real, totally. Totally real. I can see one right now. I can see, like, twenty. Thirty! Stay back! Back, you damn dirty ghosts!" Scott chattered, pointing to random corners of the room.
Some of the kids at school still made fun of him for his flat American accent, though not so much to his face. It was dangerous to say things to Scott's face. A woman from the school had once told Aunt Petunia that Scott had violent tendencies and poor impulse control, along with a bunch of other words that Harry hadn't understood (but he knew that Scott was kind of mental). Harry had always been afraid that, someday, Scott would do something bad enough to get kicked out of school, leaving Harry alone. So Harry always tried to even out Scott's mood swings and intercede when one of the blond boy's sudden rages came on. Scott would get real quiet and real stiff, and Harry would drag him away or distract him before someone got their nose broken, or (as had happened on one particularly bad day) concussed.
Harry was smart enough to know that Scott needed more help – like medicine or a special instructor or something – but he wasn't going to get it from the Dursleys. So Harry just did his best to guide his friend (cousin?), and keep him focussed.
"Where'd you go?"
"Huh?" Harry snapped out of his thoughts yet again. Never mind keeping Scott focussed, Harry was having a hard time concentrating. He felt like he was still partially dreaming, trapped in his own head. He lifted himself up on his elbows to make eye contact with Scott, but the other boy was gone. "Scott?"
A blanket-covered hand
extended up from the floor and batted harmlessly against Harry's stomach. He recoiled from the edge of his bed and looked down: a big cloth lump was sitting there. Scott had piled several blankets over himself and was crawling under them, concealed like some bizarre mobile pillow.
"I'm an amoeba!" he proclaimed.
"A what?" Harry laughed.
"An amoeba! I'm engulfing you with my pseudopod…" Scott freed a hand and pulled one of the blankets off himself, throwing it over Harry's legs. "Don't be alarmed, non-amoeba. This is how I feed."
Harry stifled a snort. "What if I don't want to get eaten?"
"Too bad! You can't escape without your legs. That's… so impossible."
"I'll grow new ones!" Harry declared, and scampered away to the other bed.
They continued their impromptu game for about half an hour, with Harry fleeing whilst Scott slowly pursued him, shuffling beneath the blanket. The ever-present danger of waking the Dursleys just added an element of suspense. Eventually, they tired of it and retreated back to their beds, talking about the visit to the Zoo, their unfinished plans for summer break and the mysterious letters.
The next morning, the two of them were locked in their room whilst Uncle Vernon frantically dealt with the onslaught of letters. Or, at least, that's what Harry assumed was happening. It was about time for the post to arrive, and there was a great deal of shrieking and cursing reverberating up the stairs. He sat on the edge of his bed and glumly waited as another chance at grabbing one of his letters slipped away. Scott listened to Vernon's struggle with an air of sadistic glee.
Harry supposed they ought to use their new space and Dudley's discarded toys to enjoy themselves so long as they could, but his intense curiosity was overriding his sense of fun. Who could possibly be sending him letters? He didn't really know anyone, outside of Scott.
He thought it might have something to do with his parents. Nothing else made much sense (not that the seemingly infinite letters made much sense to begin with – something weird was happening). And that meant that it might affect Scott, too, since he was Harry's second cousin or something. But Scott had been unperturbed by the sudden influx of neatly-inked letters.
If Harry had been somebody else, he'd have probably thought that Scott knew something about the post, maybe even expected it. But Scott had always been like that, reacting to odd occurrences by hardly reacting at all. It was just the way he was. The same frequently hyper kid that had become disproportionately enthused about collecting pine cones the previous winter had asked only a couple offhand questions when the glass had inexplicably disappeared at the Zoo, freeing the boa constrictor.
It could be frustrating for Harry, to feel like he was alone in questioning how his hair had suddenly grown back after that disastrous haircut, or how he had ended up on that roof without any memory of climbing it. He was glad that Scott never called him a freak or mocked him for making things up like the Dursleys would have done, but, if Scott didn't think Harry was imagining things, then why didn't he care about what that meant?
Harry pondered that, looking out the window and squinting against the glare. It was something he hadn't thought about much when he was younger. Anything could seem normal when you grew up with it. Now he was nearly eleven years old, and the letters were making him reconsider things he had barely considered in the first place. Scott's lack of curiosity was, in retrospect, troubling.
"Something out there?" Scott trotted over to the window and peered out to determine what Harry was looking at. "Is it that big dog again? I love that big dog."
"It's nothing," Harry said. He reached over and poked Scott's shoulder, hard. Physical aggression of one kind or the other was usually the best way to hold Scott's scattered attention. "Hey."
"What?" Scott glared, rubbing his shoulder.
"What do you think is in the letters?"
Scott shrugged. "I don't know. School stuff."
"But where are they all coming from? Don't you think this is really weird?" Harry pressed.
"It's just how you are," Scott said nonchalantly.
Harry blinked. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"You know, the stuff that happens with you. Like your hair, or when you made that snake escape."
"So you did notice!" Harry exclaimed.
"Duh! I'm not stupid. You think I'm stupid! Screw you, Harry! You get screwed!" Scott shoved Harry in the chest, knocking him back onto his bed.
Harry didn't retaliate; Scott never hurt Harry the way he had some other people, but he could get pretty rough. Harry would just get him back later, anyway, since they were in the middle of something more important. "You always act like it's not a big deal!"
"I think so!"
"It's not. You're stupid," Scott grumbled. "It's just how you are. You're special and you make things happen."
It was hard to deny, although Harry wasn't sure if he made things happen or if things just happened to him. "I guess… But, I don't know why."
"Because you're Harry Potter."
Harry pondered that for a moment. "…So?"
Scott tossed his hands into the air, apparently pushed beyond endurance (a very short trip for him) by Harry's incomprehension. "So? SO?! You're Harry Potter, you're the main guy! Crazy junk is always going to happen to you."
"I'm just another kid, it's not all about me," Harry protested, not feeling particularly important.
"YES IT IS!" Scott howled. "YOU'RE THE MAIN GUY."
"All right, shut it!" Harry hissed, hoping that Uncle Vernon was too preoccupied to see what the racket was about. "I get it!"
Harry didn't actually get it, not even a little bit, but it was clear that Scott had latched onto some sort of answer that made sense only to himself. It was hardly the first time that had become the case; Scott was either very creative or had some kind of disability, depending on which adult was asked. He definitely didn't see the world the way most people did. He often seemed to see a different world entirely, one with strange patterns and rules. Apparently, the fact that Harry had always been 'the main guy' was, to Scott, abundantly obvious.
Harry didn't know why being whatever Scott thought he was made him special or more likely to have odd things happen to him. But he didn't ask for an answer: he wouldn't get one he understood, because he never did. It was like the times when Scott talked about all the ropes and threads he could see that weren't actually there. Sometimes Scott was worse, and sometimes he was better, and Harry had learned a long time ago that he had no control over which end of the spectrum Scott swung towards on any given day. Besides, it was easier to deal with Scott's loose grip on reality than when his temper took a swift turn for the dark or the violent.
Scott was either still upset with Harry's inability to grasp the obvious or bored of the conversation entirely, it was hard to say which. Whatever the reason, they lapsed into a silence that lasted about five minutes, at which point Scott became bored of that, too.
"Arm wrestle me!" he demanded.
Harry knew better than to accept the challenge. Scott could be bested in board games and homework, not feats of strength. "No way. 'Sides, you can't wrestle if you're on fire."
"I'm not on fire. Why am I on fire?" Scott said suspiciously.
"Because the floor is made of lava!" Harry said triumphantly from his safe perch at the end of his bed.
Scott shrieked and leapt onto his own mattress ("WHAT IS GOING ON UP THERE?" Uncle Vernon bellowed somewhere below). After arguing for several minutes as to whether Scott had removed himself from the lava fast enough to still be alive, they established enough of the rules to continue. There wasn't much room to play, but they were accustomed to that. They ended up putting Scott's mattress on top of Harry's and floating adrift on the lava sea, searching for lava treasure (they were also wearing lava-proof suits with oxygen tanks, as Scott had insisted that temperatures would be extreme and the air would not be breathable). Their attempts to rig a sail had been met with failure, hence the aimless nature of their quest.
By sunset they had banished themselves to the garden, taking advantage of the cool evening air to kick an old football around before settling down behind the flowers next to the window at the side of the house, where they could hear the television inside. Scott liked to listen to the news and Harry liked to watch the sky darken from where he lay on his back, staring upwards through the gap between the bushes and the siding. Wood chips dug into his shirt and the breeze blew dust into his hair, but he didn't care. There was a peace and freedom in their hiding place, beneath the faint moon and swaying branches. No one was looking for them. There was nowhere else they had to be.
He lifted his head up to look at Scott, wondering if the other boy might like to go to the nearby playground and jump off the swings. Scott's face was creased in thought as he listened to the news, though, and he probably wouldn't be willing to leave until something else came on. Harry didn't much care about the news, personally, but Scott was intent on hearing about the ongoing reunification process in Germany and something called 'perestroika', so Harry didn't even try to get his attention (especially when the telly said that British astronomers had found an extrasolar planet: Scott really liked outer space).
Harry wasn't absorbed by what nations were 'on the brink' of leaving the Soviet Union, so
he closed his eyes and concentrated on the wind hissing through the grass. The air was growing cooler as the heat of the day dissipated. His eyelids became heavy, his breathing slowed. A bird fluttered overhead. Scott made a noise of interest, quiet, familiar. A car passed by the house. Harry felt himself drifting into sleep, and saw no reason to fight it.
it was snowing out and the flakes which clung to his hair and collar were turning to slush, sliding down the back of his neck but that was fine it was just the price of playtime at the cusp of a blizzard, enjoying themselves before the snow started streaking in at odd angles, blowing into faces and whiting out the world in a haze of freezing, misted air and it was easy to forget that it was nearly supper time, not that he cared all that much, he could be hungry later, but right then Ginny was dancing just ahead of him, giggling, with a packed snowball ready to impact against his nose or groin (she always swore it was an accident), so he needed to be careful and watch her, because she needed to be watched and he just liked watching her so long as no one else noticed.
he took cover behind the closest tree in the orchard and tried to spot Ron, but the snow was already thickening and visibility was low like a cold fog, like smoke you could breathe and not get sick, not that he had ever breathed in much smoke but he sort of knew how that might work, and Hermione had been no help whatsoever from her safe spot near the pond where she was determined to stay, attacking anyone who came near (and it was hard to blame her considering how many times she had been betrayed already, but she was just so easy to betray), though she had sounded at least slightly hesitant when he had last approached her so maybe she would be open to another alliance before too long, it wasn't like he had betrayed her, he'd never had the chance, and they should really consider it for both their sakes because Scott was out there, somewhere, probably cheating like he always did, and all their games seemed to end with everyone ganging up on Scott because he always deserved it, and it was getting to be about that time.
the odd thing was, though, that the sky was getting brighter instead of darker, and it was evening so that shouldn't have been happening, and instead of a snowball he was holding his wand, which wasn't allowed per agreement of all present, and when he stepped forward to get back to the garden, lifting his knees and crunching through the drifts, the orchard gave way to the tunnel of trees behind Hagrid's cabin, and Scott was just ahead to talk about war, with the steam of his breath catching the moonlight, and to their backs Hogwarts was burning with Ginny inside, she was fighting for her life somewhere upstairs, near the Tower, and he was as frozen as his surroundings, suffocating beneath the Cloak, his trousers soaked through from the cave, rimed with ice, and he could feel his blood slowing.
Harry would have screamed if he had any air to do so. He had no idea where he was, but it was dark, and something heavy pressed down on his chest and mouth and he couldn't breathe. He panicked, kicking out and squirming, trying desperately to get away–
"Harry! Harry! Shut up, man, open your eyes!"
His eyes? They were shut… He blinked, breathing hard through his nose when the pressure on his torso lessened. He found himself staring straight up at Scott.
"You had a nightmare, I guess," Scott explained.
Harry glanced around. The two of them were still behind the bushes below the window, but the sun had set and the stars were out. The Dursleys were probably already in bed, so there was a good chance that he and Scott were locked out of the house. He panted for a second when Scott's hand was removed from his mouth. Not a pleasant way to awaken, but better than making a scene outside where it might wake the neighbours. Uncle Vernon would be slow to forget that.
Scott was scanning Harry's sweat-soaked shirt with disgust. "Wow, you look like you humped a fish tank. You're super gross, dude."
"Shove off, it's not my fault," Harry grumbled, sitting up. He was more disturbed by his dream than by the state of his clothing. He felt as if he had been granted a realisation and then promptly forgotten it. Half-remembered truths tugged at his subconscious.
"What was it about?" Scott said curiously.
"I don't know," Harry admitted. "It was snowing and we were having a snowball fight… And we were going to gang up on you…"
"Whaaaaat… Are you sure it was me?"
"It was because you were cheating."
"I guess that sounds like me…"
"Arg, come on!" Harry snapped off a nearby twig, frustrated by his inability to recall the full meaning of the dream. "I can't bloody remember anything!"
"It's just a dream, Harry," Scott told him condescendingly. He hopped up and pushed his way out of the bushes, heading towards the back garden.
"No, it wasn't," Harry muttered to Scott's retreating back.
They settled down where they usually did, in a strip of grass between the back of Aunt Petunia's flower bed and the fence. It was trimmed with shears instead of the lawnmower, lending it a lush, long-stemmed softness that the rest of the lawn was lacking. It was their default bedding when locked out of the house, and usually comfortable enough in the summertime with the fence blocking most of the breeze. They huddled next to each other like puppies sharing warmth. Scott was a pretty dependable heat source, as his body temperature always seemed elevated, regardless of the weather, and he didn't move around in his sleep.
Sometimes sleeping outside was better than waking up to Uncle Vernon banging on the door about breakfast (in the event that Harry could not be found, the Dursleys were usually too apathetic to look for him). Some of the kids at school probably would have called Harry and Scott a couple of poofs for curling up together, but Harry didn't care. It was better than being cold, and Scott was his cousin, anyway (right?), so who cared.
His own arm wasn't the best pillow, but Harry was still tired enough that a little discomfort wouldn't keep him from sleep. The fence creaked in the wind and an owl flitted in front of the moon. He yawned, pushed away Scott's foot from where it was digging into the back of his knee, and settled a little lower, until the grass was tickling his nose.
he was lost for sure, not on purpose, but somehow he had lost sight of Mr Weasley and now he hadn't the slightest idea where he was, because the Ministry was a massive building and he'd never been there before, certainly not on his own, and he couldn't figure out where to go, every door was unmarked, and the dark stone of the building was an odd contrast to how much brighter it had been upstairs and he was positive, just given the atmosphere, that he wasn't supposed to be where he was, and not just in the sense that he needed to be with Mr Weasley, but also in the sense that he doubted he was allowed, it looked forbidding, secretive, and possibly even dangerous.
just to his left he saw Ginny duck into an open door so he followed, maybe she knew where she was going, but even if she didn't it was better than standing in that dim entryway by himself, and as soon as he stepped in he was in awe, taken aback by the uncountable clocks that lined every wall, with Time-Turners as well, and a hummingbird in a bell jar that cycled through its life in forward and reverse, which was what he knew he was seeing, though he couldn't say how he knew or why it all seemed so familiar in a way that was portentous and comforting, like he knew how it would all end but the ending wasn't a happy one but at least he knew.
he reached out towards the jar, and Ginny was gone, he hadn't seen her leave but he knew she was gone, and as his hand met the glass it slid through as if the hard surface were water, rippling around his skin, feeling cool but not damp, and the glittering light within danced around him, flowing up his arm, and when it reached his head he felt himself begin to move through a strange dimension, undefinable, a place where images were piled and paged through like endless stacks of paper, flipping over backwards, anticlockwise, against the stream.cascading–"I just want you to be careful, that's all."
"Sleep at night, Harry. Talk to me."
"That's not me, Harry! You know who I am! I am not going to hide!"
"You didn't really want to leave me, did you?"
"We're flirting, Harry. Can't you at least try a little?"
"Don't give up before we get a real chance at us."
"AH! Not again! Wake up, you chowderhead! I mean it, WAKE – UP–"
Each word was emphasised by a solid punch to Harry's now-aching shoulder. He rolled away from his assailant, flattening a few of Aunt Petunia's exactingly cultivated flowers in the process. He barely noticed, staggering to his feet and pitching forward until he pressed himself, shaking, against the fence, gasping for air.
"Are you gonna chuke?" Scott said, standing just behind Harry.
The memories slowly began to settle, sliding away from the front of his consciousness to pool in an unsorted mess.
So much remained unclear, but he remembered a girl with long red hair who was as fiery as the hue suggested, a tall, freckled boy who was snarky and stalwart, and a girl with untameable brown hair and an eager mind.
"Where's Ron and Hermione? Where's Ginny?" Harry asked. The night air was a boon for his overheated skin.
"Who?" Scott said.
Harry blinked at him. "Wha… W-Well, what about your sister? Where's Lila?"
"Oh, she's busy. She has a job, you know."
"Scott…" Harry said slowly. "Why didn't I know about her before?"
Scott stared back at Harry for so long that Harry started to wonder if the other boy had somehow frozen solid. "Well…" Scott finally replied, squinting, "…Why didn't I know about her before now, huh?"
The short silence which followed was profound. "What is going on?" Harry whispered.
Scott tucked his hands into his pockets, brow furrowed. "First guess: the shape has experienced a convulsive reordering and we were scrambled along with it."
Harry understood what Scott was talking about, and, at the same time, didn't understand. It was as if the concepts were known to him, but not the specifics or their meanings, and although he didn't fully comprehend it, he had heard it, or something like it, before. "What does that mean, then?"
"I don't know… It was smart, though? It sounds good. I think it's the truth."
It was maddening. The explanation was so close, Harry could feel it, but it eluded him. "You think this has something to do with the letters?"
Scott shrugged. "What would they have to do with this?"
Harry paced back and forth. "They're weird and this is weird and now we're, like, remembering things that aren't real… Or, remembering stuff that is real but we forgot somehow…"
"It's not unheard of."
"Situational memories, selective amnesia creating by a reordering, catastrophe-level or otherwise." Scott sounded like he was repeating something he had been told, but didn't actually understand.
"Who heard of it?"
"…People?" Scott said uncertainly.
Harry sighed. "This doesn't make any sense. Maybe we're both going mad."
"Folie à deux," Scott murmured.
"Hmm? Well, maybe you're going crazy. But I'm definitely not crazy, I'm pretty sure," Scott said confidently.
That was such a ludicrous, self-serving reversal of reality that Harry didn't know how to respond. He could accept that he might be going mad, but Scott had been mental long before the letters and the memories, and he was showing signs of whatever was happening to Harry, too.
"Quit talking rubbish," Harry settled on saying.
They were both getting a bit loud; Harry sent a nervous glance towards the windows of the house. The faint moonlight lent the edges of the walls and windows a lack of definition, there was a fuzzy sense of unreality beneath the slowly shifting clouds. As if the world were a smudged painting, or a book Harry was trying to read without his glasses.
"I don't know what to do," Harry said quietly, making an effort to contain his growing disorientation and panic. "I'm afraid to go back to sleep…"
"What if I go to sleep first? Maybe I'll dream instead of you."
Harry frowned; he couldn't see how that would work. "That doesn't make sense…"
Scott spread his arms, eyes wide. "What does, huh? What makes sense right now?"
That wasn't very compelling logic, but Harry also didn't have any other ideas. "Okay, fine. You sleep, I don't think I can, anyway."
"Don't mind if I do," Scott said with misplaced cheer. He flopped back down onto the grass and curled up with his head on one of his arms. "Just keep it down, I can hear you thinking. Don't think so loud."
"Just shut it. Stop being daft," Harry muttered, swatting Scott on the back as he sat down against the fence.
Scott's breathing slowed within a few minutes as he sunk quickly into sleep. Harry leaned back against the rough, varnished wood of the fence and stared up at the sky, wondering how long it would be until sunrise. Perhaps the brightness and clarity of the day would chase away his dreams, and allow him to sleep in the sunlight.
You are standing in the hallway outside of the conference room, somewhere deep inside the complex. The location is not exactly classified, just by virtue of the traffic it gets, but it's also not something that's advertised. The name of the moon gets kicked around a lot, Pavarel, everyone knows that's where the Primarius is, but as to which star system, which planet, which moon? Not common knowledge. You know it technically as Point-87-87, but no one actually calls it that outside of the dispatch addresses and the top secret blueprints. It's the Cellar.
True to its name, most of the complex is underground and at least slightly damp, no matter how many dehumidifiers and pumps are always chugging away. That's to be expected, though, given the surroundings. The Cellar sits right on the equatorial belt, deep in a rainforest climate that doubles as a training ground. It's one of the most hostile ecosystems ever discovered. You're well aware of this, as you've taken your turns trying to survive the wide assortment of poisonous and/or carnivorous flora, flooding rains and deadly, highly territorial fauna.
The Cellar is actually just one of many Primarius outposts on the moon and in the system. Also not common knowledge. But the powers that be are willing to let the Cellar gain some notoriety if the others are then ignored. You haven't been back here since the last time you had to run training, and you can't say you're happy about it. In your experience, most of your briefings happen over at Charpenak, a much more comfortable institution far to the north. But your reporting orders came through in a real hurry, out of nowhere, and you have to be wherever your assigning officer is. And it looks like that's the Cellar.
You're reporting to someone different this time, too. You didn't recognise the name, which is a little worrying. You're pretty sure you know all the officers worth knowing. Colonel Diehl is your usual dispatcher. He knows how you work and generally stays out of your way. The last thing you need is some Major, freshly promoted past their point of competency, demanding constant oversight and status updates as if you were a probationary newbie. That's not very likely to happen (you're in the Primarius, not Second Fleet), but what if you just don't click with whoever it is? Knowing the right people is the only way to get anything done in a bureaucracy.
It's already bad enough that you aren't going to be afforded any more than the most basic preparations. You've just talked to Batton over at CHRONOSEC and they're still working on the stop and sync, so that will buy you a little time. The news wasn't great, and Batton got real technical about the offset problems and the kind of pseudo-inertia they had to tackle. Then he gave you the usual line about doing their best and not being miracle workers. You don't know why he bothers to try and justify his results when so much of what they do over there is based on what's even possible at any given moment. There are a lot of government appendages that barely lift their own weight. CHRONOSEC isn't one of them.
You've looked at the papers enough to sketch out a very rough plan that involves catching this Dumbledore guy early enough to make an impression, and that will be your in (you really hope Batton can swing it). You've got Lil packing the essentials plus a little extra, and Crandall is putting together a list of TechEq suitable gear for you. So, even though the Praesaedius team will have literally just days to mine the locality for info, it could still be worse. If nothing else, the Liberi were unusually loquacious. You have some kind of 'Prophecy' (they spelled it capitalised, for whatever reason), so that's a start.
Harry Potter. A name, a nebulous 'destiny', and not much else. You've been to England plenty of times, but it sounds like you'll be integrating in a unique occurrence of it. Even the stress of having to do what you can with the little time and information you've been given can't entirely dampen your excitement. Another world, another adventure. It might be bad, sure. But you'll always learn something.
You don't even know what Harry Potter looks like, but he's about to be your new best friend.
"HOLY CRAP GODDAMN–"
Harry hadn't realised how close to sleep he was until Scott's sudden exclamation jolted him back to wakefulness. He turned to see what the problem was just in time to catch Scott's thrashing elbow in the chest, knocking the wind out of him. He winced, rubbing at the throbbing bruise.
"Hey!" he said, aggravated. "Watch it!"
Scott hadn't even noticed. "Whoa, ow, my head. My head hurts. Memories hurt."
Harry had a headache, too, and he didn't think it had anything to do with Scott's elbow. Scenes from a different life were becoming increasingly vivid. "So, we've definitely gone back in time, right?"
"Technically, no, but close enough. Come on, we gotta talk about this. Let's go to the usual place." Scott stood and beckoned towards the street.
They hurried across the pavement, heading to the playground. Harry now remembered it as the place where the two of them had first met. Which was a bit odd, that he would have met his cousin (co-worker?) so late in life, but he was just then realising how little of what he had known about himself was actually true. He was squeezed beneath a crushing sense of déjà vu.
sight of the swings only emphasised that overwhelming familiarity. He had been there before, with Scott. They had both been older. They had talked of Prophecies and Horcrux hunting and how Scott's name was pronounced. Topics both crucial and casual. It was an important place, despite its mundane nature.
And they had been late into their teens, Harry remembered that now. He remembered six years at the school he called home, and a desperate search for the keys to ending the war that had swallowed his seventh year. He didn't understand how he had come to be young again, trapped at the Dursleys and waiting for Hagrid to explain the real world once more. But it seemed like Scott might, so the playground would probably host yet another conversation.
He remembered Ginny, too, and looked down at himself, wondering how he was going to handle puberty all over again. He hadn't even finished the last time.
Underneath all the clamouring thoughts was a burgeoning sense of joy, almost uncontrollable. If he had gone back, if he was able to do it all again, it was an opportunity beyond anything he could have expected. He could…
He stopped himself before he could get swept away by the possibilities. First, he needed to understand the circumstances. He sat in one of the swings and clasped his shaking hands.
"Okay…" he said, keeping his racing mind under tight control. "…So, what is this?"
Scott dropped himself into the adjacent swing, rattling the chains. "I think it's a replay."
Scott sighed and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "A replay. You know, like pinball? Extra ball, extra play. Replay. Put in another token, try again."
Harry shook his head. "But life doesn't take tokens."
"Hey, I like tokens. They're like real money, but fun! And they have a picture of a mascot or a go-kart on them."
Harry rolled his eyes. "I didn't say I didn't like them, I… You know what? Who cares, maybe I don't like them, what are you even talking about?!"
Scott shrugged and nudged one foot through the gravel, making an uneven circle. "It's called a Spontaneous Universal Reset. Technically. But nobody calls it that – it's a replay. It's a universe-wide synchronous occurrence triggered by a series of latent events compounded by a more serious geometric error. The shape ceases to properly transform with the time strand and it all comes to a grinding halt, from a relativistic standpoint." Scott once again had the manner of recitation, not comprehension.
"Do you even remember what that means?" Harry pressed.
"Yeah, kinda," Scott said. His high-pitched, defensive tone was an immediate reminder that an eleven-year-old Scott was trying to relate the lessons of his indeterminately-aged memories. His vocal patterns had been varying wildly between the erudite, didactic language of his adult self and the rapid, disordered communications of his very young self.
"Well, just try to explain it," Harry said evenly. He didn't want to provoke his cousin(?). He needed Scott to hold on to a Kharadjai frame of mind.
"Okay, try this – the universe stops. But, why? That's the big question. We could guess that a lot of little things have been going wrong. Eventually, we reach this rare point where it's all perfectly balanced. The universe is teetering between situation normal, and critical failure. It hits a wall."
"Okay, so my destiny sort of stops, right? Riddle can't get me, I can't get him?"
"Something like that. The shape runs right into that dead end – do not pass Go, do not collect two hundred dollars. So it backs up, and takes another run at it." Scott leaned back to look at the stars. He barely seemed to be paying attention to what he was saying. "So the theory goes. We don't understand replays. We don't know why they happen or the precise mechanics of what is happening."
"All right, so you don't know," Harry said impatiently. "But what actually does happen? What does it mean for us?"
"It means reliving your life. Or, at least most of it. It means going back to square one. And it means taking me with you."
"So we have gone back in time," Harry said exultantly.
"No, I said no! It's not going back because all of this reality still exists, it just becomes the past that nobody remembers."
Harry tried to wrap his head around that. "But, I do remember! You do, too! And that means we know what's going to happen."
"Nuh-uh. You didn't do this the first time. I didn't live in a linen closet. Don't you know anything about chaos? Nothing ever happens exactly the same way twice in the real world!" Scott retorted.
That was a disappointing (and frightening) notion. "So we can't fix everything?"
"We can try," Scott hedged. "Anything changed will create different outcomes. But, at the same time, the shape will only allow so much deviation. It may allow even less this time around, since our imprint remains. Like a wheel falling into a rut."
"But maybe not?" Harry insisted.
Scott scrunched up his face. "Maybe, maybe. Could all be rewritten, or replaced. No fate but what we make, unless we already made it. Unless the song remains the same. But revision is not only for homework."
Harry didn't know what to think. He needed time to process, everything had changed in an instant. He wanted to stop talking about the shape, save that for later. Scott had stopped being intelligible, anyway.
He looked down and saw his foot next to Scott's, so much smaller than in his new memories. And the appendage was even smaller than it appeared to be, as Harry was wearing one of Dudley's old shoes, too big for him. It suddenly struck him as almost unbearably weird to be back in his preteen body.
"Look at us!" he remarked, unable to get over it. "We're so… small!"
"Hey, you are small. I'm not small. I'm at least regular-sized," Scott said imperiously. He hopped out of the swing and stood with his arms crossed, visibly straightening his posture to be as tall as possible.
"No way, we're both–"
"SO REGULAR!" Scott boomed, throwing his arms around wildly and jumping in place. "I'M GROWING RIGHT NOW!"
"Shhhhhhh!" Harry tried to shush Scott, but it was difficult through the laughter.
"This sucks though, it really sucks, it SUCKS. Are we not supposed to say that, now? You suck, playground! You suck, moon! You–"
"Scott, be quiet!" Harry squealed. He grabbed Scott's arm and pulled him back towards the swings. "Come on!"
This resulted in a tug of war that ended with them wrestling on the ground and giggling like a couple of twats. When that particular phrase occurred to Harry, it finally served to snap him back into his more mature frame of mind, at least temporarily.
He scampered up and sat back down on the swing, determined not to let Scott run things out of control. They had to remember how to be adults, difficult though it was. "Sit down, we have to think about this!" he said in a voice so high and whinging he almost looked around to see who it came from.
"No! I won't!" Scott declared. "I have to grow! Like this!" He emphasised every short sentence with another jump. "I used to be… a big guy! Girls liked me!"
"Girls never liked you," Harry scoffed.
Scott gave him the nastiest look a preteen could summon. "Yeah they did! I was a big blond sex machine on the highway to Pound Town!"
"Pound Town?!" Harry repeated, and it sounded even more vulgar in his eleven-year old tenor than it had in Scott's.
"You heard me!"
"Just sit down, we have to talk!"
"We just did, I said–"
"Not about the shape, you're full of rubbish anyway," Harry said, gesturing to the swing next to him. Scott was too loud to be running around whilst they talked, he needed to calm down. "We need to decide what to do next."
"Doesn't Hagrid come soon?"
"After Uncle Vernon cracks and takes us to the island," Harry explained. "It's a couple days, yet."
"I wonder what he'll make of me," Scott mused. "Harry Potter isn't supposed to have a cousin."
"So you are my cousin?" Harry had thought that was the case, even though it was technically impossible.
"Not really. The shape has never had to admit that I exist before now. So it created a history based on my relationship to you: some kind of distant cousin. I'm from your dad's side."
"And people will just remember that I had an aunt who isn't real?"
"Or an uncle! It's probably best not to ask a lot of questions, though. Nobody's memories will extend very far. They can take me at face value and 'remember' that I'm your cousin in some capacity, but asking anyone who should have known my parents to reminisce might confuse them. Or, maybe not."
Which created an entirely different question. "Okay, but, and no offence, I've known Ron and Hermione a lot longer. Why aren't they here? Shouldn't Hermione, like, be my sister?"
"They already have families and histories. I'm here because I didn't belong anywhere."
Harry wondered if perhaps he and Scott weren't so alone, then. "You think they remember the… future? Real past?"
Scott shrugged. "I don't know. I guess I could go check."
"Could you?" Harry said eagerly. "Maybe we can find some way to meet before school starts."
They could devise a way to handle Quirrell before he went anywhere near the Stone, and then go from there. With Scott's ability to travel, and Harry's upcoming inheritance, they could start collecting Horcruxes early. Scott could get rid of Riddle Sr.'s bones, make Pettigrew disappear, hell, even assassinate Umbridge. The possibilities were dizzying.
A sudden thought dropped Harry's heart into his stomach. "We
have to get Sirius out of Azkaban. We have to get him out of there, as quick as we can," he said urgently, gripping Scott's arm. He couldn't stand the thought of his godfather being in there for a second longer than necessary.
Scott frowned. "Legally? We can grab Pettigrew for proof and that might spring Sirius. Or, we can do it the hard way. I could talk to Lil."
Harry hesitated. He didn't have much faith in the Ministry to free Sirius even when presented evidence of his innocence. But if they broke Sirius out of Azkaban using Scott and Lila's particular skill sets, then Sirius would be stuck in Grimmauld again, a permanent fugitive.
"…We can try legal first, probably." Harry wanted to think about it some more. "Go see if everyone else remembers things, they'll have some ideas, too."
"We may be on our own," Scott cautioned. "At least until you decide to tell them."
Harry couldn't even imagine how that conversation might go. He fervently hoped that he and Scott were not alone in their remembrance. "Well… Go see."
Scott grimaced. "I don't know if I can work an aperture at this age. Give me a minute."
It took him about twenty to stabilise an aperture, and about ten more to enlarge it to the point he could pass through it. Harry watched Scott struggle with a mixture of impatience and anticipation that left him fidgeting in his seat, unable to be still. When Scott vanished, Harry remained at the playground rather than return to Privet Drive, trying to organise his thoughts. The developments of the day were overwhelming.
He was left with few certainties, and endless possibilities that both tempted and terrified.