"By taking part in the Universal Objective and
befriending those who are closest to it, the
integrationist is implicitly accepting the trials
that go hand in hand. That much is expected.
Less so is the understanding which can evade
the inexperienced integrationist until it is too
late: It is easy to forget that trials take many
forms, and often those that are most damaging
are not corporeal. All integrationists must accept
that they are to put their physical well being at
risk in lieu of their Primes. But they must also
be willing to risk themselves emotionally."
–You Must Be More: The Combat Corps. Primare's
Path to Probationary Integration
It hadn't taken Scott too long to establish an aperture. Perhaps their current estrangement from reality made such things easier.
They were looking at an impossible window in the trunk of the vast tree, behind which was some sort of blank grey interior. Harry knew it wasn't a real aperture. Regardless, he couldn't help but be a little enthused at the prospect of entering one. He'd wondered what it would be like ever since Scott had appeared at the cliff edge by the sea, above Riddle's cave.
"Transversal Station," Scott said, gazing at his work. "Where you need, when you need it. Or, as we say in the army, 'where you need, when they get around to it'."
"Is there anything we need to know before we go through this?" Hermione asked.
Scott shook his head. "You're not a Kharadjai, so, no. Whether or not this works depends on how accurate an emulation this is."
Hermione blew out a breath. "I suppose we're about to find out. Shall I go first?"
She approached the aperture with obvious trepidation. When she stood mere inches from it, she slowly lifted her hand and made as if to push it through. She paused just before her palm met the opening. "This doesn't hurt, does it?" she said nervously.
Scott rolled his eyes. "It's a hole. There's nothing to hurt you."
"But there are no protective edges at all, it's impossibly thin, won't it cut right through me if I touch the sides?"
"No. The edge is in the tree, you'll just bump into the tree."
"The tree is uneven, not perfectly vertical, there are plenty of spots where the aperture doesn't meet it–"
"Just go through!" Scott barked irritably.
She glared back at him. "I don't want to lose a hand, I was making certain! You don't need to shout at me for being cautious!"
Anywhere else, at most other times, Harry would likely have found their argument amusing. But there was a sharper edge to it than usual, an undercurrent of deeper distemper. "I'll just go," he said quickly. Without stopping for any confirmation, he tucked his arms in, lowered his head, and stepped through the aperture.
There was no sensation at all in moving through. No tingling of energy, no strange sounds. He felt the ambient temperature change, and that was it. It was no different than stepping through any other door. He was slightly disappointed by how anticlimactic the experience was.
On the other hand, it was about a thousand times more pleasant than Apparating.
He found himself in a hallway that was remarkable only for its length. It seemed to stretch on in both directions until his vision failed him. The air was cool and tasted filtered, vaguely antiseptic. There was a subdued rumble humming distantly through the walls and floor, and the metal doors lining the sides were unmarked. It made him wonder how anyone was able to know where they were going. Each door looked exactly the same as the rest.
"These should be on."
Harry jumped a little when Scott suddenly spoke next to him – he'd been leaning down to look at a small rectangular plate next to the nearest door. The raised plate was segmented into even smaller rectangles, each of which seemed to be slightly textured. Behind him, he saw that the aperture was gone and everyone had come through. "What should?"
"The emitters." Scott tapped a finger against the rectangle. "There are also ones at the ceiling with directions and door numbers. Don't know why it's all dark."
Harry had no idea, and he was about to say so when an incredibly loud buzzing sound ripped through the air and nearly startled him out of his skin – it took him a second to realise it was a siren. There was a humming noise that seemed to cut right through his sinuses, rattling his teeth, and two shimmering walls of unknown energy appeared at both sides of the hall, isolating the group. They were trapped.
"What is this?" Ginny exclaimed, her voice high with alarm.
"Hold on, hooold on–" Scott muttered. He approached the nearest sparking field and slammed his fist twice against the wall next to the buzzing edge. "Hey!"
The projection of a person appeared from nowhere, floating in front of the dancing blockade. It was a pale man with carefully parted hair and a round, friendly face, who seemed to be behind some sort of desk or console. "Sorry, Primare, but the system's telling me you've got four unsanctioned para-baselines and you're still contaminated. You gotta come through the grid, Scott, you know that!"
"I've been through the grid, Gus!" Scott said impatiently. "Everyone here is cleared with NSV status and we're clean as a whistle, this is the fuckin' server again. Restart the database and recheck, Zhubin said you'd have to do it manually with the NSVs when they come through Central instead of P-Sector."
A short pause. "…Okay, I'm seeing it," Gus said with a note of apology. "I'll get those off for you. You need a lift?"
"No, we're all right. Have a good one."
The energy walls disappeared and the infernal humming ceased. The hall seemed unnaturally silent when the noise faded.
Scott broke the quiet with a triumphant chuckle. "I can't believe that worked. You were right," he said to Hermione.
She blinked. "About?"
"Our level of control. That was complete horseshit I just fed to faux-Gus. The system is centralised and updates automatically for all sectors. And you can't bring NSVs through Central, nobody does that." Scott frowned, and glanced at the ceiling. "The safety gates didn't come down, either. Good thing you didn't touch the field."
The 'field' had been a bright, seething array of energy and had sounded like a live wire, the loud, deadly droning being the opposite of inviting. Touching the damn thing had not been one of Harry's impulses.
"Do tell us if there's anything else we shouldn't touch," Hermione said.
"Well, don't cause any serious structural damage and you won't trigger the active countermeasures. I think you can handle that." Scott bent down near one of the blank emitters. After a few seconds, he backed away with an expression of disgust. "None of this is working. I know I've been moving through here, but there's no indication this time. You think this is the same dream, or a new one?"
"I can't think of any way to be absolutely certain," Hermione admitted. "That said, perhaps it would be a different dream if we went somewhere we are all familiar with? I should think this would still be yours."
"We're all familiar with Grimmauld and we want that to be the real one." Scott sighed. "I don't even know how I bypassed the box. We should have come out in the room behind the door, not the door itself."
"Why do you need one of these doors to be the correct one? You're aware this is a dream, just make your own," Hermione pointed out.
"My nebulous control. I'm worried that if I make my own aperture I'm just creating an expansion to this dream, which this seems to be."
"There shouldn't be any dreams left to move to…"
"Yeah, but if this last aperture took us to a dream version of the Transferral, why wouldn't the next one take us to a dream version of Grimmauld?"
Hermione's mouth thinned. "If your control is the key, all of this doubt can't be helping."
"Oh, so I just have to believe."
"If you have a better idea, I am waiting to hear it!"
Harry was aware that everyone was very much on edge, but he wasn't going to allow Hermione and Scott to start squabbling. "Hey!" He stepped between them. "This is the last time for a row, full stop. You two are the ones most likely to work this out and we all know it, so stop having a go at each other and start thinking."
Ginny stepped next to Harry and crossed her arms in a show of solidarity. Ron contributed by tugging Hermione back further away from Scott, letting her lean into him.
"I'm not going to work this out. I don't know what's happening or how to stop it," Hermione said quietly, defeated.
"Same boat," Scott grunted, avoiding her eyes. He turned away, took a few steps down the hall, stopped, and whirled back around on his heel. "Are we not cool?"
"The fight we had, before the wedding."
Hermione was clearly startled. "Well, we… we did talk about it. Briefly. And you apologised, I believe."
"No, I didn't. Not directly. I weaselled out of it like a little shit." Scott went silent for a moment, face blank, perhaps deciding what words to use (or how much to reveal). "The Minister called me 'boy'. My old man used to call me that, and it pisses me off. Between that and decorating for a wedding my fuckwad teen-self didn't give a crap about, I was agitated, and I took it out on you. You didn't deserve it, and I'm sorry."
"I appreciate your explanation, and I accept your apology,"
Hermione said formally. Then her mouth turned downwards, and she said, "And I apologise for slapping you. Regardless of what you said, I did not have the right to strike you."
"I accept your apology. And I also have an idea."
Hermione looked relieved, though that may have had as much to do with the sudden end of such an awkward moment as it did Scott's revelation. "Do you?"
"Last time I went through here, there was a door marked to take me to Ron. None of these," he waved his hand at the blank doorways, "are active, but if there's another dream, there might be another doorway. We need to check the directory."
"All right, then let's go," Harry said, wanting to get moving. As far as he was concerned, doing something was better than standing around and debating whether there was anything that could be done.
They followed Scott as he turned and began walking. The doors all looked the same, but he seemed to know where he was going. As they went, Ginny moved to walk closer to Harry.
"I've never been anywhere like this," she remarked.
"None of us have, except for Scott," Harry replied.
"Really? I thought this was a Muggle sort of place," she said.
That made Harry smile, his first one in what felt like forever. "A Muggle sort? What sort is that?"
"You know…" She indicated the entirety of the hall with a vague hand motion. "All metal-ly, with no lamps. And weird-smelling air."
The 'Transferral' (Transversal? Scott had said both) was definitely quite the contrast to the usual wizarding surrounds. But Harry had also never seen anything quite like it in the Muggle world… Not that he had seen all that much of the Muggle world, either. "Not exactly. I think this is all Kharadjai."
Scott led them to an open doorway on the left side of the corridor; it had been recessed into the wall, unnoticed until they came upon it. At the top of a short ramp was an odd, unpainted metal entrance that didn't look like a part of the hallway itself, but rather some sort of dock, attached with a clamping system. It granted access to what Harry guessed was the interior of a conveyance, a nondescript box with about ten seats, arranged around the sides of the rectangular space. It was like being on a much smaller Tube. All of the seats had a harness system, but Scott sat down without using his, so Harry followed suit.
He regretted it a moment later when Scott said, "Primarius Sector Central," and the lift slid into motion with such rapid acceleration that Harry nearly smacked his head on the back of his seat.
"Straighten up, bobblehead," Scott said, having probably forgone a warning for his own amusement.
After another jolt in a different direction, Hermione asked, "Are we moving horizontally?"
"See for yourself." Scott tapped something on the wall and sections of the car which had been opaque became windows (Harry watched it happen, but couldn't tell how it worked). There wasn't much to see outside. They were moving so quickly that the surroundings were nothing but a blur of alternating light and dark.
"How bloody fast are we going?" Ron marvelled.
Scott shrugged. "We won't reach top speed in the interior. Not for this trip. There's not really anything to see unless you're on the exterior."
"This doesn't strike me as being especially aerodynamic," Hermione observed, looking around the rectangular room.
"There's no atmosphere outside the car. Or gravity." Scott glanced out at the passing blur. "Nothing but a whole lot of infrastructure."
Hermione went stiff with pure excitement. "Are we in space?!" she gasped.
"No. You're in a dream."
"…That is true," she murmured, subsiding.
"Closest I'll ever be," Harry assumed. "Too bad we can't see anything."
Scott nodded. "Short trip, though."
The sound of the lift began to change, indicating deceleration. Soon there came a quiet clanking as the clamps re-engaged, and the door slid open by itself. They filed out into a short hall that looked more or less like the one they had just left.
"The lifts here don't talk to you," Scott said as he walked. He had a familiar spring to his step that had been missing even just minutes before. He gestured like a tour guide, perhaps pleased to be, for once, in his territory, and not theirs (even if they weren't, really). "Usually they're all chatty with arrivals and departures and targeted advertising. That's in the public sectors. Here, they keep everything quiet and expect you to know where you're going."
The brief hall emptied out in a larger room with a higher ceiling. There was a row of several lift entrances lining the longest side of the room, and a large, curved metal desk at the centre of it. When Scott had spoken of 'Central' as if it were some manner of front office, Harry had expected something more welcoming than the blank halls. Instead, the Primarius hub was as severe and utilitarian as the rest of the Transferral they had seen, with uncomfortable-looking chairs that were bolted to the floor, and unadorned metal fixtures and stairways. There were coloured lines on the walls and floor, apparently as guidelines to different areas. One wider doorway had large block letters over it in red, reading, 'QUARTERMASTER'. It looked more or less like what Harry would have imagined a military base might look like.
"I thought Central would be bigger," Harry said.
"This isn't Central. This is Primarius Sector Central," Scott corrected. "Central is the main floor for civilian traffic."
Ron looked around the empty room. "Yeah, this is a little less than lively."
"It's so weird being in here when it's quiet like this," Scott mused. He approached a wall upon which many of the rectangular emitters were fixed, waving his hand in front of each of them in turn. He received no response.
"There's a light behind the desk," Ginny said, pointing towards it.
Scott hurried over to it. "This is the front terminal. I'm not supposed to use this." He paused. "…Who's gonna stop me?"
Several screens came to life in front of him, glowing in the air. There seemed to be at least some level of solidity to them, despite their projected nature, because Scott's fingers didn't pass through as he pressed on them. Harry knew he could ask for an explanation, but he was equally aware that he wouldn't understand any of it. He accepted the screens and the rest of Transversal Station the same way he had accepted all the other magic he'd witnessed (though he knew that Scott would probably throw a fit if Harry called the screens 'magic').
"Oh, God, it's good to be using something with an interface again," Scott said, apparently to no one in particular. "So tired of fucking quills. Hmm-hmm-hmmmm okay – P-sector directory, active only, one match… What?"
"What is it?" Hermione had been attempting to read over his shoulder but, given how fast Scott was moving through screens, Harry doubted she'd been successful.
"Only one active aperture. Period." Scott pointed to the projection. "No designation, no OP tag, no timer, no usage entries. It's called, 'Next'. Just 'Next', that's it. Is this still me? Because, if so, my brain is stupid."
"Can we get there?"
"Yeah, we can get there, I just don't like the implication– down!"
Harry was startled, unprepared; he'd been looking intently at the screens, doing his best to decipher the lettering (it was English, but it looked like most things were marked with abbreviations and acronyms), when Scott had barked out his sudden order. One of the lift doors across from the desk was opening with a steely rumble, revealing several raised gun barrels. Harry didn't get the chance to react. Ginny threw her arms around his shoulders and dragged him to the ground behind the desk before he fully understood what was happening.
"Stay down," Scott told them quietly. He'd drawn a handgun, suddenly armed. Harry couldn't remember if the Kharadjai had been carrying a gun in the previous dream.
Harry felt Ginny's heart beating with fright against his back as they listened to the booted footsteps of the unknown enemies spreading out, taking positions along the widest edge of the room.
"Intruders behind the desk!" a man shouted out once the sounds of movement had ceased. "Identify yourselves!"
Scott's face creased into an outraged glare. "PRIMARIUS CAPTAIN SCOTT KHARAN, 1-776-998!" he roared back. "AND YOU HAD BETTER HAVE A GODDAMN GOOD REASON FOR POINTING A WEAPON AT ME, T-SEC!"
A nervous pause. "…Come out unarmed, sir, so we can verify!"
Scott shoved his pistol towards Hermione, who blanched, but took it from him with hesitant hands. He hopped up onto his feet, turning his glare onto the soldiers. "Name?" he snapped.
"Sergeant David Green," the man replied in a calmer tone, revealing an accent that Harry couldn't even begin to place.
"Who's your commanding officer?"
"Lieutenant Fernett, sir, but we were told–"
"I don't care what you were told," Scott said bluntly, overriding the Sergeant. "I'm moving my NSVs and stopped by the directory when you come stomping in here like it's fucking raid-day, scaring the shit out of my Primes. Why are you scaring the shit out my Primes, Sergeant?"
"We had a report that there were some unauthorised–"
"Do I look unauthorised to you? Is a Primarius Captain unauthorised to be in P-sector?"
"No, sir, this must have been a misunderstanding."
"That's right. So you need– get your fucking finger off that trigger, Security Officer!" Scott snapped at a different man, making the hapless guard jump back. "You need to go back to the Lieutenant and explain this fuck up. You agree?"
"Yes, sir," the sergeant
said. He was attempting to maintain a rigid expression, but the relief that came with his dismissal was obvious enough.
"Report to Lieutenant Fernett," Scott said with a note of finality, and the guards filed back into the lift.
Slowly, Harry and the rest stood, not entirely sure what had just happened. "Are we all right?" Ron said. "Or should I keep hiding, because I don't really mind it, at this point."
Harry nudged Ginny with his shoulder and gave her a small grin. "Nice tackle, Gin."
"Did you like that?" she said with an answering smile.
Hermione held the gun out away from herself in one hand, barrel dangling towards the floor. "Please take this back," she said urgently.
Scott reached over and obliged, tucking the weapon back into its holster. "Back to the lift, guys. It's not too far from there."
"It's fortunate that they recognised you," Hermione commented as they followed their previous path back.
"They didn't. T-Sec can confirm my identity with my serial number, facial recognition and biometrics. Or, that's what the real T-Sec would do. Maybe this time they took my word for it." Scott appeared to be amused by the idea.
"Or maybe they did recognise you, being creations of your memory," Hermione countered.
"I've never seen those people before. Now, Fernett, I have met her at least once. So who knows. T-Sec isn't even supposed to come over here. The Primarius handles its own sector, we don't need cops. If there had been actual staff around, there would have been some friction."
"You do strike me as being territorial," Hermione remarked.
"Me?" Scott said innocently. "I'm the soul of cooperation compared to Major Heidi. She treats T-Sec like dog shit."
After a second short ride on the multi-directional lift, they were deposited in yet another identical hallway. Harry supposed it was an efficient design, but he felt like he was going in circles. The architectural repetition would have been disorienting and dreamlike even if it weren't actually a dream. Perhaps the emitters, had they been functioning, would have added much needed context and colour to the halls.
"This is it, by my count," Scott said, stopping in front of a door exactly like all the others. He waved his hand at the emitter and it sprang to life, casting a single glowing word: NEXT.
"Not 'home', or, 'exit'… Just, 'next'," Hermione said with a small sigh.
"It's not what we wanted. But any progress has to be better than none," Harry said, making a deliberate attempt to be encouraging instead of expressing his own thoughts on the matter. He knew that was something he needed to work on.
"We're all right bloody here," Ron said with frustration. "Who could still be dreaming?"
Scott tilted his head in consideration. "Well, worst case is the dreams are layered, and everywhere we've been so far has actually just been my dream in which I've created my conception of what you guys would have been dreaming."
"That doesn't make any sense," Ginny said, wrinkling her nose with confusion.
"Maybe you just don't understand."
"That's not what I meant!" she said, frowning at him. "It doesn't make sense based on the dreams. You weren't even there when I saw Harry at breakfast, how would you know anything about it?"
"She's right, that had to be hers if it matches to her memory," Hermione argued.
Scott nodded, conceding the point. "Okay, so maybe the diadem has its own dream."
"That doesn't make sense either, why would it trap itself?" Ginny said.
"Okay, so maybe someone else got caught with us when the spell hit."
"Sophie and Kylie were all the way upstairs… But, we don't know how far this spell could reach…" Hermione said worriedly.
"No… I don't think so," Harry said, mulling it over. "The locket didn't do anything to them."
Scott nodded again. "Okay, so maybe–"
"Look, we're just going to have to go through," Harry said, interrupting Scott's apparently endless litany of possibilities.
Scott already had his gun out. He tapped the emitter screen and the door slid open, revealing a featureless aperture. "You know, you're supposed to be able to see through these. I've never seen an aperture that actually looked like something."
Harry hoped there was something on the other side, and he wasn't about to step into non-existence. "Here I go–" he began, only for his words to end with a strangled exhalation when Scott pulled him forcefully back by his shirt collar.
"Allow me, Mr Priority One," Scott said. He stuck his head through the aperture. After a moment, he withdrew with a slight frown on his face.
"Well?" Hermione prompted. "Is it safe?"
"The aperture, yes. The location… See for yourself."
Harry didn't like the sound of that. "Can't you just tell us?"
"You're just, you're killing the drama, man. You're killing it," Scott sighed.
"I guess I'm just boring, sometimes."
Scott gave him one more disapproving look, but said, "It's Godric's Hollow. Or at least part of it."
"The Hollow?" Harry repeated, confused. He looked at the others, but they all seemed to be as perplexed as he. "Why would that be…?"
"It can't be Sophie or Kylie, then, they've never been there," Ginny said.
"Ahh, door of mystery. Why are you so mysterious?" Scott said, shaking his head at the aperture.
Hermione face twisted with apprehension. "It's not a possibility I'm pleased to consider, but… What if one of us isn't real?"
They all stared at her – save for Scott, who shrugged nonchalantly. "What if two or three of us aren't real? What if none of you are real?" he said, somehow unperturbed by that concept. "I could be talking to myself right now."
"Then let's prove it. Ask me something," Ron said.
Scott rolled his eyes. "It would prove nothing. You could all share some private memories that only you would know, and I would have no way of knowing whether or not they actually happened. Any memories we already share are in my head or your head and therefore meaningless if our heads are being accessed."
Ron grimaced. "Well… You're Horcrux-proof, sort of, so if anyone's real then it's probably you. Don't tell me if I'm not. I'd rather not know. Ignorance is bliss, and all that rot."
"The shape isn't quite what it's supposed to be, but it's telling me you're real, even if it's not telling me much else. And maybe that's just because our lines are the only thing being properly rendered from memory, easy and familiar, but you know what? It doesn't matter. We might as well pretend we're sure, because this is happening." Scott raised his handgun. "Few second delay, move fast and spread out. You know how this goes."
They did, unfortunately. Harry sort of wished he hadn't become familiar with the frisson of terror, adrenaline and exhilaration that rushed through him as he tensed, waiting to spring through the aperture. It was so similar to the feeling that came just before the start of a Quidditch match, except the game had never engendered the same dread. It was a sensation that somehow made all the others so much more intense, an added layer of madness and consequence, a thrilling fear. He thought he understood how Scott could do such things for a living.
Scott shot through the aperture; seconds later, Harry followed. He found himself outside, standing in a street in Godric's Hollow beneath a starry night sky. The wind was cold and burned his throat, which had become accustomed to the mild, recycled climate of the Transferral. It was dark in the Hollow, dark enough that moon seemed glaring. The village looked lifeless. None of the street lamps were on, and all the houses were unlit.
Save for one. They had emerged right in front of the Potter cottage, its windows glowing with soft candle light. Harry stared at it. The cottage was intact, the upper storey unbroken, the front garden neatly trimmed. It was a sight he had witnessed only in photographs. He shivered in the biting air, trying to make sense of it.
"Thoughts?" Scott said quietly, gun at the ready as he scanned the shadowed surrounds.
"One or two, but I reckon you want something useful," Ron replied, blinking as his eyes adjusted.
"Get off the street," Scott ordered, vaulting over the garden wall. The rest of them just used the gate, which wasn't locked.
More secure in a position of cover, Harry leaned against the low stone wall and tried to arrange his thoughts. If anyone's dream involved the Hollow, it would logically have been his own. But, he'd already been through his dream. Was the diadem creating new scenarios for them to move into, divested from any one person's memories? It was awful to think that the dreamscape might stretch out before them into eternity, renewing itself whenever needed, granting only false progression. They could wander forever if every new step was built in front of them.
Hermione was examining the cottage. "We're clearly meant to go in," she said, indicating the rest of the dark and silent village.
"It's a trap," Harry assumed.
"All of the dreams were traps. But if the last one was for Scott, perhaps we've circled all the way around and this one is for you, again," Hermione said.
Harry frowned. "Odd choice. I've only been here once, and the memory isn't even all that bad, everyone got out all right… Or sort of all right." He jerked his head in Scott's direction.
"Might be a dream for all of us," Ron suggested.
"It didn't look like this when we were there," Harry said. "That's not my memory."
"Mine, neither," Ron agreed. "House is in one piece and it's bloody cold out. I guess that's halfway an improvement."
"Don't get too attached to
the idea of memory. Scott's dream was a bit of a jumble," Hermione pointed out.
Ron shrugged. "But that's him, yeah? None of the rest of us are absolute nutters like that, 'cept maybe Harry, but not in a way that helps."
Harry rubbed his hands against his trousers, trying to get some warmth through friction. "Come on, you lot – one way or another, we're going inside. We'll ice over out here."
In the moonlight, Ginny was as pale as a ghost. "Don't go in there, Harry," she said tightly.
He looked to her, bewildered. "What?"
Her expression was hard to decipher in the darkness, but he thought it was something close to horror. "Don't you know when this is?"
He found himself at a loss. "No one does… It's a dream."
She pointed at one of the houses across the street. Harry peered over the wall, trying to spot what she was indicating. The moon beams that streaked through the parted clouds lit upon the front walk, where he could see the distinct, lumpy shape of a carved pumpkin. Which explained the weather, as they were only common during…
It was Halloween.
The feelings that assailed him were too many and too simultaneous to be processed. He didn't know exactly what was happening, how it was happening, or even how he felt about it, but he made a conscious decision that, ultimately, it didn't matter. It did not matter. If his dead parents were inside the house, then he maybe he would fall apart then; but, until that moment came, he was finished with being confused and terrified. Enough was enough.
"We are not going to discuss this," he said fiercely when Hermione began to part her lips, making her recoil. "We are going into the cottage, and we are going to get out of this dream."
Ginny's expression tightened, and Harry knew she was probably worried about his state of mind, but, fortunately, she held her peace. Ron might have been, too, but after what felt like an eternity trapped in nightmares most everyone's default countenance was some version of worried, so it wasn't obvious. Scott's face gave away nothing, as was usual in such situations.
"Check the windows, I'll take the top," Scott said shortly.
Harry moved forward with Ginny at his side, peering into the front window through cold glass as Scott leapt up the front of the building and hung from a first storey windowsill by his fingertips. There was very little light inside, but from what Harry could see the room was empty. He stared at the chairs and short tables; picture frames adorned the graffiti-free walls and a fire flickered in the hearth. He pulled his head back, refusing to fall into nostalgic regret. Everything he could see was long dead and buried and he should remember that.
"Looks empty," Ginny whispered.
Harry nodded and put his back to the window, letting Ginny keep an eye on the interior whilst he watched the street. Ron and Hermione scurried back from the opposite window; overhead, Scott had clambered onto the roof.
"There's no one in there," Ron reported. "We went to the side and the kitchen's empty, too."
"Give Scott a moment," Harry said. He huddled a bit closer to Ginny's back and wrapped his arms around himself. "Try to stay warm, we might have to run."
It was a minute or so before Scott fell lightly from the roof, landing with a soft thud on the grass. "Nobody in the master bedroom or hallway. I can't see into the bathroom, and the curtains are drawn in Harry's room," he told them. "How do you want to do this?"
Harry thought about that for a moment. Rushing seemed like the best solution, at first, but he didn't think they could all get up the stairs fast enough. If there was someone inside, they were most likely in Harry's old room. If they somehow didn't hear the door being kicked open, they'd hear the footsteps in the stairwell.
"Let's go up quietly, if we can," he said.
Scott placed his fingers on the doorknob. "…I don't feel anything." He stepped aside for Hermione.
"There aren't any protections," she confirmed a moment later. "I believe it's already unlocked."
Harry knew there should also have been a Fidelius over the cottage. Perhaps it had broken when Voldemort's spell had rebounded and the cottage was ravaged, but that obviously hadn't happened yet. The timeline seemed wrong, according to what Harry knew of that night. But, it was just a dream, after all. It could hardly be counted upon to be accurate.
The door swung open smoothly when Scott went through. Harry studied his surroundings with as much detachment as he was able to maintain, comparing them to what he remembered of their destroyed version. It was hard to equate the bare, vandalised ruins he had passed through with the well-furnished home he stood in. Some part of him had been afraid that his father's body might be present, left lying where he had tried to stop the intruding Dark Lord. But they encountered no one, alive or dead.
They followed Scott up the stairs, trying to step as silently as they were able. Harry remembered the stairs being extremely creaky when he had last gone up them, but that had been after years of neglect. They were much sturdier in their past state. After a quick pause outside the master bedroom in which Scott checked the loo (Harry peeked inside the bedroom, but didn't allow himself to linger), they gathered outside the closed door to Harry's room.
Scott made the hand signal that Harry was pretty sure indicated the command to breach and clear. Harry aligned himself with the doorway as they had practised. Scott braced himself, and kicked in the door.
They sprinted forward as the door swung all the way open, smashing against the inside wall. Scott moved left, Harry shouldered aside the rebounding door and brought his wand to bear, looking for targets. There was only one.
Voldemort stood in front of the cot.
Time seemed to slow. Scott was traversing his weapon, the barrel inching its way toward the centre of the room. Harry felt his lips move, tried to form Expelliarmus, knowing that if he could take Riddle's wand away or even just stun him for half a second, Scott might put a shot in him, might swing the odds in their favour long enough to escape. Harry heard Hermione shouting something, felt Ron's footsteps pound on the floor behind him. Red light glared brightly in the corner of his eye, someone's Stunner.
Then he realised that time hadn't seemed to slow – it was slowing. He felt as if he were moving through sand, his arms wouldn't cooperate; he could feel his own momentum and was unable to alter it. He had the sensation of falling. His wand floated upwards with a snail's pace no matter how hard his muscles strained. He watched as Scott rotated towards Voldemort like a leaf gently twisting in the breeze.
The lights began to fade; the Stunner disappeared. Voldemort's robe melted into the spreading blackness, leaving his pale head levitating against the dark. Then that, too, vanished, and the sounds that had become deep and roaring faded as well.
Then, there was nothing.