Harry realizes that maybe he's not having a nightmare after all.
Harry felt the beginnings of the curse stir within the wand press against his neck, before he even heard the first syllable of the curse leave his supposed father’s lips. He reacted on pure instinct; instinct driven by over two decades of fending for his life. Though he was weaker and scrawnier than he had been in years and his body ached with an ever present pain, he pushed himself into action. Nightmare or something wholly different, he’d be damned if he would sit still and allow himself to be cursed.
His attack was swift. One second James Potter was towering over him, the next he had a hold of the man’s wand arm and was ripping the man’s wand away from him. The curse that was meant for him went crashing into the bedside table and toppled the teetering stack of fiction novels to the floor. Utilizing his entire body and the speed and surprise of his attack to his advantage, he wasted no time in roughly yanking James down towards him, while simultaneously rising to flip the man down against the mattress. The momentum of the maneuver had the man landing on his back on the bed with a heavy thud and an exclamation of alarm. Before James could fully process the change in position, he scrambled atop the man and went for the man’s wand. There was a brief struggle between them, where he ended up elbowed in the face and took a knee to the gut, before he finally wrestled the wand out of the man’s grip.
“Don’t move,” Harry said roughly, upon his victory, and leveled the stolen wand at the man’s face.
James stilled, his breathing somewhat ragged from the fight. His hazel eyes glared up at Harry with unadulterated hatred, as he looked down the end of his own wand to the face of his son and zeroed in on the forming bruise and cut lip that he had caused.
For a tense moment, the two simply stared at each other. However, hurried movement out in the hall quickly alerted Harry to just how precarious his situation remained. Despite now being in possession of a wand, the burst of adrenaline that had surged through him at the start of his attack was waning and his body’s weakness was once again threatening to claim him. He shook with the aftermath of the attack, fresh bouts of pain searing his muscles and bones and coursing white hot through his veins. There would be no way that he’d be able to duel his way out.
Petrificus Totalus! Harry thought with some difficultly, deciding to not even give James the option of moving, and turned his attention towards the still open door. With a few flicks of the wand in his hand, the door slammed shut on those advancing towards the bedroom and sealed closed with the most powerful locking spell that he knew. Another few flicks and the bedroom was warded against all forms of outside intrusion.
Confident that the wards would hold for the moment, Harry returned his attention to man lying frozen beneath him. James’s eyes were narrowed into slits, as the man gazed back him – the man’s eyes accessing and roving over him critically. It was plain to see that the man was calculating his weaknesses, meaning that the man was no doubt aware that he had been physically weakened by their altercation. He didn’t doubt that James could feel the tremors wracking his body. It wasn’t something that he could hide.
“I’m not going to hurt you. I just need time to think,” Harry said, though he did not understand why he even felt the need to give reassurances to the man. The man had just tried to curse him after all. Others had paid with their life for attempting the same.
Without moving from James, Harry allowed himself a brief moment to close his eyes and focus his mind towards reapplying Occlumency against the pain afflicting him. As the pain lessened somewhat, he reluctantly reopened his eyes. With slow and careful movements, he pushed himself up off of James. He stumbled, backing away from the bed on still shaky legs. He only made it a few paces towards the desk, before he was forced to settle himself on the floor, resting against the bookcases to his left.
Ugh! Harry thought silently, as his eyes drifted back closed and he rested his head back against the bookcase behind him. Despite employing Occlumency against the pain, he still felt as though he had repeated suffered the Cruciatus Curse ten times over. He could only hope that pain would recede as it had before. He hadn’t felt so weak and disoriented since escaping Riddle’s dungeons three years ago, upon which he had made it a point to never allow himself to reach such a vulnerable state ever again. Surely, this has got to be a nightmare, he thought fiercely, simply unable and unwilling to believe it to be anything else.
As the minutes passed and his body calmed, the pain tormenting him slowly ebbed and dulled to a manageable thrum. With clear and logical thought returning to him, Harry set his mind to analyzing his current situation. While he did indeed recognize that he was having a nightmare, he had yet to wake from it like he had, upon previous occasions, where he recognized a nightmare for the dream that it was, instead the reality it portrayed itself to be.
What if I can’t wake up? The horrifying thought hit him with crashing force, as he concluded that he had no way of knowing how many floors he might have fallen, after being hit with whatever spell it had been that he had been hit with. For all he knew, he might very well be in St. Mungo’s at the moment, locked within a coma.
Scowling at the idea of being trapped within his own mind, Harry opened his eyes and looked to the nightmare version of James Potter, who was lying stiff as a board on the bed. He knew one thing, if he had to be stuck in a dream, he wasn’t going to sit around and torture himself with what-if’s and could-have-been’s. He knew a whole hell of a lot about the mind and what it took to warp reality within one’s own mind. All it would take was a single thought from him for the dream to change, and change it he would. He had had enough of this particular nightmare, coma or not.
Casting a glance around the room, Harry filled his mind with the image of the Gryffindor Common Room. His eyes drifted back closed, as he recalled the round, stone walls draped in bright red banners, the plush, red armchairs, and the warm, crackling fire that had constantly burned within the great hearth at the far side of the room. He imagined breathing in the scent of oak and once again feeling the homey atmosphere that had always greeted him, upon stepping through the portrait hole. With the image vivid and nearly tangible within his mind, he once more opened his eyes, fully expecting to see the Gryffindor Common Room around him
“No!” Harry said instantly, his protest barely heard by his own ears, as he took in blue walls and wood floors. Nothing had changed! He was still sitting against a bookcase filled with beginner magical theory texts and fiction novels. James Potter was still lying rigid on the twin sized bed in the corner of the room. The wards that he had set were still active and holding off an onslaught of spells, as those outside the bedroom attempted to break in.
If he hadn’t had so much experience with the finer intricacies of the mind, Harry might have been inclined to believe that he simply hadn’t concentrated hard enough on what he wanted or had to say or do something to initiate the change. Thinking that he had just done it wrong, he might have attempted again, maybe even a third time, to change the setting of his ‘dream’. However, he was more than acquainted with the finer intricacies of the mind, and he knew that in a dream, the dreamer was the master and creator of everything that they experience. The dreamer had complete and total control to the point that it did not take great concentration or skill to cause change, even a fleeting thought could warp the dream and make it become something wholly different. He knew without a shred of doubt that his attempt to place the Gryffindor Common Room around him had not failed because he did not put in the proper effort to bring about the change. His attempt had failed because he wasn’t in a dream. He wasn’t inside his mind.
“No, no, no, no, no,” Harry said in refusal and ungracefully pushed himself up off the floor to stand up – though still in pain, his stance was stronger than it had been a few minutes prior. As he stared blank faced at his surroundings, his mind screamed one long NOOO! in denial of what he was seeing, utterly unable to handle the implications of what he had thought to be a nightmare not being a nightmare.
This can’t be real. This cannot be real. Harry chanted inside his mind whilst scanning the bedroom with wide eyes. Everything from the writing desk stacked with third year texts and an unfinished transfiguration essay to the wardrobe filled with plaid shirts and wonky robes to James fucking Potter lying on the bed in the corner of the room took on a whole new meaning. None of it was an invention of his mind, which meant that all of it had to be, in some impossible way, real. Despite every protest and every denial and the fact it made his head spin, everything around him and everything that he had experienced in the last half-hour had been and was real.
Harry let out a slow breath, attempting to calm himself. Panicking, he knew, would get him nowhere. Right, rational thinking, he thought firmly. Okay, fact – I’m not trapped within a nightmare. Additional fact – I’m not being held captive by Death Eaters or an unknown party of similar ill intent, as the James Potter before me is just as much a version of James Potter as my dad ever was. So, if I’m not dreaming and this isn’t some Death Eater trick…
Harry frowned down at his scrawny frame, his too small hands in particular. It would seem that he hadn’t just ‘supposedly’ stepped into another Harry’s life, as he had thought. He had quite literally stepped into the life of a teenage version of himself – a version that, while a bit messed up and, for all appearance, wholly different from himself, was deeply loved by his father and had an entire family with his mother and Sirius and all.
An alternate life…? Harry looked to the living version of his father. Or rather an alternate timeline…possibly one where Voldemort didn’t attack us that Halloween? His hand once again went to his forehead and felt the unblemished skin where his lightning bolt scar should have been. Would that mean that Voldemort chose Neville instead?
Harry’s eyes snapped to the photos that he had been looking at earlier. His gaze zeroed in on a group photo that looked to have been taken at a picnic of some sort. Neville was in the photo with his parents, Frank and Alice Longbottom. Moving slowly, as to not cause himself any more pain than necessary, he crossed over to the shelf of photos and bent down before the photo. In it, Frank was dressed in shorts and a cotton shirt, while Alice was dressed in a pink sundress with her black locks hanging in curls atop her shoulders. Both appeared to be of intact mind and perfectly healthy. They smiled brightly out at the camera, waving. The boy between them, standing slightly to the front, was recognizable enough as Neville. Though the boy was nowhere near as portly as he remembered him being at that age, the boy still had Alice’s round face and Frank’s blond hair.
“Oh, Neville…” Harry gave a despairing sigh, his eyes fixed upon the lightning bolt scar marring the boy’s forehead. From the moment that he had heard the Prophecy seven years ago, he had known with absolute conviction that he would never wish his fate upon any other. To see this alternate Neville marked with the cursed scar that had made his life hell sent his stomach plummeting.
Harry tore his eyes away from the photo and looked to James, fingering the wand still clutched within his hand. He could feel time running out. While his wards remained strong for now, someone on the outside was sure to recognize the warding pattern that he had used soon enough. After all, there were only so many ways to layer wards in a hurry, and whoever was trying to bring down his wards had already exhausted several options. Ten more minutes, tops, he thought with frustration, knowing that he could weave another layer into the wards that would buy him more time, but also knowing that he wouldn’t be able to hide behind his wards indefinitely.
Harry stood, deciding to make the most of the time that he had left. He had a somewhat grasp on his situation, but obtaining further information wouldn’t be remiss. With the wand that he had stolen trained on James, he dismissed the thought of simply taking the information that he wanted from the man’s mind. James, as it would seem, was a civilian…in relative terms. Not to mention, the man was pointedly looking away from him and most likely wouldn’t make willing eye contact with him anytime soon, which meant that to enter the man’s mind a second time, he would have to do so by force. A standard interrogation it is then, Harry thought, taking a few step towards the bed. James showed no inclination of noticing his approach. In fact, the man remained oddly calm.
“I’m going to release the curse,” Harry said, upon stopping at what he thought to be a close, yet still safe distance from James. Getting no response, he turned and summoned the straight backed, wooden chair from its place at the writing desk across the room. He sat down on the chair with his hands resting visibly on his knees. “James, I’d really like for the following conversation to be conducted in a civil manner without further violence between us,” he told the man, while watching the man’s diverted eyes for any sort of reaction to his words. Seeing none, he pressed onward with what he had come to consider standard protocol for an interrogation, when dealing with a ‘friendly’ rather than an enemy. “However, I warn you now that I’m not someone to mess with. Should you chose to force my hand, I will defend myself, albeit reluctantly. Blink twice, if you understand that ill will on my part will only be incited by actions of ill will on your part.”
Though the man kept his eyes averted, James blinked twice.
Finite! Harry thought, aiming the counter-curse at the man. Upon the curse lifting, he returned his hand, still clutching the wand firmly, to his knee and settled to wait for James to fully come around.
James roused from the curse with slow, cautious movements. Looking anywhere but directly at Harry, the man stretched his stiff limbs and hastily corrected his glasses. He sat up and adjusted his awkward position so that he was facing Harry, before fixing his eyes upon a spot just to the right of Harry’s head and placing his hands on his knees in mirror of Harry. He gave a subtle nod, silently indicating for Harry to proceed and that he would comply.
“What is the date – day, month, year, if you will?” Harry asked, watching the man for signs of false pacification.
“It’s the 2nd of July. The year is 1994,” James said plainly.
“Is Voldemort active?” Harry asked, keeping his voice detached and letting no emotion show on his face.
“No, and he hasn’t been for nearly 13 years,” James said, his face blank of emotion and voice just as detached as Harry’s.
Harry nodded, grateful to know that he wouldn’t have to worry about Voldemort on top of everything else. He currently had enough to worry about as it was.
“How old are you?” James asked abruptly, giving Harry pause, as he hadn’t expected the question.
"I'm…I'm 23," Harry said, after taking a moment to consider the question and what he would be agreeing to by answering it truthfully. While it was common practice for an interrogation to remain one sided and for it to be purposefully kept one sided, the Order of the Phoenix had often deemed it more beneficial, when dealing with potential allies, to initiate an exchange of truths. James asking him a question, despite him being the one in charge of the interrogation, was a clear sign that the man was willing to enter what was referred to informally by a majority of the members of the Order of the Phoenix, as a Game of Truths.
"Did Sirius end up with the Black Estate, upon Walburga's death?" Harry asked swiftly. If things went as they usually did with this style of interrogation, the exchange would move rapidly. They both now had incentive to answer the given question as soon as asked, so that they could ask their own question in return.
"Yes," James answered immediately. "What's the last thing you remember?"
“A fellow mercenary and I were in pursuit of an enemy combatant,” Harry said, prepared for a return question this time. “Is 12 Grimmauld Place under any protections other than the ones that Orion Black left upon it?”
“Not that I am aware of. Who were you pursuing?”
“A Death Eater by the name of Draco Malfoy.”
James’s eyes flicked to Harry in recognition, before promptly looking away again.
“Does Sirius or anyone else live at Grimmauld Place?” Harry asked, pressing onward.
“No. Why are so interested in Grimmauld Place?”
“The Black Library is quite extensive. Has the Chamber of Secrets within Hogwarts been opened in recent history?”
“Over a year ago.” James nodded. “Earlier, when you were inside my mind, what were you looking for?”
“A directive. Was a diary recovered from the incident?”
“I couldn’t say. All I know about the incident is that the attacks stopped halfway through the school year. What sort of directive were you looking for?”
“I thought you were an imposter. I was attempting to assess what your orders were and the extent of how much danger I was in. Is the Triwizard Tournament being held at Hogwarts this year?”
“Yes.” James frowned. “Do you often find yourself amongst imposters?”
“More often than I like and probably more often than I think. Is Alastor Moody teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts this year?”
“The post is yet to be filled. Do you know where you are?”
“No,” Harry said reluctantly, not really wanting to admit to James that the man had the upper hand concerning their location, yet unwilling to lie and break the rapport between them. “Where am I?”
“My family’s cottage in Godric’s Hollow,” James said, his lips quirking the slightest bit in acknowledgement of the playing field being leveled once more. “Who trained you in the Mind Arts?”
“Albus Dumbledore taught me the basics. The rest I taught myself. Did you ever place your home under the Fidelius Charm?”
“Yes.” James sighed. “How old were you, when you first began learning the Mind Arts?”
“Fifteen. Who was your Secret Keeper?”
“Sirius Black. Why did Albus elect to teach a fifteen year old highly complicated, borderline Dark Magic?”
“It was essential to my health and to the safety of those around me that I learned,” Harry said, despite still reeling from the revelation that Sirius had been Secret Keeper for the Potters of this alternate timeline. He would have to think on the implications later. “Did you ever consider switching Secret Keepers?”
“No. What year were you born?”
“1980. Does the public believe Voldemort to be dead?”
“Yes. Is my family significant to you in some way?”
“Sort of,” Harry said cautiously. “Was Neville the one to vanquish Voldemort?”
“Yes and no. Did you attend Hogwarts?”
“Yes. What do you mean by yes and no?”
“Augusta Longbottom willing gave her life for Neville, providing Neville with a strong protection. Voldemort’s curse rebounded off of the protection, when he attempted to kill Neville, and killed him instead. Where do you live?”
“London.” Grimmauld Place to be specific, Harry added in his mind. “Was there a prophecy made that predicts Voldemort’s defeat?”
“Yes,” James said somewhat hesitantly. “What do you know of it?”
“The exact wording, yet possibly next nothing at all,” Harry said, after taking a second to carefully considering his answer. “Was the Philosopher’s Stone housed within Hogwarts the 1991-1992 school year?”
“I don’t believe so. How did you come to know the wording of the prophecy?”
“Albus Dumbledore shared the prophecy’s full contents with me, after I lost someone dear to me in an attempt to protect it. Did one Quirinus Quirrell ever teach Defense Against the Dark Arts at Hogwarts?”
“No, though he did teach Muggle Studies at one point in time. Who did you lose in protecting the prophecy?”
“My godfather. Has anyone attempted to break into Gringotts within the last decade?”
“A few years ago.” James nodded. “How close of a relationship do you have to Albus?”
“I’d say that he viewed me as a cross between a surrogate grandson and a means to an end. Was the perpetrator caught?”
“No. Why did you choose the life of a mercenary?”
“I didn’t choose it. It chose me. Did the perpetrator manage to steal anything?”
“No. The vault had been emptied earlier in the week. How old were you, when you became a mercenary?”
“11, essentially, though I didn’t start getting paid until I was 19. Are you still friends with Peter Pettigrew?”
“No.” James lowered his eyes to the floor, sadness and remorse plainly visible on his face. “Have you’ve killed someone in full knowledge that your actions would result in the other person’s death?”
“Yes.” Harry said detachedly, while wondering at the man’s reaction to his question about Pettigrew. “Have you?”
James briefly looked up at Harry, before quickly looking away again. A tense moment passed between them. “With great regret afterwards, yes, I have. How old were you the first time you knowingly took a life?”
“11, in self-defense.” Harry wetted his lips in anticipation of the answer to his next question. “Why aren’t you friends with Pettigrew?”
“It’s difficult to remain friends with a dead man.” James’s tone was hard, a clear warning to drop the subject. “Where were your parents, when you were forced to kill at the age of eleven?”
“Dead. Was Barty Crouch Jr. ever convicted of being a Death Eater?”
“Yes. How is my family significant to you?”
“Pass, ask a different question,” Harry said. He wasn’t ready to give his name just yet. Not to mention, he didn’t think James was ready to know who he was just yet either.
“No,” James said firmly.
“Ask a dif–” Harry cut off, feeling a sudden flare in his wards.
“You were saying?” James looked to Harry with a knowing light in his eyes.
Harry ignored the man, instead focusing on a plan of action. He had maybe a minute before his wards ended up completely ripped to shreds.
“I can help you, you know?” James said seriously.
“Doubt it,” Harry muttered, while racking his brain for how best to approach the coming situation. Resisting would probably be a bad idea, he thought, despite not liking the alternative of submission. However, in his current state, he didn’t have a whole hell of a lot of options. It would be resist or surrender, and he was fairly certain that both would end with the same result – him captured at wand point.
“Harry, return my wand, and I’ll be able to help you,” James said, holding out his hand expectantly and actually looking at Harry.
“I’m not your son.” Harry shook his head dismissively.
“Maybe not,” James said, his choice of words and the way that he said them causing Harry to look back at him. There was something in the man’s eyes that suggested that he knew more than he was letting on.
As James held his gaze, Harry couldn’t help but wonder what exact it was that the man thought that he knew. With such freely given eye contact, he was sorely tempted to find out. However, entering the man’s mind without permission a second time seemed an unwise move on his part.
“Just trust me, all right? Trust me that I can help you.” James spoke softly, his hand still held out expectantly and sincerity practically radiating off of him, just begging Harry to trust him.
Harry surveyed the man critically whilst thinking that the man obviously had practice at gaining people’s trust. He wouldn’t have initiated a Game of Truths, if he hadn’t, he realized belatedly and, as he looked into the man’s hazel eyes, realized that he could already feel a tentative bond of trust between them, one that had been cultivated with each truth that they had just exchanged. Slowly, deciding that if he were to surrender to anyone it would be to James, he lent forward and placed the wand in the man’s open hand.
The words had no more than left James’s lips, when the bedroom door flew open with a bang.