disclaimer=standard

Anything you recognise belongs to JK or George. Anything else probably belongs to them too.

/disclaimer

o_ooo000ooo_o

Previously:

Despite the advantages I have, there are times that I do regret my poor study habits. Were I even able to learn, remember and plan a quarter as well as my studious school friend, I'd not find myself caught up in the most inconvenient situations.

Like the one today.

Chapter 2

It had taken me nine long weeks to track down my target. I only managed to catch up to her after following her blood-stained, corpse-littered trail through Paris, Berlin, Osaka, Hong Kong, Melbourne, Singapore, Rome and back through Paris again. Ironically, I was only a few hundred miles away from the starting point of my journey. I felt a bit like Filius Fogg.

Fifty yards away stood the most dangerous witch in Britain, with the exception of an enraged Molly Weasley. I don't mean that in a derogatory sense, as it actually was an enraged Molly Weasley who first took the bitch down. Unfortunately, Bellatrix had followed closely to her master's footsteps, and had created her own horcrux. I'd found and destroyed it years ago (for some reason, splitting your soul seems to screw the part of your brain that calculates risk. Both Tommy Junior and Bellatrix were skilled magic wielders, but Crabbe and Goyle could have picked better hiding places.)

Unfortunately, I destroyed her soul anchor a week after she'd possessed another witch. Too late to prevent her 'resurrection'.

That possession had worked rather better than Quirrell-mort. The pair had fused together almost seamlessly.

I can't imagine that Bellatrix chose Millicent Bulstrode for aesthetic reasons. But my old classmate was physically imposing; and with a witch of Bellatrix's skill commanding the magic, she was a formidable foe.

Even so, I doubted that she could take me on in a straight up fight. As powerful as she was, I had too many advantages. It was her thirteen allies that gave me pause. I'd sent a Patronus to the Aurors for assistance. Knowing their usual response time, I'd best get comfortable.

As I observed Bella-cint (or Milli-trix?), I absently let my wand fall from its wrist holster into my waiting hand, before silently willing it to return. It was a habit I'd developed while on my stakeouts; I didn't even think about it now. It was a silent habit; one I had no pressing need to break.

Despite crouching in a bunch of dew-dappled heather, shivering in the frigid breeze and covered in mud, I decided then and there that I loved Scotland. When you spend the happiest times of your childhood almost exclusively in one place, you tend to develop a certain fondness. Sure, the weather could be better. And the regional dialects can be a mite difficult to comprehend with an untrained ear. And don't get me started on the local gastronomic preferences. But the country is absolutely sodding beautiful; some parts wild and untamed, others sedate and calm. It is an intensely magical place, with leys spread all over the landscape like a London roadmap. There are stone circles everywhere; erected back when local shamans needed all the help they could get in their constant wars with every other neighbouring shaman. Even Hogwarts has a couple of simple nine-point stone circles; set up for NEWT level Arithmancy and Runes students to run their homework projects on.

The stone circle in front of me was one of only a handful that still sat at the intersection of a pair of primary leys, or what muggles call ley lines. It's these lines of power that boost the output of rituals performed in a circle. Unfortunately, they aren't permanent. Geological changes anywhere in the world can and do change the path and strength of the leys, which in turn can seriously screw with a circle's potential amplification.

One druidic coven a while back spent a couple of million man-hours quarrying, transporting, carving, erecting and aligning a massive stone circle at an unprecedented six-way junction of primary leys on the Salisbury Plain. They got exactly one solstice ritual out of it before an earthquake off the coast of Iceland turned the spot into a literal dead-magic zone. Now it's a muggle tourist trap and the punch line of wizarding jokes all over the world. A significant fraction of the crowd watching muggles dress up as druids and act out the winter solstice sunrise ritual are magical folk there to laugh themselves stupid at the sight.

Now, I know what a real magical ritual looks like.

Admittedly, my knowledge comes from muggle literature and movies rather than magical textbooks. I didn't do Arithmancy at Hogwarts, and my Ancient Runes expertise comes from spending some of my free time picking up pointers from a trio of insane Gringotts Curse Breakers. But to my mind, anyone, with or without a magical education, would be able to deduce that fourteen chanting people positioned around a Scottish stone circle painted with a veritable abattoir's worth of spilled entrails did not suggest something positive.

I know what a magical ritual does.

Well, that's not quite accurate. I know how powerful magical rituals can be. The rituals themselves can accomplish almost anything; they just need the right materials, circle design and spell-work. Given that the number of benign rituals that require blood is pretty small, I really didn't want to see the ritual in front of me succeed.

I knew that it had to be stopped.

Unfortunately, when the ritual reaches the point where the chanting volume and tempo become loud and fast respectively, there isn't a great deal of time left to wait for backup to arrive. You don't even have time to leaf through old textbooks for answers on stopping it safely. The ability to speed read can only help so much.

Now, I'm sure that the ritual could probably have been nullified by having seven naked virgins recite the Lord's Prayer in three-part harmony, or something similarly ridiculous. The problem was the sudden appearance of a horrible looking tear in the fabric of reality in the centre of the circle.

The birth of a purple-edged tesseract however meant the time for research and planning was about a month or two back. And let's face it, even if I had the requisite number of virgins on hand, they'd probably have taken one look at the vision of hell beyond the vortex, given up, and started looking for someone to remove their qualification for shutting down the ritual in the first place before the entire world blew up.

Sod it; I was put in Gryffindor for a reason.

Despite their power, or perhaps because of it, rituals are pretty fragile things. Especially once the number of participants gets above seven or so. The more power running through the circle, the more people you need to channel it. I figured that since Bellatrix was standing in the middle of the circle just next to the gaping portal, it was a reasonable bet that I could enter the circle without being turned into a pile of goo. I rose from my position of cover amid the damp heather and made a dash for it.

Even with the Elder Wand in hand, I wasn't going to get into a battle with fourteen magic users. My highest probability for success was to snatch Bellatrix from the middle of the ritual without being seen. Let the rest of the buggers deal with the uncontrolled dimensional rift.

The thirteen witches and wizard that made up the perimeter of the circle didn't notice my disillusioned form. I passed between two at a dead run, only to feel the circle's threshold shatter. It felt like I'd just belly-flopped into a pool of molasses. I was still running, but through a magical field thick enough to make it look as though I was moving in slow motion. The rip caused by my passing flared into a cascading backlash that arced its way around the circumference of the stone circle, flooding each chanting wizard with enough raw power to cause their bodies to explode in showers of gore. With the possible exception of the pair I'd run between, I don't think any of them had any inkling of the danger before they painted the Scottish countryside with their intestines.

Getting hit by the odd human rib was not originally on my list of things to do today, but sometimes you just have to take whatever the universe decides to throw your way.

The fact that a baker's dozen worth of people assisting the Death Eater had just shuffled violently off the mortal coil did not bother me. Not when I was now running in slow motion through the middle of a collapsing magical ritual.

Ah well, this course of action was not so much a good idea as a necessary one.

Bellatrix, who up until a few seconds ago had presumably hoped to use the tear between dimensions to gather a substantial amount of magical power, screamed as the polluted energies thundered around us. Despite her rage and agony, she showed considerable presence of mind and pulled out a golden pendant on a chain. With trembling hands, she began turning a tiny gear.

I swore as I recognised the time-turner. I was not going to be left behind, holding the metaphorical bag. I lunged through the thick air, hands outstretched. I grabbed a hold of the dark witch's hair and screamed my emergency portkey's activation phrase just as the circle flashed a brilliant white.

The last thing I thought as the ritual's containment failed was, this is going to hurt.

The stones in the circle shattered.

My portkey pulled.

The time-turner turned.

The magic split the world.


After an eternal instant of both nothing and everything, my first conscious thought was, I was right.

Anyone who's been the unfortunate recipient of a Cruciatus Curse from someone of, say, Tom Riddle Junior's skill, knows a bit about pain. More than a bit in fact.

This pain wasn't anywhere near that level, but it still felt like someone had spent a few minutes whacking me all over with a golf club, before taking a cricket bat to my gonads. I really felt a desperate need to curl up and suffer in silence, but my burning lungs insisted that I do something about the fact that my head was under water.

I arched my back and broke the surface, gulping in a deep breath of sweet, sweet air. Lungs temporarily sated, my testes reasserted their prior claim. I curled up under the water again and let out a scream. Bubbles filled with the sound of my agony caressed my cheeks as they rose to the surface of the water.

Once I'd emptied my lungs, I again pulled my head out of the water, thrashing through the pain with my arms to locate something to grab on to. My questing hands found a stone ledge, which I gripped tightly before noting a couple of things that had escaped me for the past few pain-filled moments.

One, the water was only waist deep. I'd been thrashing about in a pond I could easily stand in, had it not been for my aching nuts.

And two, I had an audience.

At least thirty people were arrayed around me, some apparently unconscious on the hard stone floor, most watching me with almost identical expressions of shock. Normally in a muggle setting, my dark cloak and grey-green basilisk-hide clothing looked as out of place as a nudist at a papal coronation. I had imbued the cloak with my own customised variant of the Notice-Me-Not charm to help overcome that. But I wasn't all that dissimilarly dressed as my audience. From pre-school children to blue-veined ancients, all wore sandy robes over tunics and trousers. As my eyes flicked over them, scanning for threats, I noticed that they weren't all human.

And not just not-human. Some weren't even humanoid.

Still, I had a centaur for a professor for part of my fifth year; I could keep a straight face when looking at… at a face with three eye-tipped tentacles.

Focus, Potter!

With the painful throbbing slowly fading, I placed both palms on the ledge and hauled my sodden body out of the fountain. I swung my legs out of the water and onto the tiled floor. I stood, but it was too soon. The world tilted and I fell, hitting the side of my head on the ledge. Pinpricks of light swirled in my vision. On that basis, I decided to delay standing for a moment. I pushed myself into a crawling position, still trembling from the memory of that pain. I touched the side of my head, noting that my fingers came away tinged red with diluted blood.

Since I was more or less relegated to being on my hands and knees until the spinning stopped, I settled on a breathing exercise I'd learned in Japan to help focus the mind. Several figures trotted closer, babbling in a language I'd never heard before.

I slowly pushed myself upright, until I was standing on my knees. My mind became more capable of processing the situation. Time to gather some more information.

"Where am I?" I asked.

My question seemed to stump them. I watched as nearly all the conscious people in the room shared baffled glances with each other.

"Does anyone speak English? No? Er, Français? No? Deutsch? Er, Nihongo?"

Not a one of them, apparently. In all honesty, I'm capable of asking for little more than a cup of tea and directions to the nearest loo in the last three. There's only so much you can learn from thirty seconds with a phrase book. But it's amazing how many problems seem less insurmountable with an empty bladder and a hot cuppa.

A tall chap with grey skin and short horns sprouting in various directions all around his face stepped forward, pulling a white cloth from his robe. He offered it to me, pointing to the side of my head. He spoke, but I couldn't understand a single syllable. "Do you speak Basic?"

I shrugged and accepted the offering, placing it over my wound. None of the figures seemed hostile. Or even aggressive. They mostly seemed… curious, though a couple of the smaller kids were half-hiding behind an adult. The horny chap spoke again in that odd language, but over his shoulder. "Please fetch a protocol droid, youngling." A short figure ran out a nearby doorway.

As the fog in my mind faded, I noticed that several of the younger-looking members of my audience were tending to the prostrate figures. I felt a sensation of déjà vu; I just knew that I was going to be blamed for all this.

I rose to my feet, forcing my body to obey. I was mostly successful, swaying only slightly. Grey hands gripped my shoulders, supporting without restraining.

"I should go," I said, looking for an exit, and picking one that the child hadn't disappeared through. Reinforcements were probably going to come from that direction. "Excuse me," I offered, trying to disentangle myself.

"You should rest, you are injured," the alien said, his tone of voice soft and comforting.

I gently but firmly removed the being's hands from my shoulders. "Excuse me," I repeated, a bit more forcefully. I don't know why I was being polite. I could have been swearing at them like a pirate for all they understood me.

Oddly, the fellow with the horns didn't make a further move to physically restrain me; he simply held up his hands and muttered something else I didn't hear and wouldn't understand if I had. I took three steps towards the nearest door when a clanking noise drew my attention.

I think my jaw dropped open. A bloody robot walked through the other door, escorted by a humanoid child with orange skin and what looked like coloured bone plates framing her face. Where the hell was I?

When the hell was I?

The robot was built along human lines, with a familiar number of heads, limbs and eyes, but there was no nose and its mouth was simply a small, immovable slot. The arms looked to be bent at a fixed angle, and the shuffling gait of short, rapid steps looked almost comical. It strode up to me and gave a small bow.

"Greetings, I am See Five Are Eight Two, human cyborg relations."

I blinked. The bloody thing talked. I didn't understand it any more than the horned chap, but still, the robot sounded… alive.

"He doesn't appear to speak Basic," Horny spoke to the robot.

This caused the robot to start speaking all sorts of wildly different languages. Some were barked, some were whistled, and a few even sounded like they were made of music. But I couldn't understand a single one.

I shook my head. "Sorry, I don't understand. Do you speak English?"

The robot paused, tilted its head to one side, and tapped its chest with one, er, hand. "See Five Are Eight Two," it said slowly.

I swallowed, and tapped my chest. "Er, Harry."

The robot gave another small bow. "Er Harry."

I sighed and shook my head. "Just Harry." My eyes flickered around the large room. "Where am I?" I asked.

The robot lazily waved a permanently bent arm around in a wide arc. "Jedi Temple, Harry."

Okay, this was getting surreal. My ears were still ringing from the blow to my temple and I could feel the blood pounding in my head. The pain in my nuts was still there, and I was surrounded by what looked like the results of the Department of Mysteries' experiments.

The robot said something else to me, but I couldn't focus. This was all wrong. I shouldn't be here. I needed to get out!

I waved my hand absently, and pushed my way towards the doorway. A few individuals followed, babbling in their language at me. Even the rapid, small-stepped, mechanical clanking of the robot followed along, comically trying to keep up.

Unthinkingly, I broke into a slow, staggering run.

The massive arched windows along the corridor let in massive amounts of light, but they were set high up on the walls, preventing me from seeing out. I found myself squinting, half covering my eyes with my forearm. I would have tried apparating, except that in my current condition I'd no doubt end up in St. Mungo's as a splinching victim.

I almost fell over a couple of times as I ran. Dizzy spells washed over me, but I kept on going.

I don't know how long I ran through the building; no one tried to stop me, but they sure as hell stopped and stared. Eventually, I found myself in a massive hallway, with thick stone pillars supporting an arched roof. Open doors at the far end let in so much light I was momentarily blinded. It looked like the entrance to paradise.

I staggered through those enormous doors, finding myself not in heaven, but at the top of a huge flight of stone stairs. The sky was bright with glare, so I covered my eyes with my arm and stared down at my feet. I descended the long staircase into a densely populated plaza. My eyes grew accustomed to the light, and I dropped my arm. I clutched my cloak around me even more tightly, my mind awhirl.

Was this happening? Had I been drugged? I turned to look at the building I'd exited.

It was sodding huge. I couldn't grasp the dimensions at first. The stone steps that had seemed to go on forever were tiny compared to the building's sheer scale. It loomed out of the ground like an edifice to the ultimate religion. It looked to be a cross between a cube and a pyramid, with acutely sloping sides that reached into the sky, suddenly truncated. Out of the top rose some towers, each taller than the tallest building I'd ever seen.

Such engineering feats did little to calm my scattered mind.

I moved away from the building, almost running, searching for something - anything - familiar. I passed people, robots and aliens alike; seeing, but not registering. My vision doubled for brief periods, but always returned to focus. There was still nothing that looked like home.

I don't know how long I wandered. The continuing dizzy spells stopped me briefly in my tracks, but once they passed, I continued on my futile quest. I couldn't read anything, it was all hieroglyphs. I couldn't speak with anyone; all I got were puzzled expressions.

I bumped into a figure, bouncing off his bulk. A face out of a horror movie regarded me. I'd have kept going, but the alien pointing at my head and spoke some indecipherable words.

I shook my head. He tapped the side of his own face and asked something again.

Involuntarily, I raised a hand and touched my face. A piercing pain accompanied the touch. Rather than the clear sweat I'd expected, my fingers came away crimson. I was still bleeding.

Maybe my little bump on the head wasn't so little after all? Was all this a hallucination brought on by head trauma?

Well, time spent with Madam Pomfrey had taught me a lot about being prepared for healing. As I turned and stumbled away, moving almost on its own volition, my left hand dropped to my belt. I eased a vial out of its sheath and lifted it to my lips.

This specific healing draught was directed at head wounds, aiding in the recovery from concussions and other skull trauma. As usual, the taste made me shudder. But the concussive fog that surrounded my thoughts burned away, leaving me clear-headed for the first time in what felt like a century.

Unfortunately, the scene before me did not change.

I took a deep breath. I noted smells both familiar and alien. With clearer thoughts and sharper vision, I examined my surroundings, looking for safe havens, exits and threats. I wiped the blood away from my temple with a handkerchief still damp from my earlier dunking.

I needed somewhere I could sit and think; somewhere safe. I glanced around, looking at the flow of pedestrians. Where did most of them appear to be going?


Sometimes it doesn't pay to follow the crowd. Popular does not mean good.

The flow of humanity (and all too many other -ities to count) led me to a popular hangout. It looked like a Japanese nightclub, full of strobing lights, thumping music, distressing yet unfamiliar smells and bizarrely dressed patrons. But there were a couple of empty booths here and there, and a lot of peopl... beings walking around. There was a certain tension in the air, but several tiny aliens wandered between the drinkers without fear, so I moved further in and looked around for a place to sit.

I walked slowly, carefully, between the cheering and dancing. There were tables set up all over the place, where all sorts sat and appeared to gamble on various complex games of chance. I tried to keep my distance, but arguments and disagreements seemed to happen every other minute. One erupted behind me, and I was shoved from behind. I bumped into a creature sitting at a table and apparently gambling. My stumble sent his cards and winnings spilling across the table.

It got to its feet with a roar, and turned to face me.

That is one sodding big lizard, I thought as the creature rose to its full height. I couldn't make out its expression – well, I couldn't recognise its expression. A mouth that was a semi-circle of sharp teeth sort of captures the attention, but doesn't tend to reveal much about the owner's intentions. But it was the eyes that truly worried me. The eyes of a Hungarian Horntail are full of animal cunning, but the eyes over this mouth were full of human cunning.

The lizard-man pulled something sleek and black from its belt and pointed it directly between my eyes.

Reflexes sharpened by years of duelling and Quidditch had me reacting instantly. My left hand arced up and pushed the weapon up and to one side as my head jerked to the right. My right hand rose up to the creature's belly, the Elder Wand already in my fingers.

My silent, point-blank reducto curse tore through the creature's body, creating an explosive, narrow cone of reptilian xenobiology directly behind it. A fraction of a second later, the weapon in the lizard's hand discharged; a flash of scarlet light in my peripheral vision. I felt the barrel warm under my grasp and a wash of heat near my left ear. In my mind's eye, I could imagine the hair on my temple shrivelling.

My assailant's body, unsupported due to the sudden absence of several vertebrae, collapsed. Bonelessly, so to speak.

Silence reigned.

Chapter 3

I recognised the scene. I'd been in it often enough.

I was the outsider. The outsider who'd just killed someone belonging to the 'in-crowd'. Everyone nearby had expected me to be dead, and were shocked into silence that I'd not gone along with the script. The pervasive stillness was fragile, and wouldn't last long. Even if the lizard-man had been universally loathed, I was still the interloper, and would need to pay the price for the death. If I ran, I'd be attacked. If I stayed, I'd be attacked. Either way, I was a dead wizard.

AN: A big thank you to my reviewers - EgyLynx, Darak, Hacksaw Bill, DobbyElfLord, Kaylen Cooper, pax-draconix, god of all, George17 and Guest. Please sign in if you'd like a response.