"Come on, sleepy! You can't lie there forever, you know!" said a soft teasing voice, right over his ear. There was a brief pause. "I'm serious, Potter, move it, or I'll tip you out!" The voice sounded amused now.
Harry couldn't work out who it could be. It seemed familiar to him, but not sounding that, well, intimate.
He stretched in his four poster and rolled over, intending to tell whichever of his dorm mates it was that was winding him up to get stuffed, when he finally managed to get his eyes open.
He rubbed his bleary eyes and stared about him. Then he rubbed them again and tried not to stare. There was a girl standing at the side of the bed, looking down at him and grinning. She was either naked or wearing something very fitted. While he was staring stupidly she spoke again. Harry quickly shut his eyes. Where had the headache come from?
"Right! Don't say I didn't warn you!" Her voice held a hint of laughter. Harry felt the blankets ripped back and the sudden coolness of the air on his skin intimated that he was naked as well. Harry snatched out blindly to cover himself up and caught an intriguing handful of warm flesh that he released very quickly before he got himself hexed into the hospital wing.
The girl giggled and his belly fluttered at the low sound.
"Oh, you want to play, do you?" Harry coloured up when her warm lips lingered over his very familiarly. He grew hot, felt very flustered and wanted to shove her off, but was nervous about where his hands might land. She giggled and before he could curl up in embarrassment, he felt her weight settle half over him. She was surprisingly heavy, soft and smelled vaguely of flowers. She was playing with the hair above his ears and had set his scalp tingling.
He risked a peep through his eyelashes and was so startled by what he saw his eyes flew open without him thinking about it first.
"Ginny?" he blurted. "What the bloody hell are you doing…in…here?" He looked around.
He wasn't lying in a four poster bed. This wasn't Gryffindor Tower. He looked up suspiciously into Ginny's face smiling above him.
"What's going on? Where am I?" he demanded, unable to keep a note of panic out of his voice as he pushed up onto his elbows. This wasn't right! He wasn't meant to be here! "Who are you?" He groped under the pillow for his wand.
Ginny stared back at him, her amusement being slowly replaced by polite confusion and then understanding.
"What are you wittering about? I told you you'd had too much to drink last night, but oh no, you wouldn't listen to me. I'm only your wife after all."
Harry's insides burst into flame. He couldn't shift his gaze as Ginny pushed herself up and finger combed her hair into a ponytail, which she twisted into a neat bun and secured with a clip. The freckles that dotted her face so appealingly confettied over a lot of the rest of her. He tried to discipline his unruly eyes, but he seemed to have lost his brain's controlling connection to them and they wandered freely over her slender curves, just annoyingly out of focus.
She walked to a darker space in the pale wall and looked back at him. "Well? Are you coming in with me or not?"
This was too much for Harry; he fell back into his pillow, covered his face with his hands and yelled out desperately, "WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?"
Soft steps came back to the bed and the mattress dipped as she sat beside him. "I told you, you drank too much at the party yesterday. Come and get in the shower," she said reasonably. "It'll make you feel better and then we'll get some breakfast in you. I refuse to give you any potion without food to buffer it."
"Party?" Harry repeated weakly, behind his hands. Surely he'd remember a party where he'd got blatted?
"Mm hm, your twenty-fourth birthday party," she agreed tolerantly.
Icy prickles were sliding down his spine and his hands dropped from shielding his face. Twenty-four? That wasn't right, he was seventeen and a half. He opened his eyes again and kept them resolutely on Ginny's face. She did look slightly older, her body (Shift your eyes, Potter!) and face was softer, more rounded.
"Mrs Potter, Miss?" Harry's eyes darted to the door. That high squeaky sound could only belong to a House Elf. He was right, it was Winky -how did he know that?
"I has bathed the twins, Miss, and they is ready for you," she said proudly and then she saw Harry was awake. "Good morning, Master Harry Potter, Sir." She dropped him a curtsey.
Harry's eyes widened until he resembled a house elf himself. Twenty-four? Married to Ginny? Twins?
No way! He was seventeen and a half! He was still at school! He was fighting Voldemort!
He shoved his hands into his hair and yelled at the top of his voice. "Aaarrghh!"
"Harry! Harry!" Hands were shaking him roughly and the gruff voices around him were hazy with sleep. Someone was screaming… The second he realised it was him,Harry shut up and sucked in a cool breath over his raw throat.
"For God's sake, mate!" came a familiar soft brogue.
"Shut it, Finnegan! He can't help his nightmares!" Ron's voice said loyally.
Sitting up in his bed, Harry carefully peeped through the cracks in his fingers before he took them away. He saw his dorm in Gryffindor tower and Ron's anxious face watching him. He shuddered and dropped his hands onto his covers feeling relieved. He'd been dreaming…so why had it felt so real?
"Was it just a nightmare, or, y'know?" Ron asked awkwardly. Harry could feel his best friend watching him intently. "It certainly looked like a bad one. I've been shaking you for ages but you were really out of it."
Harry read concern in Ron's blue eyes and he shivered again. Why was he so cold? The window was open a crack and a cool breeze was playing over his back. Where was his pyjama shirt? Come to that, where were his pyjama trousers? This was very bizarre.
"Ron," Harry began in an urgent undertone, "How old am I?" Ron's face creased in confusion. "Just answer the question," Harry said made impatient by nausea.
"Seventeen and a bit. Why?"
Harry motioned him nearer and in a conspiratorial mutter began to outline his dream to his friend. "I was in the future, I was twenty-four and married and-"
Ron began to grin. "I get the picture mate. You don't have to tell me any more."
"Sod off!" Harry fumed knowing immediately what Ron was implying. "It wasn't like that, it felt real!"
"Lucky you! The best ones always do," Ron sniggered knowingly.
Harry resisted the impulse to hit the youngest Weasley male. "Will you put a sock in it and listen!" he barked. Ron sobered and windmilled his hand, indicating Harry should spill it.
"I wasn't here, in Gryffindor Tower… I was in a house I've never seen. My wife," Harry stumbled over the word and Ron started to smile again. "Told me I'd drank too much at my twenty-fourth birthday party yesterday. Then Winky came in and said the twins were ready for her and-"
Ron's smile had broadened while Harry had been talking and he started to chuckle, his broad shoulders shaking. "Twins eh? Does it run in your family as well?"
Harry's expression tightened and he got ready to defend himself. "Dunno, but it runs in yours. I was married to Ginny."
Instead of the fist in the mouth he expected Ron fell about laughing and Harry felt irritated. It wasn't that unbelievable! Ginny was a wonderful girl who would make someone the luckiest man alive one day, with her caring ways.
Ron mastered himself and clapped Harry on the shoulder as he wiped his eyes with his free hand.
"Oh Harry! I wouldn't let Patty hear you talking like that."
The icy fingers began to clutch at Harry's spine again. Patty? Who the hell was she? Ron must have interpreted his incredulity correctly because he clarified his statement.
"Parvati Patil. Your girlfriend?"
"What?" Harry sat frozen and exclaimed in pure shock. "She is not my girlfriend!" he denied hotly, feeling his face heat up at the thought.
Ron laughed harder and climbed back into his own four poster. Harry heard him beating the pillows.
"Yeah right! That's why she was on your knee half last night in the common-room, taking your tonsils out with her tongue?"
"What?!" Harry yelped loudly. He scrubbed his hands through his hair. Why did he have no memory of these things? His nausea increased and his head began to pound. He fell back into his bed to the sound of Ron's hearty amusement at his expense.
"Married to Ginny! That's a good one! She doesn't even fancy you!"
"You get your eyes off my girlfriend, Potter!" Neville called sleepily across the dorm.
Harry sat up abruptly, ignoring his darkening sight. "Your girlfriend? But, but… you're going out with Luna!"
It was Ron's turn to sit up abruptly. "He'd better not have his eyes on my girlfriend!" he said as he glared at Neville with a hint of threat.
The words were out of Harry's mouth before he had even thought to run them past his internal censor.
"Don't be stupid! You've been crazy for Hermione practically since first year!"
Ron coloured slightly and wriggled his bum in the mattress. "What? The little Ravenclaw know-it-all? Please!" The other boys erupted with suggestive hooting at the conflict between Ron's words and his body language. Harry had drawn a startled breath to add another question when Ron held up a hand to forestall it.
"Look, let's try and get some sleep, can we? Long day tomorrow."
The hangings enclosed each young man back in his own little velvet world until only Harry was left. He drew the gap closed and where he lay shivering, eyes closed, Harry accepted the only solution his overworked mind could come up with that fitted all the facts.
He had lost his marbles; he was bonkers, mental, loopy, crazy, wacko, nuts, out of his tree, two Sickles short of a Galleon, INSANE!
The darkness inside his bed smothered him and Harry was falling….
Lighter than air…
"He's been drifting in and out of consciousness, Mrs Potter, it was a bad fall."
"Thank you, Madame Pomfrey, I'll be quiet. I'm used to bedside vigils." There was slight resignation in the gentle voice.
There was the sound of a soft scrape of a chair being drawn closer to the bed and a cool hand took hold of his own while another eased his hair out of his closed eyes.
"Oh, Harry, you're definitely your father's son! Same reckless disregard for your own safety." She sounded tired and her words had a little quiver suggesting the speaker was holding tears in check. Her cool hands continued to touch his cheek soothingly.
Harry shifted slightly and couldn't suppress a whimper when a sharp pain ran down his body from the crown of his head, his neck, spine and the backs of both of legs. Not the hospital wing again! What had he done now?
"Does it hurt, caraid? I'm afraid this is one time mummy can't make it better."
Oh God! Harry thought, struggling to get his leaden eyes open, but they might have been glued shut for all the progress he made. This cannot be happening! His head was pounding again.
A door burst open and heavier footsteps ran across to where he was lying. Harry felt each one jar in his burning spine and was grateful when they stopped. Someone was gasping for breath.
"Is he alright, Lills?" a man's deeper voice demanded anxiously. Another larger hand picked up Harry's left one, a hand still wearing a Quidditch glove. "Has he spoken yet? How far did he fall?"
"Who told you?"
"Dumbledore apparated to the ground and I just knew."
"But, James…the Game?"
"Bollocks to it!" the new speaker said vehemently. "He's more important to me than a bloody Quidditch cup. Tell me what happened."
"One of the opposition Beaters threatened and then tried to hex one of Harry's Chasers and he flew to intervene. Took it in the back of the head and fell fifty feet."
"Harry… son, we have got to talk about this mile-wide stripe of nobility you've got," his father's voice muttered. He sounded both proud and distressed.
Harry felt violently sick, but not from the injury, whatever it might be. This couldn't be real! His parents were dead, murdered by Voldemort when he was fifteen months old! Yet he was consumed by the need to get his eyes open and see their faces and speak to them.
He concentrated his entire will on opening his heavy eyelids. It was like trying to lift a house.
"Mum, Dad?" he ground out, but it came out as an indecipherable grunt. The two adults both reacted and held his hands more tightly.
"We're here son, just lie still. Professor Dumbledore is bringing a Shaolin healer. Try not to move your head, okay? Squeeze my hand if you understand me."
Harry tried and James yelped. "He moved his fingers! He can hear us! Thank Gryffindor!" he added fervently and there was the sound of a kiss. "He'll be alright, love! It will be fine." It was debatable whether James Potter implied it had better be, or else…
Harry fought his reluctant eyelids as though his life depended on it and renewed his effort when he caught a sliver of bright light arrowing in between his eyelashes.
A sharp intake of breath. "What is it, caraid?" Was there a hint of Gaelic in her accent?
"Open my eyes for me."
"Whadde say? I didn't catch it?" James whispered frantically. But Harry felt delicate fingers ease his eyes open and his mother's face swam into focus. Her long red hair was loose about her shoulders, just the way he remembered from the Mirror of Erised, and her pretty green eyes were full of tears.
"Is that better, my treasure?" Harry filled with bittersweet tears and feasted on his mother's face. She looked older now, not quite so carefree as she did in his wizarding photo album. His tears leaked over her fingers and down the side of his face.
"I love you, Mum," he whispered and she pressed her quivering lips together to stop herself crying overtly. She leaned closer, kissed his cheek and gave a funny giggle, "You forgot to shave this morning, young man!"
James came into sight, but he was out of focus. "The healer's here mate, soon have you on your feet now." The hand on his shoulder was warm and solid. Harry tried to tell his father he loved him too, but Lily had let go of his eyes and he felt himself drifting….
Fainter than a ghost…
Something was tickling the end of his nose and he swatted at it drowsily. His body was heavy and warm; he felt the annoyance return and wrinkled his nose.
Somewhere close by, a boy snorted and muttered, "She'll kill you!"
"No, she won't. Not Harriet," came the confidant reply and Harry felt his heart and stomach swop places. He wasn't called Harriet! That was a girl's name! Whoa -wasn't that…the feminine version of…Harry?
Oh God! Please NO! Anything but that! Harry sat up abruptly and snatched at the piece of long grass hovering over his nose again. "Get stuffed!" he snapped.
"Told you!" the boy remarked with a snigger.
Harry stared up into the face of his tormentor and while the blue eyes were familiar, the face wasn't so angular and the loose red hair longer.
"Ron?" he said in absolute disbelief, staring at the tall curvy girl kneeling slightly to one side of him.
"Oh yes? And just who is Ron? Don't let Tony find out about you daydreaming about another boy!"
"Tony?" Harry repeated stupidly. Did 'Ron' mean Anthony Goldstein, the Ravenclaw? What had he got to do with it?
'Ron' sighed the way Hermione did when he was being thick. "Yes, Tony, your boyfriend," she explained patiently.
"I haven't got a boyfriend!" Harry spluttered, "I'm not like that! I'm not some girl!" he finished hotly.
'Ron' heaved another marked sigh and rooted in his bag. After a minute he made a pleased noise and produced a small hand mirror that he dangled before Harry's face.
"I hate to break it to you, but you were definitely female in the baths this morning. You've got a hole in your left stocking, by the way. Just above your knee, did you know?"
Close at hand, a boy's voice was suggesting that Madame Pomfrey ought to check out Harriet's brain a bit more thoroughly next time she fell off her broomstick.
Holding the mirror with trembling fingers, Harry stared at his dancing reflection and his heart began to pound and race. It was his face, and yet it wasn't. The eyes were the same shape and colour but they were outlined with some kind of make-up and his cheeks were smooth with a fine down instead of the under shadowing of shaved beard.
His hands holding the mirror had longer nails, carefully rounded and buffed to a shine. Involuntarily he dropped his eyes and made an odd noise when he found his chest had a bust instead, complete with shiny prefect badge. He went to touch it, just to assure himself it was attached to him and snatched his hand back at the last minute. He did not want to be touching a breast that was attached to him. That would be way too weird!
His eyes wandered on down his altered body. He was showing quite a lot of his legs and even they seemed to be a different shape than they used to be. He struggled himself upright and tugged his skirt down until it pulled around his waist but couldn't make it cover up as much as he would have liked.
"What is wrong with you today?" 'Ron' asked curiously. She leaned closer as Harry flipped his robe over to conceal his legs. "You're not due, are you?"
Harry gaped at his best friend and coloured up hotly when he worked out what Ron meant. He was still spluttering assorted denials when the final member of the trio leaned over and said it was time to go back in.
"Hermione?" Harry couldn't believe his eyes. 'Hermione' didn't seem to notice the slip. She was wearing trousers, like he should be doing. She was much taller than he recalled, her voice was a lot lower too, her hair was short in a very boyish cut and she looked like she needed the services of a good barber.
"Come on you two, before that slimy git tries to take points off us again. Just look the other way and let me belt him next time, Harriet, please?" 'Ron' was trying to get 'Hermione' to relax the fist he'd made and Harry couldn't make sense of it. Hermione was always the one saying that violence accomplished nothing. She never wanted to hit anyone, well except Malfoy, but that seemed perfectly reasonable to Harry. He frequently felt like decking the pale Slytherin.
He stared between his two friends and nearly had his shoulder wrenched out when 'Hermione' pulled him to his feet as if he was no more than a rag doll. He allowed them to drag him away to the entrance hall and caught sight of 'Ginny' jogging past. She was in trousers too, much taller and more masculine somehow. She flashed him a mischievous grin over her shoulder and Harry felt his heart thump extra hard.
"My brother still fancies you," 'Ron' giggled and 'Hermione' snorted.
"Yeah well, he should have got in before Tony then, shouldn't he? Dozy pillock," Hermione added under her breath.
Harry felt something brush familiarly over his behind and whirled round, hand raised, ready to slap. Shouldn't that be a fist, ready to punch? he thought and found himself being embraced by a pale blonde-headed boy.
Bile rose up to his throat and the slap landed resoundingly on the offender's cheek.
"Sod off, Malfoy!" Harry spat and his hand covered his mouth in horror when the head came up and Anthony was wincing at him.
"I say! You've got the wrong person." He was rubbing his stinging cheek and a large part of Harry was upset. He found himself leaning over and pressing his lips to Tony's cheek, saying he was sorry. A small detached part of him was screaming to know what the bloody hell was going on! With his eyes closed, Harry felt as though something inside him was fluttering to escape the heavy prison of earth-bound clay…
Harry sat up and found he was lying on a swinging hammock that appeared to be made from a sheep's fleece. The whole thing swayed alarmingly at his least movement and threatened to tip him out, so he swung his legs carefully over the side and slid his bare feet to the floor.
The floor was cool, but not unpleasantly so and covered with a mosaic of many beautifully executed images in the smallest tesserae Harry had ever seen. He wandered about picking out pictures he understood from history lessons at Muggle primary school. When he looked up, he found he was facing an archway and moved cautiously towards it. He dipped his hand in his robes for his wand and his heart speeded up when he couldn't find it.
Over the rhythmical clack of a piece of machinery Harry heard someone call to him. He looked around.
"Come through, Harry James Potter. You have no need of your wand here. No one will threaten you."
Uneasily and still on guard, Harry risked a quick look round the corner of the arch and caught a glimpse of two women, both of whom were working.
He took a deep breath and walked in to where they were sitting. They weren't old, yet they didn't give the impression of youth either.
"Who are you? Where am I? What's going on?" The questions tumbled out before he had time to censor them.
The woman seated at the loom looked up from separating the threads with the fingers of one hand and smiled at him. Harry didn't feel reassured by the gesture; he felt on edge and unaccountably weary.
"As for who we are, that would be the work of many ages to answer. As for where you are, you are nowhere…and everywhere. As for what is going on, you are at the point of Becoming."