“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”
As Dumbledore spoke, he faded away, and Harry closed his eyes. The world winked away, and when he opened his eyes, he expected to awake on the ground where he had fallen, living again after another one of Voldemort’s killing curses. It was a very strange feeling to remember it that second time.
Yet, when he opened his eyes, he was nowhere near the Forbidden Forest, nor indeed anywhere near Hogwarts. He had no idea where he was at all. Yet the dark dusty room he had appeared in with its ragged couch cushions and peeling wallpaper nagged at his memory. He had seen this place before, he just didn’t know where.
He pulled himself up into a sitting position, his knees tucked up under his chin. A spring from the dilapidated couch poked into his tailbone. “Excuse me!” a shrill woman’s voice startled him, and he looked up to see a sallow faced woman rising from an armchair across from him. “Who are you, and what are you dong in my house?”
He meant to tell her he meant no harm, and he would be leaving as soon as she told him where he was, but she pointed a wand at him and stared at him across it in a suddenly familiar way. What came out instead was “You’re… you’re…”
“Yes?” She demanded, her wand twitching in her hand.
He swallowed, trying to wet his mouth. “Eileen Prince,” he finished lamely.
“Who are you,” she snarled, “and what are you doing in my house!” She jabbed her wand closer to his face until it pointed between his eyes. A shiver spread through him, and she calmed. “You will tell me.”
“When am I?”
“What do you mean when…” her wand lowered a bit. “Time turner accident?”
His mind caught up with him at last. “Something like that, I wasn’t expecting-”
“Who are you?”
“H-harry, Harry Potter.” He suddenly hoped that there hadn’t been some other Potter who had gone to Hogwarts with her and made her life miserable too.
“How far back did you come?” Suddenly he had become a puzzle, and alone, his wand remaining against his chest, he seemed not to be a threat to her. She relaxed. A satisfied smile spread across her face. Harry’s lips curved up in answer. Eileen didn’t really look like her son. She was actually quite pretty when she smiled.
Harry’s stomach twisted at the thought. “I don’t know what year it is, much less anything else.”
“January 9th, 1959.”
“That’s what I said, wasn’t it?” her voice sparked with annoyance. Puzzles were supposed to sit still let her solve them, not repeat what she had just said.
“I’m from… I’m from…”
“Just spit it out.”
“1998.” Her black eyes widened to match his glassy green ones.
“thirty-nine years… she breathed.
“Thirty nine and a half,” his voice cracked on the last word and she stared at him. “I don’t understand, why am I here?”
“When you mess with time, it likes to mess back. I want to know what you did to get here.”
He smiled at her. She paced around the couch and wrinkled her brow, her speed increasing with every word she said. It reminded him of Hermione, and he wondered if he’d get back at the right time to kill Voldemort. He’d never been mixed up in this sort of thing without their help. He’d never been mixed up in this sort of thing at all, but he would’ve felt more like he could handle it with Ron and Hermione with him.
“I died.” Eileen stopped and whirled around. Her skirt twisted and flapped against her legs. “Someone hit me with a killing curse, I talked to Dumbledore’s ghost, and he told me he was sending me back, and I landed here.”
‘You’re mad, that’s what you are.” Her wand came out of her pocket again to point at him.
Harry uncurled slowly. “Really, I’ve been hit with the killing curse twice, the first time I was a baby and,” he paused, pondering what he should tell her. “Someone performed sacrificial magic to keep me alive.” She didn’t need to know it was his mother. Was Eileen prince alive in 1981? He couldn’t risk her telling anyone.
A sharp peel of laughter fell from her mouth, but it had a half hysterical, half exasperated tinge to it. “And the second time? How do you explain the second time?”
“The same person tried to kill me again, but this time he used a wand that wasn’t his.”
She scrunched her eyes together and opened her mouth as if she wanted to scream. Her puzzle was turning into a full blown riddle. “That shouldn’t have anything to do with it!”
“With this wand it did.”
“I don’t know what’s going on with you, I don’t know who you are, or how you got here, you don’t make any sense with what you say, and you tell me that the headmaster of Hogwarts’ ghost sent you here.” With every word she spoke, she shook her head.
“It doesn’t make any sense to me either!” Standing up, he slumped against the arm o the couch. “I just want to get home.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Your best chance at getting back without a time turner is to go back to the location you were right before you came here.” If he left and went to his own time, then that was it and she knew all there was to know about him, and if he didn’t, she would think about if he didn’t.
At another time, he might have been annoyed at someone telling him something any fourth year would know. “Just put that wand away, and I’ll leave okay?” He just didn’t want her to curse him, and that wasn’t much to ask for.
The wand lowered again, and she slipped it into her sleeve. Sharply, she pointed to the door. Scrambling out of the house, he threw her one backwards look, and Apparated away to the edge of Hogwarts grounds.
Harry slipped trough the dusky landscape, heading for the forest as quickly as he could without being seen. How many times had Hermione told him that he couldn’t be seen while in the past, that it could cause all kinds of problems? He didn’t want to change the future, he just wanted to get back to it.
Hogwarts hadn’t changed at all, or wouldn’t change maybe, since he had first seen it. The grounds still spilled park like all around the imposing fantastic castle that was nothing like a medieval fortress inside. It looked as if he could just go in and see Ron and Hermione waiting for him. He smiled. He’d get Hogwarts back to this again. He had to.
The lake glittered with the first stars of the night as he skirted its edge and passed into the forest. Gloom settled over the forest in the twilight shadows, the thin grey light he had somehow worse than darkness. He hadn’t been in the Forbidden Forest as many times as Fred and George, but he had been it a fair number of times, starting back in first year. He should have known he would face Voldemort in it someday; he had found Quirrell here, drinking the unicorn blood for him here. Each of the times he had traveled through the trees had something to do with Voldemort, just like so many things with him. He never felt the need to go exploring like his father and his friends or like Fred and George, because the exploring and the adventure, and of course the trouble, mostly trouble, came to him on its own.
His feet steadfastly carried him to the place where he had ‘died’ at Voldemort’s hands. Thirty nine years didn’t matter. A hundred years wouldn’t matter. The underbrush was different, and there were a few saplings missing, but he could feel this was where he was to go back from. he paced around in a circle, spiraling inward, trying to get his feet over every inch of the area, but he felt no sudden tingle of magic, saw no flashing forward of time, as he had seen in reverse when using Hermione’s time turner. Nothing happened. He tried lying face down in the dirt where he fell, standing where Voldemort had stood when he cast the curse, anything that might do something, but nothing happened. He couldn’t get home. His fists clenched and he let out a cry of frustration. It should have worked.
His shoulders slumping, he trudged his way back to the Apparition boundary to go back to the only person who knew him in 1959. He just wished it wasn’t Snape’s mum.
The gentle banging on the door woke Eileen up from her nap in the dilapidated armchair she had first been in when Harry had appeared. She swung her legs down from their place on the chair arms, and unlocked the door and pulling the brass pin out of the slot. She groaned, thinking she knew who was at the door as she opened it. When it swung inward, the figure on the doorstep confirmed her suspicions. “Potter! What are you doing back here?”
“It didn’t work, I even tried lying face down in the dirt.”
She stepped aside, and he slid past her, as if he couldn’t even think about touching her. “Well, sit down then,” she snapped, suddenly reminding him of Snape.
She faced him, hands on her hips and glowered at him. “I don’t even know if you’re really from the future, Potter, what am I supposed to do with you?”
When he did answer, it sounded tremulous even to him. “Can I stay here?”
“Oh hell,” she exclaimed, stamping up the stairs and into her room, shutting the door and leaving him alone on the couch.
Eileen wanted to crawl under her bed. Why did the completely impossible have to happen to her today? Couldn’t it have happened to someone else? Like Elizabeth Draper, that nasty girl in Ravenclaw back when they were in school? She wanted to figure him out maybe, but that had its limits. Strange and unexpected magical events could only cause trouble, that was just common sense.
She couldn’t just turn him out; she’d feel awful about it, like kicking a puppy, but she didn’t want to have to keep him. Getting rid of him meant helping him, then, but that sounded hard, like nothing she had ever done before, like something that would give Dumbledore trouble. He felt like a chaos bringer to her, someone who attracted trouble like most people ate and drank.
Still, he was alone, and she was as magical as he, and one of the best duelists of her year. He wasn’t a threat, and she still wanted to figure him out. She liked riddles, even ones that came wrapped up as handsome green eyed time travelers who made a mess of things for her. She could use a little messing up, her life wasn’t to great to start with, and she would like a bit of excitement. She could guarantee that keeping him around would at least be exciting.
Making her decision, she shot to her feet and opened the door.
Harry perched on the couch cushions fidgeting. At first he had just tried to find a comfortable position between all of the popped springs, but as it took longer and longer for Eileen to come back down, his feet started tapping, and he moved his way across the couch in tiny wiggling increments. It came as a relief when he first heard her door creek open. The break in the silence startled him startled him into jumping when it opened, bit still it was a relief.
“You were sent here by someone right?” she queried as she came down the stairs to stand in front of him. “You say it’s Dumbledore’s ghost, but whoever it is, someone actually sent you here.”
“Yeah, I think so.” What she wanted out of his answers, he didn’t know, but he figured it was a bad idea not to answer.
“That means you were sent here to do something right?”
“Then you probably won’t be able to get back to your time until you do it, though hopefully you will be able to get back after that.”
“I’m sure Dumbledore wants me back in my time; I’m too useful there.”
“My, don’t you think well of yourself.”
“Never mind. You weren’t just sent to this time, you were specifically sent to this place, to my house, which means that whatever you need to do to get back has to do with me, my house, or both.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“If that’s the case, then the best thing you can do is stay with me until such an opportunity presents itself.”
“So can I-” Every light on the street had been turned off except the lights in Eileen’s house. Midnight was approaching quickly, and Harry wanted his fate decided so he could sleep.
“You can sleep on the couch. Her feet pounded on the steps as she moved just short of running up them to the security of her room.
“Can I have-” he shouted to her, but before he finished, a pillow and blanket landed with a thump in the middle of the floor. “Thank you.”