Harry is home at Twelve Grimmauld Place, thoroughly enjoying the peace after such a long and desperate struggle against Voldemort. Of course, the peace goes up in flames when Harry accidentally teleports himself to another universe where the Weasleys are all dead except for Bill, most of the people who died are still alive, and a second Harry Potter is still there, still fighting a losing battle against a far more cunning, far more powerful Voldemort.
The title of this story is one that I've had in my head for a long time, with the intention of creating a series of humorous one-shots similar to nonjon's brilliant Dimension Hopping for Beginners. Thing is, I haven't written any of those. This story was inspired by Stunning Shifts, or more specifically, the fact that I reached the end of a Work-In-Progress right before it got to the good stuff (after teasing it for 70,000 words [shakes fist at mindcandy, pretending I don't do that myself]).
This was supposed to be a bunch of short chapters and a fast-paced story, but I haven't touched it in a good, long while. I'm not finished (I have five and a quarter chapters written), but I'm posting it in the hope that you guys like it and your reviews inspire me to continue.
One Universe to the Left
Up in Flames
One hundred and sixty-eight crystals.
One hundred and sixty-eight crystals adorned the ancient, wrought iron chandelier in the dreary foyer at Twelve Grimmauld Place in London. Harry Potter knew this because he'd counted them many times, and he'd gotten one hundred and sixty-eight over half the time. The twenty-three candles - three elegant, long-spoked rings of thirteen, seven, and three - also never dripped wax, no matter how long or hard they burned.
And burn they did. Harry had, he found, a rather deft hand with the Fire-Making Charm. It had a certain elegance that other spells in his repertoire lacked; his bread-and-butter Defense spells smote his enemies like fluorescent sledgehammers; his Transfigurations, mostly roughly-hewn conjurations of wood and stone, served only as physical shields, weapons, or distractions; his shield wards were like granite - while the Killing Curse passed through them, it took tremendous magical energy to bring them down; his Potions...well, he hadn't had the time to perfect those while on the run, had he?
But the Fire-Making Charm...Harry could light a single candle from his position on his back, on the floor, probably fifteen paces away vertically. Sure, the enchantments on the chandelier allowed him to simply tap his wand to a particular panel on the wall to light every candle, but where was the art in that?
He was not bored.
Ron and Hermione were off shagging like bunnies, no doubt, after the three of them struggled so hard to achieve their victory. He didn't begrudge them that, although he found himself jealous of Ron once again. Harry loved Hermione, he recognized now, but he had been so stressed about the Prophecy that he'd long since lost that opportunity. The moment he and Hermione shared the night after Ron, in his Horcrux-addled state, walked out on the two of them...well, things might have turned out a little differently if he had recognized the moment for what it was. And sadly, things probably would have turned out worse...another reason Harry was happy for them.
They seemed to realize how he felt, because the comfortable silences they shared for so long had evaporated. Harry could tell they felt awkward even holding hands in his presence, so he insisted on keeping the awkwardness to a minimum. They would come to chat about recent events, then take their leave. Needless to say, he didn't have them over for tea very often.
Among Harry's other closest friends, Neville and Luna got together, too. That was...a surprise? No, not really, after having taken over the DA while Harry was on the run. Just unexpected, Harry supposed. Regardless, that left Ginny.
"I knew you wouldn't be happy unless you were hunting Voldemort."
Those words, spoken in bitterness at the end of last year at Hogwarts, still filled him with incredulity, though the anger had long passed. What happiness had he ever found hunting a man who'd attempted to kill him so many times? How many times had he lamented his fate out loud, let alone within the privacy of his own mind?
No, Harry Potter was most certainly not bored. He started out to prove a point: hunting Dark Wizards was not his path to happiness. He'd rejected twenty-two invitations to join the Aurors, even the most recent one that guaranteed him Senior Auror pay during his fast-tracked training, and never mind about his NEWTs because his real life results would outshine anything he could muster in an examination. But no, Harry would not become an Auror, and he was damn proud of that. He rejected all other invitations for employment or endorsements as well, because he'd only received them as a result of his victory over Voldemort.
How ironic that he so often rejected undeserved accolades and wished he was worthy of them, only to turn around and reject most of the honors he did deserve. The Order of Merlin ceremony very quickly soured him on the life of a public figure. Ron commanded the attention of dozens of wizards and witches, regaling them with stories that were not nearly as glamorous as he told them. Hermione—bookish, bossy Hermione—charmingly deflected encouragement to boast, leaving even the most stodgy, conservative members of the Wizengamot smiling and laughing. Neville worked the room like he'd been doing it all his life...lessons from his Gran, no doubt. While his friends effortlessly navigated the highest reaches of wizarding society, Harry stuttered and shrugged his way through conversations, always sighing in relief when one of his friends picked up the slack.
Maybe it would die down in time. It might have already, given how fickle the public tended to be. In the meantime, Harry laid on his back, staring up at the chandelier, reveling in the peace of the moment. He didn't have anybody to share it with very often, but this wasn't boredom. This was contentment.
The peace of the moment shattered when Kreacher popped into existence next to him. "Master, the red-headed...girl...is here again," he said, clearly avoiding the term "blood-traitor." The wizened House Elf didn't think badly of the Weasleys anymore; he just still struggled to overcome his long habit.
"Thanks, Kreacher, send her in," Harry said with a sigh, not moving from the floor.
A cluck of annoyance sounded from the doorway, but he ignored it. "Harry..."
"Hello, Ginny," he said neutrally, remaining still as she walked into view.
She wore a flowery, spaghetti strap dress that fit very snugly on her lithe form, the soft orange color accentuating her pale skin and the long, straight, ruby red hair that disappeared behind her shoulders. She sighed and moved a clenched fist to her hip, which only enhanced her undeniable beauty. "Are you lying there just to vex me?"
"Once, that might have been true," he answered honestly, earning a small gasp of surprise and indignation. "But now I am merely enjoying the peace and quiet."
"It can't be comfortable," she said.
"You would be surprised." She huffed, but before she could escalate the impending argument, he continued, "I feel light as a feather, Ginny. Without the prophecy, the war, the expectations weighing on me..." Harry trailed off wistfully, closing his eyes in hopes of restoring his contentment. "Besides, the marble stays cool in the summer."
"We have cooling charms, you know."
He smiled. Sarcasm. Not a perfect deflection, only a temporary reprieve. "And yet, the floor of my foyer does not need them."
"Come on, Harry, get up! I'm not going to talk to you while you're laying on the floor!"
Harry chuckled at her predictable temper. "Okay, I'll talk to you later, then."
"Harry, please," she pleaded, switching tactics. "I was young and stupid and...and heartbroken that you had to go. I didn't know what I was saying!"
"I know, Ginny," he said honestly, his mirth fading as she seemed to guess what he had just been thinking, "I know, and I have already forgiven you."
"Then why can't you give me another chance? Give us another chance?"
He'd gone over this in his head many times; by most accounts he should give the relationship another go. Among those he trusted, Ginny was the only one left who was available, and he'd wanted her before. But that changed. He changed. He was not completely sure why or how. He didn't think it even had anything to do with Ginny's parting words that felt like an insult despite not being meant that way. It probably had more to do with the fact that Susan Bones had shagged him senseless after the battle.
He was terribly embarrassed when she told him she didn't actually want anything else from him, though she let him down gently. Katie Bell's friend Leanne did the same thing a few days later. It wasn't a Hufflepuff thing, it turned out; it was merely the beginning of a string of supposedly meaningless sexual encounters that only ended when Daphne Greengrass and Tracey Davis nearly tricked him into signing a contract that made the former his wife and the latter his mistress. Despite Tracey applying her prodigious oratory skill whilst Daphne actually did the talking, reason had broken through the lust-induced haze and gotten him out of there. Not even Hermione's insistence that such a thing would be unenforceable assuaged his concern.
Whatever the reason, his feelings for Ginny had changed. Still, the hurt in her voice tore at his heart. Harry would die to protect her, and the fact that he caused her this pain hurt him just as much. Suddenly not finding his rudeness amusing any longer, Harry kicked his legs out and spun to a sitting position, though he kept his eyes on the floor to fight the dizziness of sitting up too fast. After a few moments, he raised his eyes to find her on the verge of tears. He forced himself to hold her gaze. "I'm sorry Ginny, I really am. I just can't help how I feel. It wouldn't be fair to either of us if we tried and my heart wasn't in it."
She looked away, letting a tear streak down her cheek. "Is your heart in anything these days?"
His eyes fell. "I don't know," he said eventually, not knowing how to explain himself any better than he'd already tried. The accusation stung all the more painfully because the real answer was probably no, but he didn't want to admit it. "Hermione says I'm working through all the emotions I've bottled up over the years, and I think that's true. I still don't like to think about Sirius and all the others who...died..." His voice faltered at that, and he took a moment to compose himself. "But I feel better every day."
Ginny sniffled and wiped her face. "It...it seems like it's easier for you to say his name."
Harry laid back down, grateful that she changed the subject. "It is," he said, "a bit." Ginny only continued sniffling, so Harry lifted his wand and sent a thin stream of fire arcing around the chandelier, lighting only one enchanted candle before cutting it off. He watched it burn in silence for several moments, peripherally noting Ginny laying down gingerly next to him. A few strands of her hair tickled his scalp, though neither of them broke the silence.
Taking that as an invitation to continue, another arc of flame circled the chandelier, lighting up one candle at a time as it swept across the thirteen candes of the uppermost ring. "How can you even see the wicks from here?" She asked after watching for several seconds.
"I've had enough practice that I just know where they are," he said. He absently flicked his wand to the wall panel, and the candles extinguished themselves. Then, on a whim, he produce two streams simultaneously. He guided them as if they were his own appendages, never even touching the crystals even though they couldn't be damaged by fire. He added a third and fourth, and found if he swiped the stream over the wick fast enough, it would actually extinguish the flame. In a matter of moments, he had complete control over four simultaneous charms, even though a few moments earlier he'd never even tried two.
"How many can you make?" The tremble in Ginny's voice held more awe than sadness, now, which perked Harry up a bit.
"I don't know," Harry said, adding a fifth. He no longer bothered with the candles; the streams merely danced in increasingly intricate patterns.
"That looked like the twigs of my old broom," Ginny said, pointing upward as if they were cloud-watching, even though the image had probably only lasted a fraction of a second.
Harry had not seen it, so he began creating images in earnest. He smiled as he made a Firebolt made from bolts of fire, though Ginny didn't seem to get the joke. The broom turned sideways and a stylized silhouette rode astride it, flames giving the impression of movement. That morphed into the face of a grim, earning a gasp from Ginny, so he quickly changed it into large, majestic antlers of a stag. The antlers transformed into the wings of a dragon, and a sixth and seventh stream snaked up the center to form the body. The sharp-looking wings became feathery, and Harry adjusted the body into his best impression of Fawkes.
He could almost hear the phoenix song in his mind, so he held the image a moment, then tried to make the fire Fawkes flap his wings. The song grew in volume, so Harry closed his eyes and let the soothing sounds wash over him, absently continuing the movements from earlier.
Harry, what are you doing?" Ginny called, but he barely heard it. "Harry? HARRY!"
His eyes snapped open just in time to see the world erupt in flame.
The distant call of a phoenix urged Harry onward. What onward meant, he did not know. No sights greeted him; his eyes themselves did not seem to exist. No sense of touch or taste or smell seemed to reach him, only sound. Idly he wondered if this was how a bat felt all the time, and...shouldn't he be scared? He remembered fire, beautiful fire. And Ginny, angry and beautiful and wrong.
The phoenix call drew near, its call transforming into echoes of words. Was he turning into one? "Hello," it said, and then nonsense. "Hello?" The fire bloomed again, but...how could he see? The fire pulled in on itself, the world turned inside out, or perhaps right-side out, because suddenly it made sense again. "Hello?" Called a voice.
Harry opened his eyes, and found one hundred and sixty-eight crystals inside three stacked, wrought iron rings holding a total of twenty-three candles. Then a healthy-looking Sirius popped his head into view with a wide, mischievous grin. "Hello, Harry. I wasn't expecting you quite yet. Whose house did you burn down this time?"
Harry screamed and Apparated away.
Yes? No? You hate me for not finishing one of my other stories?
As per usual, don't hold back on reviews. I love constructive critique, but I thoroughly appreciate every single one, even single word reviews or flames. I'll take whatever you've got.
I would also appreciate it if you would let me know what you think of what it comes to story rating. I usually just mark my stuff M and call it good, but this could probably be T for now.