Chapter 1: The Twist
Omnibus Legal Disclaimer for all chapters: anything you recognise in this story belongs to someone else, most likely to JK Rowling and/or her business partners. Any characters you don't recognise, as well as first names of some you do (where I don't remember what canon had) are completely made up names picked at random from a word list. (Literally! For the geeks among you, it's basically variations on grep '^[A-Z]' /usr/share/dict/words | shuf | head, repeated, if necessary, until I find something I like.)
Omnibus Author Notes: I don't much like author notes in general, so, other than an occasional footnote explaining an obscure reference or allusion, there won't be any. I know ANs are used for lots of things: explanations of motivations or behaviour, asking for opinions, responding to reviews, and of course the ever-present begging for reviews. Sorry, but there'll be none of that here.
Speaking of reviews, by all means leave a review if you feel strongly about something. But honestly, I don't care; I'll probably ignore most of them anyway. I'm really doing this for my own entertainment. However, if you spot serious technical errors (English grammar and spelling, past tense/present tense or first person/third person mismatches between nearby paragraphs, homophones (the ultimate sign of illiteracy), etc.) I will listen and thank you for bringing them to my notice. Although I must warn you, my punctuation is a bit off-standard: I dislike putting the comma or period inside the quote for some reason. So leave that alone (or at least, don't expect me to fix that, since it's intentional).
Where the heck am I?, thought Harry. The last thing I remember is Riddle hitting me with a reducto. He was sitting on a small but comfortable chair, with his back to the wall, in what looked like a hallway. He was wondering if this was heaven, but the hallway did not have any features that would tell him one way or another; it simply stretched, long and white, both to his left and to his right. Besides, what would he know about heaven anyway, other than "no Dursleys, I hope". Or indeed so many other things from his so-called "life".
He wasn't even sure whether he should simply stay there and wait for someone, or start walking. So he waited a bit (how long? Who knows!) then randomly chose to go left and started walking. Well, not entirely random, he supposed. There was a very low but distinct hum, as of many voices in normal conversation at a distance, from that side.
And that was what it turned out to be.
The hallway ended abruptly; without any warning there was a door the same color as the walls. Almost perfectly camouflaged, except for a small silver door handle that he could not see until he came right up to it. Tentatively he put his hand forward, turned the handle, and opened the door slowly.
The door opened into a very large room, painted the same bright white as the hallway he had just left. The ceiling was higher, but he could not see any visible light source except the windows regularly spaced around the walls. And yet the middle of the room, far away from the windows, was as well-lit as the parts closer to the walls. There were several people in white robes sitting at desks dotted around the room and doing something he could not discern at all. It was weird; he was definitely not too far to see what they were doing, and should have been able to. It was like he was not allowed to see what was happening!
"OY! How did you get in?", a loud protest jolted Harry, making him start to turn around. Someone had walked in behind him through the same door he had entered, and was now tugging at his arm to turn him fully around and answer the question.
Harry decided he had nothing to lose. He was already dead anyway, what more could they do? Whoever "they" were!
"Well, there are these things called 'doors' you know, and they have little metal thingies called-".
"Why do I always end up with the smart-alecks?", grumbled the man. "Alright, shut up. You should be in the west wing for Arrival Processing, not here. Let's go!", and he yanked at Harry's arm to indicate that he should follow him.
And so Harry found himself walking back along the hallway again, following the man. He took a few seconds to examine him, but the man had absolutely no distinguishing features. He was neither tall nor short, neither fair nor dark, neither thin nor fat. Before Harry could spend more time on this, however, they reached the other end of the hallway, and a similar door. Curiously, the chair he was sitting on just a few minutes ago, was no longer there, but Harry did not feel up to asking about it.
The room inside this door was quite different. It was a wide, spacious room, with sofas of an indeterminate material dotted around at random. Some of them were occupied by people, presumably people such as himself. The back wall had several doors leading off them; again the same bright white, with the same small silver handles. It was this vast expanse of dazzling white - everywhere and anywhere you looked - that really convinced Harry he was in heaven. After all, wasn't that what heaven was supposed to look like?
His guide took him to one of the sofas and told him to sit down and wait, so Harry did. After a few minutes, he got bored and looked around for something to do. He knew many people who had died within an hour or two, before or after, of him at the battle, but none of them were here. Even here, I am not normal, he sighed to himself, then comforted himself with the thought that there were others here, even if he did not know who they were. Maybe, within their own friends and relations, they were also "not normal"! Maybe we should have met up in life and created a "Society of Not-Normal People" - could have been fun!
Eventually another man came out of one of the doors and beckoned to Harry to come in. Inside, he asked Harry to sit and make himself comfortable, then sat down in his chair with a sigh. He appeared to be expending an enormous amount of self-control, though Harry could not see how he could be the target of the obviously suppressed rage.
"Do you realise what you have done?", he bit out finally.
Harry was non-plussed. "Umm, I died?", he asked mildly.
"YES! YOU DIED! You were supposed to get hit by a killing curse, not a reducto! The horcrux in your scar would have been killed and you would have gone back to life. You were supposed to have then killed this Riddle chap, married your friend Hermione, shaken up wizarding society and made those buffoons understand what they had been missing, lived to be a hundred and seventy or so, have a few kids and a lot more grandkids, and then end up here. You have single-handedly screwed up a grand plan that has been in the making for a century or so, ever since Grindelwald went bad, by getting hit with a reducto instead!"
Unfortunately, all this was said in one breath, which reminded Harry of Hermione. Or would have, if Harry had heard anything beyond "married your friend Hermione".
As it is, he was staring goggle-eyed at this man, who, without even introducing himself in any way, had started off on a rant. A rant that included some really shocking information, followed by what appeared to be vague sounds that didn't really register on Harry's overloaded brain.
"Married to Hermione? But-". He tailed off, suddenly realising that it did make sense. A lot of sense, actually. There were so many instances over the years where they had shown their love for each other in so many ways. Heck, even when he was on a date with a girl he had been crushing on for a year, he had cut short their date to meet Hermione.
For that matter, why hadn't Hermione realised it? She must have; she was supposed to be the brightest witch of her age, or something like that. It can't be that she was waiting for him to realise it and do something; God knows she was bossy enough to simply tell him!
Despite the situation he was in, he found himself drifting off into "what-if"-land. He would certainly have done what she said, he was used to it. It would have been just like another piece of homework. "Harry, we've only got one hour to go before curfew and we've only kissed three times. Stop working on that potions essay, come here, and snog me for two-and-a-half minutes."
Yeah that would be how it would play out... NOT! Hermione wasn't that bad, and she didn't think highly enough of herself to ever do that. But still, it was a very funny - and exciting? - visual, and Harry chuckled briefly, before becoming very sad and angry at losing the life he should have had.
"How DARE you laugh at this? The whole bloody world is in danger of imploding, and you are giggling about it like a demented schoolgirl?"
"Demented schoolgirl? Are you sure you're not mixing metaphors?", shot back Harry. His anger at his fate was growing, and by now he was well beyond caring what happened, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it appeared that he was already dead, and having never really been afraid of death, he could not really fear what happened now. And secondly, it seemed as though they needed him for something.
The man was now showing the first bit of color Harry had seen after his death. The man's neck, ears, and cheek were almost glowing red with anger! Deciding not to push his luck (or at least not to push it all at once), Harry tried to strike a more conciliatory note.
"Sorry I was not laughing at the- wait the whole world is in danger? What kind of danger? And what does my dying have to do with it?"
"Haven't you heard a word I've said? I told you what you were supposed to have done: marry Hermione, fix-", and he tailed off, looking at Harry's face. Or rather, the glazed expression in his eyes. "Snap out of it; you didn't manage it anyway. So we'll be sending you back."
"WHAT? No way am I going back! I am done. Done, I tell you, done!", shouted back Harry.
"Don't you want to get married to Hermione?", said the man, deciding to drop the altruism. He had been told Harry had a "saving people thing", but that seemed to have been left behind on earth; best not to rely on it too much!
"Yes of course I want to."
"Then you should go back!"
"Where is she now?"
The man looked sad. "She died shortly after you died. Hagrid carried your body into the great hall, and she just could not take it. All the fight left her, and she basically just crumpled up. The rest of your friends think a stray curse got her, but in fact her heart just stopped. Only Luna realised that."
"Will she be here soon?"
"Yes, she is being processed as we speak."
"What happens normally after processing?"
"Well, people are given some accommodation, which they usually share with their real-life spouses or mat-", again the man tailed off. "Oh no, oh no you don't! You have to go back! YOU HAVE TO GO BACK!"
"Why? If she is here, and we can share a flat or house or whatever, what more do I need? I assume my parents and Sirius are here too?", he paused a second or two, didn't get a negative from the man, and ploughed on. "I've got nothing but constant danger and pain and heartache and suspicious looks and people trying to screw me over fifty ways from Sunday if I go back".
"But you're the boy-who-lived! You've got a saving people thing. Hermione said so!"
"I think Hermione has seen enough of my life that she will never, under any circumstances, force me to choose to go back. Especially knowing the alternative - instant happiness! So you can jolly well bugger off; I'm staying here."
"We can send you to the other place", threatened the man. But it was an empty threat, and clearly his heart wasn't in it. Harry simply stared at him, not bothering to reply.
"I can get Father in to deal with you. No one says 'no' to him."
"Well I suppose there's always a first time for everything", grinned Harry.
This went on for a while, in pretty much the same vein, until the man gave up, and said, "Let me show you what life looks like down there when you don't go back".
And he did. And it was horrible. Riddle had won, of course, and had taken over magical England completely. The statute of secrecy was in shambles, and muggles were in pitched battles with the death-eaters in various parts of the country. London looked like it did during the worst parts of the second world war, and some of the other cities weren't much better. Bristol, notably, was in much worse shape, as were many small towns and villages in Wales.
Harry was moved, but not enough. "This is war. It happens. I don't see anything happening outside the British Isles, so I assume mainland Europe, the USA, and Asia will help out. I know enough of world trade and economics to believe that is a good possibility."
"It's too late for about two hundred thousand muggles in England, including about forty thousand children in various orphanages around the country - that is where he started hitting first", said the man sadly. He didn't appear to be putting a guilt trip on Harry; he was being very matter of fact.
"Can I talk to Hermione? Right now?", asked Harry.
"Sorry, but no."
Harry sat down and started thinking. Despite his seeming lack of care, he was of course affected. Forty thousand children!, he thought. That was a kick in the guts for him. No matter how much he ranted about "why me?" at various times in his life, deep in his mind he had largely reconciled himself to being "not normal", and it was becoming easier and easier to simply accept his special status and do what he thought needed to be done.
But if he simply went back, things would repeat themselves. And it wasn't clear what help was being offered to prevent such a repeat either.
"How can you be sure something different will happen if I go back now?", he asked.
"You've died six times already; this was number seven. Each time we sent you back to your childhood, and you ended up dying a different way. So now we're sending you back with your memories and your powers so you can fix things a lot earlier, before things went totally out of control."
"How far back can you send me?"
"Technically, we could send you back to a minute after you were born, but that would achieve nothing. We also have orders - sorry Harry! - that your parents' deaths cannot be changed; that results in far far too many deaths after Halloween 1981. But realistically, it would have to be some time when you know enough of what is happening to be able to assimilate these 'future' memories and work with them, so I'd say about the end of 3rd year. You can start by cleaning up the mess that happened after the Quidditch world cup for instance."
"So, technically, you can send me back to just after my parents died, but you say it won't do any good so that's useless". A nod. "I'll do it, but I have several conditions", said Harry. "Unless you agree to all of them, I'm not going. Take it or leave it."
The man nodded briefly. "What are your conditions?"
"I won't go back as myself. I want Harry Potter to be as normal, within reason, as possible. That was the single worst thing in my life, because it really was the root cause of most of the other stuff. So I won't be going back as Harry. I will be going back as someone else, but with all my current powers, knowledge, and psychology, in addition to the powers and knowledge that person himself has. Plus some additional powers neither of us had."
"My current way of thinking, my current values, my righteous anger at all the suffering, the vague plans forming in my mind right now, and so on. You don't get to turn me into a goody two-shoes when you send me back."
"You don't want anything of that person's mind in there; just his powers?"
"And knowledge". Then he felt guilty, after all he was still Harry Potter, blaming himself for anything and everything. "The way I see it, he's already here, and all we're doing is not letting him go back."
"But won't that affect the timeline?"
"No; I know everything he did; I'll make sure I do the same things." Or at least as much of them as I need.
"Hmm; interesting. Yes that is possible, but it just never occurred to us. The prophecy says-".
"Screw the prophecy", Harry cut him off.
"Well no, we do believe in prophecies here so we can't, as you say, 'screw' it. But this will satisfy the prophecy quite well so we need not argue about it. Who were you thinking of?"
"Dobby. A free Dobby, but the Malfoys should not know he is free."
"A house-elf?", the man couldn't hide his shock. "Preposterous! Unheard of!".
"So's surviving the killing curse. Welcome to my life."
"But- but- becoming a house-elf- it's-", now he was stammering and stuttering.
"Bigotry? In heaven? Oh woe is me!" said Harry, putting his hand to his heart theatrically.
"It's not bigotry; I'm just not sure if it's even possible. No one has ever done this."
"Look I didn't ask to be reincarnated as the Whomping Willow you know. Dobby is a sentient being just like me; I don't consider him inferior in any way. You should know that!"
"As I said, I don't know if it can be done, and I don't want to be the first one to try!"
"Would you rather be the first one to see someone say 'no' to your Father?", said Harry, grinning. "And I haven't finished with my conditions either. I want to go back to a few seconds after Riddle gave me the scar."
The man thought for a moment. He picked up a scroll of some kind, wiped his hand over it, wrote something with his finger on it, then read a bit, frowning.
"The earliest I can get you in is 1986 sometime. Dobby was born in 1983, and elves take about 3 years to mature. You really don't want to join a child elf, trust me."
Harry thought for a bit. None of the really big problems with the Dursleys had started before he went to school, and even then only after the first year or so, though God knows it escalated pretty fast (he shuddered to think of his 7th birthday). So he agreed, saying, "I can work with that. My last condition, which probably doesn't affect you anyway, is that I will be calling myself 'Hobby'".
"Huh? Why? Though you're right I don't really care."
"Most of the 'D's in my life were bad: Dumbledore, Dursleys, Death-eaters, Dolohov, Draco. And did I mention Dumbledore? And most of the 'H's were good: Hermione, Hedwig, Hagrid, Hogwarts, and so on".
"What is this, some numerology or feng-shui nonsense? You know that's all crap right?"
"So says the man who believes in prophecies", retorted Harry. "Do we have a deal or not?"
"We do. We'll send you back to Dobby's body on Jan 1, 1986."
"With my current powers, knowledge, and psychology, plus Dobby's powers and knowledge, plus wandless magic and knowledge of healing", prompted Harry.
"What? You never mentioned that!"
"I did say 'plus some additional powers I never had'. You got distracted by something else and we did not complete that thought. Not my fault."
"OK OK, with your current powers, knowledge, and psychology, plus Dobby's powers and knowledge, plus wandless magic and healing", sighed the man.