a/n This story – A Matter of Life and Death – is based on the 1946 Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger movie of the same name starring the incomparable David Niven. (For our American friends, please note the movie was called "Stairway to Heaven" when released in the USA). So not only am I stealing JKR's wonderful world and characters, I am also shamelessly stealing the genius of Powell and Pressburger and attempting to combine them. Any credit belongs to these three and any shortcomings are obviously entirely mine. The story is a bit of a change in style for me – it's a piece of fluffy juvenilia to be honest, and one that pairs H/Hr, so if that is not your gig, you might want to give it a miss.
Just out of interest, it might be worth noting that both JK Rowling and Daniel Radcliffe consider "A Matter of Life and Death" to be one of their favourite films. If you have not seen it, I would urge you to take the time to view it as I do not think it will disappoint…
'Good morning…or is it evening? Or is it afternoon perhaps? Oh; it doesn't matter in the great scheme of things. You see; where I dwell, time is an…irrelevance. My name is Celeste and I am the Chief Recorder. This may not mean anything to you at the moment but as I tell my tale, things ought to become a little clearer. I hope you enjoy the story; I am unused to narrating and I worry that I will not do these events justice. This might be a tricky tale for you to grasp; it is a story of two worlds; one that you know and one that is only in your imagination. It is a story about power; the power of one world against that of the other…
Oh; would you listen to me; I digress. It is one of my biggest failings and one that The Boss is often taking me to task about. I had better get to the point; better explain why I am here. First though; I ought to set the scene. I shall do it from my perspective so you will have to imagine…
… Imagine if you will, the immense universe. Thousands of galaxies; millions of stars; separated by unfathomable distances travelled by solar rays. It is mostly black; a void; nothing. But here and there, if one looks carefully, the starlight can be discerned amidst the night. There! Can you see it? That light in the distance? It's a myriad of stars; a galaxy. And right there in the corner; tucked away almost out of sight is a mass of gas no bigger than a pinprick from where we view it. A mass of gas moving at thousands of miles per second that grows larger as we approach…
We near it; we can make out other objects now. We can see the planets revolving around the sun. Let's see now…one, two three…Ah! We are getting there! We are approaching my old home – your current home. A blue orb in the blackness. Isn't she beautiful? And there is the moon; our moon in its final quarter. And finally we are here; Earth. Our Earth; a blue dot in the night. At first glance it seems small and insignificant. But it is part of the universe; it belongs as part of the whole. The universe would not be the same without it – would not be complete without it - so it is as important as anything else in existence.
A reassuring thought, is it not?
So we go closer. We skip over the lands currently in daylight and head east to where it is night. We cross the ocean and turn north and pass over the dark fields of Europe; the blackness of the landscape only broken intermittently by the streetlights of the towns and cities. We pass over France – Beloved France! Oh how I miss you! – and we are soon heading over the water; the Channel that takes us to where our tale begins. We are in Britain now, flying north over England; over the border hills and into Scotland. We carry on north, reaching the Highlands and…there it is!
A castle; a castle that you will have to imagine because you will never have been able to see it. It is protected from your kind, you see; protected from those without the gift of magic. We approach it; we soar above its turrets and towers, flying out over the lake before circling back and nearing one particular tower. A light can be seen at one of the upper windows; as we get closer we can peer in and we can see three people; three youngsters who have just completed a monumental task. Together they have just destroyed a great darkness. They are talking and it is here that we will join the story. We must listen carefully; listen and learn about power, for it is here that our tale begins…'
'…and it's not as if he hasn't earned it, Hermione. Give him a break; Kreacher likes having a master,' said Ron Weasley in exasperation. 'Harry only wanted a sandwich,' he added.
Harry Potter elected to say nothing, content to munch on his ham sandwich as he watched his two best friends play out a familiar game. He found it hard to believe that Ron and Hermione had kissed just a couple of hours ago; that they had ended the dance and had finally done something about their unresolved feelings for one another. But as he watched them argue he wondered why they had bothered. He'd heard that opposites attract but he was beginning to think that it was the same attraction that a moth had for a flame. It might seem a good idea at the time but sooner or later, the moth got burned.
'I wasn't having a go at Harry!' exclaimed Hermione Granger. 'I only asked that Kreacher not call Harry "master." Is that so wrong?' she asked, turning to Harry as she did so.
Harry chewed methodically on his sandwich before swallowing. 'Keep me out of this,' he finally replied. 'I'm not going to be a bloody referee between the two of you. I've been waiting for you both to sort yourselves out for months but if you're just going to keep arguing all the time then I wish you hadn't bothered. At least when you argued before, I didn't have to watch you snog afterwards.'
Ron smiled but Hermione looked as if she was going to burst into tears. She turned to Ron and caught his grin and her eyes narrowed. Ron decided that perhaps discretion would be the better point of valour.
'I'll just go and see mum and dad,' he said hastily. 'See how they are doing. See what's happening with Fred,' he added gently before turning to leave.
Harry noticed Hermione's expression soften as she watched Ron depart before she turned her back on him and folded her arms as she looked out of the window. He sighed. All because I asked Kreacher to make me a sandwich! He smiled ruefully, knowing that he had to be careful dealing with elves when Hermione was nearby.
'I'm sorry, Hermione; I shouldn't have summoned Kreacher but I was hungry and I…' He stopped talking abruptly because he suddenly realised that she was crying. 'Hermione?' he asked. 'What's wrong? Don't cry. Please don't cry.' He put down his plate and approached her slowly, placing his right hand on her shoulder as he reached her. 'I think I understand, Hermione. It's ok to cry I suppose; so many of our friends have died.' He gently turned her to face him and was surprised to discover that she could not look him in the eye.
'That's not why I am crying,' she replied softly. 'It should be; so many have died and here I am crying like a fool over…' She stopped abruptly.
'Over what?' he asked but she was not immediately forthcoming with an answer. 'Over what, Hermione?' he repeated. 'You can tell me; you can tell me anything.' He paused. 'Is it about Ron? Is it because you argued?'
To his surprise she forced a tremulous smile at these words. 'If I cried every time I argued with Ron then I would be worse than Moaning Myrtle,' she replied, shaking her head. She looked directly at him. 'It's not about Ron; at least, it's not directly about him.'
'So what is it then? You can tell me.'
'No I can't. You wouldn't understand.'
'Try me. What are you crying about, Hermione?' he asked gently.
A seemingly interminable pause ensued before she finally looked at her feet.
'You,' she replied in a small voice.
'What was that?' he asked having not heard her answer.
'I said you,' she repeated, almost defiantly.
Harry was perplexed. 'Me? What about me?'
She looked at her feet. 'I thought you were dead, Harry. When Hagrid carried you back to the castle, I thought you were dead.' Tears flowed freely down her cheeks but she disregarded them. 'Something inside of me stopped when I saw you. I suddenly realised something. I realised that I had made a huge mistake and that I would pay for it the rest of my life.'
Harry was deeply confused by her words. 'What mistake?' he asked gently.
She looked down at her feet. 'I'm not in love with Ron,' she replied quietly.
'So why did you kiss him?'
She took her time to reply. 'Because I thought I might love him.' She shrugged 'I thought we might die too. I didn't want to die without knowing.'
Hermione rolled her eyes at his obtuseness. 'Knowing whether or not I loved him, of course!' she exclaimed before looking at her feet again.
He smiled in relief. So that's what this is about! He gently placed his hand under her chin and lifted her head so she was looking into his eyes. 'Don't worry about that, Hermione. You're only eighteen. I'm not surprised you're not sure about love. You're still very young for love,' he added as he tenderly wiped her tears with his thumb.
She gave him what he could only describe as an odd look. 'I may only be eighteen, Harry,' she began, a hint of asperity in her tone, 'but I do know what love is. What I am trying to say is that when I thought you were dead I realised that I wasn't in love with Ron. I realised this because I thought I had lost you forever…because I am in love with you.'
Harry didn't react immediately; he found himself unable to process what she had just said. He took a step back and regarded her in astonishment. He opened his mouth to reply but found that nothing came out. He looked at her and it struck him as strange at how she very suddenly seemed to just stand there motionless. His state of mind was such that it took him a few seconds to realise that she actually was motionless.
'Hermione?' The concern was deep in his voice as he finally reacted to her immobility. 'Hermione?' he repeated, waving his hand frantically in front of her face.
'She can't hear you, Harry.'
He nearly jumped out of his skin at hearing the voice. A voice he had heard only a few short hours ago and one he never expected to hear again – at least not in this life. He turned slowly to the source.
'Albus?' he asked, the incredulity evident in his voice.
Albus Dumbledore smiled in greeting. 'I am pleased to hear you finally call me by my given name, Harry. It has taken you long enough.'
Harry floundered like a landed fish for a few moments. 'What the…how the...what the hell are you doing here? You're dead! And what's wrong with Hermione?' he finally managed.
Dumbledore's smile broadened. 'I'm still very dead, Harry and – technically - so are you.' He turned to Hermione. .'She's fine, Harry. Absolutely fine. She can't see or hear us for the moment though.'
'Why not?' he asked, turning sharply to look upon her. She stood like a statue, frozen in place. He examined her closer observing how absolutely nothing moved, almost as if she was petrified. He noticed with fascination that even her tears remained fixed upon her cheeks. He turned back to Dumbledore. 'What the hell is going on?' he snapped. 'Fix her!'
'All in good time, Harry; all in good time.' He smiled again, almost as if enjoying some private joke. 'In fact,' he continued,' that is a perfect way of putting it. You see, at the moment we are standing outside of time.'
'Outside of time,' he repeated flatly.
'Yes,' replied Dumbledore. 'Everyone else in the universe is frozen in a moment of time. After all, when you really think about it; what is time?' he looked whimsical for a second or two, his eyes twinkling brightly before he closed them.
"But at my back I always hear,
Time's winged chariot hurrying near,
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity."
Harry decided that he had gone mad. That Voldemort's final curse had unhinged him completely.
'It's a poem, Harry. Part of a poem dealing with time and love by a very clever chap called Andrew Marvell. You'll maybe meet him soon. A lovely fellow. But I digress,' he added. 'The point I am trying to make is that time has no meaning where we are right now.'
'Time has no meaning in Hogwarts? Since when?' he asked, aware of the irony in the question.
'Technically we are not in Hogwarts. You see; for everyone else, time has stopped. The whole universe has ceased to turn so that we can have this conversation. When it is over things will return to normal.'
'Won't people notice?' he asked sceptically.
'Why would they notice? We are between moments. When we are done the next moment will follow on for everyone as if there were no gap.'
Harry struggled to get his head round this and found that he was beginning to get a bit of a headache.
'Why are you here? I thought you were going "on"?'
'I did go on. I reached the Other World. But I had to come back.'
'The Other World? Is that Heaven?' asked Harry, deeply curious.
'We prefer not to call it that, Harry. It is known as the Other World.'
Harry considered this for a few seconds before dismissing it as irrelevant. Something else was bothering him.
'You said I was technically dead,' he said.
'Ah!' exclaimed Dumbledore, clicking his fingers. 'Thank you, Harry. Thank you for steering us back on track. That is why I am here. Come! Sit down and I will explain,' he added as he gestured towards the bed. Harry took his time before complying, realising that to obey would be to accept this madness. He glanced once again at Hermione and felt a sudden flush as he considered what she had just said to him. That at least was real. Sighing, he decided that this was just another weird event – one in a long line of weird things that had been his lot in life. He strode across the room and flopped onto the bed. He sat and stared stonily at his former headmaster. Dumbledore ignored the rebuke in his eyes.
'You remember our recent conversation, Harry?' he asked.
'Of course I do. I am unlikely to forget it,' he snapped.
'In that case, you will remember that you were given a choice. You had the option of "going on" or of returning to Earth and defeating Voldemort.'
'However,' continued Albus, 'I forgot to mention something to you. An unforgivable oversight as it happens. An oversight that I have been sent here to rectify.'
Harry rolled his eyes. 'What did you fail to tell me this time?' he asked, more than a hint of bitterness in his tone.
Dumbledore took his time before replying. 'I forgot to tell you that you were only to be given enough time to defeat Voldemort. That once you had done so you were to return to King's Cross and finally go on.'
A long silence greeted this revelation. A million thoughts flew across Harry's mind as he struggled to deal with what he had heard. Finally, he managed to articulate one of them.
'So why didn't you arrive after I killed him? That was over two hours ago. Why not then?'
Dumbledore sighed. 'I am afraid there has been a bit of a mix-up. I never realised that it was my responsibility to collect you – I thought that a chap named Celeste would be fetching you. He's a Recorder; he deals with the bookkeeping. Unfortunately, Celeste was under the impression that I would be performing the duty of collecting you and so neither of us bothered. An unfortunate oversight but thankfully one that is easily fixed.'
'What do you mean "easily fixed"? snarled Harry, getting to his feet. He felt a sudden urge to attack Dumbledore and was reminded of his feelings back in fifth year when he'd wanted to do the same. On that occasion Voldemort had possessed him; this time the desire to set about the headmaster was all his own idea.
'It is easily fixed because I am here to take you with me. You are dead, Harry. You have been on borrowed time these past two hours. It's time to go.'
'I'm going nowhere! If you had told me this at King's Cross I might have went "on" there and then. I'm buggered if I'm going to quietly come along now just to fix your cock-up!'
Dumbledore sighed. 'You would not have me use force, Harry?'
'You could try!' snapped Harry, adopting a fighting posture. 'I took care of old Tom for you; I fancy my chances now.'
Surprisingly Dumbledore laughed. 'Why are you making this so difficult? We all must die. You had accepted this; you had resigned yourself to dying in the forest, after all.'
'Because something has happened. Something happened in my borrowed two hours. I'm not leaving.'
'What happened?' asked Dumbledore.
'Hermione told me that she is in love with me,' he replied flatly. 'This changes everything. Two hours ago I was ready to die. Not now.'
Dumbledore smiled broadly. 'Miss Granger declared her love for you?' he asked.
'And do you love her?'
A pause. 'Yes.'
''Excellent!' exclaimed Dumbledore. 'This is good news.' His expression suddenly became sober for a moment as he considered something. 'Oh dear,' he finally said.
'"Oh dear" what?' asked Harry with a feeling of foreboding.
'The Boss isn't going to like this,' replied Dumbledore. 'This is going to cause a few problems. The Boss will insist you come with me.'
'I'm not going anywhere,' repeated Harry. 'You tell The Boss! You tell him that…'
'Her,' said Dumbledore.
Harry looked confused. '"Her" what?'
'You want me to tell her. Not him.'
Harry's mouth fell open. 'The Boss up there is a woman?' he asked incredulously.
Dumbledore laughed heartily. 'Of course she's a woman, Harry! She's omnipotent! How many men have you met with the ability to multitask?'
Harry considered the point for a moment then shrugged. It was a fair observation. 'OK then; you tell her that I'm not going anywhere. Things have changed. It may have been borrowed time but it was borrowed because you cocked up! And in that time I have fallen in love and Hermione has told me that she loves me. I'm not leaving her now. Not after this. It could destroy her.'
'You're concern does you credit, Harry but you have no room for manoeuvre here. The Boss is a stickler for The Law. It is the power of Law that guides the universe. Would you stand against that power?'
'I would,' Harry replied without hesitation. 'It's not the power that guides my universe.' He glanced at Hermione. 'Not any more.'
Dumbledore regarded him for a long, long moment and his eyes twinkled more than Harry had ever seen them which was quite an achievement considering the man was dead. 'You never cease to amaze me, Harry. You really are the most remarkable person I have ever met. I will see what I can do – I suppose a little bit more time can't hurt. I shall return to the Other World and see what can be done.' He pointed a finger at Hermione. 'Just don't fall any deeper in love with her,' he said with a smile.
Harry finally smiled in return. 'Impossible,' he replied. He watched as Dumbledore gave him one last smile before disappearing.
Then everything went black.