Disclaimer: Harry Potter is the property of JK Rowling who kindly allows others to play in her universe.
Alternate Universe - What if the epilogue was nothing more than a dream?
Pairings: Mentions of Harry/Ginny, Ron/Hermione.
Tropes/Cliches/Fanon: MasterofHallows!Harry, Manipulative!Dumbledore
Content warning of time meddling?
This is not going to turn into an 800,000 word story. I wrote it sometime ago when I was stalled on A Marauder's Plan, re-read the books and came away irritated again with the epilogue in the Deathly Hallows. It's an intriguing start but I quickly surmised that I'd end up retracing ground I'd covered in A Marauder's Plan if it went further. So, it's never going to go beyond this. But I think this snippet stands alone and I hope people take some enjoyment out of it.
Happy International Fanworks Day!
Reviews welcome. Cross-posted to AO3.
Once Upon Another Time
The dream faded into conscious awareness but the afterimage of the red Hogwarts Express disappearing into the distance and himself standing on the platform at King's Cross station with his scar silent and without pain stayed with him as Harry Potter opened his green eyes.
For a moment he stared at the blurry shadows that decorated his bedroom ceiling before hefting his body upright and rubbing a hand over his face. He reached for his glasses and slid them on – not the round black frames of his childhood but fashionable wire-framed alternatives that his fiancée had insisted suited him better.
He was marrying Ginny the next day…or later that morning, he mused wryly, glancing at the clock; two am.
He shuffled to the edge of the bed and sat, kneading his forehead and trying to work through his sudden wakeful restlessness; the sense that he should be somewhere else. The lingering dream was unsettling him on some level.
Probably the thought that he'd ever name a child Albus Severus, Harry thought half-amused, half-horrified. He was forgiving – had forgiven both men their transgressions against him just as his mind healer had recommended – but he wasn't that forgiving. Albus Dumbledore might have cared for him but he had groomed Harry to die, and Snape might have occasionally tried to save his life and contributed to the cause, but the late Potions Professor had belittled and bullied Harry the entire time he'd known the man. If he was that forgiving of peoples' actions towards him, he might just as well go the whole hog and call his third son Tom!
A muffled snort escaped him and he got to his feet, stretching. He would be married at noon to Ginny but doubts assailed him after his dream. There had been such a lack of…a lack of passion, of feeling between them in the dream.
There had been contentment and safety; a familiarity like a well-worn pair of slippers but beyond that? There had been no fierce want or desire; no stirring of admiration that a beautiful woman was his wife and lover. It was as though there were no highs and lows in dream Harry's life, Harry thought; just a middling average.
Wasn't that what he wanted? What he had dreamed of for so long? What he'd planned every day since vanquishing Voldemort two years before?
Harry got up and brushed a hand over the green dress robes, newly pressed by Molly that evening. He glanced over at the dresser where his most treasured pictures fought for space on the surface. A treasured picture of his parents held pride of place but just beside it was an equally treasured snap of Sirius and himself the Christmas of his fifth year. He'd duplicated the one he had of Remus and Tonks that always seemed to end up towards the back, behind a picture of Harry with Hermione and Ron in the Gryffindor Common Room during their third year, and one of the three of them standing with the remaining DA survivors just after the battle of Hogwarts. Lastly, there was a complete Weasley family pic taken the Summer of the Quidditch World Cup; picture Fred winked at Harry before doing rabbit ears behind picture Ron's head.
He really missed Fred.
He dressed silently, needing to be outside of Grimmauld Place; outside in the fresh air. A last minute thought had him grabbing his invisibility cloak and he sneaked out of his bedroom, careful not to wake a snoring Ron in the bedroom across the hall as he made his way down the stairs. At least there was no Walburga Black to berate him in the entrance way anymore. Kreacher had taken down her picture and stowed it in a gallery of portraits in the attic at Harry's request.
Harry closed the front door behind him and breathed in the night air. The where to go popped into his mind and without thinking he gripped his wand and turned sharply, apparating. The gates of Hogwarts were immediately in front of him when he opened his eyes. He donned his cloak and made his way invisibly up the path until he left it and trudged across the field toward the forest, toward the clearing where he had faced Death.
The clearing looked benign; shadowy in the half-moon light; the sky partially clouded overhead. It looked as though there had never been an epic battle; the forest encroaching to take back what little impact wizards had made a couple of years before.
Why had he needed to come here, Harry considered bemused. What had compelled him? He closed his eyes and suddenly felt a small hard round object in his right hand and a long thin wand-like object in his left. He snapped his eyes open again and stared at what he held; the Resurrection stone and the Elder wand.
He staggered over to a fallen log and sat down abruptly. Had he called them to him? How had he called them to him? He didn't want them! He'd dropped the stone; stowed the wand away in the tomb…why had they come back to him? How had they come back to him?
"You always had the ability to call them."
A voice whispered out of the darkness – loud as a gunshot in the preternatural silence.
"Who's there?" demanded Harry.
A form glided into the clearing; a being in a dark cloak with an unearthly white glow. Hands came up slowly and removed the hood, and an elderly woman with white hair and eyes like the night sky was revealed.
Harry felt his throat dry up; his heart pounded in his chest as he pointed the wand at the woman. "What are you?"
"You know what I am, son of Peverell." The woman smiled. "I once made a gift of the things you hold to your Ancestors."
He was talking to Death!
"Are you here for me?" asked Harry half-panicked and yet in some ways resigned to it – he'd never truly expected to live to see a normal life.
"In a way I am and in another I am not." Death answered. "Shall we sit and talk?"
Harry gestured weakly at the empty log beside him in a silent offer of a seat.
Death sat down, her robe puddling around her. "It has been many years since I talked with a mortal."
"I haven't talked with Death recently myself." Harry managed to retort.
"For a change," teased the old woman, "you used to court me every year."
And wasn't that a disturbing thought.
"Perhaps if I looked a little different it would not be." The woman's shape shimmered and a young woman was left in her place with blonde hair and a youthful beauty.
Harry couldn't help smiling even though her previous words played on his mind. "You can read my thoughts?"
"I am Death." She pointed out dryly.
He nodded; he guessed it wasn't out of the realm of possibility that Death could read minds.
"You dreamed tonight." Death said. "You dreamed of your possible future. What did you see?"
"Three kids and a warning what not to name them." Harry quipped, still unnerved that he was sitting in the clearing where he had died with Death.
"And?" pressed Death.
"And?" parroted Harry, not sure what she was asking him.
"And what do you think of your wife? Of the society you glimpsed? Of the man you become?" Death expanded without a hint of impatience.
Harry took a moment to really think about his answer because wasn't it his dismay…his unhappiness at his dream that had brought him to the clearing?
"It had good points," Harry said, eventually, "I mean, I was still married to Ginny after a lot of years so our marriage must be solid – we seemed comfortable. And Ron and Hermione and I all seemed like we remained friends. Everyone seemed happy – normal happy, you know? No Dark Wizard hunting or fear hanging around." He brightened. "And there were the kids – I was a Dad! That was a good bit."
Because he had felt love for his children – a blinding paternal love to make them happy and keep them safe. That had been the only emotion he'd felt in the dream though.
"But?" prompted Death.
"But it was, I don't know…too normal? Too…too dull? It was as though everything had been stuck in time and nothing had moved on and I was…" Harry sighed. "I was stuck with everyone else, worrying about school rivalries, and exchanging terse nods with Draco, and Ron not really understanding or caring about muggles despite being married to Hermione."
"And you don't want to be stuck?"
"No, and I don't think our society is going to be stuck, not really." Harry claimed with some feeling. After returning to school for a final year to complete her NEWTs, Hermione had gone to work for the Ministry and Shacklebolt was making good inroads into forming better legislation. Harry just couldn't see their society remaining so…so…stuck. Merlin if it didn't move on that would be a whole new level of depressing.
Death patted the back of his hand and he felt an icy chill sweep through him. "Do you love Ginevra Weasley?"
"Yes." Harry answered immediately, because he did love Ginny. He just wasn't madly, passionately in love with her – not in the way the books and songs said that he should be. He sometimes thought guiltily that she loved him more than he loved her but she was a beautiful intelligent woman and he was lucky that she had agreed to be his wife.
"But you know something is missing between you." Death pointed out. "Passion, excitement, desire."
"I felt them once." Harry replied defensively. When he'd been sixteen and hormones had been running wild. He'd had a crush – an infatuation – an attraction. And it had faded. He just hadn't wanted to admit it – to himself, to Ginny, to Ron and the rest of the Weasleys who considered him family.
His marriage to Ginny was expected – written in stone almost as much as the prophecy that had dictated so much of his life. And who else would he marry anyway? The only two other women of marrying age who really knew him as Harry were Luna and Hermione; the latter was in love with Ron and the former had once told him with a great deal of seriousness that he and she were destined to be simply friends. Everyone else still saw him as the Boy Who Lived; the Man who Conquered Voldemort.
"Would you change your life if you could?" Death asked interrupting his thoughts.
"My past, my present or my future?" asked Harry with a small smile. "I can't change the past…I guess I could make a different decision about tomorrow but…I wouldn't do that to Ginny; I couldn't bear to hurt her that way. If the dream was a glimpse…I might be able to change my future." Make sure he didn't call his children after his parents – there were other ways of honouring their memories; maybe make an effort to instil a spark of something in his marriage.
"What if you could change your past?" asked Death.
Harry stared at her.
"Let me tell you a story," she morphed back to her grandmotherly persona, "once there was a young wizard named Albus. He had a brother called Aberforth and they lived with their parents and sister in a grand house in the dales of Yorkshire. One day the sister was attacked and their father imprisoned and they moved back to their mother's home in Godric's Hollow. Money became scarce but Albus, a powerful wizard, won a place at Hogwarts; unfortunately his brother did not. Relations became further strained between the two brothers when a graduated Albus returned home after his mother's death. Albus wasn't happy at having to look after his sickly sister and Aberforth wasn't happy at Albus's assumption that because he was the brother who had stayed at home that he would be the one to remain with her."
Harry nodded, spellbound by the real tale of the former Headmaster. He'd heard it before and read about it but he'd dismissed some of it as sour grapes and sensationalising on the part of the author.
"And then Albus fell in love with the visiting nephew of a local historian. He and his lover Gellert dreamed of conquest and glory; of power and privilege; of uniting my Hallows. Aberforth argued with them and a deadly fight broke out and poor innocent Ariana walked into the middle of the spell-fire. It was Albus's spell that ended her life that day although he and they never knew for certain." Death smiled sadly. "I did, of course."
He remained silent, unsure what to say. Ariana's death had been a turning point for Albus Dumbledore, tragic though it had been.
"Albus swore the day he buried his sister to refrain from the temptation of power." Death continued. "But he was unable to keep that vow. Oh, he tried. He remained out of the war Gellert instigated for as long as he could but in the end he knew only he had the power to win a duel with him. And the wand he won was a surprise."
Harry lifted the Elder wand.
"And Albus gave into temptation." Death said. "He could never have done what you did – he would never have hidden it away and never used it; content to return to his old wand and keep faith with it. He loved the power of the Elder wand; he would not give it up. He tried instead to eschew political power, taking figurehead positions of authority with influence certainly but in Albus's mind, no real power; telling himself he was content to remain a teacher, a Headmaster. And still he used the wand. He tried to stay out of fights, to be benevolent and forgiving; to promote redemption rather than punishment. And still he used the wand. And even when he should have used it, to put down the rising threat of Voldemort, he would not – telling himself he could not be tempted to use its power that way but in truth not wanting to take the risk of losing it."
"The wand corrupted his thinking." Harry said out loud, thinking over her words.
"All power corrupts." Death said gravely. She gestured at the wand he held. "When I created the Hallows, I made it so only someone who would not want the power of them would become their true Master."
He nodded understandingly. It was the same trick Dumbledore had used on the Mirror of Erised and the Philosopher's stone; only someone who wouldn't want to use it, could have it.
"But back to my story." Death said firmly. "The rising threat of Voldemort was ignored by Albus just as he had ignored Gellert's rise to power, but eventually he had to once again step into the fray, only as I've mentioned he was too afraid to duel Voldemort directly because he feared losing the Elder wand. Instead he formed an ancient Order, the Order of the Phoenix, and attempted to fight Voldemort through the agency of others."
"Keeping control of the wand." Harry remarked.
"And then, a gift was given to him; a prophecy that foretold someone else would have the power to vanquish the Dark Lord." Death said, pointing at him. "And Albus did everything he could to ensure that the prophecy came to pass; he didn't stop Aberforth from throwing out the eavesdropper, he didn't go after the eavesdropper and remove their knowledge, he allowed the Potters and the Longbottoms to hide yet the identity of their Secret Keepers was made known. His spy told him what was to come – the planned attack on the Potters – and he told them nothing. Instead he waited on the eve of the Hallow for Voldemort to strike without lifting a finger to prevent it."
Harry felt his anger at Dumbledore stir again. "For the 'Greater Good' right?"
Death smiled at him again. "Acceptable losses, in Albus's mind. And just after midnight, a young Sirius Black turned up at Hogwarts with the news that James and Lily Potter had been attacked and with you in his arms; the only survivor."
"But that's…" Harry began to protest that it hadn't happened that way.
"Hear my story of this history you do not know first, son of Peverell." Death chided him gently.
He huffed but nodded.
"Sirius told him that Peter Pettigrew was the Secret Keeper, that it had been a bluff, and Sirius took veritaserum to prove it when the Aurors came for him but in all these discussions, he held onto his godson and wouldn't let you go."
Harry swallowed hard against the rise of emotion.
"And Sirius Black raised you – in the muggle world to prevent the remaining Death Eaters from finding you after the Longbottoms were viciously attacked – but with visits from Remus Lupin and his cousin Andromeda, and occasionally Albus. Sirius would say proudly that you took after your father in looks, your mother in nature and himself in pranking; you were a bright, intelligent if quiet child who was very much loved. And when you were eleven, you went to Hogwarts."
He'd been raised by Sirius?
"You sorted into Gryffindor and Sirius was very proud of you especially when you made your House Quidditch team." Death continued. "Indeed your first year wasn't so different except you studied hard and your best friend was Neville Longbottom not Ron Weasley who you disliked especially when he refused to help search for Hermione Granger during the troll incident at Halloween. But events continued and you once again faced Voldemort who abducted you to get the stone out of the mirror. And so two of Albus's theories were proven: you had a protection against Voldemort and he still lived."
"And then?" Harry asked gruffly.
"And then in your second year, Albus discovered the reason for the latter after you saved Ginny Weasley in the Chamber of Secrets: the horcrux." Death confirmed. "Only Albus realised that you were also a horcrux and that Sirius would never allow you to walk to your death; that you were a strong boy with a good sense of self-worth, who loved life and who he believed would never martyr yourself for others. He came up with a plan."
"He used a time turner, didn't he?" Harry said thinking it was the only way Dumbledore could have changed the past.
"He used the wand such is its power." Death corrected gently. "He had you see dabbled theoretically with time travel for a number of years trying to get to the past and save his sister. And he had successfully found a spell to send a letter back in time but his calculations had always shown the length of time travelled back correlated with the power available. He had given up the idea for Ariana knowing he did not have that much power but to send a letter back to the day before your parents died? That much he could do."
"He changed time." Harry was furious.
"Knowing you would survive, he sent Hagrid to collect you with orders not to let anyone take you. Albus then apparated using the invisibility cloak to Godric's Hollow and when Sirius arrived he placed a strong compulsion spell on him to send him after Peter and to leave you with Hagrid. He didn't arrange for Peter to frame Sirius the way he did but it worked out marvellously for him. It was easy then to send Sirius to Azkaban and you to the Dursleys. And even when Sirius escaped, it was easy enough for him to ensure that as a fugitive his access to you was restricted. With your friendship with the Weasley family assured, he arranged for Molly watch over the two of you at Grimmauld with neither of you the wiser."
"He groomed me to do exactly what he wanted." Harry said bitterly. "And I let him even after his death; I just did what he wanted!"
"Yes, he tried to prevent that death by sending more letters back again and again, but he could never resist the temptation of the Resurrection stone no matter that he knew where it would lead." She smiled and for the first time he saw the cruelty of her; the trickster that had given one brother a wand that had led to his death and another brother, a stone.
"This was never the life you were supposed to live." Death said. "When you spent time with your godfather, a part of you recognised the true bond between you and knew the truth – knew you were meant to be raised by him, knew you were loved by him. It was why you grieved for him so much despite the brief time you spent together. And a part of you knows that you were never meant to marry Ginevra Weasley and settle for a comfortable marriage and a normal average life; that tomorrow should never happen."
Harry blinked back tears at what might have been. "Why?" He asked. "Why tell me this now?"
"Because Albus interfered with Time, it was agreed that should you seek the Hallows and allow me to talk with you, you would be told and offered a choice." Death replied.
His eyebrows went up. "A choice?"
"You may use the spell to send your own letter back and undo the damage Albus wrought." Death said. "His actions brought so many to me earlier than they should have been."
"How far back could I go?" wondered Harry, his mind whirling. Could he save his parents or…
"Not that far," Death said gently, "I would suggest perhaps as far back as your first Hogwarts letter but no further." She tapped the wand. "Because you united all three of the Hallows, you are now the true Master of the wand through all time and it will recognise you the moment your old self in possession of your letter steps into Albus's presence. It will not work for him any longer. He will believe it is because you are a Peverell and he will be partly right."
"So he can't use the wand and go back in time to change it again himself?" Harry checked, because the thought of a never-ending loop of Albus and he changing time seemed catastrophic
Death nodded. "He cannot."
Harry bit his lip. "Will I still defeat Voldemort?"
"You will have your letter and the information will be protected from his sight until you share blood." Death said. "There is no guarantee but…"
"But I would have the advantage." Harry said excitedly. He could save so many; Cedric, Fred, all those who'd died at the battle, Dumbledore himself, Snape even – and most importantly, Sirius. Only could he? Because it was only a letter that he was sending back, not himself. He would still be a naïve eleven year old boy, wide-eyed and probably just as stupidly blind to Dumbledore's machinations even with the extra information.
"Do I have to send the letter to myself?" asked Harry, trying to think of who else he could send it to if anyone.
"I'm afraid so." Death said.
Harry sighed. He rubbed his forehead absently. "And I'm thinking this is a one-time deal? I get tonight to make a choice?"
"Exactly." Death confirmed. She waved a hand and parchment and ink appeared. "So what is your decision, Master of my Hallows?"
What was his decision? Was there even a decision to be made? If he could save just one life from the war…
He reached for the parchment. "If I'm sending this to myself, I think the Summer after my second year would probably be the best time to send it."
Two years of coming face to face with Voldemort. Two years of the Headmaster avoiding his questions. The Summer that Sirius had escaped and there had been a chance of Harry having a different home to the Dursleys…having someone in his life who would love him for him…who would take his side no matter what…
The letter took more time than he thought it would. The night was giving way to morning by the time he finished.
Death waited patiently until he finished. He neatly folded the parchment and placed it in an envelope.
"The spell?" asked Harry.
She smiled. "Place the letter on the ground. Point the Elder wand at it, keep in mind the exact moment in the past you want the letter to arrive, and say 'tempus fugit.'"
Harry gently placed the letter on the ground. The exact moment he wanted the letter to arrive? Before Marge's visit wouldn't be wise in case his relatives stumbled across him getting the letter – there was no guarantee that they would destroy before he could read it. It would be a shame because he was certain Sirius had been on Magnolia Crescent when he'd caught the Knight Bus but it couldn't be helped…
He pictured the Leaky Cauldron the night he arrived. The room Tom had given him; the bed. He made the picture as clear in his head as it could be and said the words.
A brilliant flash of white lit up the clearing.
Harry blinked until he regained his sight. The letter was gone. He turned around and saw Death slowly fading away. "What do I now?"
"Go home, son of Peverell. Go to sleep." Death said, her voice echoing as her image disappeared.
Harry frowned. That was it? How would he know if he had been successful? He rubbed his forehead tiredly. He dropped the Resurrection Stone back on the ground and went back to Dumbledore's tomb where he replaced the Elder wand. He hurried out of Hogwarts as the sun began to rise over the horizon and apparated home.
Ron was still snoring as Harry made his way up the stairs and crept back into his room. He stripped and climbed into bed and stared at the ceiling. Had it really happened? Had he gone back to the clearing? Had he decided to change time to avoid his fate of marrying Ginny and having three kids? His eyes caught on the waiting dress robes and he closed them shut in response. No. He hadn't changed time for that reason, he thought to himself stubbornly; he'd changed it to save the people who had died needlessly. And maybe he hadn't changed time at all…his timeline seemed to still be in existence…no doubt it had all been some kind of self-induced hallucination or dream or…something Hermione would explain to him in great depth once he'd told her.
Marriage to Ginny.
It wouldn't be a bad thing, Harry thought briskly. And he could change time; he could change the future and make sure he and Ginny had a more passionate marriage; that they didn't name their kids Albus Severus.
He snorted and turned over, settling into a comfortable position.
And so one Harry Potter went to sleep and didn't wake again, unaware his younger self had finally opened the letter sitting so innocently on his bed...