A/N: My update rate just septupled – septupled? septupled – , guys. This is progress. Twice in the same year? I haven't managed that since high school.
However, there is one downside in going back to an old story and updating, and it's this: I started this story when I was 14. While I love it and love that people love it, it's a downright embarrassment that it's the biggest thing I've written and there's still absolutely no plotline. And there never will be a plot line, because I can't take a 130,000 word thing from when I was barely a teenager and make good on it.
So here's the deal. I've got this chapter, and then a chapter further down the line in this story written. I'm posting this, posting it, and then saying farewell to this iteration.
The next iteration has a plotline – an outline, too, hell yeah; there's rising action and a climax, and resolution, and stuff – and the same basic idea. But with, you know, a fully (if basically) conceptualized plot. AiaW 2.0 also has me with a stable office job on its side. Let me be honest: fanfiction is going to happen just so I don't gouge my own eyes out, and the only real question is will my focus be on 2.0 or will enough people say 'goddamn, Rachel, let it die' that I move on to something else.
Adrift in a World
Chapter 24: If, Then
Harry twirled his wand between his fingers, looking through the window at what he was fairly certain was Mars. He was leaning back on a stiff, four-legged chair he had snagged from the Hospital Wing, his feet crossed and propped on the window sill. The last time he had paid any attention to the Muggle news – really the last time Harry had listened to Hermione as she was excitedly explaining space travel to a couple of pureblood Ravenclaws – scientists had been arguing about the possibility of life on the red planet.
Muggles, Hermione had explained to them, had already gone to the Moon and had already sent machines to Mars years before they were even born. The Ravenclaws had been fascinated, but in a theoretical, tolerant sort of way, not with the same forceful drive Hermione had.
Space travel, Harry thought idly, should have been so easy for wizards. A single wizard, maybe with the help of a friend or two, could have gone to the moon and back easily; they certainly could have gone beyond the bounds of the Solar System if they so wished. Just a variant of the Bubblehead Charm, some severely shrunken food and water containers… and even if there wasn't a single spell for it, Harry was willing to bet it would not take too much imagination to change a Sun Block charm into something that protected against all the fatal radiation that was such a stumbling block for Muggle technology.
If Muggles had magic, Harry suspected, they would do so much more with it. And so to some degree he understood the two unknowns who had interrupted his rescue attempt. Breaking the Statute of Secrecy and merging the two worlds could lead to wonderful things – with technology, with medicine, with people. But only if it was done correctly.
Because Harry was also thinking about the Dursleys and their hatred of magic and all the purebloods who hated Muggles. Between the two groups, he wasn't sure who would hold the top place for mistreatment of magical creatures, and there would be so much fighting and fear to get through that Harry doubted the whole struggle would be worth it in the end.
Harry sucked in a breath of air in surprise and spun his head around. The two legs of his chair wobbled ominously and he lurched forward to grab onto the windowsill so he didn't fall over.
"Potter," he replied irritatedly, rubbing his wrenched shoulder and glaring at the man who had snuck up on him. "What?"
The Auror shrugged, walking into the dim room. He tapped Harry's chair with his wand and a copy appeared next to it. Sitting heavily with a sigh, James mirrored Harry's pose by also putting his feet on the windowsill and leaning back. "It's been a long night."
"Yeah," Harry agreed emptily. The night, in fact, was nearly over, and Mars was slowly disappearing in the graying sky. As far as he knew, most of the Order was still trying to figure out how to despell the surviving prisoners so they could be touched and healed without also exploding.
Harry, after passing over all the marbled and animal prisoners he still had to Moody, had found the dead Potter's arm in a cloak pocket – no doubt put there by Voldemort. He had given the arm to Moody, too, after a rushed explanation. Then, making sure no one was immediately looking for him, had holed up in a room next to the Hospital Wing – hidden enough where he might not be bothered for a while, but close enough so he could plausibly say he wasn't hiding.
He glanced at James, who looked more tired than just a night of exploding prisoners and a prisoner exchange warranted. "Sorry about – well…"
James shrugged again. "To be perfectly honest, nobody was really expecting to see him alive again, anyway." At Harry's questioning look, he expanded, "He'd been missing for a year. Even if everyone hadn't concluded that he died in a firefight, it wouldn't have occurred to me to have you keep an eye out for him."
James fiddled with his glasses for a moment before pushing him firmly back on his nose. "How did he look?"
"Good," Harry said, holding his hands apart in a universal gesture of honesty at James's skeptical look. "He was able to walk out of there, casting spells and everything. Actually, he was the first one I saw who was still all there – as soon as I got into the dungeons, I couldn't leave all the people trapped, but I didn't have any time. I broke him out, and he broke most of the others out."
James had a pained look on his face, but motioned for Harry to keep going when he paused.
Harry sighed. "Most of us turn a bit... single-minded after a while; we want revenge more than we really want to get out or make sure everyone gets out safely. But he wanted to rescue all of them. Nicely, too. There was one wizard who wasn't too thrilled with the idea of jumping off the roof, but Potter talked to him and jumped with him. I would have just thrown him over the edge."
His lip twitched a little as James laughed in surprise. "Throwing a slow prisoner off a building – I'm not surprised."
"There were charms," Harry said indifferently. "He would have landed and been fine."
This was, Harry realized, the most cordial conversation he'd had with James Potter and it was made even stranger by the topic. Eventually, the question of why Potter had died would come up, and there was no good way to answer it. Harry held off the moment with a question of his own.
He cleared his throat awkwardly. "Who was he?"
Harry got a look of surprise for that. "I thought you knew."
"Voldemort called him Potter, and I figured that was also an Auror, but…"
"My father, the model war-time Auror," James said flatly, and Harry's mouth tightened, his bilious anger at Voldemort resurfacing. For a moment, he wondered if Voldemort knew who he really was and selected the man as an effective target on purpose. But if Voldemort had even suspected that he was Harry Potter, it was very unlikely the wizard would have let him leave – or live. "What, you never heard about him in your world?"
Harry shook his head, but didn't expand on his answer when James looked at him pointedly.
"Strange – as involved in your war as you seemed to be, you should have bumped into him at some point." At Harry's equally unhelpful shrug, James hummed thoughtfully. "He probably died there, too, then. He never liked staying out of the action." His voice turned bitter, almost sarcastic. "Is that what happened? Did he try to singlehandedly arrest Voldemort?"
Harry turned to look back out the window. "He was killed to," Harry hesitated, trying to find a better way of saying it but thinking of nothing, "to prove a point."
He felt James's sharp look, and crossed his arms without looking in his direction. "Voldemort was trying to figure out how I knew where his house was and, more than that, the layout. I didn't answer-"
"A good policy, in general," James interrupted.
"—and he blew up one of the prisoners," Harry continued, withholding a dirty look at the blasé interruption. "He threatened to do it again, so I started answering, but after a while…" Harry swallowed convulsively. "I can only cooperate with Voldemort for so long," Harry said haltingly, "before mouthing off. I didn't think…"
He clenched his jaw and waited.
Honestly, Harry was expecting quite a bit of yelling or cursing. He had just admitted to getting James's – who had shown considerable dislike for him ever since he had arrived – father killed because he didn't know when to keep his mouth shut.
"Was it at least a good one-liner?"
Harry turned to look at his father incredulously.
"Collins, I've thought my dad was dead for a year. This doesn't really change anything. Am I pissed?" James asked, raising his eyebrows. "Absolutely. But not at you. Besides, Dad would much rather die than think you gave up any valuable information to Voldemort to save his life."
Harry must have noticeably relaxed his body, because James chuckled wryly.
"I'm touched, Collins. Were you going to send flowers? We have such a positive camaraderie that you were afraid I'd start hating you for killing my father?"
Harry scowled at James, who in turn looked surprisingly light-hearted.
As tense as the atmosphere in the room still was, Harry was oddly tempted to ask for James's advice, or at least voice what Voldemort had threatened him with. He opened his mouth uncertainly. James leaned forward, eyes sharp and brow furrowed, looking more intent than Harry had ever seen before.
Harry froze as he heard the voice in the hallway, the sound of footsteps drawing nearer to the room.
"You in here?" Peter Pettigrew stuck his head into the room, looking relieved when he saw James.
Harry reflexively flung a knife at the door frame next to Peter's head. The man jumped a bit, but recovered quickly and scowled at Harry. "Your displeasure is registered, Chris. It wasn't me and, yes, Moody is already on the hunt for whoever it was."
"Two questions," James said quickly before Harry could reply scathingly. "One, Moody's on the hunt for who? And two, Collins is throwing knives at your head and you're suddenly on a first-name basis?"
Raising his hand and watching as the knife flew back into it, Harry replied, "Moody's on the hunt for whichever bastard in your Order thought it would be fun to tell Voldemort precisely what my plans for tonight were. I have a very long list of people I don't know, a very short list of people who I know it wasn't, and an even shorter list of default suspects."
"And Peter's number one on your list?" James asked skeptically. "Why?"
Harry briefly considered what wording he should use to best communicate his reasons before catching himself. He laughed shortly.
"I must be losing my mind—I was actually going to give you a straight answer. No, Potter, Pettigrew is fine and apparently not a traitor, and this touching heart-to-heart is over."
He made to stand up, but James pushed him roughly back into his chair. Harry hissed and twisted back as James's thumb brushed up against the splintered bone sticking out of his shoulder. "Fucking hell," Harry snapped, moving his hand to cover it before realizing how much of a bad idea that would be with the blood still on his hands. He settled for glaring malevolently up at his father.
"If you've survived this long without getting healed," James said, "you'll live a bit longer. Peter, seal the door—I want some answers."
Peter looked at Harry uncertainly, but swiftly shut the door and warded it.
"Fantastic," Harry bit out at him, "still following orders everywhere you go."
"See, that!" James said frustratedly. "What precisely does that mean? And what do you mean you were going to give me a straight answer? Every single time you say something," James continued, pushing his hair away from his face angrily, "it almost makes sense, but then it doesn't."
Harry raised one eyebrow at the sudden diatribe.
"Don't even give me that look, Collins. You were even about to say something before Peter came in, and I've had it with the mystery. What are you hiding?"
"Apparently, a not inconsiderable talent for inspiring sudden rage, Potter. But—"
"That's not even a start to being good enough," James interrupted, crossing his arms and looking down at Harry penetratingly. "Don't tell me you suddenly want to be quiet – you got my father killed because you couldn't do that."
Harry flinched back at the sudden accusation, eyes wide. He heard Pettigrew's reactive exclamation of, "James!" as if from far away.
"What?" James responded turning away from Harry. "If he's so torn up about people dying around him, there's no reason not to use that to get a little cooperation."
"Yeah, you've got all sorts of practice interrogating people, I know. But one day you'll regret—"
"No, let him try his best, Pettigrew," Harry said, eyes glittering. He looked up at James. "If that's the worst you can do, I'm going to get bored soon and unward the door myself. I've been interrogated by the best, and they knew far more of my awful little secrets."
Harry watched, tense, as James seemed to waver between aggression and uncertainty. He hadn't been exaggerating; he was tired, and hurt, and apparently had far less of a filter over what he said than he usually did. That, in particular, was perilously inconvenient - and more than anything else Harry wanted to escape and recuperate from Voldemort's mind games. He slumped back in his seat, still watching James distrustfully.
"God damn it, Collins. I don't want to fight you," James said, also looking tired, and Harry felt a new surge of regret at the bad blood between them. "I just want to know what's going on, and you're not making that any easier."
Peter was looking at Harry encouragingly, and Harry shot him a filthy look before putting the knife down on the table in surrender. "You want to know what's going on with what?"
Face filled with annoyance, James looked prepared to rattle off a list. Harry stopped him by raising a finger.
"One thing, Potter. Voldemort reorganized my skeleton a little, cast a bunch of spells on me I know a little too well, and decided to start blowing up people under my protection. You think you can guilt me? You're holding a seventeen-year-old hostage without medical care, and you're supposed to be one of the good guys. So one thing, and one thing only. Then you leave me alone."
The older wizard bit his lip hesitantly and looked guiltily at Peter for support.
As if he couldn't help himself, Peter chuckled, and then raised his hands defensively at the two glares he received. "Just observing the guilt trip one-upmanship. It's entertaining from my perspective."
"Screw you, Pettigrew," Harry said, and James's eyes narrowed back at him.
"I'll go for that one, actually. Why do you hate Peter so much?"
"You want that answered?" Harry asked incredulously, before shrugging. "Alright. He killed my parents."
James spluttered. "What? No, he didn't."
"Well, you're technically right," Harry said, smiling a little maliciously. While he knew the Peter Pettigrew in front of him was innocent – in fact, he seemed fairly reliable and well-intentioned in this universe, if annoyingly motivated – he was in an awful mood and wasn't above making the man squirm. "He didn't actually kill them. He just set them up to die."
"How?" James asked, looking back at Peter, who winced in confirmation. "Why?"
"Because," Peter said, looking as if he was trying to answer the question carefully, "his parents were one of the two possible sets that could have fulfilled the requirements of the proph—"
"Don't you do it, Pettigrew," Harry growled, glaring at him. "I told you, I won't be part of any of that."
"Why not?" The rat Animagus argued sharply. He waved his hand sharply at James to stop him from interrupting, and James stepped back, listening to the argument instead of interjecting. He recognized the look on Peter's face – his friend had a remarkable skill at getting people to accidentally reveal information they otherwise wouldn't. "Can't you see how that would make everything easier?"
"Easier?" Harry repeated with a bitter laugh. "Could I have done anything I did tonight if I was?"
"No," Peter said flatly. "That's kind of the point."
"What point is that? Can you think of anyone else who could have gone into that house tonight and come out alive? What else could I have done?"
"How about not offer yourself up on a platter? The plan was not for Voldemort to be there, sure, but you keep acting like you either won't die or are ready to do so!"
Peter paused, stopped short by Harry's flippant response. "What do you mean, 'and' – you're trying to kill yourself now?"
"No," Harry said, then he paused and flicked his wand In James's direction, filling the Auror's ears with buzzing. James immediately flicked his wand behind his back, lifting the buzzing sound to hear, "but with as heavily as Voldemort is focused on killing me, it might be best to just get it out of the way, especially since the prophecy might not even apply."
"What if it does?"
"Well, that was sort of the premise behind this fantastically bad idea. If Voldemort hadn't been there, there would either have been no risk of me dying, or my death would have proved that it doesn't."
"I don't know what kind of suicidal escapades everyone let you get away in your old dimension, but here—"
"Here what?" Harry spat angrily. "There's only one person here who might stop me."
"Only the one?" Peter said indignantly, and Harry stared stonily at him. "If you do, it's because you chose for it to be that way. For no good reason."
"You think having a family is going to make it better? That'll make it easier for Voldemort to have his sick little manhunts and kill everyone."
"Like everyone in this castle isn't already on that list."
"This is different," Harry exclaimed. "Voldemort's different. Here, he plans every detail and accounts for every possibility. Mine was crazy and this one is, too, I'm sure. But it's not the same."
He sat down heavily, trying to explain. "Mine hated me and wanted revenge – he'd do anything to kill me, including putting quite a bit of his plans at risk. This one, he adapted his plans to hate me, to destroy me so completely…"
Harry glanced at James, then back at Peter bleakly. "I don't know what to do against this kind of methodical rage. Whatever his plan is, mine probably centers on killing his people first. But I know it certainly won't involve playing at being H—"
Harry coughed, a sudden frog in his throat. For a second he was confused, and then he turned to glare at James. "You know, that spell rather implies I don't want you to hear what I was saying."
"I'd gathered," James said, brow furrowed as he tried to piece together everything he had heard. "So, what, Voldemort threatened to kill you? That shouldn't really be new."
"Actually, he threatened to kill everyone I even remotely liked before killing me. Lucky you – you're safe."
"That's still not exactly a unique threat. You scared of a little intimidation from the opposing side, Collins?"
"Terrified," Harry said so flatly James almost thought he was being sarcastic. "Voldemort might not regard me as the most important threat, but he does seem to consider me the most immediately irritating."
"He killed two people because I wouldn't tell him how I know so much about him. He wired all the prisoners to be vaporized just to prove a point, and he made Pat into the first one because he's amused by the idea of making Jack hate me enough to kill me first. Voldemort wants to destroy me, probably as slowly as possible, rather than just kill me and be done with it.
"It's…" Harry searched for a sufficient word, "alarming that Voldemort is so effective when knowing so little about me. I don't want it to become worse. So, yes," Harry turned back to Peter, "if I can get him to kill me with minimal collateral damage, all things considered, I'll certainly consider taking that option."
"Didn't you blackmail us into this whole rescue mission with the idea that you're the only one who can kill Voldemort?" James pointed out. "You're a bit useless if you don't take at least take him with you."
Harry raised his eyebrows incredulously, not seeing Peter respond with the same facial expression.
"Wow, Potter," Harry said. "And the truth comes out. In the interests of full disclosure, alternate dimensionality probably vetoes prophetic responsibility."
Regardless of what he said, Harry imagined that this would not be the case. Whatever connection he had with his Voldemort, it had been replicated with this one, and that did not speak well of his chances of actually dodging the prophecy.
"Unbelievable." James drummed his fingers on a spare desk in agitation then slammed his fist down loudly. "Unbelievable! You can't just pretend to be the solution to a war that's lasted over twenty years and then wave it away when the responsibility gets too heavy for you."
"One? Yes I can, because I'm not overly invested in fighting for any of you, just against Voldemort," Harry said, only partially lying through his teeth. "If he kills me, that's just how it goes when you try and get revenge against a super-powered maniac. Two, you don't know that I'm 'the' solution. First there were two kids that the prophecy could have applied to, then they die, then I appear by mistake. With this sort of lack of clarity, there could be hundreds of unfound prophecy children just waiting to be heralded and sacrificed. Go pick one of them if you want to hedge your bet."
James looked furious, and Harry was almost positive it was because he had just made light of this world's Harry's death. He sucked in a breath and waited, and Peter pinched the bridge of his nose in irritation.
With what seemed to be a supernatural determination to remain civil, James wryly said, "You weren't exaggerating about that mouthing off problem you have."
"Not in the least," Harry said, almost apologetically. "And in light of that, I'm going to leave before I say anything else. It seems to break Pettigrew's heart that we don't get along."
Peter looked at him pensively for a second, before taking all the spells off the door. "We're not done with this general conversation—it's just on hold so you can go to the Hospital Wing."
"And so you can think of good counter-arguments?" Harry asked dryly, picking up the knife and walking to the door. "Fuck off."
He paused, glanced at James, and said lowly to Peter, "And don't you dare pull any more stunts in front of them, or I'll channel a little Voldemort and more than kill you, too."
"Noted," Peter said sarcastically. "Now go make sure your shoulder doesn't rot and fall off."
Harry glanced darkly at both Peter and James one last time, then swept out of the room.
James waited until he heard the footsteps die away, then looked disbelievingly at Peter. "Are you going to explain what the hell that was all about?"
"I don't think so, actually," Peter said.
"No, really, Wormtail. What was this about a family—do you know something the rest of us don't?" James asked. "What are you trying to get him to say that he doesn't want to?"
Peter pensively stayed silent.
"How likely is it that people are going to start dying just because of Collins? He's annoying, certainly, and still as suspicious as hell, but…"
Peter shook his head. "What were you talking about before I got here?"
"I asked him what happened when Voldemort killed Dad. Why?"
"Because I think I'm going to back Chris up on this one, at least for a little while. Things would be much better if you each were easier to get along with," Peter said regretfully, ignoring James's affronted expression and raising his wand. "Obliviate."
-0- 0 -0-
They found him nodding off on the staircase – on the bannister, specifically.
He heard them walking towards him with their robes swishing. There was a muttered comment about poking him awake with a long stick, and Harry opened his eyes. "I never liked you, Snape."
"The feeling is more than mutual, Collins. What possessed you to drive Moody into a paranoid witch hunt?"
"Yes," Dumbledore agreed, though with a quelling look at the Potions Master. "Alastor is being unusually pugnacious in his suspicions of treachery. I'm sure you can shed more light on the matter."
"You don't think it could be your complete and repeated inability to stop Death Eaters from hearing your top secret plans?" Harry asked challengingly. "And, speaking of shedding light, how about next time you all learn to plant a Portkey with both better timing and a bit more subtlety?"
"Regrettably, soon after we lost communications we also lost our trace on your location. Without any clear time table—"
"I wasn't finished," Harry growled, interrupting Dumbledore. The Headmaster stopped to listen with such apt and patient calm that Harry wanted to strangle him.
"As much as I want to know who told Voldemort the how, who, and what of this rescue mission, I would kill to know who told him I was from another dimension."
Dumbledore's gaze sharpened. "He told you he knew these things?"
"That's one way of describing it."
"He specifically said someone told him?" Dumbledore queried more pointedly.
"Obviously we were chatting about other things, Dumbledore. Were you under the impression Voldemort gave me a manual for making a leak-proof anti-Voldemort militia?"
"It would have been fairly useful if he had," Dumbledore said, seriously, twisting his beard with one hand and seemingly deep in thought.
Snape and Harry exchanged exasperated looks.
"What did happen after you left Parkinson Manor? I assume that part of the ordeal occurred roughly as planned?"
Harry hesitated. For reasons he didn't even know himself, he hadn't even hinted at the people who had appeared in the woods promoting the indescribably bad idea of abolishing the Statute of Secrecy. Regardless of his current fury with the Order he was certainly more on their side than any other – as such, he was almost certainly required to share everything he knew about this new third party. But something made him keep his knowledge to himself.
Harry instead nodded and began telling the two wizards what had happened after he was transported to Voldemort.
He glossed over quite a few details, particularly in regards to how Voldemort thought he had been a Death Eater in his original dimension. He had just gotten the people here to, as a whole, think he wasn't eagerly looking to bow down to the Dark Lord. He wasn't going to risk that just to be honest, even if there was the very real risk of them finding out from someone else at a later date.
He had just finished describing Voldemort's opportunistic interest in the Hogwarts gate when all three heard the clunking of Moody's leg coming around the corner towards them.
"I told you leaving the gate even slightly open to attack was too risky, Albus," Moody said with a scowl, his real eye pinning Dumbledore down. "Collins shouldn't have to fricassee himself just because you don't think Voldemort will attack here yet. Looks like he had enough problems."
"Your concern is moving. Do you have a side job writing get well cards?"
"Stop being so touchy. You look like house elves threw you through a meat grinder," Harry's face contorted as he tried to imagine what that scene would look like, "and if you wanted to hide it, you should have chosen better than seventh year glamor charms."
"Excuse me," Harry said indignantly, "I'm effectively a school drop-out here. Me knowing them should be considered fantastically resourceful."
Moody glanced at him as if his efforts were fantastically amateurish, and Harry rolled his eyes. "Did you find the bastard yet?"
"Nothing," Moody growled angrily, any hint of levity gone. "I'll look more into who everyone's talking to, and it'll take a couple of weeks to set up for finding any patterns."
That should be fast enough," Harry said, falsely agreeable. "If the trend holds true here, that gives us plenty of time before the Order next does anything Voldemort would want to know about anyway."
Harry leaned back against the stair rail's, taking in Moody's expression. As cagey as the Auror had always been, he was not a skilled actor. If he had actually discovered any hint about who had told Voldemort about the past night, it would have shown on his face. And there was a small… something about his expression that made Harry wary despite the Auror's best attempts to hide it.
Snape and Dumbledore, on the other hand, were fantastic liars.
They were also a touch too accepting about a spy in the Order – Snape, at least, should have been gnashing his teeth to find out that someone could compromising his position as a spy, and Dumbledore was never as calm as when he wanted to be deliberately infuriating.
Then it clicked.
"Did you let them do it?" Harry asked Dumbledore, tight rage lacing his voice. "Or did you tell someone to?"
He turned to Snape. "You must have known. If nothing else, you'd need to be able to react well to someone suddenly revealing Order information." Snape's eyes glittered, and Harry paused to think. "But it wouldn't matter if someone else told Voldemort about any rescue attempts. He'd want you to confirm, which leads to you betraying the information anyway…"
Moody made an abortive gesture in his direction, but Harry waved his hand at him without looking up and Moody's leg melded into the stone floor. Dumbledore then shook his head at Moody, watching as Harry thought furiously.
If the Order had purposefully allowed someone to leak information to Voldemort – Harry didn't yet understand why, but their reactions certainly pointed to Harry being on the right track (which meant Harry needed to look out for Obliviation spells heading his way) – then Snape would have to confirm the information. More than that, Voldemort might be angry, or at least suspicious, if some unknown Order member revealed information but Snape didn't. The simplest plan, then, would be for Snape to reveal the information in the first place, something which always increased the security of his place.
But why? Harry had given them quite a bit of information, with a relatively small price tag; even if that hadn't ensured their cooperation, his plan to rescue prisoners with no cost to their organization should have been sufficient. Above everything else, risking their shiny new prophecy toy would be a terrible move and telling Voldemort that someone was invading his house would do exactly that.
And they got Pat killed. Harry's belligerence hadn't helped matters, but this treachery ensured that Pat would have died no matter what Harry had done better.
"Interesting strategy," Harry said coldly. "By what criteria do you decide what is or isn't important enough to make your spy feign ignorance?"
He refused to look at Snape. Harry knew – angry or not – he could not attack the Headmaster and hope to succeed; not only would he lose miserably, Dumbledore would win in some passive-aggressively benign, ultimately demeaning way that would just make him angrier. Snape was theoretically killable, so he tried to minimize the temptation.
Unfortunately, he was extremely unlikely to get a straight answer from the old wizard.
"By numerous measures, ranging from risk of innocents' deaths to the importance of a given action," Dumbledore answered calmly without answering at all. "As regrettable as it is, sometimes we must make horrific sacrifices in the name of defeating a greater evil."
"The Dumbledore in my world used to spout pseudo-wisdom about doing what is right instead of what is easy. It's refreshing to know it's the same hypocritical standard you fail to maintain here."
"It may not be the best possible right, but it is never easy," Dumbledore said solemnly. "It is a necessity we have not been able to outmaneuver for decades."
Harry looked at Moody, to see if he had a potential ally in this argument. The Auror looked uncomfortable and misgiving, but not terribly surprised. Harry's lip curled involuntarily.
"Then what were you doing?" He asked Moody accusingly. "You knew full well there was no traitor—by your definition, at least."
"I don't like this double-dealing and sacrificing civilians, I never have. But it does give us a way to ferret out traitors and anyone with a guilty conscience, even if they're not the Death Eaters we're pretending to look for."
Harry was outraged at the implications. "So whichever Order member is the biggest risk that you don't have actual concrete reasons to remove…"
The wizards looked stolidly back, confirming his train of thought silently.
Harry gave a bark of laughter. "That's fantastic. So, do you plant evidence on them or do people just disappear?"
"They are Obliviated and let free to live their lives. Our actions may be questionable," Dumbledore answered, "especially from your perspective, but we avoid killing to achieve our ends whenever possible."
"You condemned an innocent woman to death!" Harry yelled, his voice echoing up and down the stairs. "As soon as you made Voldemort aware that I wanted her to live, she was never going to make it home alive!"
"She had been captured," Moody said, a shrugging finality in his voice. "She was already dead."
"You think I couldn't have saved her if Voldemort hadn't been there?" Harry said incredulously. "That was the whole point – if Voldemort hadn't been there I could have done practically anything with a good chance of success."
Snape scoffed. "You think too highly of yourself. The Death Eaters alone easily managed you-"
"But didn't really hurt me. And couldn't kill me," Harry interrupted.
He then quirked an eyebrow at Dumbledore. "And speaking of your bullshit strategy… Let's ignore the basic value of human life and tenets of decency you like preaching; isn't it a fantastically bad idea to hand someone that your precious prophecy applies to straight to Voldemort?"
Dumbledore hesitated as if choosing his words deliberately. "What must be difficult for you to imagine is how long and grinding this war has been. We lost most of our hope when Voldemort destroyed the two children the prophecy applied to. After that, this war turned into a slow death we were morally compelled to struggle against. For all of our efforts, we are losing and will continue to lose."
"So you throw away your new best chance? And for what exactly? Tonight was not a win," Harry said angrily. "It was in no way a success."
"Actually, it was. As much as you told us that the prophecy applies to you, and as much as you believe it, we were uncertain that the subject of one prophecy could be the subject of the same in another dimension. There are certain… clues that would support your claim, but they required interaction between Voldemort and yourself. As much as you may not understand the necessity, or approve of the methods," Dumbledore continued, "we needed to know that you could be the one in the prophecy. We had to be sure before we started acting on the idea that we could win."
"You had to be sure," Harry said darkly. "Had things gone the slightest bit differently, you would have had a celebratory five seconds between a Death Eater trying and failing to kill me, and Voldemort stepping in to finish the job."
"Don't be obtuse," said Snape. "I wouldn't have arranged for you to confront Voldemort if there was more than a negligible risk of you dying."
A small part of Harry's mind latched onto Snape's words vengefully, and for an instant Harry wanted nothing more than to make sure Snape didn't survive to betray him again. The thought subsided, but didn't entirely disappear.
"Then what was the point?" He asked furiously. "The Death Eaters didn't really try to kill me any more than Voldemort did. You still don't have whatever proof you need to get around to actually fighting an offensive war."
"You've said it yourself, Mr. Collins. There is an immediate connection between the two parties of a prophecy depending on the nature of it – sometimes it's instant trust, or camaraderie, or even hatred. That happened tonight when Voldemort threatened you and had you live rather than execute you immediately. That is based on an irrational hatred that Voldemort typically does not let rule his actions. And you've shown that same hatred ever since you arrived here, which assures me that, as much as you condemn and blame us for what transpired tonight, you will still work with us against this common enemy."
"Fuck you," Harry snarled. "What makes you think I won't kill you, too?"
"Nothing, except the hope you'll eventually understand why our actions are necessary."
"And telling him I'm from another dimension?" Harry bit out. "Voldemort is now considering the possibility of expanding beyond this Earth and this war into other worlds apparently in need of purifying. I didn't see anything definite in his mind, but both destroying universes and conquering them were in it."
Dumbledore glanced at Snape, who shook his head, and then looked grimmer than ever.
"We are very desperate, but we have long since decided to never risk the fabric of time and space in our efforts. That hasn't changed, not even in regards to other such fabrics." He paused. "I fear there may indeed be a spy among us. This is alarming."
Harry mouthed the word 'alarming' in disbelief. "At least your fake efforts of finding a spy might somehow happen upon a real one," he said sarcastically.
Snape glared repressively at him. "Don't treat this so lightly, you idiotic—"
"And what do you think you did?" Harry snapped back. "You may have been following orders, but you also knew precisely what you were doing, more than anyone else did certainly. And don't think I'm treating this lightly. What do you imagine will be the first dimension Voldemort tries to access? Mine. He will happily destroy my people, my allies, and my home. All because your Order fucks up so badly it's impossible to really know what was a planned foul-up and what will only accidentally lead to several deaths."
Harry sighed, wanting to pace and feeling too trapped, then he sensed someone moving towards them – Sirius. He didn't look forward to talking to Sirius – not many people immediately ruined their second chance with a dead father-figure by killing their girlfriend – but he knew his godfather would want to know the extent of the Order's treachery. They would need to decide what to do next.
"Let's ignore the multiversal ramifications for a moment," he said, a little bit louder than before. "You never said which Order member you're trying to pin Pat's death and this whole failure of a mission on."
"Sturgis Podmore," Dumbledore said quietly. "Too many disastrous coincidences point to him being untrustworthy."
'Interesting,' Harry thought, remembering that the same wizard had gone to Azkaban for six months in his world, having gotten caught protecting the prophecy. Harry would have to look into this version's actions and well-being, if just for the other's sake.
"So you sell me out, try to get me – and certainly succeed in getting others – killed, and use that to dispose of people you can't legitimately accuse of any crimes. Is this Order policy known to only you three or is everyone aware of it: that they best toe the line and be useful or else you'll turn them into the next convenient scapegoat? Because Potter didn't imply that his dead father was acceptable price for a fishing expedition."
"This is, of course, a tightly concealed necessity–"
"—hopefully more tightly concealed than the existence of multiple transversible dimensions–"
"—that requires absolute secrecy. In light of that I will be requiring an oath of silence from you, Mr. Collins."
"Of course," Harry agreed sarcastically, taking out his wand with a flourish. "I, the Order's obedient prophesied soldier, do hereby promise to keep this dirty little secret of your habit of picking and choosing who is important enough to save at one time and using the fall-out to get rid of questionable elements at another. Far be it for me to share your treachery with your group of loyally waiting victims."
His tone had been deeply insincere, but the oath held true and Dumbledore nodded.
"Now if we're all done with the slimiest conversation I've had in a very long time – and I just got through telling you the night I had, so take that into consideration," Harry said, sensing Sirius beginning to move closer once more, "I'm going to think up ways for the Death Eaters and the Order to mutually self-destruct."
Moody opened his mouth – no doubt with a threatening remark – but paused as his eye swung up and saw Sirius approaching. He closed his mouth and glared at Harry forbiddingly.
Sirius walked down the stairs his eyes furious and mouth tight. Harry tilted his head warningly and Sirius adopted an expression that was only very tired.
"All of the survivors are dispelled," he told Dumbledore, Moody, and Harry, ignoring Snape entirely. "They are now firmly ensconced in the Hospital Wing. Poppy wants to know your opinion on sending some to St. Mungo's." he continued, now addressing only Dumbledore. "She seems to be on the fence about it and is waiting for you to have any potential good reason against it."
"I'm due to talk with many of those resting in any case," Dumbledore answered, beginning to ascend the staircase. He paused when he was level with Sirius. "I am deeply sorry about Pat, Mr. Grimsleigh," he said gravely. "I cannot help but wonder if the outcome would have changed had we moved sooner."
"Thank you, Headmaster," Sirius said just as gravely and without a trace of anger. "I'm sure you did what you believed to be right."
"Indeed," Dumbledore replied heavily, and continued up the stairs to the Hospital Wing, Moody and Snape following.
Sirius stepped on the landing next to Harry, who stepped back and looked down guiltily. The older wizard sighed irritatedly and grasped Harry's arm in a gentle but unrelinquishing vice. He opened his mouth to say something, but Harry shook his head and flicked his eyes up at the disappearing wizards.
Lines around Sirius's eyes and mouth that, for all that Sirius had always seemed much older than his age, Harry had never seen before deepened in frustration, but Sirius acceded.
"Come on, Chris," he said instead, walking down the stairs. "It's been a long night. Let's go home."
Home, Harry discovered, was one of the most comfortable-looking restaurants Harry had come across in the Wizarding World. It was clean and pleasantly warm, two characteristics which made it rise above all but the Three Broomsticks. Harry could see the faint gleam of seemingly Muggle appliances through the unlit gloom beyond a tall counter, most still but a few whirring without electricity. They were silent and almost unnoticeable, but too many summers with the Weasleys made Harry instantly catalog Wizarding kitchens for unseen dangers and misanthropic devices.
As much as he enjoyed the Leaky Cauldron, both as his first glimpse of the Wizarding World and a familiar sight, there was no getting around the unappealing decay that magical people just didn't seem to mind. The Three Broomsticks was much cleaner and more... logical in a way that Harry couldn't describe – though which Hermione described as more efficiently run like a business rather than a grandfathered and medieval hole in the wall.
This place was clean and quiet and calming, even with the shadows not broken by the weak morning sunlight beginning to peek in.
There were stairs, Harry saw hazily, stairs that lead up to a sofa he was pushed onto with his eyes barely open. He heard Sirius say something quietly, but couldn't even begin to figure it out before he was asleep.