Chapter 1: A Parallel
Harry's third year at Hogwarts
"He helped Black escape! I know it!" Snape pointed an accusing finger at Harry.
Dumbledore laid a hand on Snape's shoulder as Fudge looked on in alarm.
Harry wanted to defend himself, but he couldn't concentrate. A strange force was building inside him, pulling so strongly that he clutched at the infirmary bed sheets. He looked around desperately, but no one seemed to notice. Snape glared resentfully at Dumbledore, and Fudge shook his head sadly. Hermione watched the three men with rapt attention. He opened his mouth to cry out.
But he couldn't speak. Something inside him shifted, and he was slipping, as easily as water over rocks. Something dragged him away, and the infirmary was gone. He was alone, in the cold and dark. Silence enveloped him. He thought of Sirius, of the dementors and their icy breath.
He tried to reach out with hands he couldn't feel, tried to find some glimmer of light. There. Someone was there. The silence broke into the sound of rushing water, and he pushed toward the voice. He landed, jolted so hard that his hands tingled.
But he hadn't moved. He stared at his hands, still clutching the infirmary bed sheets. Glancing up, he expected to see a gaping hole in the ceiling where he'd crashed through. Nothing. He shook his head, his thoughts rattling like pocket change.
Snape was still there, jaw clenched, as Dumbledore led Fudge out of the infirmary. As the door closed, Dumbledore returned and gave Snape a reassuring pat on the back. He accepted it grudgingly, his gaze tight on Harry.
I need to talk to Dumbledore alone. Harry tried to tell Snape, but his lips were numb, and it was hard to breathe. He gasped, struggling to get out of the bed. His limbs didn't move quite right.
Snape's eyes widened. He strode to the bed and grasped Harry's face.
A glittering black gaze drilled into Harry. He had the urge to rip Snape's hands off and shove him away. Instead, he gritted his teeth and tried not to flinch. He'd already attacked Snape once tonight. Twice would probably mean detentions for the rest of his life.
"How do you feel?" Snape asked.
"Like I can't move my jaw," Harry mumbled.
Snape narrowed his eyes and then dropped his hands. "That's the fifth time you've fainted this year."
"I didn't faint," Harry said hotly. Then he paused. What if that's all it had been? A fainting spell. A fifth fainting spell. In front of Snape. He flushed. Had it really been five times?
Snape smirked as he sat on a nearby empty bed. Harry wished the nasty git would go away.
"It's been a difficult night." Dumbledore said, smiling gently. "Perhaps we should leave you alone to get some rest. The effects of a dementor attack can be quite debilitating."
Harry did his best to smile back. Effects of a dementor attack sounded far better than fainted. "I've been feeling that strange tugging all year, but especially after the dementors, and then the—" he stopped. He didn't want to mention the Time-Turner in front of Snape.
"Tugging?" repeated Dumbledore.
"Like something was trying to pull me. And just now it did, through a dark lake, or…" He wasn't sure he was explaining this well. Or if there really was a lake. "But I fought my way to the surface, or…a light, I think. And I was still here."
Snape held his wand over Harry's heart and murmured an incantation. He turned to Dumbledore. "Magical phenomenon. Very recent and localized."
Dumbledore's brows knitted together. "And this happened after each dementor attack?"
"Well…that and…" Harry jerked his head towards Hermione and made a vague spinning motion with his fingers. He glanced at Snape and then quickly away. "Maybe we could talk about it alone?"
Snape slid his wand back into his sleeve and studied Harry. "You're referring to the Time-Turner?" he asked.
Harry gaped at him. "You know?" He threw a reproachful glare at Dumbledore. "You told him."
"Of course," said Snape irritably. "Although I wish he'd told me sooner. Before you went ahead with that ill-advised plan."
"But I couldn't let the dementors do that to Sirius!" He looked from Snape to Dumbledore, who were both staring at him blankly.
"I didn't detect any head injuries," Snape said, frowning. "Harry, count down from ten—"
"My head is fine! Professor Dumbledore, you told us! How the Time-Turner could save someone, and…it was Peter Pettigrew who betrayed my parents…" Harry felt like he was babbling, and a niggling thought at the back of his mind told him that he'd missed something. "Find Pettigrew. Or Wormtail, they call him. They call him…" the niggling thought came to the surface, and he looked at Snape. "What did you call me?"
Snape frowned. "Harry. Is there some other title you'd prefer?"
"But you always call me…you know. Potter." He couldn't help adding a layer of disgust. It was as much a part of how Snape said his name as the vowels and consonants.
"Potter," said Dumbledore, his eyes troubled. "Harry…Potter."
A flash of black, and Snape's hands were again gripping the sides of his head, forcing him to look directly into that black gaze.
"What is the last thing that you…" Snape paused, the clammy sweat of his fingers pressing against Harry's jaw. His face was even paler than usual. "Recount the events of tonight. Every detail."
"Now," Snape breathed.
Harry wriggled in Snape's grip, but it was clear he wasn't going to let go. So Harry described everything that happened from the time he, Ron, and Hermione had entered the Shrieking Shack to the time they had returned to the infirmary after using the Time-Turner. Neither Dumbledore nor Snape said anything during his tale, but by the end, Snape had dropped his hands and Dumbledore was looking grim.
"And then I was pulled, and then…" He gestured toward the infirmary walls.
"Harry," Hermione whispered. She stared at him, openmouthed. "That's not what happened. We saved Buckbeak, but we never helped Sirius escape."
Harry wondered if Hermione was trying to stay out of trouble by denying what happened. But… Harry, count down from ten…
The way Snape said it. It was worse than Potter. Potter was honest. This was like he was trying to… Harry closed his eyes. It was another web of adult schemes. Like Pettigrew, or Professor Lockhart. Pretending to be something he wasn't.
"Sirius escaped earlier tonight," Dumbledore said, "alone. "Your…" Dumbledore paused, looking at Snape. "Professor Snape observed a black dog running toward the forest a few hours ago. Of course, he did not realize the implication until Professor Lupin explained." He held a hand up. "I do believe you are correct about his innocence. But I am more interested in the Patronus you described casting. You said it was a stag?"
"But it was a doe!" said Hermione. "I saw it myself!"
Harry stared at her. Did she really not remember? "But the antlers—"
"Perhaps," said Dumbledore, "Professor Snape and I should talk to Harry alone. If you're feeling up to it," he nodded at Harry, "would you get dressed and meet us in my office? I shall clear it with Madam Pomfrey."
Dumbledore gave him the password to the gargoyle and went into Madam Pomfrey's office. Snape stood, but remained at Harry's bedside, staring down at him with an unfathomable expression.
Avoiding his gaze, Harry crawled out of bed and gathered the clothes that were folded neatly on a chair. His arms and legs worked right this time, and he could feel the rough starch of the hospital pajamas and the cold tiles under his bare feet. He jerked a dressing curtain between himself and Snape and let out a long breath.
"Severus," Dumbledore called in a firm voice. Snape murmured something, too low to catch. Their footsteps receded and the infirmary door thudded closed.
Harry buttoned his robes and emerged from the curtained area. He glared at Hermione. "I don't know why you said that. Why lie about my Patronus?"
"But I didn't lie," said Hermione, tears springing to her eyes. "Oh, you must have seen that it was a doe."
Harry wanted to believe her. But everyone was acting so strangely. Was this part of another secret, like her Time-Turner? He shook his head and walked to the infirmary exit. "Just don't tell Ron this rubbish when he wakes up."
"You want to tell Ron…?" asked Hermione, before the door closed behind Harry.
The gargoyle leapt aside at the password. Dumbledore sat at his desk, frowning at his clasped hands. Snape stood stiffly against the far wall. No one spoke, but the air vibrated, as though the echo of a shout still reverberated against the walls.
Dumbledore's expression warmed as Harry entered. Harry sat in front of the desk, angling himself so that he could see Snape out of the corner of his eye. It made his skin prickle when Snape lurked behind him.
"What do you know," Dumbledore asked, "of planes?"
Harry recalled his sucked-out-of-an-airplane sensation. "I've never been on one," he said. "The Dursleys don't travel…with me."
Dumbledore blinked, and then chuckled. "No, no, not those types of planes. I was referring to planes of existence."
"Oh." Harry knew less about that than he did about Muggle planes.
"There are planes of life and death," said Dumbledore. "But there are far more realities than that." He plucked a roll of parchment from a stack and unfurled it. "Imagine that this essay represents every event of my life, every choice I made…all laid out in this bright student's handwriting. But what if I'd made different choices?" He picked up another scroll from the stack and spread it out alongside the first. "The result would be different, just as no two student essays are the same. Each sentence leads to the next, just as each of our choices leads us to the next."
Harry remembered the moment he met Ron. If he had arrived at King's Cross station slightly later, or chosen a different seat on the Hogwarts Express, they might never have become friends. "I think I understand."
Dumbledore nodded and returned the scrolls to the stack. "Now, imagine that one could travel from one plane to another. If the planes were similar, one might not know the trip had happened, for a while. Rather like getting one of your essays returned to you, only to realize you were handed another student's paper. There might be so many similarities that it would take you a few sentences before you realized it was not your own."
A heaviness grew in the pit of his stomach. "What does this have to do with me?"
Dumbledore leaned forward. His eyes were kind, but his mouth turned down at the corners. "Professor Snape and I noticed some…irregularities in your tale of this night's events."
"Everything I told you was true." Harry was unwilling to contradict the headmaster, but he didn't want to be called a liar.
"Oh, I don't doubt that. The thing is, Harry…I'm afraid the essay you wrote and the essay you're reading right now don't quite match up. You appear to have jumped."
Harry stared at the stack of scrolls, remembering how he had been pulled someplace dark. "How? Wouldn't I need a doorway, or—"
"It is not your body that has traveled, but your soul. Normally souls are firmly planted in their bodies, until death. But the dementor attacks loosened your soul's moorings, and the jerking of your body through time and space with the Time-Turner…"
"Didn't help any."
Dumbledore nodded. "Your soul slipped into a neighboring plane before it could re-anchor itself in your body."
Harry tried to wrap his mind around the concept. "That means what happened to me…happened somewhere else? And here…"
"A different series of events played out. Some quite different, I think." Dumbledore hesitated, glancing at the wall near the window where Snape stood. "If you would indulge me, I'd like to ask about your parents. What's your earliest memory of them?"
Harry remembered the shapes and sounds that came to him during the dementor attack. "I was just a baby when they were killed." Behind him came a sharp intake of breath. He glanced toward the window, but Snape was no longer there. His skin prickled. "But, er, when the dementor attacked me, I heard screaming. I think it was my mum being killed by Voldemort."
Dumbledore looked grave. "And your life after that?"
"I was taken to live with my aunt and uncle. The Dursleys." The prickling on the back of his neck intensified. He glanced over his shoulder. Snape gripped the back of his chair, his knuckles white. Harry quickly went over the events of his life, not wanting to offer much detail with Snape hovering, listening to every word. "So things are…different here?" He hoped Dumbledore would smile, shake his head, and dismiss these fanciful ideas about other realities.
But the headmaster's expression was not reassuring. "We will do our best to return you, Harry. We already have an idea of where to start."
Snape stepped forward, his robes snapping against the desk. "Are you certain, Headmaster? Isn't it possible that this is a delayed reaction to an attack on his mind? Harry is the only one claiming these events happened—"
"I'm not a liar, and I'm not crazy," Harry said. "And you can't tell me this is another world just because you've stopped calling me Potter."
Snape glared at him. "But it's not possible!"
"It's quite possible," said Dumbledore. "And as to your observation, Harry, there's a perfectly good reason why Severus would not call you Potter. It's not your name."
Snape collapsed into a seat, his hands dragging through his hair.
Harry tried to focus on Dumbledore's steady blue eyes. "But…my name…"
"Is Snape. Severus adopted you—or rather, our own Harry—a long time ago. You're his son."
It was like he'd been hit in the face with a Bludger. His jaw moved up and down, but no sound came out. It was a joke. It had to be. A cruel joke. He stared at Snape, waiting for the sneer, the laugh, the comment about Potter's insufferable stupidity.
But Snape's mouth was turned sharply downward, his body hunched over. "And what of our Harry? Are you saying his soul is out there?" He jerked his hand towards the shadows in the room. "He's lost? Replaced?"
"A soul is quite strong, especially in one so young. They are drawn quickly back into their bodies, or at least one nearly like their own. I'm certain that if this Harry was able to anchor so quickly to another body, your Harry must have done the same."
"You're certain, are you?" Snape spat. "How reassuring that this doesn't trouble you."
"Of course it troubles me. You know how much I care for him. But we must deal with the situation at hand before we can move forward." He turned toward Harry. "We will require your assistance in this, to return you home and bring our Harry back to his. Do you agree to do as we ask?"
Harry nodded, but his neck tilted stiffly, like an old hinge. Dumbledore's face seemed too large, peering back at him. Snape's face was…all wrong. Everything was all wrong.
"It will take time. You may have to settle into life here until we can find a solution. Become this world's Harry, for a while. I realize that may be difficult, but I would ask you to try your best."
Harry tried to say something, but his lips had turned to stone. "S-son?"
Dumbledore leaned back in his chair and rubbed at the line between his brows. "Perhaps it would be best if you showed him, Severus. We can continue first thing tomorrow morning, after Harry has had some time to adjust."
Snape was utterly still for a moment, his hand shielding his face. Slowly straightening, he stared at Harry. Stared right through him. He turned away, gesturing for Harry to follow.
Harry glanced at Dumbledore, but the headmaster merely smiled at him under tired eyes. Harry forced himself to get up, to move his feet down the stairs.
They headed for the dungeons. Harry knew he should ask more questions, but all he could do was stare at the back of Snape's boots, the heels pounding a dull rhythm in his head. Thud-thud-thud, into the darkness, into a world he didn't understand, with people he didn't know. Dumbledore-not-Dumbledore, Hermione-not-Hermione.
And Harry Potter not Harry Potter.
What choices could anybody have made that would lead to this? Couldn't Dumbledore have adopted him? Or Remus? Or…anyone besides Snape? Why would the man even want him?
But he knew why, didn't he? The same reason Snape would rather spend his free evenings in detention with Harry. And the Dursleys could tolerate his company when he was scrubbing their floors. He wasn't a nuisance, then. And now Snape could have him in permanent detention, day and night, summers and holidays.
When they reached the door to the Potions classroom, Harry paused, but Snape laid a hand on his back and propelled him on, toward the end of the corridor. They stopped at a door he'd never encountered before.
"Where are we?" Harry asked.
Harry stared at the dark wood, the pewter handle as thick as his arm. He imagined a Potions classroom with dusty cots instead of desks.
"Can't we just—" Harry began, but Snape had already unwarded the door and was pushing him forward.
Harry blinked as Snape lit a lamp. Dark shapes loomed in the shadows, but the lamp's glow circled a patched and overstuffed armchair. Three fluffy pillows were piled on it. He stared at the pillows. They were so normal.
Snape gestured toward an inner door. "That's yours."
Inside was a small room with a single bed, the walls bearing Gryffindor colors and Quidditch posters. It took a long time before it finally clicked. My room. "That's what Dumbledore wanted you to show me? That I…he…has a room down here?"
"No," said Snape. He studied Harry for a long moment, his eyes like bottomless pits. His gaze dropped, and he examined his cufflinks, slowly loosening them. "This may be difficult to explain."
Scenarios filled Harry's mind. This may be difficult to explain, but…you scrub cauldrons to earn your keep…this horrible Gryffindor room is merely for show, your cage is in the back…your body parts supply my potions ingredients—hold still, this won't hurt much…
Dumbledore wouldn't allow that, right? But…he wasn't really Dumbledore, was he? He was Not-Dumbledore, who'd let Snape adopt him. And now Harry was down here, alone with Snape, the only exit warded shut. He stepped backwards. "I want to go to Gryffindor Tower."
Snape trod closer, looming over him. "I didn't bring you here so you could run off. The headmaster did not tell you everything about our arrangements here. About what is required of you." His features twisted into something ugly. "I need you to listen to my instructions carefully."
Harry edged away from him. A door further back was ajar, light glimmering through the gap.
Snape gripped Harry's arm. "Listen to me," he hissed. "And hold still. This won't—"
Hurt much. Harry squirmed free and ran toward that gap of light, wrenching the door open. The sudden brilliance assaulted his eyes. Lamps and candles, and flowers in a sparkling vase. Photographs pasted everywhere on the walls, like a patchwork wallpaper.
And a woman, sitting cross-legged on a bed. Her head was bent over a stack of notes, red hair tumbling around her face. She looked up, her eyes going wide.
Her face. Exactly as he'd seen it in the mirror of Erised, his first year at Hogwarts. The air left his body. He felt weightless in the warm glow of the lamplight.
"Mum," he whispered.
His mum's eyes unfocused for a moment, and then she smiled.
And it was such a smile. Better than the photographs in his album. Better than the mirror. Better than he ever could have imagined. He could have lifted off the floor and floated to her.
An iron grip closed around his arm. Snape's features were smooth and calm, but his eyes were like ice.
Snape tilted his head at her. "Planning events for next year?" He spoke like this was any other day. Like he regularly chatted with Harry's mum in the dungeons of Hogwarts. Normal, like armchairs and fluffy pillows. Harry's head spun. He wanted to get closer, to touch her hand, to know what was real.
She flipped through her notes, a sad smile on her face. "Keeps me busy." She looked up at them, frowning as she studied their faces. "What's happened?"
Snape hesitated. "Not now. Tomorrow."
Something flashed in her eyes, but she took a deep breath and nodded. "Promise?"
Harry didn't hear Snape's reply. He was so close. He reached out a hand, but Snape held him fast and he only managed to touch the edge of a note-ridden calendar.
Lily crinkled her nose at him. "What's the matter, Monkey? Bad day?" Her face grew serious as he stood there, gasping. "Harry?"
Harry turned to Snape, ready to fight him if he had to. But Snape slowly released him. His hand tingled, pins and needles springing to life.
But she looked so worried. "S'fine," he said, scrambling up on the bed and landing next to her in one bounce. "I'm fine."
She smelled like lilacs and sage, with an acidic twang that was somehow familiar. The lilacs whispered through the room when she swept her hair over her shoulder. He drank in the scent.
Her hand was warm and smooth, with a little bump on her finger where she held her quill. He wrapped his arms around her and held on, trying to stop himself from shaking. His breath came faster and faster, his lips going numb. He heard her say something and push against him gently, but that only made him cling harder.
Cold hands sank into his arms and pulled him away. Snape murmured something to Lily.
"No!" Harry cried, struggling, but he was pulled off the bed and out the door. The hands didn't let go until he was back in the smaller bedroom.
Harry spun to face Snape, jerking his wand from his robes, a hex on his lips. Snape already had his wand out and deflected the spell with a flick of his wrist.
"Get out of my way," Harry growled.
"We will deal fully with this tomorrow," Snape said. "I'm aware that this may be overwhelming for you. But for her sake, you need to control yourself."
Harry flexed his fingers around his wand and eyed the doorway.
Snape extended his hand. "Your wand."
Harry stared at him. "You can't be serious."
"I'm not giving my wand to you."
"I won't ask twice."
"Fine by me." But before he could shout another hex, his wand was gone, flying into Snape's hand.
"Next time," Snape said, "I suggest you hand it over willingly. While you still have the choice." He slid the second wand into his sleeve. "Try to get some sleep."
Harry blinked at him. "Sleep? What about my mum? Why is she here? You expect me to just…toddle off to bed?" His face heated. "Are we prisoners? Is that it? Are you experimenting on her? Giving her potions and seeing what sick results you get?"
Snape froze, his back stiffening. In the dark room, his eyes were nothing but shadows. "The only experiment," he whispered, "is your test of my patience." He leaned close, his breath clammy. "Lily is here because she chooses to be here." He raised his hand.
Harry flinched, but the hand didn't strike. It hovered in front of his face. In the faint light, Harry saw what he'd missed before. A gold band on Snape's ring finger.
"I am here because I swore to her that I would be. For better or for worse." He traced the edge of the ring with his thumb. "In sickness and in health."
Harry's heart pounded in his ears. The hand was gone, but he still saw that ring. His mum. And that bed. That big bed.
"The only question," Snape's voice dropped to a hiss, "is why you are here."
Snape strode out and shut the door, leaving Harry alone in the darkness.