Six months after defeating Voldemort, Harry lay awake staring up through the darkness at the ceiling. Killing the Dark Moron was supposed to give him back control of his life, but since he'd struck the final blow, everything had just spiralled further and further out of control.
It wasn't bad. He wanted to marry Ginny Weasley. He wanted to be an Auror. He did, honestly. But it no longer felt like his own decision. He was being carried away by the tide of events and sometimes it was all he could do not to yell that he wanted everything to stop.
He wanted time.
He was supposed to have time. Killing the Dark Moron extended his life expectancy from Tuesday teatime to two hundred and something years.
He needed time, and space. But how was he supposed to ask for that? All he could imagine was disappointed faces. Or worse, disbelieving faces. They'd all made it very plain he needed their support. If he admitted he was struggling, Hermione and Ron would probably camp out with him permanently. Just the thought made Harry want to scream.
He loved Hermione and Ron, he did, he did. But he wanted space to breath.
He needed space to breath.
He could feel the scream building up in the back of his throat. Some days it was all he could do not yell out six months worth of swallowed words.
He couldn't hurt his pseudo-family like that. Couldn't risk everybody deciding, again, that he was going dark.
Couldn't complain either. How ungrateful did that sound?
But if something didn't change soon, he was going to snap.
"Hello," said a red glint of light.
"Okay," said Harry, "I've snapped. At least that takes the anticipation out of things."
"You're not crazy."
"Says the talking light."
"I am," the voice faltered before continuing grandly, "an interdimensional entity."
"Trying saying that three times fast."
"And I am here to offer you a choice."
"I'm listening," said Harry. He was a Gryffindor after all, when did he pay attention to his better judgement?
"You feel trapped."
"There's another Harry in a different universe that feels equally trapped."
"This isn't one of these stupid morality tales where we look at each other's burdens and decide to stick to our own. Cause I'm bored sick of living in a morality fable."
The voice laughed. "No, it is a genuine offer of exchange. You are each uniquely suited to bear each other's burdens."
"And this other Harry, he's not crazy or anything? He's not going to hurt anybody or turn into another Voldemort or something idiotic like that?"
"No. Or at least I don't think so."
"Well that's reassuring. As an interdimensional thingy, don't you know?"
"I'm interdimensional not omnipotent," the voice sounded distinctly sulky. "I'll admit the Harry you'll replace isn't the pleasantest person in either world. But in this world, with everything easy before him, I do believe he'll become the great man he could be."
"Okay, so you want me to take the place of a complete rotter. What's in it for me?"
"Your freedom. And your family."
"My family?" Harry stared at the red light. "Why would my counterpart be willing to give up his family?"
"Because he's stupid."
"Yeah, okay." Harry gave it points for bluntness. "So why should I trust him with the people I care about here?"
"Because he'll get less stupid, hopefully. He'll never give away those who love him so cheaply again."
"The Dark Moron's still around, right?"
The voice didn't reply.
Harry nodded, it was the only thing that made sense. "So basically you're recruiting me to go up against the Dark Moron again, because my counterpart is too much of a wuss to pull it off."
"He's stupid. And scared."
"Right. And in this world he can stop being scared, and hopefully he'll stop being stupid too?"
Harry wasn't sure how a red light could shrug, but it definitely shrugged. He thought it over. He loved the people in this world, he did, but the prospect of never seeing them again only filled him with relief. He could finally step off the roller-coaster that had yanked him along since that first day at Kings Cross.
He could step out of this life he didn't want and there was an idiot all lined up to replace him, so he wouldn't even upset anybody. He'd get to see his family, be part of his family. All he had to do was whack the Dark Moron again. Where exactly was the downside?
"Sign me up."
"Wahoo!" said the red light.
A baby's cry had Harry up and out of bed before he was even aware of his surroundings. Following the sound, he stumbled down a dark hallway and up a couple of steps to a second landing. There was a click of a Lumnos charm and the hall was flooded with light.
Turning his head, he saw a girl a couple of years younger than him with flame-red hair and hazel eyes. His first thought was Ginny, but a closer look had him thinking of his mother.
"S-sorry," she stuttered.
Her eyes were all wrong for his mother, though, so that meant,
"Hey Sis," he said, because the red light hadn't give him anything useful, like say names, or even that he had a sister.
Her eyes went wide, "Oh Harry, you haven't called me that in ages." She rushed at him then, flinging her arms around him in a tight hug. Tentatively Harry placed his arms around her. He maybe forgave the interdimensional thingy if it got him this sort of reaction.
The baby wailed again, and Harry pulled away from his sister to open the door. She tugged at his arm,
"I'm sorry he woke you up, I tried to get to him faster."
"It's okay." Harry eased past her into the room. The light from the hall showed a small toddler frantically trying to batter his way out of his cot.
"Hawwy," he wailed, arms thrashing.
"Hey, hey, calm down." Harry patted vaguely at the air a good two inches from the squalling toddler. He wasn't quite sure what to do, instinct had dragged him this far but he quailed at actually touching the child. What is he damaged him somehow?
But the child's crying cranked up another notch and he threw himself at the cot bars. Harry winced, because he was going to hurt himself at that rate and whatever Harry did wasn't going to be that bad.
Scooping the child out the cot, he hugged the squirming body to his chest.
"Hey calm down, it's okay. I'm here."
One small fist clamped down on the neck of his t-shirt and with one last sob of "Hawwy," the child pressed his wet, sticky face into Harry's shoulder. Harry rubbed his hand up and down the child's back in a gesture he knew from context was supposed to be comforting.
At the suprised exclamation Harry's attention snapped back to his sister.
"I didn't think Remy liked you at all."
"Remy," Harry repeated, happy to have a name for his charge. "Hey Remy." Then he realised what she had said, "Wait. What do you mean he doesn't like me?"
"I didn't say that. He clearly does like you," she took two quick steps backward.
"But why wouldn't he like me?"
She looked down her nose at him. "Cause you're mean to him Harry. Mum won't leave him alone with you since you fed him an exploding beetle."
"That was an accident," said Harry firmly, although he was afraid it hadn't been.
"Right," she agreed, clearly not believing a word of it. She turned on the light with a sharp snap. Harry screwed up his eyes against the brightness.
"Give him here," demanded his sister. "I'll look after him. If you start him screaming he'll wake Mum up and she's exhausted. Come on, give him here."
Reluctantly Hary started to peel the small body away from his but stopped immediately when Remy wailed his name again. He patted the little boy's back again and ruffled his hair. It was red like his sister's but fell into messy spikes like Harry's own. It made him feel like they were really related and he smiled.
"Looks like I'm stuck with him. Does he have a book or something I could read to him?" Harry thought he could manage book reading, at least he hoped he could.
His sister studied him suspciously, "You really willing to read?"
"Okay then. He likes A Potion's Alphabet and I could do with the revision."
With no idea what she was talking about, Harry just nodded. He carried Remy over to the armchair in the corner and settled the little boy on his lap. His sister handed him a leatherbound book and then flopped down to sit at his feet.
Harry opened the book. There were large picture of seeds and leaves and beneath them was written.
"A is for Appleseed, to brew you health." It occured to Harry that Hermione might have a point when she said the Wizarding world was biased towards the Purebloods.
Then his sister sighed and rested her head against his knee and Harry forgot everything but the solid warmth of her and Remy's presence.
He started to read.