Disclaimer: I do not own the characters you recognize; they are the property of J.K. Rowling and I am just borrowing them for a bit. Any similarities to any other Harry Potter fanfiction are purely coincidental.
A/N: This is a re-write of a story I posted a long time ago and never finished, which I then eventually lost due to a computer crash. Because of that, I suspect there won't be much similarity between the two, as I barely recall how that first story was supposed to end. Still, I thought it was worth the heads-up, just in case anyone found it seems slightly familiar.
"Sirius! No! Get him – save him – he's there, just gone through! NO! SIRIUS!"
Harry Potter woke abruptly, slammed into consciousness by the horrific image of seeing his godfather plunge through the veil. He rose halfway up on the bed, gasping for breath, alarmed by the fresh pain that had seared through him at seeing Sirius' death happen all over again. Then he dropped back, wincing as a crest of pain slammed into his head with all the force of a tidal wave. It was even worse than the headaches he got after Voldemort had been messing about his mind. His hand flew to his head, searching for the familiar imprint upon his forehead in hopes of relieving the pain. When he failed to find it, he settled for resting his hand on the fringe of his hair, shielding his eyes from the bright light.
Belatedly, he became aware of a murmur of voices, and turned his head ever so slightly. Without his glasses, he was unable to make out anything more than a few differently coloured blobs that he suspected were people. His heart rate sped up slightly and he drew in a deep breath, trying to keep calm. When he'd gone to sleep, it had been in the Dursley's small bedroom, with only Hedwig and his parent's photo album for company. Now it appeared that he woken up somewhere else. The question was, was he with friends or foes?
"Who are you?" he asked roughly through the pain, wishing it didn't have to be quite so strong. With his free hand, he groped for his pocket. Panic flickered through him when he realized his wand was no longer on him. "Where am I? What have you done with my wand?"
"Harry, dear, relax," a soft voice said. "Allow Madame Pomfrey to look you over, okay?"
It was unusual for anyone to call him 'dear' – the voice certainly didn't belong to Molly Weasley, who was the only one who did – but Harry nevertheless relaxed. He knew Madame Pomfrey well, and if she was around, he knew that Professor Dumbledore couldn't be far behind. Now that he was sure that he was safe, Harry allowed his head to fall back on the pillow and closed his eyes. It was a relief not to be faced with the lights. He could hear someone moving to stand beside the bed. Murmured incantations followed, and he felt the familiar tingle of several scans being done.
"Here, Mr. Potter, drink this," Madame Pomfrey directed finally. A vial touched his lips and he drank slowly, wincing at the acidic taste. The pain in his head lessened immediately, although it did not go away entirely. Pomfrey continued to encourage him with various vials; Harry obediently took from them all, growing more concerned with each one. Just what had he been through that he needed so many? Had there been some kind of attack? Were the Dursley's alright? He may have hated his so-called family, but he had no desire to see them tortured or killed, and he had no doubt that the Death Eaters would have done exactly that.
"What's going on?" he croaked at last, feeling well enough to rise into a seated position. He dreaded finding out what had happened and steeled himself before asking, "Was it Voldemort?"
"Who's Voldemort?" someone whispered.
Harry's eyebrows rose and he was pretty sure he looked dumbfounded. Who's Voldemort? Had he really just listened to someone say that? He desperately hoped that he wasn't with some Ministry official who was going to begin interrogating him the way Fudge always did. But still, even if Fudge and the Ministry didn't like to acknowledge the truth, they still knew who Voldemort was. It was impossible not to know. Surely, he had misheard.
"Here," the voice that had spoken to him the first time said, and his glasses were very gently slid onto his nose. He blinked several times and adjusted the glasses on his own, mentally noticing that they needed to be cleaned, before he glanced up. His jaw dropped. Standing directly in front of him was a slender woman about Hermione's height. Her hair cascaded over her shoulders in auburn waves, and there was a concerned look in her brilliant, emerald green eyes. No one had those eyes except Harry. And...
"Who the fuck are you?" Harry yelled, jerking backwards from her. Lily Potter straightened, a shocked and hurt expression on her face. She took a step backwards from the bed, clearly realizing that Harry had no desire to be anywhere near her.
"Language, Harry," said a stern voice. Harry looked on in pure disbelief as a tall man with messy black hair and warm brown eyes gently placed a hand on Lily's shoulder. Her face filled with gratitude and she leaned back against him, staring at Harry sadly. "You may not know her, but that does not give you the right to speak to your mother that way."
"My mother is dead," Harry hissed, fury spiralling through him. This was the lowest of the low; the cruellest trick Voldemort had ever deigned to pull on anyone. His gaze moved past the so-called Potters, to the familiar but strangely youthful face of Remus Lupin. Harry's heart turned over when he caught sight of Sirius Black, standing beside Remus, and he clenched his fists. Polyjuice Potion, it had to be, he'd make them sorry they had ever thought they could fool him in this way...
"Do calm down, Harry, James." Professor Dumbledore certainly knew how to make his presence known. He swept through the door wearing an eye-catching set of violet robes that complimented his silver hair. His appearance eased the tension in the room considerably, though Harry kept a wary gaze on the impersonators.
"I had hoped to be here when you awoke, but I was unavoidably detained," Dumbledore said. "I offer you my sincerest apologies for any confusion you have felt."
"Albus, he doesn't know us," said the one who looked like James Potter. His hand tightened on Lily's shoulder as he spoke.
"You knew that was a possibility, James. No one can control what occurs when the Imago Universitas spell is cast." Sweeping his eyes over the room, Dumbledore smiled sadly. "I believe some tea is in order before explanations can get underway."
Once everyone had a cup of tea and Dumbledore was seated in a plush chair he had transfigured for himself, he turned to Harry, who had been watching what Lily and James added to their tea out of the corner of his eye. Lily added two sugars, while James seemed to enjoy his with nothing. Harry looked away from them quickly when it dawned on him that he was also being watched, and he focused on Professor Dumbledore, silently pleading for an explanation that made sense.
"Harry, you seem to know me, but I will introduce myself anyway. I am Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. And I am afraid that I must be the one to tell you that the world you believe you have known is completely untrue."
"Excuse me?" Harry said with disbelief.
"When you were less than a year old, you took a tumble down the stairs and struck your head," Dumbledore said simply, clearly unaware of how hard his words were hitting. "The resulting blow was strong enough to nearly kill you. In fact, if it weren't for Lily's quick thinking, you would be dead."
Harry shot a quick look in Lily's direction. She smiled tremulously, seemingly on the verge of tears. He wasn't quite sure where this was going. How could Dumbledore sit there and say that everything he knew wasn't true? He knew that Dumbledore had lied to him before, or at the very least, omitted some details of the truth, but to say that everything was a lie? Was it possible that Death Eaters had gotten a hold of some of Dumbledore's hair?
"It is dangerous to use numerous healing spells or potions on a small child, even one with your natural aptitudes," Dumbledore continued. "Yet your body clearly needed time to rest, something which one-year-olds are not very fond of." A smile crooked his face. "With that in mind, you were placed under the Lethargus spell. Essentially, you were put into a deep sleep, which would allow you the time you needed for your body's natural healing process to finish what our dear Madame Pomfrey began. It was only supposed to be for a few days."
"Supposed to be?" Harry echoed, picking up on the implication.
Dumbledore's brow furrowed, and he sighed. "Harry, on the fourth day, we went to wake you, and found that we couldn't. In spite of our combined efforts and the vast array of spells and potions that we used, nothing could awaken you from your sleep. As I said, it is dangerous to expose a young child to too much magic, because your magical core is not developed enough to protect you the way it is when you are older. We were afraid to attempt too much and end up causing irreversible damage." The flicker across Dumbledore's face indicated that this had been a greater fear than he was admitting to. "As the years passed, we tried every spell possible. Nothing worked. We didn't have – and still don't, unfortunately – an explanation as to why you remained unconscious."
This was all sounding rather far-fetched to Harry, and he cast a doubtful glance at Dumbledore. He thought carefully about this information, wishing that he had Hermione around to run it by, and gave himself a little pinch on the arm just to make sure he was awake. It hurt. So was there a chance that this could be true? But then, so far this explanation did nothing to account for the horrors he had lived through. Everything from the Dursley's to the Death Eaters to Voldemort in all of his forms. He eyed the group assembled before him, wondering where this was going.
"The best we could do for you was cast the Imago Universitas spell. The spell was created for people who have slipped into comas, so that they can keep up with the world around them. It builds a dream world based on the real world, so that the person lives day to day, until such time that they awaken." Dumbledore finished his tea and set it down lightly. His next words appeared to disturb him. "We did not know if you would awaken, Harry, but we felt it best that you keep up – that your mind grow and expand within the confines of an imaginary world as your body and your magic grew in the real world. Naturally, your parents never gave up hope that you would awaken."
Harry looked past him to James and Lily, both of whom smiled at him. They certainly looked like the versions he had seen in the graveyard that night, but he was all too aware of the deceptive power of magic. He switched his gaze back to Dumbledore and said, "But what about Voldemort?"
"Voldemort. You know, the evil murderous bastard who has been trying to kill me for the past fifteen years of my life?" Harry said sarcastically, annoyed that he was still being treated like a child even by this Dumbledore. "The one who gave me this – " He stopped speaking, shocked. His fingers explored the skin on his forehead, seeking and failing to find the infamous curse scar that had marked him for all of his life. The one that couldn't be removed. "I need a mirror."
A woman Harry hadn't noticed until that point rose and obligingly handed him a mirror. Harry stared into it. He looked a bloody mess, to be quite honest. His face was paler than Draco Malfoy's, which really caused the dark circles under his eyes to stand out, and his hair was long, hanging nearly to his shoulders, although it had been recently washed. Carefully, he brushed aside his bangs and searched every inch of his unblemished forehead for the familiar lightning bolt. It wasn't there. His skin felt smooth and soft, and it was clear that he had actually never been wounded there. Even the strongest glamour wouldn't hide that scar – he knew that for a fact. Harry lowered the mirror slowly, feeling more stunned by this revelation than by anything else he had been told.
"Harry, I'm not sure who this Voldemort is, but in the real world he does not exist," Dumbledore stated firmly, his twinkling blue eyes filled with concern. "Though at some point, I would like to know who he was and what kind of presence he occupied in your world."
Harry cast him a bitter smile. "No, you don't," he said quietly, still rocked by the realization that what Dumbledore was saying might be true.
"Albus, why would Harry's dream world be so different from the real world?" Lily asked quietly. "When Harry awoke, he was crying about Sirius having gone through something... It was dreadful," she added, her emerald eyes brimming with tears. "What kind of world did you live in?"
"A horrible one," said Harry flatly.
"Lily, my dear, no one knows what the results of the Imago Universitas will be. I never could have imagined that Harry would experience something like that." Dumbledore appeared to be disturbed by what little he had been told about Voldemort. Harry found this amusing. Imagine if he described the full horror of everything that monster had done. "If I had, I surely would have reconsidered the use of the spell."
"But why are they so different?" James repeated.
Dumbledore sighed and rotated his tea cup. It was the first time Harry had seen the headmaster look fidgety. "Everyone makes different decisions for different reasons, James," he said at last. "The smallest decision can have an immense impact on the world. In this case, I suspect at some point someone made one such decision, and it caused Harry's world to completely change to reflect that. The past, future, present... they are even more connected within the realm of a dream world than they are in the real world. But I understand what you are asking, and as for why the two worlds are so dramatically different, it could be the reaction caused by the combination of the Imago Universitas spell and the Lethargus spell." He frowned deeply. "As I stated, the Imago Universitas was originally created for those suffering from a natural sleep, not a magically induced one. Although they have never before been combined, even I could not have expected such an unusual outcome."
"So what you're saying is, everything I've known for the past fourteen years has been a lie," Harry said sceptically. He looked at Dumbledore doubtfully, unsure of how to put his confusion into words. "Sir, do you mind if I ask for – well..."
"You need proof," Dumbledore said, understanding mixed with sadness dawning on his face. "Of course, Harry. I will do anything that I can."
Harry thought for a minute. He was pretty sure that they had been sitting there for over an hour, and no one had taken any Polyjuice Potion. Of course, they had drunk tea, and judging by the easy way Crouch had swigged Polyjuice Potion during his fourth year, one could somehow get used to that dreadful taste, so that didn't really give much in terms of proof. He dropped his chin into his hands and thought hard. Normally he would simply ask a question about the Chamber or Sirius, but then those hadn't happened, and so there wasn't much this Dumbledore would know that he could ask, but... Suddenly, his mind alighted on an idea and he smiled broadly.
"Sir, could I ask you to do the Patronus charm?" he asked. He knew from Hermione's research that - even though it was rare and usually due to a life changing event - although patronuses could change, few people had a magical animal as a patronus the way Dumbledore did. Furthermore, no one else he had ever heard of had a phoenix. If the Dumbledore in front of him could produce the kind of patronus he was thinking of, then... well, he didn't know what he would do.
"Certainly, Harry." Drawing a wand from within his sleeves, Dumbledore rose. His smile widened as he spoke, his voice resounding around the small room. "Expecto Patronum!"
Silvery white mist sprayed from the end of Dumbledore's wand, spreading throughout the room. Harry closed his eyes briefly as it swept over him; it wasn't at all like he had expected. Instead of being cold or wet, he felt an inexplicable warmth that spread through his entire body, and he realized he was feeling the remnants of the happy memory Dumbledore had thought of in order to conjure the patronus. Harry opened his eyes and gazed upwards, already knowing what he would see. The ghostly image of a phoenix that looked remarkably like Fawkes soared in circles near the ceiling, searching for Dementors to chase away. When the patronus failed to find danger, it flew down to Dumbledore, inclined its head towards him, and faded away.
Harry didn't know what to say. He was in shock. Was it possible that everything he had struggled with during the past fourteen years hadn't really happened at all? Voldemort wasn't dead, but instead, had never existed. This world was clean, untouched, and completely pure. It was like being given the best, most wonderful gift that he had ever imagined, except even better, because never in his wildest dreams had he ever expected this. His eyes filled slowly with tears and he shut them tightly, trying to get a handle on himself.
"Harry," Lily said gently, clearly seeing how much her son was struggling. "It's alright. I know this is a difficult thing to accept, and – "
She was cut off when Harry lifted his head and looked around desperately, suddenly realizing the biggest change of all. His eyes locked onto Sirius, and for the first time since he had awoken, he allowed himself to really inspect the man. This Sirius appeared to be in his late thirties, but he was still an extremely handsome man, with long hair so dark it almost appeared blue under the light. His slate gray eyes gazed at Harry warmly, though there was a worried frown curling his lips. He certainly did not look as though he'd suffered years in prison, nor did he seem like the kind of person who was carrying several years' worth of betrayal and Azkaban memories around.
"Sirius!" he cried, launching himself off of the bed unexpectedly.
Sirius looked shocked, but he managed to rise in time to catch the teen. Harry threw his arms around Sirius and buried his head into Sirius' robes, feeling his whole body shake with sobs. He could tell that Sirius was startled by his actions, and he suspected that Lily and James were disappointed he hadn't gone to them first, but he couldn't help himself. It felt so good to hold onto his godfather and know that it wasn't a dream. Seeing Sirius' death had been one of the worst things he had ever gone through. It was the first time he could remember watching someone who truly loved him die. And now, to find out that it hadn't happened at all...
Needless to say, it was some time before Harry could convince himself to release his godfather. Sirius held him tightly the whole time, only letting go when he was certain that it was what Harry wanted. Harry gazed up at him, still feeling the moisture at the corners of his eyes, but refusing to cry any more. There was no need for it now, and he had shed enough tears over Sirius in the past. Sirius was here, in front of him, and so was Remus and his parents, and not only was there was no present danger, there had never been a past danger.
It was too much to take in. Harry could feel his legs weakening beneath him as the world began to spin in front of his eyes, and he would've fallen had Sirius not been in front of him. The man grabbed him quickly, supporting him before he could collapse. Harry leaned his head against Sirius' chest, wishing that the room would stop moving. His head began to more fiercely than it had before, the aches coming and going with the pounding of his heart.
"Lay him on the bed, Sirius," he distantly heard Pomfrey ordering. Then he was easily picked up and placed back on the bed, where Pomfrey began to fuss over him. Harry let her. He was content to lay still and gaze over her shoulder at everything that he had once thought he had lost.
Coming up: Harry discovers that everything in this new world is not as wonderful as it seems, and receives a mysterious message from a stranger who claims to be from the same world that Harry has been told never existed.