Disclaimer: Story based on characters and plot owned by J. K. Rowling, Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books, Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author's Note: Thanks so much to the folks at Alpha Fight Club for all their help. This story was written as part of the Sober Universe holiday gift exchange and is dedicated to Sara Winters, a fan of Harry/Hermione tales who enjoys stories rich in character exploration. I hope she finds my humble scribbling to her liking.
The aftermath of the Battle of Hogwarts is subdued as casualties on both sides are tallied. Augustus Rookwood, captured Death Eater, awaits his fate with mixed feelings. He knows that his side has lost, but he also thinks that it's preferable in the end, not just for Wizardkind, but also for Voldemort's inner circle, no longer subject to the whims and casual cruelty of their leader. His body is locked into place by an unusually strong Petrificus Totalus spell and is positioned awkwardly on the cold floor. Sharp bits of rubble jut into the small of his back. This would be the least of his worries, however, as he has just been discovered by two of the defenders, a red-haired man resembling the one he had fought earlier and another, who appears to be somewhat older-a brother, perhaps, or a cousin.
He screams silently as the first redheaded blur, the one with a livid scar in place of an ear, lowers his foot. He hears as much as feels a snap of tissue; a precious part of his anatomy has been crushed. To protect his sanity, he slips into a free-association trance, losing himself in a stream of images as pain fades to dullness at the back of his consciousness.
Testes crushed. Spermatic cords snapped. Castration. Didn't use a clamp, called… a burzido? No, burdizzo. Castratos. Tenors. Famous tenors. Luciano… Pavarotti. Sounds like paparazzi. Cameras. Bright flashes. Flash. Alamogordo. Trinity. Hand of God. Righteous vengeance…
It's darkly amusing that his thoughts often return to vengeance. He feels someone grasp his chin and wrench his head sideways so that he can look his tormenter in the eye.
"Reckon anyone'd miss this wretch?" the man says.
"Doubtful," the other says. Rookwood's eyes still can't focus-the uncannily strong spell has affected even the tiny muscles that control his eyes' lenses. He fights to bite down hard, but his jaw remains maddeningly frozen.
"Would be easier if we could just pitch him over the wall to the Acromantulas. Nobody'd have to know." The first redhead twists his heel and Rookwood is gifted with a fresh wash of pain. It gives him the urgency to move his jaw a millimeter, however, and he seizes on this tiny success and pushes with all his strength against the magic.
"It's better than he deserves. He's the one that killed Fred, right?"
"Yeah." There's a sigh. "How's Mum holding up?"
"She's not. Fleur is helping her as much as she can, but she's still in shock. Worse, she killed for the first time tonight."
"Bellatrix. Gin says she was so worked up, she even managed a Killing Curse."
There's a whistle. "Didn't think the old bird had it in her," the first redhead says. Augustus feels a sharp kick from the other, one that snaps a rib.
The second redheaded blur lowers his face near Augustus's and he sees that it's badly mangled, as if mauled by a beast. The wounds look cursed-a Werewolf bite, perhaps? The man's voice quavers in fury. "Never take on a Weasley-we stick together. Come after one of us, you deal with all of us." He stands up and says, "Go tend to the next one, George. I'll take care of this rubbish."
Rookwood feels his body levitate from the ground.
"Would be a pity if your spell failed accidentally."
The petrified man feels himself fall onto the hard stone. His head smacks the floor with a loud crack.
"Oops?" the older man says noncommittally.
"Be more of a pity if it he took a tumble over the wall."
"I agree, but we're better than that. Besides, he might know something worthwhile."
Rookwood slips back into his trance, adding two more to his tally of those from whom he'll extract his vengeance. The Dark Lord tops the list, thanks not only to the decade the Death Eater was made to serve in Azkaban, but also for the coercion that cost him the love of his life and everything he once held dear.
In his youth and to his everlasting shame, Rook, as he was known then, was as a rising star among the Ministry's Unspeakables and had chosen to follow Riddle. He'd found the man a charismatic visionary as brilliant as he and equally passionate about the subtle nigromantic arts and the need for change in their society as such potent and unjustly vilified magics are perceived. Despite the warnings of his late wife Sarah, who to this day he believes had a bit of the Sight, Rook had taken the mark and taken up the Dark Lord's cause, using his position to undermine the Ministry from within.
He had never expected to discard the halcyon days of youth in exchange for simpering at the feet of the abomination that Riddle had become, an insane beast who could blithely hand out the Cruciatus or destroy those held dear by his followers. Through a sequence of ever more twisted acts, the Dark Lord had damned their movement to a nightmare of terror, one where self-preservation became prized above success. Rook's reward for being the last to try to talk Riddle out of a path that would lead their cause to ruin? Sarah's life and that of their unborn child, spilled at his feet.
He would have his revenge on the Dark Lord, however-that is, if he could just free himself from this wretched body bind. He redoubles his effort to move his jaw and finally does manage, biting down hard through the edge of his tongue. As his mouth fills with hot blood, one of his cracked bicuspids moves aside, allowing the tip of the opposite tooth to jam against the pressure point hidden within and triggering the release of his emergency Portkey.
Though his face is still frozen, he imagines grinning in triumph as a tug about his abdomen twirls him about, freeing him from his captor. He lands on his back in the courtyard of his estate, which has been hidden all these years by Fidelius. He's not returned in an age, it seems, not since Sarah was here for him, but the sun shines brilliantly overhead, as before, and the humid, salt air is as he remembered. With a loud pop, his House Elf arrives and tends to him. It is time to put plans into motion.
Ever industrious, Rookwood spends the days before his journey paging through his notes compiled over the past decade, as well as obscure Department of Mysteries records liberated before the Dark Lord's fall, in the off chance that he finds himself in need of review in a Pensieve where he is going. He is traveling in time and can only send memories. This exercise will allow him to bring so much more.
He didn't invent time travel, but he does have a talent for assimilation, of taking bits of knowledge from this field and that and combining them in unusual and creative ways. In research, as in life, he's an opportunist. It's led him to make this, the greatest discovery of his career.
He wonders idly how many have made the same discovery as he. Are the great events of history mere accidents? Or are they the carefully laid designs of men, like him, pushed too far?
The sky darkens overhead and the stars become visible, not that they need to be for this to work. In the end, it is their orientation relative to the planets and a confluence with the upcoming lunar eclipse that matters. He stares out over the frothy sea and waits impassively for the lunar eclipse, the moment of passage.
Drawing its power from astrological circumstance, the manner that he's cobbled together to jump to the adjoining dimension and relive history is fickle. That it is so is immutable, arithmological fact, as is that the arrangement of the stars this century will not enable him to undo his greatest mistakes: taking Riddle's mark or speaking out of turn, the error that allowed Sarah to suffer Riddle's fury.
He cannot go so far back, but at least he travel far enough to exact his revenge and give her soul peace. His plans are simple: arrive the evening before his release from Azkaban, seize two of Riddle's horcruxes, suborn their accursed magic to his will and wrest power from the Dark Lord over his very soul. He intends to bind the demon and curb its self-destruction, allowing him to become the power behind the scenes, Voldemort's master, and not the other way around.
Yes, let the abomination feel the bite of Rookwood's Cruciatus for a change. And then, when he no longer has a use for the creature? Well, one exterminates rabid beasts, after all.
He lances his wrists and lies at the center of a glowing runic circle, one that changes from silver to scarlet, matching the hue of the moon overhead, as his blood drains into the runes. It is time. Rookwood lies within, intoning a long incantation that binds his magic and his very being to the construction. His voice sounds ever more distant in his ears and the crashing waves fade into silence, replaced by a Dementor's chill.
Although he would make the journey, he would fail in the end and a trillion souls would be damned.
There is a flicker and a vast sense of movement. A world is revealed that is identical to the last, yet somehow not...
The Dark Lord lies beneath colorless winter skies. Open veins on his wrists leak onto the cold, ensorcelled granite and pool ichor in the runes. Above, the moon is an unblinking eye, with eclipse blackness at its center.
Wide, anguine eyes stare back, defiant. Madness frays the edges of his mind, his damned soul unmaking itself as surely as death's kiss, inevitable entropy. This spent world is a cocoon from which he will emerge anew, an exit and a new beginning. Eternity is found in the past.
Indeed, the Dark Lord had met his end once, in a time of which he has no memory. Horcruxes, he has learned, confer a cursed existence and in the folly of his mortality, he drank deeply of this poisoned nectar. He his glimpsed his possible fate in the memories of his servant, Augustus Rookwood, and watched the steady descent of his other self into immoderacy, self-destruction, and madness-inspired crudity of action betraying his Slytherin heritage.
And then in the end, he had fallen to an unskilled ephebe in Hogwarts. Intolerable!
His servant, fortunately, had escaped capture that day in that distant world and developed a form of time travel in the decade that followed. The man had journeyed in time to rewrite his past and attempt a personal, yet petty vengeance against the Dark Lord. To his credit, he had nearly succeeded. However, upon learning the man's intentions, the Lord Voldemort, ever a believer in Fate and serendipity, had ripped the knowledge from the man's mind and, with the benefit of foreknowledge, prevented the worst.
Now, it begins-a new cycle of eternity. He twists his wand a final time in this existence and begins an incantation in a language unspoken by man since the beginning, in this world, at least. His chant rings hollow in his ears and the blood moon becomes impossibly large in his view.
There is a bright flicker and after a second's pause, a vast sense of movement. A world is revealed that is identical to the last, yet somehow not...
Omniscience-of future, of past, of present-is a delightful thing for a Lord. He flexes long fingers, ones that moments before held a wand of yew thirteen inches in length and would again in thirteen seconds, one of the small ironies he has come to appreciate.
"Robe me," he hisses and it is done, as it has always been. A thousand times, he has beheld the bespectacled creature bound to his father's tombstone. With ruthless efficiency, long strides consume the ground between them and he raises his wand. It is an economy of effort, practiced grace. There would be no honorable death today, no "observing the niceties," nor chance of escape, not when mere accident could end Lord Voldemort's reign.
A blasting spell touches the boy's crown and completes the prophecy. "For neither can live while the other survives," the Dark Lord says, an indulgence he affords himself as all hope of opposition to his power in this world expires with the boy's last breath.
"Master?" Wormtail says, grimacing in torment from the unfilled Life Debt to the boy. The Dark Lord knows that the fool will perish in eleven months as the curse settles. Until then, he has his uses, petty though they may be.
"Gather his blood, Wormtail, for we have another ritual this evening." This next step is the key: release of a magical and exobiological pandemic targeting those without magic. Several hundred worlds before, after Voldemort had nearly met defeat at a release of Muggle nuclear weapons, he had sworn to never again to allow the benighted creatures to pose a risk. This virus will eliminate the threat.
Slaying Dumbledore and toppling the Ministry will be manageable once the plague finds purchase. A failsafe approach will leave the Lord Voldemort in shadows for a few weeks more. When the Ministry assembles to address the Muggle crisis, he will dispatch a proxy under Imperius with Erumpent fluid and naptha. The Fiendfyre-fueled explosion will decapitate potential opposition and present a power vacuum into which he will rise to power and prominence, virtually without risk, for the one thing Voldemort has become in his millennia is risk averse.
He has two years before the first threads of mania. With a proper regimen of potions and the sacrifice of two of his less potent Horcruxes, it will be seventeen before his mental acuity and judgment degrade and his condition becomes serious.
The Lord Voldemort will perform the ritual well before then. He will begin anew, with another world to conquer.
A bushy-haired young woman espies a funereal group of Ministry officials and Professors making their way to the Hogwarts castle. No doubt they will confer on the events of the evening and the two missing Hogwarts champions. From their grave expressions, she's quite certain that what news they have is not good at all, not that they'd think to share it with her, she thinks bitterly. She feels a pressure in her chest that will not abate.
Despite her minor crush on Viktor, she feels guilty wishing that it were Harry with her now instead of him. He squeezes her hand and she clings to him, crying into his shoulder. They stand together for a long while as he holds her in silence, offering what comfort he can. She appreciates the gesture, but feels hollow inside. Somehow, she knows that a dreadful fate has befallen her best friend and, if she were true to herself, first love.
Midnight approaches and the students are herded back to their dormitories. Few find comfort in sleep that evening, Hermione among them. She spends the night weeping for her Harry, each hour without news, another augment to her grief.
Her anguished cries would join those of a thousand Hermiones venting their rage at the heavens over the unfairness of it all.
There is a flash of light and after a moment of reluctance, a vast sense of movement. A world is revealed that is identical to the last, yet somehow not...
Omniscience-of future, of past, of present-is occasionally troubling for a Lord. Voldemort flexes his long fingers and waits impatiently, marking the time. Seventy four seconds elapse before he palms the yew and Phoenix feather wand.
"Robe me," he hisses and it is done, though with less grace than before, as if an unseen force were conspiring against him. With some trepidation, the Dark Lord moves toward the boy, bound and helpless, as he always has. He raises his wand, yet keeps a wary eye on his servant, who is fidgeting and mumbling to himself in madness. Voldemort points his wand at his enemy's head.
The child of destiny collapses against the stone. At that moment, a brilliant pulse of lightning illuminates the heavens and a second later, terrible skirling rises above the thunder as Wormtail writhes upon the ground, his skin laced with arcs of electricity and fibrils of magic. The man's almost musical screams continue until his vocal cords hemorrhage and his voice fails. Bolts of black lightning expel from his chest and flail about, scoring scars in the ground and shattering tombstones. To his dismay, Voldemort is forced to seek cover behind an overturned bier.
His servant expels a final, rattling breath and lays still, his lifeless eyes staring into the heavens. His body has a slightly flattened look to it, as if the wizard had been crushed under the weight of thousands of unfilled Life Debts.
Voldemort stands and flicks his wand, relighting the fire beneath the cauldron, his infernal womb. He must brew the plague himself this time.
There is an explosion of light and the universe seems to groan in hesitation before rushing forth with impossible speed. A world is revealed that is identical to the last, yet somehow not...
Omniscience is a curse, truly. Lord Voldemort rises anxiously from the cauldron and flexes his long fingers in anticipation of his wand. It is several minutes in coming, as his trembling servant seems unable and unwilling to touch it. Finally, he pushes aside the whimpering man and snatches the yew and Phoenix feather wand himself.
"Robe me," he hisses and after the application of an anger-fueled Cruciatus curse, it is done.
The Dark Lord looks up at the sky and sees swirling clouds. The air reeks of ozone and something seems unsettled, as if the world were a coiled serpent, ready to strike.
"Avada Kedavra," he says in a high-pitched voice. His second Unforgivable leaves the inutile man crumpled upon the ground, his lifeless eyes staring up into the heavens. Voldemort waits for a moment, yet nothing happens. He exhales a breath he didn't know he was holding and approaches the boy bound to the tombstone. With efficiency born of muscle memory, he raises his wand, as he has thousands of times before.
"Confringo," he says. A flash of silver races his curse. The Cup, propelled by accidental magic, touches the boy just as the Dark Lord's curse strikes true and whisks him back to Hogwarts.
The Dark Lord screams in fury and unleashes a torrent of malevolent magic, nearly striking his familiar, Nagini. After a long while, his rage quells and he approaches his former servant's body. Silent slicing spells flash from the immortal's wand; the plague will be prepared with another's blood this evening.
Lord Voldemort stirs the cauldron, his thoughts deeply troubled.
Near the entrance of the maze, a spinning mote of silver winks into being, startling the murmuring crowd. Two, an elderly wizard in garish robes and a bushy-haired Hogwarts witch, push to the front as the light grows brighter and takes form. With the sound of a low whistle, Harry Potter appears, bouncing roughly off the turf, the Triwizard Cup in his hand rolling away from him. Dumbledore kneels and touches his hand to the boy's pale face. He is grievously injured. Hermione grasps his cold hand and holds it between hers.
"Voldemort… returned…" Harry whispers soundlessly. His eyes meet Hermione's for a moment and then a rivulet of blood trails from his mouth and his body goes limp.
"Don't leave me, Harry!" She yells and sobs loudly as the Headmaster lowers his head. "You can't be dead. I..." She cannot quite bring herself to say what is in her heart, that their close friendship these weeks past has grown into something more, something organic and beautiful, yet terrible, with the power to shatter her. In irrational fervor, she clutches to his hand, as if doing so can somehow prevent his passing on.
A breeze rustles through the hedgerows and she imagines the faintest of whispers. "I love you too."
Hermione Granger props open a yellowed Lateran text in an obscure corner of the Bibliotheca Apostolica Vaticana, the library of the Holy See and one of the few surviving great libraries of the world. It's a little blasphemous, perhaps, for an Anglican to be here perusing the deepest secrets of the Vatican-or at least it would be, if there were still Muggles to fret over such things.
However, none remain to challenge her access to the great codices, magical or mundane, and she is the de facto archivist of this quiet place. It is a setting to lose herself and purge her mind of the images of plague and death, of loved ones lost to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.
It was foolish, perhaps, to join the opposition in the early days, but that it was what Harry would have done. As luck would have it, she was accompanying the Headmaster in the Minstry the day when all hope ended in fiery exposion and Fiendfyre. She was one of three rescued from the blaze by the Headmaster's familiar. Under Madame Pomfrey's care, her hair has grown back, in the back, anyway, though it is streaked with grey. Twisted, ugly knots of scar mark her face and the top of her head.
She sighs. She was called beautiful once by Harry during an unguarded moment in the Hogwarts Library. She'd almost kissed him then and she wishes she had. He would find her repulsive now, she's sure.
She thinks of him often, though she finds it hard to do so without bitter memories of her former Professor, whom she blames for his loss. She recalls the furious Incendio that destroyed the last note she received from the man, one that recounted in an oblique fashion what she already knew-that after He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named burned the world and gave his henchmen dominion over its embers, that he retreated behind impregnable wards as the fear and power behind their ruthlessness, and that he had created several Horcruxes in order to stave off death. The only news was that apparently Dumbledore was onto some new pursuit, one which he felt would end the Dark Lord's regime. And at the end of his note, inexplicably, he had begged for her forgiveness for the mistakes of the past.
He had the misfortune of asking for the one thing she can never truly give.
Hermione has had enough of the magical world and is content to die here one day far in the future, disfigured and ugly, amidst the amassed historical memory of a world nobody remembers. She is one of the few who could appreciate a place like this and the only one who would seek solace within its walls.
She looks up at a flash of yellow fire as a red and gold Phoenix appears before her.
"Hi Fawkes," she says, smiling at the company and the break from routine. Since her rescue, she has always felt an odd closeness with the bird. "Do you have a letter from the Headmaster?"
Fawkes trills sadly and drops a leather-bound book onto the table before her. It's a relatively new journal, unlike the centuries-old texts she's been studying. She turns the cover toward her and opens it, seeing a familiar, loopy script. It's one of Dumbledore's private journals, marked with a golden ribbon. She turns to the last entry, dated a few months prior. As she reads, she feels a growing sense of dread.
...At long last, I make my journey. Although this place is hidden and my words shall never be read, it brings me some small comfort to put them down as I find my troubled mind in need of such.
Again, I am bound to commit a terrible act to put an end to an even greater wickedness, for it is now incontrovertible that Tom has delved into magicks most horrible and has uncovered the secrets of passage from this dimension to the next, and of conquering time itself. Indeed, I am convinced that he has done this before, possibly several times, and will again if not stopped.
Another world cannot be made to suffer as this one has, with untold misery visited to billions upon billions. My conscience cannot allow it. I venture now to before Tom's rebirth in an effort to undo one of my greatest failures and destroy his abhorrent ties to his accursed life, his horcruxes.
It is the final one, residing in the boy I loved as a son, that will haunt me for the rest of my days. I hope the Fates can forgive me for what I must do, for I known I shall never forgive myself.
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore
Hermione gasps. "Harry."
There is a brilliant burst of light and then an almost eager sense of movement. A world is revealed that is identical to the last, yet somehow not: this world has hope.
Harry Potter sits with a threadbare blanket over his shoulders in the darkened sitting room of Number 4, Privet Drive. He's enjoying the beauty of the Christmas tree. His family, the Dursleys, are spending Christmas Eve with his Aunt Marjorie and now that he is ten years old, he has been permitted to stay behind, though in an unheated house with stern instructions not to touch anything.
This is fine, however, since Harry is simply happy at having time out of his cupboard. He's heard that Christmas is a magical time of year and Harry believes it, despite having been told again and again that magic isn't real. The tree is very pretty, decorated in tinsel and antique ornaments of ceramic and gold that he mustn't touch, and the presents have been stacked neatly beneath, counted several times by his cousin in the last few days. Harry imagines that some of them are for him, that he and Dudley will tear into the wrappings the next day and play with their new toys like best mates. It won't happen, of course, but he closes his eyes and imagines it anyway.
When he opens them, he's surprised to see an old man in robes of scarlet and silver standing by the fireplace. He is stroking a long, white beard and appears deep in thought. From the consequences of his upbringing, Harry has learned to be a good judge of people's moods. This man seems troubled.
He turns to Harry and peers at him through half-moon glasses, then smiles genially.
"S-Santa?" Harry asks, incredulous, having long since given up the belief in Father Christmas, though it's difficult to argue with the evidence before him.
The man raises a bushy eyebrow and asks, "Harry Potter?"
"Am I dreaming?"
The man makes a show of pinching himself and chuckles. "No, I dare say, you are not dreaming."
Harry shuffles to his feet and offers his hand, lowering his eyes for a moment as he does so. "It's good to meet you, sir. Can I, uh, get you something? We have biscuits in the cupboard and I can put on some tea..." He knows that he's risking a scolding from his relatives when they return, but one cannot be impolite to visitors.
"No, that is fine, lad. I merely wish to speak with you for a moment." The man takes out a slender, black stick and twirls it in the air. Two squishy armchairs appear from nowhere. Harry's jaw drops open, but he closes it with a snap as the man gestures for him to sit, then makes a second wave of his stick. White sparks appear and swirl around, forming an ornate tea set made of polished silver. The man pours two cups of tea that form wisps of steam in the cold room.
They sip their tea in silence and Harry starts to feel uncomfortable under the man's stare. Eventually, he asks, "Um, Father Christmas sir, if you're here, then does that mean I've been bad?"
"Do you think you've been bad?"
"Sometimes. I try to be good, but I'm a..."
"A what, Harry," the man asks, a little forcefully.
Though he normally keeps his home life private, something draws the words from Harry's mouth before he can resist. "A freak, sir."
The man looks at him sternly. "You are not a freak. You are a very special boy, one with special talents."
Harry looks startled. "You know of that?"
"I do indeed."
Harry mulls this over and says, "I can make things happen, sir, that aren't natural. Do you know why? Is it a bad thing?"
"Let me tell you a secret," the man says, tapping his nose. "We all have the capacity for good in us, but also for bad. You, Harry, are mostly good, and I do know a fair bit about these things."
"You are. I know for a fact that your parents would have been proud of you."
"Did you know them, sir? Were they good people?" he asks, perhaps a little too eagerly.
"They were the very best sort of people and they loved you so." He tousles the boy's hair and Harry see the man's eyes are shining. Some of his distrust fades, seeing the genuine affection the man seems to hold for his parents.
"I wish I knew them," Harry says.
"I know and that is why I'm here. I happen to know a special bit of magic that I can share with you this evening. It will allow you to speak with them, but first I must tell you a story."
At the mention of meeting his parents, Harry fidgets excitedly in his chair.
"Once, long ago, there was a boy who was very lonely and so very, very sad. He, like you, had lost his parents. He grew up in an orphanage. One day, he learned that he had special powers, much as you do, but he used them to hurt the people who had been mean to him... What's the matter?"
Harry is looking down at his hands. "One time, I turned my teacher's hair blue..."
"Ah, but you were sorry for what you did, were you not?"
The boy nods, nearly in tears.
"Then you are not like Tom, the boy in my story. Tom was almost never sorry. As he grew older, he grew stronger as well, and so did his capacity to hurt people. He hurt many people. One day, he decided to hurt two of the very best people, your parents, and did something so evil as to be unforgivable."
"What was that, sir?"
"He put a little bit of his evil inside of you, Harry. Right here." The man touches his scar and Harry recoils, covering his forehead with his hand.
"Inside me, sir?"
"Yes, he was defeated in the end, for a time, by your parents' sacrifice, for you see, they gave their lives so that you could be here today. But this bit of evil inside you means that Tom will never be truly gone, not until someone fixes it."
"This Tom can come back?" Harry says, frightened.
The man nods.
"And hurt people again?"
"Yes, although I know some magic that will prevent him from returning, the same magic that will let you see your parents. However, it is not without sacrifice on your part and to work, you have to want the evil out of you, want it with your whole being." The man's voice seems a little choked up. "I'll leave the decision to you. You may think on it. Biscuit?"
Harry shakes his head and mulls the man's words, unsure about the sacrifice bit, but then he thinks of his parents and how they sacrificed themselves for him. After a moment, he straightens in his chair. "I'll do it, sir."
"Are you sure? Once I do this, there is no turning back."
"I don't care. I can't let someone like that hurt people again, not when I can stop it. And you say it will let me see my parents. Please, sir?"
The man sighs and a tear threatens to roll down his cheek. "Very well, Harry. You have made the courageous choice and the right one. Again, I consider it a privilege to have known a boy as brave and as good as you. If you would close your eyes, it'll be easier for both of us."
Harry does. He is smiling a little bit at the man's words and the knowledge that he's doing the right thing, having rarely heard words of praise in his life. He hears a swhish of cloth as the man raises his stick to Harry's forehead.
Harry hears a loud crack and he opens his eyes.
"Reducto!" There is a deafening clatter of metal and a crash of glass. He sees a bushy-haired girl about the same age as he standing in front of the man, who, to his horror, has been struck down by the tea set and has broken his fall on the Dursleys' Christmas tree and presents. The tea set has flown through the picture window, shattering several of the panes and leaving broken glass all over the front lawn. Muffled "Yatta-yatta, yatta-yatta" sounds issue from one of the crushed boxes beneath the man, probably one of the toys that Dudley had begged for.
The girl's eyes flash with rage and she keeps her stick pointing at the man. His stick, Harry notices, has fallen to the floor. Harry picks it up and holds it. It feels curiously warm to his touch, almost as if it belongs to him.
"How dare you, you bloody bastard!" the girl shouts.
"Miss Granger, how very intriguing. I had wondered about the extra set of wards I encountered. Dear girl, I can assure you..."
"Not. Another. Word. And stay where you are!"
"I believe there's been a misunderstanding."
"There's no misunderstanding, Headmaster." She speaks the title as if it's profanity. "I know what you were going to do to him. I read your journals!"
Another large piece of glass drops from the picture window and breaks upon the floor.
"Please, um, Miss Granger is it?" Harry says, uncomfortable at the conflict and terrified of what his relatives are going to say about the state of the house. "He was going to let me see my parents. It's Christmas, after all..."
His words have the opposite effect, as she turns to the man quivering in fury. "How dare you manipulate him like this!"
"When you've lived as long as I, you realize that sacrifices have to be made," the man says, sadly, propping himself up. The "yatta-yatta" noises become louder.
"Sod your sacrifices. There's always another way. You can't kill someone to save others. It's- it's immoral." Yellow sparks fly from the tip of her stick as she speaks.
"And what if it's to save the world? Or a thousand worlds, Miss Granger? What if he volunteers? At what point does it become immoral to permit a boy on his own volition to choose to remove a blight upon his world once and for all? It is his destiny, after all."
Harry looks at the two, completely baffled.
"To hell with your prophecies, Dumbledore. Harry is a person. He deserves love, not death. And damn you for manipulating him into choosing to die."
"Listen to yourself, Miss Granger. It grieves me to do this, but..." He opens his hand and the stick yanks from Harry's hand, landing in the man's. A jet of yellow light flies from the girl's stick toward the man, but he spins out of its path, allowing the light to strike the wall. A large hole is ripped in the side of the Dursleys' house and the room fills with plaster dust.
The man gestures with his stick and clattering steel chains rise from the floor, snaking around the girl and holding her fast. A second, sharp flick leaves her mouth moving noiselessly. Her stick is wrenched from her hand by an unseen force and it sails to the man's other hand.
"You give me no choice. I cannot allow the knowledge you hold to escape this room, for then all will indeed be lost and the sacrifices made, in vain. One as clever and talented as you, Miss Granger, would undoubtedly have taken precautions against any memory charm I could place on you. Please understand that I am truly sorry. I believe I shall regret this... until my dying day." The man is weeping openly and is barely able to speak the last sentence.
He man points his wand at the girl's chest and Harry feels a moment of dread.
A green bolt jets toward her, a sight Harry has seen only in his worst nightmares. He wills himself to stop it and with a loud crack, he somehow manages to appear in the path of the light. He glimpses the girl wide, terrified eyes as his world explodes in a flash of light.
Harry sits on a swing at his school's playground. It is summertime, though the sky is white, not blue, and the distance is obscured by mist. He is dressed in a tatty t-shirt. Cutoff shorts expose a pair of knobby knees.
Aside from Harry, the playground is empty and devoid of sound. He finds it a little creepy. He swings for a bit, but tires of it. Then, he notices the white-haired man from before seated next to him on one of the other swings. They sit in silence and then the man starts to swing, looking entirely silly, though Harry cannot seem to muster the urge to laugh.
"Are you really Santa?" Harry asks.
The man stops swinging. "No, I'm afraid not. My name is Albus Dumbledore."
"That's what the girl said. So everything you told me was a lie?"
"The girl's name is Hermione Granger. In another world, she was a colleague and a friend. And she was your very best friend, Harry. Although I did not disabuse you of your belief that I was Santa Claus, nothing I said was a lie."
"What do you mean, 'another world'?" Harry asks shrewdly.
"Miss Granger and I have traveled from the future, each trying to prevent a great tragedy, something which, I might add, does her great credit. It was far from a simple matter for me to discover the secrets of time travel and for her to deduce it, even with the benefit of my journals, is truly remarkable. She is undoubtedly the cleverest witch of her age, or will be. In this, she would be a match for me in my prime-and between you and me, that's saying something. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, given where we are now, she and I disagreed on which would be the greatest tragedy."
"You were going to kill me", Harry says. It's not a question.
The man looks crestfallen. "Yes. And I am quite certain that it would have destroyed me to do so, for Harry, in my world, I loved you like a son." He pauses, as if choosing his words carefully. "I regret the necessity of my actions and I would only hope that you are never asked to choose between two evils as I have done, asked to hurt someone you love."
Harry notices that it's not quite an apology, but before he can think on it more, a plaintive cry breaks the silence. They are a baby's wails, though unnatural, perverted somehow. The man, Dumbledore, rises and walks into the mist. He returns, carrying a deformed infant.
At Harry's unasked question, he says, "This is that bit of evil inside of you that I spoke of."
"So, I'm dead now?" Harry asks, not wanting to look at the creature the man holds.
"Not quite. You are on the precipice between life and death. I did not lie to you-your parents are inside the school building, the place where I must go and meet my fate. I underestimated your resiliency to the magic I used and I found myself in much the same position as Tom so many years ago, struck down by my own curse."
Harry is confused at the man's words, but he asks the more important question on his mind. "I could see them? Really?"
"You could indeed, although I think you may wish to consider waiting. Your new friend, Hermione, waits for you in the land of the living. She, like your parents, loves you with her whole being and she would be most distressed if you were to not return."
"Why? She doesn't even know me."
"Ah, but she does. She knows better than anyone in this world what kind of man you will become. Were you to choose to return to her, I have every confidence that you would find happiness. And more than anything, I would wish that for you, Harry."
Harry is silent for a long time. "Will I see you again?"
"Perhaps, but let us hope that it is not for a very long while."
Harry awakens feeling himself clutched tightly by the girl. His chest is soaked from her tears and he feels very cold.
"Her-Hermione?" he asks, remembering from before. The unusual name feels awkward on his tongue.
"Harry!" she squeals, grasping him tighter.
"Can't... breathe..." he sputters and she relaxes a little bit.
"I thought I'd lost you again," she says, touching his face tenderly. Her eyes are wide and quite pretty in the dim electric lights of the fallen Christmas tree. He shivers under her touch, or perhaps from the winter air blowing into the room. They cling to each other as Harry strokes her hair, basking in the novelty of being held. He feels oddly at peace with his new friend in the ruined sitting room.
"Everything will be all right," she says. Somehow, he knows that it will.
Author's Note: Happy Holidays.