Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter. I am merely playing in Rowling's sandbox.
Warnings: Crude language and classical references.
Author's Notes: This just randomly appeared in my head fully-formed. Forgive me for Voldemort's classical references. Rowling herself quotes Aeschylus at the beginning of Deathly Hallows. I am referencing the great debate in Aristophanes' Frogs, where Aeschylus and Euripides are arguing who is the greater poet. Voldemort is concerned about the way villainous characters end up in Aeschylus' plays, as opposed to those of Euripides. I believe he'd like to see himself as a Medea. Wow, I've spent longer explaining it, than it features in the story! On with the action!
Beneath his father's invisibility cloak, Harry Potter shivered. Being in the Department of Mysteries gave him the creeps. It's impossibly high walls of dark enamelled brick contained memories Harry would rather forget. But it didn't matter, because soon they would be just that – a memory. A slice of thought only Harry would ever remember.
At first the plan had been to go back and save Sirius. But, as Harry turned the idea over, he realised: why stop with his godfather? Why not save his parents too? In fact, why not save every person Tom Marvolo Riddle had ever hurt? It was a brilliant idea and, like most of his brilliant ideas, he had Hermione and Dumbledore to thank for it. The only question in Harry's mind was: why didn't I think of this earlier?
There it was: the wall of brilliant golden hourglasses just waiting for Harry to seize one and save the world. He slipped off his cloak and moved toward the devices as if in a trance, his green eyes wide and greedy. A time-turner had saved Sirius once before, why shouldn't one do so again?
"Because, Potter, the world doesn't work that way," said a cold, high voice from behind him. Harry whipped around. He didn't bother asking how the Dark Lord – for it was unquestionably he (no one else Harry knew had a cold, high voice) – had read his mind, but readied his wand to defend himself. Lord Voldemort was perched casually on top of a large, iron cannon, pointed at the wall of time-turners. His slit pupils were dilated and his right hand held, instead of a wand, a half-smoked cigarette. He gently exhaled vivid green smoke through snake-like nostrils and regarded Harry with a half-amused smile.
Harry backed carefully toward the hourglasses, not taking his eyes off Voldemort. "I don't know what you're talking about." I just have to get to a time-turner… keep him talking…
"Potter, you can't just go back and change the past. If it were that easy I would never have bothered with the Philosopher's Stone business – I would have simply directed Quirrel to steal a time-turner and left my past self a note telling him not to attempt to kill Harry Potter. Problem solved."
Now that he thought about it… that did make sense. "So... why didn't you?" Harry's left hand involuntarily stilled in its reaching toward an hourglass.
Voldemort, seeing that he had Harry's attention, took the opportunity to take a leisurely drag from his cigarette. "The same reason you won't go back in time now. If you do, you will cease to exist."
That was ridiculous. "You're just trying to trick me!" Harry snatched hold of a time-turner and hung the golden thread around his neck, keeping his wand trained on the Dark Lord. "I've finally found a way to destroy you and you can't do anything about it!"
Voldemort laughed, gestured with his cigarette, and the hourglass crumbled to pieces in Harry's hands. "Going to go back and try and kill me when I was a baby, Potter?" he sneered.
"Yeah – a taste of your own medicine!" Harry shouted back, grabbing desperately for another hourglass. "You're the one who'll cease to exist!"
"Didn't Dumbledore ever tell you about the Narrative? My, my… first Sirius Black, then the prophecy, and now the Narrative. You really are crushingly ignorant, aren't you?"
"Shut up!" Harry yelled as yet another time-turner exploded in his grasp. "Dumbledore is a greater wizard than you'll ever be!"
One of Voldemort's pale, spider-like hands patted the top of the cannon. "It's no use, Potter. You can't bring your family back. They had to die so that you could live. Dumbledore explained that, surely? Come. Sit."
Harry Potter said some very naughty words about just how the Dark Lord could sit on his cannon.
Lord Voldemort rolled his crimson eyes and took his wand out of his robe pocket. "Oh, for Slytherin's sake, imperio!" It was the most wonderful sensation. Harry felt as if he were floating, as if all his troubles had vanished, leaving nothing but a vague, untraceable happiness. Voldemort's voice sounded peacefully in his head: Sit on the cannon, Harry. Totally relaxed, Harry wandered over to the cannon. Come and sit beside me. Harry did so.
The Dark Lord gave a satisfied nod and put his wand away again. "Now, that's dealt with, I shall explain. There is an ancient magic, far more powerful than any dark ritual–"
"Love!" Harry managed to gasp through the soporific effects of the Imperius Curse.
"No, not love. Honestly, you Gryffindors and your ridiculous pronouncements about love! I'm talking about something far more powerful than anything your tiny mind can imagine! Some call it Fate, some God, but I prefer to think of it as the Narrative. Tell me, did you read as a child?"
"Hm. That will make this slightly more difficult to explain. Did you watch – ahem – Muggle television?"
"Sure. When I could get away with it, but the Dursleys wouldn't let me–"
"I'm not interested in your doubtlessly traumatic childhood," Voldemort interrupted, leering at Harry and breathing a smoke ring into his face, making him splutter and cough. "So, on these filthy Muggle programmes, what was the essential element?"
"Umm… advertising?" Harry answered between coughs, waving his hands in front of his face to clear the air.
"NO! Conflict! Conflict is what drives those puerile programmes! And like those characters, we are on this earth to cause it and to suffer it, understand? That is what the Narrative demands of us."
Harry frowned and wondered if he'd been confunded. Or maybe this was all just some crazy dream? "Are you comparing us to Tom and Jerry?" he asked bemusedly. Then he began to giggle, "Ha! Tom and Harry! Haha… get it?"
Lord Voldemort shot Harry a livid glare. "Silence, you illiterate cretin! Don't you see? You cannot go back in time to kill me because I am the Primary Antagonist! Before me, this world did not exist!"
"When I was small, I was only dimly cognisant of myself, of the fact that I was an orphan. Then it came: the voice. It would find me, whisper things. And the more I listened to it, the clearer the world became. Things would take shape around me as if they'd always been there. But I knew – I knew that Billy Stubbs didn't have a rabbit until the voice suggested I torture it. That Stubbs himself hadn't existed until the voice told me he deserved to be punished. The Voice of the Narrative, Potter! The Narrative chose me as its instrument to create the world."
Voldemort let out a bitter laugh. "Tom Riddle: poor but brilliant, parentless but so brave. I thought I could do no wrong; that my luck would last forever. I thought I was the protagonist, can you imagine? I didn't know very about the Narrative, back then–"
Harry shook his head: the Dark Lord had clearly gone off the deep end. "But–?"
"Quiet, can't you recognise an expository monologue? As I was saying, it was a long time before I realised that, although I am the chief representative of the Narrative, in that it is my destiny to create the suffering the Narrative needs to sustain itself, this philanthropic enterprise does not make me the protagonist. It was only when Snape told me of the prophecy that I realised what I must be… the villain."
"But you didn't have to be!" Harry cried passionately, "you could have ignored the prophecy! Dumbledore told me…"
"Oh, will you shut up about Dumbledore? That old hypocrite makes me sick. I'm paranoid tyrant, of course I had to try and dispose of you when you were a baby! It's basic folktale material, Potter! Besides, terrible things can happen to those who run away from prophecies. The Narrative punishes you. Have you heard of Oedipus?"
"Was he some sort of dark wizard?"
"Never mind, the point is I had to tackle the prophecy head on if I wanted to survive. I had to create the protagonist – you. And I had to take steps toward immortality, ensuring that whatever happened between us, I would always have the opportunity to come back, to further the Narrative. I confess that I never expected my first defeat to come so soon. I rather thought the Potters would hide you with some pastoral idiot like Hagrid and raise you as the gamekeeper's son, letting me kill someone else's brat. That's what I would have done in their position. Fortunately, while I was disembodied, Dumbledore ensured that you suffered enough in the intervening years to appease the Narrative's lust for pain by placing you in the care of those disgusting Muggle relatives of yours and making sure Sirius Black was sent to prison."
"DUMBLEDORE WOULD NEVER–!"
"How many times do I have to tell you to shut up? Dumbledore can read minds, yes? Dumbledore is the Supreme Mugwamp, the Chief Warlock and this-that-and-the-other, yes? Dumbledore could tell Sirius Black was innocent just by looking at him. The reason your godfather was sent to prison without trial was because it was for the greater good! Black would have given you a well-adjusted – if somewhat spoiled – childhood; almost as bad as if your useless parents had survived. The Narrative could have dissolved! We all could have all been written out of existence!"
Harry struggled to make sense of Voldemort's nonsensical ravings. "I don't understand. You're saying the world depends on you murdering people and me having a shitty childhood in a cupboard under the stairs? And that's why I can't use the time-turner?"
"Yes, Potter, you have finally grasped my point," the ophidian Dark Lord grumbled.
"But that's horrible!"
Voldemort gave him the most unpleasant grin and lit another cigarette. "The Narrative feeds on suffering. Your suffering and the suffering of those around you, believe me, horrible doesn't even begin to describe it. You think you've had it bad? Come back to me when you've spent a year as a deformed infant, or tacked onto the back of some idiot's head or thirteen years possessing small woodland creatures! And we haven't even gotten near the climax, yet. Why do you think I took up smoking?"
"You know smoking can kill you, right?"
"Wrong. Only you can kill me. Lung cancer doesn't stand a chance – wrong genre."
Harry stood up, rubbing his scar distractedly. Voldemort's annoyance was giving him a headache. "Look… even if all this narrative crap is true, why are you telling me? Why don't you just kill me – it's what you're supposed to do, isn't it?"
"HAVE YOU BEEN LISTENING TO ANYTHING I'VE BEEN SAYING?" the Dark Lord shrieked, causing Harry to scream and double over in pain, clutching his forehead. "I can't kill you until it's dramatically appropriate! All I can do is assure my own survival by appeasing the Narrative with the sadism it needs. And don't go getting any more funny ideas, Potter. When I die, you die. End of story."
Trying his best not to throw up and ignore the blinding pain, Harry sat up. "Well, I think that's stupid. I think we should create a different narrative, one where everyone's happy and no one has to die." Where I don't have this stupid scar and its stupid link to your anger-management issues!
"Alternate Narratives! Have you got nothing but fluff between your ears? The only time you ever encounter those is in your dreams. Do you know, I once had a dream I was having sex with Luna Lovegood and her naked body was covered in butterflies?" Voldemort tapped his feet thoughtfully against the side of the cannon. "I enjoyed that one. It was rather postmodern."
"So that's what I'm experiencing when I have weird wet dreams about… doing it… with different people? Alternate narratives?" Harry had been wondering about that for a while.
"Possibly, or you could just be having wet dreams about doing it with different people. You are a teenage boy, Potter."
"Right…" The two of them sat in contemplative silence for a while, each occupied with his own thoughts. Harry was the first to speak: "You still haven't told me why you're telling me this."
"Haven't I already told you?" Voldemort said quietly, "you've fallen into a plot hole."
"A plot hole. The Narrative is correcting itself. Soon you'll wake up and you won't remember any of this."
"You mean we're in an alternate narrative?"
"I suppose, in a manner of speaking. When you wake up, all the time-turners will have been destroyed and I very much doubt anyone will be able to make any more. Frankly, I'm surprised the Narrative allowed them in the first place. In any case, I should get on with it and fire this cannon."
"Are plot holes normal?" Harry said quickly, sensing they were running out of time.
"Oh, they turn up now and again even in the best regulated plots. But only minor characters ever get stuck in them, so we're both perfectly safe. I shouldn't worry about it if I were you." Lord Voldemort took a final puff of his cigarette and threw it away, jumping nimbly off the cannon and taking out his wand, red eyes glistening with anticipation.
"What's with the cannon, anyway?" Harry asked, curious.
"Fucked if I know, Potter. I'm just a psychotic dark wizard obeying the voices in his head. I do plot. If you want allegory, work it out for yourself. I've got bigger problems – like the fact that the Narrative prefers Aeschylus to Euripides."
But Lord Voldemort was already pointing his wand at the cannon. The world exploded.
…Miles away, a boy named Harry Potter awoke with a start.