Disclaimer: Harry Potter isn't mine. News is old news, yes?
A/N: Through a long and complicated thought process about the relatability of books, I encountered the notion that perhaps Harry Potter seems less like a fantasy novel in the normal sense and more in the sense that the entire series is, in fact, a fantasy of Harry's. I took this notion and ran with it and touched on the major themes below. Fear not, I don't actually think JK intended this, and for the record, I severely detest reading into literature so deeply that you can twist it to mean whatever you want it to mean. This just rather...made me giggle, since it almost does seem plausible. If you like it, please review!
The Boy Who Dreamed
Voldemort was dead, Harry thought again to himself as he stood in the ruins of Hogwarts and grinned in both triumph and relief at his dearest friends. Voldemort was finally dead…
Soft, from somewhere, a series of quiet sounds, almost like mechanical beeps
Harry blinked, refocusing on the present: Hogwarts, his friends. But somehow it was fading to white, all the edges blurring…
The white light was coming from above, harsh and insistent, nothing at all like the warm sun that should be shining, and the beeping was getting louder
"Hermione," he croaked, reaching out for his friend's shoulder…
And yes, she was there, but farther away, well out of his reach
But he managed to make contact, and he dug his fingers fiercely into her flesh, ignoring her grimace of pain. "Hermione, you've got to help me," he begged, but not very lucidly. "Some…some sort of spell…it's…"
There was a sharp, chemical smell in the air, like antiseptic, which he hadn't properly smelled since Aunt Petunia used to force him to scrub every inch of the bathrooms with a toothbrush and a bottle of bleach. It permeated the air here, but it was subtler, nothing as noxious as those times before.
And still the beeping continued, rhythmic like a heartbeat
"Harry, what're you talking about?" Hermione asked, looking frightened now, and she had to catch onto his arms as he collapsed. Ginny and Ron crowded close as well, radiating concern and fear. "No one's casting any spell. Voldemort is dead and the survivors have either fled or surrendered. No one can hurt you anymore."
"They're trying to take me away!" he insisted, the panic pitching his voice higher…
The blur that was Hermione—was that even Hermione? She seemed taller and her silhouette was all wrong—moved closer to his side, exhibiting the same too-brightness of everything else in this sterile place, and she reached for something beyond his range of vision
His body slackened further, crumpling all the way to the ground, and only Hermione's quick thinking kept him from striking his head on the ground; he landed on her thighs, instead, but now that he tried to focus, the softness beneath him didn't feel like legs, it felt like a pillow…
"Harry," a gentle voice said, and yes, it was Hermione's—but softer, mellow. "Harry, I've increased your dosage. You're going to fall asleep, and when you wake up, you'll be alright. Okay? You'll be alright."
He tried to see her, but it was too blurry—the lights were so bright, and his glasses were inexplicably missing—and he only heard the faintest of clicks, as of a door quietly closing. Gamely, he fought against the leaden weariness invading his limbs, but the weariness was quicker than he was, and the brightness gave way to deep shadow and deeper silence.
His head still feeling thick and musty, as if he'd spent years packed away in a wardrobe and stuffed with mothballs, Harry gradually came to. His eyelids eased up, allowing him to view but a sliver of the world.
What he saw stopped his breath short.
This wasn't Hogwarts.
This was that white room.
Hating his nearsightedness, Harry glanced quickly around the room, identifying blurs of things that might be doors and windows and chairs, but could just as likely be something else. He pushed himself up onto his elbows and furthered his investigation; he was in a narrow bed, and there were…things stacked up beside it, metallic boxes, and one of them was emitting a soft, predictable beeping that began to accelerate as he looked down at himself. He wore some sort of loose, bland gown, and there was a tube stuck in his right arm and a strange cap on his left forefinger.
This was a hospital, he realized. It wasn't St. Mungo's, though. Why was he in a Muggle hospital?
He had just decided to make a run for it, blurry vision or not, when the door opened and a figure stepped in.
"Oh, good, you're awake," a blessedly familiar voice said.
"Hermione?" he said, momentarily pausing his escape attempt. "Thank Merlin you're here! But…why are we here?"
She sighed softly and approached his bedside, coming into sharper focus as she did so. She reached out onto a small table and lifted something which proved to be a pair of glasses. Harry looked at them as she held them out and then shook his head.
"Those aren't mine," he said. "Mine are round, remember?"
She bowed her head briefly. "Harry, you haven't worn round glasses since you turned eleven."
"What? No, that's not true," he protested. "I've worn round glasses my whole life. Sometimes they're more broken than others, but they've always been round."
"Just put them on, Harry," Hermione said, sounding somewhat tired and sad. "I promise they'll work fine."
He continued frowning, but this was Hermione, so he trusted her. Accepting the glasses, he slipped them onto his face and brought everything into wonderful clarity…and marked wrongness. He stared, his jaw slackening, at his supposed bookworm of a best friend.
She wasn't right at all.
It was true that she was still Hermione, but not the Hermione he knew. Perhaps if he'd known her for several decades, then she would look like this, but otherwise…she should be eighteen, right? Not somewhere in her mid-thirties! And why was she wearing a white lab coat, and why…and why…
"What's going on?" he said, choking on the words. "Why're you so old? Did something happen to me? To you? Is this a spell? Who's casting it? Why're we here, Hermione? Why're we here?"
"Harry, calm down," she soothed, scooting a chair up and settling her hand reassuringly on his wrist. "Try to take this one bit at a time. It's going to be very overwhelming, but let's try to make the best of it."
He regarded her warily, every part of his body itching to leap from this bed and make a break for it. But again, since it was Hermione, he decided to give her a chance. She'd always been right in the past. "Alright," he conceded, his voice tight. "What's the first bit?"
She had her hair twisted back in a bun, but she still had to tuck a rogue curl back behind her ear, and Harry saw that for what it was—a nervous tic. "Well, there's no real good place to start, at least in terms of easing you into it, so the beginning's as good as any." She took a deep breath and glanced down at a clipboard she had also retrieved from the table, and then she unclipped a smallish badge from her lapel and held it out to him.
He took it with wooden fingers and scanned its shiny surface. It had her picture, and her name, but…
"I received my doctorate in psychiatry eight years ago," Hermione explained in that same, soft voice. "You were one of my first patients, and certainly the most severe case I've ever had. You came under my care seven years ago, shortly after your eleventh birthday."
Harry shook his head, but in a vague, unpracticed manner. "No…no, that's not true," he said thickly. "On my eleventh birthday Hagrid rescued me from the Dursleys and told me I was a wizard. I've spent the past seven years at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, not locked in some…some mental ward…"
He wanted to be angry. He expected that. But it wasn't real enough yet to cause anger, just this unfocused disbelief.
Dr. Granger looked at him sympathetically. "When your parents, James and Lily Potter, died in an automobile accident not far from your home in Godric's Hollow, you were given to your relatives, the Dursleys of Surrey."
"That's…no, that's not true," he denied, the words still coming to him from far away. "Voldemort killed my parents…it was a lie that they died in a car crash, that's just what the Dursleys said to keep me from knowing the truth…"
She swallowed but repeated, "James and Lily Potter died in a twelve-car pileup on the southbound side of the highway not far from Godric's Hollow. According to the police report, it was determined to be the fault of the combined factors of fog, a deer, and drunk driving. You survived only because you were in the backseat and because your parents' car was the last in the pileup. Your father died instantly and your mother was choppered to the nearest hospital, where she stayed in a coma for over a week before also passing away. I'm sorry, Harry, but it's the truth."
"No," he whispered, tears stinging his eyes and re-blurring his vision. "No, that's not true. Voldemort—he killed them! Why are you lying to me, Hermione? Why would you lie to me like this?"
Her fingers tightened on his arm. "It's not a lie, Harry. Voldemort…Voldemort is a figment of your imagination."
"No, he's not!" he snapped. "He's the most evil Dark Wizard ever to walk the earth, and I just defeated him! I finally killed him, and now…and now you're telling me he never existed? What the hell have I been living for the past seven years if none of that was true? Tell me that, Dr. Granger!"
She chewed on her lower lip for a moment, sighed again, and closed her eyes. "Harry, when you were given to the Dursleys, they inflicted upon you the most heinous of abuses. You were malnourished, mistreated, and tormented every day of your life. You had already begun indulging in hallucinations to escape the pain, but around your eleventh birthday, you suffered a complete psychotic break from reality and began to exist solely in a fantasy world where you were loved, accepted, and admired. That was when one of your neighbors on Privet Drive tipped off the police, and your aunt and uncle were arrested, charged, and convicted with child abuse. Your cousin Dudley went into the foster system, and you came here."
He shook his head, but not with great vehemence—it was rather as if his head were only loosely attached to his neck. "That…that can't be true…I mean…you were there, and how could that be if it weren't…if it were a dream?"
She consulted her clipboard. "Well, according to my records of our therapy sessions, you came into my care about two months after the initial break, and that was when you began relating stories of an eleven-year-old witch named Hermione Granger, whom you described as being brilliant, bossy, and shrill." She glanced up at him with a slightly arched eyebrow. "Brilliant I will gladly accept, bossy I will concede to as your doctor, but may I tell you that I have never been shrill in my life."
"But what about Ron? He's my best mate! I couldn't have just cooked him up out of thin air, now could I?"
Dr. Granger looked pained. "Ronald Weasley is one of the custodians here at the facility, Harry. He's been cleaning this floor and this room for your entire stay. I imagine his constant presence explains how he also became involved as a character in your fantasy."
"But he loves Quidditch!" Harry nearly shrieked. "How could I have come up with Quidditch on my own? How could I have come up with Hogwarts or Voldemort or any of it? It's too much to be true! This is a trick! A curse! I will not be fooled by this magic!"
"Harry," she said, rather sharply, "there's no such thing as magic. It's all in your head! And the mind is a marvelously complex and dynamic place—I'm sure it was no trouble for your tormented psyche to come up with such a haven as Hogwarts and such thrilling fun as Quidditch. As for 'Ron' enjoying Quidditch, well…Mr. Weasley is a custodian. He regularly sweeps the floors in here with a broom. That might be partly responsible for the correlation."
Harry sank back into his pillows, blinking back tears as he stared up at the fluorescent panel lights in the ceiling. Too many thoughts were swirling in his head and competing for egress from his mouth, so at length he merely whispered, "Could you leave me alone, please, Dr. Granger? I…I want to be alone."
She hesitated but then patted his wrist and rose. "Of course, Harry. Try to get some rest. We'll discuss this again later."
He nodded numbly and once again listened to the quiet click of the door as it shut.
The sun warmed his cheeks, and Harry kept his eyes closed behind now-familiar rectangular frames and drifted in the peace of the afternoon. It was pleasant out here in the courtyards, undisturbed by much human contact and perfumed with any number of flowers. The serenity was almost enough to make him forget that any other world had ever seemed real.
It'd been a month now. Harry had had his share of therapy sessions with Dr. Granger, and he understood the proper order of the world. There was no such thing as Muggles, because there was no such thing as wizards.
He opened his eyes, his lashes slowly separating, and spotted Ronald approaching.
The middle-aged custodian reclined on the bench next to Harry, his gangly limbs settling in haphazard positions, and he squinted up at the sun. "Finally got some nice weather, didn't ya, Mr. Potter."
"You don't have to call me that," Harry dismissed, almost absently.
Ronald shrugged, scratching at the ginger scruff on his chin. "Well, I figure you've earned a spot o' respect, what with all you've suffered. So I'll pay it to you, if'n you don't mind."
The boy smiled a bit at that. "Alright. And you're right—the weather is wonderful today."
The older man snorted. "Didn't keep you from sittin' out here in the rain, though."
Harry shifted his weight comfortably. "It feels good to…feel anything, y'know. Even rain. I guess I haven't felt anything real in seven years, so…" He trailed off, the slightest furrow appearing on his brow, just underneath his lightning-shaped, utterly mundane scar. Dr. Granger had explained that he'd earned it in the car crash, as the Dursleys had said, and that only his rear-facing car seat had saved him more severe injuries. A broken shard of glass from the shattered rear windshield had given him the jagged mark, not any Unforgiveable Curse.
Ronald took off his weathered cap and scratched his thinning hair. "Mm, I don't know about that, now. That it wasn't real," he obligingly explained upon seeing Harry's frown. "You believed it, didn't you? You remember it, right? So, in a way, it was real. Just because it was a dream doesn't mean you didn't experience it."
Harry's mouth lifted a little, and he gave the custodian a sidelong glance. "You aren't a doctor, are you?"
"Nope," he replied glibly, "but I eavesdrop on 'em sometimes."
Harry nodded vaguely. "It's strange to think that it didn't happen, though. In this world," he clarified. "To think that I was walking around here the entire time believing I was somewhere else, off having grand adventures and terrifying encounters…I reckon that's a bit strange."
"A bit, aye," Ronald conceded.
Harry dug a little indention into the gravel path with his foot. "Dr. Granger said that Voldemort was my personification of all the abuse and trauma I suffered at the Dursleys' hands. She says that's why I had to keep facing him, because my mind was trying to defeat that trauma and return to, well, the real world, but that I wasn't strong enough until now."
The boy frowned, but only thoughtfully. "Back in my dream, y'know, Voldemort did kill me. But I had this powerful magic called a Resurrection Stone, and it brought me back to life so that I might defeat him later. One of the characters in my dream said that it was because Voldemort had hidden part of himself inside me, so that I might never properly be rid of him. Dr. Granger said that's probably completely accurate—that until I came to grips with my own shame at being unable to protect myself or stop them or any feelings like that, I wouldn't be able to come to grips with the abuse itself. She reckons that once I did that, I was able to heal my psyche or some such technical mumbo-jumbo and wake up."
Ronald nodded, listening attentively. "Sounds like sense to me, Mr. Potter. Glad you killed ol' What's-His-Name in the end."
Harry smiled a secret sort of smile. Tom Riddle would not have appreciated one of his monikers being ol' What's-His-Name. "I didn't…actually kill him," he confessed softly. "He tried to kill me with a curse, and I simply tried to disarm him. The spells caught and eventually, his own curse rebounded back and killed him. But I think that's a good thing, you know? It sounds like a healing that way."
Ronald hummed an affirmative but then got to his feet, hefting his rake in one hand. "Well, I'm glad you're feeling better, Mr. Potter. But the damn grass won't rake itself, so I'd best be off."
"Wait," Harry said, and the ginger glanced back. "I'm sorry, it's just…so weird that you're…well, not Ron Weasley, if you understand my meaning."
He smiled in a sad way. "I do. I'm sorry that all I am is a custodian. Although…" He trailed off, his blue eyes brightening. "Here, let me give you my telephone number," he said, fishing in the pockets of his coveralls for a scrap of paper and pen. "Tell you what—when you're properly released from here, you give me a ring and we'll have you over to dinner. I've told me missus all about you and that Hogwarts place, and she'd love to meet you."
Harry accepted the paper with wide eyes. "Are you sure? Won't that be odd?"
Ronald waved a hand. "Nah, I don't think so. You want to be friends—what's age got to do with it? Hell, maybe we'll even invite Dr. Granger, though the wife won't be so happy that you were matchmaking us," he added with a wink.
The black-haired boy bowed his head and studied the backs of his hands. He'd picked up several twigs since his return to reality, and even once given one a swish and a flick, but nothing had ever happened, not that he'd truly expected that. He was beginning to come to grips with this, too.
"It's still strange to me that nothing's like it was," he murmured, as if to himself.
"Well, just because there ain't no magic, Mr. Potter, doesn't mean there ain't magic," Ronald declared in the mysterious tones of someone imparting great wisdom. "You give this normal life a shot—I think you'll find it surprises you."
Harry smiled, broadly this time. "Thank you, Ron. Thank you so much."
"Don't sweat it," the custodian dismissed. "And when you get around to writing your memoirs, Mr. Potter, it's gonna make a hell of a story."
His smile widened even more, and as the other man wandered off into the courtyards, Harry tilted his face back to the sun and allowed his smile to soften. It was all becoming like a dream now, fading softly and trickily from his awareness, like an elusive thief stealing out of a plundered building. He knew one day he'd only visit Hogwarts in his dreams, and some day far from the present, he might even forget about it entirely.
Well, maybe not entirely.
Three years later, Harry Potter approached the stone wall between Platforms Nine and Ten at King's Cross Station. He paused, the toes of his shoes nearly touching the bricks, and glanced side to side. No one paid him the least amount of attention, and he cautiously reached out to touch the wall.
His fingers registered the rough texture of bricks and the smoother layers of mortar.
They did not push through to a magical world.
Harry stepped away from the wall and glanced around, listening to the busy sounds of commuters and travelers and the more industrial melodies of the trains themselves. There was a group of children laughing and a pair of lovers reuniting and, if he squinted just right, he could see three young teenagers with their arms linked together disappearing into the crowds. With half a smile gracing his lips, he tucked his hands into his pockets and walked out into the rare and therefore all the more cherished London sunlight.
Ron had been right, after all.
There was still magic in this world.