Harry listened passively as Cordelia offered her spiel. When she was finally done, and he did admire her brevity, he shook his head to clear it.
"You want to send me back?" he asked, his disbelief obvious.
"You don't have to go," she snapped. "I'm not forcing you. You can move on, free to be with your parents and Sirius and Cedric, where you'll eventually be joined by Hermione, Luna, and the others. That will happen regardless. This is completely optional, a bonus. This is a chance for you to carve your life into something you want."
His eyes narrowed with suspicion. "It can't be that easy."
She rolled her eyes again and Harry marveled at how she had managed to turn such a simple gesture into an unparalleled art.
"Of course it's not that easy, you titmouse!" she bellowed. "There are rules! There have to be. The question is whether or not you can abide them. If you go back, you will be placed at the moment you received your first letter."
His eyes widened. "But that means…"
She nodded. "You would have to return to the world you just left. I can't allow you to cross dimensions, Harry. It would punch holes in the universe, leaving devastation in its wake. The very fabric of all reality would begin to unravel and chaos would descend." She paused. "Or so someone in a big blue box would have us believe."
She shrugged. "People who should live would die, and people who died at their proper time would be alive once more. There's even a chance some malevolent entity could take advantage of the situation and usurp the role Voldemort previously held, totally upsetting the balance. Yada yada."
"Won't sending me back upset the balance?" he demanded.
She blew a lock of hair away from her face. "Possibly, but who cares? That's not our problem. Let one of the Powers deal with it."
He stared at her in horror.
She snorted. "No, I wouldn't really do that. In essence, with your final vanquish of Voldemort, the world you just left has become a closed system. Life will go on without you, because the future of that world has now been spun off into its own reality. We can take advantage of this by reintroducing you into the closed system of the past and manipulating it just for shits and giggles."
She gave him a flat look. "Let me bottom line this for you. I'm offering you a chance to go back and do things over. Sure, some stuff will be different, but most of it will be good. Or at least has the potential to be good. It is what you make of it.
"I can rewind time to send you back. I can do this because, as I said, your defeat of Voldemort was absolute; he's no longer a factor. That said, there are other factors which must be considered."
"Go on," he softly encouraged.
She smiled. "First, you would have to return to the world you just left; no dimension-hopping. Second, you can only go back so far; in this case, when you first received your admissions letter. Now, this is something we can manipulate, as it can be successfully argued that you became truly cognizant of magic when you received that first letter. Considering how it was addressed, you had to know that something bizarre was going on, correct?"
He thought about it and finally shrugged. "I suppose so. I certainly wondered how whoever sent the letter knew I lived in the cupboard under the stairs." He nodded to himself. "I never really thought about it at the time, but that one letter answered questions I hadn't the courage to ask."
She nodded firmly. "See? That's an example of something we can tweak."
He nodded. "It also buys me some time. Not much, but some."
She beamed. "You catch on quick, Hot Pocket. I like that in a man."
Even though he blushed, he was furious. "Hot Pocket?"
"You're adorable!" she cooed. "Take advantage of that, would you? You seriously need to get laid."
"Tell me something I don't know!" he shouted, years of sexual frustration and celibacy roughening his voice. "You have no idea!"
Her eyes widened. "The hell I don't. I lived six years longer than you, and I had sex twice. The first time was with a guy I thought really liked me, someone with whom I thought I might have had a future, but it turned out he was working with a demon and wanted to use me to incubate its spawn. I let him in to my home, gave myself to him, and the next morning I woke up nine months pregnant with Predator."
His eyes bulged.
She nodded. "Yeah. The second time was while I was possessed by a deposed deity, and it was with a boy I raised and considered my own son, who was in fact the son of the vampire with whom I was in love. Again, I got pregnant. The soul of my baby was sacrificed to make way for this deposed deity to be made flesh. Her birth caused me to fall into a coma – my second, by the way – from which I never woke up, and that bitch tried to kill all of my friends and end the world as we know it."
Harry had turned green a while ago. "You win."
She shrugged, though her eyes were hard. "I always do. Deal with it. And I understand about creepy visions, too. In my case, mine were sent by the Powers That Be, the interdimensional beings which govern the universe. You think you know pain? My visions weren't meant for a mortal to bear. Every time I received one, portions of my brain died. I had to bond with a demon just so I could continue to save people."
He stared. A demon?
She raised a brow. "I also had a Saving People Thing."
"Who are you?" he whispered.
"I'm pissed off! I'm trying to help your midget ass, and you're being all moody and sullen. I know you're still a teenager and recently dead, but grow up!"
"Sorry," he said quietly.
She waved a hand. "No big. I should probably be nicer or something. I mean, you did just die. In my defense, this is something I've been waiting to offer you for a while, so I'm a little overexcited. That, and I'm a huge bitch."
He grinned. "That's what I need to learn to be."
She nodded seriously. "You really do. One of your problems, Harry, was that you let people walk all over you. You have to learn to stand up for yourself, because, as you found out, you're the only one who can. Hermione was great, she really was, but she could have done more to help you, even if it was only to listen to you more and harangue you less."
"Maybe," he whispered, though he felt guilty for agreeing.
"Whatever. Look, I'm a good person, Harry, but I'm not a nice person. I've never aspired to be. I've found that, in general, being nice just for the sake of it wastes a lot of time and energy. There's too much emphasis on politeness and feelings, and not enough on truth."
He nodded slowly. He agreed wholeheartedly with that statement.
"I'm not saying that politeness isn't important, and the welfare of others should definitely be considered, but I don't believe in placing myself at the back of the line just to make everyone else feel better. I'm not responsible for the happiness of others; they are. I'm no one's martyr."
He nodded more emphatically.
"Okay, so back to what we were talking about. Sending you back is safe because, while there are commonalities across the realities, each one also has specific hallmarks. Your world had way too many, and most of them were because of Dumbledore. We can manipulate them just as easily as he did." She shook her head. "That Santa Claus impersonator has a lot to answer for."
She held up a hand. "Don't get me wrong. He truly loved you, Harry; he considered you the grandchild he never had. And he meant well, he really did. His heart was in the right place, but I don't where the hell his brain was."
Harry burst into hysterical laughter. Eventually, after several long moments, he got himself under control. "So to what would I be returning?"
She grinned. "Like I said, no Voldemort."
His eyes glazed over and the meat of previous words finally sunk in and raced to coalesce with that she was offering. "What?" he asked in a tremulous voice.
She glared at him. "You really think I'd bring you here and give you this option just to force you to fight that moron again? How is that entertaining for me? I already know how that story ends. Hello! I told you he's gone."
She gave him a kind smile. "He's gone, Harry. Like I said, his soul is no more, so when I rewind time, he won't be an issue. No Voldemort. No horcruxes. None of it."
"Truly?" he whispered.
"Absolutely," she affirmed, "and no other rising Dark Lords, leftover Death Eaters, or any of that crap. Now, don't get me wrong. There will be leftover Death Eaters and, yes, they will be angry at you. But can they do anything? Not really. They were only ever united under Voldemort; most of them couldn't stand each other. You need to become more political, and you desperately need to learn how to control your temper."
He sighed. "I know. Many people have told me that."
She snorted. "Yeah, and the people who did never learned how to control their own."
"But I'm very serious about this, Harry," she said, her tone grave. "When you give in to anger, you allow yourself to lose control. It's your anger that makes you the most vulnerable, and many people knew that and took advantage of it."
He gave an annoyed nod, dwelling on his memories of Malfoy and Snape.
"I understand what it's like to be surrounded by idiots who are jealous and resentful of you, and make no mistake, that's what most of it was about. From Ron's envious rages, to Snape's pathetic taunts, to Malfoy's endless whining." Her eyes flashed with warning. "They played you, and you let them. Don't do that again."
His eyes widened and he nodded once more, this time with resolution.
"Dumbledore often used your anger against you, as did Voldemort, Umbridge, and countless others, turning it around to make you do what they wanted," she added, shaking her head. "What I don't understand is why you allowed it. How many times did it have to happen before you realized what they were doing?"
He hung his head in shame and embarrassment. "Too many," he murmured.
"I'm not trying to upset you," Cordelia said, struggling for civility, "but I need you to understand this. If you're just going to keep repeating your mistakes, I'm not going to waste my time by rewinding it for you." She raised a brow. "And that is what you want, isn't it? You've already decided."
He bit his lip.
She shook her head. "That's another thing we need to address. You have absolutely no poker face. It's so easy to read you."
"Is there anything about me you do like?" he demanded.
She gave him a bland look. "You're brave, but often to the point of recklessness. You're smart, but insecure in your intelligence. You're an excellent leader, but only step up when the situation is dire."
She frowned. "You're one of the most decent people I've ever known, Harry. Yes, I like you. More than that, however, I respect you, which is more important. You're one of the few people who has ever held my respect, which is why I'm offering you this chance. I just want you to make the most of it. In order for you to do that, it's necessary that I point out all the times you were a dumbass." She nodded. "Let's do that now!"
He groaned and dropped his head on the table.
Cordelia hadn't been kidding.
Using some accursed device which was similar in principle to a Pensieve, she reviewed with Harry not just his major mistakes, but the many tiny choices he had made in haste or in ignorance or out of laziness.
He was stunned by the sheer number of them. He was horrified by how those small mistakes had then snowballed into much greater consequences, ones which he had not only allowed to go unnoticed, but hadn't even posited as possible. He was appalled not only by many of his actions, but also his inaction; specifically, those times when he knew something was wrong, that someone was lying, that there was more going on than was apparent, but he had remained silent, either out of fear of not being believed or being punished.
Yes, he had been a child. Yes, he had been purposefully kept ignorant of his world. Yes, there were a multitude of reasonable excuses which could be mustered, but the bottom line was that he had often been too hasty, too judgmental, and too unwilling to look beneath the surface of things.
He had always been proud of his sense of intuition, of his ability to perceive right from wrong, but making choices solely on gut-feelings without any empirical evidence to back them up had been foolish, and shades of gray existed regardless of whether or not he chose to acknowledge them.
Throughout the review, Cordelia hadn't hesitated to point out where he had gone wrong or where he had slacked off, but she also offered lavish praise when it was warranted, and apparently it was warranted more often than he realized. He didn't believe this woman would say or do anything she didn't mean, so he was forced to accept that her commendations were genuine. It pleased him. It meant more to him that any kind words from his friends, Molly Weasley, or Dumbledore ever had.
Cordelia had witnessed everything, yes, but had been divorced from the emotional aspect of it all. Yes, she felt for him, but she didn't let those feelings rule her perceptions of him and the situations in which he had found himself. He envied that of her, that steely resolve and ability to consider all sides of a situation unflinchingly.
He wondered how different his life would have been had she been there to stand at his side.
"If you go back, he'll have died that Halloween."
He soured. "So I'll still be the Boy Who Lived." Despair washed over him. "My parents will still be dead."
She nodded, chagrined. "Sorry, but yeah, that's something I can't change. You'll always be the Boy Who Lived, Harry, and I can't create a new reality just for you. I can only interfere up to a certain point, and the only reason I can send you back at all is because your destiny has been fulfilled in that world. The Boy Who Lived is, in part, what you were created to be. It's a universal construct."
He blinked. "You mean that, in all the other worlds, it was always me? It was never Neville?"
"No," she quietly admitted. "Despite the machinations of Dumbledore, Voldemort, Fudge, Snape – whoever – it was always you."
She laughed, though it was hollow. "It sucks, I know, but don't think the entire world rests on your shoulders." She paused. "Although perhaps that of magical Britain did. However, I know of at least four other people, including myself, with destinies just as wretched, and they're consistent across the universe."
He winced, then sighed. "So what else?" he asked in a dull voice. "No Voldemort, but also no parents. Dursleys?"
She nodded, tears pricking her eyes. "Yes, you will have been raised by the Dursleys – and all that entailed – but that doesn't mean you have to return to them. With no Voldemort, that means no blood wards."
He perked up a little. That was something, he supposed, and the damage they had inflicted would be somewhat removed from him. He hadn't dealt with it all, he wasn't sure he ever would or could, but this time he would make them bleed before departing from their wretched lives.
"Snape will be different, too," Cordelia added, "though not much. He'll still dislike you on principle, just because of who your father was, but he won't have to suffer the burden of being a spy trying to maintain his cover. Not that that was ever a good excuse, because, no way. It's up to you if you want to change your relationship with him. I'd absolve him of the life debt, but if you want nothing to do with him, that's your choice and I would totally support you."
The idea of Snape was one he would have to unpack later. "Hermione, Ron, and the Weasleys?" he pressed.
"All there," she confirmed, "but remember, with no Voldemort, that means no life-threatening situations which bond you tightly to Ron and Hermione. If you want those relationships to happen, you'll have to be more proactive, and I want you think carefully about repeating past mistakes."
He frowned. "What do you mean?"
She raised a brow. "Before I showed up, you were lamenting your lack of friends. If you want things to be different, you need to accept the fact that, as lovely as Ron and Hermione were, they kept you isolated from almost everyone. You didn't develop your relationships with Neville and Luna until your fifth year, and even then you never told them how much they meant to you. You were so busy with Ron and Hermione, you never took the chance to get to know the other kids in your year, let alone in your house."
He scrunched his nose, unsure as to why that could be considered a bad thing.
"Really?" she barked. "That's pretty judgmental. How well do you truly know Dean, Seamus, Parvati, or Lavender? Your interactions with them were confined to very small instances, despite that fact that you lived with them for seven years. Also, don't forget the fact that Ron disappointed you several times, but you always forgave, even when you perhaps shouldn't have. Hermione was loyal, always, but that doesn't mean you often didn't frustrate one another."
He blushed and looked down at the table.
She sighed. "Look, all I'm saying is that now that you have a chance to change things, so why not change yourself and your circumstances for the better? I'm not telling you to forget everything you just left behind, but make some new friends. Learn new magic. Make an effort! Your life will no longer be defined by trying to defeat Voldemort. That leaves you with a lot of free time. What are you going to do with it?"
Well, that was the question, wasn't it? And, suddenly, he had a lot more.
"Luna's mother?" he asked.
Cordelia shook her head. "I'm sorry. Her death occurred before your first year. That won't change."
He curled a lip and then exhaled. "Cedric?" he asked, more hopeful.
She gave him a measured look. "Again, that's up to you. There's a chance the Tournament will still be held, but you won't be entered in it. You can't depend on that to bring you together. You can't expect that he'll fall in love with you again because those circumstances won't conspire to bring you into each other's orbit. If you want him, you'll have to work for him."
"You mean manipulate him," he seethed.
"Oh, grow up!" she snapped. "You don't have to manipulate him, and I doubt you would even if you could. We both know that, despite popular opinion, Cedric Diggory was no pushover and could be more stubborn than Hermione. Manipulate the circumstances! Get to know him sooner. Be his friend. Maybe it will turn into something more and maybe it won't. I don't know!"
She threw up her hands. "I'm giving you the chance to find out. Even if nothing happens, even if you're only friends, it's still more time with him than you had, and it takes nothing away from the love you shared."
He fell silent.
"It won't be easy," she continued in a more sedate voice. "I never promised that it would be. But if you love him, if you want to be with him, then shouldn't you be willing to fight for him?"
He nodded absently.
"Listen to my words carefully, Harry," she said, her voice low. "I made that mistake. I lost the only man I ever truly loved because I didn't fight for him. He hurt me, and badly, but I could've forgiven him. My hurt feelings, however, were more important to me at that time than his honest contrition. We both paid for my hubris. If you love Cedric Diggory, then you hold to that boy and destroy anything which threatens to take him from you."
He stared at her for a very long time and at last nodded.
She nodded, appearing relieved to be treading less emotional ground. "That's up to you. He'll be in prison. You know how to get him out. Take your time and make sure you cover all the bases." She glared. "If you let that rat escape again, I'll kick your ass."
He barked out a laugh. "So I'll remember everything?"
She exhaled. "Yeah, and that's a curse in and of itself, but it's one you'll have to bear. You'll remember them, you'll remember your history with them, and, as circumstances have changed and will continue to change, so will the people around you."
She gave him another one of those looks. "You have to be sure you can live with that. There's no turning back if you decide to do this. You'll essentially be a seventeen year old in an eleven-year-old body, but those around you will be their actual mental ages. You'll have full knowledge of everything you've learned, and I'll be sending you back with a fully-developed magical core, so you'll be as powerful as you are now."
His eyes widened.
"Find out what you like," she suggested. "You excelled in Defense because you were fighting for survival, so your learning was continually spurred on by need. You know your mother was gifted in Charms and Potions, and your father in Transfiguration. Perhaps you'll want to explore those subjects more carefully. Consider Runes and that math course, whatever the hell it's called. Demand advanced study. Everyone always considered you a powerful wizard, so be one. Show up and blow them all out of the water."
She shook her head. "This is something we need to nip in the bud right now. This idea you have that you're Just Harry isn't going to cut it any longer. You were never Just Harry and you never will be. You were never meant to be."
She cut him off when he opened his mouth to protest.
"You need some perspective here, Hot Pocket. So I want you to stop and think about some things. First, you, at twelve years old, defeated a thousand year old monster with nothing more than a sword. That's not normal. At thirteen, you learned the Patronus Charm, a spell so difficult that many people seven times your age could never hope to utilize it. More than that, you mastered that charm and repelled a hundred Dementors at once. That is in no way average. At fourteen and severely disadvantaged, you triumphed over older students to win the Triwizard Tournament. Lay aside for the moment the circumstances of your entry and instead look at what you accomplished."
She gave him several moments to dwell on that.
"Now, I want you to think long and hard about something. Is there any other student at Hogwarts, regardless of age, who would have fared half as well? The answer is no. Ron was of average magical strength and a well of wasted potential. Hermione had the smarts, but was nowhere near as independent, both socially and emotionally, as you were; she would have crumbled under the pressure."
"Luna," Harry shot back.
Cordelia thought about that and at last nodded. "I'll give you that one," she said, before smiling, "but Luna would have been smart enough to get out of the Tournament the very night her name was announced."
He grimaced but agreed.
"Finally," she said, "there's this: you defeated the most powerful Dark Lord of three generations, not just once, but multiple times. Think about that. Voldemort never truly defeated you, Harry. The only time he did was when you allowed him to do so."
He reared back in shock, unwilling to consider her statements just yet. "But how will I explain knowing magic?"
She smirked. "That's where I come in."