Everything is white.
Utterly, completely, unescapably white.
And not white in that crisp white shirt fashion, oh no. Nor is it white like a unicorn’s pelt or white like a patronus. White like… like…
Like Dumbledore’s beard.
Kind of fluffy and wispy and if you stare at it long enough you become half convinced that there’s a single thread of gray in there. Somewhere. Or maybe a niffler.
Harry Potter turns in a slow circle and tries to figure out what is going on because he’s pretty damn sure he’s dead but if this is the afterlife than death sucks.
Of course a sucky afterlife would absolutely be his luck.
Out of the fluffy white whiteness there comes a wretched, broken wail and Harry whirls around, empty hand held in front of him as if he were brandishing a wand.
That’s kind of awkward.
Harry lowers his hand and takes a hesitant step forward. And then another. And with each step forward the whiteness around him solidifies into an enormous room with a high, glass domed ceiling. It’s still white – all the same shades of white, in fact – but there’s definition now. Walls. Ceilings. Unlit lamps that line the walls. Benches.
Ahead of him something shuffles and whimpers.
There, underneath one of the benches, is a baby.
Or, at least, Harry thinks it is a baby. It’s quite possibly the ugliest baby that he’s ever seen – and he’s seen Dudley’s baby pictures. Hell, he’s repotted mandrakes that were cuter than this baby. But it is a baby. Red and scrawny with too thin limbs and a too large head and skin that gleams, slick and wet as if it’s been flayed but a baby nonetheless. Alone. Crying. With no blanket. No nappy. No nothing. Abandoned under a fluffy white bench in whatever this is.
Harry takes another step and then goes down on one knee, his hand reaching out to scoop the poor wretch up.
He might be uglier than a mandrake but he doesn’t deserve to be left here, to be discarded like trash.
“You cannot help.”
Harry freezes and looks over his shoulder.
There, sweeping towards him in robes of a brilliant midnight blue – which, quite frankly, are the only reason he doesn’t disappear into the landscape because Harry was totally right and it is the same color as his beard – is Albus Dumbledore.
“Harry.” The old man spreads his arms wide in welcome. “You wonderful boy. You brave, brave man. Let us walk.”
Harry looks back at the child snuffling miserably beneath his outstretched hand. “I’d rather not, sir,” he says, biting back the familiar rise of anger at the word boy. “What do you mean, I can’t help?”
Dumbledore lowers his arms and stares past Harry to thrashing infant. “Some things,” he says with an air of vague regret, “are beyond help. Leave it, Harry, and come talk with me.”
Leave it, he says, like it’s not a baby alone and afraid, crying in this strange place.
“Aren’t you dead?” he asks tightly.
“Oh yes. Quite so.”
“Then… I’m dead too?”
“Ah,” says Dumbledore, his eyes gleaming. “That is the question, isn’t it? On a whole, dear boy” Harry cringes, “I think not.”
Harry stares. “Not?”
“Not.” Dumbledore sounds so damn smug that it makes Harry’s stomach turn.
The tale – the fantastical, impossible fairy tale – that comes out of the dead Headmaster’s mouth does not ease it. It’s a tale of greed and power, of sacrifice, of young love and young ambitions, of death and stones, of wands and loyalty, of a broken man who tried to break the world, of a broken man who broke his soul, and a boy who - apparently – has succeeded where they both failed and conquered death.
Harry doesn’t speak through the entire telling.
Freak, the voices of his aunt and uncle spit inside of his head. And well, they don’t exactly seem to be wrong, do they? He can’t even manage to die properly.
“So what happens now?” Harry asks, when Dumbledore is done.
The Headmaster looks down at him and smiles. “Why now, my boy, now you get to choose!”
“Choose,” Harry repeats and finds his eyes unerringly drawn to the baby. He has stopped wailing. Not because he wants to but because he has to, because his little throat has given out and his little chest can’t bring itself to make any more noise than the quiet, pathetic little whimpers that escape out of his mouth. Harry knows. Harry remembers that. He remembers what it was like to lay in his cupboard and cry quietly because he knew no one was coming but at the same time he couldn’t do anything but cry, the biology of his body forcing him to reach out, to search for caretakers that never answered.
“Choose,” Dumbledore says again with a magnanimous twinkle of his eyes. “Where does it look like we are, Harry?”
Caught off guard by the question Harry looks around. “Uh… Kings Cross?” he ventures after a moment. It kind of looks like the train station? Maybe?
“Yes, yes! And if you were to board a train it would take you… on.”
“On,” Dumbledore confirms with a tap to the side of his nose. “Of course, you could also choose to go back.”
Harry blinks. “Back?”
Dumbledore hums. “Of course, with all the horcruxes now destroyed it is entirely likely that someone else can destroy the little that remains of Lord Voldemort. Though,” he adds after a second of hesitation, “Tom has always been an excellent duelist and with so many of the Order fallen already…”
“No,” Harry says flatly and watches with restrained glee as the smile falls right off Dumbledore’s face.
“No?” the old man echoes faintly.
“No,” Harry repeats firmly and then he does what he should have done from the very beginning.
He reaches out and he picks up the baby.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
The sound of a fist hitting a wooden door jerks Harry awake. “…what?” he says after a moment as he stares into the darkness above his head and tries to figure out what the fuck is going on.
“Get up, boy! Don’t be late getting breakfast!” his aunt’s familiar screech cuts through his thoughts. Harry sits up so fast he bangs his head into the wall.
“… what?” he repeats, aghast.
“Breakfast!” Aunt Petunia shouts back. “Don’t you dare ruin Duddikins special day!”
“…WHAT?!?” Harry says, one more time. Except this time no sound comes out, the shock of the whole thing driving his voice straight out of human hearing. Once he manages to find his glasses and shoe them on his face it is blatantly clear that yes, he is shoved in the dusty, spider filled cupboard under the stairs of Number Four Privet Drive.
He’s still dead, isn’t he? He has to be. He has to be dead and this is hell. Fuck, he doesn’t even believe in hell but if he did, he’s pretty sure that it would look like this.
Bloody, buggering hell.
After a few seconds, a minute tops, in which he hyperventilates to the point that he throws up in his mouth a little Harry opens the door and climbs out of the cupboard.
The inside of Number Four looks exactly how he remembers it. Well, no, that is not quite right. There’s no boxing medals and trophies displayed in the living room but the lamp that Harry is pretty sure Dudley broke when they were thirteen is still sitting over on the table in the far corner.
“…what?” he mouths to himself again and, in a fit of desperation, turns and looks at the mirror hanging over the entry table.
Harry Potter stares back at him.
Little tiny baby Harry, who can’t be more than ten or eleven and is still short with a gaunt, pale face and overly messy hair, stares back at him.
Little tiny baby Harry yanks back his hair and stares.
There it is.
Still shaped like a lightning bolt. Still obvious.
He yanks up his shirt sleeve next. The flesh there is startling bare, the only scars the shiny burn on the inside of his wrist where he got splashed by hot bacon grease when Dudley shoved him into the stove. Missing are the angry, ropey scar that Pettigrew had left him with the night of Voldemort’s resurrection and puncture marks in his shoulder and upper arm from where the bloody basilisk had bit him.
“Move, you freak!” Dudley shoves him as he runs past and Harry does a header into the table, knocking Aunt Petunia’s purse and the handful of tacky knick-knacks to the ground with a crash.
“Bugger,” Harry mutters even as Dudley yells,
“MUM! Harry’s wrecking your stuff!”
“What’s this, then?” Vernon’s voice makes Harry freeze where he’s crouched over the mess, hip throbbing where it had hit against the corner of the table. “Thought you could ruin Dudley’s birthday, did you? Thought you could act out and steal the attention away from him, did you?”
“…what?” it falls out before he can stop it but honestly, how stupid are they? Why the hell would he ever want their attention? They’d made it perfectly clear by the age of three that any attention from his family was… uncomfortable. Neglect and starvation was (is?) the pits but it’s better than being smacked around because he won’t stop crying. Or trying to play with Dudley. Or asking for a hug when he skins his knee.
Uncle Vernon turns a rather unpleasant shade of puce.
“YOU WILL NOT RUIN DUDLEY’S BIRTHDAY!” he roars and Harry winces against the bits of spittle that hit his face. “You will pick this up and go make breakfast and…”
For a moment Harry genuinely fears that his uncle’s face is simply going to explode. Or hopes. The two sensations are all mixed up in a funny twisting ball located somewhere in the pit of his stomach.
“No,” Harry interrupts firmly, but calmly. Inside, he’s shaking but if he can stand across from Voldemort and let the other wizard fire a Killing Curse at his face without flinching he absolutely refuses to cringe away from the look of absolute fury on his uncle’s face. “My name is Harry. Harry. James. Potter. Not boy. Not freak. Harry. And… no. I refuse. I don’t care if this is a dream or hell or just another world inside of Dumbledore’s beard – I refuse.”
They’re still staring at him, all three of him, when he turns on his heel and marches out the front door. He figures he has about five minutes to get away before Vernon and Petunia come to their senses and try to haul him home to punish him.
And walks until he comes to some little park that he’s never been to before where he promptly picks the remotest corner and plops down in a heap at the base of a tree. He needs to think. Not his natural state of being, he knows, but he needs to do it nonetheless.
The last real thing, that he is aware of, is watching the Killing Curse speed towards him. So, he’s dead then.
Except, there’d been the white place and that story that Dumbledore had told. It’s ridiculous and horrifying and thus, with Harry’s luck, is probably true, which means that he’s the Master of Death – because that doesn’t sound ominous at all, oh no – and thus can’t die. Not unless he chooses too. Or that was the implication he got from Dumbledore’s comments about choosing to get on the train and move on to the…whatever came next. Which he didn’t. He didn’t choose to do that. So, he’s not dead then.
Maybe. Probably. He certainly feels alive. There’s definitely a bruise on his hip from the corner of the hall tabe.
But he didn’t choose to go back, either because what was there to go back to?
No, instead he had picked up the baby. The baby that he rather thought was the little broken remains of one Tom Marvolo Riddle. Because the man might have become an absolute monster but not even a monster deserves to be left naked and crying under a bench in some fluffy train station limbo.
So he had picked up the baby and woken up in his cupboard.
Because that makes sense.
Harry lets out a sigh and pulls his knobby little knees up to his chin and wraps his arms around his legs. “For the sake of what remains of my sanity I’m going to assume that I am actually live,” he whispers to himself. “Just… in my younger body.”
His almost-eleven-year-old body. He’s pretty sure.
Frankly, this might not actually be the strangest thing that’s ever happened to him. It’s not even his whirl with time travel, though the whole seventeen year old mind in a ten year old body thing is definitely new. At least this time he doesn’t have to worry about seeing himself and thinking he’s his own dad.
So what is he going to do?
Keeping everything the same and preserving the timeline is already out. Because he definitely didn’t tell off his relatives, steal the money that had fallen out of Aunt Petunia’s purse, and run away on Dudley’s eleventh birthday the first time he’d lived it. Though he rather thinks the Dursleys will enjoy this a great deal more than having to drag him to the zoo and then getting a boa constrictor accidentally set on them.
And fuck the blood wards, he is not going back to that house.
He could go to Dumbledore, he supposes. That would probably be the smart thing to do. He could tell him all about the horcruxes and the Deathly Hollows and that would be that. Voldemort would be dead and Harry… Huh. Well, is he still the Master of Death? Or has it reset since he’s been sent back to before he had possession of all three hollows? If the latter, somehow he thinks that Dumbledore just letting Harry disarm him isn’t going to cut it when it comes to winning the allegiance of the Elder Wand.
Plus, if Harry’s being honest, he’s more than a little pissed off at the Headmaster because of… well, everything.
Some things are beyond help, he had said in train station limbo.
Harry’s not sure he believes him but he thinks that Dumbledore has believed it for a very long time. Probably starting with a whispered confession of “I can talk to snakes,” from an excited dark haired, dark eyed boy some fifty-ish years ago in little room in an orphanage in London.
He’s also not sure that it matters. If it saves the world…
This is getting him nowhere.
So, maybe if he approaches the problem from a different angle?
What does he want?
What does he, Harry Potter, want?
“To be normal,” he whispers because that’s all he’s ever wanted: to be a normal, regular boy with parents and homework and normal everyday things. It’s also the one thing he can never have. That train left the station when his parents died. Or before that, even, when the prophecy was given. Maybe even before that. Who knows? Maybe Harry Potter’s chances of being normal were well and truly fucked the moment Merope Gaunt laid eyes on Tom Riddle Sr.
Regardless, he’s kind of stuck as Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, the Chosen One, and the Savior of the Wizarding World etc, etc.
Which is kind of depressing.
So, what does the Savior of the Wizarding World want?
It takes a few minutes and some careful breathing to make himself set aside the dream of normal and try to picture something else but when he does…
He sees Sirius, alive, healthy, and walking the streets in broad daylight: a free man. A happy man.
He sees Remus, alive, healthy, gainfully employed, and understood without fear. A happy man.
He sees Pettigrew behind bars – or dead, dead is very attractive – for his role in the Potter’s murders.
He sees Severus Snape, alive, healthy, and free from the shackles his masters have trapped him with. A happy man. Or at least one that isn’t so bloody miserable.
He sees himself. He sees actually getting to learn. He sees attending Hogwarts and exploring the magical world and not constantly worrying about how Voldemort’s going to try and kill him and who he has to protect. He sees himself with friends. Real friends. Ron and Hermione…
… his breath catches in his throat at the thought of them. They’ve been great friends, mostly, and he loves them but they haven’t always been particularly good friends. He wants friends that aren’t perpetually jealous of his ill-gotten fame or the fortune that sits in his vault at Gringotts. He wants friends that understand him and friends that don’t get huffy whenever he actually makes an effort at his school work.
He wants a job. Something besides Auror. He’s done enough Dark Wizard capturing for one life, thank you very much.
He wants a family. He wants a… spouse. He wants children. He wants a home.
He wants to help change the wizarding world. He wants to make it better while still respecting the culture that already exists. The culture that he knows he never actually got to learn or understand.
He wants a different ending to the story.
He wants to save everyone he can.
He wants for there to never be another war.
Harry lets out a long, shuddering sigh.
… he wants to give Tom Marvolo Riddle the chance that no one else ever gave him.
“Bloody hell, Harry,” he mutters to himself, “you’re insane. You’re bloody mental. You have lost the fucking plot.”
The picture in his head, however, stays the same.
“Fine,” he announces to the air. “Just… fine.”
He can do this.
He’ll be the Boy Who Lived but he is going to actually live.
He’ll endure a life spent with grandiose titles stuck next to his name and his picture in the papers and every detail of his existence filling up the gossip column but it will be his life. It will belong to him. Not to Dumbledore. Not to the Wizarding World. To him.
They want to make his life into a one trick pony show? Fine. Then he’ll give them the best damn show they’ve ever seen.
Feeling the familiar sensation of resolve settling into his chest Harry lets out another sigh and gets to his feet. No time like the present to get started and getting started in the wizarding world means one thing: a trip to Diagon Alley.
He rather hopes that the cash he’s taken from Petunia’s purse is enough to get him to London.
And buy him something to eat.
Merlin, he’s starving.