Wizards Have Wonderful Lives Too
"So...it's true then?" Harry asked hesitantly, staring at his hands, which still seemed very much real and there, "I've really never been born now?"
"Near as I know, yes," Dumbledore nodded solemnly, "No Voldemort after you from the time he heard of the prophecy, but also no friends for you to find. And probably so much more else."
"Well, they're all safe if I'm not here," Harry's gaze turned to Hagrid's hut not that far away. It looked dark, but there was one way to know absolutely for sure that he'd never been born. He rushed towards it and threw the door open. "Hagrid?" he called into the interior.
"I do not believe he is here, Harry," Dumbledore said behind him, coming up, "I do not believe he has been here for some time. And I doubt you would be able to verify that you have not been born that way; I'll confess I don't understand all of the spell, but I do understand that one cannot be seen or heard once it is cast upon them."
"Oh. Well, um..." Harry thought over how best to handle this facet of his new status. He couldn't help noticing that Hagrid's hut seemed...barer for lack of a better term, than he usually had seen it as he walked out back into the night, which, somehow, seemed a little bit colder now, even for late December. "Well, then, my parents are alive, aren't they?" he pressed Dumbledore, "Voldemort wouldn't have had to come after them...can I see them if...?"
He was cut off by the sound of a loud explosion from the castle. A window had shattered open. "Oh my, it appears someone is up to some kind of mischief," Dumbledore exclaimed, the wry look from before still in his eye, "I daresay this could be bad for someone."
"Well, it's not really our concern if I was never here to..." Harry stopped again as loud blasts, almost like curses being fired could be heard. Even from the distance, he could now in fact see the castle door bursting open, and a figure rushing out...
"Professor, that looks an awful lot like Neville," he remarked, squinting at the figure as it got closer to where he was standing. Sure enough, it was indeed Neville-only he looked a little fearful. "Neville, over here," he waved at him.
"I've told you, Harry, since you were never born, you cannot be seen or heard by him or anyone," Dumbledore reminded him softly.
"Oh yes, of course...then how is it you're still here and I can see and hear you?" Harry frowned at him.
"Again, Harry, I myself do not understand all the complexities of the spell I've cast upon you, but I do understand that the caster is allowed to be visible to the subject of the spell and interact with him as long as the caster wishes," the headmaster explained. "Oh dear," he nonetheless ducked as a dangerous-looking blast of magic sailed over his head and exploded a branch off an oak, "It appears Master Longbottom has gotten himself in some kind of serious scrape indeed."
"Well that's probably a mistake on their part-and without me around, Neville's parents are still around and sane, I'm sure...Neville, watch out!" even though he couldn't be heard, Harry still cried out, but in vain, as Neville was hit with the Full Body Bind and collapsed to the ground right in front of Harry's feet. "Got him," mumbled a voice that made Harry's nerves freeze: Amycus Carrow. The Death Eater and his sister trudged forward out of the darkness towards the fallen boy and hauled him up roughly. They did not notice Harry, and made no response when he waved his hand in front of their faces, confirming he was invisible to them. "He'll pay for this defiant act," Amycus grumbled, shoving Neville to Alecto, "Let's take him to the Headmaster."
The two of them hauled Neville back towards the castle. "Headmaster? Wait a minute..." Harry frowned towards Dumbledore.
"I sincerely doubt this is me in that capacity at this point, Harry," Dumbledore knowingly shook his head, "Since there is apparently no harm in it for us, why don't we go see what the full story is?"
He started sauntering towards the castle. Harry, his interest piqued, followed, wondering how different Hogwarts was now going to be. He almost fell over in shock, however, when they passed through the main gate. For above the doors to the Great Hall were two enormous paintings that certainly hadn't been there before: one of Salazar Slytherin, and other...
"Voldemort..." he breathed in shock. His mortal enemy glared murderously around inside the frame, his gaze occasionally resting on the golden words under both paintings: THE GREATEST WIZARDING HEROES OF ALL AGES.
"Unfortunately, I fear people are being forced to see the world much differently nowadays," Dumbledore said with a certain degree of bitterness, "I'm presuming Master Longbottom attempted some kind of insurrection of sorts (indeed, Harry could hear Voldemort hissing angrily from a burning, broken painting just up the hall on the floor), but proved unable to get away with it. Such courage in that boy, indeed; it's only a shame he apparently no longer has a place to safely and properly channel it. Shall we?"
He continued up the hall after Neville and the Carrows. Harry followed, frowning at the paintings of Voldemort lining each of the halls, along with several other paintings. Some were of dark wizards he'd learned about in Professor Binns's History of Magic classes, others were of several Death Eaters (a few pictures appeared to have been blasted out, much like the unwanted members of the Black Family Tree). He even recognized several paintings of Phineas Nigellus Black, often accompanied with the caption GREATEST HEADMASTER IN THE HISTORY OF THIS SCHOOL). Something wasn't right here, he reasoned. Was it a trick of some kind by Dumbledore...?
He momentarily put the thought aside as the Carrows reached the Headmaster's Office. The door had already been triggered open. And he and Dumbledore followed them up the steps into a much different-looking office, one with practically bare walls. "Caught him, Severus; he destroyed the Dark Lord's painting by the Great Hall this time," Alecto tossed Neville like a sack of potatoes to the floor, "Longbottom again; can't put any sense into him..."
"Let me, Alecto; I'll fix this personally," came Snape's voice, cold and calculating, from behind the high chair behind the headmaster's desk. Sure enough, it was the Potions master who rose up and walked over slowly and ominously to Neville. "Well, Longbottom," he growled as the Carrows released the Full Body Bind on him, "Your previous acts of defiance against school code weren't enough; you had to go the extra mile, didn't you?"
"Lord Voldemort has no authority, not after everything he's been doing," Neville said defiantly, stumbling to his feet, "And you're a tool, Headmaster...!"
"SILENCE!" Snape roared furiously, 'How dare you talk back to someone of my authority, Longbottom!? I am God inside these walls and will be obeyed. And I see you're flagrantly violating the dress code too," he snatched hold of the red and gold scarf around Neville's neck, "You know full well that only Slytherin's colors are allowed inside this school..."
"I recognize the accomplishments of the other founders, Headmaster. Slytherin wasn't the only one to do anything. And Voldemort used Slytherin's philosophy when he...when he..." Neville seemed on the verge of tears.
"Oh yes, your dear parents. Tried to stand up to him and got exactly what they deserved, didn't they?" Snape sneered without a single shred of pity, "I ought to do the same to you, Longbottom, you criminal..."
"YOU are the criminal!" Neville shouted bravely, "You teach everyone Voldemort's lies, torture those who...!"
"That does it! CRUCIO!" Snape roared and fired the painful curse straight at Neville to the Carrows' dark laughter. Harry jumped back in stunned shock; Snape was harsh, but never THIS harsh. His eyes widened as an irate Snape started roughly kicking Neville as the Carrows took up with the Cruciatus Curse. "ACCIO!" the Potions master bellowed, summoning heavy stone and iron objects from around the office and slamming them down on top of Neville, who gritted his teeth hard, fighting not to cry out. "Keep it up until he screams," Snape ordered the Death Eaters coldly, "I want him to beg!"
"Stop, are you crazy!?" Harry screamed at the teacher, "You can't do this...!"
"CRUCIO!" Snape obliviously joined the Carrows in torturing Neville again. Finally, after Neville still did not scream after three minutes, he disgustedly waved the Carrows off. "He's worse than I thought," the Potions master growled, giving Neville one additional gratuitous kick, "Take him to the Ministry and have professionals work him over; throw him to the Dementors if you have to. Just make sure I never see his filthy face in this castle again."
Amycus merely grunted and started dragging Neville off. Snape stormed back to his chair and turned towards the wall again. "What...what was that all about!?" Harry numbly turned to Dumbledore, "Was...!?"
"I'm afraid that Severus no longer had any reason to switch sides from Voldemort's, Harry," Dumbledore mused softly, "Thus, he remained wholly loyal to his master, with the cold streak that accompanies one in the grips of such a madman. You see before you a man driven by bitterness, with no way to redeem himself...no hope at all. Someday I believe you will learn how much you have helped redeem Professor Snape, and how lost he would be without...oh yes, let us."
Harry was now following the Carrows as they dragged Neville down the stairs and into a staff room. This had to be some kind of mistake, he thought to himself. Snape wouldn't REALLY be this bad without him. He must simply have had a bad day. But then again, why was he seemingly the headmaster now? Where was Dumbledore in this world? He dove through the fireplace after Neville and the Carrows, and found himself in the atrium of the Ministry of Magic. But he felt a cold chill, and wasn't just from the December temperature. And the chill got colder at the sight of a giant black statue of Voldemort, one foot standing on top of a pile of Muggle corpses, and a wand with a flame burning at the tip in hand. IN HONOR OF OUR HERO, WHO SAVED THE WIZARDING WORLD blared the gold inscription on the base. "Yes, he has taken over, Harry," Dumbledore grimly assessed behind him, "The Order fought as hard as they could, but he prevailed in the end."
"It can't be right," Harry shook his head firmly, "You're making this all up, Professor."
"Am I? It is my understanding that the alternate life spell does not work that way, Harry, that it only shows the truth of what would have been."
"You're trying to guilt-trip me into forgetting that I already ruined everyone's lives; I'm not that thick, Professor. I meant what I..." Harry trailed off again at the sight of another familiar figure, dressed in rag, slumped against the nearest wall. "Mrs. Dickinson?" he hastily approached. Emma's mother looked half dead, and certainly dead drunk. She stared blankly at the ground, not noticed by any of the passing witches and wizards grimly entering and exiting the atrium. "What are you doing like this?" he shouted into her face before remembering she couldn't see or hear him, "I mean..."
"She still lost Tiberius...and lost her daughter, as appears dangerously close to happening in the unaltered timeline. Yes, Harry," Dumbledore nodded firmly when Harry shook his head, "Voldemort still needed her; the prophecy he obtained at the beginning of the series of events of these last few weeks specified, as my sources have noted, a young Pureblood who rejected all of Slytherin's teachings, and once it was made clear to him she was the answer, he came for her and made use of her-and Master Whitesell. Much as Amaralda pretended her daughter meant nothing to her, losing her proved just as painful, and she gave up on life completely. Now she's in a situation far worse than death itself: a..."
"Wait...no..." Harry noticed another familiar figure in a far worse situation on the other side of the atrium. "Hagrid!?" he rushed towards a large cage set up there. Sure enough, the gamekeeper, looking miserable and far more unkempt than Harry had ever seen him, sat slumped in the corner, staring ahead into space. "Hagrid, what are...no, this isn't real," he shook his head firmly, "I'm not believing this, Professor," he rounded on Dumbledore, "This is all a trick..."
"Why would it be? To Voldemort's eyes, someone like Hagrid would not be worthy of being considered a human being," Dumbledore glanced sympathetically at his friend in the cage, "And so, once the Ministry and Hogwarts fell, he was dragged her to be hideously exhibited as a beast, a freak of nature. How rash was it to assume you'd only caused others grief, Harry," he glanced hard down at Harry through his half moon glasses, "Clearly your very existence prevented such terrible things for your friends-and perhaps, even, your enemies," he turned at the sight of a group of Dementors dragging someone towards the nearest courtroom, "Do you wish to see how Lord Voldemort prefers to reward even his most loyal lieutenants when they are no longer of any use to him, Harry?"
Harry's jaw dropped at the prisoner: Lucius Malfoy, looking pale and drained, as if the Dementors had really done a number on him. He followed Dumbledore into the courtroom and watched as Lucius was flung into the chained chair. "Let the record show that the prisoner has arrived," came Umbridge's voice from high above. Wearing a seemingly infinite number of medals, she was seated at the center of the high row of benches above, surrounded by dozens of hooded and masked wizards, "All rise for our exalted leader."
She and the other wizards rose as Harry felt a cold chill on his spine. A dark mist was in fact swirling around him, a mist that zoomed up to the Wizengamot and formed into Voldemort's form. "So, Lucius, you thought you could hide secrets from Lord Voldemort," he said coldly at his favorite Death Eater, "It has been proven you were leading a plot to depose me..."
"It is not true, my Lord!" Lucius stammered desperately, "I have done nothing but serve you loyally from the very first moment I could; you know I have never once wavered in the slightest...!"
"Your wife confessed you had when she was arrested as an accessory," Umbridge cut him off, "So will you confess for her sake?"
"Please, leave her out of this, I am innocent of this crime! I am the most faithful servant my Lord has ever had...!"
"All right, let us give you incentive," Umbridge gestured towards the wings. Harry's jaw dropped again as a white and shaking Malfoy was hauled in. "Father, help me!" he frantically pleaded his own shaking father, "Save me...!"
"No one can save you now, child," Voldemort hissed softly from the dais, "Will you confess, Lucius?" he dared his servant.
"My Lord, you know I am innocent...!"
"Do as you will with him," Voldemort dismissively told Umbridge, who leaped down to the floor and screamed, "Crucio!" at Malfoy, who started screeching in agony as he was zapped with the torturing curse. "Stop! Leave him alone, he was never any threat to any of you!" Lucius frantically cried out.
"CRUCIO!" Umbridge screamed louder, amping up the curse. Malfoy's screams became almost unbearable; his skin was going ashen. "All right, all right! Yes, I betrayed you, my Lord; I led a separatist movement!" Lucius screamed a confession, although Harry could tell it was wholly in desperation, "Now let him be!"
"Enough," Voldemort commanded Umbridge, who broke the curse on Malfoy, "Let the record show the defendant has confessed his guilt," he told the hooded Wizengamot, who all nodded gravely in unison, "Let the sentence be carried out."
He discorporated and misted away. Harry was distracted long enough to not fully hear Umbridge's angry spell, but turned as a bright flash of red burst forth...and jumped backwards in horror as Lucius's now severed head rolled to a stop near his feet. "FATHER!" an equally horrified Malfoy tried to break lose towards his now dead father, but he was swarmed by Dementors, and was soon screeching in horror as they started sucking. "Take him back to Azkaban," Umbridge commanded them, "Make sure the worthless slime and his equally worthless mother suffer before you finish them off. Get this trash out of here," she ordered several other wizards in the corners, pointing a Lucius's headless body.
"I believe that qualifies as enough to see here, don't you Harry?" Dumbledore whispered in his ear. Harry numbly managed a soft nod and trudged after the headmaster. "I am sure you've taken in the spectacle you've just seen," the headmaster said softly, "Like all those who crave absolute power, Lord Voldemort, even after obtaining it, sees enemies everywhere. And now that he has the power, and has gotten rid of most of those not of wizarding blood, has no need for the Death Eaters. Lucius always thought he'd been in the inner circle forever, but, Pureblood or not, when his time came, he was just as disposable as anyone else-as too was his Pureblood family. If only he and Master Draco could have seen sooner that true evil has no loyalties. Perhaps, however, it is not too late for them in an unaltered timeline...but of course, I can't guarantee you'll be able to go back to it, Harry..."
"I told you, I don't want that life anymore," Harry said, but his voice was wavering. He never thought he'd ever feel sorry for Malfoy, but now he felt a tinge of guilt for what had happened to him before he'd been shunted into this alternate reality, and what he saw now. "Where are we going now, Professor?" he asked as Dumbledore took his hand and approached a fireplace that the Dementors were dragging a shrieking Malfoy through, "Azkaban...?"
"Perhaps you'll think differently about the life you left behind if you saw who'd be in there now, Harry," Dumbledore told him as they jumped through the flames and landed with a thump on a cold stone floor. It was apparently Swims's office, although the warden wasn't in at the moment-or perhaps he'd already been purged out if what Dumbledore had insinuated was going on in this world now, Harry wondered. "What am I thinking?" he shook his head firmly, "Don't fall for this, Potter; this isn't real..."
"You may also have noted, Harry, that Voldemort appeared to have gained special powers that leave him with a non-physical body if he were to so choose," Dumbledore cut off his train of thought as they walked along a walkway in the prison, shifting off a separate path from Malfoy, still screaming as he was dragged away, "It stands to reason, I must assume, that that was part of his plan all along back in the old world...ah, here are some old friends."
Harry stared into the cell they'd stopped in front of. Sirius was inside, looking weak and lethargic. "So?" he frowned at the Headmaster, "I mean, I wish he weren't in here, but Petttigrew would have probably betrayed him either way. So he'd probably still..."
"Would Sirius have hunted Peter Petittigrew down and forced him to blow up the street and frame him without just cause, Harry?" Dumbledore raised an eyebrow, "After all, how was he to have known Pettitgrew was a spy unless Pettigrew had reason to show his hand early?"
"Look, it doesn't matter, he may well have just been caught anyway...Professor?" Harry gazed into the next cell, where an equally glum Lupin stared into space. "That doesn't prove anything either," he quickly told Dumbledore with a scowl, "He might have just been picked up in a fight with the Death Eaters; that makes no bearing on whether I was born or not..."
"Does it? How about in this cell, Harry?" Dumbledore gestured into the next one. Inside was a painfully thin Professor McGonagall, slumped on a bunk, her eyes glassy. "Minerva, I fear, was dragged off here when she refused to cooperate with Voldemort's anti-Muggle education guidelines," Dumbledore said solemnly, "And she was far from the only teacher to end up here, I'm afraid, nor the only one to see the inside of this dreadful place for not thinking the same way..."
He was gesturing at the next group of cells. Harry took a deep breath and looked inside. Mr. Weasley was in the first, his face to the wall, making a low snorting sound. And a dangerously much thinner Mrs. Weasley was in the second, sobbing. "Incarceration does a lot to the mind, as I'm sure Sirius told you, Harry; I don't think they have much of their sanity left," the headmaster mumbled grimly, "After all, what parent can stand it after watching most of their children be slain before them...?"
"What are you talking about!?" a deep pit was forming in Harry's stomach.
"Voldemort has his ways of teaching lessons to those who defy him; what more dreadful way to get at parents than to slaughter their children in front of them, as I presume happened to most of them," Dumbledore led him back into the office and gestured out the window to the rocks below, where large magical bonfires could be seen, "Their remains were likely burned down there. I supposed mine are as well, for it is likely I did not survive this long, given Severus is firmly in my previous position."
"No, they can't...they couldn't...!" Harry shook his head firmly, "They're not dead, I know it! Now I know this is just a trick; you're only showing me bad things to make me feel guilty...it can't be this bad without me, it's not reasonable...show me my parents," he demanded, "I know they're better off...!"
"I suppose we shall see, perhaps even now," Dumbledore turned and glanced at Swims striding down the aisle towards them. "...middle of the night, never a moment's peace!" he was grumbling out loud, "Oh well, might as well get it over with. Godric's Hollow," he announced after throwing Floo Powder into the fireplace. Harry almost immediately dove through after him; he was going to see his parents alive and well and prove that at least someone would have been better off without him.
He found himself on the floor of what looked like a morgue when he landed. Swims bustled out through the unlocked door and down through a cemetery that was next door. "I think we should follow him, Harry," Dumbledore called to him when he turned to go up the street in the other direction, "I think Mr. Swims' path holds the answers you'll be looking for."
"Why?" Harry turned and entered the cemetery, I told you, my..."
He came to a suddenly stop and turned, blinking hard at one particular headstone right near the gate. "No, it's not true!" he gasped, gripping the headstone hard, "No, they're alive, I know they are...!"
"I'm sorry to say, Harry, your parents are still dead even without you," Dumbledore shook his head softly, squatting in front of the cold gray tombstone with the name POTTER on top, and the names LILY and JAMES below that.
"IT'S A LIE!" Harry screamed desperately at him, "They died because of me; they have to be alive...!"
"How cold to put the blame on yourself, Harry; they died because of Voldemort's greed and paranoia, nothing more," Dumbledore shook his head softly, "Even if you'd never been there, they'd still have died as sworn enemies of Voldemort. He was obsessed with hunting down everyone who opposed him, and he would have unfortunately found a way. And you'll notice that it appears less people seem to care," he pointed at the thick layer of snow covering up half the tombstone, "Without you to bravely sacrifice for, I fear their deaths now were more lonely and unappreciated. You gave their lives true meaning, Harry, as all children do to their parents in even relatively normal lives..."
"I WON'T BELIEVE IT!" Harry roared, "This is all just...!"
But then another tombstone in the row behind his parents caught his eye. "No, no, not Hermione too!" he cried, lunging for it. But the stone slab coldly declared GRANGER in large letters above the words BELOVED DAUGHTER HERMIONE JEAN. The tombstone seemed cracked and uncared for, and was also partially covered in snow, but Harry could make out part of the death date: October 31st. "Poor Miss Granger, so much talent, but nowhere to go with the now institutionalized hatred against Muggle-borns," Dumbledore lamented, "Quite a sick joke for them to play, inviting her to Hogwarts just so she could be shunned and then slaughtered, the same they do with so many other Muggle-borns who had no idea of what was waiting for them..."
"Wh-wh-what are you saying? That the troll actually...!?" Harry stammered, fearful now.
"The troll was still there, Harry, now subsidized to destroy those deemed unworthy by Voldemort," the headmaster shook his head, "Rationalized as upholding Slytherin's dictum while not shutting anyone out-a sick joke if there ever was one. A lonely girl, deliberately shunned by everyone, alone in a bathroom crying, when it was let inside to destroy her-and no one around to save her. You weren't there to stop it, Harry, and had Mr. Weasley been there, I doubt he would have made any effort himself given how much at odds the two of them were at first. And look at where she was laid to rest: alone, far from home, her family never knowing where she was buried, so the Death Eaters could increase their anguish."
He leaned closer to a shaking Harry. "I hope you can see now, Harry, you really did make a strong difference," he said softly, his eyes like steel, "We often wish we'd never have existed, but every life touches infinite others, and yours has touched so much. But as I have noted, I'm not sure I can take you back, so I hope you realize to be careful what you wish for."
"Pr-Professor," Harry's voice was a weak croak; inside, he now felt terribly guilty for having made the wish, "Where's Ron? Has he...what are you doing!?" he cried as Dumbledore slowly started fading away with a deep frown, 'No, don't leave me here; I want to at least try to...!"
But it was too late; Dumbledore had vanished. Harry slumped against Hermione's tombstone, numb. How was he going to get out of this mess now, he wondered fearfully? If he was alone in this terrible world, with no way back...
A sound of blasting to his right made him turn. Streaks of magic were arcing in the darkness towards a dim figure stumbling among the headstones. A figure Harry recognized almost at once. "Ron!?" he called out, rushing over as fast as he could. Sure enough, it was his friend-disheveled, ashen-faced, wild-eyed, laughing, and wearing a white gown with the oversized name tag ST. MUNGO'S HOSPITAL FOR MAGICAL MALADIES AND INJURIES on it. His laughter seemed half-insane, and Harry had the horrific feeling his friend had been tortured at the hospital-little would surprise him anymore. "Ron, look out!" he shouted as a killing curse zoomed through the sky and exploded a tombstone dangerously close to Ron, who stumbled and rushed towards the nearby woods. "Over there!" came a shout from behind Ron. About two dozen wizards were charging forward, their wands clearly raised in menace. "No, stop, don't!" Harry desperately tried to wave them off, "Don't kill him...!"
"How'd he get out again!?" came Swims's impatient voice among the throng as they obliviously rushed past Harry.
"Who knows? He's insane, and we should destroy him as per the rules," another wizard muttered.
"Should have finished him off with the rest of his siblings when they came in. Blasted requests for live subjects to experiment on at the hospital; never could understand them. Oh well, Avada kedavra!" Swims fired another killing curse into the woods after Ron, exploding an oak. Harry desperately rushed after them, catching up and passing them. Invisible or not, he couldn't just stand around and let his friend get killed. "Keep running, Ron, keep running!" he shouted at the figure disappearing into the brush ahead of them, then pivoted to face the dozens of figures coming towards him. "Stay back, or I'll do something you'll regret!" he roared, raising his wand as snow started falling heavily around him, "I mean it...!"