Note: This story takes place inside the fanfic universe of Barbara Purdom. As both a warning and a heartfelt suggestion on my part, youíd prefer to read her works first, at least up to chapter 17 of "Harry Potter and the Time of Good Intentions" - this fic may be incomprehensible and will definitely spoil quite a lot of her storiesí plot otherwise.
Many thanks to my beta-readers, Jeff Roth, Sarah Marie Parker-Allen, and Atlantis Potter! And many, many thanks to Barb who let me play with her story and characters!
Disclaimer: The characters of Jamie and Simon belong to B. L. Purdom. All the rest of the characters belong to J. K. Rowling and used without permission, etc, etc...
Part One: Discovery
"A hiding place with only one exit is more correctly known as Ďtrapí."
--Terry Pratchett (paraphrased)
It had been more difficult for Simon than for anyone else.
Jamie never really saw how hard it was for him until after the funeral. "I just wish they had let Harry come," she had said.
Their dad simply nodded, eyes closed.
"So do I," said Simon, no seeming emotion in his voice. It was the first thing he had said all day. "So I could kill him."
Jamie was horrified. "You canít say things like that! Heís our brother! You know he didnít mean this to happen!" She felt her dadís hand squeezing her own just a tiny bit stronger, a gentle warning to her not to push the matter further.
"I am not his brother," Simon replied coldly. "And if you are his sister, then I am not your brother either."
He shook off their dadís hand and turned away from them both.
That night she cried herself to sleep. She cried more than she had cried for dead Stu - more than she had cried the very day of their mumís death, held by Draco until the early hours of the morning. Silent tears for her destroyed family.
It wasnít very easy for her either.
* * *
They had been doing their Herbology homework, or at least she had been doing it, while Simon was staring in the vague direction of his still blank scroll.
The situation between them had been extremely delicate this past month that they had spent hiding alongside Ginny. Jamie never referred directly to Harry in Simonís presence and (at their dadís stern command, she guessed) Simon had likewise stopped, after the first few days, vocalizing his murderous feelings towards their older brother.
No discussions about Harry, or about Ginnyís brother, for that matter. No discussions about their mother. She tried to not even talk about Stuart very much, in case it brought back to Simonís mind the role Harry and Ginny had played in the matter of his death.
Not much talk at all between them, then, except on those rare days when she helped him out with his homework - and then it almost felt like old times again. They could still, occasionally, be brother and sister -- in those matters that neither of them gave a damn about.
It took her about half a minute for Simon's words to sink in. And even then she couldnít believe them.
"What did you say?!"
He was smiling at her. After so much time she had thought she would love to see him smile again, but this was by no means a loveable expression on his face.
"I am leaving. Thereís going to be a Quidditch match, you know. Slytherin versus Gryffindor. Itíd be a shame to miss such a match."
Jamie just stared at her brother for a moment and then exploded with fury.
"Are you completely and utterly insane!?"
"Nope!" He suddenly leapt to his feet. "Follow me!" he called out and ran off.
Thinking the worst swearwords she could imagine, Jamie pursued him through the corridors.
The place theyíd been hiding in once used to be a private library -- but it had been modified so as to also serve as the home for whatever wizard-scholar had once spent his days and nights here. Bookshelves lined the walls of the space theyíd been using as a common room and a huge fireplace was also located there, although it seemed to allow only Dumbledore to travel through it. Staircases led to the rooms where they slept and to a small but adequate bathroom. And surrounding the central area, a maze of stone corridors all leading to dead-ends.
It was in one such dead-end that Jamie finally caught up with her brother. He was standing in front of a tapestry which depicted tiny figures as they went about their daily chores.
"See?" he grinned at her. "This was the key. Most of them are doing unrelated things, actually. But these ones here, near the bottom, in what looks like a combination of a prison and a study..."
"Torch," he pointed at one point in the tapestry. Jamie couldnít help but glance at the real-life torch on the wall. Simon grinned again as he moved to it and standing on his toes, he shifted the torchís position slightly downwards. "You're getting it also. Candle." Again he walked over and pushed a nearby candle on its side - it moved as if on hinges.
Jamie finally managed to speak. "Simon, no!"
He ignored her. "And now that Arab-looking fellow who looks as if heís chanting something? Remember the story of the Muggle-born wizard and the forty goblins?
Jamie held her breath.
And then let it out again.
"Simon, nothing happened."
He was grinning at her, and for an amazingly happy moment Jamie thought he had played a prank on her... If he was feeling good enough to play pranks again, then perhaps everything would be all rig-
The moment passed. "Of course, nothing happened. Thatís what I was puzzling over for almost a month now. You see, this tapestry -- it wasnít originally meant for this corridor."
He suddenly took off running again, and Jamie (cursing out loud this time) pursued him again. When she caught up with him again, he had gone to another dead-end - one almost identical to the last except for the bareness of the walls.
"I was waiting for Weasley to enter the shower, before I showed this to you," he said, as he moved the torch and the candle. "She might have wanted to stop us. Or she might have also wanted to go to the Quidditch game and play Seeker for Gryffindor. Canít have that happen. Slytherinís already playing at a disadvantage - something about the teamís captain going to Azkaban for murdering his mother."
Jamie held within her the feeling of outrage and disgust at his words. "When did you discover this?"
"I figured it out last night -- made a nice trip around the dungeons. Never got caught. Obviously."
Jamie gulped. Her next words were careful. "Simon, you know you shouldnít wander about. We are in here for a reason. Iím going to tell Dumbledore and have him close this up. Remember how Ron--"
"DO YOU THINK I COULD FORGET?!" he screamed at her.
Her words hadn't been careful enough, it seemed.
"I didnít need to tell you this, Jamie," he said, softer now. "I just thought you might want to join me. There are places from where we can watch the game and never be seen ourselves. Itíll be almost like old times. I just wanted to ask you if you wanted to come with me."
"The question you should be asking me," replied Jamie, grimly now, "is whether I'll let you go. And the answer is a definite ĎNoí. Itís too dangerous."
Simon frowned. "How exactly do you intend to stop me?"
Jamie pulled out her wand. "You know I have two years on you. Donít make me use them."
Simon nodded seriously, then pulled out his own wand from his pocket. Jamie tensed but Simon, instead of casting a spell, simply reached into his other pocket - and pulled out yet another wand, identical to hers!
"And I have your wand. Stole it hours ago. Thatís a transfigured toothpick you are holding."
Jamie looked at the wand in her hand, momentarily astonished. If this was a transfiguration, then it was the most...
A moment was all that was needed.
Jamieís entire body froze and she fell hard on the floor. Only her eyes still moved, looking frantically at Simon as he stood over her.
"Or perhaps I simply made you think I had stolen your wand," he sneered at her, as he transformed his second wand back into a toothpick and threw it away with contempt.
He smiled at her frozen form. "You forgot that Stu and I were the non-stupid ones in the family. See you in a couple hours, sis."
He uttered the password again. The wall this time did slide open and closed behind him as he left.
* * *
Simon didnít actually feel like going to the Quidditch match. Seeing a game again had its appeal, but from the few places he could actually remain unobserved, he would also have a pretty horrible view. Wasnít worth the effort, not even for seeing the Gryffindors being beaten into the dust as Draco would undoubtedly reach the Snitch far more easily than whatever replacement Seeker the other team had managed to get.
Just breathing the fresh air again. Or seeing faces, even if they couldnít be allowed to see him. Thatís what he wanted. Thatís what he had been aching for, all this time they had spent cooped up in Dumbledoreís prison.
He was actually extremely annoyed that it had taken him so long to understand what wall the tapestry had been meant for. In hindsight it was obvious, how it was slightly too small in width for where it was placed, how even the design didnít fit in with the carvings and nearby paintings. If Stu had been with him, they'd have figured it all out in less than a week -- within a day, perhaps. But without him, it was as if his own mind was stunted.
And the others -- Jamie or the Weasley girl wouldnít have figured it out in a million years. They didnít see, or simply didnít care, that everything was a puzzle to solve, a prank to pull or a trick to see through. This whole castle was a puzzle to solve. The number of hidden passages that he and Stu had discovered...
It was dangerous journeying about, Jamie had said. Dangerous for whom, he didnít know. Itís not as if anyone could use him to intimidate yet another brother into killing yet another Weasley. He had no more brothers. And there were no Weasleys whose life he cared about in the slightest.
But, even so, I'll put up with your "protection". Iíll stay entombed in that prison of yours. Just this once... Twice, if you counted yesterday night, when he had simply figured out where exactly everything was, and how he could travel from down there to the castle corridors he was more familiar with. If he could pull one last prank, in memory of Stu -- then heíd be content for a while.
An idea had already begun to form in his mind... He would have to go through the kitchens and just outside the Hufflepuff common room, and then into yet another secret corridor Stu had discovered-
He was passing through the kitchens, when he suddenly realised how quiet it was... Several of the House-elves seemed to be staring at him instead of focusing on their job at hand.
"What?" he snarled at them, even as he got a sinking feeling in his stomach. This wasnít good. The House-elves never paid me attention, they always knew I was just passing through, they shouldnít know anything is wrong or special.
He turned around, to leave the same way he had entered.
Just as he was going to leave the kitchens, a professor came through the doorway.
It was Binns.
* * *
It must have taken about fifteen minutes for Ginny to finish her shower, get dressed, and then find Jamie and remove the hex from her. It was some of the longest and most frightened fifteen minutes in Jamieís life.
Jamie for a moment just closed her fists and screamed in frustration. And then she closed her eyes. "We have to talk to Dumbledore."
She stood up. "And we have to pray itís not too late already," she said as she run back, towards the sitting room and the fireplace.
* * *
As he walked, he cried.
All of them. They had all been right. And Simon had betrayed them all.
He thought he could face anything. He was smarter than pretty much everyone heíd met, and he could face anything, and he was willing to face anything, and-
--and all it took was for Binns to cast Cruciatus and Imperius on him, for him to spill everything he knew about Jamie and Ginnyís hiding place.
It hadnít worked at first. Heíd resisted the Imperius. He wasnít sure how he did it, but he had managed to resist it. For a brief moment he had tasted genuine joy: Binns could kill him, but he couldnít make him do anything he didnít want to do.
And then Binns put Cruciatus on him. The agony - it was an indescribable living hell. Just ten seconds, perhaps, was all it took, and then Imperius again - and nothing mattered anymore. Where to go, what to do to open the secret hiding place - he had told everything, just so heíd never have to experience such pain again.
"Weíll see now, wonít we, if you were telling me the truth or not," Binns growled at him.
But he had told the truth - in that moment of joy and blissful absence of pain that Imperius was, he couldnít do otherwise. As Binns followed the instructions, the passageway opened, and they walked inside, Binns holding Simon from the back of the neck and pushing him onwards.
Simon had only one hope left - that Jamie and Ginny had managed to contact Dumbledore and he had taken them both away, knowing something like this could happen.
Not to be.
Ginny and Jamie were just sitting there, in the common area. When they saw Binns behind Simon, Jamie gasped and tried to pull out her wand. But Binns was ready.
"Expelliarmus!" Jamieís wand flew from her hand, while she herself was thrown backwards against the wall.
Meanwhile, Ginny had trained her own wand on Binns. But Simon suddenly felt Binns yank him backwards, using him as a human shield, and as Ginny hesitated...
Simon knew at that moment that having someone die because of you was far, far worse than simply dying yourself. And in that moment, as Ginnyís body fell lifelessly on the floor, he understood how Harry must have suffered from their motherís death, far more than any punishment or torture Simon himself could devise.
And in that moment, Simon forgave him.
Binns was standing over Jamie now, who was struggling to her feet, unarmed. He grinned evilly at her. "You, girl, I donít think Iíll kill immediately. The Master wonít be pleased if you die as painlessly as that.
Simon had just experienced Cruciatus. He knew exactly what it was like. And, as he twisted away from Binns' grasp and directly into the path of the curse, he knew exactly what he was doing.
It was complete agony, pain as he had once not thought it possible.
But it was also far better than having his sister - Iím sorry, Jamie, Iím sorry for everything, he thought to her frantically, I love you - suffer the same fate.
Binns broke the connection almost immediately, furious beyond belief. "You DIE now, boy! Avada Kedavra!"
Simon closed his eyes and waited for death.
It never came. As he opened them again, Jamieís body was also lying there, in front of Binns. Simon understood then, in a strangely dispassionate way, that she had also thrown herself in front of the curse and died in his place.
And then he slid into darkness as Cruciatus took him back to an agony that racked his body with spasms - but which was also a lesser pain than the one he was suffering already.
* * *
And inside that darkness, he thought he heard a voice command loudly: "That is enough!" He thought that he heard Binns fall, and the spell's connection broken, but his own body was still shuddering with agony, so something must have gone terribly wrong.
And he also thought (but it must have been a delusion, for they were dead, werenít they?) that he heard the voices of Jamie and Ginny, frantic with worry for his sake.
And, lastly, the same first voice. "No, we must take him to St. Mungoís. This is beyond Poppyís skill." And the feeling of being lifted lightly into the air.
After that he thought little else for a long, long time.
* * *
Part Two: Understanding
"Never let the facts stand in the way of a good story."
--Old newsroom expression
"How is he?"
It was Ginny who asked the question. Perhaps because Jamie didnít seem as if she was capable of speaking - she looked at him with desperate eyes, red from crying.
Dumbledore sighed. "The doctor who examined him doesnít know yet if the damage is permanent or not. We will know within the month."
Jamie broke into fresh tears at that.
But Dumbledore went on. "But I have asked your father to write to Harry that the damage is permanent. In fact, pretty much everyone in the hospital will believe the same, except for the one doctor whoíll be treating Simon directly - and whom I happen to completely trust."
Jamie seemed confused. "Why tell Harry such a thing?"
Ginny answered her question. "For safety, isnít that right? If somebody intercepts the letter - Simonís safety wonít be threatened, because nobody will think that heís any longer... important enough to threaten."
He nodded. "In part, yes. But there is more to it that you'll have to know. I have also told Professor Snape and your family, Ginny, that you two were, in fact, killed by Professor Binns."
They looked at him, astonished beyond words.
And then they both started shouting in disbelief and anger at the same time.
Dumbledore shook his head slowly and sadly. "I will try to explain everything."
* * *
It took a long time, Dumbledore repeating to them what Harry had told him about the timeline switch. And in the end of it, Jamie could still hardly believe it. "You are telling us that this entire history - the fact I was born at all, was all a result of Harry time-travelling? That Harry changed the entire history of the past fourteen years?"
Dumbledore nodded. "That is what he said, and I quite believe him. Since last September, Harry has the memories of both lives. Both timelines."
"And very soon after that time," he continued, "he also knew that he should try to undo what he did. But for many months... he did nothing at all. Because of his mother. Because of the twins, in part. And mainly because of you, Jamie. It was knowledge of you that Voldemort used as the ultimate bait in the trap he set for Harry."
Jamie's disbelief suddenly turned into anger.
"And You-Know-Who was supposed to have been defeated fifteen years ago? Harry gave those... monsters the chance to kill dozens, hundreds of people, for all those years? How could Harry do this? How could he?"
She was shaking with rage. Dumbledore wondered how much rage and grief this young girl had to keep inside her for over a month, because she was too smart and too kind to blame Harry for what he had done on accident. To now see that her brother wasnít as blameless as she had thought him to be...
He glanced at the other girl and marvelled at the difference in reactions. When Jamie had become so emotional, there was hardly anything to indicate how Ginny felt about all the things she had just heard. Except... yes, except that her hands seemed to be slightly shaking.
And when she spoke, her voice was but a whisper. "Because of us," she said, her eyes never leaving the table.
Jamie leapt up as if she had been electrocuted. "No! I wonít have it! I wonít be Harryís bloody excuse! Innocent babies have died because of the Death-Eaters!" she screamed at them both, then her voice seemed to suddenly break as she tried to continue. "Stuart and M-Mom have died because of the Death Eaters and Simon may never... may never... oh God..."
And then she couldnít go on. She just stood there weeping silently. Ginny moved then to take the younger girl into her embrace, and Dumbledore offered her a handkerchief that Jamie shakily accepted.After a while, Dumbledore spoke again.
"I cannot ask you not to feel what youíre feeling, Jamie, but I would like you to think about what you are saying. This world is so awful because your mother and brother are dead? And how much would you be willing to sacrifice in order to get them back?"
He sighed. "Donít be so quick to condemn your brother. Wizards much older and more experienced than Harry have failed just as badly when suddenly confronted with their heartsí innermost desires." A brief pause. "Iím quite certain that Harry would readily give his life to rid the world of Voldemort, if he only could. What Harry proved incapable of doing, when push came to shove, was to give up the lives of people he... cherished."
"Thatís what you are doing then," said Ginny, and now the trembling of her hands and the horror in her eyes could be clearly seen. "You are taking away all the people Harry loves. Thatís why you told everyone we are dead. You want him to undo the spell."
He looked at her silently for a moment and then simply nodded. "Yes."
"Undo the spell?" Jamieís voice seemed strangely hopeful. "Is that really possible?"
"No, please, professor, you canít!" cried out Ginny on the other hand. "Thatís worse than dying, our entire lives will be just erased, please..." She looked hunted.
Dumbledoreís voice was calm. "Worse than dying? I think quite a few people would argue the exact opposite -- starting perhaps from Miss Potter here?"
Jamie started to speak then, but Dumbledore raised a hand to silence her.
"Either way, the question is moot, Jamie. Ceasing to exist is... impossible. And history cannot be altered."
The two girls exchanged confused looks.
"But you said... you said that..."
"I only told you what Harry believed he did. And his knowledge of the spell was all derived from Voldemort."
He sighed again, then stood up and looked out the window for a long moment.
"And, as always, Voldemort proved himself a master of lies. Now I am going to tell you what really happened. In some respects itís actually much worse."
* * *
Imagine [Dumbledore began] a long piece of rope stretching infinitely in both directions. The line of events, if you will. Now, most people - Muggles and wizards alike - assume this line to be completely straight, reaching from the long ago all the way to the... far after, in a single linear continuity of cause and effect.
And, as very often is the case, most people are wrong.
There have been both spells and devices invented that allow one to travel back in time. And what was initially discovered through their use was that one canít change history. One who tries to do so will, more than likely, become part of the events heís trying to alter.
Imagine that same infinite rope twisting to form loops along its length. Or, perhaps, tying itself into knots. It isnít particularly important to know when or how the knots were first tied or the loops arranged - you can call it destiny and be done with it. Itís the same question, really, with how can seers perceive their -sometimes self-fulfilling- prophecies.
What is important, however, is to understand that no matter how tangled up history is, itís still all there - either in the past, or in the future. A seer divines events because they... already exist in the future. And a time-traveller can go back in time because, regardless of what he does, the future he came from will still exist.
And all was well with that theory until, some centuries ago, Croneus the Confusing managed to kill himself during a rather complicated piece of time-juggling acrobatics. It wouldnít be much of an issue if he had killed his future self, mind you. Indeed, more than one person have done so as a particularly flamboyant form of suicide.
But Croneus somehow managed to kill his past self. This caused havoc among the magical theorists of the time. Several even refused to acknowledge his existence until he got himself properly listed in the Ghosts and Poltergeists Registry - despite still being alive and well. The paperwork was a complete mess, let me tell you.
And, perhaps more importantly, it also forced us to significantly readjust our theory of time travel. To boil it down to the basics it goes like this: Time travel will more often than not take the wizard or witch to his own worldís history - which they will perforce follow. But it might -it just might- create a new timeline for them to enter, one unconstrained from the old oneís progression.
Imagine a second line of rope being tied to the first. A "child" universe. A universe equally real to the old, but also one which doesnít replace it - except in the time-travellerís own limited perspective. Do you understand? The world Harry abandoned is still there, its history progressing as always, with or without him.
One could, perhaps, make educated guesses about which of the two scenarios will occur with each particular incidence of time-travel. For example itís practically impossible to create an alternate universe using a Time Turner - due to that deviceís very nature.
But such a spell as Voldemort tricked Harry into using... such a spell built upon a foundation of guilt and regret and longing and the sense of a great wrong that should have never been... Based on the overwhelming desire for change...
Well, let me put it to you like this, Jamie, Ginny. There exist much darker spells than this one - but I can think of no other charm, hex or enchantment more fundamentally Slytherin in its willingness to mould an entire universe according to the spellcasterís wishes.
Brutally Slytherin, perhaps.
Do you see now why I said this is in many ways worse? Harry created a world of misery and suffering greater than in his own - and he can never erase this mistake of his. Never erase the events of these last fourteen years.
No matter how much he, or any of us, desires it.
* * *
If anything, the two girls were even more confused after this explanation, than they had been before it.
"Then why?" cried out Ginny. "Why have him think we are dead? Why torment him like this? Why be so cruel?"
Dumbledore suddenly looked even older than usual. "Because this cruelty was the kindest solution I could think of."
He closed his eyes and remained silent for a long while. When he spoke again his voice was soft and quiet. "There is no future for Harry in this world. If he is to have any future at all, it must be elsewhere."
"In five years' time--" began Ginny angrily, but she was interrupted.
"In five yearsí time Harry will be dead. Voldemort will never allow him to be released from Azkaban, same as he would have never allowed him to be acquitted. And, given the influence he has over the Dementors, it will be only too easy to ensure his death. Not immediately - no reason to raise unwanted questions - but in a few yearsí time, when so many of the prisoners just give up and die of despair..."
Dumbledore hesitated for a brief moment before continuing.
"He could escape. I offered to help him escape, when it would have been relatively easier and safer to arrange. I could imagine him going into hiding with my help -- you both would even be willing, I have no doubt, to follow him into whatever hiding place is chosen. I could imagine you all fighting and winning many small battles for the cause of good.
"I could imagine all that... if Harry was still treating this world as a real one."
He stood up and began pacing around the room. The girlsí gaze followed him in silence until he spoke again.
"Neither of you has talked to Harry since he was arrested. You didnít see how much his motherís death affected him.
"In some ways it was the opposite of what occurred in September. Back then, a Harry suddenly armed with the memories and experience of two lifetimes began such a struggle against Voldemort that I wouldnít have previously thought him capable of. Preventing the Death eaters from cannibalising the power of Voldemortís heir. Finding your lost sister, Ginny. Making sure that Muggle-born wizards and witches became aware of their magical birthrights. These are successes that cannot and should not be belittled. Especially the last one.
"Donít you see? He didnít treat the status quo as inevitable. Because though he knew this world was real, he also knew it could be far better than it is. Because the importance of individual heroism was more clear to him than it had ever been - than it had ever been in this timeline at least. And because of that, up until your motherís death, Jamie, your brother made his best effort to improve this world as much as he could."
Jamie's eyes were wide. "And after it?..." she whispered.
"After it, I daresay, this universe doesnít feel as real to him as it used to do.
"Oh, on an intellectual level, Iím sure he understands that the people of this world are real. But he canít feel any longer the same responsibility towards them. The reasoning he gave me for refusing my assistance was flawed at best, ludicrous at worst - but more importantly my concern about the lives of the operatives (including two of your brothers, Ginny) that heíd be endangering if it came to an open trial, a concern that he ought to be sharing... it wasnít there. And when heíd proven so smart in the past... now he seemed to have no understanding how his actions could doom him alongside so many others.
"Itís almost as if the shock of his motherís death by his own hand has... disconnected the sense of cause and effect for him. Or, perhaps more accurately, as if it raised the stakes for him to such an extent that he no longer sees the situation of this world as something that can be improved. Itís... double or nothing. Heíll erase this universe - and if not that, then nothing else matters."
Dumbledore paused for a moment. "And on the other hand, he doesnít take his choices to their reasonable conclusion. I am convinced that he still has the means to escape from Azkaban, if he so chooses. And yet, after more than a month there, he doesnít so choose it. For all intents and purposes it seems as if he does not actually intend to revert the timelines - as if he intends to spend the remainder of his sentence in jail. When he should know that this would be suicidal."
"Perhaps he does lack the means to escape, and you are just assuming too much," spoke up Ginny.
"Itís much more probable that he simply lacks the conviction. No matter how he argues for the... necessity of it in theory, in his heart he could never knowingly do anything towards erasing the lives of you two. That conviction is what I intend to provide him."
Ginny seemed to slightly brighten up at this. "Then when he succeeds in escaping from Azkaban... you intend to find him first and bring him into hiding with the rest of us, tell him the truth, explain our reasons for the deception..."
Jamieís eyes seemed vacant. "Heíll hate you for the lies. For the grief."
But Dumbledore was shaking his head. "No, Ginny. No, Jamie. Again you misunderstand. I do not intend to tell him the truth. That would be a death sentence for him, as certain as the kiss of a Dementor; to have him know he canít erase his mistake and yet have him remain here, hunted by everyone but with no will left to survive, when his sheer will to survive is what helped him make it this far. What I intend to do is to return him to his own universe."
Ginny again erupted. "You canít just decide to take him away from us! We can help him through this! Weíre his family and friends! His loved ones!"
Dumbledore nodded. "And he has loved ones in the other world also. Would you condemn them - and indeed another version of your self -- never to see him again?"
Ginny seemed to tremble. "Just... give him the choice. Which universe he wants to belong to. Please!"
Dumbledore leaned forward, looked deep into the girlís eyes. Spoke softly: "There exists no choice. Thereís the option of being in a world where heíll be hunted by Voldemort and the Ministry alike for the rest of his life - or in a world where heís widely loved and admired as a hero. Thereís the option of being in a world where the mark of ownership the Dark Lord laid on him can kill him in an instant with the simplest of commands - and thereís also the option of being in a world where Harry once defeated Voldemort and can actually help defeat him again.
"But because of the responsibility he feels for this world heíd choose to remain here, not in the universe he actually prefers, or the one he can perhaps do some good in. By simply telling him the truth weíd be depriving him of choice. And of freedom. And, eventually, of his life.
"No. Too many evils have already taken place because people didnít listen to my advice. This time I will choose on Harryís behalf. For his own sake. And for the sake of the world he abandoned."
He turned his gaze aside then, for Ginny also started crying at last, cold demeanour breaking in the end. "You are telling us weíll never see him again," she said through her tears. "And for what? For all you know, he wonít be able to redo the spell, and heíll be killed attempting a quest that isnít even real!"
Dumbledore sighed. "Youíd normally be correct. But there is one additional piece of information I have yet to give you. I didnít take this decision by myself. After Harry confided in me I had a long discussion with those who move between worlds. The only others whoíd know of both timelines."
"Ghosts," Jamie whispered.
Ginny turned and glanced at her and Dumbledore nodded. "Ghosts. Which, on September, suddenly gained the memories of their counterparts in the original timeline, same as Harry did. I had an especially long conversation with your father, Jamie."
The young girl blanched, but didn't say anything.
"From the very first day they told Harry what he eventually decided for himself: that this situation isnít meant to be. However, their reasons were different to his - and they used the only language with which they could hope to convince him. As did I, they hid most of the truth and told him that he had to put the universe back the way it was. Of course, in reality, Harry has to put himself back to where he used to be. He couldnít do anything more, either way."
Before the girls had the chance to speak again, he raised a warning hand.
"No, I see that yet again you misunderstand me. The ghosts didnít tell me what should happen. They told me what will, without a doubt, happen. The Harry of the original universe either never left his world or returned to it a bare instant after abandoning it. Some point in his future life, Harry will necessarily cast the same spell again and try to undo what he did. And until that day, until this incomplete loop is finally resolved, leaving both timelines free to progress to their own separate destinies, all spirits will feel the wrongness of this paradox as a terrible itch inside their minds. That alone was enough motivation for them to pressure Harry into returning to his world as soon as possible.
"And in the end it boils down to just these two facts. Harry will definitely have to go back to the world he left behind him - itís inevitable. And if the deaths of you two is the only thing that can motivate him enough to do so... then Iíd very much rather those deaths be a lie."
And that was that, thought Dumbledore. The ultimate knowledge - that occasionally the courses of action are closed to you, and the only thing you can choose are your reasons.
Dumbledore had hated every single lie heíd ever felt forced to utter in the course of years of subterfuge. Some of these lies would now quickly make their way back to Harry, filling him with shock or despair, but hopefully (hopefully!) pushing him into action, guiding him back to a universe where he could perhaps survive. And even better than just survive - a universe in which he could live.
Sometimes lying was the lesser of two sins, he thought. And the truths he had just uttered to the two girls werenít any easier to speak - nor was the grief these truths brought any less real that the grief and despair Severus had screamed at him when he heard of his only daughter having been killed by Binns.
The two girls were now holding each other, crying. One of them would never again see a beloved brother because of him - the other had lost her true love, the one she had once thought she would build a life with. Tired, he wondered idly if they would ever forgive him for this. He sighed.
"Was that the reason, Professor?" He focused his attention back to Ginny who had asked the question. "The reason you waited so long before disarming Binns, I mean. You wanted him to kill first those... copies of us that you constructed?"
Did he look as old as he felt at that moment? If so, then he must have looked older than his friend Nicholas. Another truth that was painful to speak, another confession he didnít want to make. But they had the right to know, and he didn't have any valid reason not to tell them.
When he spoke, his voice was in a quiet monotone and they had to strain to hear it. "Brief copies of your personalities and forms, but nonetheless killed by Binnsí own wand, so that the Priori Incantantem spell would show that he killed you. More importantly, so that heíd himself believe he killed you, when forced to confess under a Truth Potion about this and all his other doings as Death Eater. And so that Voldemort believed Binns had finally killed you.
"The Dark Lord had... plans for Simon; I knew he wanted him alive. I had thought it would be... relatively safe for me to wait until Binns placed himself in a position that he could no longer wiggle out of. For the safety and well-being of every single student at Hogwarts.
"It may have been one of the greatest mistakes in my life."
He lowered his head and closed his eyes. He opened them again when he felt the girlsí hands touching his own. What he saw then was something he didnít expect at all: Understanding. And something that perhaps approximated forgiveness.
"I think, Professor," said Jamie with a trembling voice, "that weíve all made enough mistakes to last us a lifetime."
And he saw the knowledge of it in them as well, burning through their tears: If Ginny hadnít thought herself pregnant, leading an enraged Ron to seek out Harry... if Jamie hadnít been so easily tricked by Simon and had managed instead to stop him from leaving the lair. If Dumbledore had perceived earlier Lilyís intentions - if he hadnít taken such a dangerous risk with Binns as he had.
If Harry had never taken up Voldemort's offer.
He smiled sadly at them both. "You know now, all too well, that mistakes can never be fully undone." They nodded, blinking back more tears.
He put his hands on their shoulders.
"But, perhaps, it is finally time some of them may begin to heal."
* * *
Part Three: Truth
"Other world? There is no other world; here or nowhere is the whole fact."
--Ralph Waldo Emerson
Draco lay motionless on the bunk. The last few days he had grown steadily weaker as he was writing in the diary, and now... He had tried to stand, then to simply reach out a hand, to speak, to do anything - he found he couldnít.
He stopped trying after that. He knew it was done. All his strength was Tom Riddleís now, and the rest was up to Harry..
-- You are Harry --
-- my wand, all right--
-- waited so long --
Voices, somewhere, outside. Tom Riddle was speaking. Voldemort. Draco had once been too afraid of him to even think his name, let alone speak it... And then his hatred had overcome his fear - "Your monster killed Jamie!" heíd rage at him, if he only had the strength. It took him all his self-control to hide that hatred when he was writing.
And now, in such a delightful twist of cosmic irony, heíd given his life to him.
Within his mind, Draco smiled. There were more precious things to lose, and heíd lost them all already. His life was the least of his concerns. He didnít want life.
Thatís why he did it, of course. To die. No, even better! To have never been. In death heíd still have to carry all the pain and grief and guilt. All the knowledge of how he had put Ginnyís hair into the basilisk egg and started the whole long thread of events that ended up with both Ginny and Jamie -Jamie!- dead...
Non-existence, thatís what Harry had promised him. Not a pitiful ghost to keep company with Myrtle in the girlsí bathroom, but another Draco, somewhere, who would live on, but itíd be a different person with a different life and no memory of all the horrible things his namesake had done, and...
Do it, Harry! Erase this hellish world!
-- don't remember, do you --
-- travel back in time --
-- Shall we? --
"Tempus Bonae Voluntatis!"
The world lurched around him, and Draco breathed sharply, as his link with Tom was suddenly broken and he slid into oblivion.
* * *
She looked up to Dumbledore. "They came here?"
He nodded gravely. "The spell would take Harry back into time, but couldnít take him to a different location. He had to be here, to... undo what he did." He looked kindly at her.
Jamie felt like crying again - Harry had given her life, and she hadnít even known it all these years. Harry himself hadnít known all these years. And now he was gone forever, into the ultimate hiding place, a different universe, where heíd be probably be just a tiny bit safer, but where he would also never know she was alive...Where he would believe that she had never even existed anymore.
Another brother, lost to her forever.
Dumbledore laid a comforting arm on her shoulder as she sniffed back a sob.
"He has gone to a better place. I know youíll miss him, and he will always remember you, but Harryís better off there than here."
"How do you even know he made it?" She put just a tiny bit more anger into that question than she had intended. It was all a mad gamble, wasnít it, after all? Alternate universes, time-travel... And if Dumbledore was willing to lie to Harry, then why couldnít he be lying to her, just to make her feel better?
Perhaps she did intend the anger after all.
"The ghosts know and told me. Ask your father when we return to Hogwarts." Jamie turned sharply towards him. Dumbledore looked back at her steadily. "I know you hate the idea of ever seeing his ghost again. But I spoke with him, and he isnít planning to stay in this world much longer. A chance to speak with you one last time is the only thing heís waiting for now, before he moves on to the next great adventure. Speak to him, for both your sakes."
Jamie, her eyes tearing up again, slowly nodded.
"And-" She cleared her throat. "And Draco?" She was expecting the worst. Dumbledore had, for weeks now, seemed especially worried whenever the discussion turned to Draco.
But he just pulled out an odd-looking spheroid contraption, vaguely reminiscent of a compass, but with several hands pointing into different directions or simply whirling madly around. "Heís here," he simply said and started walking faster.
Just inside a copse of trees they found the tent that Dumbledore had given the boys - Draco was lying inside on the bottom bunk, looking deathly pale. In the sight of him, Jamie felt she was going pale herself. "Is he--"
Dumbledore had leaned over Draco to examine him closely, the gadget whirling madly in his hand. "He is very weak. Near death, in fact. If Tom Riddle had been destroyed in the here and now, then most of the power he had taken from Draco would have been immediately returned. But now that Riddle went into the past with Harry - I fear that Dracoís magical abilities might never regain their full power."
He smiled kindly at her look. "But heíll live, Iím quite sure of that. Donít worry now, if he doesnít immediately recognize either of us. Thereís often some memory loss in such cases - but, if I know anything about anything, he will remember it all quite quickly."
He pulled out his wand, and touched the unconscious boy lightly on the chest.
* * *
Draco had known nothing from the moment he had fallen unconscious up to the moment a voice called him back to life. Ennervate - Let there be light!
His first conscious thought, as he breathed in sharply again, against his wishes, was to rage at the idea of having any conscious thought at all. Non-existence, damn it! Not death, and certainly not life.
His second thought was despair. Harry must have failed, he understood, and he would have wept -- it was all for nothing! -- but he didnít have the strength for tears. All that remained for him was to wait for his own, quite unmourned, demise and what little comfort that would bring him.
Or had he perhaps died already? It was indeed a possibility. He could still barely feel anything. Perhaps there was nothing more to the afterlife, unless you became a ghost, and he clearly hadnít yet. He tried to open his eyes...
And he felt someone hold him up into a sitting position. He slowly blinked, and within the haze of his unfocused sight he thought he could see an old manís face - he had a white beard and kindly eyes. Do I know him from somewhere? He couldnít remember.
"You'll be fine, my boy."
Was this God? It was quite difficult for a Malfoy to believe in God or any of the silly notions that Muggles and Muggle-lovers had - little things like altruism, compassion, kindness, or the simple belief in right and wrong... To believe in anything for that matter other than the desire for Power. And certainly not in love.
Funny, really, how many of these beliefs he had managed to embrace himself in such a short time. Oughtnít be too much of a problem accepting a God with such a cliché appearance. Or such an ugly nose.
And then another face swam into view, and Draco suddenly knew that he was indeed dead and he had gone to paradise, for this was certainly an angelís face he was seeing, the most beloved and beautiful face he had ever seen. And she was smiling at him, and she was crying at the same time with tears that he could see were tears of joy, and---
--and he suddenly remembered the angel's name.
"Jamie," he whispered.
She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him.