"Misters Potter," McGonagall said, drawing their attention with a crisp, "I'll have your attention, or else, voice.
Though Harry heard her, he couldn't tear his eyes away from the sight in front of him.
Ron, Hermione and himself!
"We are not doing this in the hallway," she said, striding over to Harry, taking a hold of his arm.
It was as though his mind was trying to swim through a pool filled with the metallic element osmium. Things were trying to penetrate the surface but it was the densest material in the universe and nothing was getting through.
"For Merlin's sake," McGonagall said, pinching the bridge of her nose. "Go back through the portrait. You can meet Mr Potter after he's understood what is going on and has a chance to collect himself.
The younger trio were just as frozen as Harry was. "Bloody hell," Ron said, his eyes as wide as Harry had ever seen them.
"Language," Hermione said absently, her keen brown eyes darting between the elder and younger Harry's.
The elder Harry had no idea what to think of this.
Were these apparitions conjured by his mind? Was he dead or dreaming?
"Wh- wh-" he tried to formulate a question but where did he even begin?
"I said, back through the portrait," McGonagall said, her wand out in front of her. "Now."
The final word did it. The three shot the elder Harry a quick look before scampering off, though the fourteen year old Harry stopped to stare before Hermione said something and pulled him away.
"To my office, Mr Potter," she said, trying to get his attention.
Harry was staring at the portrait hole but his mind was a mess, trying to puzzle this out. But the more he thought about it, the less it made sense.
Standing there,' he realised he was breathing heavily and all he could hear was his own pulse.
He turned to look at the two Professors but all he saw was a calming charm coming at him.
All at once, his world slowed down. The vast change unmoored him and he put his hand on the wall, leaning into it.
"Remain calm," McGonagall said, coming over to him. "We'll go to my office and I'll explain everything."
Nodding dumbly, Harry started stumbling his way there.
"Perhaps I can assist?" Albus said brightly.
"No," McGonagall said. "You've done enough. Go back to your office and stay there until I come back."
However the headmaster responded, Harry missed it as he was walking away, his hand still using the wall for support.
"I'm sorry about this," Professor McGonagall said, a tired look of resignation on her face. "Albus," she paused for a second, "Albus wasn't–"
Halting, she brought her hand to her forehead and shut her eyes for a moment. "The headmaster is an accomplished and powerful wizard but it has been some years since he was," she gestured with her hands in the air, almost juggling as they moved back and forth, "all there."
With a quirk of his head, Harry questioned that. "In what way? He seemed to not have issues answering my questions."
"He wouldn't," Minerva said quickly. "But did you…" she slowed her speech,"notice anything…odd… about his behaviour?"
It was incredibly difficult to think clearly right now. He'd just met a younger doppelganger of himself, his friends, and the whole Gryffindor House. It had taken him a moment, but he had realised it was more likely that he was back in time than dead.
Which made no sense whatsoever.
The only state of being that made any sort of sense was death.
Dumbledore was dead and had greeted him in between. Why wouldn't he be there the next time things got weird?
"He, erm, was quite…" he struggled to find the right word for it. "Snacky?"
McGonagall graced him with a half smile. "Yes, he generally is now."
"He's always enjoyed the odd candy," Harry said. "The gargoyle passwords were always related to sweets."
"They are," the professor agreed. "Are you familiar with what he was eating?"
Shaking his head, Harry verbally indicated such.
"What about his demeanour, did it seem different from the man you knew?"
Harry sat back and scratched the side of his head. "He seemed… odd? Relaxed, carefree, or detached?"
"Very good, Mister Potter." She leaned forward. "His confrontation with Grindelwald took a heavy toll on his psyche. Then, the war against Voldemort pushed him too far."
She was about to continue when a house-elf popped in with a pot and two tea cups.
"Thank you, Mipsy," McGonagall said before the elf bowed and popped away. "Tea?"
Harry nodded and scooted forward in his seat. He reached out and held his cup while she filled it. "Thanks," he murmured.
"Now," McGonagall said, picking up her cup and saucer, "let me get back to it. Do you know about his sister?"
"Yes," Harry said. "Ariana, right?"
She dipped her chin. "Since then, he has abhorred violence. Fighting his wayward childhood friend, Gellert, left a deep scar. Then rise of the You-Know-Who," she shuddered. "Dark times for us all, and Albus had to take up his wand once more."
Bringing the tea up to her lips, she inhaled deeply. The smell seemed to permeate through her and Harry could see her shoulders lower, relax.
"The betrayal of Pettigrew, the death of your parents and the fate of the Longbottoms pushed him to the breaking point." she said, her voice faint, far off. She took another sip of tea before continuing on. "But it was the torture and horrific death of his schoolmate Elphias Doge. He stopped sleeping. He jumped at shadows. Any sudden movement would set him off."
"He was worse than Mad-Eye?" he asked in wonder, having a hard time picturing the towering magical giant benign so deeply affected.
"Unless he's on the candies Flamel and his brother make for him," she said, lowering her tea cup as she pursed her lips. "He's, to borrow a muggle turn of phrase, stoned all day, every day. He was quietly retired from politics and now he's our Headmaster in name only."
Harry nodded. What was he supposed to say to all this?
"His reputation is still sterling and we can protect him here," she said. "Generally, he stays in his office and we give him some doddles to keep him occupied."
"And nobody notices?"
"No," she said before taking a sip of tea. "He's Albus Dumbledore, the eccentric, slightly barmy, disgrace to fashion that he always was."
"Okay," he said. There was no point trying to figure out this mad Hogwarts when there were still so many other things he needed answers to. "But I still don't understand what's going on with me?"
McGonagall drew up in her chair after letting out a long, slow exhale. "Our senior staff conducted a joint examination with the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and with the Department of Mysteries. And as far as we can tell, the Goblet of Fire was tampered with."
Barely resisting the urge to roll his eyes, Harry gripped his saucer tighter.
"We brought the tournament back at the request of the Ministry but put in safe guards," she said. McGonagall brought her hand to her forehead and took a second to collect herself. Professor Flitwick enchanted it to only permit the selection of students who were 17 years of age."
"Not an age line?" Harry blurted out.
Her lips became a thin line. "No." She tilted her head, ever so slightly, and then added, "That would have been better, in retrospect."
"But that doesn't make sense of how I'm here," Harry hastily said. If he'd learned anything at Hogwarts, it was that dwelling on the mistakes of the faculty to protect students from dangerous situations would be like trying to tell Hagrid that Fluffy wasn't a pet."
"Yes, well," she began to reply, with a stiff voice. "A further qualification was placed upon it: Harry Potter must be selected."
All at once, it clicked together.
Space. Time. 17. Harry Potter.
"I- I'm not dead?" Harry said. A torrent of emotions warred up within him. Disbelief and resignation. Hope and despair. The urge to cry and to destroy anything and everything around him.
His teacup crashed to the floor, but Harry didn't notice. He couldn't hear, his vision was blurred and his thoughts were so jumped the next one started before he could even consider the one prior.
"Breathe, Harry, breathe," McGonagall said, suddenly beside him. Her hand was on his arm, and her wand was out.
Instincts urged him to get defensive, to pull his wand, and get away but a sudden calmness overtook him.
"There," McGonagall said, soothingly. "Don't worry about the mess. Just sit there. Relax. Take it all in."
Not dead. Just gone.
Pulled through space and time.
"You can send me back after, right?" When no immediate assurance came, Harry could taste salt on his lips. "Please."
"The g- goblet," McGonagall said, choking up "It's inert. Melted. It destroyed itself bringing you here."
"No," he said, tears streaking down his face. "No. Please. I- I- I have to go back! Please!"
He was tugging on her robes as she stood beside him, comforting him. Even with a Calming Draught, he was shaking. Sobs wracked his whole body.
What more could fate put him through?
"If the Unspeakables come up with anything," her words hung out there as she held him. "We even let Albus take a look. He figured it out right away but..."
With Harry looking up at her, pleading with his stare, the words died in her throat. She just shook her head. "I'm sorry," she said. "I'm sorry."
"Coming," Harry said, briskly making his way to the door. "Coming."
In all of the recent kerfuffle, Harry hadn't asked if he could let people in through the portrait without giving it permission to do so, right in front of it.
Arriving, he opened the portrait hole to find…himself. Well, a smaller version.
"Erm, hey," Harry said, rubbing the back of his head. "Did you… want to come in?"
He felt like an idiot. McGonagall had suggested the two of them spend a little time together, before Harry went and did the inevitable.
"Yeah," the younger Harry replied.
Turning, Harry led the way into what was his new home for the year. Though it had only been a couple days, it felt quite comfortable. Unlike this whole bungled up situation.
"So you're really… me?" the younger one said from behind him.
Waiting until they sat across from each other, he shrugged. "I don't really know," he said, running his hand through his hair. "Did you grow up at the Dursleys?" Seeing the dip of his counterpart's chin, he pressed on. "Cupboard under–"
"Under the stairs," the younger of the two finished.
That was a topic he never wanted to discuss but somehow talking to himself, and not just within his head or in front of a mirror, made it easier. Freeing.
"Cooking and Petunia with the frying pan?"
The fourteen year old rubbed the spot on his head where they'd been hit. "What about the glass at the zoo?" he said, a grin sliding onto his face.
"I always half wished I could go back and talk to that snake," Harry the elder said. "Send him to Brazil, just for scaring Dudley."
The younger one chuckled. "Me too."
The two's eyes connected and Harry couldn't help but feel that this was all so surreal.
"Hagrid's cake on the island?"
"That was a brilliant day," the younger one said, grinning from ear to ear. "He bought you Hedwig too?"
"H- hedwig," the name hit him like a sledgehammer to the gut. He tried to say that she'd died when they were trying to escape from Voldemort and his Death Eaters but, like every time he tried to explain about anything to do with Voldemort, his mouth stayed shut and he stared off, as if he was lost in thought.
"He didn't?" Harry asked, aghast. His eyebrows knit together in concentration for a moment. "Or did you name her something else?"
Harry quickly shook his head. "I got her," he said, shaking off his melancholy. "I lost her a year ago."
"Oh," the fourth year Harry said. His face scrunched up in concentration for a moment before he looked utterly crestfallen. "She's, she's not gonna d- die soon is she?"
Looking like he was going to burst into tears, Harry gently placed a hand on his shoulder. "That won't happen," he said, feeling a steely resolve build up within him.
And wasn't that just the kicker? He had the opportunity to change things. To make a difference. Years to stop what happened to him.
No slanderous summer. No Umbridge, no Department of Mysteries, no anything, if he could make an actual difference.
This was crazy. Just looking across from him was a younger him sitting there!
"This is so..." he clasped his hand over his mouth and shook his head.
Honestly, there just weren't adequate words for this.
The two looked away from each other. The younger of them lowered his head towards his lap as Harry let out a long, slow sigh with his head tilted up.
"I thought you were Dad at first," younger Harry said, his words as soft as leaves rustling in the gentle Summer breeze. "From the mirror in first year. You saw it too?"
"Our parents," Harry said. "Yeah. It's not something you can forget." It had haunted his dreams.
It still did.
"Family." the younger said. He was looking up at Harry, his chin lowered and his eyes big, pleading, shining.
"I-" he tilted his head. His mouth was dry. "I guess we are."
A weird, messed-up kind of family. Something that could only really happen to well… them.
"What do I call you," the younger Harry asked. "Brother?"
Considering that for a moment, Harry shrugged. "Not Dad, and I can't imagine calling you a cousin."
The younger Harry's nose wrinkled in disgust.
"Twin would be weird too."
Harry frowned as he stood. "Brothers. But not twins."
The younger Harry had a wide smile on his face. "Awesome."
"Though," Harry said, tapping his chin," I'm not sure we should both be called Harry."
"Oh," the younger Harry said. "I was talking with Ron and Hermione about it and she'd already gone over a whole bunch of options."
With a soft laugh, Harry smiled fondly. "That sounds like her," he said.
His breath stilled as he once more realised that this wasn't his Hermione. This was one 3 years younger that had never officially met him before.
"Using our middle name would be the easiest but we all thought it would be too weird," he said, biting his bottom lip. "We thought of some other ones but the only one we could all agree on would be Evan."
"After Mum," Harry said.
It made sense. James would be far too weird. Everyone always said how much they looked like him. Can't be named the same too. If he was going to have a new name, selecting one that honoured his mother worked for him.
"Evan," he tested it out. "Evan Potter."
It wasn't his name, but if he was starting a new life in a new world, a new name wouldn't be so bad. "Evan Potter," he said again. It really wasn't too bad.
"I- I'd use it."
Harry the elder shot that down immediately. "No," he said. "I'm the interloper here. I'll be Evan and compete in the tournament."
Face Voldemort too, not that he could say that.
The whole prospect of where his whole life was suddenly headed wasn't ideal in many ways, but there were silver linings.
"Is Snuffles around?" Evan couldn't help but ask. Keeping him alive was something that was going to happen.
"Yes," Harry said. "You saved him with the time turner too, right?" After seeing Harry's affirmation, he continued. "Prongs saved us. McGonagall convinced him to leave the country and lay low for now. There are people working on getting him free."
Evan hadn't considered all the differences before. "Did you meet Fluffy and everything else behind it?"
"McGonagall was furious, but Dumbledore said not to worry about You-Know-Who. He didn't have a body, and these things had a way of working out."
Evan's jaw lowered but he didn't say anything. He rubbed his nose but didn't know what to make of that. "Did you save Ginny second year?"
Harry rolled up his sleeve and showed his scar off.
"What happened with the diary?" Evan couldn't help but ask.
If Voldemort was a wraith in 1st year, his soul must be tethered with a horcrux. The diary would be the proof.
"It's in the Chamber?" Harry said, his eyebrows knit together.
With Dumbledore indisposed of his mental faculties, nobody was preparing for Voldemort's return. Nobody was going to stand against him.
Evan sighed and dropped his head into his hand. "Brilliant," he said. "Just bloody brilliant."
"If you need it, you can go back down there and borrow my broom to fly back up?"
That was workable. "You'd let me borrow your broom like that?"
He remembered being this age. The Firebolt was amongst his most prized possessions.
"You should keep it," Harry said.
"No!" Evan protested, his hand held out in front of him, psalm out. "I couldn't."
"You're family," Harry said, crossing his arms. "You can and you will."
He set his bottom lip and dared him to disagree with blazing eyes.
"Fine," Evan said. The kid had a point. He would do it for himself. "I'll use your broom, but I'm not keeping it. You'll need it for quidditch next year."
Frowning, Harry blinked and stared at him. "Why not? S'not like I can ride two brooms."
Gaping like a fish, Evan played his words back over in his head. "T- two? Two Firebolts?"
"Yeah," Harry said, as if that was in any way normal. "Sirius saw I didn't use it in the game after he bought it so he bought another one and had the store owl that he had one ready for me to pick-up whenever I was free to drop by."
"You didn't use it?"
Harry shook his head. "I wanted to," he said. "Badly. But Hermione convinced me to get it checked. Caused a right row between her and Ron."
Evan couldn't help but grin and laugh. It brought back memories of his fourth year. "I'll bet."
"But it's not like I could fault her," Harry said, a matching grin on his face, "when it was actually sent by the escaped convict she was worried about."
The two of them chuckled, and the conversation descended into a comfortable silence.
The quiet was broken when Harry's stomach rumbled. "Did- did you want to join us for lunch?" he asked, his eyes firmly fixed on his feet. "You can sit with Ron, Hermione and me," he added.
The bottom of Evan's stomach dropped. "Tomorrow?" Evan half asked and half promised.
He couldn't hole up in his quarters until the First Task.
"I'd like to see Hedwig and go fly first."
Harry's green eyes pierced through him. "I get it," he said slowly. "There's nothing like a good fly."
Evan didn't think he'd failed to think of Hedwig. Only he would understand just what the owl meant to them.
"I'll go grab it," he said, getting up. "The broom. Then I'll go eat. Did you want to meet with Ron and Hermione? Or the twins or anyone else?"
Breathing in, he held his breath for a second before exhaling. "Not tonight,' he said. "Just a fly. I'll come to breakfast and face everyone."
With their conversation ended, Harry slipped out of the room to get Evan his new broom.
It had been strange, but it was also good. He didn't know what it was like to have a little sibling, but just the thought of it buoyed his emotional turmoil. It would take time, but perhaps this wouldn't be too bad.
AN: Thanks to Taliesin19, Petrificus Somewhatus & Nauze for the beta help. Always appreciated.