Joe's Note: The original version of this story had something like eight to nine thousand words per chapter, often spanning two or three significantly different plot points. Sometimes four or five, even. In working on the revised version, I've opted to cut the chapters down to 'only' four or five thousand words per chapter, some a little bit less, some a little bit more. I want to keep your attention focused on a singular point at any given time, rather than letting my ideas sprawl all over the place and wind back and forth. It'll also allow me to pump out chapters faster, both when it comes to the rewritten segments and the new content that will follow.
Dedications & Thanks: To Alexander, Nicholas, William, Koby, Wil, Thomas, Tracy, Christopher, Mitch, and Jess for sponsoring me on Pattreon, and making it easier for me to spend more of my time writing.
June 21, 2006
The Family Cemetery
Fowey, Cornwall, England, United Kingdom
When Harry woke up the next morning, he was exhausted. And not 'had a tough time sleeping' exhausted or 'Voldemort was sending him dreams of torturing muggles' exhausted. It was a bone deep weariness that had him utterly confused; he hadn't done anything worthy of that kind of achiness at all lately, much less in the last day or so. Then he looked around and noticed something was different.
Belay that… everything was different.
The grave he'd been lying on was gone, as were the sunflowers he'd laid around it for Luna, and even the single hortensia that he'd created while talking about Su. Looking around wildly, Harry realized that not only was her grave gone, so was Remus's. And both his parents'. "If this is some kind of sick joke, I'm going to kill the person responsible in a way so painful, Voldemort would have watched on in awe!" That made him aware of another change: for some reason, his voice sounded raspy and disused, his throat aching with every word that he spoke. Slowly, he looked down at his body and realized that his voice wasn't the only thing that had seemingly atrophied from disuse. "What the bloody hell?"
After taking a few minutes to calm down and examine his body more closely, Harry had come to the conclusion that… he had no idea what the hell was going on. For some unknown reason, his body was almost sickly thin and just standing upright was causing every last one of his joints to ache and throb. While he hadn't really come into his own and filled out until near the end of the war, he didn't remember ever being quite so scrawny. Hell, even the Dursleys years of mistreatment bordering on abuse hadn't left him looking so downright unhealthy.
A flick of his wrist had… nothing jumping to his hand. His wands were gone. Scowling, Harry waved his hand and focused hard, binding his magic to his will and wandlessly transfiguring his oversized uniform into a pair of trousers and a shirt appropriately sized for his newly slender body. He was off Hogwarts grounds at the moment, he reasoned; if he ran into anyone else, he didn't want to explain why he wasn't currently at the school he was dressed for. Thankfully despite his sickly appearance, his magic seemed as strong as ever. So while he would be inconvenienced between now and when he found either of his wands, he wasn't helpless.
Then again, that was assuming that this wasn't some sort of bizarre dream or magically-induced out of body experience and that he wasn't still asleep in the real graveyard at Potter Manor with both wands safely in his possession. Given that he had no reason to believe that it was either of those situations, though, Harry decided for the time being to assume that it was real and start trying to figure out the answer to several important questions. Namely where he was, why he was there, and how he'd ended up stuffed into an incredibly frail and sickly body in the first place. And since it was probably the easiest to figure out, Harry opted to start with the question of where he was.
As best he could tell, he was still on the grounds of Potter Manor… or at least the building that had served as Potter Manor in his universe. In the family graveyard, even. It was just far emptier than it ought to be, with only the headstones of his paternal grandparents and great-grandparents. Which… meant that chances were this was still Potter Manor, Harry realized with a soft groan of exasperation. Passing through the barrier of trees that separated the cemetery from the world at large, Harry came to an abrupt halt as he stared at the house itself. It was… alive. There were hangings in the windows, smoke curling from the chimney, a few patio chairs sitting around a table just beyond the back door, and… a redheaded missile heading for him at top speed?
It wasn't until she slammed into him, knocking him over onto his back on the grass, that he got a good look at her and that just left Harry even more confused. Whoever she was, her eyes were gold-dominant hazel instead of chocolate brown like Ginny's, although their almond shape reminded Harry of his own. Her hair was also too dark a red to be Ginny's, reminding Harry almost of pictures he'd seen of his mother. Who… also had almond-shaped green eyes like him. But it was what came out of her mouth that really floored him. "Harry! I… shouldn't have knocked you over, huh? Are you okay? Wait, forget that. You'll live. But like, are you okay okay? You scared the crap out of us, waking up and just wandering off like that. Mum's been going absolutely spare all morning trying to figure out what happened to you."
Harry's jaw dropped in shock before anger set in. What the hell was she trying to pull? His 'mum' had been dead for sixteen years now, and… wait a second. Taking a deep breath, Harry pushed aside his feelings and did his best to channel the 'inner Ravenclaw' Luna had always claimed he possessed. While his emaciated body could be attributed to a curse, potion, or human transfiguration, some other things about his current situation were harder to explain. The diminished graveyard, for one, or the aura of habitation that surrounded this version of Potter Manor. And if this was some dreamscape constructed by his mind… why not just a world where his parents were still alive? Why would he go through the hassle of creating a younger sibling for himself, someone to compete with him for their parents' attention and affection?
Suddenly, Harry's thoughts from the night before came back to him, specifically his wish upon that shooting star for a world that made sense again, and perhaps a second chance at love again someday. What if, through some sort of brute force application of magic and willpower, he'd forced himself diagonally across time and space, stuffing his essence into the body of another Harry Potter who just so happened to have a better family situation? The shade of Voldemort in Quirrell, the diary, the various trials and tribulations of the inevitable second war… they were all things he was familiar with and capable of handling, unlike the constant celebrations after his victory and the praise heaped upon him for it. It seemed too fantastical to believe, but what better explanation did he have?
Continuing to natter away, the redhead hopped off Harry and yanked him to his feet before punching him hard on the arm. "Mum's been really worried and she's had everyone out looking for you. Well, except for me and Rose. We were in charge of holding down the fort here at the house in case you came back. Which doesn't really make sense, because they didn't leave us with a way to get ahold of them if you did. And I don't know why nobody thought to check like, all of the grounds. Thoroughly. But Uncle Remus, Uncle Sirius, and Dad have been apparating up and down half of Cornwall all morning. Dad took off from work and you know what that means…"
Actually Harry didn't, but unfortunately he couldn't think of a way to ask for an explanation without revealing that something was seriously wrong with the person this girl believed to be her brother. "Right. Shouldn't we get back to the house so you can… well, you have a good point about not being able to tell them that I'm back. But let's go back anyways, yeah?" The girl nodded before curling her fingers around his wrist and pulling hard, making him stumble as he followed her toward the back of the manor. While Harry still wasn't quite sure what to make of the situation, her words did lend a bit of credence to his idea of being in an alternate universe. If this was a dream, why on Earth had his subconscious created not one but two sisters for himself - or at least he assumed Rose was a sister given the flower name and not a friend of this girl - who he had to share the attention of his parents, Sirius, and Remus with?
"Harry!" Another body slammed into Harry's, this one bigger and pulling him into a tight hug instead of bowling him over like his sister had. Pushing up onto his toes, Harry peered over the new arrival's shoulder and watched his supposed sister mouth the words 'never mind' before an identical girl came strolling out of the back of the house, elbowing her twin in the ribs. The aforementioned Rose, Harry was guessing. Which meant the woman hugging him could only be… "Harry?"
Nodding, Harry pulled back and studied the woman in front of him intently. It was indeed his long dead mother, albeit a version older than any he'd seen in pictures. Which made sense, if this was some bizarre universe where they'd survived that fateful Halloween. While his body looked weaker than the one he'd left behind, it didn't seem to be terribly younger, which would put this woman at almost a decade and a half older than the version from his universe had been at the time of her death. "Hey, err, Mum. It's me. I'm okay. Really."
There was a crack behind him and the shocks kept coming as Harry whirled around to face the newcomer. An older version of his father was standing there, an irritated expression on his face. Raising his wand to his temple, he sent two separate patronus messengers racing off into the woods before returning his attention to Harry… or rather Lily. "I'm going to head in. Maybe they'll let me log a half shift or a full shift running from noon till eight. I'd appreciate you remembering to keep a plate of dinner for me this time. And when we get home, we're going to have another long discussion about committing him to St. Mungo's where he belongs." Giving Harry one last dirty look, James turned away and disappeared into thin air with a crack of apparition.
Harry just stared blankly at the empty space for a long minute before shaking his head. That was his father in this universe? Wow. What… what a wanker. Not quite up there with Lucius Malfoy or anything, but hardly the Father of the Year material he'd - perhaps irrationally - expected of him. It sealed the alternate universe hypothesis for him, though. After all, if this was a dream, why wasn't his father a nicer, more caring person? A few seconds later there was another crack off to their left and Harry tensed again out of instinct, but again resisted the urge to do something stupid. A good thing, he realized a second later, because wandlessly cursing his godfather would have caused him no end of problems. "Hey! James told me you found the squirt!" A very much alive, young, and healthy Sirius reached forward to ruffle his hair. "Lemme guess, he went in to work as soon as he found out?" Sighing, Lily nodded and Sirius rolled his eyes. "Wanker. He may be the brother I… well, the brother Regulus should have been… but he's still a wanker sometimes. All right, want me to go grab Olivia and come back for lunch? Keep you, Remus, and the kids company?"
Waving toward the house, Lily dismissed the twins and Harry instinctively found himself following after them, a bit curious to see what the manor actually looked like on the inside, especially a version of his family's home that was actively being lived in. As he departed, his mother's voice drifted to him. "Might as well. Olivia and Remus are the only adult conversation I get apart from when You-Know-Who visits."
"Ouch. I'll have you know I can be perfectly adult when I feel like it."
"Which is when?"
"Well, never. And does You-Know-Who actually count as adult conversation? You two are never talking for long…"
"I hardly ever am, but just out of curiosity… shouldn't you be keeping an eye on Harry? Especially after this morning?"
"He's clearly more awake and put together than the healers expected if he's wandering the grounds. For now? I'm going to see how much of my son is left. I'm not going to smother him, no matter what James expects of me."
Following the twins into what he believed had been labeled the 'great room' on the plans of the manor that the goblins had shown him once, Harry tried to process what he'd just overheard. His mother… was having an affair? That's what it sounded like, at any rate. Not with Sirius or Remus, evidently, but with someone the former knew. And his father's best friend knew it was going on but evidently wasn't sharing that information with his father. Wait. Stop. These weren't the same people he'd known - or wished he'd known - back in his home universe. Hell, for all he knew, maybe it wasn't adultery. Maybe polyandry was the norm here and he'd yet to meet his mother's other husband, who Sirius didn't like or who was an Unspeakable, hence the nickname. And they were just very amorous and so they didn't spend much of their free time talking. Not bloody likely, but it was a reminder that Harry needed to keep his preconceptions stifled and his mind open.
The other tidbit of information that he walked away with from his little bout of eavesdropping was that his body's poor condition was recent and possibly worse than Harry knew. Him getting out onto the grounds was unexpected? So had he been bedridden… or something worse? Merlin, had he inhabited a braindead body? It would explain a lot: why his family was so surprised to see him up and around, why he felt so weak and sickly, why he would end up in this universe out of however many others there were in existence…
Putting that out of his mind for the moment, Harry pressed on with his exploration of the manor. While being the savior of magical Britain had opened a great many doors for him, one set that had remained firmly locked were those of his family manor. Stupid inheritance laws. He'd seen a few photos and the bank's set of the floor plans, but this was the first time he'd ever set foot in the building. With his sisters having bolted the second they'd entered the house, he was now without guides and without much of a clue. But if he remembered correctly… passing through the great room and gallery into the foyer, Harry turned left and found himself staring at what could only be his father's study. Entering it, he quickly found a self-updating family tree similar to the one Sirius's family owned and began looking for familiar names. It didn't take long to track down his own name and those of his sisters: Jasmine and Rose Potter. And by process of elimination, that made his tackler Jasmine. Harry snorted. Evidently his mother had imposed her family's naming traditions on the next generation of Potter women. Thank God he was her eldest son and not her eldest daughter. He'd discovered a journal of hers in his original timeline… the woman had been considering naming him Dahlia if he'd been a girl.
Harry shuddered. Oh yes, that would have been an easy name to inspire fear with. Dahlia Potter, Slayer of Death Eaters, Destroyer of Voldemort. Somehow, it lacked the same oomph as Harry Potter.
Pausing, Harry eyed the dates under the three names. His birthday was still on July 31st, with Jasmine on June 6th of the following year and Rose on June 7th. He double-checked the dates, his math, and then blinked. In just shy of eleven months, his mother had given birth to him and then gotten pregnant with and delivered his twin sisters. They were Irish triplets. Sweet Merlin, didn't these people know what a Contraceptive Charm was for?
Quiet laughter and conversation drifted Harry's way and he frowned before identifying the voices: Remus Lupin and his mother. Not being familiar enough with the house to know how sound traveled and echoed, he decided to retreat upstairs before he could be tied down by the inevitable conversation about this morning's events. Reentering the foyer, he hung a left and ascended the spiral staircase to the first floor of the house.
Now the question became… who lived where? Based on his - admittedly iffy - memories of the floor plans, there were at least four full suites on the first floor and they were all relatively close in terms of square meterage. Two of the suites were located directly off the loft that he'd ended up in, and so he decided to try them first. Or rather, he got close enough to find that one door had 'Jasmine' painted on it in looping, Gryffindor red script outlined with a thin stroke of gold while the other was similarly marked 'Rose'. That answered that question. Moving on, he did his best not to get distracted by the large games room or the library he could see beyond it, instead focusing on the first of the two remaining suites. And sure enough, Harry found his name emblazoned on the door in slightly thicker but still curving Slytherin green letters.
With an avenue of retreat finally established, Harry gave in to his curiosity and wandered over to the library. Again, Harry knew it was irrational given he didn't know these versions of familiar faces or even what the room looked like in his own world, but he'd expected something… grander. The chairs looked comfortable and the table appeared to be a well loved heirloom at which many Potters had studied over the decades, perhaps even centuries… but the book selection honestly didn't look altogether too impressive. Especially since not only was his family old and supposedly well connected, but many people had called his mother the brightest witch of her age. Why weren't there more-
A soft pop interrupted Harry's train of thought, and he watched as a house elf consulted a list it held in one hand before vanishing a few books sitting on the table and replacing them with a few new ones before disappearing with a second pop. Oh. Merlin, he was thinking like a Malfoy, wasn't he? Why would they need a library that was huge and showed off every single book they owned? That was just ostentatious. Now that Harry thought about it, this was much more in line with what people had told him about his ancestors: big enough for a group of people to work in comfortably. House elves could easily take care of something as trivial as not having the right book on hand.
As he continued to look around curiously, Harry's attention was drawn to a door frame off to his left that led down a short hallway before terminating in a closed door. The fourth suite on the floor, and the only one unaccounted for. Sirius obviously didn't live here. Remus, maybe? Although if Remus lived at the manor, wouldn't it make more sense to put him upstairs in the - considerably larger - nanny suite? Making his way over to the mystery door, Harry noted the lack of name on the door, knocked twice, and then twisted the knob and peeked his head into the room.
It was… girly. More subtly so than if it had been shades of pink for as far as the eye could see, but still distinctly feminine. Harry doubted any wizard save perhaps Gilderoy Lockhart owned a vanity, and there were an awful lot of pillows scattered about the head of the bed. And true, a guy could enjoy having a silver vase full of magically preserved flowers on the bedside table but… probably not. Opening the walk-in closet, Harry found himself staring at a mixture of black, green, and silver dresses that looked to be the right size for someone either younger than his sisters or at least smaller than them. And off to one side, a series of shelves that held folded jeans and quidditch-related t-shirts. Kinda like what he was wearing right now. And far too large to belong to the same person as the dresses.
Curiouser and curiouser.
And even curiouser, when Harry discovered that there was a door on the left wall of the room that opened up into a second walk-in closet. Like the mystery suite's first walk-in, this one was also home to a mixture of male and female clothing, albeit split in the opposite direction: roughly two-thirds shelving and one-third hanging space for dresses. Directly in front of him was a second door that… opened into what Harry was pretty sure was his own room? Standing in the middle of the closet, he found himself looking back and forth between the two bedrooms in confusion. One was distinctly masculine, the other distinctly feminine. And his clothes were in both rooms' closets, along with a girl's clothes.