Chapter 40 : Certainty
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"What about Harry?" she asked immediately. She clasped his hand.
Harry was surprised by the quick flash of something he couldn't place—anger? frustration?—that appeared briefly in the older wizard's normally calm eyes. He dismissed it when the Minister responded in a calm voice.
"I need to speak with him alone."
"But—" Hermione turned to Harry, a question in her eyes. He nodded. He would end up telling her everything later, anyway. Wordlessly, she squeezed his hand and walked to the winding staircase. She shot a worried glance over her shoulder just as the Minister waved the door closed behind her.
Dumbledore took a seat across from Harry and stared at him over the tops of his spectacles, his long gaze at once searching and intimidating, and again, holding something Harry couldn’t quite place. "I sometimes wonder," he began, "if any of us truly understands our place in this world."
Harry leaned back in his chair. That was the last thing he'd expected the Minister to say. He'd thought he'd be hearing something about discoveries made from his memories or his recovery at the hospital. The way Dumbledore had begun, Harry didn't understand what was so important Hermione couldn't hear it as well. He knew better than to say as much.
"I've spent a great deal of time thinking about the stories you've told me of your past, the memories you've given me, and the current situation you find yourself in," Dumbledore said. "I confess, I have had very little sleep the past couple of weeks. In all the years I have spent gathering information on Voldemort, I kept two things in mind," he said. "The first, that he wished to discover a way to make himself immortal. The second, that there would be one person who could stop him." Dumbledore raised his eyes to look at Harry. "You have changed both those assessments for me."
The older wizard shuffled around in his seat, his eyes not quite meeting Harry's again. "In the past you experienced, there was a great deal I did not tell you when you attended Hogwarts. I can only assume that was for your protection. As you were in danger several times, I believe it's fair to say I failed in that respect." The light blue eyes lowered to the table. "For that, I am sorry."
Harry watched as the Minister fidgeted. His obvious anxiety was uncharacteristic to say the least. Whatever else he had to say, Harry was sure it was the worst kind of news, in spite of the vague preamble. He still had very little idea where Dumbledore was going with this talk. With Voldemort involved somehow, he wasn't entirely sure he wanted to find out.
"You can't blame yourself for something another version of you did," Harry said. He certainly didn't want to assign blame for the actions that led to Snape sending someone after him weeks before. There was no way the other Harry could've known what would happen. Just as there was no way he could've known leaving that letter behind would've led to everything that had taken place. The good and the bad.
"No, but the intent is the same," Dumbledore said. "I had pledged myself to protect your life just as I pledged to protect Neville Longbottom in this life."
"But why?" Harry asked. "If Voldemort was more or less destroyed by attacking either of us as a baby, why the need for protection? He hasn't really done anything here so far. Now that you know who his supporters are, you can prevent them from helping him come back," Harry suggested. "You could even go back in time and—" Harry stopped speaking as the Minister's eyes narrowed at his suggestion.
"There is a reason why a simple solution will not work in this situation." The Minister steepled his hands in front of his chest and leaned back into his chair. "Years ago, well before you were born, a prophecy was made concerning Voldemort."
"The prophecy I heard at the Department of Mysteries?"
Dumbledore nodded. "You only heard a small portion of it, I believe. The whole of it is this: The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches. Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies. And the Dark Lord will mark him as equal, but he shall have power the Dark Lord knows not." At this, the Minister sighed, his eyebrows knitted together. "And either must die at the hand of the other, for neither can live while the other survives," he finished in a soft voice.
Harry sat for a few moments, letting the full weight of the prophecy sink into his mind. "So, he's going to kill me?" The words were surprisingly easy to say. He'd considered the possibility before, but had never thought anyone would say it to him directly.
"Or you or Neville will have to destroy him," Dumbledore responded. "Your time travel has made this situation more complicated than it already was. In this life, Neville has the potential to destroy Voldemort. I do not know if your connection to him weakens or strengthens Neville's chances."
"Wait," Harry began. He lifted a hand from the table as it began to shake unsteadily and pulled it into his lap. "I could've made it impossible for Neville to win?"
"I cannot say that for certain," Dumbledore responded. "But there are many things we cannot explain. For instance, why the Time-Turner took you to the night before your parents would be murdered. Whether you were truly meant to find a cure to Professor Snape's curse or if fate would simply not allow you to die at someone else's hands."
Harry stared at the Minister for a long moment, mentally going over everything that had happened the past several days. "None of this has been in my control?"
"I cannot say," Dumbledore responded. "I came here to give you an explanation I should've given you at least by the end of your fourth year at Hogwarts. Voldemort believed then he had found a way to circumvent the protection your mother's blood gives you, and it did allow for him to connect with you in ways that he could not before. There is so much unknown here and I cannot predict what will happen to either you or Neville if you have to confront Voldemort."
"But he can't come back," Harry interrupted. "Everything I've given you should see to that."
Dumbledore nodded. "I wish I could tell you that what you've done will make all that you've been through before a distant memory, but fate does not work that way. You were born into a world where your ultimate purpose would be to take down Voldemort or die in the attempt. It sounds harsh," he said, reaching across the table to touch Harry's hand, "but there is no way to make this easier for you. The absolute truth is what you need to face this future. As far as I can tell, you are still destined to confront him in some capacity before he is ultimately gone. He may not be coming back now, but he has many supporters, unknown even through your memories.
"It is unfortunate to say, but the only way this can truly end for you is if Voldemort comes back to a human form and you are able to kill him. Because of the prophecy, he will never stop attempting to kill Neville. If he were to ever learn of your connection to him, you would become a target as well."
"But why?" Harry asked. He pulled his hand from beneath Dumbledore's and squeezed it into a tight fist. "I don't understand why he has to come after either of us. If he never attempts to kill Neville, I'm sure Neville will never try to kill him. He's not going to go after someone he has no possibility of beating. Neither will I."
"Neither of you will have a choice in that matter," Dumbledore said. "The prophecy only gave one of you the potential to kill him." He raised a hand to point at Harry's scar. "Voldemort himself gave you the means."
"So, my attack—?"
"He had found out about the prophecy through one of his followers and attempted to kill you before you could grow strong enough to hurt him. In the attempt, he inadvertently gave you the means with which you could destroy him, transferring some of his own powers. If I'm not mistaken, both of you still retain those powers. You also have protection provided by your parents' sacrifice. He also gave you the motivation to kill him rather than merely defend yourself if there were ever a confrontation."
"Because he killed my parents," Harry supplied. "And Neville's."
Dumbledore nodded. "Voldemort did not hear the entire prophecy when he chose to attack you, though it strikes me as funny that his reaction was the same in your past and mine. If he had known attacking you would allow either of you to hurt him, he might have had someone else do it or left you alone altogether. At the time, the prophecy only predicted one possible version of the future. By initiating an attack, by marking you as his equal, he ensured that it will be fulfilled at some point."
"But it doesn't have to be," Harry said. "What if Neville and I do nothing? What if we don't go after him or he never comes back?"
"That is not an option," Dumbledore said. "Fate has decided what will happen to you, both of you, where Voldemort is concerned. It is still a bit muddled, but it is clear from recent events that your life is still very much tied to Voldemort. Even if you do not go after him, he will try to kill Neville, and possibly you as well. I have no doubt he has heard something of your attack the other day and may grow suspicious. If Professor Snape has told him anything of your scar, it may only be a matter of time."
All at once, Harry regretted his repeated wishes that the former Headmaster be honest with him about everything he could be facing. Visions of nearly dying at Voldemort's hands in the graveyard months before flashed through his mind and he had to take a deep breath and lower his head to the table, resigning himself to the idea that he might never escape what was waiting for him. A certain death at the hands of someone he couldn't possibly kill.
Slowly, Harry raised his head and cleared his throat. "What can we tell Neville?"
"Nothing as of right now," Dumbledore said. "There is no immediate danger for him and there may not be for some time. I would like to wait until Professors Snape and Lestrange are in Azkaban before telling Neville all he needs to know."
"If you're hoping to not scare him," Harry began. "It won't matter when you do it. This would scare anyone."
"I am hoping to assure him that there is plenty of time to prepare himself for this, possibly many years of his life."
Harry caught the older wizard's gaze. "Do you really believe that? That this will drag on for many years?"
Dumbledore held Harry's stare for a few seconds before lowering his eyes and coughing softly into one fist. "I wanted to address your actions towards your stepfather."
"Don't refer to that man as anything with the word 'father' attached to it," Harry said immediately.
"You may think it's the best form of revenge," Dumbledore continued as if Harry hadn't spoken, "but killing him will not bring your own father back."
"And what will?" Harry asked.
"Nothing can bring back the dead, Harry." Dumbledore pulled his lips back into a small, unhappy smile. "Getting your revenge by poisoning or cursing him—"
"What makes you think I might do that?"
"You are not as difficult to read as you might believe," Dumbledore responded. "I have no intention of punishing you for what you did with the Time-Turner or any of the questionable actions you have taken since, but a blatant act of premeditated murder cannot go ignored, Harry. This is your only warning. Think about how your mother will feel—"
"I would think she'd be grateful I killed the man who took my father away from her!" Harry stood from the table and walked across the office, turning his back on Dumbledore as he continued speaking.
"She loves him and knows nothing of what he's done yet. It will be devastating enough for Lily when she finds out the truth about the man she married. My concern is that she not find out her son is capable of murder in the next moment."
Harry turned to face Dumbledore, his eyes narrowed. "Won't she have to learn that at some point if I am to survive whatever Voldemort has in store for me? Unless you intend for me to just let him kill me."
Dumbledore briefly looked startled by the accusation but straightened his face as he addressed the angry teenager. "If there is a way, I would like to prevent you from having to make that choice at all."
"That doesn't make any sense!" Several of the portraits began chattering as Harry's voice rang throughout the room. "You just told me I can't escape whatever fate is waiting for me and now you're saying you're going to try to find a way." Harry threw up his hands and turned away. "It doesn't matter what I've done to my past," he said. "You still talk in riddles without offering a real solution," he said bitterly.
"I have my own solution," Harry said, turning back. He held up a hand to ward off interruption. "It's not murder, if that's what you want to call it. Snape is smart. If he or any other Death Eaters find a way to come after my family, I'm going to defend them any way I have to. I don't care about consequences. All I care about is keeping everyone safe. If you want to throw me in Azkaban for that, fine, I'll take it."
"What I want," Dumbledore said softly, "is for you to walk away from this with a real chance at life. The one you left was full of things a child should not have had to deal with and the one you've taken over is taking a turn in that direction. At your age, you shouldn't have to—"
"I am not a child anymore," Harry interrupted. "I've been through things a lot of adults couldn't handle and I'm fine."
Silently, Harry sat across from the Minister again, his thoughts racing. Was he fine? Had he ever been fine? Did he even know what that felt like? "I can deal with everything," Harry said finally. "I can take care of my mother, my sister and myself and if I have to, I can survive Voldemort again."
"You may not have to," Dumbledore said again.
"Why do you keep saying that?" Harry shook his head. "Giving someone false hope is just as bad as—"
"It's not false hope," Dumbledore began, "but a chance at undoing some of the events that happened as a result of your time travel. After consulting with someone in the Department of Mysteries, I have found out it is possible to…retrace your steps."
"Go back in time again?"
"More," he said. "It is possible for me to send you back in time to the night you left your parents the note and change that moment, then send you back to the night in the Department of Mysteries. Obviously, you would have to return to another room so you wouldn't land directly in the middle of a battle. Effectively, it would be as if you had never left. You could resume the life you were living, knowing more now about Voldemort and his followers and the prophecy than you did before."
"But Voldemort is gathering strength there." Harry shook his head. "He's got at least a dozen people helping him, not to mention a body. He—I—my chances of fighting him aren't any stronger there than they are here, now."
"Oh, but they are," Dumbledore said. "Voldemort believes your blood gives him your mother's protection, but I believe it only gives him a weakness where you are concerned. That, in addition to the connection between your wands and the difficulty he has had in harming you before leads me to believe he has more vulnerability in relation to you than even he may suspect."
"Maybe. Possibly," Harry said. "It's possible he could be vulnerable to me if he and I were to get into a life or death battle, as long as I keep a good grip on my wand and hope my mother's protection can outlast a wizard at least ten times stronger than me. You realize that sounds like a death sentence? Why would I want to go back to that? At least here I'd have Neville to help me fight."
"In spite of the stark nature of the situation, your chances of beating Voldemort could be about the same in any instance, possibly less so here. As I said before, I do not know how his connection with Neville and yourself affects either of your chances in a fight with him. In the past you left, at least there is a certainty about what will happen."
My death is the certainty, Harry thought.
"What about the prophecy?" Harry asked. "There's a label on it, right? Shouldn't it indicate whichever of us is ultimately going to fight him? I mean, that should tell us right now if Neville and I can defeat him together. I don't want to have to go back there to fight him. I don't want to have to lose…everything I've found here." Though his mother and sister were the first people to inspire that last thought, he couldn’t shake away the knowledge that he had no wish to lose what he was beginning to find with Hermione, especially knowing he would never have it if he returned to the life he left—not without hurting his best friend in the process.
"As far as I know, only Neville's name is still connected to the prophecy, but I will check if it will help you come to a decision."
"Do I have to make a decision?" Harry asked. His eyes drifted down to the table. "What if I want to see how things work out here for a while and then…change my mind later?"
"What if you'd like to give this life a trial run?" the Minister asked. "Harry, I don't want to put any more pressure on you, but you don’t really have the option of living two lives, returning one if it doesn't work out in a way you'd like. You'll know soon enough if this life is right for you or if you should return to the one from which you came. After your—after Professor Snape has been prosecuted and attempts are made to find Voldemort, I expect to hear from you if you wish to go back. Any time after that and you'll just have to live with your choices.
"It would be highly unusual if everyone were given a chance to go back and alter their past. You are being given just this one chance. I suggest you think it over carefully and make your decision wisely. Whatever you choose to do, whether to stay here and share Neville's fate or go back and face your own alone, the fight will be the same."
Without another word, Dumbledore rose from his chair and left the Headmistress's office, leaving Harry with his jumbled, warring thoughts.
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