When a tale as epic and richly realized as Harry Potter comes along, it’s hard not to see the real world through the lens of its author. Conversely, it’s also hard not to wonder what kind of reality that big, beautiful fictional universe would morph into if you changed a few significant things. Well wonder no more. Here are
Ouch, that’s a bit harsh. I mean he’s not Ron after all. But Harry always seemed more interested in catching the snitch than doing his homework. Even his favorite subject, Defense Against the Dark Arts, is really just an excuse to do the magical equivalent of getting physical. Gotta love those wizard duels! Without Hermione’s big brain, he might have been the Boy-Who-Lived-to-Flunk-Out-of-Hogwarts!
In The Methods of Rationality by Eliezer Yudkowsky (pen name Less Wrong), however, we find a Harry Potter raised by his aunt Petunia and her Oxford University physics professor husband. This Harry is an engineer’s dream. You see, Harry was raised to see the world through the lens of rationality, not the sentimentality of emotion, and certainly not the irrationality of magic.
The result is a Harry who lands in Ravenclaw. The interesting thing, however, is that he also has the moral grounding of the worst elements of Slytherin. This Harry is not only a ferociously intellectual thinker, but also something of a Machiavellian con artist. Why not? In this Harry’s world, life is a zero-sum game and the power the Dark Lord knows not is certainly not love. If you can’t intellectually keep up with the Boy-Who-Lived, you are fair game.
Admittedly, the prose speeds along quite efficiently – with laugh out loud moments of snark. But it too often goes off on tangents to expound on some mathematical or philosophical exercise. Reviews indicate that readers break down into those who celebrate the tale’s intellectual snark and those who recoil from its sort of Ayn Rand ethos. In any case, this fic is wildly popular with nearly 35,000 reviews on Fanfiction.net and its own dedicated website. So, clearly, there’s a large swath of the Harry Potter fandom yearning for a more logical explanation of the magical world.
To Make An End by JackieJLH has already landed on our list of Harry Potter fanfictions that should be novels. Its streamlined prose, sharply defined characters – who, with the exception of one important change, stay realistically in character – and smartly developed plot all add up to a story that stands the test of time in terms of quality.
What it also does, however, is turn the canon Harry Potter universe on its head by giving us a Harry who actually has something to live for. So why in the world would he want to die for the wizarding world by fighting a madman? Although we’re given a happier life for Harry, the story raises some disturbing questions about the canon universe. Did Dumbledore deliberately leave Harry in the hands of abusers so that when the time came, he’d be willing to, possibly, throw his life away?
In this story, an actually loving Petunia, who raises Harry and her own son Dudley as practically brothers, is not about to let that happen. And wonder of wonders, she’s backed up by none other than Severus Snape. Unable to manage Harry’s magic, Petunia has had to rely on Snape, whom Dumbledore tasked with sending Harry to her in the first place, to keep Harry’s magic under control. The resulting partnership evolves into a firm alliance between the two as well as a formidable influence on Harry.
Thanks to Snape’s influence, Harry lands in Slytherin as Draco Malfoy’s best friend. But this is still a Snape who’s committed to protecting Harry, albeit on friendlier terms. So, he’s no more prepared than Petunia to hand Harry over to Dumbledore as a pig for slaughter. The result is a tale that leaves the reader suspended between hope for Harry and horror at how Harry’s happy life could lead to the downfall of the wizarding world.
In the Harry Potter series, JK Rowling never quite makes it clear how Merope Gaunt dying after giving birth to Tom Riddle somehow turns Riddle into a homicidal psychopath wizard. She in fact blames Merope’s use of the love potion Amortentia to make Riddle’s father believe he loved her as the source of Tom’s deadly persona. After all, using a chemical to induce someone to love and marry you could actually constitute a sexual assault in the modern world. So, if the origin of Riddle’s pathology is murky in canon, can you imagine how much more complicated it gets when Merope lives?
If for No One Else, Live for Me by Wolf_of_Lilacs takes that one very bold step further. In this tale, Lily Potter’s sacrifice of her life for her child earns her a very special reward. She can choose to go back in time to try to avert Voldemort’s attack. Lily doesn’t want to kill a juvenile Voldemort, however. She wants to save his mother in the hopes that having his mother raise him will keep Voldemort from losing his humanity as Tom Riddle and going on a murderous rampage.
She lands back in 1926 on the same day, Halloween. Back then she encounters a pregnant Merope has yet to give birth to Tom Riddle. In this tale, Lily – hell bent on changing the future – offers Merope the friendly support she needs to survive her pregnancy.
Unfortunately, Merope is more than just grateful. Once again, the Amortentia comes into play and the two women become lovers. Yep. The author went there – which takes guts. While femme-slash has its devoted fan base, pairings featuring the iconic Lily Evans Potter are bit hard to come by.
That story leaves it up to the reader to decide whether the future has been redeemed.
Abilities and Choices by Powderpuff, however, is an intelligent one-shot that is much more definitive in its conclusions. Not only does Merope live, she lives with Aberforth Dumbledore with whom she raises Tom. She still used the love potion on Tom Riddle Sr. She still wound up pregnant and abandoned. But this Merope had the good sense to go to Hogsmeade instead of wizard London and land on the doorstep of the Hogs Head, Aberforth’s place of business.
Although the story is low-key without flashy events, its power lies in a truly plausible reality as Tom and Merope are ensconced in a safe and stable family unit thanks to Aberforth, with assistance from his big brother Albus. It underlines how easy it can be to push a character back from the abyss with just a few significant changes.
As a result, Tom makes it his mission to help bring purebloods and Muggleborns together. He skips the horcruxes, joins the Department of Mysteries, and later attends his classmate Eileen Prince’s wedding. He eschews pureblood supremacy and guides his godson Severus Snape into calmer waters. Neither Harry nor Neville become orphans.
True you won’t get the epic narrative that the canon version gave us. But you also won’t get the massive loss of (thankfully only fictional) life. When the outcome is that peaceful and purposeful, you can’t help but think the trade-off would be worth it.
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