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The Second String

Chapter Text

2 August, 1995

A towering, hooded figure was gliding smoothly towards him, hovering over the ground, no feet or face visible beneath its robes, sucking on the night as it came.

Stumbling backwards, Harry raised his wand.

"Expecto patronum!"

A silvery wisp of vapor shot from the tip of the wand and the Dementor slowed, but the spell hadn't worked properly; tripping over his own feet, Harry retreated further as the Dementor bore down upon him, panic fogging his brain—concentrate—

A pair of grey, slimy, scabbed hands slid from inside the Dementor's robes, reaching for him. A rushing noise filled Harry's ears.

"Expecto patronum!"

His voice sounded dim and distant. Another wisp of silver smoke, feebler than the last, drifted from the wand—he couldn't do it any more, he couldn't work the spell.

He tried, he did, but that familiar warm glow whispered away into the frigid air and guttered out with a faint sigh. Scraps of past happiness and imagined moments of joy alike escaped him. As he drifted into nothingness, his mind idly noticed that the Dementor's iron grasp, which had speared an ice burn into his neck, had loosened. It knew the fight in Harry had died.

Harry didn't notice when the Dementor lowered its hood and grasped his cheek with its other hand. He didn't notice as it opened its mouth and pressed it against his own frozen lips. The Dementor drew in a deep rattling breath, and an old thought from what seemed a lifetime ago echoed through Harry's hollowed mind, this isn't so bad, his twelve year old self reminded him.

Harry teetered on the edge of non-existence, beyond any horror or regret. At most he was dispassionately aware of the curiosity that was being but almost not being. He faintly registered a wrenching tug—was that his soul being taken? The terror he would expect at such a thought was absent.

Suddenly a voice sounded in the nothing. Though no louder than falling snow, it cut across the emptiness, so shocking in the endless silence that the words seemed to tattoo themselves in the not-air.

A soul for a soul, little wizard.

Whatever Harry was (do I have a body?) swayed.

A crackle of emotion infused the void. Is that regret?, the boy wondered.

The voice seemed to sigh. We are monsters no more than what we are made to be, little wizard. The price is fixed. A soul for a soul.

Harry nodded dumbly. That seemed fair enough.

Without warning the nothing exploded with the roar of long-held breath finally being exhaled. His body felt battered  by frost and fire, and a white-steaming mist that resurrected his will. Water, air, earth, which had all faded into the void, shattered themselves into being. Aware again of his bruised flesh and aching bones, Harry spiraled into the darkness of unconsciousness with only a faint thought.

I can see the stars.

xoxoxox

He first noticed how uncomfortably hot and sticky he was. As Harry opened his eyes, the blazing summer sun seemed to awaken his body, which loudly complained of a small army of aches and pains.

Shite, I spent the whole night outside. The Dursleys are going to kill me for missing their breakfast.

Getting to his feet was no fun, but there was nothing for it. It was amazing that none of the meddling neighbors had kicked him awake yet. Eyes squinting against the glaring midday sun, he turned to make his way back to Number Four.

What the hell?

He was on Privet Drive, he was sure of it, but all the houses after Number Two were just, well, not there. In fact, Number Two was missing a roof, and the absent brick on the sides revealed the loud logo printed on the drywall. Wisteria Walk was there, but it too was missing some houses, and all the trees in the neighborhood looked scraggly and too short. Number Four and its surroundings were nothing but field covered in burnt grasses, a far cry from their typical pristine green.

Wait. I got kissed by a Dementor. Kissed! What did it do to me?

"Oi! You, runt! What the 'ell are doing here?!"

Harry jumped at the booming voice. He looked up to see a group of men at Number Two glaring in his direction. The large, deeply-tanned man at their fore yelled again. "Dammit, boy, this is a closed site! We don' want no hooligans here!"

"What? You mean, are you building houses here?" This makes no sense.

"Well what the ruddy 'ell does it look like? 'A course we're building houses! This 'ere's set to be a 'uge new neighborhood in the next few years. Now why are you 'ere?"

Ignoring the stutter of his heart, Harry bit out, "Oh, I, er, I got lost. I'll just—go, I guess."

The man grunted and turned back to his companions as Harry numbly made his way to a main road. The whirling of his mind was threatening to make him sick up.

More buildings and houses were missing, but he recognized the skeleton of the Little Whinging he knew. As he passed the local pharmacy, he bent down to pick up a discarded Daily Mirror.

"Record-Breaking Summer Scorcher Continues! Will It Ever End?", the headline screamed at him. It's been hot, but 'record-breaking' is a stretch, he snorted. Harry was no stranger to journalistic hyperbole. He made to throw the paper down, but his eyes snagged on the date.

Monday, 3 August 1976.

He burbled out a delirious giggle. 1976. 1976. A moment later and Harry was bent over howling with laughter, tears streaming down his face. 1976. A woman walking past him glared and ushered her children to the other side of the lane.  The alarmed pharmacist yanked open his door and shooed Harry, still doubling over, from his storefront. 1976. Harry made his way to the alley behind the shops and flopped down on the cracked bricks and mud, gasping for breath and fighting to calm himself.

  1. His mind boggled.

So I was kissed by a Dementor and then I time travelled.

. . .

This summer sucks.

. . .

Do all people kissed by Dementors end up in 1976? Is this some sort of Dementor victim hub?

. . .

I was kissed by a Dementor. How, how am I even alive?

. . .

Harry would never clearly remember how long he spent in that sun-burnt alley pondering if he had gone insane, if he was in some kiss-inspired dream, if he were in Hell, if his soul was lost in an illusion as his body lay on Privet Drive, an empty husk. Eventually, and with great difficulty, he wrangled his mind into the semblance of rationality and arrived at a handful of working theories.

If I'm insane, nothing I do matters, so I might as well do something.

If I'm dreaming, I'll either wake up or I won't, so I might as well do something until then.

I'm probably not dead and in Hell, since 1) I don't think I deserve that, and 2) This would be a pretty  tame Hell. My hell would have more cupboards, Snape, Dursleys, and Voldemort.

Even if I've been kissed and this is an illusion, I might as well do something before my body dies.

So.

Time travel.

Holy buggering shite, time travel.

The fragile rationality he had cobbled together to get to this point promptly degenerated. At some point Harry realized he’d been sitting on his arse, hands over his eyes, shaking his head frantically for quite some time. This did nothing to bolster his opinion of his own sanity. He needed—he needed—he needed—

I need a grownup.

He brought himself up short. Adults—at least useful ones—were, alas, in short supply. 1976! My mum and dad are alive! They can help! They

His heart sank. They're kids now. Harry shoved the burgeoning hope that he could meet his parents—save his parents?—away. He would think about all that later. He certainly had enough to deal with as it was.

The problem was the same with Sirius and Professor Lupin.

Professor McGonagall sprang to mind, but while she was a good and decent woman, she'd never believed him much when she knew who he was. He couldn't envision her believing him now. Besides, the best she'd do is toddle him off to—

Dumbledore. Yes, of course, Dumbledore!

At once Harry wanted to rush off and divulge the whole ordeal to his headmaster. To lay his past, the Dementors, the kiss, the time travel in Dumbledore's lap and sit back with a biscuit to munch as the great wizard soothed his worries and made arrangements. The Headmaster would smile at him, his bright eyes twinkling merrily behind his spectacles, as Harry described his escapade, just he had done before.

But Dumbledore doesn't know me here. Who's to say he would even believe me?

Harry's stomach suddenly became a churning pit.

Awful things happen to wizards who meddle with time, Harry, Hermione's voice echoed.

Panic thrummed under his skin. After they rescued Sirius in third year, Hermione had told him all about time travel in the wizarding world (though he only listened with half an ear as he played Exploding Snap with Ron). Travel with time turners was highly regulated and misuse was punishable by time in Azkaban. Her eyes had grown soft and bored into his own when she explained that time turners couldn't go back more than twenty-four hours, and though wizards at the Ministry allegedly experimented with attempting to cultivate other forms of time travel, it was thus far impossible. 

I know what you're thinking Harry, she had said, but there's just no way you could go back and save your parents. I'm sorry, but even if you could, the effects could be disastrous and you could end up in a cell for the rest of your life, or erase yourself as yourself from existence or—At that point the cards had blown up, and Harry cursed himself for being more interested in a game than Hermione's typically long-winded, but now terribly pertinent, lecture.

Dumbledore was probably already the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot. If Harry went to him, who was to say that the Headmaster wouldn't decide—or even be obliged—to turn him in to the Ministry even if he did believe him? Harry had traveled nineteen years, something both apparently impossible and probably really illegal. This Dumbledore didn't care about Harry like his Dumbledore did. Would he be put in Azkaban? End up imprisoned by Ministry researchers? What this meant he had no idea, but he'd heard the Dursleys watching Dr. Who and alien movies through the slats in his cupboard often enough to know that this probably would entail never seeing the light of day again. While he didn't have Hermione's intimate knowledge of the intricacies of, well, anything, Harry felt that the Ministry learning he was from the future would qualify as a very bad thing.

Dumbledore was too great a gamble. At least for now.

I seriously need a mom or a dad for this.

A ray of hope shot through him. He did know one other set of grownups who might be able to help him, at least a little. True, Molly Weasley would probably fuss and be more of an impediment, though she might be able to take care of his grumbling stomach. Mr. Weasley, on the other hand, had been the only adult to trust him enough to tell him anything of Sirius when he had first escaped two years ago. Besides, Bill probably wasn't even old enough to be at Hogwarts yet. Maybe they wouldn't know Dumbledore well enough to send Harry to him.

Harry knew no one else, had no place to stay, and only a few Muggle pounds and wizarding coins in his pocket. Beyond that, he had but the clothes on his back and his wand.

I have to do something.

And the Weasleys probably aren’t the stupidest something I can do.

Drawing in a deep breath, he rounded the corner back onto the main street. With his shoulders squared and his body tensed for the unknown, he stuck out his wand. Hopefully the Knight Bus was around in 1976.

xoxoxox

Harry's knees were shaking as he took his first tentative steps down the lane where the Knight Bus had deposited him. His hands were shoved into his pockets, one gripping his wand, the other his new violently-purple toothbrush. The Knight Bus conductor, a younger Ernie Prang, had gaped and nearly fallen over when Harry paid the few extra coins for the latter. Harry wondered if anyone had ever actually purchased the Knight Bus toothbrush before. Honestly, what kind of person would buy a toothbrush from public transportation?

Well, a time traveler would.

He'd had the bus drop him off a bit more than mile away from the Burrow, and now found himself charging ahead into an encounter with his future best friend's parents.

It's okay, he repeated to himself. They're good people. I have my wand.

And a toothbrush. Nothing can stop me now! 

He walked down the lane slowly, carefully constructing a lie that might seem believable. It wasn't as if he could barge into the Burrow claiming to be a time-traveling family friend right from the off.

All too soon the Weasley's house came into view. It looked much as he remembered it, though the top two floors hadn't yet been added on and the front garden was dotted with a mess of children’s toys. The golden light of candles in the windows made the Burrow seem like a fairy-tale cottage glowing against the backdrop of the slowly setting sun.

The tableau was broken by an angry growl sounding behind him. Harry didn't even have time to think to draw his wand before he was set upon by…a very small dog. The snarling terrier lunged for his ankles, causing Harry to lose his footing in surprise and tumble to the ground. With what could only be the canine equivalent of a smirk, the little dog planted himself on Harry's chest in triumph.

"Ronald! Ronald! Stop it! Oh, you bad boy, get off that young man!" the unmistakable voice of Molly Weasley scolded.

"Aw right! Go Ron! You got him!" came the delighted cry of a child. "Who's a good doggy, boy?"

The terrier preened.

Harry gawped. His mind was getting rather tired of all the boggling he'd subjected it to today. Ron was named after the family dog? Oh, I bet he really hates that. It was no wonder Harry had never known. Ron probably owed Fred and George a hefty debt for keeping that little fact quiet.

There was an exasperated sigh. "Oh, goodness, Ronald, yes, congratulations on capturing the intruder dear, but please let the poor boy up now."

With a cheerful yip, Ron the terrier trotted off towards the house. Harry tried not to stare as he dusted himself off and faced a much younger and very pregnant Mrs. Weasley, who smiled at him even as she held him at wand-point. Beside her stood a young boy, maybe five or six—Bill? Charlie, maybe?— who was also pointing a stick at Harry. The child assumed what he must have considered a forbidding look, though its effect was undermined by the small branches of leaves still sticking out from his ‘wand.’ Ron the terrier pawed at them.

"Hello there, dear. Forgive little Ron. He's always been a very faithful protector of his family. Poor boy's nearly in his twenties now but still gives it his all, has been since my Arthur was a schoolboy," she confided before straightening her arm and looking at him more sharply. "Now, please excuse my frankness, but these are troubled times we live in, aren't they." It wasn't a question. "Who are you and why did you come to my home?"

One deep breath later and Harry was plunging into the story he had concocted. "I'm really sorry to disturb you, ma'am. I was at home doing chores outside and my big brother pranked me. He just learned to Apparate and passed his test, you see. Anyway, he grabbed me and Apparated me to some field, and then he just left me there! I found my way to that lane, and came here because it didn't look like a Muggle house." He sheepishly lowered his eyes. "Again, I'm really sorry, but I don't even know where I am…"

Molly clucked sympathetically. "Oh, that sounds like something my Arthur and his brothers would have done. Though teenagers doing side-along!" She tsked and lowered her wand. "Well, why don't you come in dear, and we'll get you sorted out."

She ushered him inside, the boy and dog right at her heels.

Harry couldn’t help but jump when Molly lumbered behind him and unceremoniously began dusting the dirt and grime off his back and—he gulped a bit—his backside. "Goodness, child, you look a fright! How long ago did your brother maroon you?"

"Er—I dunno what time it is now." He glanced at the side wall and was surprised by the absence of the Weasley family clock. "But it was before lunchtime. I've been wandering around for awhile now."

"Dear Merlin! That was hours ago! No surprise you're looking so peaky. Hold on for a moment and I'll set you up with a nice dinner."

Harry grinned. He really was hungry. The Dursleys, as per usual, had fed him only enough to keep Ron the dog healthy that summer. He felt a twinge of guilt that he created his lie with an eye to manipulating Mrs. Weasley into offering dinner, but couldn't regret the end result as he watched her spoon a generous portion of beef stew into a large bowl.

"Now," Mrs. Weasley said, as she placed the heaping bowl in front of him, "what's your Floo address? I'll call your mother straight away and let her know you're all right."

Alarm bells rang in Harry's head. He had apparently not thought his cunning plan all the way through. Shite! Think of something! Rallying, he smiled at the her. "Oh, my mum and dad aren't home today, ma'am. Otherwise my brother would never have dared such a stunt."

Shaking her head, Mrs. Weasley readied a smaller bowl for the Weasley boy, who had plonked himself next to Harry and was peering at him in undisguised interest. Ron had overcome his initial aversion and had plastered himself to Harry's other leg, large brown eyes gazing at him hopefully. "Ronald, off with you, don't bother the boy for scraps!"

Ron responded by inching impossibly closer.

Molly sighed in defeat. "Dear, what did you say your name was?"

Shite. Shite. Shite. 

"I, uh, didn't ma'am. Sorry about that. I'm—" He was saved from floundering for a name by the entrance of a twenty-something Mr. Weasley, who at this age looked quite like the twins.

"Evening Weasleys!"

The boy chirped a hello and Molly kissed Arthur's cheek. Mr. Weasley turned and looked at Harry with a cocked eyebrow. "Well now, when I left this morning Charlie was quite a bit shorter and had rather redder hair!"

Mrs. Weasley smiled. "Oh, Arthur, our guest got a bit lost earlier today." The smile faltered into a concerned frown. "Wait…Actually, where is Charlie? I haven't seen him..."

"Probably still setting fires in Dad's shed," the boy—who had to be Bill—offered casually.

Arthur was off in a flash. Molly quickly wiped her hands on the apron that covered her heavy belly. “Thank goodness you’re going to be the last one,” she muttered quietly. “I can't handle two, how in the world am I going to manage three?"

Harry bit back a smile. Poor Molly had no idea.

The kitchen was suddenly silent but for Ron the dog's whimpering attempts to inspire Harry's charity.

"Why would your brother be lighting fires?"

Little Bill grinned. "I told him that baby dragons would only come an’ live with us if the shed was super hot." The boy pulled a rankled face. "Didn't 'spect him to actually be able to light fires. I'm almost six and don't know how. An' he's only three!"

Oh poor Mrs. Weasley.

"Were they very big fires?"

"Nah, they were little ones, I think." Bill looked rather mollified by this.

They continued eating in a companionable silence. As he looked around the familiar yet unfamiliar Burrow, Harry felt an oppressive weight settle over him.

The Weasleys were good people, a young family with their own lives and their own problems. How could he just drop the mess that was his life into their laps? Percy hasn't even been born yet! With a start he realized that more was at stake than just him disrupting the domestic bliss of the Burrow. Much more. Just by his very presence, he could change the future. He knew that the Weasleys all survived the first war, healthy, happy, and intact.

Then a truly chilling thought occurred to him.

What if I do something that leads to Ron or the twins or Ginny not even being born? I could destroy their entire existence completely by accident!

There was nothing for it. He simply couldn't interact with the Weasleys any more than he already had.

I have to leave. Leave now and not come back.

The Weasleys had been good friends to him, and now the kindest thing he could do in return was to not be their friend, to be nothing but a passing visitor, soon to be forgotten in the chaos of a newborn Percy.

Yes, Molly and Arthur could be the adults Harry needed, but they deserved better than for him to ask them to be.

Bill, he noticed, was regarding him with the wide-eyed seriousness only possessed by small children, as if he had cottoned on to Harry's growing discomfort.

Ron whinged again. Harry smiled sadly and began smuggling bits of beef under the table for him.

The little boy giggled.

The Weasley parents soon returned with a chubby little three-year-old Charlie. The boy looked most put out, whether it was because he was in trouble or because no dragon hatchlings had arrived, Harry couldn't be sure.

"Sorry for the interruption dear, would you like some fruit for pudding?" Mrs. Weasley called as she bustled about readying bowls for Charlie and her husband.

Leave now.

"Thank you so much for everything, ma'am, but it's starting to get pretty dark. I really should be going home." He paused. "Er—I hate to impose, but do you mind if I use your Floo?"

Mr. Weasley smiled absently as he began savoring his stew. "Not at all, son. Are you going straight home?"

ShiteWhere am I going to go? Diagon Alley? How will I explain going there? I can't say I live nearby, since I told them I'd been working in our garden…

Hogsmeade.

I'll figure out the next step once I'm there.

"I, well no. I promised my dad I'd pick something up for him in Hogsmeade—we live nearby—and I don't want to disappoint him. Do you mind if I just Floo to the Three Broomsticks?" Please buy this, please buy this.

"Of course, dear," Molly assured him. She eyed his clothing critically. "Although I can't let you out in public looking like that, I'd never be able to face your mother! Why there's even rips in the seat of your pants!" Harry turned a bit red at this unexpected revelation and tried to discreetly clasp his hands behind his back. Molly, heedless of his embarrassment, continued. "Well, I'll just shrink some of Arthur's old clothing for you. He hates to admit it, but he's put on just a bit around the middle since the boys were born, so there's plenty lying about that doesn't fit him anymore."

Mr. Weasley made an indignant noise which Molly ignored in favor of bustling out and up the stairs. "Won't be but a moment, dear!"

Harry grinned. The Weasleys had always been unfailingly kind.

xoxoxox

Harry grimaced. This Molly and Arthur were less kind than their future selves. He was fairly certain they had used his need for clothing as an opportunity to get rid of things that neither wanted to remain in Mr. Weasley's possession.

The shrunken bell bottom denims were horrifying on their own, but were made so much worse by the powder blue tee shirt he now reluctantly sported. Emblazoned across the front in puffy orange letters was The Billywigs! Stonehenge 1969, 'Stoned and Henged' Tour. Orange vines writhed lazily all around the torso as florescent pink and purple flowers bloomed, spun, and floated about in a dizzying ballet.

Mr. Weasley had balked when Molly produced the shirt. "Not my Wigs shirt! That was an incredible concert!" Molly had snorted in response that she couldn't believe he even remembered it, what with all the "knotgrass you and Benjy smoked—don't think I don't know about that, Arthur Weasley!"

Bill had innocently asked what knotgrass was and why his dad would make it smoke, bringing an abrupt end to the argument.

Atop Mr. Weasley's beloved eyesore was what had to have been one of Molly's first attempts at knitting. Thick forest green yarn meandered uncertainly into what might look like a proper cardigan only to someone who abused knotgrass. But it was the purple stitching across the left breast which proudly, if shakily, proclaimed the sweater to belong to one "Artie," that really got to Harry. He had protested that he had no need of a sweater given the warm weather, but a slightly wild-eyed Arthur had insisted that he should take it lest he catch an unexpected chill. It was hardly a mystery why Arthur would be chuffed to get rid of the monstrosity.

With a self-conscious tug on the ill-fitting sweater Harry exited the fireplace at the Three Broomsticks, grateful that at least this time he didn't fall arse over kettle. A much younger and even more buxom Rosmerta glanced up from Witch Weekly long enough to widen her eyes at his clothes before shaking her head and returning to the gossip columns. He slipped out quietly.

The sun had set on Hogsmeade. Harry was at a loss, however, about where to go. It had been a short but exhausting day, and the stew he had devoured at the Weasleys' was becoming an uncomfortable lump in his stomach.

Well I have to sleep somewhere.

The inn was definitely not an option. He had only 3 galleons and a few knuts and sickles left, which probably wouldn't be enough for a room, let alone food. His first thought was the Shrieking Shack, but its popularity with tourists guaranteed he wouldn't be able to come and go during the day without being detected. Remus Lupin would likely be back at Hogwarts in less than a month as well, and Harry had no desire to run into the teenage werewolf version of his former professor.

I bet Professor Lupin and Sirius would know all sorts of good hideouts.

He could have smacked himself. Of course Sirius knew where to hide around Hogsmeade! He'd spent all of last year shacked up in a cave on the outskirts of town!

Harry scampered across the hills and through a field or two before arriving at the rocky outcrop where he was relieved to discover the cave still there, looking exactly like the last time Harry had seen it. The interior was empty of all the various species of beasties he had been imagining would be waiting for him in the dark. He idly considered tidying up the cavern floor and setting up house, so to speak, but he had nothing to set up. Not ten minutes after entering the cave Harry had passed into a deep sleep, the unfortunate Weasley sweater experiment balled up into a surprisingly serviceable pillow.

xoxoxox

14 August, 1976

Harry sat on a tree stump deep in the Forbidden Forest and stared at the dead rabbit in his hands.

He was so hungry.

Harry was no stranger to living on the barest of meals, but the past week and a half was enough to almost make him long for the Dursleys' house, where he could at least sneak enough to eat from the top of the rubbish bin when he was desperate.

Hogsmeade provided no such luxury. A few days into his stay at the cave, he had crept into the hamlet late at night, intent on rummaging through the dumpsters at the Three Broomsticks and Madame Puddifoot's. To his great disappointment, he found only a complete lack of any sort of garbage receptacle in the entire village. Apparently, magical trash was dealt with by vanishing or banishing it in some way.

Being homeless in the wizarding world was much more of a challenge than he had expected.

It was during that long first week and a half that he had resolved never to contact Hogwarts or either of his parents. The realization he had at the Weasleys' house that he could so adversely affect the timeline had left him paralyzed, afraid to commit any action all.

(Though in the back of his mind he cherished the hope that he could find some way to prevent his parents' deaths. He knew the when, where, how, and who, so perhaps he could find a way to swoop in at the last moment and stop Voldemort. Granted, this would probably erase him as he was from existence, but his exhausted mind reminded him that he had a good five years to work that little snag out.)

At first Harry had felt heartened by coming to some sort of decision, but that decision also barred the only ways he could think of to get stable food and shelter.

The cave became the landscape of his limbo. He could not—would not—be able to haunt the margins of Hogsmeade for the next nineteen years, patiently waiting to catch up with himself. At the same time, he also didn’t dare become part of the wizarding world, lest he be discovered and shuttled off to Hogwarts. Hermione had told him once that magical children were required to engage in some sort of tuition until they could prove their control over their powers by passing their OWLs. The ministry could not find out that there was an unqualified wizard running about the area.

Three days prior he had finally decided to test and see if he could use magic without being detected. After deftly catching the withered late summer pears that he had summoned from a tree-top, every muscle in his body had tensed in full alert, his eyes wide and waiting to spy a Ministry owl winging its way to him. The owl never came.

Since then, he’d taken to using magic only within the confines of the cave or deep in the forest to avoid unwanted observation, and still cringed at each incantation in fear that this would be the one that the Ministry notices.

Being able to use magic was a godsend, but Harry soon realized that the Hogwarts curriculum was light on survival skills. He thanked the heavens that Hermione had taught him Accio so well, even if all of his attempts to use it to summon fish from a forest pond had thus far resulted in him being pelted with mud rather than fish.

But that morning he had finally conceived of a way of getting fresh meat. He had set himself a perch deep in the Forbidden Forest, and waited until prey happened by. When a rabbit had innocently hopped into the dell, he stunned it and used a magic-sharpened rock to give it a quick death. Easy.

Except now he was cupping the little rabbit’s body gently in his hands, the white fur delicate and soft against his skin. Its eyes were open and glassy.

Harry was so hungry.

But honestly, the whole thing made him sick.

What the hell is wrong with me? It's just a bunny! This is, er, the natural order of the world! Food chain or whatnot. I'll die if I don't eat, so it died and I'll eat. Stop being such a Hufflepuff about a bloody rabbit!

A speck of something blew into one of the creature's sightless eyes. It looked like it should bother the rabbit. But the rabbit was dead.

I'm just freaking out because this is the first time I've killed something I didn't hate and that wasn't trying to kill me.

. . .

Bottom line: I’m talking to myself and cradling a dead rabbit. This is ridiculous.

With a small shudder Harry stood from the stump and placed the rabbit atop it. Crouching low, he used his rock knife to clumsily begin skinning his capture, an undertaking far messier than Harry thought it was supposed to be. After what seemed like hours, his task made all the more difficult because he avoided actually looking at what he was doing when possible, he was left with a lump of bloody flesh and an unsightly, gore-covered rabbit skin.

Although his internal voice chided him for his sentimentality, he couldn't just leave the skin as it was. Instead, he crossed to one of the more picturesque trees and silently dug a small grave for the skin.

What the bloody fuck is that?!his mind choked out as he turned back to his prize.

Standing between himself and the stump was a … something. If he had to give it a name, he supposed he would have called it a horse, though there was something reptilian about it too. It was completely fleshless, its black coat clinging to its skeleton, of which every bone was visible. Its head was dragonish, and its pupil-less eyes white and staring. Wings sprouted from each wither—vast, black leathery wings that looked as though they out to belong to giant bats. Standing still and quiet, the creature looked eerie and sinister (*). Everything about the little beast's appearance screamed at Harry to run or draw his stowed wand, but instead, thinking fleetingly of Hagrid and Buckbeak, Harry looked it in the eye and then gave a deep bow.

The little thing made an odd chirping bark that sounded suspiciously like a laugh.

Meeting its eyes once again, he was startled to see it turn and look at the rabbit meat, and then move its gaze firmly back to Harry.

Guilt flooded through him.

"I—I killed the rabbit," he admitted, and suddenly the words tumbled out of him in an rambling flood. "I didn't want to, I swear I didn't, but I'm just so hungry, you see. I don't know what else to do! I'm just hungry and I'm stuck here.”

And now he had reached the point where he was blubbering and justifying himself to a baby death stallion.

The beast regarded him steadily for several long moments, then chirped cheerfully, wobbled on its ungainly legs over to the stump, and snatched the meat with its mouth.

"Oi! That's mine!”

The baby death stallion—really, what else can I call it?—turned and tottered over to Harry. Looking him in the eye, it dropped the meat into his hand, and gave another merry bark.

Before he could question the action, Harry reached up and began stroking the thing's head with his unbloodied palm. The little creature literally quivered in delight at his touch and gave a rasping, rumbling sort of purr. Harry couldn't explain it, but as he looked into the white eyes of the delighted little beast he felt unaccountably better.

And then the baby death stallion turned and made short work of the bunny hide's makeshift grave, digging up the dirt with surprising alacrity and happily latching onto the pelt with its jaws. Harry watched in bemusement as it took to tossing the hide into the air and attempting to catch it with its teeth.

Eventually its macabre game of fetch gradually took the beast out of the clearing, but Harry could hear it chirping happily as it continued its game deeper into the forest.

Shaking his head, Harry wrapped the carcass in leaves and left to make his way back to the cave.

Two beetle-black eyes watched him go.

xoxoxox

1 September, 1976

The sun had nearly sunk below the mountains, painting the sky and providing Harry with a breathtaking view of the hollows below his perch atop one of the wooded outcrops above Hogsmeade.

The train hadn't arrived yet, but it couldn't be long now.

He knew he shouldn't be there, shouldn't have risked coming to watch the Hogwarts Express pull into the station and empty itself of seven years' worth of students, but he couldn't help himself. Yes, he could admit that he hoped to catch a glimpse of unruly black hair, or streaming red hair, or hear the mischievous laugh of his young godfather, but that wasn't the real reason he was subjecting himself to an increased threat of discovery. Not really.

It had been nearly a month since he arrived in the past, a month since taking up residence in the cave and learning to support himself in the Forest. He had developed a routine and was enjoying steadier, if still usually unappetizing, meals. But this was just…subsistence. He just existed. It wasn't enough.

It had been nearly a month since he'd last seen or spoken to another human being.

Solitude had always been Harry's most constant companion, and even at Hogwarts he had never been all that social a creature, but a month of solitary confinement in the wild left him frayed, and he was starting to become, well, a little strange.

He often imagined Hermione and Ron, or sometimes the twins, with him in the cave, and would host long conversations with them before remembering that he was alone and just talking to himself. He needed other people much more than he had ever thought he would.

Indeed, the best thing about his solitary life in the forest was his slowly developing friendship with the baby death stallion, who had taken to unexpectedly scampering into his presence on silent hooves. He hadn't been able to stop himself from dubbing the thing "Colin." What else could he name a little beast that was overcome by an alarming level of ecstasy whenever it was in his presence?

Harry was startled when he realized he even kind of missed Colin Creevey.

So here he was, waiting in the shadows of the overhang, desperate to catch the sounds of human conversation.

The Express finally pulled in, and Harry caught his breath as the students streamed out, their excited voices drowning into a soothing din. At one point he thought he might have snared a glance of red hair, but it was lost in the human tide below.

"Firs' years! Firs' years over here!" 

Hagrid.

He exhaled the breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding and flopped to the ground, a sharp pang piercing his heart at hearing his first friend's familiar call. Soft skin suddenly nuzzled against his right ear. Harry looked up to see Colin regarding him steadily. With a small smile he scratched the death stallion just behind his sort-of-ears, and smiled a bit more widely at the delighted purr he earned in response.

Then he felt something begin eating his hair.

Apparently, Colin had invited a friend. A light grey goat stood to his left, idly attempting to snack on a particularly wild thatch of hair on the side of Harry's head. Rebuffed, it bent down and began cropping the grass next to the boy.

Harry had no idea if such things as magical goats existed, but felt that a civil approach was best. "Um, hello…goat. Are you a friend of Colin's?"

The goat eyed him for a moment before returning to its meal.

Almost content with the most company he’d had since the Weasleys, Harry sat back and watched the stars grow brighter as the twilight shifted into black. Eventually, he realized Colin had departed for wherever baby death stallions must go at night, but the goat remained. Harry stood, his limbs creaking. "Well, goat, time to go home."

The goat looked at him.

"Er, good night, goat." Harry turned and began slowly navigating his way down the rocky outcrop. A clatter of hooves accompanied him. He looked up to see the goat following him down the rocks. Eyebrow raised, he continued his descent and then began walking the overgrown path back to his cave. The goad trotted beside him.

"You want to come with me?" The goat did not reply. Harry continued walking. The goat followed.

Upon his arrival at the cave, Harry turned. "Well, goat, I guess you're welcome to stay with me if you want. You, uh, don't already have a home?" 

Why do I keep asking the goat questions?

"Well, okay, come on in." A thought struck Harry, who had looked closely at the goat and spied distended udders. "But you can't stay here for free. You're a girl goat, yeah? Well, you can stay here as long as you like if you let me milk you."

Harry, being a product of muggle suburbia, had no experience with milking any animals, but figured it couldn't be that hard. Having a supply of milk would allow him to drink something other than stream water, and he could even use it to make cheese (though his understanding of how to be a fromager was even less formed than his understanding of how to milk a goat).

The goat bleated and entered the cave. Bewildered with his new roommate, Harry shrugged and followed.

"You're tryin' real hard to die, aren't you boy?" The voice growled out of the darkness, abruptly rousing Harry out of a deep sleep.

A dark imposing figure, its hand outstretched with wand pointed at Harry, was outlined against the entrance of the cave. Movement at his side revealed that Goat had again been eating his hair as he slept.

Harry considered going for the wand in his back pocket, but knew that he had no chance of getting it before the unknown man cast at him.

He was startled that he wasn't more startled. Maybe he was just a bit too pleased to finally be talking to a person. "Are you going to kill me then?"

"Probably. Suppose it depends."

Harry knew it was pointless, but he wasn't just going to lay there and let some unknown person kill him. He tensed his legs to spring, but before he could do so, the man had silently cast a spell that streaked across the black of the cavern and hit him squarely in the chest. He immediately lost all feeling in his body below the neck and dropped as if boneless to the ground.

"Let's just see if you'll live the night or not, lad. Though I'm bettin' not." A sliver of moonlight illuminated the man as he moved in.

Harry's mouth dropped open.

"Dumbledore?"

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

1 September, 1976

The man quirked an eyebrow in surprise. “Aye, I’m Dumbledore. Though perhaps not the one you’re thinkin’ on.” He moved further into the light, and Harry looked on in shock as a man that looked a fair bit like Dumbledore appeared. If Dumbledore had fallen on rough times, that is. He was old, robed, bearded, long-haired, and tall, though his hair and beard were gray, his robes rather tatty, and his eyes, not hidden by spectacles, gleamed at him hard and cold, with no sign of a twinkle in sight. “I’m Aberforth. The famous Dumbledore’s brother.”

“Oh,” Harry said dumbly, “I didn’t know he had a brother.”

 “Most don’t. Well, no matter. Time to see if I’m goin’ to kill you.” Before Harry could respond to that alarming declaration, the man shot another spell, this time at his left arm. The sleeve on Mr. Weasley’s sweater dropped to the ground. Dumbledore’s brother (and wasn’t that a strange thought) darted forwards and grasped his arm firmly, turning the inside towards him. He cast a quick Lumos and gazed at Harry’s bare arm, his face a bit surprised.

“Well fuck. Now I owe that oaf 2 galleons.”

His first conversation with a human in quite some time was not going as Harry had imagined it.

“Er, Mr., uh, Dumbledore, sir, are you still planning on killing me? And what does my arm have to do with anything?"

Dumbledore grunted. “Way you’ve been skulkin’ about lately, I figured you had to be one of his boys sent to spy on the village and the school, but you don’t have a mark on you.”

Harry narrowed his eyes, surprised and not a little offended. “Wait, you think I’m a Death Eater? Seriously?”

“Well, obviously you aren’t. All his boys have that ugly thing on their arm, so I’ve heard. Still, can never be too careful. Accio wand!”

 Harry was immediately grateful he’d kept his wand safely stowed in the back pocket of his bell-bottoms. He felt it jolt sharply in his pocket, but his arse kept it firmly planted between him and the ground.

The other Dumbledore’s eyes widened. “You don’t have a wand, boy?”

“Uh, no. No, I don’t.” As the man was apparently still considering murdering him, Harry felt no guilt in the lie.

“Well dammit all! Now I owe him 5 galleons!”

“Huh?” Harry was full of intelligent responses tonight, it seemed.

The other Dumbledore scowled. “That ruddy groundskeeper. We were talkin’ about you the other day. Oaf was convinced you’re some sad little squib boy living off the forest ‘cause you’ve got nowhere else to go. I made you as a Death Eater spy. Bet him three galleons you were a wizard and two you were one of his.”

Harry was rather pleased that Hagrid hadn’t thought ill of him before he realized that Hagrid must have seen him. Shite. “Wait, this man has seen me? And you’ve seen me? I didn’t think that anyone knew I was here.”

“Like I said, you must be tryin’ real hard to die, lad.” To Harry’s surprise, Dumbledore settled himself comfortably on the cave floor. “You’ve been trompin’ through the forest so loudly just about all the things in there have noticed you. ‘Sides, it’s impossible not to see you at night what with that ridiculous shirt you’re wearin’. Every time I look out my back window I see pink and purple flowers dancin’ through the dark.”

This was proof. The Billywigs shirt really was evil. “Well, I wouldn’t wear the stupid thing if I had anything else!”

Dumbledore gave a humorless chuckle. “Don’t have to say much to convince me of that, boy. When I thought you were a Death Eater I figured you were wearin’ it to throw suspicion off you. Nasty folks tend to have more style, see.” Being well acquainted with the pureblood contingent of his own decade, Harry had to concede the point. “But Hagrid—’s the bloke I made the bet with—saw you with some thestral an’ was convinced you were a good lad. Usually can’t trust him on such things—thinks acromantula are kind-hearted little dears who’re just misunderstood.”

Yes, this man definitely knew Hagrid. And seemed to be on friendly terms with him, a real mark in his favor. But, “Sir, what’s a thestral? It’s just I don’t really know what you’re talking about.”

“For fuck’s sake, boy, don’t call me ‘sir’. That shit’s for my brother. Call me Ab. Everyone does. Most forget the Dumbledore part of my name. It’s not convenient for ‘em to remember I’m related to the savior of the wizarding world,” the man spat out.

“Sorry, sir. I mean, sorry Ab.”

“Hmpf. And a thestral is bony, scaled sort of horse. There’s a herd livin’ in the forest. Both Hagrid and I have seen you with the youngest of  ‘em.”

So Colin is a thestral. “Oh, I didn’t know what it was called. I’ve just been calling it a death stallion.”

“A death stallion?” Aberforth deadpanned, then shrugged. “Suppose that’s actually not far off the mark. Thestrals are strange ones, that’s no lie, but gentle for the most part. Hogwarts trusts ‘em enough ‘round its children every year, after all.” At Harry’s puzzled look, Aberforth continued, “They use ‘em to pull the carriages that take the students to the school. Most of the students, of course, never realize it. Thestrals are mostly invisible, after all.”

Harry’s confusion continued. “But they’re not! At least I don’t think they are. I can see Colin just fine.” Though now that he thought about it, he had always figured the carriages just moved on their own.

Aberforth stared at him. “You named a thestral ‘Colin’ of all things? Merlin, you’re definitely no Death Eater.” He rolled his eyes. “Only people who have witnessed death can see thestrals, lad. It’s why that stupid name you’ve been using for ‘em is rather apt.”

“Oh.” Harry paused. “Um, what are you going to do with me now? If you aren’t going to kill me, could you, y’know, lift the spell?” Another pause. “Please?”

Aberforth sat back and regarded him keenly. “Not sure. Why’d you steal my Amaltheia?” At Harry’s blank look, he explained “My goat, lad.”

“Goat? Oh, I didn’t. She just followed me home!” Harry cringed at that one. He sounded like a five-year-old with a new puppy. “I told her she could stay in exchange for her milk, but I didn’t know that she belonged to anyone. I’m sorry.”

“Hmpf. She’s been a fickle one since she was born, that’s true. So. Before I decide what to do with you—what are you planning on doin’ in these parts?”

Harry looked down. Well isn’t that the question. He sighed. “I don’t really know. I was just going to keep on as I have done, until I think of something else, I guess.”

“You’ve really nowhere to go? No family?” Aberforth pushed.

Harry shook his head. “I mean, I suppose I do have family,” the Potters and Evans families are alive, after all, “but I can’t go to them.”

A tiny sliver of softness entered Aberforth’s eyes. “It’s not right, what they do to you kids. ‘Specially in these times.” He sighed. “I suppose it’s hard enough being a squib. I won’t make it worse for you. Just don’t steal my goats, lad.”

Harry nodded dumbly, but his mind was awhirl. He thinks I’m a squib!? That’s…that’s…that’s actually kind of brilliant!. I couldn’t think of a better excuse to be a kid in the wizarding world who isn’t going to Hogwarts. And people barely seem to notice squibs, don’t they?  “So,” he hesitated, “you won’t tell anyone I’m here?”

Aberforth grunted an affirmative, then paused. “Well, I’ll have to tell Hagrid. I don’t welch on bets, boy. But I won’t say anything to anyone else.”

Oh lovely, Harry thought. Hagrid is so great at keeping secrets!

“Well,” Aberforth slapped his knees and stood. “I’m off.”

“Wait! Sir! The spell?”

“Ah. Yeah. Of course.” With a wave of his wand Aberforth lifted the paralyzing spell and Harry gratefully could move again. He wasn’t fast enough, however, to dodge the next spell Dumbledore sent at him. Trained to expect the worst, he was surprised to see the sleeve of his Weasley sweater immediately reattach itself. A third spell hit his torso, and he gaped as the powder blue tee shirt turned a more sedate charcoal, the orange vines and bursting pink and purple day-glow flowers fading into nothingness. He snickered a bit as his tee-shirt let out a weak, protesting whine.

“I’m tired of seein' those ruddy ugly things lighting up the evenin’,” Aberforth explained. “Luck to you boy. You’ll need it in this world.” And with a small sigh, he left the cave on silent feet.

A minute passed as Harry went over the conversation in his head. Then the old man barked from the path, “Dammit, Amaltheia! Get out here and come home.”

Goat blithely ignored the call. And the next call, and the next.

Aberforth trudged back into the cave.

“I’m not doing anything, sir! She just doesn’t seem to want to leave!” Harry protested before the old man could accuse him of something.

“Amaltheia. Come. Now!” Aberforth commanded.

Goat ignored him and started in on Harry’s hair again.

Harry noticed the vein in Dumbledore’s forehead beginning to throb. This was always a bad sign with Uncle Vernon. “Er, Goat? Would you please go with Aberforth, Goat?”

Goat immediately rose and trotted over to Dumbledore, who stood glaring at Harry. Harry sent him an apologetic look. “I, er, think she prefers the name ‘Goat’ sir, I mean, Ab.”

Aberforth’s scowl deepened. With a low growl, he left the cave, Goat walking serenely behind him.

 


  

16 October 1976

 

Days passed into weeks, and the nighttime confrontation with his old headmaster’s brother remained the only meeting he had had with a wizard since coming to the Forest. Harry had become more used to a lonely life focused upon providing food for himself. Knowing that he had been spotted in the woods, he regretfully stopped hunting with his wand and instead allowed himself the use of magic only within the cave, where his wand lay hidden under a stash of leaves. Many lean days followed that decision. Initially, he had attempted to make himself a bow and quiver of arrows, relying entirely on his four years of transfiguration training. They didn’t turn out so well. Professor McGonagall may have prepared him well for times when he needed a water goblet but only at a wombat on hand, but her classes had done nothing for him in terms of actual survival. Only the most generous critic could call the arms he had spent hours in the cave fashioning “bow and arrows.”

In what he figured was probably the latter half of September, he decided to simplify his approach and transfigured himself a rude slingshot. His seeking abilities, however, apparently did not translate to the casting of small rocks at prey. The first several days netted him no dinner and one black eye, the product of one embarrassingly ill-conceived attempt. Some experimentation late at night in his cave, however, provided him a better method. Harry had never learned enchantment, but he recalled Hermione nattering on about the ways wizards had discovered how to embed magic in objects. The details had long since passed from his memory, but through a long process of trial and error, he managed to combine the Point-Me and banishing charms into small stones that he could shoot from his slingshot. He was especially proud of his method of “programming” the Point-Me spell to target specific animals. As long as he focused intently on the sort of animal he wanted to hit when casting the Point-Me, he could later cast the rock into a clearing where he knew an animal of that type was and the stone was almost sure to hit his prey. Of course, the charms were pretty weak. He had to have the animal he had targeted the stone to in sight, and the charms were only good for one shot per rock. Still, he found himself flush with meat and losing a bit of his alarming thinness. Now he just looked like he typically did after a summer with the Dursleys rather than the wraith he had been becoming.

Although he still felt a foreign thrill of pride—generously mixed with shock—at his success in magical innovation, he avoided casting more permanent magic on his cave. Sure, a long-term warming spell would have been more than welcome, but he feared another visit from a wizard who might sense the active magic. Posing as a squib guaranteed his existence was happily ignored. He was loathe to give up his new-found freedom and, of course, potentially destroy the world as he knew it by changing the timeline.

His only regular company was Colin and, when she could escape Aberforth, Goat, whom Harry would dutifully send back to Dumbledore in the evening (usually after coaxing her into letting him milk her a bit).

He did have one other vexing encounter. One evening in early October his search for small mammals of the dinner variety was interrupted when he suddenly found himself face to face with a towering centaur, who was pointing the business end of an arrow (of much better quality and notched in a far superior bow than those he had once attempted to create, he couldn’t help but notice) straight at him.

“You do not belong here,” the massive chestnut centaur intoned, his malice obvious.

Oh, this is not good.

Harry tried to swallow the lump in his throat and decided to be honest. It had worked well enough with Firenze back in his first year. “I know,” he responded simply. “But I am here. And I have nowhere else to go.”

The centaur pulled the arrow even tauter. “You do not belong here!” Furious spittle shot out from his mouth.

“Many things who live here now did not originally belong here,” Harry tried, thinking of the acromantula colony. “I only come here to hunt small prey, and have no wish to trespass on your, or any other forest dwellers’ territory.”

The centaur and Harry stared at each other for several long moments. I am going to die. Harry had never missed his wand so much.

“You do not belong in the Forest. This is true. But you also do not belong HERE!” At this furious, almost unhinged exclamation Harry realized why he troubled the centaur so. It somehow sensed he wasn’t from this time and seemed enraged at the confusion the boy was causing him.

Harry had no idea how to deal with this. He tried the truth, of a sort, again. “Yes. I don’t belong here, in that sense, that you’re, uh, thinking. But I, well, I came here unwillingly. I wish it hadn’t happened. But it did. And now I’m scared, and I’m just trying to…” what the hell am I trying to do? “I’m just trying” he shrugged, all the while hopelessly looking the dark-haired centaur in the eye.

The centaur eventually lowered his bow and then ran a hand through his hair. It was an exasperated gesture, one that strangely reminded Harry of his godfather.

“We do not hurt foals,” the centaur said, almost regretfully.

Harry let out a shaky breath. “Thank you.”

Silence ruled the clearing for some time, too long, but Harry feared breaking it.

Finally, the centaur gave him a searching look. “Your first kill. You buried its pelt, did you not?”

Harry lowered his eyes at the memory of the first rabbit. He’d gotten past his aversion to killing innocent animals, and wasn’t sure how he felt about that. “Yes,” he said softly. “The thestral dug it up though.”

The centaur nodded slowly. “You are a strange wizard.”

“I’m not a wizard! I’m a—”

“I am uninterested in lies. I do not know why you hide your wand and use little magic, why you do not go to the school when you should, and I do not care, wizardling,” he sneered and began to pace, his black tail thrashing irritably. “But you are a strange wizard, and you herald strange things, Saturnius.”

“That’s not my name, sir, I’m—”

“It is not a name. It is a…” The centaur searched for the right words. “It is a designation. You are a child of Saturn.”

 This was beginning to remind Harry of another strange conversation with a centaur. “Saturn? Another centaur once kind of implied it was Mars.”

“Perhaps you were once a child of Mars, wizard,” the centaur conceded, “but now you are of Saturn, of Kronos. Saturn is the lord of time and place, among other things,” he concluded with a very pointed look at Harry.

Harry’s eyes widened. “Then I suppose I may be a child of Saturn after all.”

“Saturn also is thought by some a harbinger…” the centaur said, more to himself than to Harry, then shook is head. “But such is the fodder of fools and poets.” He abruptly turned and made to leave the glade. “Do not venture beyond the stream banked by the blackberries, Saturnius.” And with that he was gone.

Centaurs. Mars, Saturn, whatever. At least I’m still alive. Harry had gratefully moved to a different part of the Forest to continue his hunt.

Harry hadn’t exactly enjoyed that meeting, but it was rather nice to talk with something that spoke back. Today, however, he was actively planning for his first conversation with a wizard since Aberforth, though his churning stomach and voice of common sense (which today sounded too much like Hermione) both warned him off the venture.

Not long after the first day of Hogwarts’ term, he started receiving…gifts. Every so often he’d find small parcels placed a few feet from the entrance to his cave when he returned from a hunt. Usually, they were foodstuffs. Once he was delighted to find a warm, furry coat. Another time he smiled at a rough-hewn wooden flute. The identity of his anonymous benefactor had been obvious to him since he received that first tray of tooth-cracking rock cakes. Aberforth, it seemed, had informed Hagrid that the half-giant had been correct in his estimation that Harry was a homeless squib boy and not some Death Eater spy.

Apparently, he had become Hagrid’s newest adoptee. Harry was rather touched that Hagrid was trying to care for him, yet still respected his privacy. At the same time, Hagrid’s apparent hesitancy to approach him made Harry wonder in a flight of fancy if the groundskeeper was relying on some book with a title like Socializing with Squibs: A Guide to Mingling with the Magic-Less in the Wild! 

It was high time, in Harry’s opinion, that they meet properly, at least so that he could thank the man for his thoughtfulness. He couldn’t deny that the chance to see his old friend excited him to no end. And, his snide but honest inner voice reminded him, you need to find out if he’s told anyone else about you.

When Harry learned that Aberforth intended to talk with Hagrid about him, he was certain that the more famous Dumbledore would show up not long after. Yet this hadn’t happened, and Harry was becoming more and more desperate to know if he should expect such a visit.

And so Harry had spent the last several weeks attempting to track Hagrid’s movements. There was no way he would venture to his hut on the grounds, so he had to catch him in the Forest. Eventually, he discovered that the man regularly made forays in to feed the thestrals, and finally discovered that it happened every three days, early in the morning.

So here he was, the dawning sun just barely beginning to rise, about to willingly engage with someone he should probably avoid.

Colin snuffled into his hand as Harry hid behind an old holm oak. He’d arrived quite early to acclimate the rest of the thestral herd to his presence lest they complicate a meeting about which he was already nervous enough. Unlike Colin, they seemed only mildly interested in him, though the one that he suspected was his friend’s mother gave him a long lick up the side of his head that left his ear feeling strangely tingly. After the first few minutes, the adult death stallions ignored him.

All too soon he heard the sounds of someone approaching and the thestrals began milling together in anticipation. Harry’s breath caught in his throat as a younger, but still massive and bearded Hagrid entered, a boarhound hot on his heels and a giant bucket of raw meat in his hands. Colin raced off to join the rest of his herd. Harry smiled as Hagrid began addressing each of the thestrals, tossing chunks of meat to them in turn. He had to restrain himself from bursting into giggles when he learned that Hagrid called Colin “Caligo.” Not all that far off from ‘Colin,’ really.

Harry stayed behind the tree, watching and debating the best way to approach Hagrid. Colin had other ideas. As soon as he finished gulping down his bloody portion, he gamboled over to Harry’s hiding spot and barked loudly. Harry attempted to shush the little brat, but Colin instead latched onto his sweater with his hooked beak and unceremoniously began pulling him into the clearing.

“No, Colin, dammit, stop that,” he urged in a sharp whisper. Looking up, he realized that the entire herd of adult thestrals, along with Hagrid, had turned to stare at him as he stood only barely hidden by the tree.

Thanks a lot,” he hissed at his equine friend, who gave a happy chirp and tottled off to his mother. “Uh, hello. Sorry to interrupt.” He gave a hesitant wave. Did I just give a weird sort of half-wave? . . . Yes, I did. Kill me now.

Hagrid was positively beaming. “Well, there ya are! I’ve been waiting fer ya to come an’ introduce yerself proper, lad!”

Harry’s tongue had suddenly become too large for his mouth, and all the words he had planned to say were swept away by his shock at finally getting to talk to someone. Someone he actually knew!

“Yer’ all righ’, yeah?” Hagrid’s smile had faded into an amiable concern as Harry stood and attempted to work the muscles in his face. “Bein’ in the Forest by yerself fer too long can make it strange to talk with people, ya don’ have ter tell me,” he smiled reassuringly. “Once spent a whole summer with me friend Aragog an’ his family. When I finally got back to Hogwarts I kept tryin’ to talk to Dumbledore in clicks and chitters, I did!”

“Yeah,” Harry choked out, but he managed to smile in return.

Hagrid chuckled to himself. “Well, I’m Rubeus Hagrid, Keeper of Keys and Grounds here at Hogwarts. But mos’ everyone jus’ calls me Hagrid.” He stuck out his hand.

Harry couldn’t help but approach Hagrid cautiously. He knew Hagrid would never hurt him, but interacting with any person after all this time was just so weird.

Hagrid’s hand was as huge as he remembered it, and seemed to swallow up Harry’s much smaller one as the half-giant gently shook it.

“It’s really nice to meet you, Hagrid,” Harry said genuinely. “Um, I just came because I wanted to thank you for the stuff you’ve been leaving me.” Suddenly even more nervous than he had been, he rushed on. “I mean, I don’t want you to feel obliged to help me or anything, I’m doing OK, really, but I wanted you to know that I really do appreciate it, that’s all.” He paused for a breath. “I, well, I made you something, see. It’s not very, good, I know, but it’s, well, it’s the best I can do.”

With that, he ducked back behind the holm oak and retrieved his gift for the giant. Inspired by Hagrid’s hand-carved flute, Harry had set himself to becoming something of a woodcarver. The present had taken him more than a month of nightly labor and not a few fingers had been mangled by his makeshift stone knife, but he was proud of the final result, a dragon figure carved from a large piece of nice aspen wood he’d happened across. He wasn’t being disingenuous when he admitted it wasn’t very good. It really was little more than a misshapen lump of wood that was originally supposed to be a hippogriff, but the wings had come out more dragon-like, and the thick body of a dragon was far more doable than the graceful lines of an equid.  Hermione would probably say that is was an interesting example of modern abstract art, Harry had smiled as he polished his first creation. Indeed, the high polished sheen of the wood was perhaps its best feature. Figures. The one part of making the thing that I cheated and used magic for.

Hagrid stared at the dragon but said nothing.

Oh God, he hates it. Why did I think this was worth anything? He’s probably trying to figure out something nice to say before he chucks it in his rubbish bin!

Harry’s insecurities bit into him mercilessly until finally the half-giant raised eyes that Harry realized with a start had grown misty. “It’s beautiful!” He fairly gushed. “I’ve always wanted a dragon, see? Oh, isn’t he beautiful!” And now Hagrid was petting the wood just as he had once stroked a newly-born Norbert.

Harry’s face hurt from smiling.

“I’m really glad you like it.”

“S’ a true gift, it is!” Hagrid mopped at his eyes. Are those actual tears?  “I told Dumbledore, I told him that you was a good ‘un! And jus’ look at this!”

Shite. Which Dumbledore?

“Oh, er, do you mean Aberforth? I met him once, and he did say something about that.”

Hagrid grinned, “Aye, he was all set believin’ you was a Death Eater, can ya believe it?” He snickered at Aberforth’s obtuseness and Harry nearly sighed in relief. “A’ course I also told my Dumbledore about ya as well. He likes to be kept up on what’s happenin’ in the Forest.”

Shite.

“You mean Albus Dumbledore? The headmaster? He knows I’m here?” Harry tried to keep his voice casual, but his apprehension bled obviously into it.

“Well I had ta tell ‘im, didn’t I? S’my job, see,” Hagrid exclaimed, then softened his voice like he did when he was calming a spooked animal. “Don’t ya worry about him, lad. A great man Dumbledore is, a great man! He won’ hurt ya.”

 Harry was hardly mollified. “But, he’s in the Wizenagmot, isn’t he? And I’m pretty sure that me being here can’t be, er, strictly legal? Doesn’t he have to report me to someone?”

Hagrid laughed. “Lad, there’s a war on! A real Dark Lord, jus’ like old Grindewald. Dumbledore an’ the Aurors got much more to do than ta hassle a boy without magic who ain’t botherin’ no one. After all, I told him that Ab had checked ya out, and that ya even had a chat with ol’ Magorian.” His eyes grew a bit crafty. “No one’ll really notice. Unless ya got parents lookin’ fer ya, that is.” He didn’t state it as a question, but his tone hardly obscured that he was searching for more information.

“No, no one is looking for me,” Harry assured him in a vacant voice. He was at once deeply relieved that his headmaster wouldn’t meddle in his affairs and strangely disappointed in Dumbledore. Hagrid was essentially saying that Harry wasn’t important enough to merit anyone’s notice, including Dumbledore’s. While he had known since he was eleven that he definitely qualified as an “important person,” it had never occurred to him that his status granted him extra attention from Dumbledore. Now that he was thought a squib, the man had no interest at all in him. This was good for him, but…But shouldn’t a man tasked with the care of children be concerned with a homeless boy living in the wilderness of his backyard? Apparently not. Dumbledore was a great man, Hagrid was right, and Harry supposed that great men needed to devote themselves to great things.

But maybe…maybe he’s not necessarily always so good a man, he wondered.

Something else Hagrid said pulled him out of his morose reverie. “Wait, who’s Magorian?”

“Ol’ Magorian’s one of the elders of the local centaur tribe. Ran into ‘im a while back and said he’d had a nice, friendly little conversation with ya.”

Harry internally snorted. Trust Hagrid to call an interrogation at the end of a very sharp, very deadly weapon a “friendly little conversation.” He nodded his understanding, and a not quite comfortable silence stretched across the glade. Harry hated that he couldn’t think of anything else to say to his old friend, but we’re not friends. He doesn’t know me at all. “Well, I guess I should go and let you get back to your work.” He made to leave the glade from the entrance opposite the path back to Hogwarts.

“Wait, lad!” Harry paused and raised a questioning eyebrow as Hagrid nervously turned his hat in his hands. “It’s jus’, ya see, I know what the world can be like fer a kid that ain’t…like the others. I talked to Dumbledore about ya, and he said he didn’t mind if I, well, took you on.” At Harry’s puzzled look, he continued. “I mean, tending the grounds and all Hogwarts’ animals is a big job, ya know. I wouldn’t say no to some help, an’ I thought, if ya like, you could come and stay with me and be my assistant of sorts. I can’t pay ya much, but ya’d have a warm place to stay, and food, and some company. You don’ need magic ter do a good job of it, I can tell you! An’ I seen how the thestrals have taken to ya—they don’t do that fer most.” Hagrid stopped and looked at him.

Tears threatened to prick at Harry’s eyes. God, Hagrid may not be a great man, but damn if he isn’t a good one.

Everything in Harry screamed at him to take the offer. It was Hagrid, and Hogwarts, and living in the cave wasn’t really living. He felt like he was slowly going insane, starved for any sort of interaction. He’d just started to carve a chess set, and while the first two pieces were really just rough blocks of wood, he could already picture Ron’s face on the knight and Hermione’s bushy hair on the queen’s side castle. He’d caught himself calling them by name the other night as he prattled on about nothing.

I think I’ve been alone for a very long time.

He could see it now, meeting all of Hagrid’s different creatures, eating in the Great Hall, nights spent by firelight telling stories old and new over massive mugs of tea and hot chocolate, Hagrid being his real friend again, finding a real home, a real purpose, becoming something again…

Destroying the world because of his meddling in a place and time that wasn’t his own, Hermione and Ron winking out of existence, himself one day disappearing because he accidentally did something that stopped his mother from marrying his father. Friends like Cedric made corpses. Because of me. Because I was selfish.

I think I may have gone a bit barmy at some point in all this.

Harry shook his head absently to ground himself in the now, and turned his eyes back to Hagrid. “I—I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you would offer this. It's really, really nice of you."

“Yer goin’ ta say no, though, aren’t ya.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I have to say no. It’s not that I don’t want to say yes so badly,” he had to bite his lip. “It’s just not…safe for me to be seen like that. There’s too many people, too many…” Too many ways to obliterate my universe. 

Hagrid gave him a level, appraising look, a look he’d rarely seen on the half-giant’s face. “Yer worried about someone findin’ you. Yer not just livin’ here, are you lad? Yer hidin’ here.”

Harry couldn’t, wouldn’t, lie to his first friend. “I don’t think anyone’s looking for me,” he admitted slowly, “but I think it would be, well, really bad if they were to find me.”

With a nod, Hagrid mopped his eyes with his giant handkerchief, then lumbered over and enfolded Harry in a full hug. Harry couldn’t move in his shock. He couldn’t remember being really touched by someone since that night in the infirmary after the resurrection of Voldemort, when Mrs. Weasley had hugged him. His paralyzed brain observed that this was quite unlike any of the other hugs he’d received from the groundskeeper, who tended to crush him in boisterous bear hugs. This time Hagrid embraced him like he was tending to some fragile broken thing.

“‘S all righ’ lad. I wish it could be different fer ya, thas’ all.”

Harry nodded mutely and gave Hagrid a small smile as he broke away from the man’s embrace. “I should go now. But,” he added, “maybe I’ll see you around every so often?” He hated how desperate he sounded.

Hagrid beamed. “’A course! You be safe now, yeah?”

Harry smiled and nodded again, before turning and heading back towards his hunting grounds, Colin hot on his heels.

“Wait!” He stopped at Hagrid’s shout. What now?! I can’t take much more of this today.

“What’s yer name lad? Have ter call ya somethin’!”

Harry cast about helplessly. He really should have figured out a pseudonym months ago, but it didn’t seem important when no one was around. Who should I be? His mind raced. RonVernonSiriusDudley DracoFredGeorgeBillCharliePercyGinny—what?—NevilleSeamusDeanOliverDobbyGilderoy—oh for fuck’s sake.

“Er, I guess you can call me Harry.” He hedged, uncertain. Was he named after some unknown relative? Would this point to the Potters?

“Harry, huh? Well, I suppose that’s pretty close to Artie, after all!” Hagrid said with a wink and a conspiratorial chuckle.

What in the world is he talking about?. . . Oh, my Weasley sweater! The monogram! He must think my name is Artie and I’m trying to escape detection by taking a fake name. Really, with this and the squib business, Harry was starting to suspect he didn’t need to construct any elaborate falsehoods; if kept relatively quiet the people around him seemed to come up with much better cover stories than he could ever invent himself. “Er, I guess. But just call me Harry, please.”

“Harry what? Ya got a surname?”

Harry couldn’t help himself as he gave a reminiscent grin. “I’m just Harry.” 

 


 

3 December, 1976

Harry dashed the rotted meat against his cave wall. The resultant thwack which echoed through the chamber did nothing to mollify his temper. His latest, rancid failure sulked at him from the cavern floor. He was forced to admit that he had no idea how to dry, cure, or salt meat.

He had known that winter would mean several lean months, and he had started attempting to preserve meat in mid-October, but his every effort ended in one type of failure or another. He had considered seeking Hagrid’s advice—he had seen the man only on the odd occasion here and there since their first meeting—but that would have clued Hagrid in to the fact that Harry was no longer doing so well at providing for himself, and he didn’t want the big man to worry (or to meddle).  Sure, he knew that food preservation charms could easily extend his stores, but even if he weren’t worried about his magic being detected—a worry that was becoming less and less immediate as the days grew colder—he had no idea what those charms actually were.

There was nothing for it. He had to go hunting. Luckily northern Scotland, even in winter, provided ample prey. He’d even nailed a partridge just last week. However, the snow had been falling thick and without break for two days, and the wind continued to howl. The coat Hagrid had given him was a godsend, but it didn’t make up for the fact that it was too bloody cold and the snow was too deep for any sane person to venture out. 

With a sigh, he gathered his necessary tools, stowed his wand in its customary place deep in the cave under an assuming pile of dead leaves, and set out to the frigid wild of the Forbidden Forest.

Harry immediately realized that he would have to find success fast. His old trainers had already had holes in them at the Dursleys’, and the crumbling leather did very little to keep out the seeping damp of the snow. His fingers grew numb all too quickly. He hastened on.

It’s worse having to do this alone. I miss Colin. The baby thestral had disappeared with the rest of the herd in early November. Harry knew they pulled the carriages for those departing at Christmas, so they didn’t migrate. He figured they must hunker down for the winter in some sort of stable or whatnot.

He arrived at his favorite hunting perch, not too far into the Forest just off Hogsmeade, and waited in the hollow of a great old tree for something to enter the glade. He had taken to charming two rocks each for every type of woodland prey he could think of, so he was set for just about anything that came by. Something would pass, he knew. Eventually.

 . . . . . . . .

It was twilight when he wandered into wakefulness. What the—I fell asleep?! Oh, well done Potter! Harry groaned as he experimentally started trying to flex his extremities. Not only was he going to be hungry and soaked for the evening, he was going to horribly sore from the uncomfortable position he had slept the day away in. When he got to flexing his feet, his self-disgust turned to mounting alarm. He felt nothing in them, as if his legs had been amputated just above the ankle. None of the pain, cold, or damp that he would expect registered. They just felt like they weren’t even there. Heart thrumming, he brushed away snow and gingerly rolled up his trouser leg and pulled down the sock on one foot. It looked like the foot of a corpse, a macabre mix of gray, blue and purple. This is bad. Really bad. I don’t think I can—no—I can’t fix this. I need help. Soon.

It was at least a fifteen-minute walk to Hagrid’s hut in fine weather, but Harry couldn’t think of another option. He had to make it there, through the snow, on feet he couldn’t feel.

Well done, Potter, his internal voice sneered again, suddenly sounding like Professor Snape.

Every step was agony. His feet registered no feeling at all, but the rest of his body stung with the biting pain of the earlier stages of frostbite. Soaked to the skin a few minutes into his trek, he began shivering uncontrollably. I think that’s a good sign, yeah? Most of my body is still trying to warm itself up.

Ten minutes in he became concerned he had lost himself in the darkened white world that stretched before him. One moment he would recognize a tree or a bend in the path, the next it seemed a foreign, alien tundra. After what felt like hours he exited the woods into a clearing he knew lay between Hogsmeade and Hogwarts.

He grinned with wind-chapped lips. He could do this.

His exhilaration made him less observant than he had been. His first step into the field faltered, and down he went. Flat on his back, his body stopped obeying his will and refused to be moved. It was rather comfortable here, after all. The stars looked rather lovely as the snow swirled and danced below them.

Harry absently decided he’d just rest here for a few minutes.

His dazed reverie was broken sometime later when a large mass suddenly blocked his view of the stars.

“Hey, change the channel back! I was watching that show!” Harry slurred out in protest.

A long pause, a derisive snort, and then the mass bent down over him.

“Well, you sure fucked this up, didn’cha’ lad?”, the mass grunted at him.

Manic giggles bubbled out of Harry and filled the snowy night. “I’m really bad at meat!”

The mass shook its bearded head and sighed.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

III. Two Dumbledores

 

4 December, 1976

Harry woke to a pleasantly soft warmth around him and slightly less pleasant nubs poking into his face. Slowly opening his eyes, he saw only pale pearl grey, which, he found as he pulled back in surprise, turned out to be Goat’s underbelly. Apparently she had been cuddling him in his sleep. Goat spared him a glance but did not move from her comfortable repose, and soon turned back to munching on the straw upon which they were both laying.

A quick look around revealed him to be in a stable of sorts, teeming with goats who lazed around in the weak winter sunlight that streamed through the high windows. He himself was on a particularly thick bed of straw, covered in soft blankets, his still insensate feet bandaged. The whole large room seemed suspiciously warm given the storm that still raged outside. This was definitely a room belonging to a wizard, overlaid with multiple warming charms.

It felt like heaven.

Memories of the previous (he guessed) night gradually returned to him. It had been Aberforth who had found him and rustled him back to Hogsmeade. The trip was a hazy, surreal nightmare now, fits and bursts of pain, blinding white, deepening black, and Aberforth’s firm hands guiding him through the confusing blur.

Harry realized he had no idea where exactly Aberforth lived, or what he did in Hogsmeade.

Apparently, a herd of goats was involved.

There was no chance of him getting up anytime soon. His feet didn’t hurt, but they felt like great numb weights attached to the ends of his legs. Sighing, he nestled back into his hay. Goat languidly stretched and began nibbling at his hair.

Harry eventually fell into a comfortable languor and drifted off to sleep. Some hours later, the clank of the stable door startled him awake.

“You really are trying nine different ways to die, aren’t you boy?” Ab stood in the doorway holding a small wooden pallet with an earthenware bowl and jug upon it.

“I—” Harry stopped. Really, what can I  say? I didn’t mean to fall asleep in a blizzard without decent protection from the elements, but I had to hunt because I’d failed at providing for myself? “Thank you for helping me.”

Ab grunted. “Ah, go on. Ruddy oaf would ‘a never stopped his mewlin’ if I’d led you die.” He set the pallet on a hay bale near where Harry lay. “It’s soup. And water mixed with some healin’ potions. Eat and drink it all. I know it ain’t all that tasty.”

“Thank you,” Harry repeated. “I, uh, should be out of your way soon. My feet can’t be that bad.”

Aberforth glared at him. “Aye, you’ll probably be up and about in a day or so with the potions I gave you. Just have to wait for the black skin to fall off.”

Well, that’s bloody alarming.

The man sneered at Harry’s panicked look. “Ya got severe frostbite, boy! Lucky I didn’t have to chop both your feet clean off! Right now those feet are covered in dead skin and tissue. Once it falls off, you’ll have new feet, clean and worthless as a baby’s.” His scowl deepened. “But you ain’t gettin’ out of your debt so easy, oh no.”

“Debt?” Harry yelped.

“You think these potions I’m givin’ you are free? That I’m made of galleons?,” Ab barked out. “You’ll also be eatin’ my food, usin’ my barn while you heal, and you’ll be needin’ somethin’ decent to wear on your feet before you can even think about going back to that cave a’ yours! All that comes at a cost. Ain’t no charity here.”

Merlin, I have nothing! How can he expect me to pay for all that?

Aberforth seemed to read his mind. “Yeah, I know you ain’t got squat in terms of gold. You’ll be workin’ your debt to me off, lad. ‘Spect I could use some help with the goats – Amaltheia likes you well enough, daft bitch – as well as round the inn.”

“Inn?”

“Ah, bloody hell, don’t you know anythin’? It’s where you are, boy, around the back of the Hog’s Head Inn an’ Pub. It’s my place.”

Harry vaguely recalled hearing Fred and George talking about the Hog’s Head. It had been their destination for a number of late-night trips through the Honeyduke’s secret passage, trips which always netted a fair quantity of alcohol for illicit Gryffindor revelry. He’d never noticed the place during Hogsmeade weekends, but gleaned from the twins’ descriptions that it was a rather, well, dodgy place that most students didn’t normally enter.

“Oh,” Harry muttered dumbly, then rallied. “I really appreciate your help and I’m not afraid of hard work, it’s just, see, I think it’s a bad idea for anyone to know I exist. If I stay here, then–”

Aberforth rounded on him. “’Course I get that. But you have a debt. You don’t strike me as the sort to welch on a debt, boy. Are you?” The challenge burned in his tone.

“I’m not that sort! But you don’t understand! I can’t stay here!”

The man scowled at him. “Might’a known. Worthless, ruddy kid–”

Harry recoiled, stung. “I’m not worthless!”

“Oh yeah?” Aberforth’s voice dripped with sarcasm. “Then prove it!”

I don’t know anyone here, really. I’ve never even been to the Hog’s Head before. I’ve only met a few of the villagers more than once in my own time, and they surely won’t remember some squib enough to ever connect me with … famous me, if the future works out right. This … this shouldn’t be too dangerous.

“I’m not the sort to welch on a debt,” Harry repeated softly. “How long do you think it’ll take me to work off what I owe you?”

The old man eyed him shrewdly, then snorted. “Potions, room and board, new boots, probably some better clothes, all that? Dunno, rightly. Never had a head for maths, but I’ll get ol ’Nappy to figure it for me. I’d say at least about three months or so.”

“Three months!” I am somehow going to destroy the world with this.

“At least,” Ab smiled wickedly. “So eat up, get healthy, then you can get to work.” He turned on his heel and left.

Harry furiously stewed over the indentured servitude his headmaster’s dour brother had somehow wrangled him into and tried to figure out ways to keep a low profile in the village as he choked down what Ab had rather charitably dubbed “soup.” By necessity, he’d gotten used to all kinds of meat that he might once have felt a bit green about, but the stringy, greasy flesh in the soup made him warier than he’d ever felt when eating one of his own kills. He found himself strangely thankful for his near-starved state. Hunger really was the best sauce.

It wasn’t until long after he’d set the empty bowl and jug aside that he realized his term of unwilling employment with Aberforth was rather … pointless. He assumed he’d be doing menial tasks (he shuddered when his mind began comparing his situation to his life at the Dursleys), but these were all the sorts of tasks that a wizard could complete with only a flick of his wand. Sure, Harry could sweep a floor and muck out a stable, but Ab could magically do that in a fraction of the time that it would take Harry to do so manually, couldn’t he?

Why am I really here?

Perhaps Ab just wanted him to understand the importance of repaying debts, that no one got a free ride. He might not need the help, but having Harry work off what he owed might satisfy some sort of concept of fairness. He’d told Hagrid about Harry, after all, because he refused to welch on a bet…

Maybe. That’s probably part of it. I definitely don’t think he’s keeping me here because he’s lonely and wants company. The man doesn’t seem much of a people-person.

As Harry was drifting off to sleep that evening, it suddenly occurred to him that the three or so months Ab speculated he’d be working at the Hog’s Head meant that Harry would essentially be spending the entire winter warm and fed at the inn. There’d be no more tromping through the frozen tundra of northern Scotland in search of a paltry meal, at least this year.

Really, three months is a seriously long time for just some food, a few potions, shoes, and a bed with his goats.

  . . .

What is he playing at?

 


 

 

15 December, 1976

Living with Aberforth Dumbledore, Harry concluded, was a little like living with a strange chimera composed of the Dursleys, Mad-Eye Moody, and Hagrid.

Like the Dursleys, Aberforth seemed to delight in creating impossible lists of chores for him to complete. Mucking out the goat pens was a daily requirement (surely the goats can go two days without getting brand-new straw!, Harry would grumble to himself), as was sweeping and mopping the barroom floor. His hands were perpetually pruney from all the dishwashing he’d been doing, itself a Sisyphean task as the pub’s glasses, plates, and bowls seemed to have “grimy” as their default state. The day before Harry had inadvertently let slip that he wasn’t a completely useless cook, so now he had little doubt that his list of responsibilities would grow once again.

Worst of all, however, was the fact that he had become intimately acquainted with the six guest rooms above the pub, rooms for which he was required to provide basic housekeeping services.  All six more than proved that the inn’s dodgy reputation was well-deserved. During his first day as the maid, Harry had attempted to amuse himself with a game he dubbed “Identify the Stain.” The rooms provided endless material which, he soon discovered, he most certainly did not want to identify. This was a game he quickly found himself very uninterested in winning. Even the bedbugs seemed wary of Rooms 3 and 5 at times. Tomorrow was nothing to look forward to – he’d seen Yarda Gobermouch and a friend procuring Room 2. He shuddered. Thank Merlin the loos were self-cleaning unless someone did something in there that not even magic could handle. Harry was terrified of the day that such a thing occurred.

Aberforth, however, seemed grudgingly pleased. Harry had little doubt the Hog’s Head had ever looked so … not so disgusting.

Although the old bastard was a slave-driver, Harry’s life at the pub had thus far proven much more enjoyable than life at the Dursleys’. His chore list was impossible, but Aberforth seemed to understand that and never punished Harry for his failure to cross off every task. As long as Harry tried, Ab left him pretty much alone, though his tendency to call Harry “boy” left him seething. He hated when Ab sounded like Vernon.

It was rather nice living with someone who didn’t hate him. True, Aberforth didn’t seem to like Harry all that much either, but in this he reminded Harry of Mad-Eye Moody.

Or, he would correct himself, the man I thought was Professor Moody. But the real Moody must have been like that as well, or Barty Crouch Jr. wouldn’t have been so successful at impersonating him.

Either way, Aberforth’s grumpy, barking, crotchety manner was, like Moody’s, directed at everyone, which proved a nice contrast to the Dursleys, who targeted Harry alone with all their hate. No, Harry was becoming more and more certain that Ab classified everyone he encountered as either a fool, a bastard, a “worthless piece of shit”, or somebody that “could do with a good killin’.” The trick was figuring out into which group a given person fell. Harry was sure that he, like Hagrid, was a “fool,” the class of people whom Aberforth disliked the least. Others, like Yarda, the aging prostitute who had the morality of a cesspool and the hygiene to match, belonged to the “worthless piece of shit” category, that is, people whom Aberforth hated but didn’t think quite deserved to die. “Bastards” tended to be people with power who put on airs or who used their power in ways that Ab didn’t agree with, but whose social standing kept them from being “worthless pieces of shit.” Harry guessed that Ab’s brother (strange that’s how I think of him so often now) fell into that class.

Earlier that evening Harry had met first his person who “could do with a good killin’.”

A few hours after the winter sun had set, Harry brought a freshly-washed, if not actually clean, tray of glasses up from the scullery to the pub. Ab was surprisingly strict with him when it came to entering the public room. He was absolutely forbidden from coming in after 9 pm, and if Ab were to say the word “immediately” at any time, Harry was to leave and lock himself in the kitchen below. Much like his older brother, Aberforth declined to explain the reasoning behind these security measures. Given that the war was beginning to heat up and the clientele of the pub seemed to tend toward dodginess even without a war on, Harry surmised it had to do with the potential presence of dangerous persons.

On this particular evening, however, Ab was nursing Silvanus, his stud goat, who had been lethargic and ill all day. The pub was instead being handled by Ab’s part-time bartender, Quisby Rakefire, a weedy scarecrow of a man in his early twenties with straggly dishwater blond hair, a wheezing voice, and a wretched attitude. Harry had quickly learned (mostly because Quisby went on and on and on about it) that his uncle was the owner of the Three Broomsticks, an establishment which the young man fully expected to inherit after the aging Tabernus Brewster’s eventual death. He attributed his current lack of employment at said establishment to Tabernus’ blind and ill-conceived devotion to his only daughter. The litany of complaints, insults, and justifications ran on an endless loop whenever Quisby deigned to address Harry.

“Just you wait, squib, one of these days old Tab will realize little Rosie’s got nothing of anything between her ears. All she’s got is what’s between her legs!”

“I hate to see a family establishment like the ‘Sticks fouled up by a bint like Rosie! Shoving her tits in people’s faces isn’t the way to build up a loyal clientele! Believe me, I should know! Unlike her, I’ve been training for this my whole life!”

“Uncle Tab’s been wrapped around Rosie’s fingers since she was born, see. His only child, and only family since Aunt Cybele died. Loves her as much as he loves the pub. But soon enough he’ll come round and see her for what she really is, mark my words, squib!”

And so on.

Harry wisely kept silent and nodded at the appropriate moments, taking solace in the fact that Quisby’s dream was doomed. He knew very well that Madame Rosmerta owned the Three Broomsticks in his own time (and that generations of students were quite loyal patrons because of Rosmerta’s penchant for letting her chest invade their personal space).

Sometimes being from the future was immensely satisfying.

Much like he had at the Dursleys’, Harry was becoming certain that he’d never hear his actual name again. To Ab he was always either “boy” or “lad” (the latter his much-preferred choice). He couldn’t even remember Aberforth ever asking what his name was, come to think of it.

To just about everyone else, like Quisby, he was simply “squib.” Apparently, he would seethe, squibs don’t need proper names in the world of Hogsmeade.

“Squib!” Quisby sneered as Harry deposited the glasses behind the bar. “Stop lazing about. Go and clear off the tables!” He immediately turned back to his copy of Broomstick-Loving Bombshells and bit into a plum.

You will die unhappy and unfulfilled, Harry silently promised him as he moved out from behind the bar. It must be a busy night to have dirty tables this early. Indeed, in addition to the regular barflies, quite a few folks – by the Head’s standards – hunkered at the scattered tables.

A coarse, humorless chuckle interrupted Harry as he was picking up a plate on the first soiled table.

“Well aren’t you the helpful little squib?”

Steel-blue eyes peered at him from underneath the hood of an expensive-looking but simple black cloak. Literally hulking over the small table, little but the eyes and dark mustache of the speaker, a brute of a man, was visible to Harry. 

There was nothing for Harry to say in response.

“Well, squib? Cat got your tongue?”

Harry moved to pick up another plate. Ignore him. He’s already half drunk.

The man pounded his fist on the table, drawing the attention of the rest of the pub. “You don’t belong here, freak,” he spat.

Do not engage, his inner voice advised him in tones so icy calm that they chilled his temper.

Controlling his breathing he began a deliberate retreat. He barely restrained his shiver when he realized he had to turn his back on the man to get away.

“Don’t you turn your back on your betters!” The sound of a chair being violently shoved aside reverberated through the room.

A few patrons gasped, and then the pub fell completely silent. Harry didn’t notice one of the old regulars slip out the back. He did notice, through the reflection in the window, that the man was standing and pointing his wand at his unprotected back. Quisby, helpful sod that he was, only looked up from his perusal of naked witches to watch with mild interest.

He’s been drinking and is spoiling for a fight.

I won’t get out of this. The realization hit Harry like a bucket of cold water. All I can do is keep calm and do my best to control the fight.

But I don’t have my wand! he shouted at himself.

Can’t be helped. I don’t have to win. Just don’t lose too badly.

Harry drew a deep breath in and turned around. “Have it your way, then,” he sighed.

The man’s face contorted in a manic grin. “Oh, I’m gonna make this last,” he practically purred, and immediately shot a Petrificus Totalus at Harry.

He was fast, but Harry, who just managed to duck out of the way, was faster. Before Harry could respond he found himself dodging a sizzling silver curse which had several regulars standing to their feet and reaching for their own wands.

That was a choking hex! Those can be fatal! Shite, he’s not playing

On instinct, he threw the plate he’d cleared from the table frisbee-style at the man’s head, and was satisfied to hear a thunk and an enraged curse. Harry had no time to think more before he was rolling forward towards his adversary to avoid the blasting curse that had been sent at the ground below him. He found himself within arm’s reach of the man, who seemed shocked at Harry’s sudden proximity.

While the man adjusted his position, Harry shot up to his feet and kneed the man hard in the groin.

Fuck it. There’s already no honor in this fight.

As the man keeled forward, Harry grabbed the back of his head and slammed it against the solid wood table with as much force as he could. The audible crunch of the man’s nose echoed sickeningly through the room. Out cold, he slid boneless to the floor and Harry quickly devested him of his wand.

The fight had lasted less than thirty seconds.

“You dare take a wizard’s wand?!” Yarda hissed in shock from a corner, the ringlets in her brassy wig bobbling as she trembled with rage and fingered her own wand.

“Lad! Immediately get to the kitchen!”

Harry turned to find a breathless Aberforth standing in the doorway, wand out, rage mounting. Behind him, Dalcop Shicker, the regular who had apparently rushed out to find Ab, gaped at the scene.

Without a word, Harry walked to Ab and handed him the man’s wand before slipping through the door to the stairs and descending to the kitchen.

As the door to the kitchen shut, he could feel the automatic defensive wards raise and finally let himself release his breath.

His whole body was shaking with adrenaline.

I was—I was—I was, his mind stuttered in shock, I was just in a barfight!

Holy shite, I was just in a real, actual barfight.

His hands felt like noodles.

With a grown-up wizard.

His mind boggled.

And I won.

I I won my first barfigtht!

Grinning stupidly, he flopped down to his arse and permitted himself a few moments to bask in his own unexpected awesomeness.

Then he slowly got up and got back to washing the dishes, hearing Ab’s bark in his head saying, as usual, Job’s not done yet, lad!

About half an hour later Aberforth strode into the kitchens, pulled his wand, and conjured two identical wooden chairs. “Sit.”

Harry sat.

Aberforth set himself in the chair across from Harry and looked him in the eye with a fathomless expression. “Would you care to tell me why you chose to duel with Walden bloody Macnair in my pub tonight?”

Macnair?! But he’s a  Death Eater! He was in the graveyard! … And wasn’t he the ministry guy sent to kill Buckbeak? I just fought him? I just beat him?

Harry was fairly impressed with himself, but doubted Aberforth would want to hear about that.

Sobering, Harry took a moment to gather his thoughts. He wanted to yell and protest that it wasn’t his fault, but that wouldn’t work so well on Ab. Deep breath

“I didn’t duel with him. I fought him.” He paused. “And I didn’t choose to fight him. He wanted a fight, he wanted to hurt me from the moment he saw me. I wasn’t getting out of there without a confrontation.”

Aberforth sighed.

“I’m not sorry,” Harry declared honestly. “I mean, I’m sorry it had to happen, and I’m sorry it happened in your place, but I could either try to run and get hurt pretty bad, or take my chances and fight the bastard head-on. I’m not – I’m not sorry about how it went.”

“I know,” Ab agreed simply.

“I’m always going to choose head-on.”

“I believe you.”

“I’m really not sorry.”

“I know.”

This was not going how Harry’s conversations with adults after dramatic, violent events usually went.

“Er … Am I supposed to say something else?”

Ab chuckled wryly and looked into an imagined distance as his fingers idly attempted to straighten his beard. It was as much a lost cause as Harry’s hair was.

“No, I suppose there isn’t anythin’ else for you to say,” he finally concluded.

Oh God, he’s going to kick me out.

“You’ve left me a fine mess though. Fucking Walden Macnair, of all people. You know who he is, right? Who he belongs to?”

Harry nodded hesitantly. “Yeah, pretty sure I do.”

Ab grunted. “Well, we’re bloody lucky that he’ll be too humiliated to press charges against you. Can’t let anyone, particularly his master, find out he got his arse handed to him by a thirteen-year-old squib.”

Harry bristled. “I’m fifteen!”

“Bah, same difference.”

“Wait – you said he won’t press charges?” Harry donned his native Gryffindor indignation like a favorite sweater. “What the fuck? He attacked me! Shouldn’t he be worried that I’m the one who’ll press charges? What the hell would anyone arrest me for?!”

Aberforth looked at him, really looked at him for a long moment. Harry shifted uncomfortably under his penetrating gaze.

“Boy, I didn’t take you for stupid. A fool, sure, but not stupid.”

Harry pulled a puzzled face.

“You’re a squib, Harry. A disowned, no family, squib. You’ve got no rights to fight against wizards, don’t you know that? You could get a year in Azkaban just for pickin’ up Macnair’s wand!”

No fucking way.

“What?!” Harry couldn’t stop himself from yelling this time. “That’s … that’s so unfair! Really?”

Ab kept his keen eyes on Harry. “Since when does fair matter to us?” He shook his head. “Can’t reckon how you’d not know about all this. Squibs have spent years campaignin’ for better rights, though it didn’t do ‘em much good.”

Harry shut his mouth with an audible clicking of teeth.

“Anyhow,” Ab went on, “Yarda and some of the others are right hacked at off at you, worthless pieces of shit that they are, but I don’t think they’ll do anything about it. Macnair’s been shipped off to St. Mungo’s, and you can bet he won’t report you. And,” he laughed a bit, “you at least impressed Dalcop, Dung, Pel, and the rest of that lot of fools. But if there wasn’t a target on you before, you can bet your lacy little panties that there’ll be one now.”

He's not going to kick me out. The certainty hit Harry like a cool breeze. He nodded mutely.

Ab coughed a bit uncomfortably. “Well done though, lad. Can’t get angry with you for fightin’ when you had to. Merlin knows I always preferred to settle my scores with the business end of my wand as well. And as for Macnair, hmpf,” he rose from the chair, “that’s a man that who could do with a good killin’, make no mistake.” He turned and called as he made to leave, “Off with you. Go and sit with Silvanus, make sure he’s doin’ all right. I’m goin’ to finish cleanin’ up this mess.”

“Ab?” Harry’s voice sounded young even to his own ears. “There were at least a dozen other people there.”

“I know.” Ab paused. “Lotsa witnesses.”

“None of them helped me.” Harry quickly backtracked, “I mean, I know that Dalcop went and found you, but … other than that, no one helped me.”

Ab’s face hardened. “I know.”

Harry wanted to ask him why, wanted to ask him how mostly decent people could stand by and watch a kid get hurt – maybe even killed – by a man with a wand who was twice his size. He wanted to ask these things, but looking at Ab now, he realized he already knew the answer. He just wished he didn’t, wished there were a better one.

But, like Ab, he knew.

Ab lowered his eyes and nodded. He knew that Harry knew now too.

“Off with you, Harry.”

As he heard the stairs creak under Ab’s weight, Harry flushed with pleasure.

He called me Harry.

Later that night, Ab came in to see how Silvanus was and clucked with mild approval over Harry’s ministrations.

After he left, Harry noticed a mug sitting on the hay bale by his own straw bed. It was filled with hot cocoa, marshmallows and all.

Harry couldn’t stop grinning.

And this is why Ab is also like Hagrid.

Sure, he didn’t want anyone to know, but Ab could be as gentle and kind as the half-giant, even if he acted like Moody most of the time. All one had to do was to consider how he treated his goats. Harry didn’t know why the old man cared for the animals quite so much, but he always took care that they had a clean place, that they were fed well, hell, he even sat with them when they had a cold!

And as for his treatment of Harry …

At first, Harry had been rankled that he was relegated to sleeping in the attached stables when half the guest rooms were usually unoccupied. But after a few days of cleaning those rooms, Harry was immensely grateful for his sleeping assignment. No magic could make those rooms less abysmal. The stable, on the other hand, was by far the cleanest part of the inn, and the only room which actually received any sunlight due to the absence of the grime which rendered the rest of the inn’s windows an opaque gray at best. Unlike the stained and crusted blankets and sheets spread on the guest rooms’ beds, Harry’s were soft, thick, and immaculate, if well-worn, in comparison.

Ab had given him the best room in the house.

And now he had left hot cocoa for Harry, knowing that he must be upset by the events of the evening. He sat for several moments, looking at the steaming mug and thinking hard.

Ab isn’t the sort to say the right things, like his brother is.

Ab just does the right things.

No, Harry couldn’t stop grinning.

 


 

 

17 December, 1976

A few days after his fight with Macnair, Harry was busying himself cleaning the upstairs sitting room. It was the only place in the inn, aside from the stable, that Ab strictly demanded be kept tidy.

Harry didn’t really understand why. Patrons never spent any time in the area. There were only a few chairs and low tables, a bookshelf that was empty but for two slim volumes, and a large painting. At first, he had thought it a nice, if rather bland, standard landscape of the British countryside. After a while, however, he noticed the figure of a woman, maybe a girl, far off in the distance, meandering slowly down a long, winding road.

The woman never came close enough to make out her features.

Having given the rest of the room a thorough cleaning, Harry rummaged through his little crate of supplies and found a small bottle of Madame Tousar’s Amazing Art Aider, which guaranteed to brighten paintings and the quasi-lives of those within them in just one application. Shrugging, he decided to give it a try and applied a small dab to his rag.

“Don’t you dare touch her!”

Harry jumped at the harsh voice that had broken through the silence of the morning. His eyes widened in shock when he realized that it had been Ab who had spoken to him like that.

The old man crossed the room in three great strides and slapped the rag out of Harry’s outstretched hand as he growled, “What the fuck are you doin’ to her?” Without waiting for an answer, Ab moved in closer and with one hand pinned Harry to the wall by the scruff of his shirt. The other hand held his wand. Which was pointed straight into Harry’s face.

Harry flinched back violently. “I – I – Ab?” was all he managed to gasp out before he froze.

Ab’s eyes were wild and furious, but the rage in them slowly ebbed as he stared at Harry, who was relieved to see the resemblance to Vernon Dursley fading. Eventually, the old man seemed to realize the threatening position he had taken relative to the much smaller boy and glanced quickly at the painting. At once he blinked, his face almost embarrassed, and backed away.

Harry stayed with his back against the wall, entirely still.

Ab stowed his wand and began making the sort of calming gestures one uses on a wild, injured animal, though they seemed directed as much at himself as they did at Harry.

Harry felt his legs give under him and he slowly slid down the wall. He sat there, arms around his knees, and cautiously regarded the old man. His mind was blank, and he had no idea what he could say.

Ab was staring at the painting now, and Harry couldn’t resist taking a look. This is all just so weird and confusing and awful.

The woman – whom he saw now was a girl probably not much younger than himself – had moved to the very foreground of the painting. Indeed, most of the landscape was now obscured by her figure looming in the stone gateway that framed the painting. She was pretty, he noted vaguely. Dark blond hair, vibrant blue eyes that twinkled in the painted sunlight, refined, aristocratic features. She probably would have been popular with the Hogwarts boys. Her expression, however, was truly thunderous. Rage was expertly mixed with disappointment as she stood there, hands on her hips, glaring down at the old man who didn’t seem able to meet her eye for any length of time.

Ab put his head in his hands.

Harry said nothing.

The girl frowned.

“I’m sorry.”

For a moment, Harry thought he had imagined it. The voice that apologized was soft and sad, so different from the ruthless one that had lashed at him minutes earlier. No, that was definitely Ab speaking.

The man looked at the girl. “I’m sorry,” he repeated, his expression bleak. The girl seemed to scoff lightly and looked pointedly at Harry.

Ab shut his eyes tightly, then opened them and looked down at Harry.

“I’m sorry, Harry.” He looked so much older than he usually did. “I didn’t – I didn’t mean to do that.” Ab gazed at his hands, which he was holding out a bit, palms up. “It was … I’m sorry.”

And then he was gone, fled the room as suddenly as he had entered it.

What the hell was that?

Harry wasn’t sure what to do. He really didn’t want to go downstairs at the moment. Ab seemed like he wanted to … be alone. Standing shakily, he looked at the girl again.

She was giving him a small, shy smile, the glare she had directed at Ab long gone. Her hands twisted nervously in the old-fashioned blue pinafore she wore over her gray dress.

“Hello, er – miss,” Harry finally spoke, trying to remember his manners.

The girl’s smile widened.

“May I ask who you are?”

Her smile crinkled in small vexation as she shrugged.

“Uh, do you not know who you are?” Harry winced internally at the likely stupidity of the question. He’d met plenty of wizarding paintings, none of which had ever suffered amnesia.

The girl gave him the sort of look that such an idiotic question deserved, and then made a rueful face.

Harry thought. “Oh! Are you unable to speak?”

She smiled sadly and nodded.

“I, well, I guess I’m sorry to hear that … I’m Harry, by the way. I kind of live here now. At least for a bit.”

This was met with an eager nod.

“Wait, do you know about me?”

Another nod, accompanied by a finger pointed at the door.

“You want me to go?”

An eye roll. She pantomimed a long beard.

“Oh! Ab told me about you?”

She smiled an affirmative.

“So, um, are you related to Ab?”

Another affirmative. He was getting better at this. Harry noticed that the girl’s eyes twinkled when she smiled.

“Hmmm. Are you his … mother? Or maybe his wife?”

This earned him a sharp glare.

“Oh, that’s a definite no to both … his daughter maybe? He sure is protective of you.”

She initially smiled at this, but her eyes were sad as she shook her head.

Harry thought hard. Her dress was old-fashioned, maybe Victorian? And the headmaster was, what, at least 125 years old …

“You’ve got to be his sister!”, he exclaimed triumphantly.

More smiling, more eye twinkling. Yes, this girl was definitely a Dumbledore.

“Well, it’s really nice to meet you, Miss Dumbledore. You’re the first Dumbledore I’ve met that isn’t ancient and bearded. And a man.”

She gave a long, silent laugh at that.

Harry, though, wasn’t sure what to say at this point. It was hard having a conversation with a two-dimensional girl who couldn’t speak. He decided to voice his most immediate concern.

“Is Ab okay, do you think?”

The girl swayed her head from side to side, her mouth an uncertain line. Eventually, she gave a small nod.

Harry puzzled that response out slowly. “He’s upset, and so he’s not exactly okay, but he will be?”

She clapped her hands.

“I don’t really know what I did wrong,” Harry admitted. “I’m sorry if I did something to offend you, or him … I guess I just don’t understand and I don’t want him to hate me or anything. He’s just been pretty good to me, you know?”

The girl nodded, and that went through a complex series of motions that Harry was able to translate as, essentially, “you didn’t really do something wrong, but this is very complicated.”

Fair enough, I guess.

They both eased themselves into a comfortable silence. The girl stayed near the foreground but bent over to pick some flowers as Harry mused over this new development.

“Miss Dumbledore,” he finally said, and the girl looked up brightly from her gathering. “I don’t mean to offend you or anything, but are, um, are you, well, dead?”

The girl smiled sadly and nodded.

“Oh. Well, I’m really sorry to hear that.” Harry found that he really was sorry about this. “Still, it’s nice to meet you, even like this.”

The girl gave him a strange look that he was utterly unable to translate. She slowly pulled a lovely little corncockle out of her bouquet of wildflowers and pressed it against the canvas. A pointed look brought a confused Harry up close to the portrait.

Her face took on a distant, focused expression and, to his amazement, she slowly pushed the flower through the canvas. He hurried to grasp the flower as it inflated from two dimensions to three.

Harry looked at the flower in awe. It was leaving little streaks of green and lavender paint on his hands, but it was real.

This was definitely not normal.

“That, Miss Dumbledore, was bloody brilliant! Thank you!”

She gave an exaggerated curtsy and clapped her hands as he carefully wrapped the flower in a tea towel and put it in the inside pocket of his Weasley sweater. As soon as he was done she picked up the book she had been holding from the ground and held it imperiously before him.

“Do you want to send that through as well?”

An eye-roll, and then a gesture to the wall behind him. The wall that held the bookshelf.

Oh.

He picked up the two lonely books on the shelf and, sure enough, one was identical to the one in the painting. The Fairy Ring: Collections of Tales and Traditions for Young Ladies and Gentlemen was scrawled across its leather cover in faded gold-leaf.

“Do you … would you like me to read to you?”

The girl nodded eagerly and made herself comfortable on the landscape’s ground, her eyes alight. Harry found a bookmark in the volume and opened to the page. Clearing his throat a bit nervously, he began.

“The story of Ariadne, Theseus, and the Minotaur. Once upon a time in the land of Crete …”

As he read on, he failed to notice the faint footsteps of someone walking away from the door and down the stairway.

 


 

Aberforth sat at the bar in shock. The conversation between his sister and the boy had been sweet and upsetting and somehow horrible. Both were so bloody innocent, and the world was not kind to children like them.

But the corncockle … How in the name of Merlin had Ariana done that? It was a known fact of magic that nothing in wizarding paintings could be translated into three dimensions, let alone whatever his sister had done.

Some magic, he supposed, was quiet and awesome and never meant to be understood. It just was.

And then the boy had read to her in those damnably halting, shy tones of his. The voice of a child who wasn’t used to anyone listening, and who hated to bother anyone with his thoughts.

It was the same voice Ariana had used around everyone, but for himself.

The boy still spoke like that around him most of the time, and it probably gets worse after what had transpired between them in the sitting room. Only once had the kid spoken with any real steel, the night he justified his actions against Macnair. That had been the voice of the man the child could become.

He’d like to hear more of that voice, he admitted to himself.

 


 

Eventually, Harry had to go downstairs to help prepare the pub for its afternoon opening. He found Ab sitting behind the bar hunched over a glass of Muggle whiskey. In front of the chair opposite him was a steaming mug of hot cocoa.

Harry took the hint and sat down.

“Her name was Ariana. She was my sister,” Ab stated flatly.

“I know.”

Ab nodded. “I loved her more than anything. She had been … damaged, hurt as a child.”

“I see,” came the soft response.

“She died.”

“I know.”

Ab stayed absolutely still, staring at Harry. “I might’a been the one who killed her. I don’t know.”

Harry regarded him with a penetrating gaze. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“No. Not now.”

“Okay.”

The two, one an old man, one not yet a man, sat quietly and drank their chocolate and whiskey for a long while.

Ab chuckled without humor. “You’d not make a half-shit bartender, lad.”

Harry smiled a bit. “Thanks.”

They continued nursing their drinks.

“I’m sorry, Harry.”

“I know. It’s okay.”

“I loved her more than anything.”

“And she loved you. You can tell by her portrait.”

Ab shuddered. “I wish sometimes she hadn’t a’ loved me.”

Harry barked out a bitter laugh that seemed too loud in the silent pub. “Old man, I didn’t take you for stupid, a fool, sure, but not stupid.” Ab looked at him in shock as Harry continued. “Didn’t you know? Sometimes you can’t pick the people who love you any more than you can change the minds of people who should love you but don’t.”

Ab gaped.

Harry smiled, feeling a bit bold. “Now maybe we should get the pub ready to open. You wouldn’t want to disappoint the drunks, whores, and scoundrels expecting to get fed and watered, would you?

 

 

Chapter Text

It Takes a Village

 

 

19 December, 1976

Ab shook his head in disgust when Harry brought up the tray of shrunken crispy pig’s heads from the kitchen.

“I’m tired of lookin’ at ya, lad. Get out and go get yourself somethin’ else to wear. You’re an embarrassment in those clothes, an’ sayin’ you’re an embarrassment in a dive like this is really saying somethin’.

Harry blinked in surprise. “Now? But, but there are people here. Don’t you need me?”

The small group of men lazing about the bar in the weak afternoon sun laughed.

“We ain’t ‘people,’ my young friend!” Peloother Pepst snorted, “We’re regulars!”

That earned a louder chuckle from the barflies. Dalcop Shicker took a long pull of his drink and slapped Peloother on the back. “Thas’ a good un’ Pel!”

Pel and Dalcop had quickly become Harry’s favorite regular patrons, both for their good humor and the fact that neither called him “squib.” The two were nearly permanent features on their barstools, and neither ever seemed to be without the other. They even finished each other’s sentences sometimes. In a strange way, they reminded Harry a bit of a late-middle-aged and very drunken version of the Weasley twins, though the two looked nothing alike. While Pel was a broad, well-built man with long iron-grey hair that hadn’t seen a comb since the ’60s, Dalcop was a short and plump (to put it generously) man with a friendly round face so large that it seemed to have pushed all his straw blond hair into a retreat from the top of his head. Gin blossoms bloomed happily red across the wide expanse of his nose.

Harry had learned that Dalcop was the head of lift maintenance at the Ministry of Magic, a fact which had initially alarmed him because of the man’s connection with the government. These fears were put to rest when Harry realized that Dalcop didn’t much care who he was or where he was from, as long as he had his pint in front of him. These days Harry was mildly alarmed by Dalcop’s job for different reasons. He vowed that, if he ever had occasion to go to the Ministry of Magic, he would never ride in the lifts. The man was never sober, and that couldn’t bode well for the integrity of the magical transports whose care he apparently oversaw.

Besides, he had wondered, how much maintenance can those lifts really be getting? The man’s always here, after all.

He had been shocked to find out that Dalcop was married, given that he spent all his time at the Head. Vera, the lady in question, had never been seen by him or, apparently, anyone else who frequented the pub. Late-night owls, whose messages (often Howlers) Dalcop would immediately hide, were all that attested to her near-legendary existence.

Peloother, unlike his counterpart, averred that he “never had time for a wife” and boasted a sharp intelligence that was only moderately muffled by his penchant for spirits. When Harry had asked about his profession, Pel had laughed and only claimed to be a “freelance anthropologist of my fellow men, with a specialization in dregs and underbellies.”

Harry had responded innocently that he hadn’t thought wizards even knew what anthropologists were, at which point old Pel had let fly a laugh that sent White Rat Whiskey out the man’s nose.

“Too right, my young friend, too right!” he had gasped as Dalcop leaned over to ask Nappy Clank if “antrogist” was a fancy word for a bloke who goes to pubs and if “underbellies” were a new sort of fried snack.

Pel had also been the source of unexpected inspiration early in Harry’s stay at the Head. One night he had gaped as the older man lit his Muggle cigarette silently with just the barest of gestures, his wand still in his pocket.

“You can do magic without a wand!? Wicked!”

Pel had shaken his head and laughed off Harry’s deep admiration. “Nah, it’s not all that much, my friend. All wizards could do this if they tried.” At Harry’s questioning look, he continued. “You’d know all about accidental magic, yeah?” Harry nodded. “Well, one of the reasons kids are so good at it is that they have fewer thoughts banging about their heads. For example, when a little ‘un wants a toy, he wants it now, an' he wants it fully, with his entire being. Ain’t no other thoughts about making dinner, or angry bosses, or needed to clean out cupboards scampering around their noggins. Just pure thought aimed at a single purpose. That’s when you’ll suddenly see that toy fly across the room and into his grubby little paws. Well, it’s not like that ability goes away when magic folk get older. We could still do all that if we could just concentrate fully and absolutely on what we need.”

Harry suddenly remembered doing a wandless Lumos on the night the Dementors attacked him. He had truly been focusing on his need for light.

Pel continued, unaware of the connections Harry was making. “Trouble is, it’s a lot tougher for us to do that ‘cause of all the extra clutter in our heads. Plus, we have wands, so it’s not like we really need to try all that hard.”

Harry nodded. That made a lot of sense. “So why did you learn how to do it then? You’ve got a wand and all.”

Pel shrugged. “I’m always misplacing it before I go to bed. Then I’ll want a smoke, and it’s not there when I need it. So I figured out how to do a nice Incendio just with my hands.” He smiled. “Lets me keep my cheerful, lovable disposition, after all.”

This would be incredibly useful, Harry thought, his mind split between his cave where his wand still (he hoped) lay hidden and his fight with Macnair. True, he really didn’t want anyone to know he wasn’t a squib, but it couldn’t hurt to prepare himself for times when he was in over his head.

“So can you do all sorts of spells then?”

“Nah. Takes a while for adults to be able to do even one. The “clearing your mind” bit is right tough, you know. It’s like a muscle. You can train up to get good at one or two spells an’ after a while, your body and your mind just remember how to do that spell on its own. Me, I’ve really only ever worked on Incendio and Lumos. Hate getting outta bed an' all that. Been meaning to try Accio—that’s the summoning spell—but I ain’t found the time yet.”

Since that day Harry had taken to silently working on Accio late at night and in the early morning from the safety of his stable. He’d managed it a bit, but was coming to understand just how hard it was to “clear his mind” and focus only on his desire for his target to come to him. He planned on learning to cast three spells silently—Accio, Depulso, and either Lumos or Alohamora. Together, those should help him get out of trouble he absolutely couldn’t avoid, especially since no one would be expecting him to cast magic.

Back in the present, Pel cast a critical eye over Harry’s clothing.

“Ab’s right, lad. I can see flowers trying to burst out of that glamour Ab must have cast on your shirt, an' those trousers are…more than a bit unfortunate, let’s say. The sweater deserves no comment.”

“And I’m tired of you wearin’ my only other pair a’ shoes,” Aberforth added. “Every time the shrinkin’ spell fizzes out you trip up and break my dishes!” He gathered some coins from the ancient till. “Take this. Buy things. Bring back receipts. I’ll add it to your tab.”

Harry shrugged and made to leave the pub. It was true that he really needed less attention-getting clothing than the Weasleys had gifted him, but he had absolutely no desire to venture into the rest of the village. His paranoia about discovery and altering the timeline had abated a hair, given that he didn’t think anything would happen in the sleepy little dive that would irrevocably destroy the future, but going out into public for the first time stoked the fires of his anxiety into a full blaze. Still, needs must.

“And for Merlin’s sake, make sure that bastard Cordwaine sells you a decent pair of boots at a fair price. He tries to gouge ya, he’ll be hearin’ from me!” Ab yelled as Harry donned the coat Hagrid had given him and tipped him and the regulars a little wave.


Hogsmeade looked exactly as it always had. Thick snow covered the thatched roofs of the buildings and shops that lined the main street. Warm golden glows filtered through windows as a pale December sun struggled to light the day. Enchanted candles hung in the trees that overhung the lane, and wreaths of mistletoe and evergreen graced the doors.

A fair number of villagers were out and about, likely, Harry surmised, so as to avoid the throngs of students that would invade the village during the final Hogsmeade weekend of the term the next day.

He garnered more than a few raised eyebrows and scowls from passerby.

Ab was right. I definitely need new clothes.

That in mind, he decided to stop at Gladrags first. He’d only been there once, the year before when he had bought a Christmas present for Dobby, but figured they’d have the sort of basic clothing he needed.

He ignored the pang that thinking of Dobby and Hogsmeade weekends with his friends caused.

A little bell above the door piped a few bars of a Christmas carol as he entered the glittering shop. When he moved towards the area of the store he thought he’d need, he passed by racks of socks whose various lurid patterns started whirring, spinning, and greeting him as he approached.

The excitement of the footwear caught the attention of the rather young sales clerk, who was turning the pages of her magazine with a practiced, well-manicured hand. She was quite pretty, Harry observed, but in that overly-perfected, overly-coiffed way. Her smart white and ivory robe set was immaculate, every golden hair tamed and styled. Perhaps he’d spent too long filthy in the woods and around filthiness at the Head. This too clean, too perfect specimen of womanhood made him nervous.

The young woman, whose name placard read ‘Celeste,’ took Harry’s appearance in with a small, disapproving purse of her expertly-painted lips.

“And you would be here for … ?” She drawled.

Harry shrugged sheepishly and looked down at himself. “I really need some new clothes, new robes.”

“Obviously.” The sneer didn’t show on her expressionless face but was obvious in her tone.

Does 1976 Snape have a hot blonde sister?

She sniffed. “Hogwarts students aren’t supposed to be here until tomorrow.”

Harry gave another shrug. “I’m not a Hogwarts student.”

Her eyes narrowed before returning to her magazine. “Out with you,” she said dismissively, gracing him with an absent wave of her hand towards the door.

“Excuse me?”

“Gladrags Wizardwear Group Limited’s policy is not to sell its products to…”, she recited in a monotone before faltering a bit, though she still didn’t look up from her reading, “… to, well, people like you.”

Harry was floored. The other time he’d been here he hadn’t looked that much better, clad as he had been in Dudley’s cast-offs with an open school robe over them, but the salesclerk then had practically tripped over herself trying to help him.

What the hell is going on? People like me?

“But, but I have gold? See?” He dug into his pocket and brought out some of the coins Ab had lent him.

The young woman sighed. She’s still not looking at me. “Gladrags Wizardwear Group Limited is uninterested in your custom, regardless of your fiscal capacity to purchase its products.”

Harry gaped.

The clerk slapped her magazine shut. “Look, kid, it means I can’t sell anything to you, so please just bugger off. I don’t own the store, I just work here, understand?” She finally made eye contact with him but looked away quickly.

Harry nodded dumbly and walked back to the door.

Meanwhile, the young woman seemed to lose an argument with herself. “Hey, the Fenwicks over at the Jumble don’t mind selling to, well, to anyone. They’ve usually got tons of used clothes there.”

Harry nodded again, but helplessly opened his mouth to ask what the Jumble was and where he could find it.

The girl didn’t give him time to respond before sighing with exasperation. “All the way down High Street, take a left when it ends, it’s a few blocks over. You can’t miss it.”

“Thank you, miss,” Harry replied in a soft voice. There was no point in taking his fury out on her. It wouldn’t do anything.

She shook her head and waved him off before turning and ignoring him utterly.

The piping doorbells seemed significantly less merry as he left the store.


Harry sighed as he returned home (home!) to the Head. His excursion had been mostly successful. He’d managed to find some decent, if rather worn clothing at what he discovered was “Jinky Fenwick’s Fabulous Jumble,” a massive mess of a store that seemed to specialize in second-hand everything, so long as it was old, worn, or dirty.

The man behind the counter had kindly allowed him to change into one set of his new clothes, sparing Harry another walk of shame down High Street. His new (but obviously used) slate blue open cloak, dark brown tunic, and dark gray trousers all fit him fairly well, but they nonetheless did not stop many of the village denizens from casting dark looks his way. Apparently, everyone knew that there was something wrong with teenagers who didn’t attend Hogwarts.

His visit to the tidy little shop that proclaimed in sprawling gold letters to be that of “Crispin Cordwaine, Master Cobbler” had not gone so well.

Upon entering, he had immediately been met by the master cobbler himself, a fastidious little man with a mustache so thin that it must have served as a model for Barty Crouch Sr. It was more hair than was on the rest of his entire head.

“You must be the old goat’s charity case,” he had proclaimed in a nasal voice, looking down at Harry from behind rimless spectacles.

“Er—” That probably met Ab…

“Run along back to him and remind him that the Cordwaines are a respectable family. We’ll have nothing to do with unfortunates like yourself.”

Harry was not going to leave at that.

“Look, I have gold, I need shoes. There’s not even anyone else in here! Can’t you just –” He stopped abruptly when the man pulled his wand and pointed it straight at him.

Bugger this. Bugger this all so much.

Harry left without another word, barely keeping himself from slamming the door so hard that the pristine glass would break. He remembered Ab’s warnings. Getting pissy, no matter how justified, could well land him in Azkaban.

As he walked into the pub, Pel let out a breath. “Much better,” he muttered.

“Why are you still wearing my shoes?” Ab barked.

“The cobbler wouldn’t sell any to me,” he replied simply.

Ab’s face darkened and he grabbed his winter cloak. “Pel – watch the bar.”

“Hey, I work here! I can do that,” Harry protested.

Ab snorted, doffed a thick fur hat, and was out the door.

With a delighted giggle, Pel stepped behind the bar to pull himself and his mates generous pint glasses of Firewhisky.

“Shouldn’t you pay for that?” Harry asked with an arched brow.

Pel smiled devilishly. “Help drinks free.”

Bullshite. Try selling that one to Ab.

When Ab returned three-quarters of an hour later carrying a brand new pair of low-cut cattle leather boots which he unceremoniously handed over to Harry, Pel, Dalcop and the other regulars were several sheets to the wind.

“They pay for all that whiskey?”

Harry shook his head. “Said the help drinks free.”

“Bullshite,” he grumbled over the sound of the drunken men singing a bawdy song about a witch who could change her appearance and form at will. “Ah well, I’ll just add it to your tab, lad.”

“Aw, thash no’ fair ta da boy, Abs …,” Dalcop started.

“…he hasn’t even punshed a single Death Eater in, wha, two days now?” Pel completed dramatically.

“Shaddup, ya no good drunks!” Ab responded and pointed a finger at Harry. “This one’s on you, boy.”

Goddamnit all so much.


20 December, 1976

It was the day of Harry’s first Hogsmeade weekend since moving in with Aberforth. He wasn’t all that worried about somehow destroying the space-time continuum, for today, at least. Ab had observed that only the rare group of seventh years ever ventured into the pub, and Harry had been kept busy cleaning the stables and guest rooms for most of the day anyway.

Goat trotted after him as he swept out the stables, blithely ignoring the attentions of a rapt Silvanus, who settled for preening in front Broma, a much less discerning nanny. Every so often Harry bent over to give Goat a scratch.

It was strange to be here cleaning up dung and hanging out with a goat when his parents – his real, thoroughly not dead, teenage parents – were probably strolling around the village at this very minute, maybe looking at the same pinkening horizon that he was. He’d long since given up the idea of ever approaching them, but the temptation to catch a glimpse was undeniable.

“Lad!”

Harry scampered up the steps to find a waiting Ab. “Rosie over at the ‘Sticks just Flooed. Kids’ve near drank her outta butterbeer and there’s still three hours before they have to get back to the school. She’s payin’ me almost double base cost for my extra casks. Sure as shit no one here is gonna drink that sugar piss. Quisby’s bringin’ ‘em out back. Load up the cart and drop ‘em off for me.”

Harry nodded and headed out to ready Ab’s ancient pushcart, all the while trying not to grumble. He hated the stupid contraption. The thing was literally from the Victorian period, shrieked like a banshee, and half the time actually needed to be pushed rather than run off charms. Harry wasn’t the sort to be much concerned with how he appeared to others, but even he had to admit it was impossible to look cool while in the company of that monstrosity.

Quisby helpfully ended his levitation of the kegs the moment they were out the door and sent them crashing to the ground. Sure, they were charmed unbreakable, but the git could have put them on the cart for him, Harry stewed as he dead-lifted each extremely heavy keg.

And so it was that Harry nervously ventured into the Hogsmeade evening, laden with several casks of butterbeer and one deeply embarrassing pushcart. Students streamed past him as fast as they dared on the slick walks, while Harry struggled to keep the laden wagon from getting stuck in the deep narrows between the cobblestones. Every few moments he surreptitiously peered about, unsure whether he was hoping to see one of his parents or hoping not to.

Eventually, he maneuvered the pushcart up to the Three Broomsticks and was met by a breathless, young, and eye-poppingly buxom Madame Rosmerta, who was accompanied by several upper-year male students. No doubt she’d had no problem convincing them to help her unload the cart.

She was nice enough, he supposed. Sure, she called him “squib,” (at which point the students suddenly found something else to look at), but she didn’t say it in a mean way, she thanked him, and she even took the time to pointedly invade his personal space with her breasts. To his mind, this made her quite the equal opportunity advocate in comparison to many of the other villagers he’d encountered.

Quisby had nothing on Rosmerta, that was for sure.

A few older students with Slytherin scarves glared at him suspiciously on the way home. His wand hand itched for a wand that wasn’t there as they fell into step behind him and kept at his back for a few blocks. Passing by Zonko’s, their interest was diverted by the window display and he breathed a sigh of relief.

The sun had nearly set when he trundled the much lighter pushcart back up the walk to the Head, only to skid to a stop when he realized three girls were blocking the path.

“Absolutely not!” The one’s whose back was turned completely to Harry was saying. “I don’t care if the Three Broomsticks is out of butterbeer, there’s no way I’m going in there!”

A short blond girl with a feathered, very 1970s haircut and more eyeliner than was strictly necessary stood in profile and made a pleading gesture. “Oh, come on, Lils! I’m freezing, I want a drink, and I’ve always wanted to see inside this place!”

Lils.

Goddamit all. 

Harry stood as still as any woodland creature confronted with an apex predator, his mind paralyzed. Stay? Run? Say something? Fuck, fuck, fuck – that’s my mother!

Meanwhile, the girls’ argument continued. “Marlene,” Lily commanded, “tell her that this is a terrible idea.”

The third girl, apparently ‘Marlene,’ idly twirled a brown curl in her fingers. “Dunno, could be fun.” She brightened. “Hey, they’d probably even serve us Firewhiskey, they wouldn’t care …”

Lily took a calming breath. “Marlene, Vana, I. Am. A. Prefect. I can’t be seen in a place like this!” She lowered her voice to a sharp, deadly serious whisper. “I heard that there are prostitutes here!

It happened without any conscious decision on Harry’s part.

He laughed. Loudly.

The three girls visibly jumped. Lily and Marlene turned and scowled at him. The blonde, Vana, gave him a speculative once-over.

Shite. Shite. Shite.

He coughed awkwardly. “I, er, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to laugh like that.”

His mother glared at him, her arms crossed.

“It’s just, uh, it was kind of funny to hear what students think of the Head, that’s all.”

Vana’s eyes grew bold, “Oh, do you work here? That’s cool!” She gave him a smile that seemed to show all her teeth. “I bet you have all sorts of interesting stories about the things that go on inside!”

Harry wasn’t sure what to say to this. Is she actually flirting with me?

Lily was staring at him. “You’re young. Why don’t you go to Hogwarts?” she asked without preamble.

Marlene slapped her lightly on the elbow and hissed, “Lily! You don’t just ask that.”

Harry smiled awkwardly. “Uh, circumstances I guess.”

Lily and the blonde looked confused. The brunette looked distinctly uncomfortable.

“Er, anyway, sorry for interrupting, but uh, can you please move so that I can get past?”

Lily jumped, “Oh! Sorry, I guess we are blocking the path.”

With a dismissive gesture silently assuring her that no apology was necessary, he pushed the cart up the walk as the girls moved out of the way. When he had rounded the corner in the back and was safely out of sight, he listened hard to hear the rest of their conversation.

“Well, that settles that, we are definitely not going in!” Lily declared.

It was like being punched in the stomach.

What?

“What?” Vana echoed Harry’s thoughts. “What was wrong with him? I thought he was kinda interesting, well, in a dangerous sort of way at least…”

Lily scoffed. “Of course you would think that! You always go for the trampy ones. I mean, did you see him? He was filthy, and kinda freaky, just staring at us, and just … just ugh!

What? What? Harry’s heart was gasping.

You’re hardly one to talk about going for the trampy ones, Lils,” the blonde grumbled.

“Don’t get your heart set on him, Vana,” Marlene muttered quietly. “He’s a teenager, in Hogsmeade, who doesn’t go to Hogwarts. He’s gotta be a squib.”

“Oh!” From Vana’s tone, she no longer considered him interesting in a dangerous sort of way.

“Whatever, forget about him,” Lily proclaimed, ending the argument. “Let’s just go back to school. It’s getting too cold to keep wandering around the village anyway.”

With happy chatter and a swirl of woolen robes, the three girls departed.

Meanwhile, Harry had gone numb, more numb than the night Ab had found him in the snow. He robotically stowed the pushcart and entered the back of the inn, descended the stairs to the kitchen, and began gathering dishes to wash.

Filthy.

Freaky.

Just ugh!

Forget about him.

Lily’s thoughtless judgments replayed through his mind on a loop. They were – they were – they were – his mind stuttered along with his heart.

They were crippling.

Forget about him.

I can’t be seen in a place like this.

Filthy.

Freaky.

Oh God. That was my mum. My mum said those things about me.

She … she sounded like …

Harry couldn’t finish the thought, though he knew precisely whom young Lily had sounded like.

She had sounded like Aunt Petunia.

Harry swayed, and put his hands flat on the nearest surface to steady himself.

That wasn’t my mum, His inner voice tried to calm him. My mum is dead, and my dad is dead. Those two other girls are probably also dead, else why did I never hear about them or meet them?

And then the world went white.

I never heard about or met Ab either, though.

His stomach dropped.

Oh God, he’s probably dead too.

They’re all dead, all dead, all dead …

Dead empty eyes. All the spares, all gone.

Dead empty eyes like Cedric. All the spares, all gone, all killed.

But Ron and Hermione, the twins, Neville, Ginny, Oliver, everyone – they’re not dead!

No, they’re worse than that, a cruel voice inside him hissed. They’re just gone, whispered out of existence. Sure, maybe they’ll be born again, you keep thinking, but you don’t know, do you? No, they’re all just more spares, more bodies behind you.

The faces of his friends flickered before his eyes so fast he couldn’t catch them. He couldn’t breathe. Ab’s kitchen was gone. The words in his head were becoming disjointed, senseless, awful things with gnashing teeth that bit at him without mercy. Spares. Filthy. Empty. Freaky. Spares. Dead. Dead. Gone.

Shouts dimly reached his ears, but the pounding of Dead Dead Gone drowned them out. Hands on his arms, hands on his shoulders, hands on his face, hands on the back of his head, tipping it back. Liquid in his mouth. Down, down his throat. Filthy Empty Freaky Spares.

Briefly, steel blue eyes appeared before him. Ab.

No, Ab was dead. Wasn’t he?

He fought for control of his mouth and managed to choke out, “Ab? You’re not a spare, are you?” Darkness was cocooning him. Dammit, this is important! “Please Ab! Please, don’t be a spare!” He was falling. “No more spares … I can’t …”


Aberforth stared at the boy sprawled unconscious, half in his lap, half on his kitchen floor, for long moments before he met Peloother’s eyes. They were, for once, serious and sharp.

“What the fuck was that, Ab?”

The old bartender had come down to pick up the money from Rosmerta not long after he had heard the boy enter through the back door. When he entered the kitchen, he knew something was wrong.

The boy was standing absolutely still, his hands flat on top of the stove, the smell of searing flesh slowly filling the cramped room. His skin was being burned off, but the boy didn’t move, didn’t utter a sound, at least until Ab had knocked his hands away and whirled him around.

The boy’s eyes – his impossibly young, foolish eyes – were unblinking and dilated. The smallest of whimpers escaped his lips.

“QUISB – aw fuck it – PEL! Peloother! Get your drunk arse down here NOW!” Ab had bellowed over his shoulder. He eased Harry and himself to the floor.

A clamor down the stairs, a bump, and a muffled curse announced Pel’s arrival.

Ab didn’t wait for questions. “Calming draught, Pain draught, Burn paste. Top left cupboard on that wall,” he barked to Pel, who immediately began rummaging in Ab’s stock of healing supplies “Two a’ each potion. He’s a squib, he’ll need more than us.”

“Dead, dead, gone …” Both men paused and looked at the boy who had started mumbling, his eyes still staring, unseeing.

“Find ‘em now!” Ab barked at Pel. “Lad? Lad, can you hear me?”

The boy whimpered again. “Filthy, empty, freaky, spares …” His hands reached out for something.

“No, lad! You’re hurt bloody bad! Don’t move your hands,” Ab shifted the boy half into his lap and tried to immobilize the boy’s shoulders with is own arms.

Pel finally rushed over with the requested potions. He uncorked and handed Ab two Calming Draughts first. Aberforth unceremoniously tilted the boy’s head back and dumped them down his throat in quick succession. The boy sputtered something fierce but kept them down.

As the boy’s eyes slowly contracted, he finally looked at Ab with a haunted expression. “Ab? You’re not a spare, are you?”

Pel handed him the first Pain potion, but the boy grabbed his wrist, oblivious to the searing pain that had to be coursing through his hands. “Please Ab! Please, don’t be a spare!”

Aberforth didn’t know what the fuck that meant, but tried to calm the boy. “I’m not a ruddy spare, Harry!” He tipped the potion into the boy’s gasping mouth.

“No more spares … I can’t …” Green eyes closed.

And so here he was, sitting with a passed out teenager in his lap, looking into the grave eyes of Peloother Pepst.

“What the fuck was that, Ab?”

Aberforth considered the boy. “Panic attack or some such thing, I’m guessin’. When I came down he had his hands on the stove. He didn’t even notice the burns. Speakin’ of – pass that paste over. And grab me some of the cotton bandaging that’s up in the cupboard.”

Pel complied and returned, his eyes speculative. As he passed over the bandaging, he seemed to come to a decision. “Ab, I like the lad, I truly do. But what do you really know about him? I mean this … this isn’t normal.”

Ab grunted as he began applying a thick layer of paste. “What do I know?” He was quiet for a few moments. “I know he spent months – cold months – livin’ alone in the forest, fendin’ for himself and askin’ no one for help. I know he keeps his head down an’ does his job without much lip. I know he can look a man in the eye and tell the truth. I know he’s … a decent enough lad, proud even though he has no name that he’ll claim or no name that’ll claim him.” He paused and scooped up more burn paste for Harry’s other hand. “And I know he can see thestrals. An’ that that traitorous bint Amaltheia loves him best. That’s what I know.”

Pel nodded slowly and began bandaging the hand Ab had finished working on. Eventually, both men completed their ministrations and Ab lifted Harry into his arms. “I’ll get him to his bed. Do me a favor and tell Quisby to man the pub until I come up. Don’t tell him about this! Fuck, don’t tell anyone about this. An’ get Dung to discreetly ask ‘round the village to see if somethin’ happened to the boy out there.”

Pel departed, and Ab heaved Harry towards the stable. As he laid him down on his straw bed, he brushed the hair out of the boy’s eyes and took a long look at the strange, deep scar that marred his forehead. He’d noticed it now and then, peeking through his fringe, but this was his first opportunity to really inspect it. Thing’s definitely not natural. Eventually shaking his head, Ab tucked the boy in and said softly to himself as he closed the stable door “And I know that those potions shouldn’t have worked nearly that quickly on him.”


21 December, 1976

Harry woke early the next morning as the black sky was just beginning to blush with blue. Goat was cuddled up against him, snoring softly, her mouth working even in her sleep. He was shocked when he looked over her and spied Ab sleeping on the next hay bed. He moved slowly to grab his glasses only to realize both his hands were thick mitts of bandages.

Hazy memories of the previous evening slammed into him. He had seriously lost it, somehow gotten hurt, and Ab apparently had taken care of him. Cedric’s face suddenly swam before his vision. The dead. I was worried about the dead.

I was scared that Ab was dead in the future.

The rest was just unformed blurs of deep anxiety. All, that is, except for his mother.

He had met his mother and she hadn’t thought much of him. Filthy, freaky, her words returned and cut into him, but strangely without the biting power they had wielded the night before. Harry closed his eyes and thought hard not about his mother, really, but about Lily Evans.

What she said had been … mean. But, he reflected now that he calmed down, it hadn’t exactly been mean-spirited. Her words hurt him, hurt him to the bone, that was true, yet they were really not meant to hurt him. They were …

Thoughtless.

That’s it, that’s right. They were the thoughtless words of someone who didn’t know the power she had over me. They were just … the thoughtless words of a sixteen-year-old schoolgirl. A girl who, so far as I know, has had a pretty decent, happy, suburban life so far. Lily Evans doesn’t know what it means to be truly scared, or locked up, or alone, or hungry or any of that. She just doesn’t understand.

And, he realized with a flash of clarity, he absolutely didn’t want her to understand. He wished she thought differently of him, but for her to do so would mean she would have to suffer some, to be alone or hungry or whatever, and he didn’t want her to have to experience those things.

Besides, how different really was her reaction than, say, Hermione’s would have been? Hermione’s probably experienced more, but I could see some of those things coming out of her mouth. It’s not to do with a lack of compassion or intelligence. It’s just thoughtlessness.

My mum was a thoughtless kid once.

It was an odd realization.

He knew, intellectually, that he venerated the memory of his parents that he had created, and that such idealization could not really ever have been accurate. Hell, my first successful patronus memory was a fictional conversation with my perfect imaginary version of my parents!

But now he had tangible proof that his parents were real people, truly human. And real people can be mean, or thoughtless, or say things that hurt those they may not wish to hurt. Hell, just look at Ron last year. Just because she sounded a bit like Petunia didn’t mean that Lily would have hated him. It didn’t mean that Lily Evans had been a bad person.

A sense of calm slowly washed over him.

I can live with this.

As for the rest of the anxieties that had swarmed him the night before, he decided there was little he could actually do, and that he wouldn’t blame himself too much.

I’ve been pushing so hard to survive since the day I came back that I suppose it had to sink in some time. For fuck’s sake, I’ve been tortured by a Dark Lord, watched Cedric die, dealt with the Dursleys, and then got Kissed by a Dementor, time traveled, and lived in the Forbidden Forest until I almost froze to death.

Maybe I deserve a pass just this once.

He turned his attention to Goat, who had woken and was gazing at him with bleary eyes and a mildly annoyed expression.

“I’m sorry to wake you up,” he said softly as he stroked her belly.

She shook him off and turned over, sitting up on her knees so that she could bring her face to his. Goat regarded him for a moment, passed gas, and then tilted her head to begin eating his hair.

“Good talk, Goat.”

He looked around at the other sleeping goats, and his eyes came to rest on Ab. He stayed with me. The whole night. A warm feeling like that of chocolate after a Dementor attack rushed through him, and he smiled slightly.

“Well, I’m bloody thrilled one of us is having a good mornin’,” Ab growled without opening his eyes. He sighed dramatically and finally sat up, casting a weather eye on Harry.

“Last night was ugly. You had a panic attack or whatnot. You had your hands on the stove, burnin’ the skin clean off, and you didn’t notice. You weren’t all right, lad.” The words were blunt, Ab’s voice flat.

Harry looked at his bandaged hands. “No. No, I suppose I wasn’t. But I’m much better now.” He rushed on. “And thank you, Ab, for taking care of me. Again. And I’m sorry for the trouble and all that. I really am.”

Ab yawned but looked at Harry with steady eyes. “I ain’t gonna pry about what had you in such a state. Dung Fletcher checked around and no one saw you attacked, that right?” Harry nodded. “Like I said, I ain’t gonna pry.”

“But?” Harry prompted.

But,” Ab returned, “I gotta ask you, is there anythin’ you want to tell me, Harry?”

Harry hadn’t lied to Aberforth yet. Sure, he’d misled him since the moment they met, and he didn’t correct Ab’s wrong impressions, and he certainly didn’t tell him important things, but he hadn’t outright lied to the man. (*)

He didn’t want to start now.

“Yes. Yes, there is.”

“But?” Ab prompted dryly.

“But I’m not going to.” Ab began to protest, but Harry silenced him with his expression. “I don’t want to lie to you. Yes, there are things I really, really wish I could tell you. I can’t even describe how much I want to tell you. But I can’t.”

Ab stood up. “If you’ve been cursed with some sort of secrecy spell, I can take care a’”

“No.” Harry motioned for Ab to sit back down. “No, nothing like that. I can’t tell you because …”

… it might lead to the complete breakdown of the space-time continuum

“… because there are things I know that could get people hurt, really hurt. Could get people killed. Yeah, I want to tell you, but that’s ‘cause it’ll make me feel better. It’d be pretty selfish of me to give up their, well, everything, for my own peace of mind. It’d be easy, but wrong.” Harry picked at the straw of his bed before returning Ab’s gaze. “So no, I’m not going to say anything. And that’s all I’ll say about it.”

Ab’s face was thunderous, and Harry’s breath caught in his throat.

“I know that’s a shit explanation after … whatever happened last night. I – ”, A lump had formed in his throat, “I understand if you want me to go. I’m sorry about the trouble. I can go and find work somewhere else and I promise I’ll repay my debt to you that way.”

Ab stood and walked to the door. Harry’s heart began breaking.

“Go and grab the Prophet before breakfast. Heard that bastard of a Minister, Minchum, is implementing ‘new policies’ guaranteed to win the war. Let’s make some eggs and go over that waffle. We can try to figure out how many ways he’s a fuckin’ idiot.”

Everything is okay.

“Sure Ab, sounds good.”


25 December, 1976

To Harry’s surprise, Christmas day at the Head saw him the busiest he’d yet been since coming to live there. He had expected the pub to close or, if open, to be deserted. Two days before Christmas, however, Ab began receiving deliveries of more and better quality food than normal, though of course the latter was hardly too difficult to achieve. Aberforth explained that it was one of the Head’s most profitable days of the year, as just about everyone who regularly came to the pub came for Christmas, plus tons of others. Still puzzled by that, Harry got to work prepping what was to be a fairly extravagant feast, by the exceptionally low standards of the Hog’s Head, that is.

By noon of Christmas day, the pub was positively bustling, and nearly everyone was ordering the ample but simple meals that Ab, Harry, and, when it suited him, Quisby had prepared.

The patrons were a study in the great variety of social dregs offered by the British wizarding world. Hags, drunks, prostitutes, scoundrels, thieves, what Harry was fairly sure were a few vampires and werewolves (the two groups kept well apart from each other), and sundry other magical lowlifes each found a spot for themselves at the tables, though the bar was reserved for those few regular fools that Ab particularly didn’t hate as much.

Harry himself had been surprised that Ab permitted him to be in the pub given that most of the day’s patrons seemed the sort to frequent the Head long after Harry’s nine p.m. curfew. Ab explained that Christmas day was a truce day (“It’s called Trêve de Noël, you ignorant pleb,” Peloother piped in), a day on which a traditional ceasefire was observed. “They’re ignorant, stupid, immoral fucks, this lot is, but even they won’t arse up the Christmas truce,” Ab remarked as he filled a tray with glasses of Berry Ocky Rot for a group of crones in the corner.

Come to think of it, I don’t believe anyone’s ever tried to kill me on Christmas either. Huh.

As Ab stalked off to deliver the sickly-sweet smelling drinks, Harry shook his head. “But I don’t get it. It’s Christmas! Why are all these people here of all places?” he asked the regulars at the bar, who seemed incomplete without Dalcop’s perpetual presence. Apparently, the legendary Vera had managed to tether him to his house for the day.

Nappy Clank scoffed and Wigol Palter, as was his wont, muttered something completely incomprehensible (Harry still hadn’t figured out if the man talked like that because he was drunk or just because). Martial Sorner had fallen asleep in the Christmas pudding he had scammed off Quisby and so therefore was no help. Pel sighed. “Why are you here, lad?”

Harry blinked. “I work here.”

Pel rolled his eyes. “Well, why do you work here?”

“I owe Ab …”

“Merlin’s sake, why do you owe Ab?”

Harry bit his lip. “Well, because he saved me and gave me a place to stay when –” he broke off.

Pel raised an eyebrow. “Aye, when you had no place else to go.” He sighed and looked hard at Harry. “Where else would you be today, if you weren’t here?” When Harry looked at his shoes, Pel made a sweeping gesture around the pub. “No need for shame, same is true of all of us, even if some won’t admit it. We’re here because it’s Christmas, lad, and no one likes to be alone on Christmas, no matter how dark a soul one might have.” He took a long swig of his Hog’s Head brew. “Head’s the only place open in all of Britain today. Everywhere in Diagon, everywhere in Knockturn’s all shuttered up. ‘Sticks is closed, everywhere in Cardiff and around the countryside, all closed. I think the Salty Kappa o’er in Cork may be open, but that’s it. So we all come here.”

Harry nodded thoughtfully, his eyes distant.

His ruminations were rudely interrupted when an American vampire by the fireplace began vomiting up a fountain of bright neon blue nastiness.

As the majority of the patrons roared in laughter and a few of the more delicate souls made sounds of disgust, Aberforth howled at the young vampire over the din of the crowd, “Ruddy Muggle Yanks! You worthless pieces of shit get turned and your bloody brains die with the rest of ya! What the ever-living-fuck made you think that you could drink from a fuckin’ Cornish pixie?”

Ah, Harry concluded, he must have tried to eat the Christmas tree decorations.

The Head’s tree was truly a sad little thing. Harry was convinced Ab had found it uprooted and half dead. The only ornaments upon it were a handful of old goat horns Ab had attached to little brass chains and an upturned copper beer tankard for a star. A few days earlier Harry had discovered a nest of Cornish pixies in the curtains of one of the guestrooms, which Ab had immobilized, somehow charmed to glow, and strung up as macabre tree lights.

It was the perfect tree for the Head.

As Ab continued to berate the American muggle-turned-vampire, the barroom hooted and hollered.

“Boy!” Shite, now Ab’s attention is on me. “Get this puke cleaned up!”

Harry wasn’t one to complain, really he wasn’t, but this was a bit much. “Seriously, Ab, can’t you just vanish it?”

“Course I can!”

Oh thank God.

“Now get it cleaned up!”

The raucous laughter of the Head’s patrons echoed through the pub. It was its own sort of Christmas carol, Harry mused, as he sighed and went to grab a mop.


Sometime after midnight Harry sat in an overstuffed chair near the crackling fireplace and looked at the near-deserted Head. About an hour before Ab had abruptly sent the swaying, retching throngs to their … wherever they went when they weren’t at the Head. Those too drunk to Floo, Apparate, or otherwise slink away had been summarily dumped in heaps in the guest rooms above, each being charged for single use of the room, regardless of how many occupants there were.

A privileged few had been allowed to remain in the pub. Pel and Dalcop – who had joyously appeared that evening after sneaking away while Vera fought with her mother – were both currently passed out over an unfinished game of wizard chess. Dalcop’s remaining pieces had taken the high ground by ascending up the man’s back as he slumped over. Said pieces now were launching chicken bones and other pub detritus at Pel’s black pieces, which had fortified a position under his chair and were sending out search parties to recruit additional forces.

One crone, her white hair streaked with purple and her entire body covered with a black lace veil, had been allowed to continue nursing her Corpse Reviver in the far corner. Harry had no idea who she was, but Ab apparently had a bit of a soft spot for her.

Quisby had smuggled a sharp-faced, scantily dressed young person past Ab’s watchful eye during the forced exodus, and was currently doing his best to put on the charm at a table near the door. Harry smothered a smile. The weedy bartender had been bragging that he was sure to pull her, but Harry had an inkling that the girl was more interested in the access to free drinks than Quisby himself. 

Meanwhile, Ab had disappeared up the stairs. He grunted some unintelligible excuse, but Harry was certain he could be found in the sitting room reading to Ariana. He let the old man be.

It had been a weird Christmas. To think, a year ago he’d been ascending to the Gryffindor dorms after slouching his way through his first ball, and now he was in the past and working at the shadiest dive in the British wizarding world.

It was a weird Christmas, he thought, reviewing the antics of the day (and who would’ve thought he’d get his first proper grope from a Welsh vampire who went by the unlikely moniker ‘Panty Wacco’?), but it was a good one. (*)

There was a knock on the pub door.

“We’re closed!” Harry and Quisby shouted as one. “Clxsddsdn,” Wigol Palter iterated from the corner where he was dozing.

“It’s jus’ me, Harry! Can I come in for a mo’?,” came the unmistakable voice of Rubeus Hagrid. Quisby scowled and went back to his flirting as Harry grinned and bounded across the room to unbar the great oak door.

“Hagrid! It’s great to see you!”, he beamed.

Hagrid grinned back. “Aw, go on, Harry. Anyhow, I’m sorry that I ain’t been by ter check on ya ‘fore now. Christmas at Hogwarts is a busy time, a busy time indeed! I jus’ wanted to stop in an’ wish ye a Happy Christmas.”

“That’s really kind of you, Hagrid … Sure you didn’t come by because you hoped for a pint as well?” Harry asked shrewdly.

Hagrid twirled his fingers together and looked a bit apologetic. “Well, wouldn’t say no ta one! The kids at Hogwarts are grea’ a’ course, but the little buggers kin be a bit much durin’ the holidays, don’t ye know.”

With a laugh, Harry invited him in.

Several minutes later found the two of them sitting companionably by the fire. “Well, I was goin’ ter see if ye wanted to play some chess but …” Hagrid faltered and turned an eye to the continuing battle being waged atop the unconscious barflies. It was currently a deadlock, but neither side seemed interested in a détente. “Ya got Explodin’ Snap, maybe?”

Harry wandered over and began rummaging through the old chest in the corner that housed the assortment of odds and ends that had collected in the pub over the years. “… Nope … oh, but it looks like we have Scrabble, it’s a muggle game –”

“’A course I know Scrabble!” Hagrid boomed to Harry’s shock. “Set ‘er up.”

As Harry unpacked the board and tiles, he couldn’t help but feel a bit bad for the groundskeeper. Harry was no Hermione, but he was pretty sure that he had a much better vocabulary than Hagrid did. Well, I suppose it doesn’t matter as long as we have fun.

Not five minutes later Harry realized he was in serious trouble.

Flaagrah cannot be a word, Hagrid.”

“Sure is! That’s a giant plant from the Andes, that is. Has razor-sharp leaves and kin spit acid. I’ve always wanted one for me garden,” the half-giant confessed.

. . .

Harry was rather proud of hitting a double word score with bandits until Hagrid hooked his ‘t’ to make a triple word score with the unlikely fext.

Fext? Fext? No way.”

“Look her up, if ya want.”

Harry thumbed through the dog-eared dictionary he had found behind the bar.

“Goddammit.”

Hagrid nodded gravely. “Gotta be wary of them fexts, Harry. Nasty buggers. Like inferii, see, ‘cept fire doesn’t harm ‘em. Have to shoot glass at ‘em instead. Caused a whole lotta trouble on the continent a couple a’ centuries ago.”

Harry didn’t know what inferii were, but if Hagrid didn’t think they were adorable, that was saying something.

. . .

At Harry’s blank look, Hagrid explained. “Can’t believe ye ain’t heard of these, Harry! Skvaders are little Swedish critters. Half hare, half grouse. Good in a stew, they are.”

. . .

With a flourish, Harry finished placing tiles to spell patronus. Triple letter score on the P!

Hagrid spelled ijiraq and earned 68 points.

Bugger it.

“Do I want to know what an ijiraq is?,” he sighed.

Ab, returning from his sojourn upstairs, chuckled. “Thought you had more brains than to play that ruddy muggle game with him,” he said, gesturing to Hagrid. “Tell me you didn’t bet him any money. You’ll be living here an’ payin’ me off until you’re thirty.”

Hagrid laughed and pulled a deep drink of his pint.

. . .

Qiqirn? Really? Really? Oh, fuck this,” Harry moaned into his hands as Hagrid made his final move.

“That’ll be another, oh, I’m rubbish with numbers, ‘bout 108 points?” Hagrid asked innocently, counting on his fingers. “An’ ye should know about qiqirns, Harry. That’s a bald ghostly hound that’s only got hair on a few a’ its parts—ears and mouth, mostly. Terrifying buggers, but all ye need ta do ter calm ‘em or drive ‘em away is ta say their names. Don’t need no magic t’all.”

“And how do you know their names?”

Hagrid blinked. “Well, I reckon tha’ could be a problem.”

Harry checked the final score. 612 to 103.

He was never playing Scrabble with Hagrid again.

“Well, I’m for bed, and it ain’t a short walk back ta the grounds,” Hagrid said and stood up. “But wait a mo’, Harry, I got ye a gift, see.” He rummaged in the pockets of his coat and finally brought out a small smushed parcel wrapped in crinkled red tissue.

Harry’s eyes widened. “Thank you, Hagrid! You didn’t have to do that. I, er – didn’t get you anything. I’m really sorry.”

Hagrid waved it off and Harry carefully opened the rumpled present. Inside was a small brown sack on a leather thong.

“It’s a mokeskin pouch, see? Ye kin hide anythin’ in there an’ no one but you kin get it out.”

Aberforth quirked an eyebrow. “That’s a rare gift, there, lad.”

“Wow, thanks Hagrid! It’s really great!” Harry already was planning to deposit his slingshot and target-spelled stones in it. He’d been toying with the idea of charming them to hit Death Eaters whenever he got back to his cave and his wand. Just in case, of course. It also occurred to him that it’d be a great place for the flower Ariana had given him. He’d taken to carrying it in the inside pocket of his robes, but this would be much safer.

Hagrid eventually departed after many blushed “don’t mention its.” As Harry forced a truce between the chess pieces and covered Pel and Dalcop with blankets, Ab grabbed his arm and cleared his throat.

“Got you somethin’ as well.” From behind the bar he pulled out a small flat box and a larger square one wrapped in old copies of the Daily Prophet. Harry gaped at him and opened up the square box. Inside were the few possession of his that he hadn’t had on him when Ab had found him in the snow. The Ron and Hermione chess pieces. A blanket and a few odds and ends Hagrid had left for him. The flute. His purple Knight Bus toothbrush. His wand was the only thing missing from the collection, much to his relief.

“S’pose these shouldn’t count as a gift. They’re already yours, but I thought you might be missin’ things so I apparated over to your cave and grabbed what I saw.” Harry smiled broadly at him and nodded.

He opened the other package and stared down at an efficient-looking silver dagger with a simple but polished wooden hilt. One side of the double-edged blade featured a nasty, dangerous hook that pointed back towards the hilt. Next to the dagger was a sheath that had obviously been custom-made for it. The simple, oiled brown leather was reinforced with silver and had two straps so that he could attach it to his forearm or perhaps his leg. There was also a loop at the top of the first strap and a small conical sheath attached to the bottom strap. That must be for a wand. On closer inspection, he found delicately formed bumblebees engraved into the leather.

Harry looked up at Ab, his eyes wide. The old man seemed grave. “You need a weapon, lad. You’re livin’ in a world that don’t want the likes of you, and this war’ll only get worse.” He paused. “Belonged to my da’ once. It ain’t fancy, but I expect it’ll do the job. Like the pouch from the oaf, the sheath is charmed so that no one can take it or the knife off you, with magic or by hand, 'specially if you keep it strapped to your arm.” He levelled a stern gaze at Harry. “Which you will.”

Fingers tracing the course of the blade gently, Harry nodded. “This – this is an incredible gift, Ab. But if it belonged to your father I can’t –”

“Oh shut up and strap it on. It’s just been sitting in a trunk since last bloody century, an’ it’s mine to give to who I will.”

“Thank you,” Harry said softly, rolling up his sleeve. Ab helped him strap the sheath to his right arm.

“There’s another spell on the dagger, but you got to practice it, I mean it. You can flick your wrist or hand and the dagger’ll immediately slip into your palm. Same’s true of it if you kept a wand there, but, well.”

“Thank you,” Harry repeated. “I’ll practice it, I promise.”

Ab shook his head. “Bah, go on to bed. It’s late and we’ll have a hell of a day cleaning tomorrow.”

“Wait!” Harry cried, remembering. “I actually got you something as well! I can’t believe I almost forgot!” He sprinted down to the stable and grabbed the bundle wrapped in his old Billywigs shirt.

Ab snorted at the ersatz wrapping and then gazed down at the small wooden figurine that Harry had obviously hand-carved for him. The pine goat was more delicate and a bit better than the dragon he had made for Hagrid, though the tail was awkward. Harry was especially proud of the rough statue’s expression and tilt of her ears. It was obviously supposed to be Goat.

“Not bad, not bad at all. That’s my Amaltheia,” Ab said slowly, his eyes soft.

“Goat,” Harry couldn’t stop himself from correcting.

Aberforth glared. “Off with you! And Harry?” he added, “don’t be killin’ people in my pub with that knife. You need to kill somebody, you do it outside, got it?”

Harry grinned. “No killing inside, I got it.”

It had been a good, if weird, Christmas.

Chapter Text

Invasions

  

26 December, 1976

Ab hadn’t been wrong that Harry would need his sleep to face Boxing Day. The Head was wrecked beyond anything he had ever seen before. The mountains of dishes were the least of his problems. Luckily, Quisby and Ab were using magic to straighten the pub, which now only boasted four unbroken chairs and a few square feet that weren’t covered in spilled food, drink, and mystery substances. No, it was the guest rooms that frankly terrified the boy. Ab had kicked out the heaps of hung-over patrons earlier that morning and set Harry to work on cleaning them.

Nothing Snape had ever had him scrape, scour, or chisel off a cauldron came close to the horrors he found within. Even Ab had looked at him with pity when he poked his head and watched as Harry worked futilely on Room 4. He left quickly, muttering that something called Fiendfyre might be the only option.

It was thus a great relief when Aberforth finally barked at him to go and muck out the stables late in the afternoon. Gratefully leaving the still horrific Room 4, Harry smiled ruefully as he realized he was happily going to clean up goat shit.

He entered the large room he shared with the goats and stopped short.

Clad in eye-watering red robes emblazoned with gold cardboard boxes that flew on silver wings in a hyper ballet across the fabric, Albus Dumbledore stood in the middle of the stable – next to my bed – attempting to pet Goat. She seemed supremely uninterested in his overtures and trotted over to Harry immediately.

The headmaster straightened his back and brushed his robes before favoring Harry with a familiar twinkle of his blue eyes. “Ah, hello there, my boy! I couldn’t resist stopping to greet the goats before going in.”

Goat eyed him with practiced disdain.

Shite. I wanted to avoid this! Oh God, what if he recognizes me as a Potter? What if he remembers me in the future? What do I do?!

Calm down. Don’t freak out. Hagrid said he didn’t care much about what you’re doing. This is nothing. It’s nothing!

The frantic beating of his heart begged to differ.

“Hello, headmaster,” Harry said politely, rather impressed with himself for keeping his voice fairly even. “Are you here to see Ab?”

Dumbledore smiled, and for a moment nothing had changed. Harry wasn’t a stranger lost in the past but was just enjoying another conversation with his childhood hero. “Ah, yes, my boy. I had intended to stop in yesterday, of course, but alas, my duties at the school prevented any personal holiday celebrations.”

Harry nearly snorted at the thought of Albus Dumbledore in the company of yesterday’s debauched throng. “Well, he’s just up in the pub …” Harry trailed off, as the headmaster seemed to have no inclination to leave the room. My bedroom, his mind supplied. Having the aged hero of the wizarding world in one’s bedroom, Harry decided, was a strange thing.

With a noncommittal hum, Dumbledore began meandering about the room, inspecting the nooks and crannies with all the interest of a foreign tourist. But all that’s here is hay, really. What’s so fascinating?

“Perhaps before I do that you and I can get to know each other a bit better? I admit I’m curious about the new addition to my brother’s household!” No, no, no. Bad idea, sir. With that, Dumbledore sat himself elegantly down on Harry’s bed and with an outstretched hand invited Harry to make himself comfortable on Goat’s bed.

Rather awkwardly perched on the straw and looking at the headmaster sitting benignly on his own bed, Harry realized he had no idea what to say.

“So, my boy, you’ve been in the area for some time now. I dare say your family must be worried about you.”

The alarm bells in Harry’s head sounded even more loudly. Dumbledore is smarter than I am. I have to not give him anything with my answers unless I want to just throw it all in now and admit the truth. Looking at Dumbledore out of the corner of his eye, Harry realized that he didn’t want to admit the truth, and not just because he didn’t quite trust a Dumbledore who didn’t know him … he just trusted Ab more.

And it struck him that he really wasn’t ready to leave the Hog’s Head.

He cleared his throat and gave the headmaster what he hoped came off as a sad smile. “I’m not missed, sir.”

“Well, I’d appreciate knowing who your family is, child. At the very least I can contact them and let them know that you are safe.” His smile turned reassuring. “I’ll be sure to explain your situation to them thoroughly, have no fear.” He paused and then continued delicately, “If they are, in fact, ah, uninterested in being updated on your well-being, I’ll be sure not to communicate with them about you again, of course.”

Harry focused his eyes on a point just past Dumbledore’s head. If he looked into those eyes, he’d crack open and spill every secret he had because, after all, this was Dumbledore. There was nothing he could really say to the headmaster’s statement, so he simply grimaced a bit apologetically and shook his head slightly.

The seconds stretched into minutes as the most uncomfortable silence Harry had ever experienced thickened in the room.

He thinks I can’t take this, and that I’ll eventually cave and say something! A sudden lick of angry fire shot through Harry, surprising him utterly. But the irritated flame burned on despite his own shock. Harry knew that this man had known that a homeless boy had been living in the forest for months, yet he had done nothing about it. Now he waltzed in like some genial benefactor who’d fix all Harry’s (admittedly fictitious) family problems with a few words? 

Finally, Dumbledore broke the silence. “Ah well, a matter for another day, perhaps. So, how do you find living at the Hog’s Head? Quite the colorful place, yes?”

“Yes sir. I, uh, I like it a lot here. It’s the best home I’ve ever had.” Harry was taken aback when he realized that he didn’t believe any of this response was a lie.

“Wonderful! I’m happy to hear my brother has found such a devoted employee. Of course, I’m sure he takes care to protect you from some of the, shall we say, less savory characters. Indeed, such a place as this could be considered by some a less than ideal environment in which to raise a young man.”

Harry went over the headmaster’s words to confirm that there wasn’t a question in any of that. Nope, no questions. He opted to grin a bit more broadly at the headmaster as though pleased he appreciated the care that Ab had given him. Inside he was becoming more and more hacked off.

It sounds like he’s constructing an argument on why I shouldn’t live here. What the hell is he playing at? There’s a reason behind this conversation, but I have no clue what it is!

But.

But he doesn’t suspect anything about what or who I actually am.

I think.

“Excellent,” Dumbledore beamed serenely from behind his half-moon spectacles. “I was concerned, I must admit. We’re a world at war, and a place such as this will see more than its fair share of conflict.”

Enough. Continuing this conversation can only cause problems.

Harry gave a neutral hum. “Very true, sir.” He suddenly perked up. “I’m so sorry, I’ve just realized I’ve not offered you any refreshment! Please allow me to show you to your brother and I’ll make a tea tray for the two of you.” With an ingratiating smile, Harry turned and left the stables for the pub. He did not turn back, but creaks of the floorboards assured him that Dumbledore was following.

Ab’s eyes narrowed when Harry entered the pub, the headmaster in tow. Before he could say anything, the old bartender was crossing the room in his enormous, angry stride. He grabbed Harry by the shoulder but kept his glare directed at the man who stood behind him. “Boy. Get to work in the kitchen immediately.”

Harry stiffened at the code word but didn’t hesitate to comply. Things are happening here that I do not understand. “Yes, Ab.” He tilted the headmaster a quick but polite nod as he turned to leave. “Sir.”

After Harry had securely shut the kitchen door behind him and felt the wards descend, he looked around, feeling a little lost. The dishes were all done, he’d already gotten the kitchen as clean as he could get it earlier that day, and the stew for dinner was cheerfully simmering on the stove. There really wasn’t anything for him to do in here.

He idly wondered what Ab could be so angry with the headmaster about, or why he would think it necessary to ensconce Harry in the makeshift safe room, but he doubted that Ab would confirm or deny any of his theories. Dwelling too much on it seemed a pointless exercise.

I hope I’m not stuck in here all day.

With a sigh, he settled at the corner table and decided to practice his wandless, silent Accio., since no one was about and he’d hear anyone on the stairs before they could catch him. He’d improved a little in the last few weeks. Now about half the time the object he summoned came to him, provided it was small enough. Anything heavier than a book tended to wobble uncertainly mid-course, if it moved at all, and drop to the ground. Apparently, it wasn’t all just clearing his mind. Mass mattered as well, at least for the summoning spell.

Intent on his task, he didn’t notice the small movements in the corner at first. When he narrowly avoided letting a summoned pan clatter onto the stone floor, a flash of blue and yellow drew his eye. He cautiously approached the painting that had hosted the unexpected burst of color in the dull gray kitchen. It was quite tiny, no larger than a small book. He’d inspected it some weeks ago, before dismissing its subject – a cramped sitting room done with cheap-looking furniture and accessories that seemed like they belonged to the 1930s or 1940s – as uninteresting.

It was no longer uninteresting, for now Ariana sat perched in the wine-colored faux leather chair in the painting’s foreground, waving her hands energetically at him.

Oh God. She saw me. She must have seen me doing magic!

“Ariana, look, I can explain! I know you saw –”

The girl rolled her eyes and made an impatient gesture that Harry easily interrupted as Shut up Harry.

He shut up, nerves buzzing.

She turned to the painted side table, upon which sat a hulking old-fashioned radio, and began fiddling with the dial. At first all Harry could hear was static, but then Quisby’s unmistakable voice cut through the silence. He was clearly speaking through the Floo and ordering a case of Simison Steaming Stout from a distributor. Harry’s mouth dropped open. Ariana tipped him a wink and turned the dial again.

“– vomit on their front walk?! Such a disgrace!” The cultured tones of an unknown woman filled the room. She must be outside near the front door, Harry realized.

Holy shit.

Holy shit!

The Head is wired!

Oh, this is brilliant.

Ariana turned the dial again. It was all static for a few moments – maybe those are the guest rooms? They’re all empty now – before Aberforth’s furious voice boomed out, startling both Harry and the painted girl.

“– to the ruddy point! I ain’t got all day to listen to your waffle!”

Someone heaved a heavy, dramatic sigh. “I sincerely doubt it’s in the boy’s best interest to remain with you,” came the grave tones of the headmaster.

Harry looked at Ariana, his eyes wide. She regarded him sadly and pointed at the radio. Keep listening.

After a pause, Ab said in a dangerously low voice, “Fuck you, Albus.”

“You don’t want to hear it, but you know that I am correct. This place simply isn’t safe!”

“I keep my charges safe, you sanctimonious bastard! Can you say the same for yours?” Ab added with a sneer.

“The current and past conditions of Hogwarts are not pertinent to this discussion, you know that,” Dumbledore said rather stiffly. “You cannot deny that the Hog’s Head regularly hosts Death Eaters, vampires, and all manner of Dark wizards and creatures.”

Ab cursed. “Yeah, and the first of those I host only because you bloody begged me to! I keep my charges safe,” he added stubbornly.

“Then what of Macnair?”

Harry could feel the tension through the radio.

“That was one time. His sort had never come into the pub that early in the day before. And the lad dealt with him handily, I gotta say.”

“And now the boy is likely a target! The pureblood movement cannot allow one of its high-ranking members to be bested in a bar fight by some random squib!”

Ab scoffed. “We’ll deal with whatever comes of it, if anythin’ comes of it.”

Harry could almost see the headmaster sadly shaking his head. “I tried to get the boy to divulge his true name and family. It would be best if he could be sent home.”

“Good luck to you on that score. He ain’t that stupid,” Ab muttered.

“Hmmm,” Dumbledore hummed noncommittally, “perhaps we should consider options in the muggle world.” He cut off Ab’s indignant response. “He can’t stay here, Aberforth, and he shouldn’t have to go back to living in a cave. Don’t you think it best that he instead be surrounded by children who are, well, more like him?” 

Ab was silent for several beats. When he spoke again, Harry could feel his burning rage, barely kept in check. “I find it fascinating that you couldn’t be arsed to care about the boy when he was slowly starvin’ and freezin’ to death in the woods, but now that he’s here and got into it with Macnair, you’re suddenly so bloody devoted to his well-being.”

"I’m an imperfect man, like all men are, Aberforth. I’m sorry not to have checked on him earlier, of course, but I’m heartened to see that young Henry seems –”

“Harry.”

Silence.

“His fucking name is Harry,” Ab stated flatly. “You could at least take the time to learn his name before trying to exile him.”

“My apologies,” Dumbledore continued smoothly, ignoring Ab as he muttered a curse, “at any rate, I’m heartened to see that Harry seems an earnest, honorable young man, but –”

The sound of a fist hitting a table. “Ah, stop with the shite and tell me really why you want the boy gone!”

“Because the fact that you employ a squib will be taken as a sign that you support the Light!” Harry recoiled as Dumbledore finally lost his cool. “We’ve been extremely fortunate that so few know of our relationship. This puts that fortune in jeopardy! If the Death Eaters believe that you have abandoned your vaunted neutrality and are aligned with me, then they may stop using the pub for meetings, and I’ll lose it as a vital source of information that could very well help me and the Order win this war!”

Harry couldn’t help but notice that Dumbledore was implying that he was equivalent to the Light. From Ab’s disdainful snort, he suspected the man had noticed it as well.

Dumbledore continued seriously, all pretense discarded and his voice weary. “I need intelligence to fight this war, Aberforth. Your choice to take in this squib, while noble and laudable, endangers us all. Can you not see that sending him away is for –”

Ab’s voice was calm and deadly. “If you say ‘the greater good,’ brother, I will end you.”

Silence.

“The boy stays. Period. As long as he wants, and at least until he pays off his debt to me.” Dumbledore made to protest, but Ab cut him off. “I’m sorry if it’s inconvenient for you, but, unlike you, I don’t neglect, abandon, or ignore my charges – innocent children – because they’re inconvenient to my great plans.”

Dumbledore’s voice was conciliatory and sad. “He isn’t her, Aberforth.”

Harry could make out the sound of footsteps and a door creaking open.

“No, he ain’t,” Ab said simply. “He’s still alive. He still has a chance.”

And then there was nothing but footsteps and static.

Ariana regarded him sadly. Harry didn’t know what to think. He’d never been as quick about understanding people and their motivations as Hermione was. God, I miss her. She’d figure all this out in seconds. All he knew for sure was that the two men he most admired were arguing about him, and that one, whom he’d always trusted in the past (future, his mind supplied) wanted to get rid of him. But it seems like it’s important to the war that I leave! His mind interjected. He shook his head. He needed time to process all this.

The faint sounds of footsteps approaching from the floor above signaled that right now he wasn’t going to get that time. Ariana gave him a quick wave and a sympathetic smile before walking to the edge of the painting and disappearing. Harry moved away from the corner and sat back at the table. A few moments later, Ab stalked in.

“Lazing about? Get yourself back to the stables and get cleanin’, Harry!”


 


Aberforth had kept Harry busy for the rest of the day. Thoughts about the confrontation between the brothers flitted unproductively across his mind, but Harry’s greatest anxiety was centered on Ariana. She had seen him doing magic. Was she going to tell Ab? He tried a few times to escape to the sitting room to speak with her, but Ab didn’t give him a moment of rest or privacy. He’d eventually gone to bed, smarting from his lack of success.

In the dead hours of the night, after the pub had finally closed, Quisby had departed, and Ab had gone to bed, Harry rose from his straw bed and walked on silent feet through the deserted Head. He successfully avoided all the creeks in the stairs and floorboards that would have betrayed him, and made his way to the sitting room. Ariana was sleeping peacefully with her back against a willow tree.

“Ariana,” he hissed softly, “Ariana, please wake up.” He eventually prodded her awake in gentle tones and convinced her to meet him in the painting in the kitchen.

When he arrived, he could see by his candlelight that Ariana was obviously not the type to appreciate having her sleep disturbed.

“I’m sorry to wake you, but, well, I really need to speak with you. In private,” he confessed. “I know you saw me, earlier, you saw me when I was …”

She arched a knowing eyebrow at him.

He rushed on, “Yeah, okay, when I was practicing magic. I want to explain, see, and I really need you to understand why you can’t tell anyone. Even Ab.”

She didn’t smile for once, but settled herself into the armchair with a soft-looking blanket and gestured for him to go on.

Where do I start? How much do I tell her?

Looking into her kind, if currently rather cranky, face, it struck Harry just how desperate he was to tell someone what had happened to him. When he’d arrived in the past, he had needed a grownup, which he was surprised to realize he’d maybe – sort of – found in Aberforth. Now, though, now … Now I need a friend.

“I, er, I want to tell you my story, if that’s okay.”

She motioned for him to get on with it.

Taking a long, steadying breath, he began.

“Once upon a time … there was a boy who lived in a cupboard. The boy was a wizard, you see, but he didn’t know he was. He lived with his aunt, uncle, and cousin. They … hated magic. The boy’s name was Harry Potter.”

Ariana’s eyes grew wide and were slowly filling with tears when he admitted his relatives’ attitude towards magic. It also seemed she recognized his surname from somewhere, but she never made a move to interrupt him. He went on and spoke for hours, telling her of his life at the Dursleys, his parents, his years at Hogwarts, his friends, Voldemort, Cedric, and finally the Dementor’s kiss and all the fears and anxieties that plagued him in 1976. She hung on every word.

“And so, now I’m here,” he concluded lamely and shifted nervously. “Do you … do you believe me?”

Ariana nodded slowly, her face amazed and serious.

“Are you going to tell anyone? Are you going to tell Ab?”

She considered him for a few moments and then shook her head.

Harry breathed out his relief. “Thank you. And thank you for listening to me for so long.”

Ariana smiled and drew as close to the surface of the canvas as she could. She placed her palm flat against it, fingers spread and looked at Harry with warm eyes.

Smiling softly, he approached from his end and raised his hand to meet her much smaller one. All he could feel was canvas, but he fancied that he could detect the faintest tinge of warmth spreading from her hand to his.

They stood together like that for a long time.



15 January, 1977


“Ahem.”

Harry’s head bolted up from underneath the pushcart, whose broken axle he was laboring to repair in the shed behind the Head.  Turning around, he saw nothing and chalked the sound up to his imagination.

Ahem!” Brow furrowed, Harry wiped his greasy hands on his rag and extracted himself from underneath his four-wheeled nemesis. He poked his head out the shed door and was met with an unexpected visitor.

The woman stood out starkly in the littered back garden of the Head. The olive robes under her open gray fur-trimmed coat were severe but stylish, accessorized with gleaming jewelry that bordered on gaudy. Her gray-streaked brown hair was coiffed in a stylish chignon, and her horn-rimmed glasses were trimmed in what he thought were supposed to be diamonds but guttered in the pale afternoon sun more like rhinestones. Her thin, shapeless frame was poised delicately on a pair of spiked olive green heels that he knew wouldn’t last much longer in the snowy, muddy, mess behind the pub. Indeed, the sprawling golden stitching that spelled out a designer’s name on the side was already rendered illegible by caked mud. A red-tipped, manicured finger was tapping impatiently on a clipboard.

“Er, hi,” Harry greeted her, unconsciously rubbing his hands in the rag again and tossing it away. “Can I help you, ma’am?”

The woman looked at him as if he smelled offensive. “Madame Hornby of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Alcohol, Potions, and Magical Herbs Regulation Division,” she pronounced in a posh, cold voice. She did not offer him her hand.

“Oh.” Harry had blanched when she said “Ministry,” but it didn’t seem like she was there for him.

The tapping of her finger on her clipboard increased in tempo.

She puffed herself up. “I am here, as per Ministry Regulation 1481B, sub-section 157, paragraph sigma, for the annual DMLE: APMHRD evaluation of this,” she clucked her tongue, “establishment.”

DMLEAPM Seriously? ... I wonder what Scrabble word Hagrid could make out of that mouthful.

“Oh. Okay, I guess.” Harry stood awkwardly. Was he supposed to do something? “Er, you can just go in the front door if you like.”

The woman bristled. “I’ll get to interior inspections soon enough.” She extracted a rather ostentatious cream-colored quill tipped in cherry red and thumbed through the scrolls on her clipboard. “Name?”

Harry stood dumbly for a moment. Oh! She means my name! “Uh, Harry, ma’am.”

“Surname?”

Shite. Never did think of one. What the hell. “I, uh, don’t have one ma’am.”

“Hmm,” she sniffed, “that will have to be recorded. Status?” At Harry’s blank look, she gave a long-suffering sigh. “Blood status, boy!”

“Oh …” This would be tricky … “I’m a squib, ma’am.” That implies I’m pureblood, but I’m not actually claiming it.

She fluttered her hand and took a small step back. Harry smirked internally as he noted that one of her heels was now slowly sinking into a pile of goat dung. “And you are employed here?,” she asked, aghast.

“Er, kinda? I mean, I owe the owner a debt, and I’m working it off.”

The ministry official gave him a withering look and shook her head. “I’ll certainly have to note that down as well,” she observed, her quill scratching across the form. “And do you reside on the premises?”

“I guess … I sleep in the stable with the goats, ma’am.”

She pursed her lips and made another note. “Well, at least the proprietor has some sense of decorum then.” Without another word she turned and marched around to the front door of the Head, the dramatic effect of her exit hampered by the wobbling of her heels on the uneven terrain.

What the hell was that all about?

Harry shrugged. It wasn’t really his concern, though he wondered if Ministry inspections were anything like muggle ones. He was pretty sure that the Head would fail every Health and Safety code in the country.

It was certainly the most drama he’d seen in the last few weeks. After Dumbledore’s Boxing Day visit he had waited for the man to take more decisive action against him, or for Death Eaters to attack him, but neither had occurred. Instead, life at the Head easily slipped back into a familiar rhythm. Harry had thought long and hard about what he should do in light of what he’d heard Dumbledore say, but couldn’t decide on anything beyond taking a “wait and see” approach.

An hour later, Harry trudged into the Head, having finally been victorious over the dastardly pushcart. He found Ab in a towering rage behind the bar.

“Do I want to know?” Harry whispered to Dalcop.

“DMLEAP – er, QRST ‘spection day,” the old drunk responded quietly. “New inspector this year, some jumped-up posh bint. Ab usually just bribes Daff Douceur to fudge the thing, but this one wasn’t having none of it.”

“Srryy la,” Wigol Palter slurred at him.

“Sorry?,” Harry interpreted. “Why are you sorry?”

Pel gave a snort. “’Cause you’re screwed now, my young friend. Ministry wants the Head to have a thorough cleaning by this time next week. Three guesses who’s going to be stuck with that hell, an’ you know it won’t be Ab or Quimmy.” Harry would have smirked at the nickname, but he had a sinking feeling he’d only need one of those guesses.

“Well fuck.”

Harry’s curse drew Ab’s attention. “Boy! What’re you doin’ doin’ nothin’? I’ve got a list for you to get started on!”

His heart dropped as he eyed the short novel of a list, then turned and made his way to the kitchen to get started.

Ab and the barflies watched him go.

“So why do ya think they’re comin’ after ya, Ab?” Dalcop asked. “Is it to do with the boy?”

Ab didn’t say anything and began wiping out glasses with a dirty rag.

“’Course it’s ‘cause of the boy,” Pel scoffed. “Can’t think of any reason why they’d do this other than him. But who’s behind it?”

Dung Fletcher roused himself enough to participate. “For meself, I’d fink it Macnair, yeah? Bleedin’ tosser can’t abide that thrashin’ he got hisself.”

Ab glared hard at Dung. “S’a possibility. There’s others, though,” he said darkly, his mind on his brother. The furious expressions of Yarda and some of the other pureblood dregs when Harry beat the man popped into his head as well. Too many possibilities.

Dung shrunk in his seat.

“Dalcop, Dung, you two keep an ear open, yeah? Lemme know if you hear anything about this.”

“Sure thing, Ab,” Dalcop agreed, while Dung gave a more reluctant nod. “So what are ya goin’ to do?”

Ab shrugged. “Get the boy cleanin’ more. Pass the inspection. And keep a hard watch.”


 
22 January, 1977

 

The Head looked … good, Harry thought early on the morning of the scheduled ministry inspection.

It bloody well better. I don’t think the skin on my hands is ever going to grow back quite right.

He had never worked so feverishly in his life before, and given that most of his life at been spent as the Dursley’s house-elf, that was saying something. The wide wooden planks of the Head’s floors gleamed golden in the firelight and were matched by the equally warm and pristine wood in the rafters and furniture. Harry had been shocked to discover that the stone walls were actually quite lovely and of variegated earthen tones once he had meticulously scraped the accumulated years’ of grime off of them. Hell, he’d even cleaned the great severed hog’s head that graced the pub walls, though it took exception to his ministrations and kept trying to rip off his fingers. All the glasses twinkled, and the windows had finally been freed of the dirt that clouded them over. Seeing natural light streaming into the Head was … weird. Ab had immediately purchased dark gray curtains. Some changes are just too much.

Aberforth and Quisby had done most of the work in the guest rooms, as the former was forced to admit that there were some things that hard work just couldn’t fix without magic. He’d put Harry in charge of giving them a bit of a face-lift. All the furniture stayed the same, but Harry had selected clean new linens for each bed (he’d decided to make the fabrics in each room a different color), and Ab had even given him a bit of money to purchase a painting for each room from the Jumble, falling easily for Harry’s argument that Ariana might like some nice new places to visit.

The kitchen likewise gleamed, and Harry no longer feared the various beasties, seen and microscopic, that had once called the room home.

The only room to receive no extra attention was the stable. It had always been, after all, the cleanest place in the house.

Aberforth had been on edge all week, barking at patrons who dared sully anything. All but the most devoted clientele wisely decided to take their custom elsewhere until after the inspection. Yarda had been temporarily banned, Ab being loathe to have to purchase new linens again.

Harry had finished making certain that every one of their breakfast dishes had been washed and neatly stacked when Ab came down to the scullery with Wigol Palter, of all people, in tow.

“Lad, Wigol here needs some help at his place today. You’re goin’ with him. Be back by nine tonight, got it?” Wigol gave him a misty sort of smile as Ab left the kitchen abruptly.

Harry shrugged and followed the tiny, wispy-haired old man out the back door.

Wigol held out his arm. “Tkinwekingoh.”

Well, if he puts it that way

Completely at a loss, Harry took a guess and grasped the man’s arm. He suddenly felt like his entire body was being squeezed through a straw that was spinning at great velocity. Just after it began, it stopped, and Harry fell to the ground choking back vomit. “What the bloody hell was that?”, he gasped.

Wigol gave him a toothless grin. “Prition”

‘Prition? Wha—Oh … Apparition! So that’s what apparating feels like? God, it’s even worse than Flooing.

Harry stood up shakily and looked around. They were clearly in a deserted, dingy Muggle area, maybe underground, judging from the tunnel-like walls. “Where are we?”

Wigol pointed at a sign on the far wall that read Old London Bridge. “We’re in London? Under the Bridge?” Well, this was at least interesting.

The wizened old man nodded and beckoned Harry to follow him up to a door marked Danger: High Vantage. There was a design that somewhat looked like an electrical symbol, but was backward and curved oddly.

High Vantage? Nice try, wizards.

Through the door was a short staircase, a long dark hallway, another door, a hallway, and finally they arrived at a perfectly circular, bright purple door that reminded Harry of something out of a Tolkien novel. Wigol spoke an incomprehensible password and the door sprang open.

Harry blinked. They were deep underground, under the Thames, he was sure of it, but huge circular windows letting in streaming sunlight ran the length of the long, vaulted room before him. Graceful pillars soared up to the cavernous ceiling. The great room would have been beautiful, were it not filled to the brim with boxes, magazines, books, newspapers, and newspaper cuttings stacked at odd intervals throughout its great expanse. Every wall but one was likewise papered with cuttings. The fourth wall was lined with shelves upon which sat hundreds of crystal balls. Some glowed blue, most were black, while a few emitted a faint white light every so often. Wigol navigated a path through the clutter that took them to a sitting room-like area. A low table in front of a green couch was piled with newspapers, muggle and magical. Harry was surprised to see a muggle television set, which Wigol turned on with a flick of his wand.

He beckoned Harry to sit in the comfortable red armchair while he settled himself on the couch and used his wand to set the television to an episode of Coronation Street. Harry was vaguely familiar with the soap opera. Aunt Petunia had watched it religiously, though he was convinced most of the humor went over her head.

Loud birdsound drew Harry’s attention away from the television. He looked up and saw a small unkindness of seven ravens nestled in roosts built on a shelf underneath one of the great round windows. The ravens all eyed him intently.

It’s official. Wigol has the weirdest house ever.

“Er, Mr. Palter sir? What work do you need me to do?” Harry ventured. Please don’t say organize all your newspapers, please don’t say organize all your newspapers … By the time I got done I’d be back in 1995!

Wigol gave him a toothless grin and said something that Harry interpreted as “Nothing. Ab just wanted you out of the way for the inspection.” Maybe.

Okay then. Harry mentally shrugged. This place at least smells better than my last babysitter’s, he thought with a shudder, remembering the odor of Mrs. Figg’s cats.

For the next hour they watched Coronation Street on the television. Every so often Wigol would use his wand to rewind the program, watch it intently, mutter something, grab a notebook, and jot a note down before restarting the show.

The man took his soap operas seriously, Harry concluded.

After the credits ran, Wigol mumbled something about “ghtintawerk” and absconded to a study area of the great room where he spent the next several hours holding the same black crystal ball to his ears and then flipping through books before writing copiously on parchment. Harry was left to entertain himself with the television. He enjoyed the irony of it all. He grew up muggle but had never been granted the privilege of spending a day in front of the telly. No, he had to travel to the past and go to an impossible hoarder’s cathedral under the Thames to do so.

At one point he happened to glance at Wigol’s abandoned Coronation Street notebook. The page was open to the one the little man had been filling in. Below the date, his notes sprawled out in a surprisingly elegant hand. “E.G. Bishop (S. Hancock): piano— will play for exotic dancer = marital strife. Violent death due to work-related dispute will follow in less than a year. Pointless.” Flipping through previous entries, Harry found much the same. A character’s name, followed by cryptic notes, all in the future tense.

He found himself staring at the masses of crystal balls when it finally struck him. Is Wigol … is he making divination predictions about what’s going to happen on a Muggle soap opera?!

This theory only went to support the more comprehensive one that Harry had been formulating since he was eleven.

Wizards could be really, really strange.

Harry rather wanted to check back with Coronation Street to see if poor Mr. Bishop really was doomed. (*)

He spent a happily restful day lounging on the couch as Palter worked, or whatever it was that he was doing. After the week he’d had, Harry felt he enjoyed the little holiday.

Wigol served him a strange lunch, then an equally strange dinner (seriously, the man had an unhealthy obsession with black-eyed peas and persimmon seeds), before apparating him back to the Head just before nine.

As Wigol claimed his regular seat at the bar, which was being manned by a cranky-looking Quisby, he tipped Harry a wink, which Harry returned with a grin and a muttered “Thanks for today, Mr. Palter.” Harry then rushed down the stairs and found Ab in the kitchen.

“Well?,” he asked breathlessly.

“We passed,” was Ab’s simple answer, the grin fighting to break out on his face the only evidence that he had been worried about the inspection. “Have a good holiday, did you?”

Harry gave a little laugh. “Yeah, I did. It was … really odd, but actually pretty nice. Thanks.”

Ab waved him off. “No need to thank me, boy. Didn’t need a fool like you here to foul it up, did I?, At any rate, I’ve added on an extra day a’ work to your tab to make up for it.”

Of course you did.


 


Unable to fall asleep, Harry tossed and turned in his bed that night, much to Goat’s dissatisfaction. He normally passed out by ten from all the work he did for Ab, but a day spent sprawled and napping on Wigol’s couch left him with excess energy.

Thus he caught the low voices out behind the Head that he would likely have otherwise slept through.

There were only two or three of them, he was fairly sure, and they sounded male, but he could make out nothing but the general impression of their voices.

Harry moved to the outside door of the stables and bent down to his knees to listen through the sliver between the bottom of the door and the ground. A few words here and there became almost intelligible, but the only thing the position gained him was the surety that the voices belonged to other teenagers.

He knew that he should either ignore them or go for Aberforth, but his annoyance with that fact that some blokes were invading his backyard and gadding about in front of his bedroom (okay, the stables, but still) made him bold. Harry flicked his wrist just so and the dagger Ab had given him shot into his hand with a soft schick. See Ab, I’m not using it in the pub. His lips curled into a reckless smile as he opened the door with his other hand, triggering the security torches that Ab had set.

Torchlight flooded the small back garden, illuminating the figures of three teenage boys, all bigger than him, who were huddled over by the door to the shed. They jumped at the sudden light and whirled around to face him, two with their wands drawn and ready.

Oh Merlin. It’s them. Harry’s stomach fluttered.

In the clearing stood Remus Lupin, Sirius Black, and the sixteen-year-old version of his father. Sirius and … James were pointing their wands at him, all three of their faces wearing the universal expression of teenagers who are caught when they are up to something.

We don’t … we don’t look that much alike, was the dumbfounded thought that rang in Harry’s head. Since entering the wizarding world, he’d heard ad nauseum that he looked “just like his father,” but “had his mother’s eyes.” While the latter was true, staring at his father he had to wonder just what everyone else had seen. James’ hair was a chestnut brown unlike his much darker locks, James had a broader face and features that were much less … (Harry struggled for the word) … sharp, and he had several inches and at least a few stone of muscle on his future son. Really, the only things that are all that similar are the fact that we both wear glasses and have bad hair, though in fact, the latter was hardly true anymore. Harry hadn’t had a haircut since before the Third Task; his mop of black hair now brushed his shoulders and the weight kept it fairly in line.

Why does everyone say we look alike?

Maybe people just saw what they wanted to see, or what they expected to see, his internal voice suggested. It’s not that we look dissimilar, really, and if someone knew we were related they could probably point out little resemblances. But on the whole, I’m no copy of him.

The thought was at once distressing, for he had always cherished the comparison to his father that people made, and a relief. Ever since he arrived in Hogsmeade he’d been on tenterhooks expecting someone to point at him and loudly proclaim his obvious Potter heritage. His fear, he saw, had been quite groundless.

Sirius looked like, well Sirius, if he were young and hadn’t gone to Azkaban. Shorter than James but still tall compared to Harry, he cut quite the dashing figure with devil-may-care eyes and irritatingly spectacular hair. Remus hadn’t quite hit his growth spurt yet; Harry knew he would eventually tower over Padfoot, but now he was barely an inch taller than his friend. He had fewer scars, a fresher face, and seemed considerably happier than the good-natured but dour fellow Harry had met in the future.

This is them. This is the Marauders the ones who matter before the world caught up with them.

Oblivious to the shock that their presence caused the boy who had burst from the Head’s back door, James, Sirius, and Remus were all silently considering the best reaction to his unexpected appearance. Harry, however, snapped back to reality first.

Without saying a word, he crossed his arms, knife glinting in the dim light, and assumed a pose that clearly inquired as to “why the hell are you here?”

Sirius broke quickly. “Whoa, who are you?” the question popping unchecked from his mouth. James slapped him on the shoulder.

“I live here.”

They clearly had not expected that response, though after a moment James’ eyes widened. “Hey, I heard Lily and Marlene talking about you! You’re the squi–,” He cut himself off, unsure how to proceed, and colored a bit as Remus gave him a chastising look.

Harry arched an eyebrow.

Sirius recovered quickly, pasted a broad, charming smile on his face, and moved closer, his hand out as though to shake Harry’s. “Squibbulus, my friend, we come in peace! In fact, we would be glad of an alliance with you, as we admit to having suffered a minor setback in our planned festivities!” The smell of alcohol on his breath suggested that Sirius had started the festivities a bit early.

Harry’s mind refused to accept that Sirius had just called him ‘Squibbulus.’ Seriously, Sirius? I love you, but … but you’re kind of acting like a bloody moron! Rather than addressing the issues with that particular moniker, Harry opted to show no reaction at all and ignored his outstretched hand.

Though his eyes dimmed as he lost some confidence, Sirius soldiered on. “You see, we were tasked by our compatriots to obtain refreshments for this evening’s celebration. Gryffindor thrashed the ‘Puffs, don’t you know,” he added in a conspiratorial tone.

No, I didn’t know. Harry sighed. “So you’re here to buy alcohol?”

“Ah, now you’ve got it! In fact, our dear friend Wormtail is bravely causing a distraction to mask our absence as we speak!” Sirius exclaimed as Lupin put his head in his hands. “But thus is our difficulty. In times past,” he explained dramatically, “your establishment has gladly supplied us with spirits for our brethren back at the school. Tonight, however, the young rapscallion and the wizened elder behind the bar both refused to sell us our desired supply.” Oh for fuck’s sake Sirius, tipsy or not, you sound like an idiot. “Apparently,” young Sirius confessed, “there is an issue of the questionable legality of such a purchase, even though I assure you I am of age!”

Translation: Ab and Quisby won’t sell you stuff to take back to the school because they’re worried about the Ministry.

“And?” Harry questioned in a bored tone that masked his irritation with his godfather.

“And we would be eternally grateful if you could make such a transaction with us. We’ll happily pay the gold if you could just deliver our order to us out here.” Sirius flashed him a toothy grin.

Ab would murder me if I tried that. And you called me Squibbulus. No dice, Padfoot.

“No.”

“Er, no?”

“No. I will not help you,” Harry stated baldly.

Sirius floundered, while James lumbered forward a bit unsteadily (guess Sirius isn’t the only one to have already had a few pints tonight) to try a different tactic. “Look, kid, just sell us the whiskey – or even beer, if you want. We’ve got the money and nobody else needs to know.”

“No.”

James stared at him, hazel eyes flashing. “You don’t get it! People are expecting us to come through! We always come through!”

He sounds so young. He really sounds like a kid. Harry sighed. “No.”

And with that James cracked.

He tottered slightly and ran an anxious hand through his hair. “Dammit, do you even know who we are?” He plowed forward without waiting for an answer. “I’m James Potter. This here is Sirius Black. Potter? Black? Sound familiar? They should. Our families sure as hell aren’t ones to cross, so put your little knife away, go on down to the cellar, and bring us what we came here for, yeah, or you’ll see what wizards can do with wands.”

He sounds like Draco Malfoy. My dad sounds like Draco fucking Malfoy … and he’s trying to bully me. Profound disappointment flowed through Harry like it was carried in every cell of his blood. Snape was right. I don’t care if he’s a bit drunk or not, my dad really was kind of a prick. My mother was stuck-up and my dad was a prick. He suddenly just felt annoyed and thoroughly tired of all this shit.

Harry shook his head to clear it and then said firmly in an emotionless voice, “Okay then. Let’s see what you can do with your wands.” I really just want to go back to bed.

Sirius gaped, dumbfounded. James looked surprised but raised his wand to Harry with a bold twisting of his lips. A shocked Remus batted his friend’s arm away before he could release a spell. Harry, meanwhile, had quickly darted from the steps and moved within striking distance of the trio.

What am I doing? What am I doing? I’m not actually going to fight my dad, right? His mind screamed at him. Luckily, Harry was spared from finding out just what he was going to do.

Ab suddenly stepped from the shadows around the side of the pub. “Black, Potter, Lupin! What the ever-living fuck do you think you’re doing!” The Marauders blanched, clearly not expecting adult intervention. “Bah, never mind, you worthless pieces of shit. Best part of you ran down your daddies’ legs, didn’t it? Get your arses off my property. And,” he added with furious relish, “that’s a five-year ban on the lot of you. Don’t let me see you back here ‘til your balls have dropped some.”

The Marauders’ jaws hit the floor.

Harry found himself speaking without making the conscious decision to do so. His mind’s eye was focused on Moony. “Hey, Lupin? Just so you know, it isn’t just beasts in the Forest at night. Please be careful. You may have shit taste in friends, but I don’t take you as the sort to want to hurt people.” After all, he’d be moving back to his cave soon enough. He certainly didn’t want an unleashed, unchecked werewolf running by his front door.

Lupin paled, James looked alarmed, and Sirius’ eyes filled with rage. (*)

Ab growled, and the boys wisely fled.

It wasn’t as nearly bad as when he first met his mother, Harry thought idly. He was bitterly, sure, but he already knew he could live with such disappointment. He’s still just a kid. A stupid, entitled kid.

Ab walked over and grasped his shoulders. “All right there, lad?”

A pause. “Yeah. I’m okay.”

Ab gave him a speculative look. “You know those tossers?”

“No,” Harry said distantly, his mind on the confrontation, “not really.”

Ab grunted and led him inside by the front door. Even though it was way past Harry’s pub curfew, the old man said nothing when Harry flopped onto a stool next to Peloother. Instead, he filled a shot glass with Firewhiskey and passed it to Harry, his customary frown barely masking his curiosity.

“This one’s on the house, lad.”

Harry didn’t even feel the burn as the whiskey slid smoothly down his throat. A few beats later he felt like his esophagus was on fire as tears pricked in his eyes and he gasped helplessly. The barflies laughed as Pel clapped him on the back. “First one’s always the worst one, my young friend!”

He smiled along with the regular crowd and tried very hard not to dwell on the thought that his young father would be dead and his godfather in Azkaban before Ab’s five-year ban on the Marauders expired.

 

Chapter Text

VI. Massacre, Maneuverings, and a Montage

 

 

14 February, 1977

Harry had been with Ab for more than two months now. He’d been worked to the bone and slowly exposed to an adult world that was far different from his life either at the Dursleys’ or at Hogwarts. Yet he found himself strangely content, even happy, with this new life, despite his anxieties regarding the timeline and the sharp pangs that hit him whenever he thought about Ron, Hermione, and Sirius.

Aberforth was, well, Aberforth. He was perpetually grumpy, brusque, misanthropic, and sarcastic, but at the same time, the knife strapped to Harry’s arm and the warm straw bed in the stables were constant reminders that Ab gave a crap about him. Ab’s temper was a terrifying thing, and Harry took care to stay on the right side of it, but he’d not really been scared of Ab since the first night they had met in Harry’s cave.

Until today.

Ab stalked through the bar like a rabid dog biting and snarling at everyone who dared address him. Quisby had nearly been reduced to tears and Harry found himself almost feeling bad for the jerk.

“Shaddup ‘bout the ‘Sticks, you piece of shit! Get it through your thick skull that it’ll never be yours. Tab ain’t blind and he ain’t stupid – knows exactly what a worthless fuck you are, just like the rest a' us!” he had shouted out of nowhere when he happened across the young man discoursing on his favorite topic.

Ouch. Sure, we all know Ab’s right that the pub’s going to Rosmerta, but that was still cold.

Indeed, a pissed off bartender who’d spent years listening to the intimate details of his patrons’ lives has the best arsenal in the world for causing pain. His biting remarks to Quisby, Nappy, Yarda, and others had to sting something terrible.

Harry was very dedicated to the idea of staying out of Ab’s way today.

It had all started when the afternoon Prophet arrived, its headlines screaming in a huge, bold font.

Horror in Hayle!
Early Morning Attack Claims the Lives of 19 Witches and Wizards!
More Than 180 Other Victims of the Valentine’s Day Massacre!

Harry hadn’t had a chance to read the entire article, as Ab had snatched it from his hands and disappeared upstairs for some time, but the Hayle massacre was the talk of the pub. From what Harry could gather before he fled to the kitchens to escape the rampaging bartender, that morning Death Eaters had apparated into Hayle, a rather sleepy Muggle town in the far west, which also happened to house a fairly substantial wizarding settlement given that the area headquartered the great Potage’s Cauldron Factory. Half the force had stormed the factory and killed all whom they saw, including the Potage patriarch, two of his three adult children, and the famous cauldron innovator Gaspard Shingleton. The rest of the Death Eaters had swarmed the village, cutting down all they encountered.

The ministry had responded with a full force of Aurors, but by the time they arrived the damage was done. Apparently, the contingent had been mustered prior to the massacre, but faulty intelligence had led them to believe that Hayes, in the Greater London area, was the intended target, not Hayle.

From the shocked reactions of the Head’s patrons, Harry surmised that this was the first major offensive committed by Voldemort and his minions, who had largely operated in the shadows of wizarding politics up to this point. While some, like Quisby, seemed entirely unconcerned about the nearly two hundred muggles who had died, they nonetheless were profoundly disturbed that several respected purebloods had been targeted. Harry supposed their deaths didn’t exactly coincide with Riddle’s purported pro-pureblood agenda.

The massacre terrified Harry for completely different reasons. He had a vague recollection of an exam question in his first year about Gaspard Shingleton, who had invented the Self-Stirring Cauldron in … 1983! And he knew, he knew, that Aeris Potage had been in charge of Potage’s Cauldrons in his own time, but now the paper claimed him among the dead … Harry wasn’t sure if Voldemort had attacked Hayle in the original timeline, but he was certain that, even if he had, it had played out differently this time.

The timeline has changed. It’s been changed. Period. Harry thought, his hands shaking and his stomach a vast hole that churned in on itself. Is this my fault? What could I have done to make this happen? The smallest change, something I would never even notice, could have set off a chain reaction that led to this …

There were no answers, only that terrible, gnawing, guilty worry.

Given his raw emotional state, Harry thought it prudent to take even more care to avoid the raging Aberforth. When he heard Ab finally descending from the floor above, he flattened himself into the shadows as the wizard stomped towards the door to the kitchen. As soon as he was out of sight, Harry hightailed it up the stairs and ensconced himself in Room 5, which he now called the Yellow Room after its new linens.

Although he liked Room 3, the Green Room, best for its rather nice view of the village streets below, the Yellow Room had become his favorite destination in the last few weeks. He closed the door and turned his attention to the new element of the room that had kept him coming back. The large mirror framed in oiled bronze.

Approaching the mirror, he whispered “Ariana? Ariana, can you hear me? If you can, would you please come to the Yellow Room?”

He gave as much of a smile as his current anxieties allowed when the girl walked serenely into the field of the mirror and sat down on the reflection of the same bed upon which stood behind Harry, looking at him questioningly. It was as odd as ever to see a painted person appearing in the reflected reality of the room, but he had more important things on his mind.

“Do you know what’s going on? Why Ab is so upset? There was a … the Death Eaters killed a bunch of people, but Aberforth seems to be taking it too hard.”

Ariana nodded sadly and turned around to the desk that was reflected in the mirror. Harry had been sure to keep quills and parchment on the real desk so that they’d be available for his friend. After a moment, she picked up the parchment she’d been scribbling on and walked up to the very fore of the mirror.

.bup eht ni gniklat nem dab draehrevo bA

.nwot rehtona ot gniog erew yeht that sublA dlot ohw eno eht s'eH

.tluaf sih s'ti skniht eH

This was why Harry loved the Yellow Room. He had thought he was spending a few knuts at Jinky's Jumble for a regular old magical mirror. But he and Ariana had quickly discovered that the mirror was singular in that it connected with paintings in the same building, allowing the girl to truly experience a taste of the Hog's Head for the first time. She'd been beside herself with glee when a heaving Harry carted the mirror all around the Head to let her explore with her own hands everything from the pub to the kitchens to the stables.

Later Harry had the idea of hanging the mirror so that it would feature a desk, quills, and parchment, thus allowing for much-improved communication between the two teenagers. Granted, interpreting mirror writing gave him a headache, but the throbs in his eyes and temples after particularly long conversations were still worth it.

He frowned as he worked out Ariana’s response. Ab overheard bad men talking in the pub. He’s the one who told Albus that they were going to attack another town. He thinks it’s his fault.

“So Ab’s the one who heard, or thought he heard, that they were going to attack Hayes, he reported it his brother (and isn’t that interesting, he thought to himself), but they attacked Hayle instead?”

Ariana nodded gravely.

Shite. Poor Aberforth. No wonder the man was terrorizing the pub. He was furious with himself, but taking it out on everyone else.

“Can I do anything to help him?”

Ariana shrugged, eyes sad.

Harry sighed. “Keep an eye on him, yeah? Let me know if, well if you think he needs me.”

Ariana nodded and gave Harry a little wave as he left the room.

 



Later that night Harry sat in the soft glow of the stable staring at the wizarding photo of the Valentine’s Day Massacre in the Prophet that he had scrounged from the rubbish bin. Bodies of muggles lined the streets. The only part of them that moved was their hair, which whisped across their faces, blown by the winter wind that howled from the Celtic Sea through the town. The picture wasn’t in color, but it wasn’t hard to guess that the long black streaks which marred the newly fallen snow would have been red stains had he viewed the scene in person. He spied the legs of Ministry or muggle officials off in the background, pacing, stopping, pausing, stopping. They were of little concern to him.

Harry’s eyes were riveted to the bottom left corner instead, where a very young, presumably Muggle, child kept breaking into the frame, trying desperately to touch the corpse of what was once a pretty young woman. The hands of some unseen adult kept catching the sobbing child and dragging her back out of the picture.

He watched the girl’s attempt to get close to the woman he figured was her mother replay for hours. He wondered if the hands that thwarted her were those of her father, those of someone who loved her and would care for her in a world without her mother.

After a while, his eyes fastened on the tiny caption the Prophet had printed below the picture, and his rage burned deep and dangerous.

Ministry officials contrive a laudable excuse for muggle casualties: explosion at the local factory!

Nothing about who the pictured dead were. Nothing about the little girl. Nothing about the horror of the scene.

No, the vision of a street teeming with the dead was twisted into praise for the Ministry.

Indeed, not a single muggle name was mentioned in the story, only that more than 180 of them were dead.

Sometimes, Harry thought, it’s hard not to hate the wizarding world.

He snorted derisively when he considered the Ministry’s “laudable” excuse for the disaster. Sure, an explosion. Except the buildings were largely undamaged, the glass in their windows almost entirely intact. Bastards, Ab’s voice grumbled in his head.

Shaking his head, he stared down as the little girl’s struggles began anew.

A thought lanced through him like a chilled spear.

This is what Voldemort does.

The magnitude of the Dark Lord’s wanton cruelty didn’t surprise him, not really. But this … Up until now, Harry’s experience of Voldemort had been entirely personal. Voldemort killed his parents. He fought the shade of Voldemort in first year. In second year, the memory of Voldemort had possessed his best friend’s little sister, was threatening his home, had fought against him. Fourth year the Dark Lord had ordered Cedric to be killed in front of him, had targeted him for the tournament, had used his blood, had again dueled with him in person.

Harry didn’t know the sobbing girl, nor did he know her mother, or any of the other people, magic or muggle, who had been slaughtered on Voldemort’s orders that day. He couldn’t grieve for them, only sympathetically, abstractly, regret their loss.

But.

But this was somehow so much worse than what Voldemort did to him.

This is what Voldemort does. It’s personal for a lot of people, not just me.

A fleeting vision of a great web of pain and devastation with Voldemort as its rotting red center flashed before his eyes, its oozing black tendrils radiating outwards in countless directions to latch onto and extinguish thousands of tiny, sparkling lights, which then, in turn, caused even more thousands of lights to flicker and dim.

Of course, he had known from the moment he time-traveled that Voldemort was alive and active in the 1970s, but being away from Hogwarts and his scar’s blessed silence since being Kissed had made it easy for him to put Voldemort out of his mind. He had had more immediate concerns in the first months, and life at the Head had been so relatively peaceful that he had allowed himself to be lulled into a false sense of security. He had no delusion that Riddle had any reason to target him specifically, but the day’s massacre testified in red streaks on white snow that tons of people died and would die in this war whose names Voldemort would never think to learn.

This fight isn’t about me. And it’s not about my parents, or Ron and Hermione, or anyone I love. It’s about … he struggled for the words. It’s about the thousands of people whose names I’ll never know either, people who suffer because of that bastard. It’s about all of us, and none of us.

Harry thought back to the reactions of the patrons when Macnair had attacked him. All of them, even the ones who liked Harry well enough, hell, even Pel, had just stood there. Maybe if the fight had lasted longer some of them would have joined in, but the fact was that they all had believed him helpless and yet hadn’t helped him.

I can’t just sit here and do nothing. I can’t be someone who sits at the bar and minds their business. I just can’t.  I won’t. I don’t have to win this war I don’t think I can do that, anyway but I have to be part of it. Somehow.

 


 
Meanwhile, Ab was grinding his teeth as his brother paced the length of the shed in the back garden.

“Please, Aberforth, I need to you think, to remember, and to be absolutely sure! Is it possible that you misheard the name of the town, or was this a deliberate attempt to identify if the Head is compromised?”

“I’ll not say it again, Albus! Yes, it’s possible I misunderstood the conversation. Don’t think I did, but I could’ve. Yes, this could also be a way to smoke out my loyalties. The leaks in the Ministry already made it clear even to the bloody Prophet that the Aurors were tipped off to a specific town. If Rowle and Selwyn’s conversation in the Head was a set-up, they could definitely suspect that I’m the informant. I just don’t bloody know!”

His older brother regarded him gravely. “Give me the memory. Please.”

Drawing his wand, Ab removed the glistening blue strand from his temple and deposited it in the Pensieve waiting on top of the pushcart. Looking at each other, the brothers both leaned in.

The Head was busy that night. A young woman in a revealing dress was slinking through the bar, singing a tawdry, off-key version of some Celestina Warbeck song. Yarda glared at her from her perch in a “friend’s” lap and made loud, disparaging comments while Quisby looked on appreciatively and joined in the catcalls. A group of werewolves was arguing over their card game. The boys at the bar were enjoying an animated discussion of which Holyhead Harpy best combined sex appeal and athletic skill. Ab stood near the till, trying to appear busy while keeping a sharp eye on a table in the corner, at which sat two well-dressed men who seemed as though they were trying not to seem well-dressed. They had been nursing their drinks for more than an hour.

Ab didn’t need to glance up to know that an owl had just flown into the Head through the tiny door in the ceiling. He wandered over to the table near the two men’s and arrived just as one of the men unrolled the parchment he’d taken from the owl. As the bartender took the drink order for the threesome at the table, he heard one of the men behind him snap his fingers to get the other’s attention.

“ – one more pint of Hog’s Head Brew and a Firewhiskey shot for us –”

“Sing us another love!” someone shouted as the girl finished her rendition.

“It’s on for tomorrow. 7:30. Target’s Hay –”

“ – send us some of those sweet pickles, eh Ab?”

The real Aberforth closed his eyes. He’d really believed he’d heard ‘Hayes,’ but on review, he might have gotten the ‘S’ from the patron who was speaking to him.

Memory Aberforth felt the men behind him stand and depart and watched them go with a weather eye.

The brothers Dumbledore were ejected from the Pensieve back into the cobwebs of the shed.

“He could have said the name of either place,” Albus concluded, putting his head in his hands.

Ab nodded. “Aye.”

His brother’s hand curled into a frustrated fist before relaxing and wearily moving to his temple.

“You may well be compromised, but we cannot know from this. We’ll just have to treat all your information in the future as possible but not necessarily likely until we get clear evidence that they suspect you or don’t.” He sighed. “This is going to make things much more difficult.”

Neither said anything more for several moments. “They find any more bodies?”

Albus looked at his brother, his eyes sympathetic. “Yes.” He seemed to age. “Seventeen more, at last count.”

Ab pursed his lips and said nothing.

“It’s not your fault, Aberforth,” Albus said gently.

“It might be!” Ab bit back. “Guess we’ll never know about this time either.”

Albus looked away.

Finally, the elder brother broke the silence. “You really should send the boy away. He’s eroding your cover at best.”

“Oh fuck you, Albus.”

“Listen to me! I know that you confronted Crispin Cordwaine about his refusal to sell to the boy. I know that you protected him from the inspectors who came here. I even know that you banned Potter and Black from the pub because they accosted him. If I know these things, Aberforth, others know them as well! Perhaps not all, but enough. He’s distracting you from your purpose, and in doing so, however innocently, he’s putting himself, you, and this war in jeopardy. I do not wish to say it, but if the Hayle massacre was an attempt to flush you out, it was almost certainly your relationship with that boy which lead them to think that you might not be neutral.”

Ab turned white. “Are you blaming me for the massacre, Albus?”

Albus sighed heavily. “No. I suppose not.” He looked out the small shed window. “I know what you think of me. I know what you think of my priorities. I won’t argue with you about them anymore. However, sometimes even you must admit that we want for ourselves and what we want for the world must necessarily come into conflict. I do believe that this is one of those times for you.”

“Maybe you’re right, I don’t know.” Aberforth said, nodding slowly. “But I was always the fool, wasn’t I, not the bastard. Either way, the boy stays.”

Albus gave his brother an unreadable look and turned to leave.

“Don’t let me find out that you were behind the Ministry’s little visit, brother,” Ab said darkly to his back.

“I truly was not,” Dumbledore said softly. “However, I will not deny that I hoped the Ministry’s intervention might lead to the boy’s apprehension and assignment to a more suitable home.”

Ab snorted. “Yep. S’ppose that would have been awfully convenient.”

 



20 February, 1977

Harry sat absolutely still on his bed, his brow furrowed in intense concentration.

You’re a Slytherin. A Slytherin. Be the Slytherin …

You feel like a Slytherin. You think like a Slytherin. You like the things Slytherins like. You like green, and dungeons, and expensive clothing and … poncey hairstyles. And snakes. You love snakes, and, er … sneering. Yes, you love to sneer. You especially love to sneer and think about snakes when you are plotting, because you love to plot dastardly, clever schemes and are very good at it. No one can plot like you can, Slytherin Harry.

So … plot!

Plot now!

Thirty seconds later, Harry the Gryffindor bumbled in and interrupted. Think of a dastardly plot yet?

He sighed, opened his eyes, and flopped himself onto his back on the bed.

Stupid idea anyway.

While it had been all well and good to come to a deeper philosophical understanding of Voldemort, himself, and the war, philosophy didn’t do much for him in terms of figuring out the practicalities of actually training to fight Riddle. He was working from quite the intractable position. He had no teachers or Defense books to help him become a better wizard, his wand was buried under leaves in a bloody cave, and even if he had a wand, he certainly couldn’t practice at the Head or anywhere in Hogsmeade.

Hence his need for a clever scheme, and his consequent attempt to access whatever Slytherin qualities the Sorting Hat had once seen in him.

Stupid hat.

Harry had managed to scrounge up a single book of spells, though he doubted it would be of any real use, assuming he ever got a chance to actually practice them. In the course of scouring the Head for the Ministry inspection, he had discovered shoved into the back of one of the kitchen cabinets a moldered copy of Tweeny Twig’s Guide for Young Domestics, a compendium of archaic household spells from what looked like the eighteenth century. Harry had shrugged and hidden it away in the stable. Any magic was better than no magic. He snorted at the thought of using Tweeny’s patented cauldron cleaning spell on Voldemort.

Although he hadn’t yet figured out any answers to his immediate problems, the week since the Hayle Valentines’ Day Massacre, as it was now generally referred to, had seen him make some great strides in his magic. He was pretty sure he’d finally mastered the silent, wandless Accio he’d been practicing nightly for months, though he hadn’t dared summon anything heavier than a large keg of Hog’s Head Brew for fear of losing control and causing damage he couldn’t hide. Best of all, he had just discovered that Depulso, the banishing charm, worked almost immediately for him when he started trying to do it silently without a wand. It made some sense, he had mused. After all, Accio and Depulso were essentially the same magic, just focused in opposite ways. Maybe his long nights spent training his body, mind, and magic to work Accio had prepared him equally for Depulso?

He shrugged. The charm worked, and that’s all that really mattered. He’d leave the theory to folks like Hermione. Tonight he planned to start on Alohomora. That was totally different magic, he figured and would take him just as long as Accio had.

Harry gazed through his window at the icicles on the gable of the Head dripping in the sunlight. The spring thaw seemed to be coming early this year. It wouldn’t be long before the Forest was positively teeming with wildlife, happy to stretch their limbs in the warming air after a winter’s hibernation or migration 

I can’t believe it’s nearly March. If I were in my time, O.W.L.s would be fast approaching. I bet Hermione’s driving Ron crazy with study charts about now.

Nearly March …

Harry bolted up. His three months with Ab would probably be up in March! He’d never gotten a hard deadline for when his debt would be repaid, but it had to be soon. His pulse quickened and his stomach fluttered at the thought of leaving the Head, but he reminded himself that he had always known this wasn’t to be a permanent arrangement. Besides, it wasn’t as if he’d never see Ab again.

Unhappy though he might be because of it, his impending departure did provide him a great excuse for leaving the village every so often. He scampered off to find Ab, quickly cobbling together the best way to present his request without actually lying outright.

The old bartender was sitting in an armchair by the pub’s fireplace reading the Prophet when Harry burst in, moving rather more quickly than he had intended.

“Waz wrong, lad?,” Dalcop slurred, startled by his entrance. The barflies all peered at him over their pints.

Smooth, Potter. Real smooth.

“Er-, nothing, sorry.”  He crossed the room to Ab. “Um, I need to ask you a favor. Please.”

The barflies blatantly turned in their seats to watch the conversation.

“Seriously, guys? Shove off!” Harry smiled in exasperation before continuing in a lower voice. “Ab, it’s almost spring, see, and I’ve got to start getting things ready. See, last summer I collected a bunch of seeds and was planning on starting little gardens by the cave and in the forest. I’ve also got a ton of traps to make – I’m sure the ones I had last year didn’t survive the winter.”

Ab was looking at him silently.

Harry rushed on, “So what I’m asking, is for a bit of time now and then to go to the cave to get things ready. I know I, uh, I can’t stay here forever, and I figure the debt’s gotta be almost paid by now, yeah?”

Ab nodded slowly.

“I just need to go for a few hours a few times a week. I know that’ll eat into my work time here, but I can stay on for a few extra days to make sure I’m all paid up ... So, uh, what do you say?”

Ab regarded him. The boys at the bar didn’t even bother to pretend they weren’t listening, and a table of old women playing cards with Wigol Palter of all people looked on with interest.

“You gotta do what you gotta do, boy,” Ab said flatly with a short nod of his head.

Harry was confused by Ab’s strange reaction but shrugged it off as best he could. “Well, great, thanks. I have everything prepped for tonight already, so maybe I could, er, go now for a bit?”

Ab grunted an affirmative and Harry raced to the stable to grab his copy of Tweeny Twig, for whatever good it would do him.

Silence descended on the pub in Harry’s wake. Dalcop finally broke it. “So, boy’s leavin’ then. Kinda, don’ know, surprisin’ that.”

“Mayhap’s fer the best, innit?”, Dung Fletcher ventured cautiously.

Peloother and Nappy Clank both scoffed.

“Get the papers for me, will you Pel,?” Aberforth asked, without even looking up from his Prophet, “and don’t you dare ask if I’m sure.”

Pel pulled a surprised face but nodded. “Sure, Ab, okay.”

Wigol Palter and one of the old women both burst into laughter and gloated as they took bags of gold from two of their scowling companions.

 



Harry couldn’t believe he had forgotten just how good holding his wand felt. Burgeoning warmth and gold-gleaming power thrummed through the holly wood, reminding Harry that this feeling was what it meant to a wizard. Leaving his wand behind when he returned to the Head would be hard, he sighed.

Still, he smiled giddily to himself as he got to his feet, I’ve got the whole afternoon, a wand, and a Forbidden Forest! Magic time!

He had decided to make a trek into a good-sized clearing in the Forest that he’d never seen frequented by the centaurs or Hagrid. One had to leave the path to get there, and he couldn’t imagine not hearing someone stumbling through the dense, withered thicket that surrounded the area.

As he made to enter the Forest by one of his familiar tracks, hooves suddenly sounded behind him. “Colin?” he asked, grinning broadly as he turned. Oh, definitely not a baby death stallion. He must still be somewhere else for the winter. Rather than his young thestral friend, Harry’s new companion was, of course, Goat, who looked at him blandly as she crunched through the scant remaining snow.

“Want to come with?,” he asked. Goat picked at a fallen pine branch. “Great, then, let’s go.”

Half an hour later the unlikely pair entered the hidden clearing. Harry could barely contain his excitement as he sat on a stump and began thumbing through the text. He’d been surprised to find a few spells that he just might be able to repurpose into offensive ones. Goat began cropping. “This is going to be great!” Harry burbled. “Hey, Goat, it’s your job to let me know if you hear anyone coming, yeah?” He decided to take Goat’s chewing as an affirmative.

Picking out a towering oak with a thick trunk to target as his adversary, Harry readied himself for his first wanded spell in months, the innocuous-seeming bread-cutting curse that Tweeny lauded as far better for food than “a simple, plebeian Diffindo.” Tweeny’s kind of snob, really.  For Harry’s purposes, however, the spell seemed far more valuable than Diffindo because there was no counter-curse to block it. Seriously, who would think to invent a spell that protects bread? It also wasn’t technically illegal to use the spell on something other than bread – say a person – because again, who would think to do so?  Of course, an opponent could perhaps cast a shield which might work, he supposed, but he couldn’t figure out a way that he could test that without a partner.

First, let’s just see how this works. He thrust out his wand with two quick parallel motions and cried, “Panemseco!” Warm golden bolts shot out … and fizzled into nothingness against the bark of the tree.

Harry pouted and tried again. And again. And again.

He flopped down on the forest floor. Goat spared him a glance but offered no wisdom.

I guess magic can tell that the tree isn’t bread, and so it won’t cut it. Suppose that might be the reason it’s unrestricted and considered innocuous. He picked morosely at the grass. Sure, he could use Diffindo if he needed to, but that was illegal to use on others for the most part, and it was easily blocked. Dammit, I really thought I was being clever.

Unless … an interesting thought hit him.

What if it’s not the magic that can tell the tree’s not bread? What if it isn’t working because I’m the one who knows it isn’t bread?  Harry didn’t realize it, but he was floundering into the maelstrom of the greatest magical theory controversies in all the wizarding world. The debate about the role of a wizard’s belief in spell-casting, as well as the possible sentience, or at least perceptive capabilities, of magic had swirled around the upper echelons of wizarding academia since long before Merlin, yet the various camps remained at odds. But the stale debates of cloistered ivory tower-dwellers didn’t matter much to the boy in the Forest.

Harry stood up, his eyes thoughtful. He stared at the tree for several minutes, willing himself to truly believe that he was seeing bread, not bark. His practice at clearing his mind for wandless magic over the last few months helped him focus on this belief entirely.

Finally opening his eyes, he envisioned the trunk as a huge loaf of bread being cut into a dozen perfect pieces and intoned the curse again. “Panemseco!” The golden bolts shot out and attached themselves at equal intervals horizontally across the trunk of the tree. There was absolute stillness in the clearing as the golden strands shone on the bark until Goat rose with a start and galloped out of the clearing.  

“Wha –?”, was all Harry had time to think before each sliced section of the tree trunk began to slip away from the other parts. High above him, the treetop wavered.

“Oh shit!” Harry stumbled after Goat, hastening to get clear of the towering tree’s path.

A thunderous crash roared through the Forest as the great tree came down. Harry was out of its way but feared the felled giant would cause other trees to topple. Catching up with a wild-eyed Goat, he threw his body over hers and waited.

Within moments there was silence in the Forest. Harry peeked a shocked eye out from under the arm that shielded his head. Goat bit his other arm hard and he scarpered off of her.

“Holy … buggering … shite! I was not – shit, sorry for that Goat, I really am!  I didn’t expect that to happen!”

Goat glared.

“Wait here, yeah? I’m just going to check this out.” Harry navigated back into what once had been a clearing but now was filled with the fallen old tree. He noted that its upper portion had taken out a few smaller trees in the distance. Moving closer to its base, he was shocked, and not a little impressed with himself, to see that the massive trunk from the bottom up at least 3 or 4 meters had been neatly divided into perfect, parallel sections that lay as innocuous great circles of wood on the ground. Ever-living fuck, lad! Aberforth’s voice echoed in his mind.

Ever-living fuck indeed.

That is one seriously destructive spell, he marveled before he sobered. But could I actually do that to a person? I once had trouble killing a rabbit, for Merlin’s sake.

The faces of Peter Pettigrew and Voldemort appeared in his mind and his face set in a grim frown.

Yes. I could do that to the right person.

A small, feral smile replaced the frown.

Tweeny Twig, you are my new favorite lady.

He quickly exited the clearing and wrangled Goat to his side. “Well, it’s been a … productive afternoon Goat, but how about we bugger off now? I’m sure the centaurs and others heard that crash and we don’t need to be found, yeah?”

Goat bit him again, though not quite as hard this time. I probably deserve that. The two walked back to the cave so that Harry could return his wand to its hiding place, the boy’s mind whirling with possibilities for turning other unexpected spells into offensive juggernauts.

 



24 February, 1977

Harry watched from the bar as Quisby lazily used a refilling charm to top off the barflies’ empty pints before heading over to a table filled with his friends, an unpleasant group of young ruffians.

“Pel,” the boy mused softly, “refilling charms just transport liquids held in one container somewhere nearby to another container, right?”

Peloother looked at him curiously. “’A course. It’s against Gamp’s law – that’s one of the pesky laws of magic – to actually create food or drink … Though what a paradise it’d be, my young friend, if we could just conjure whiskey!”

This earned a boisterous “Hear, hear” from the regulars.

Harry nodded slowly, his thoughts on tactics to use in future battles with Death Eaters. “Just out of curiosity, what would happen if you cast the charm on, say, a person’s stomach? Or heart? Or brain? Could you make it fill up with some liquid you have nearby, like beer? Or maybe could you make it fill it up with other liquids in their body, like blood, or urine … or whatever?”

Pel stared at him in horror.

“I was just thinking … I’m just curious!” Harry protested quickly.

Bloody hell, lad,” Dalcop breathed.

One of the two young werewolves lounging at a nearby table got up and clapped Harry on the back. “Damn, kid, am I glad you don’t have magic!” His companion nodded enthusiastically, his eyes wide.

“So it would work, right Pel?” Harry pushed, trying to maintain his tone of idle academic interest.

The older man nodded slowly. “I – well – lad.” He shook his head to rouse himself from his inarticulate stupor and looked at Harry with a bit of fear and a lot of pride. “I dare say it would at that.”

 



2 March, 1977

Quisby was off that day and Aberforth was busy dealing with an early-evening brawl, so Harry took over the bar and found himself carrying a tray of Croatian Bloodwine to a four-top of vampires who sat well out of the way of the windows.

He’d been surprised that most of the Head’s vampiric patrons were a relatively sedate and polite bunch. Granted, they probably knew Ab would chain them to the back garden to await the dawn if they touched Harry, so that might account for their civil dispositions.

As he placed the last glass on the table, he turned a bit nervously to Sanguini, who stopped in regularly enough for Harry to know his name.

“Er, Mr. Sanguini sir? May I ask you a, well, kind of personal question?”

The vampire visibly brightened. “Of course, darling!” he practically purred, gently stroking Harry’s wrist.

Oh bugger, that definitely came out wrong.

“Oh! Uh, well then,” he cleared his throat awkwardly. “I was just wondering … if a wizard and a vampire got into a fight, what would happen if the wizard transfigured the vampire’s heart to wood?”

The group hissed and Sanguini tightened his grip around Harry’s wrist painfully.

“Or, or,” Harry floundered, “or if it were a wizard and a werewolf, and the wizard transfigured the werewolf’s blood to silver? I – I – was – er, just wondering, uh, sir!”

Sanguini’s furious eyes flashed with alarm as he pulled Harry so close he was nearly sitting on the vampire’s lap. “I advise you, pretty, to stop wondering such things," he hissed. Harry made to say something – he really wasn’t sure what that was going to be – but Sanguini tightened his grip even more. “No more  ‘wondering,’ pretty!”

“Harry! Stop flirting with that petrified bloodsucker and get back to work!,” Ab barked as he reentered the pub.

The vampire let him go and Harry shot to his feet, straightening his clothes. “No more wondering, Mr. Sanguini,” he agreed quietly before retreating to the bar.

Inside, however, he was grinning. I bet that would totally work! Definitely gotta practice wood transfigurations next time I’m in the Forest, though Merlin knows it would tough … silver’s probably way beyond me.

 



8 March, 1977

Yarda summoned her purse from across the room and pulled out her bag of coins to settle her tab.

“Uh, pardon me, Ms. Gobermouch, but have you ever wondered if, say you were in a fight with someone else, could you just Accio their lungs or eyeballs of something like that? (*)

The old prostitute stared at him, her eyes wide, before her mouth curled into an ugly sneer. “Shut up, squib.”

Pel shook his head.

“Pel?”

The old man sighed. “I don’t know, Harry. Probably. Maybe. Give us another drink, would you lad?”

 



11 March, 1977

Dalcop cast a quick Scourgify on himself after he’d spilled his beer down his front. Harry thoughtfully watched as the water and bubbles appeared and scoured the fabric, only to disappear when the stain was gone.

“Dalcop, people can cast that spell on other’s people’s mouths, right?” Harry had a faint memory of Mrs. Weasley using it on one of the twins after he’d cursed.

“Sure, boy. Me mum used it on me all the time, she did!”

“Well, what if a person didn’t lift the spell but made it more intense? Could the targeted person drown? Or could you cast internally in a person so that their blood was filled with soap?”

Pel closed his eyes and took a long pull of his drink. Dalcop whistled. “Kid, those werewolves had it right. I don’t wish it on ye, but I’m kinda glad yer a squib!”

Harry laughed and went back to sweeping the floor. Must figure out a way to test this.

 



16 March, 1977

Aberforth’s Reparo neatly stitched the pieces of the broken pint glass back together into seamless perfection. Harry quirked an eyebrow and watched intently.

I wonder what that spell actually does … Sure, it fixes things, but it’s essentially just putting something back the way the caster thinks it should be…I’ve seen people use it on my glasses, on clothing, on tables, on all sorts of things, so it isn’t targeted to a particular material … What if, say, I cast it at a person’s arm, and truly believed that his arm belonged stuck flush to his body? Would it remake the person that way? Or could I cast it on a person and turn them into a foetus or something like that? That’s just an intact, earlier version of the same object …

“Hey Ab –” he began.

“Shut it.” 

“Huh?”

“You’re goin’ to ask me some crazy disturbin’ question about magic. Don’t.”

“But –”

“Shut it.”

Harry pouted but added another item to his list of things to try to find a safe way to test.

 



23 March, 1977

Harry celebrated the first truly spring-like day of the year in a field behind Hogsmeade with fourteen goats. Ab had grunted at him that morning that the goats were getting irascible after being cooped up in the stable for the winter and sent him off for his first day as a goatherd.

Being a goatherd was, Harry concluded, one of the best jobs the Head offered. The huge field where they were wandering had been fully warded by Ab so that the goats couldn’t leave (which left Harry to wonder exactly how Goat had found gotten to him last year), which in turn meant he didn’t have to tax himself chasing after escaping animals. With the exception of Goat, who stayed near his side to crop, and an overly energetic doeling named Chevon who celebrated her freedom by racing up and down the field for hours, the other dozen goats were content to lazily explore interesting things to eat.

Harry hunkered down under a still-leafless tree and surreptitiously pulled out his Tweeny Twig’s to read. Maybe it was his desperate circumstances, but the Guide for Young Domestics had proved the most inspirational book he had ever read. The pages that the publisher had left blank at the end were now filled with his observations, ideas, and notes for future experimentation.

I have so much to do. He’d spent half a year doing next to no magic, and the four years before that, well, not exactly fully applying himself, if he was honest. The war would only get more serious though. He had to try to make himself at least competent.

Once he left the Head and was living on his own again, Harry figured he’d have even more time to work on his magic, though he did have to account for the extra hours spent hunting.

He frowned. Ab still hadn’t told him when his last day would be, and Harry hadn’t asked again. He knew why he hadn’t, of course. Part of him – a really big part – had no desire at all to leave the Head. He liked the people there, the goats, his straw bed.

But this isn’t about what I want. It’s about what I should do.

After he finally herded the goats back to the stable in the late afternoon sun, he trudged into the pub and had to fight to keep himself from heaving a great sigh.

“Ab. I need to know exactly when my last day here will be.” He kept his tone level and light, but Ab wouldn’t be able to mistake the firmness of his request.

Ab turned to Pel, who made some small gesture and then nodded.

The bartender didn’t look at Harry and instead kept wiping a dirty mug out with a filthy towel. “About a week. Let’s make it April first, just to cover any a’ your expenses between now an’ then.”

Eight more days at the Head. Only eight. Harry gave a tight-lipped, sad smile. “Great, thanks Ab.”

As he bounded down the stairs to get to work in the kitchen, Ab addressed Pel again. “Everything’ll be set by then?”

“Yeah, probably ready tomorrow or the next day.” Pel looked at the door through which Harry had left. “When ya gonna tell him?”

“Tell ‘im wha?” Dung slurred, opening a bleary eye.

“Never you mind!,” Ab barked. “Never any of you mind business that ain’t yours!”

 

 



28 March, 1977

Harry dropped onto his bed and immediately fell asleep after a long, lovely Saturday. Hagrid had dropped in for lunch, and somehow successfully convinced both Aberforth and Harry to let the latter accompany him back to the Hogwarts grounds to meet some of his more interesting pets.

Can’t believe Hagrid wasn’t in Slytherin, Harry had thought to himself. The combination of earnest entreaties and dog-eyed pouts had constituted some of the best manipulations he’d seen in some time. Given his place of employment, that was saying something.

Spending time in Hagrid’s hut was like time-traveling all over again. Fang wasn’t there, but Stimpy, another massive boar-hound who patrolled the room looking for scraps and covering every surface with a generous coating of drool, more than made up for Fang’s absence. Harry drank bitter tea and ate tooth-cracking rock cakes, all the while expecting Ron and Hermione to burst through the door grousing about Malfoy or homework. Afterward Harry was reunited with a much taller Colin, whom he was delighted to find had indeed been sheltered for the winter with the other thestrals in a small stable just inside the Hogwarts part of the Forest. Though now fast approaching being a true adolescent death stallion, Colin proved just as thrilled to see Harry as ever and rewarded his caresses with rumbling purrs. The thestral whom Harry was sure was Colin’s mum even gifted him with another tingly lick of his face.

Harry had regretfully left the grounds in late afternoon and hurried back to the Head to help make dinner. The pub had been fairly bustling that night – it seemed that all the degenerates in the area had decided to take the night off cooking – and Harry had worked furiously until his 9 pm curfew.

It had been a good, busy day.

 



29 March, 1977

A sudden, terrible weight on his chest that left him gasping for air woke Harry a few hours before dawn.

His eyes snapped open to focus immediately on the wand pointed in his face, before noting the black mustache and cruel blue eyes that twinkled malevolently at him.

“Well, hello again, little squib,” the giant man sitting on his chest whispered, specks of spittle flying from his lips. “Miss me?” Before Harry could do anything, Walden Macnair’s left hand reared back and then punched him fully in the face.

Harry didn’t even have the time to mentally curse before he fell into blackness.

 

 

Chapter Text

VII. People Who Need A Good Killin’

29 March, 1977

Harry slowly came back to himself thanks to the throbbing pain in his face. Without opening his eyes, he gingerly raised a hand to his cheek, and his breath quickened as he felt flesh that was so misshapen it didn’t seem to be his own. His right cheek was just all wrong, and an experimental opening of his eyes confirmed that, yes, it rather did feel like someone was stabbing them.

His brain suddenly sent him a blaring reminder that Macnair had been in his bedroom of all places and had attacked him. Opening his eyes quickly – ouch! Too quickly! – he realized that the hand he’d raised to inspect the damage to his face was shackled to his other hand and that the two together were attached to a chain running through an iron rung in the floor.

So, definitely not still in the Head. But why? Why would anyone want to –

A sudden chill ran through him. No one knows who I am here! Oh God. Oh God.

He forced himself to steady his breathing and admit that yes, he was terrified, but that he’d also been in worse situations before.

Looking around the cramped room which currently imprisoned him gave away no clues as to his location. He didn’t have his glasses, which he forced himself not be concerned about, but there wasn’t really anything to see. The room was little more than a small storage closet with gray stone floors, walls, and ceiling. Ancient rotted wooden shelves lined one wall, but all were completely empty. The ceiling was quite high, at least 3 and a half metres, and near the very top ran a line of long narrow windows which provided weak chinks of the pinkish light cast by a rising sun. There was no way he could get up to them, let alone fit through them, but at least the light implied that he was above ground.

Unless this place is like Wigol’s and the windows are charmed.

I can’t trust anything I see.

That thought was punctuated when his vision suddenly slurred sideways before blurring almost completely.

Wow. I really am hurt. Okay, don’t panic.

Several minutes of blinking later, Harry could almost focus clearly again.

Opposite the wall with the windows was a doorway-shaped opening, but the door had been removed. Instead, thick iron bars complete with a formidable lock shut him in the room like a medieval prison. Beyond the bars, he could see a long, empty hallway made from the same stone as his room. There was a lone torch some distance down it, whose fire glinted off two somethings on opposite walls that might be brass door handles. Beyond that was darkness.

Okay. What do I know?

I know Macnair’s probably the one who captured me. I know my head is injured but the rest of me seems okay. I’m chained up, and I haven’t managed a wandless Alohomora yet, so I’ll have to wait for someone to unlock the cuffs and room.

He paused and thought hard. Why would Macnair want me? Is this really just because of one fight?
 …

I know Macnair doesn’t want me dead yet. He would have killed me in the stable at once if that were the case.

He shook a bit. So I know he or someone else will be coming back and that they probably don’t mean to do nice things to me.

And then he came to the part his mind had been avoiding.

I know that Ab would have felt when the wards on the stable were disturbed. He’s got that place locked down tighter than Hogwarts to protect his goats. So he might be coming for me.
He paused, a niggling voice wondering if Ab would really try to rescue him. Yeah. If he can come, if he can find me, he’ll come. It’s dawn now, so I can’t have been taken more than a few hours ago at most.

Or Ab might be captured and here with me. Macnair might have gotten him first.
This made sense to Harry, though he really wished it didn’t. Any experienced wizard who concentrated would have been able to feel the wards on the stable. Why start with Harry when a fully capable wizard who’d easily perceive his intrusion was a few short flights of stairs away?

Or he might be de –

No. Don’t think of that.

I can’t plan based on what may or may not have happened to Ab.
He closed his eyes and took another long, fortifying breath.

“Well done keeping yourself together, little squib,” a harsh voice mocked. “Though, tsk, tsk, you’ve spilled your defective blood all over my floor!” Harry opened his eyes to see Macnair leaning against the gate, his arms languidly draping through the bars, one hand fingering his wand.  He mentally cursed himself for not even noticing the man’s approach. “Perhaps I’ll make you lick it up.” Macnair smiled and showed far too many teeth.

Harry swallowed hard and couldn’t bring himself to say anything. He considered using an Accio to take Macnair’s wand, but there was no guarantee that the wand would even work for him at all, and then he’d still be locked in a cell with a useless wand and lose the element of surprise that his limited wandless magic granted him.

“Cat got your tongue, squib?” Macnair’s grin got impossibly wider. “Ah, you’re going to be so much fun!” With that, he unhooked a key ring from his belt and unlocked the door before securely latching the ring back to his belt loop. Catching Harry’s widening eyes, he smirked, “Just a muggle lock on this door and your chains. Freaks like you don’t even deserve magic to keep you penned in!”

Oh thank you, thank you. If there’s no magic on the doors, this helps.
He mentally frowned. But can I use Accio on the keys if they’re hooked to his belt – shite, I probably can’t without bringing Macnair along for the ride …

But now was definitely not the right time to try to nab the keys. Macnair kept his eyes firmly on Harry, smiling with relish.

“We’re going to hurt you boy,” he stated baldly. So there’s more than one of them. “We’re going to make you squeal like a piglet.” Macnair moved in close to him and grasped his chin. “By the time we’re through with you, you’ll beg for death. And if we’re feeling merciful, we’ll give it to you.”

Harry nearly coughed out a delirious giggle. Oh God, is this seriously happening? Isn’t that last bit almost exactly what Voldemort said to me last year? These guys are so –, they’re just so –, they’re all so unimaginative. The thought was strangely comforting.

“So!” Macnair’s voice was brisk and bright as he straightened up in front of Harry’s prone form. “As you’re a guest, I’ll even let you have some choice!” In his right hand, he flourished his wand, while he pulled a long, wickedly sharp dagger from his belt with his left hand. Holding both weapons before Harry, he asked with mocking good cheer, “So, little squib, which shall it be? Magic … or … Muggle?” Holding the wand and knife up alternatively in a sort of mocking dance, he chanted “Magic … or … Muggle?” over and over.

Of course, there was no right choice. Whatever Harry said, he was sure that Macnair already knew exactly what he was going to do to him. He again said nothing, weighing the options of trying to use Depulso to knock the Death Eater against the wall as hard as he could.

But there are others here … they might come running if I make too much noise and I don’t think the chain will reach to the wall, so I won’t be able to get the ke –

Without warning Macnair was suddenly pressed up against him, smiling into his face, and sudden, agonizing pain bloomed in his right shoulder. “Too late, I choose!” The man’s spittle flecked onto Harry’s face.

Macnair was off of him as quickly as he had come, the dagger in his left hand dripping blood onto the floor.

My blood. That’s my blood
.

Harry cast dazed eyes down at his body and saw a dark stain rapidly soaking the brown of his tee-shirt at his shoulder. The back of his shirt felt wet as well. Holy shit, he stabbed me all the way through!

He must have let his surprise at the sudden injury show. Macnair giggled. “Oh, not to worry, squib, it’s just a little cut. I made sure not to hit anything too important. Can’t have you bleeding out your worthless life too soon, can we? In fact,” he brandished his wand and cast a spell at Harry’s shoulder that hurt much more than the initial stab had, “there you go! You wouldn’t know it, of course, but that’s a blood clotting spell. You. Are. Welcome!” he exclaimed with a florid bow. The spell did nothing for the pain or the internal damage, but Harry did feel the rush of blood abruptly begin to slow. “Now,” he affected a puzzled look and tapped his lips with his wand, “what shall we do next?”

I … I have to get the keys and his wand. Can I even
do wandless magic with a fouled-up shoulder and whatever’s wrong with my head? This bastard, though, he’s just bloody fast.

He had thought he would have more time before he had to fight for his life again, and all the spells he’d been working on, for all their macabre creativity and innovation, still required a wand that was buried under leaves in a cave.

He daar, Walden!” another male voice called from somewhere down the hallway. “Old man’s starting to stir!”

Macnair’s predatory grin faltered a bit. “Oh, too bad! We were just getting started! But you’re just the pudding, little squib. The old man’s the main course. Ta for now!” He turned and walked out of the room.

“Wait!” Harry’s resolve to keep silent crumbled. “Wait, you mean Aberforth’s here?” he cried, more desperately than he would have liked.

Macnair winked at him as he locked the door and reattached the keys to his belt. Without a word he sauntered down the hallway, whistling a jaunty tune.

I have to get out of here. I have to get to Ab.
Harry didn’t know why the Death Eaters were after Aberforth, but it sounded like he was hurt and had been unconscious. Of course, he was Dumbledore’s brother, but Harry’d never seen him do any wandless magic. He’d be helpless in there.

Okay. There’s nothing for it. I can do this
.

Harry closed his eyes. He focused on the lock on his shackles first, envisioning the little gears moving, the arm unlatching. “Alohomora,” he whispered, sending the spell into the metal, willing it to do what he needed.

Nothing.

He tried again.

Nothing.

He tried again.

Nothing.

The delicate metal elements in the lock were just too delicate. The two spells he’d been practicing wandless for months used magic like a strongman used a mallet. Accio and Depulso were all about high-power and brute force. This task called for control, for finesse. Harry could admit he’d never really been one for either.

Seconds passed into minutes (“Alohomora”), minutes dragged on (“Alohomora”), and Harry’s sweat began to drip down his face and soak through his shirt (“Alohamora”). His head began to sway (“Lohamora”), his mind became dizzy (“Alomora”), and his hands started to shake uncontrollably (“Lomra”).

It was too much. Every cell in his body felt drained, and the magic was coming out weaker every time he attempted to command his lolling tongue to cast the charm. He simply hadn’t had enough time to train his body to do the spell, and his injuries exacerbated the situation.

Stop. There’s no point. I’m just exhausting myself. Rest, and when Macnair comes back, try to
Accio the keys and hope for the best.

Dazed and trying hard not to hate himself for his failure, he sat back against the stone and watched the chinks of sunlight that struck the wall. Time passed slowly, the feeble streaks ever-so-gradually changing their tones and shadows as the sun moved across the sky. It felt like hours since Macnair had stabbed him, hours since he left to go to Ab. Would he even come back before he kills Ab? The thought repeated itself in his mind like it was being played on a loop, punctuated by a simple prayer. Please. Please. Please.

Harry slipped into a wakeful half-doze, aware of his surroundings but asleep enough to let his exhausted mind and magic begin to revive.

Then a shriek sounded in the silence. A mindless, bestial call of pure pain that shocked Harry out of his reverie and sent what felt like jolts of electricity into his bloodstream.

Fuck Alohomora. I’m done with this shit. Brute force it is.

Harry focused his mind and gathered his frayed but rallying magic. He’d never even considered trying this particular spell wandless. Others had just seemed more useful, and maybe they were but for his bad luck. Just pure thought aimed at a single purpose, Peloother had said, and Harry believed him. I know the spell I need. I know what I need it to do. I know what I need it to avoid doing. With those three thoughts held in his head like a perfect, unified sphere of purpose, Harry snapped open his eyes and snarled at the chain which connected the cuffs together and to the floor.

“Reducto!”

. . .

Oh God, that wasn’t enough.

Harry felt a lead weight sink into his chest as he looked at the results of his pathetically feeble spell. True, he was thrilled he hadn’t blown his hands clean off, but the chain that connected the two cuffs was still intact. However … one or two of the links that attached the chain to the floor had, he realized, crumbled to dust.

Okay. That wasn’t … wasn’t much. But this is better. I still don’t have great range of motion with my hands, but at least now I’m not attached to the bloody floor.

He sat down hard, chest heaving.

Okay. Catch my breath for a minute, then figure out what to do next. I
have to get to Ab.   

He reached up to massage his right shoulder when his hand brushed against his sleeve. A sudden chill ran through him and his hair stood on end.

No way.

Rolling up his shirt, he gaped at his knife, still strapped securely to his arm as Ab had always insisted it be. Avoiding his own embarrassment at the fact he didn’t even notice its presence or think to look, he had to shake his head, bewildered by the stupidity of his captors. They seriously didn’t even search me? They really must not think I’m a threat at all. (*)

A small smile played on his lips. People who don’t expect much are easier to surprise; he’d seen enough barfights at the Head to learn that lesson very well.

Sudden footsteps sounded down the hall along with a muffled voice that was probably Macnair’s. “Lemme know when he wakes up again.” The footsteps grew louder.

Ab’s still alive.


And Macnair’s coming back here. With the keys.

Silently arranging his body so that Macnair wouldn’t notice that he was no longer chained to the floor, he laid against the wall, his head lolling to the side as if he were terribly weakened or asleep. Harry still didn’t feel he had the strength to do any magic and tried to clamp down on his panic. He doesn’t expect my knife, or that I’m halfway free. And I don’t need my hands to be unchained to hurt him with my knife.

A dull scraping sound accompanied the footsteps, and another whistled melody. He’s dragging his knife across the stone wall as he walks.

“Hello again, my little friend! Wake up, wake up!” The key clicked in the lock, the gate opened, and was swiftly closed.

Harry opened his eyes. Macnair was leaning against the gated door, knife out, wand stowed, keys attached to his belt again. He was too far away for Harry to do anything. After all, he’d never been trained in knife-fighting or even hand-to-hand combat. He mentally shook his head. Honestly, the extent of my knowledge is “stab him with the pointy end.” Starting anything with Macnair when he was that far away was a recipe for getting killed. Get him closer to you. A plan began to form. Deep breath. Be bold.

“I admire your bravery, Mr. Macnair.”

The Death Eater’s manic grin faltered and he gaped for a second before recovering. “Why, whatever do you mean?”

“Or maybe it’s your master’s bravery … It’s really, I dunno, inspirational to see him stand up to his fear like this, regardless of the consequences.”

Rope him in.
Harry’s calm inner voice drowned out the other, more terrified ones that kept screaming at him to shut it, you bloody fool, for Merlin’s sake!

Macnair chuckled strangely. “I think I must have hit you harder than I thought.”

“Well, what else could he have expected, attacking Aberforth like this, other than a confrontation that he really might not win?”

Macnair took a half step forward and dropped all pretense. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

Here we go.
“Well, everyone knows that Dumbledore is the one wizard Voldemort fears. Why else hasn’t he attacked Hogwarts?” Thank you, Tom Riddle’s diary.

“You dare say his name? You filthy squib!” Macnair’s eyes grew wild.

Harry couldn’t stop his mirthless laugh. “Seriously, that’s what you focus on?”

Macnair shook his head as if to clear it. “What does any of this have to with Dumbledore?” The man seemed honestly puzzled.

It was Harry’s turn to gape. Does he really not know? Is that even possible?  “Well, I don’t think Dumbledore will look kindly on your master for attacking his little brother’s home and business. And kidnapping? Torture? No, the Headmaster won’t be as forgiving as he normally is, I expect.”

Macnair turned white and stood very still.

Harry gave him a searching look. Holy buggering shite. He really didn’t know. “Why, Mr. Macnair, I’m shocked. If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you didn’t know that Albus Dumbledore is Aberforth’s devoted big brother!”

“You’re lying.” Macnair’s voice was almost small.

Got you.

“I’m not,” Harry said simply.

The Death Eater stared at him in dawning horror.

A shrewd idea occurred to Harry. “This mission of yours – the reason you took my friend – Voldemort didn’t actually give it to you, did he? You and your friends came up with it on your own … What? Did you want to try to impress him or something?”

Macnair’s fists clenched and unclenched.

Harry bit back an incredulous laugh. “Oh my God, that’s it, isn’t it? You did all this for whatever reason, and now you’ve pitted your own boss square against his greatest enemy, who’ll look for vengeance for his brother’s sake.”

The man’s eyes were bulging.

So close. He’s going to lose it.

“Damn, Walden, you poor, poor bastard. From what I’ve heard, your master isn’t too forgiving of mistakes. You really are fucked either way, aren’t you?”

“You’re just a squib,” the man whispered.

Harry shrugged, ignoring the agony in his shoulder. “You’ve set yourself up as an enemy to Dumbledore and a failure to your master. Me being a squib doesn’t change the fact that you’re humped no matter what happens.”

And that did it. Now or never.

Please.

Macnair rushed at Harry in a blind rage, knife in hand but seemingly forgotten in his primal desire to pummel Harry to death. Harry twisted his wrist just so to activate his holster, snapped into a defensive posture, and met the man head-on. They ended in a parody of an embrace, Harry’s nose on the man’s heaving chest, Macnair’s chin in his hair. Stepping back quickly, Harry saw his hand still grasping the knife that was embedded in Macnair’s chest.

Walden Macnair stared down at himself with a look just as surprised as Harry’s before clumsily moving to grab the knife from his chest.

Harry was faster. He pulled the knife out of the man, ignoring the spray of blood that came with it, and planted the blade again in the other side of Macnair’s torso. His mind was nearly blank, going about the gruesome task with just one all-encompassing thought. Fall down. He pulled the knife out and stabbed the man again quickly. Fall down. And again. Fall down! And again.

Macnair fell, bleeding his life out over the stone floors, writhing and kicking with weakening legs.

Stop moving
, Harry’s mind ordered dumbly. He stabbed again. Stop moving. He stabbed again. Stop moving, dammit! He stabbed again.

Macnair stopped moving.

Breathing heavily, Harry stared down at the grisly remains of what had been Walden Macnair.

I killed, I killed him. Oh God. I killed him. I’m
I’m going to lose it. His mind admitted in a very quiet voice. Ab’s voice barked back in response. Not until the job’s done, lad.

Harry stood on the spot, willing himself not to go weak in the knees as his adrenaline ebbed. Eventually, he nodded slowly and wiped his soaked blade and trembling hand on a clean bit of Macnair’s robes. “Okay, Ab.” He stood up. “Okay.”

 


 

 

Harry grabbed the keys from Macnair’s belt, determinedly not noticing that they were slick with his blood, and made short work of the lock on his cuffs. Rifling through the body for the man’s wand, his little thrill of hope fizzled after he tried a few spells with the long, curved wand. It was like a dead twig in his hand. With a sharp twist, he snapped the wand in two and discarded it in the cell.

Seconds later he had unlocked the door and was moving down the hallway on silent feet.

He slowed at the door he was fairly certain Macnair had come from earlier and put an ear against the wood. The voice inside was faint and had a continental accent, but its words were clear enough, “– good, you’re waking up. Now, let’s get back to our discussion about policies for checking such devices out of the department, shall we? Remind me who –” Harry broke away from the door, thinking hard. The man seemed to be interrogating Ab. If this room was anything like his cell, Ab would be against the far wall, and the man’s back would likely be turned to the door.

What the hell am I playing at, trying to strategize? I’ve got no idea what this room looks like! In the end, I’m just going to enter it ready for a fight anyway, so I might as well get on with it.

Fair enough, Harry conceded to himself, adrenaline coursing through him anew.

He grasped the handle and was shocked to find it unlocked. As slowly as he could, he opened the door and slipped inside of what appeared to be some sort of potions lab.

A middle-aged man with a long braid of brown hair was sitting in a chair with his back to the door, interrogating a pile of robes sprawled on the ground in front of a long wooden counter, grey hair spread around them in a messy fan. Oh God, Ab.

He quickly concocted a wonderful plan. He’d slip behind the man and hit him over the head with one of the heavy cauldrons scattered around on tables.

Easy.

He had not planned, however, on the presence of a discarded potions bottle on the floor. Before he’d made it four steps into the room his foot hit the glass and sent it under a table. The consequent clink might as well have been a gunshot. Oh dear fuck.

The Death Eater shot up, wand out, and Harry had no time to hesitate. Without pausing to deliberate whether or not he could do it, he summoned the large iron cauldron bubbling on the counter directly behind the man, praying that his magic and muscle memory could make up for his exhaustion. The cauldron zoomed like his Firebolt once had directly into the back of the man’s head with a solid crunch.

Barely even registering the unconscious (dead?) man on the floor, Harry rushed over to his prone friend. He was mumbling strangely and obviously injured. As gently as he could, Harry helped him into a sitting position, back against the wood of the counter so that he could assess the damage.

The man was bleeding from several wounds, but nothing looked life-threatening. His hands, however, shook fiercely as they tried to touch his face.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got you, he’s out cold or dead, I dunno. It’s okay,” Harry looked up into the man’s face.

His eyes widened.

Pel??”
 



Peloother Pepst, of all people, was
here? Who in the world would want to kidnap and interrogate Pel? He was harmless!

“Wa-wand, muh, my young friend?”

Harry was still reeling from finding Pel rather than Ab and shook his head stupidly. “I don’t have a wand.”

“No! Geh-get h-his!”

Oh. Harry scrambled over to the fallen man and snatched the wand from where it had fallen by his side.

Pel stowed it in his robes rather than keeping it ready in his hands.

“Okay, let’s get you out of here and find Ab.” Harry gave him a strange look. “Keep the wand out, Pel.”

Why is he shaking his head? Why isn’t he moving?  “Please, Pel, we have to move!”

The older man found his voice. “Ab’s n – n – not here. They left him in the p – pub an’ took me. I don’t know, I don’t know if he’s okay, Harry. Wuh – w – wasn’t movin’.”

“So wait, it’s just us here? Well, fuck, let’s go, Pel!”

Pel was still shaking his head as he held out his arms. They were clad in thick silver bracelets covered in runes. Unlike Harry’s shackles had been, there was no chain. “Puh – Pan – Panoptica cuffs. Know ‘em?” At Harry’s blank look, he continued. “Magic inhib – inhibitors an’ sort of like an invisible prison. Cuh – Can’t do magic or move much from this spot until those who put ‘em on either let me go or take ‘em off me willingly. Or if they duh – die.”

Well fuck.

“Okay. Who put them on you?”

“F – Folteren,” Pel motioned to the man on the floor, “and Unsonsy.”

There’s a third man here still. Harry swallowed the knot in his throat. “So they both have to die?”

Pel nodded slowly “Or – or be puh-persuaded to take ‘em off.”

“And you can’t really move much?”

Another nod.

“Okay then.”

Pel’s eyes widened and he seemed to rally from the effects of the torture. “No! Bluh  – bloody hell, Harry, just get out of here. Macnair’s just left – he could come back any –”

“He’s dead already,” Harry said in a dull voice.

Pel stared at him for a few seconds. “Lad, just get –” Pel’s voice petered out as Harry had already crossed the room and drawn his knife, gazing down at the unmoving form of the man named Folteren. Slowly he bent over and felt for a pulse.

Shit. He’s still alive.

We could try to persuade him. Him and the other guy to take the cuffs off.

“Harry –,” Pel began again.

Harry looked over at him, eyes distant and deadly calm. In his mind’s eye, Peter Pettigrew stood before him, cringing and wheezing and sniveling for his life. Harry had been merciful that night in the Shrieking Shack, whether out of real pity, a desire to emulate his ideal image of James, or because he’d been scared to be involved in a man’s death, he didn’t really know for sure. But he had spared Pettigrew.

And look where that got us.

They’ll try to kill us the moment they can if we try to talk them into releasing Pel.

He shook his head slowly, feeling like he was suddenly in the eye of a great windstorm, at the single time and place when the deadly blasts were lulled into stillness.

“Sometimes people just need a good killin’, Pel. There’s isn’t anything else for it.”

With that Harry bent over and slit the man’s throat with a hand that did not shake.

The man never woke up to realize he was dying.

There was much more blood than Harry had expected.

This isn’t … this is horrible, he mused sickly before Ab’s voice broke through his haze. Job’s not done yet, boy.

Straightening, Harry staved off another impending meltdown. “Pel? Pel!” The man was looking at him with wide eyes. “Pel, I need to know if there were more than three of them. I’ve got to find this Unsonsy guy so I can get you out, but are there any others?”

“No, I – I don’t think so. I never saw more than the three of them.”

“Okay, you stay here.” Harry crouched in front of Pel again. “I’ll have to go and see if I can find –”

“Harry!” Pel’s face went rigid with alarm.

Before Harry could even fully turn back towards the door, a voice rang out. “Lacero!”

What felt like a tongue of white-hot pain slashed Harry across his left side even as he dodged part of the spell.

And that was the side of my shirt that wasn’t as bloody, he thought deliriously as he rolled on the floor, hoping to get out of the way or … well he wasn’t sure what he was going to do.

And it didn’t matter. Harry had just enough time to take in a glimpse of his attacker – a young man who couldn’t be more than twenty-one or twenty-two and whose eyes were wide and desperate at being involved in an unexpected confrontation – before he heard the man bark out a shocked “Crucio!”

Every nerve in Harry’s body suddenly screamed in pain with the burning sting of thousands of knives searing into him. He felt himself falling from his crouch to the floor at Pel’s feet. He might be screaming, he wondered through the haze of pain.

But.

But, the voice of an unknown man broke through, slipped in over and under and beyond the pain, its tone calm and clear. But Voldemort’s Cruciatus was way worse than this. This is bad … But it’s not so bad really.

Suddenly the pain flickered out and Harry realized his attacker had lifted the spell. Job’s not done yet. Every fiber of his body screamed against it, but Harry slowly stood up, somehow keeping his limbs from shaking too much, and faced down the man who had just tortured him.

Unsonsy, Harry guessed, had looked exhilarated by his casting of the curse when Harry had first turned round to rise, but the manic smile slipped off his face as his opponent pulled himself up and glared at him. He idly noticed that the man had closed the door, penning himself in the room as well as them. I just need a moment to right myself. I can do this.

The young man’s nervousness evaporated a bit when Harry just glared and did not attack. He didn’t give Harry his moment.

“Imperio!” Harry had a half-second to concede that the kid wasn’t pulling any punches before a wonderful calm filled his mind. Kill the old man. Kill the old man. Kill the old man. It was a nice feeling, Harry could admit, quite comforting after the shite day he’d had, but the clear voice he’d heard in his mind moments ago wasn’t fooled.

He smashed down the urge to shake from the after-effects of the torture curse with the force of pure, desperate adrenaline and incredulous fury.

Instead he looked at Unsonsy with a bitter smile. “Yeah, that’s not going to work. I was able to break through Riddle’s own Imperius when I was fourteen. You’ve never even cast it before, have you?” Harry tsked. “See, you’ve got to really mean it, y’ know?”

The young man’s mouth hung open. “But I – you … ?”

Please work, Harry sent out a silent, simple prayer to whoever might be listening.

When he thought about his actions much later, Harry would cringe that he hadn’t just decided to banish the man into the wood of the door or stone of the wall. I guess my instincts are much more … explosive, he would admit to himself. And maybe a little self-destructive …

His fist shot out in a furious gesture of command as he focused on his target and what he needed the spell to do. “ACCIO DOOR!”

The thick oak door behind Unsonsy strained with a great creaking against the metal hinges that bolted it fast to the wall. But the force of Harry’s spell could not be denied either. Horrible shrieks of splitting wood filled the room as the center of the door, unencumbered by hinges, exploded inwards into dozens of sharp wooden pieces and hundreds of splinters, many of which shot into Unsonsy’s back so hard that their ends poked through his chest. While his enemy blocked the worst of the shrapnel from Harry, he didn’t stop it all, and Harry found himself suddenly on the floor with dozens of splinters embedded in his arms and his left leg. Oh. Ouch.

“That’s … those are really good hinges,” Harry muttered blankly, noting that summoning closed doors to oneself, thinking that they would fly over and just knock an enemy out, was a really stupid idea.

And then Pel was there, wielding a dead man’s wand in hands no longer constrained by the Panoptica cuffs. With an idle, if somewhat shaky, flick, the manacles on Harry’s own wrists dissolved into dust and Pel started muttering healing charms on the young man’s lacerated shoulder and punctured limbs.  

“I’ve always been shuh-shit at these, my friend, but I can do enough so that you don’t bleed to death and can walk.” Harry nodded absently and laid back. A slight turn of his head and he was staring into Unsonsy’s sightless eyes.

Oh God. He saw me. Pel saw me.

“Pel!” Harry turned back to the man who was sloppily patching up his left arm. “Pel, you can’t tell, please don’t tell!”

The man paused in his ministrations and looked at him with hard eyes. “T-tell what, lad? That you’re no more a squib than I am?”

Panic welled in Harry. He hadn’t been this scared in the cell with Macnair. “Please, Pel! I – I promise I’ll explain,” there’s no way he was getting out of that, he knew, “but people can’t know. I swear I’ll explain as soon as we’re safe, but please don’t tell!”

“Tell what, lad?” a completely different voice intruded. Pel and Harry both started violently, the former’s wand moving towards the door.  

“What the ever-living-fuck kind of mess have you two gotten yourselves into?” Aberforth asked, eyeing the destroyed room, his prone friends, and the two corpses.

  

 

 

Chapter Text

29 March, 1977 (early morning)

Ab rustled himself awake as the morning sun was just beginning its doomed attempt to break through the dark curtains that covered the Head’s windows. Puzzled and a bit embarrassed, he looked around. It had been years since he’d been drunk enough to pass out on his pub’s floor …

A slick of liquid from a broken bottle ran down the floor under one of his chests. Mind groggy, he wondered if he had tripped.

He pulled himself to his feet, wincing at the aches and pains shooting through him – way to old for his shite – and grasped his wand. Memories immediately slammed into him. Him and Pel at the bar talking about the boy until long after the pub had closed. Macnair, that bastard Dutchman Folteren, and some mouth-breathing whelp bursting in, wands out, spells flying. How the fuck did they get past my wards?

Sure, he’d gotten a few licks in, he suddenly recalled, but the bastards had the element of surprise. Pel was drunk, as he always was by that time of the night, and went down fast. In the absence of any spell damage to his body, Ab figured he must have gotten clipped by a stunner.

His eyes narrowed. He knew what it meant that his memories returned only when he’d held his wand. When he had started using the Head to spy on the bloody Walpurgis Knights, Albus had insisted that he charm the thing with an obliviation failsafe his brother had devised. Anyone tried to obliviate Ab in his bar, and the spell would fail as soon as he touched his wand.

The boy. Ab concentrated. He could hear Macnair’s soothing voice in his head as he obliviated him. “When you wake up, you’ll think you tripped. You won’t remember us, or Pepst being here. You’ll think your little squib has finally run away.”  

That was it then.

They’d taken Pel and the boy.

The chill that shrieked through his bones had nothing to do with his age.

Ignoring the various aches that pled for his attention, Ab hitched up his robes and ran to the stable to confirm the boy’s absence, just in case. No boy there, linens folded up neatly. Oh fuck.

He didn’t have to wonder why Macnair would take the kid. The bastard would never stop smarting over the very public thrashing the kid had given him.

But, he surmised, but they really came for Pel. Had to have. The boy was just a bonus. It was obvious to Ab, even if not to most other people, why Voldemort and his cronies would be interested in the old fool. Time was when Peloother Protem Pepst had been the head solicitor and legal counsel for the Unspeakables in the Department of Mysteries, before he became disillusioned with them, washed up, and began drinking his life away. Pel was a man who knew secrets, a lot of them about a lot of people and magics, the sorts of secrets which a nascent Dark Lord might find it useful to know.

Fuck.

They’ll keep Pel alive for awhile. Need to bleed him dry of all he knows. And … and Macnair’s a sadistic fuck. He’ll want to take his time killing the boy.

They’re still alive. Certainty flooded Ab, and with that certainty came the clear knowledge of where he needed to go and what he needed to do. Dashing to the kitchen, he dropped nearly his entire store of various healing potions into a bag, secured his knife to his person, and grabbed a dark cloak on his way out the door.

A short apparition trip later and he was at an unassuming, nearly-unknown bronzed gate to the Hogwarts grounds. Thinking of Ariana, whose smiling face slowly morphed into a green-eyed, black-haired string of a boy, he incanted his patronus.

“Go ‘n find my shit of a brother. Tell ‘im I’m here and need to come up. It’s an emergency.”

With a small nod of her silvery head, his goat patronus raced through the air on graceful legs and disappeared out of sight.

Ab shook his head with familiar irritation. Bloody annoying that it was Albus who came up with that messenger patronus. Damn fine spell, that.

A moment later the magic on the gate dispelled. Smarmy, self-righteous bastard’s never gonna let me forget this. He rolled his eyes and stepped through the secret gate directly into the office of the Headmaster of Hogwarts.




Albus looked up from his desk with concerned eyes as Aberforth stalked in. “What has –”

“Three Death Eaters attacked the pub a few hours before dawn,” Ab said without preamble. “Knocked me out, tried to obliviate me. Took Pel Pepst. And the boy. I just came to.”

His brother frowned deeply. “They shouldn’t have been able to get past your wards, should they?”

“Of course not, least not without me even noticin’ it! I had the ones I use after closing up, as well as the permanent ones on the stable.”

Albus’s frown deepened. “And all they did to you was stun and attempt to obliviate you, yes?” Ab hissed impatiently as he nodded. “Curious … what did they try to make you believe had happened?”

“That I fell, Pel hadn’t been there that night, and that the boy ran away.”

“Very curious …” The headmaster sat back in his chair, a somber expression on his face. “I am truly sorry, Aberforth, for the loss of your friend and the child. However, their behavior suggests that the Death Eaters, and by extension Voldemort himself, remain unsuspicious of your allegiances. Perhaps the Hog’s Head is not as compromised as I had feared.”

“Well that’s bloody lovely, but what about Pel and Harry?” Ab demanded. “They’re still alive, dammit!”

“Oh, Aberforth, I – oh I am sorry, but I sincerely doubt –”

Ab slammed his fist on Albus’s desk. Fawkes, who had been asleep in the corner, startled awake with an indignant squawk. “One of the Death Eaters was Macnair. He’ll want to play with his food before he eats it, you know that. As for Pel, Merlin, Albus, go ahead an’ play the heartless general if you like, but even you have to admit that Pel’s knowledge in the hands of Death Eaters is bloody dangerous! Dammit, don’t be a fool, here!”

Albus looked stricken and puzzled. “Pel Pepst … Peloother Pepst, yes? I do recognize the name from somewhere …”

“Course you barely remember him,” Ab snorted, “probably never gave him a second thought after he lost his shine.” He waved off his brother’s protest. “Pel was the head legal counsel for the Unspeakables for years, dammit! Just imagine what he knows!”

Albus paled. “Oh, of course! Oh my, this is concerning,” he conceded softly. “I remember him now. Brilliant, but brash and unpredictable, yes?,” the headmaster mused. “Those with the best of Ravenclaw’s qualities and the worst of Gryffindor’s too often experience … problems out in the world.”

“Spare me your sermons,” Ab snarled. “You see the problem, martial up your Order, and let’s start plannin’!”

“But,” Albus continued slowly, “forgive my lapse in memory of the details, but didn’t Mr. Pepst, ah, leave the employ of the Unspeakables in the early 1960s or so?” Aberforth nodded sharply, and Albus sighed. “Aberforth, I agree that Mr. Pepst’s knowledge does pose a danger if divulged to the wrong people, but much of it is now out of date. Much has changed throughout the Ministry since then. His knowledge of policies, artifacts, individuals with various security clearances – all of that – can only be of limited use to Voldemort.”

Aberforth stared at his brother for a long moment.

Fawkes crooned softly in the background as the air between the brothers grew stale and bitter.

“You don’t mean to do anythin’ about this, do you?”

When Albus looked back at him, there was no twinkle in his eyes. “No. No, Ab. I truly am sorry, I am, but I cannot risk the Order to save an old man with a bit of potentially dangerous knowledge and a single boy, even an innocent one.”

“It’s the right thing to do!”

Albus shot up from his chair and made an explosive gesture. “No, it is not! You must understand that I am fighting an impossible war against an intractable enemy! Two lives, especially the lives of those who cannot help our cause, are not worth the lives of those who can, no matter how much it might pain us to admit it!”

“The arithmetic of your morality is disgusting.” Ab’s voice was deadly, lancing into the gaping emptiness that filled the room.

Albus sank back into his chair, his hand rubbing his eyes. “Perhaps. But making judgments such as that has always been the easy privilege of those who do not have to lead.” He sighed. “Aberforth, do you not see the impossibility of this? Even if I did muster the Order, where would we go? How would we find these poor souls? You have brought to me the names of two Death Eaters. Of course, the child and Pepst could be being held on one of their properties. Which one? How can we get past their wards? We certainly won’t have any help with this from the Ministry – an assault on private property would be patently illegal, and their victims would be killed or moved long before their wards came down. Or could they be at the home of the third whom you can’t identify? Or at some safehouse of Voldemort’s? Or another follower’s?”

The headmaster began stalking about the room like a caged animal, to the great consternation of Fawkes. “Do you not see? Even if I helped you, we have no time to riddle out their location from the hundreds of possibilities, and it is folly to attempt to assault a property hidden by wards we cannot access!”

Ab was still. “So you won’t help me.” It was not a question.

Albus turned and stared at this brother.

“You are going to try to find them on your own, aren’t you?”

“’Course I am. I don’t abandon my charges, nor my friends.”

The headmaster’s face crumpled in despair for a brief moment before he smoothed it, though some of the lines lingered. “I would not lose you, Aberforth,” he said quietly.

It occurred to Aberforth that his brother probably truly meant exactly what he said. Emotions he was not interested in exploring now, of all times, threatened to float to the surface of his mind but he clamped down on them. Now’s gotta be about Harry and Pel.

Ab watched with a wary eye as his older brother walked slowly to one of the cabinets that lined his office wall and extracted a thin, faded blue cloth dotted with a pattern of delicate lavender corncockles. Pointing his wand at the fabric Albus intoned, “Portus.” He turned to Aberforth. “Take it. The activation word is pinafore. It will bring you – and any passengers whom you or it are touching – to the Hospital Wing. I,” he sighed again, “I can do no more.”

Ab snatched the cloth from his brother’s hand and left without a word.




“Well, ‘ello there Ab! Don’t see you ‘round these parts much!”

“No time for you, oaf!”

Hagrid’s face crinkled into a frown and he quickly moved to catch up with the older man’s furious pace as he stalked across the Hogwarts grounds. “Somethin’ wrong, Ab?”

Aberforth growled, and then words exploded out of him like rapid-fire bullets as he kept walking. “Boy’s been kidnapped. Bloody Macnair. Don’t know where he is. My dear brother won’t help.”

“I never –, ‘Arry! And you say Dumbledore won’ –”

“Boy’s not worth other people fightin’ over, apparently. They took Pel too.”

Hagrid’s dark eyes shifted about, confused and upset. “Oh Merlin,” he breathed before looking up quickly at Ab. “So, what’re you goin’ ter do? Somethin’ yeah?” There was hope in the half-giant’s suddenly quiet voice.

Ab stopped. “I don’t know! Shoulda put a trackin’ charm on the little fool. Well and good for me to storm off to find ‘im, but I can’t find him!”

Hagrid looked thoughtful. “Don’ know much about rescuin’ people, ta be honest … but I might be able ter help with the findin’ part.”




“You’ve got to be fuckin’  kiddin’ me,” Aberforth glared as Colin pranced up, eyeing Hagrid hopefully. Hagrid smiled and tossed the thestral some meat.

“Dead useful, thestrals are. Kin find any location if ye ask ‘em nice an’ they like ya.”

“So you’re suggestin’ I ask a thestral to find the boy and then ride him to wherever?,” Ab asked, unable to keep the derision out of this tone.

Hagrid frowned. “Nice. I’m suggestin’ ye ask ‘un nicely ter find Harry and then ride ‘em ta wherever he takes ya.” He paused thoughtfully. “Won’ be any help t’all with warding charms though. They kin take ya as close as they kin git ta his location, but not through the wards.”

This is bloody madness, the old man grumbled to himself. But all of this is madness. Ab threw up his hands helplessly and nodded. “All right then. Which one should I take? The little one who likes the boy is too small.”

Hagrid pointed out a much larger adult thestral milling near the side of the paddock. “Take Umbra. She’s Caligo’s mum and seems ta like Harry well enough.”

At Hagrid’s words the mother thestral’s not-ears pricked up and she trotted over to the two men. The half-giant grinned. “Looks like she’s willin’ ta listen! Now, ask ‘er for ‘er help.”

The old bartender stared at the groundskeeper who shot him an encouraging smile. “Nicely, mind ya, Ab, nicely.”

Shaking his head, Aberforth swallowed the last of his pride. “Dear lady,” he grumbled, “would you please help me find my charge and my friend?”

“Oh, well done, that!”

“Shut it, oaf.”

Ab clamored ungracefully up onto the beast and found himself an awkward position on her emaciated back. As the thestral spread her wings, he looked down at Hagrid. “If I don’t die, you drink free for a month, oaf.”

And then they were in the air, a black gleam gliding over Hogwarts.




When Ab finally dismounted the thestral, his hands were near frozen solid and he knew his arse would be smarting for days. It had taken the thestral more than six bloody hours to travel from northern Scotland to the golden moorland Ab guessed was somewhere in the Forest of Bowland. Really, pretty damn fast, all things considered, he granted, but his arse wasn’t feeling charitable.

“So, this is the closest you can get, lady?,” he asked Umbra, who regarded him solemnly with pupil-less eyes. “Well, then, must be warded. I’m off, lady, an’ I don’t know if I’ll be needin’ you again, though I’d be obliged if you’d stick around for a while, just in case.”

Umbra turned away and fast as lighting snared a vole that had been scampering across the spring field. She munched on the carcass languidly and peered around the moor.

“I’ll take that as a yes.”

He cautiously began exploring the seemingly empty moorland. Trusting that Hagrid actually knew what he was talking about, the thestral’s ability to find this place meant that the boy was still alive. There had to be some structure nearby. He didn’t have his brother’s talent for feeling magic, but some things didn’t take all that much. A quick circuit of the vicinity confirmed that the place was thrumming with warding charms, and a damn lot of ‘em. Old ones. Probably blood-based ones, family ones. There’s a manor here.

Ab sat down hard in the heather, grimacing as he realized he’d forgotten about the literal pain in his arse. Maybe the old bastard was right, he grudgingly conceded. Ain’t nothing I can do against family wards. Hell, without Ministry ward specialists, Albus probably wouldn’t have a chance at it either.

An hour or so passed. His helplessness filled his mouth with the sour sick of rotten meat.

Eventually, he hunkered over behind a cropping of rocks, his eyes focused on where he knew the invisible manse was. The sun was long past its zenith. Night would fall soon enough.

Without any warning, a large, two-story rectangular house appeared in the moor accompanied by the screeching sizzle of magic. The structure had certainly seen better days. The pale brown stones of its walls were chipped in places, several windows were broken, and the wrought iron gates were half off their posts, swinging haphazardly in the wind. An old family house, yes, but one that hasn’t been lived in by decent folk for a long time.

While the muggle-repelling charms were likely still intact, the family or blood-based protections had obviously just fallen completely. Sure, the owner could have lifted them, but other than that there’s only one way that family wards disappear like this. Ab grinned. Pel, you daft old drunk, looks like you just ended a family line!

Ab surveyed his target. A single, large front door was the only visible entrance into the house. There was likely at least one more around the side or back, but the building’s abrupt appearance suggested that a battle was being waged inside. Ab snapped a disillusionment charm on himself and made his way quickly and quietly towards the front gate.

The door burst open and the nameless whelp of a Death Eater who had attacked the pub earlier scampered out, eyes wide in shock. He looked around at the grounds of the house, his mouth working but not saying anything. Yep. Lad knows that the wards have fallen. Guess he wasn’t in the fight that killed his mate.

Ab readied his wand to attack the kid, but he had already darted back inside. Waiting a few moments to ensure that no one else was coming out, the older man eventually followed him.




Inside, the large house was a sty. The broken windows had allowed a pervasive damp to set in, and the few pieces of upholstered furniture remaining in the large front room were tattered and rotting. Scattered bottles of Gamp’s Old Gregarious, broken and intact, littered the floor, along with the occasional glass shards from a Firewhiskey bottle. It looked as though someone had been using the walls and furniture as targets for spell practice – and that someone didn’t have the best aim, Ab noted with satisfaction. The place was obviously being used as a squat by undiscerning inhabitants. Creatures from the moor had moved in long ago; the stench of animals suffused the air.

Ab had little doubt that Voldemort, at least, was not in residence. No self-respecting Dark Lord would grace these halls.

The ground floor was silent, but Ab marked a creak above him. Rather than ascend the grand stair – even disillusioned he was wary of approaching an enemy who occupied the higher ground – he made his way around to the back of the manor and, just as he had suspected would be there, located an old servant’s staircase.

The staircase led to a foyer outside a small maid’s quarters, from where he found himself in a small labyrinth of secondary rooms.

Suddenly there came the sound of a door slamming, a muffled call of “Harry!” and another shout. A few moments later he heard the unmistakable incantation of a Cruciatus curse.

Fuck! Ab fumbled his way through the various rooms in the vague direction from whence the calls had come. This is taking too long!

Another shout. “ACCIO DOOR!” An explosion of splintering wood echoed through the house. This way! The sounds were definitely ahead and to the left. Racing through the rooms, Ab finally found himself in a long, dark hallway illuminated by a single torch. Far at the end was a room with a barred jail door, but the call had come from closer.

The muttering of someone casting healing charms. A quiet conversation.

From his vantage in the hall, he saw the door just ahead of him had been exploded.

As he drew closer, the words became more distinct.

“Pel! II promise I’ll explain,” Ab closed his eyes in relief and sent a silent prayer of thanks to the universe. That was the boy, and he was talking to Pel. Apparently, the washed-up fool had actually won the fight. “But people can’t know. I swear I’ll explain as soon as we’re safe, but please don’t tell!”

Now that was interesting. Ab stepped into the ruined doorway and surveyed what was apparently a make-shift potions lab-turned-warzone. A worse-for-wear Pel was healing the wild-eyed boy, who was literally caked with blood and whose face was deeply swollen. The boy was awake and talking, though, so Ab swallowed his concern for the moment.

“Tell what, lad?” He couldn’t help but be a bit satisfied with the start his comment caused in them both.

“What the ever-living-fuck kind of mess have you two gotten yourselves into?” Ab asked, looking over the room and noticing that the whelp and the Dutchman were dead but Macnair was nowhere in sight.




“Ab! You’re okay!” Harry cried and moved to stand up. Thank you. Thank you.

Pel kept him down with a hand. “Don’t you dare move. A cutting curse, Cruciatus and Imperius curse in the space of seconds, plus all these wounds from the door, a fucked-up head, and what seems to be a wound from being impaled? You’re keeping that arse on the floor!”

As Pel described Harry’s injuries, the old bartender’s face grew dangerously cold. “Where the fuck is Macnair?” he growled at Pel. “I might let the ratfucker die sometime next month if he’s lucky!”

A small warm glow erupted in Harry’s chest, eclipsing just a bit of the pain.

Pel shrugged. “Dunno, he –”

“He’s already dead,” Harry said quietly. “His body’s in the cell at the end of the hall.”

Ab sent him a sharp look, to which Harry shrugged, then winced when it jostled his injured shoulder. “They didn’t think to search me.” When the old man’s brow furrowed, he went on in an even quieter voice. “The knife. It was … it was a really good Christmas present.”

“Ah. Well, I did tell you to make sure you used it outside the pub, didn’t I?” The feeble joke fell flat. Ab licked his lips and nodded before turning to Pel. “So’d you get these two? Looks like you managed to get a wand.”

Dead silence.

“Well?”

Please Pel.

Pel cleared his throat. “Well, no. No, I didn’t.” He paused. “Harry took care of them too, when he came to rescue me. I got the wand off Forteren after he had been … dispatched.”

Ab’s eyebrows disappeared into his hair.

“Dammit, Pel!,” Harry cried.

“I’m sorry, lad. I like you, but Ab’s been my friend for longer than you’ve been alive. I’ll not lie to him about something like this,” Pel admitted gently. “Seems our young friend has been keeping some secrets, Ab.”

Frowning, his eyes wary, Ab regarded Harry. “I know.”

What?!

“Lad told me months ago he had things he couldn’t tell me.”

Oh. Oh yeah.

Pel scoffed. “Well, I can say that one of those things is that he’s a wizard, and a bloody decent one, at that!”

Ab’s face clouded in shock, then turned contemplative. “S’ppose that explains somethings that’ve been botherin’ me,” he said, more to himself than to the other two men. Then he swung a searing glare at Harry. “Why the fuck were you livin’ in the bloody Forest and not snug in a bed at Hogwarts, like you shoulda been?”

I can’t hide this. No, I can’t hide any of this.

The absolute impossibility of coming up with a believable lie for the situation was strangely comforting. It’s like those criminals they talk about on the telly who evade capture for years, but then feel relieved when the police finally nab them. It sucks that they’re caught, but at least they can stop hiding.

Harry took a deep breath, which in turn sent him gasping from his injuries for a few seconds. He looked Ab in the eye. “I’ll tell you,” he turned to Pel, “I’ll tell both of you, I know I can’t get out of it. But not now. Now we’ve got to get out of here. And … and I’ve got to figure out what I’m going to do.” He gulped and tried to keep his voice from shaking. “I killed three people.” Don’t freak out. Job’s still not done. “Just, you’ll understand once I explain, please believe me, just … we can’t tell anyone I can do magic. We just can’t!”

The two men looked at each, then looked at him. “Please! Please trust me. I know that you –” Harry broke off, at a loss for what he could say. What did he know? Today had just been too much. He felt very, very young.

“Please.”

The pause felt endless.

“Okay.”

Harry blinked. “Oh – okay?”

“Not a hard word to understand boy!” Ab barked. “Okay, now we figure out how we’re goin’ to handle this load of shit –” he made a sweeping gesture around the room – “and get the hell outta here. Later, well, later you’re going to talk.”

Harry nodded quickly.

He had little time to bask in what was still the relative strangeness of an adult who listened to him and didn’t automatically believe that he or she knew best. Ab was already moving on. He rummaged in his bag and grabbed a handful of various potions which he pushed off on Harry and Pel. “All right. You killed all three of these shits, yeah Harry?”

Harry had just swallowed some sort of nasty potion and so nodded, his neck feeling oddly wobbly.

“How?”

“Huh?”

Pel rolled his eyes. “Well, according to you, we have to explain this mess without telling anyone you can use magic, child. Thus we need to come up with a plausible story that conforms to the available physical evidence.”

“Oh, yeah, that makes sense.” Harry closed his eyes. “Er, I stabbed Macnair with my knife …  Um, I think I may have stabbed him a lot.”

“Did you use any magic at all in the cell? Anything we’ll need to explain?”

Harry tried to clear his mind of all the … thoughts that came with thinking of stabbing Macnair. “Yeah, I managed a little Reducto. I’d been chained in cuffs that were attached to the floor, and I used it to break a few links in the chain.”

“Where’d you get the wand?” Ab wondered.

“Oh, I didn’t have one. I, er, still don’t, so I guess we don’t have to worry about Prior Incantato, yeah?” (*)

Ab stared. “Let’s worry later about how the fuck you know about that spell. You did a Reducto wandless?”

Harry nodded. “I’ve been working on wandless magic a little when … well, when you aren’t around.”

Ab sent a glance heavenward. “Right, later. So you got your hands free. What happened next?”

“Macnair came back before I could do anything else. I managed to get him close to me, to get him mad. When he attacked me, I stabbed him. Well, like I said, I stabbed him kind of a lot.” The men looked at him. “Well, I had to be sure, right?”

Ab spoke softly. “Good lad. Never leave any enemy like him behind you.”

Harry took a shaky breath. “I snapped his wand when it didn’t work for me and used the keys he had to unlock the door. I had to hurry because I could hear them hurting Pel –” Ab gave the man a sharp, concerned look, which Pel waved off – “so I found this room and came in. The man with the braid was asking Pel questions. I …”

“What?” Ab barked, though it was without its usual bite.

“I planned on sneaking up behind him – his back was to the door – and hitting him over the head because I wasn’t sure if I could do magic again, but I made a noise and he turned around to fight me. I used an Accio to summon a cauldron that hit him in the back of the head. It knocked him out.”

“I was present for the rest of it, Ab,” Pel broke in, to Harry’s great relief. He quickly and delicately described the Panoptica cuffs, the death of Folteren, the arrival of Unsonsy, his use of Unforgivables (which had Ab’s eyebrows disappearing into his hair again), and Harry’s use of another Accio to cause an impromptu door bomb.

By the end, Ab had his head in his hands.

Finally, he looked up. “All right. This is what we’re going to do. First: lad, you were never in chains. You were just locked in the room. That takes care of the first spell. You can stick pretty much to what happened for Macnair.”

Pel chimed in. “As for the injury to Folteren, we can say that you burst in, which distracted Folteren, and I hit him over the head with the cauldron. The trajectory and general angle of the hit will match well enough with that story, for Auror investigators at least.”

Ab pulled a thoughtful face. “We have two problems. The door and Folteren’s death.” He and Pel seemed to engage in some sort of unspoken conversation before Ab abruptly ordered them all into the hallway.

Getting up was much harder than Harry had expected. He’d been in pain, but his mind had been clear throughout the entire conversation. As soon as he stood, he began swaying and shaking uncontrollably. Ab firmly guided him several meters away from the door and gave him another potion. “Blood loss, shock, and a fuckin’ Crucio,” he muttered. “Dogs, the lot of ‘em.”

He helped Pel to Harry and then turned back into the doorway with his wand out. “PROTEGO, REDUCTO!”  he incanted in quick succession. A small but devastating bomb seemed to go off in the room. When it was over, Folteren and Unsonsy were little more than pulp, the latter’s wand – and just about everything else in the room – in slivers. Only the small area near where Pel had been remained undestroyed.

“What –?”

Ab looked at Harry. “Use your head boy. Story’s simple enough. Unsonsy was torturin’ you – leave out the Imperius, just say the cutting curse and Crucio, as you can’t hide the effects. I got here, cast a strong Protego on you an’ Pel, and then blew the shit out of the room, killing those two shits. Sure as hell can’t tell that Folteren ever had his throat slit. We’ll have to say the shield didn’t fully hold, though, to explain your injuries.”

Pel nodded. “It works, an’ it’ll play in court.”

What?

“What?” Harry gasped. “Ab, I can’t let you say that you killed them! It’s my fault! I did it!” He felt his knees getting weak. The adrenaline was really wearing off now. His vision blurred.

Suddenly Ab’s face was only inches from his own. “Now you listen to me, Harry, and listen good. You remember what I told you about squibs and wizards? You could’a gone to prison just for breakin’ Macnair’s wand. What do you think’ll happen if you claim to have killed three purebloods? Hmmm?”

Pel spoke softly near Harry’s shoulders. “Lad, we can’t cover Macnair’s death. The only way Ab could get in here is if he were dead – it’s what made the warding charms fail. Given the circumstances, sane people will hopefully understand that he had kidnapped you an’ it was in self-defense. Of course, the same is true of Folteren and Unsonsy, but a squib claiming to have killed three wizards, well, there can be no good outcome for that.” He looked at Ab apologetically. “Because of the situation of the room an’ the cuffs, I can’t say that I killed either of them, or I would. Ab’s perfect; it even fits with the timeline of the wards falling fairly well, which I’m sure Gringotts will have on record. Let Ab do this … unless, of course, you want to admit you have magic.”

Harry was very near tears. “But I don’t want  you to get in trouble!” Further protests were shocked out of him when Ab cupped his cheek in his hand.

“They can’t do much to me, Harry. They’ll probably even praise this. I’m trustin’ you already. Now you trust me.”

Harry’s head was swimming, but there was only one thing he could say.

“Okay.”

Ab cracked a smile that disappeared almost immediately. Straightening up, he cast a patronus shaped like a goat which he instructed to tell some lady that she could go back to Hogwarts. Waving off his companions’ questions about that for later, he pulled out the blue fabric and made sure that both the others had good grips on it. With one last look at the day’s carnage, he said pinafore, and they disappeared forever from the house of Walden Macnair.

Chapter Text


29 March, 1977

The moment the spinning maelstrom feeling of the portkey stopped, Harry collapsed, with Pel falling down beside – and nearly on top – of him.

His body hurt. Portkey travel wasn’t known for being gentle, and Harry groaned as he realized that several of the wounds Pel had clumsily healed were open and oozing blood again.

“Out of the way, oh, out of the way!” came an alarmed, brisk voice that seemed very familiar to him. Pale blue eyes suddenly appeared, scanning his face intently before narrowing in confusion. “You’re not a student …” The woman shook her head dismissively, a dark brown curl escaping from her bun. “Well, that’s for the headmaster. Onto the bed with you.”

Harry felt himself being levitated onto a bed and gazed up at the white ceiling. I know this place … I’m in Hogwarts! The Hospital Wing! Before today, Hogwarts was at the top of the list of places he did not want to be, but after Macnair…Wait, he interrupted his himself, holy shite, that’s Madam Pomfrey!

He managed to turn his head a bit and watched the woman – yes, she’s young, but that’s definitely Pomfrey – levitate Pel onto the bed next to him. Ab made to say something but she shushed him with a scowl. Grabbing an armful of potion bottles, she poured two into Harry’s mouth, ignoring his muffled protests that he could do it himself, and then did the same with Pel.

Pain and Calming Draughts, Harry’s mind supplied, as he felt the agony ebb away and his mind become woozy.

Pomfrey finally rounded on Ab, who put his hands up and protested that he wasn’t injured.

“Well obviously!” the woman snapped, her wand out. “I want to know who you three are, why a child is near bleeding to death, and how in the world you managed to portkey into my Hospital Wing!”

Aberforth hesitated.

“Now young man!” Pomfrey barked. Through the haze of the calming draught Harry vaguely appreciated the irony of the thirty-something Madam Pomfrey calling Ab a “young man.”

Ab glared, but obliged her. “I’m Aberforth Dumbledore,” Pomfrey’s eyes widened. “Boy’s name is Harry, he’s Peloother Pepst. If you get my fool of a brother down here, he’ll confirm that they were kidnapped earlier today, I went to get ‘em, and he gave me the portkey.” He stopped her as she moved immediately to the fireplace. “But before you do that, let’s make somethin’ clear.”

Harry squinted to make out what was going on, missing his glasses. It looked like Ab was pulling parchment out of his robes. “See this? I take it you know what it means, yes?”

Pomfrey nodded.

“Well, lemme be clear. I do not give you permission to discuss any aspect of his health or current physical condition with anyone besides myself. That means even my brother. As you said, boy’s not a student.”

The matron furrowed her brow, but nodded again. “Of course, Mr. Dumbledore. My Healer’s Vow and the law both now prevent that.”

Harry peeped over at Pel, who was watching him closely, though his eyes were also dull from the potions. Later, he mouthed.

Pomfrey’s impatient clucking brought Harry’s attention away from Pel. “Well, then, Mr. Dumbledore, you, call your brother for me. I’ll need to focus on them, if you please!”

She moved to Harry and cast a number of quick spells that he’d heard her cast over him in the past before. Her eyes widened. “But this indicates he’s a –”

Ab nodded as he went to the fireplace, but didn’t stop or turn around. “’Member that vow of yours and those papers, Madam. Don’t matter what he is, he ain’t a student.”

Her eyes were anxious as they darted back and forth, but she said nothing else until she started listing off his injuries in a more clinical tone. “Moderate concussion, compound zygomatic fracture – that’s your cheekbone, child – traumatic puncture just above the coracoid process but no significant complications, two broken and two cracked ribs, laceration to the chest damaging serratus interior, multiple lesser abrasions and lacerations by foreign shrapnel …”, she trailed off. “Short-term exposure to Cruciatus curse.” She sniffed. “And extreme exhaustion. Well, potions will take care of most of this, rest will help with what they can’t.”

He winced and groaned internally as she summoned an array of bottles to the bedside table. He’d had most of these potions before, and knew all too well what they tasted like. Pel snorted sympathetically at his face.

“I’ll be right there with you soon enough, my young friend.”



Harry only realized he’d drifted into a doze while watching Pomfrey bustle around Pel when raised voices pulled him out of it.

“… don’t give a troll’s fart about the politics! You’re the Chief Warlock of the bloody Wizengamot, I know you can make this happen!,” Ab was shouting.

“And you, Aberforth, know that these things are never that easy.”

“Only because bastards like you make them complicated!”

He peered around the darkening Hospital Wing carefully. The Dumbledores were across the room, obviously arguing. Pel was asleep, his mouth open and drooling into his gray hair. Madam Pomfrey burst out of her office and shot a glance at Harry.

“Gentlemen! I don’t’ care who you are, you will keep your voices down in my Hospital Wing! You’re disturbing my patient!”

Ab looked over at Harry and scowled back at his brother. “Well, the lad should be disturbed by all this. Fuck knows I bloody well am!”

At that Dumbledore also gazed in Harry’s direction, and immediately softened his face into a smile.

“Ah, you’ve awakened, my boy. My apologies for disturbing you, though I must say we are so very glad to see you alive and relatively unharmed, Henry.”

“Harry.” The headmaster blinked. “My name is Harry, sir, not Henry.”

Dumbledore touched a hand to his head as he shook it apologetically. “I beg your pardon, Harry.” Harry caught Ab rolling his eyes. “However, child, it saddens me to admit that there will likely be some, ah, complications from your day’s adventure. Some of your choices, alas, will not be met with praise, I suspect.”

Well now I am disturbed

“What do you mean sir? A Death Eater kidnapped and tortured me. He planned to kill me. I didn’t choose any of that.”

The headmaster sighed. “I know, my boy, I do know. Yet although we cannot always choose what happens to us, we can choose how to respond to it.”

Harry felt distinctly wrong-footed in this conversation. “I’m sorry, sir, but I don’t understand. What –”

“Enough!,” Ab snapped. “We’re goin’ home. Now. You okay to Floo, lad?” He didn’t wait for a response. “Pepst, you degenerate, wake up! Time to go!”

Pel’s eyes lolled open and he instinctively looked around for his pint. “Huh? Whuzzgoin’ – Merlin, Ab, I just got to sleep!”

“Sleep later. We’re goin’! Get your arse up and over here.”

Madam Pomfrey was goggling at the scene and finally found her voice again. “Absolutely not! Albus, both my patients are suffering from multiple injuries, including torture curses. They’re not leaving until I authorize it, and I most certainly do not!”

“Neither are students or staff, Madam,” Ab growled. “By rights neither should even be here in the first place. You’ve done what needs to be done for ‘em already anyway, and for that we thank you. We’re goin’.”

The matron looked to Dumbledore for support, but he simply shook his head as Ab helped Harry up from the bed. Harry noticed with satisfaction that he really did feel better already. Sure, he wanted to sleep for a week and his entire body felt deeply bruised, but the pain wasn’t too horrible and his hands had stopped shaking.

Ab helped Harry and Pel into the fireplace and grabbed a handful of Floo powder. “Again thank you for your attentions, ma’am. If you’d be so kind, send any potions either still needs to the Hog’s Head, and bill the pub for ‘em.” Pomfrey nodded with a murmured “of course.” Ab turned to his brother and spoke in a cold, quiet voice. “Albus. You do this for me. You do it. And if you can’t stop it, for fuck’s sake, you make it come out right.”

He didn’t wait for a response, but threw the powder down with a barked “Hog’s Head!”.



Ab and Pel were looking at him expectantly.

Harry gulped and picked absently at the soft woolen blanket tucked around him. Though largely healed, it seemed every inch of his body was tender and sore.

As soon as they had returned to the Head, Ab had sent an owl to Quisby, ordering him to “get his arse over here and man the pub” for the night, then impatiently ushered the two injured males up the stairs to the one room in the inn that Harry was not allowed to enter.

Aberforth’s private bedroom was not what Harry had expected. Its smallness was accentuated by the heaving bookcase in the corner, but offset by simple earthen tones of the room. A touch of brightness was added by the yellow and black Hufflepuff scarf that hung in the corner. There’s no way Ab was a ‘Puff, Harry had marveled in disbelief, he’s got to have been aahuh. Really, what House would Ab have been in?

The man had immediately transfigured his double bed into two singles into which he deposited Harry and Pel before conjuring himself a squashy armchair. He had tossed each of them a Pepper-Up Potion.

And now the two men were looking at him.

“What?”

“You promised you’d explain, ‘tell us everything,’ yeah?,” Ab grunted. “So talk. Now.”

Harry wanted to protest that he was too exhausted to have this conversation now, but the looks on the older men’s faces assured him that such an excuse, even if true, wasn’t going to fly.

Well, Ab is lying to cover up what I did to Folteren and Unsonsy. Guess I wouldn’t wait around either if it were me.

His hands started shaking a little, though this time it wasn’t the vestiges of Unsonsy’s Cruciatus. The sudden lump in his throat seemed to be made from thick, scratchy wool that soaked up every bit of moisture. His eyes darted to the walls, but they were bare and unadorned. I wish Ariana were here.

The two men were still looking at him.

He closed his eyes, fumbling in his mind for how to begin, where to begin.

Just tell them the truth. Tell them everything. You’ll feel better when it’s over, he encouraged himself.

“Okay.” Breathe. “My name is Harry, er, Harry James…Potter, that is.”

Both men exploded.

“You’re one of those ponces?!” Ab shouted.

“There’s no way ol’ Fleamont would let –” Pel began.

Harry glared at Ab for the ‘ponces’ comment. “Shut up! You want to hear the story or not? Don’t interrupt or we’ll never get through it!”

The men grumbled but shut their mouths.

Okay,” Harry muttered, “Like I said, my name is Harry Potter and,” Breathe dammit! He felt like Hagrid was sitting on his chest. “And I was born on July 31st … 1980.”

Peloother started giggling helplessly. Ab just stared.

“Yeah, er 1980. My parents –”

“Stop right there,” the bartender said in a level voice. “Accio Firewhiskey!”  He flicked his wand to open his bedroom door and a few moments later a bottle of Ogden’s soared in and into his outstretched hand.

Harry raised an eyebrow at Ab, who just shrugged. “Where this story seems to be goin’, I expect I’ll need it.”

“Pour me one,” Pel piped up.

It was Harry’s turn to laugh nervously.

“Okay, so my parents are James Potter, oh Jesus, stop making that face Ab!, and a muggleborn witch, Lily Evans.” Neither man seemed to know her, though both were still shaking their heads over his surname.

They’re freaking out just because of who my dad was and my birthdate. This is only going to get worse.

“When I was fifteen months old, a family friend betrayed us to Voldemort, who came to our house. He killed my mum and dad, and then, well then he tried to kill me. With, uh, a killing curse. But it didn’t work.” Harry paused as the men exclaimed and glared until they quieted. “Some people said it, I don’t know, rebounded or something. Well, whatever happened, I got this scar,” he lifted his fringe, “and everyone agreed that Voldemort had been defeated and, well, people said it was because of me. They called me the ‘Boy-Who-Lived.’”

The men stared. Ab took another drink.

“I want a look a the scar, please,” Pel requested weakly.

Harry fidgeted. He hated when people gaped at the thing, but this was Pel, so … “Yeah. Okay. But let me tell the story first.” At Pel’s nod, he continued.

“Thing is, though,  I didn’t know about any of this for a long time! They sent me to my relatives – my mum’s muggle sister and her family – and my aunt and uncle don’t, uh, like magic much, so they never told me, and I didn’t know I was a wizard until my eleventh birthday. That was also the year I later found out that Voldemort wasn’t really dead. Just sort of, er, disembodied.”

The words were coming out easier now, Harry noticed.

Ab looked thoughtful. “So you were raised Muggle, yeah?” He snorted. “Well, that ‘splains some of what was naggin’ me about you.” When Harry gave him a puzzled look, he snorted again. “You say muggle things all the time, act like a muggleborn and smile all stupid when you see new magic. When I found you in the snow you were ramblin’ on about television. Plus, Wigol told me you knew all about the thing when you stayed at his place for the day. Squibs are magic-raised, a’ course, so you shouldn’t’a known any of that, least not as well as you did. But people, especially when they think no one is watchin’ or when they’re drunk or hurt, show you what comes natural to ‘em. Muggle stuff comes natural to you. An’ there was stuff – general stuff – about our world you just didn’t know. Sure as shit should’a known ‘bout how squibs are treated if you really were one.” He paused to sip his whiskey. “Anyhow, get on with it.”

Well.

Apparently, Harry wasn’t as accomplished at playing the squib as he had thought.

Putting that annoying thought aside, he went on, running through his reintroduction to the wizarding world, his arrival at Hogwarts, and his pursuit of the person he was sure was intent on stealing the Philosopher’s Stone. When Harry first mentioned the stone’s being at the school, he caught Pel and Ab giving each other a look, but plowed onwards, trying to stick only to what was strictly necessary. Both men puzzled over his description of Quirrell – Voldemort for a bit.

He moved on to his second year. This time he cut out even more of the tale – did they really need to know about Dobby, or Moaning Myrtle, or Aragog? With a cringe, he told them about being a Parselmouth, but that bit couldn’t be avoided. Neither seemed all that interested in it, to his great relief. Instead, both were far more concerned and deeply confused by the actions of the diary and the appearance of memory-Riddle.

“Wait!,” Pel cried. “This Riddle is Voldemort?! Wasn’t Riddle the one you said earlier used a Cruciatus on you?”

Harry nodded awkwardly, “Yeah, but he doesn’t do that for a few more years.”

“So, you’re saying that Voldemort is a muggleborn?!” The man seemed torn between hyperventilating and giggling.

“Stuff it Pel. Yeah, he is. Albus told me the real name of this upstart Dark Lord some years back. Get on with it, lad.”

When Harry described the basilisk, both men made for the slowly emptying bottle of Ogden’s with another shared glance, but they thankfully didn’t interrupt him. After he admitted to being pierced by the beast’s fang, Pel just whispered that Harry needed to work on keeping sharp things from stabbing him, advice with which Harry entirely agreed. Ab seemed furious when Fawkes appeared, but only scowled and said nothing.

Third year went quite a bit more quickly. Sure, Sirius was important to Harry, but there was no need to go through the whole year, and Harry wanted to move on with the story so that he could ignore the deep pang that came with thinking of his Sirius, not the young idiot currently lounging up at the school. He managed to get through the short narrative without even talking about Professor Lupin in any great detail.

Then there was fourth year. This will be harder, he thought, and it was. Death Eaters at the World Cup. The Tri-Wizard Tournament. The death of Barty Crouch Sr. The labyrinth. Cedric, Pettigrew, an arm bleeding red on pale skin, a cauldron, a resurrected Dark Lord. The dual and the ghosts that came with it. Barty Crouch Jr. A disbelieving ministry, a summer spent alone in an information blackout.

Throughout the sordid tale, neither man, for once, interrupted. They sat and listened and drank.

Breathe. “And then one night I was walking in our neighborhood and I ran into Dudley, my cousin. We had an argument, but then … then the Dementors came. Two of them. I don’t know why they were there, or who sent them – Voldemort, maybe? – but they were suddenly there. I tried, I swear I did, I tried to cast my patronus but … but this time I couldn’t believe my happy thought enough, I guess.”

Ab and Pel were listening hard, their eyes wide.

“And so one of them Kissed me.”

Pel dropped his glass.

“It was … weird, really. The Dementor almost seemed sorry or something. It kind of spoke, but in my head, y’know, and said ‘a soul for a soul.’ And that the ‘price was fixed.’ Oh, and something about how they were only monsters because they were made to be, or something. I thought I was done for because everything sort of disappeared and was so still. And then everything got fast again and it hurt. I woke up right where I’d been attacked. Except it was 1976, not 1995.”

Ab put his head in his hands.

“I took the Knight Bus to a friend’s parents’ house – they’re the ones who gave me those clothes, see – but then I realized that I could seriously fuck up the entire universe just by being here, make it so that my friends, or me, or whoever isn’t even born. So I freaked out and went to Hogsmeade only because it was the first place I thought of. And then I hid in the cave Sirius had used. I just didn’t know what else I could do, see? I was afraid it’d be way too easy to change the timeline if I tried to go to Hogwarts, and that if Dumbledore or the Ministry found out about me, that they’d, I don’t know, stick me in a cell or a laboratory somewhere. And then you found me instead. And, well, I guess that’s about it.” He cut himself off, suddenly nervous. “I mean, you … you do believe me, right?”

“Aye,” was all Ab said, mumbling the word through his hands.

The silence in the room was thick.

“I mean, I swear, I am sorry that I let you believe I was a squib – though you came up with it, really – and that I lied to you, I really am sorry! But I just … I just don’t know what to do and I’m, well, I’m really fucking scared,” he finished lamely.

The silence continued. Pel was looking intently at Ab, whose face remained in his hands.

“I, uh, I, if you want me to leave, I’ll just go. I can … well I’m nearly paid up to you, but I can figure out a way to pay you back for the potions I got today.” Harry forced himself to stop rambling and made to stand up, his whole self feeling like an exposed scrap of nothing.

“Sit your arse back on that bed, boy.” Ab commanded in an … odd tone.

Harry sat, breathing fast, his eyes downcast. Waiting.

He nearly jumped out of his skin when Ab started laughing.



“Seriously! It’s not that funny! Hell, it’s not funny at all! Let’s see how I react if you get Kissed by a Dementor, you old bastard!”

It had started out as a low, insistent chuckle, but soon Ab was laughing uproariously, his whole body shaking as tears streamed down his face. At first, Harry had been alarmed and more than a little concerned for the man’s mental health. He’s over a hundred maybe, right?  Did I break him?  Five minutes on, Harry had had quite enough of the old man’s apparently uncontrollable amusement at what was, after all, Harry’s life.

And sort-of-death.

Or whatever.

Peloother just sat on his bed, eyes distant. 

Aberforth made a valiant effort to rein in his laughter, took one look at Harry, and promptly buried his head in his hands once again, shoulders shaking.

“Really? Really?” Harry huffed back into his pillows.  

“I – I – I’m sorry lad … I’ve worked a pub for more decades than I’d like to count, and of all the ridiculous shit I’ve heard, that one takes it!”

“But you said you believed me!”

Ab mopped at his eyes and took a few heaving breaths. “Aye, I do. But hearin’ shit like that, what else can a sane person do other than laugh?”

Harry opened his mouth to offer suggestions for a number of more welcome responses, but Ab waved him off.

“I am sorry, lad. It’s just after what happened earlier I had you pegged as a wizard who’d been hidden in the Muggle world to keep you safe from Death Eater parents or some such rot, though that didn’t fit so well with what I’d seen of you ... Guess I should’a been more imaginative!” He started laughing again. “Merlin, boy, wraiths, killer diaries, basilisks, Dementors, time travel, killing curses! I just don’t know where to start!”

“I do,” Pel said, his quiet, serious voice a shocking contrast to Ab’s. “We start by making it absolutely clear that you,” he nodded to Harry, “ are never to speak of this to anyone else. Ever.”

Harry blinked. “Well, it’s not I like plan to. I wouldn’t even be telling you if I didn’t have to.”

Pel scoffed furiously. “You could have come up with another lie to explain your magic usage, don’t be a fool! You didn’t have to tell us all this. You told us because you wanted to.” Harry made to protest, but Pel angrily cut him off. “Lie to us all you want, but don’t lie to yourself!”

He nodded dumbly, thoroughly confused by Pel’s behavior. He was always so jovial and kind, and now he seemed to be seething.

“You were right to be worried about what would happen to you if those in power found out about any of this.”

Harry’s voice suddenly couldn’t rise above a whisper. “Why?”

“Because if the Ministry were to discover your past, the Unspeakables would follow right behind them,” Pel hissed. “If you were lucky, you’d just be confined to the bowels of the Department of Mysteries for the rest of your life, to be poked an’ prodded an’ experimented upon. If you were unlucky – well, in any case, your life would effectively be over. Period.”

My God, the man looks absolutely terrified.

“How – how do you know all this, Pel?”

The man laughed without a trace of humor. “‘Cause it’d be a man like I used to be who’d wrap up your case all nice and neat an’ present it to the Ministry with a big red bow on it.”

“Pel here used to be a barrister. Represented the Department of Mysteries for a while,” Ab broke in quietly. “It’s why the Death Eaters captured him. They wanted information.”

Holy shite, Pel was a lawyer? For, like, the magical version of MI5?  ‘Anthropologist of men’ my arse.

“So believe me when I tell you that you are never to speak of the results of the Dementor’s Kiss with anyone else ever again. Shit, tellin’ us was the height of self-indulgent stupidity! In the future, I don’t care how much you like a person, how much you trust them, how much you’re sure they’d never betray you, you understand, boy? One wrong word an’ there’s no one who could help you!” Pel’s eyes were wild and bored straight into Harry.

Terror finally set into Harry’s stomach and he nodded slowly. “I understand, Pel.”

Pel watched him closely for a few moments and sighed. “Well okay then. Now,” he continued briskly. “You’ve given us quite a bit of information, an’ I frankly don’t have the strength to think through all of it tonight. I suggest Ab and I think of our questions and we return to this conversation on a day when you an’ I haven’t been tortured.” After Harry nodded again, he turned to Aberforth. “However, I don’t think I’m wrong in saying there might be some issues with the Ministry because of what happened today.”

Ab grunted. “Albus pretty much admitted he wouldn’t be able to stop ‘em if the ‘Gamot got it into their heads to come after the boy for Macnair. I think he’d be able to get outta trouble eventually, but it might not be pretty.”

Well fuck.

Pel gave Ab a pointed look. The old bartender sighed and moved to sit on the foot of Harry’s bed.

This can’t be good.

“I was goin’ to, ah, show these soon, lad, but I was waitin’ for the right time,” He pulled the parchments he had flashed to Pomfrey earlier out of his robes. “Seems time’s up.”

Harry curiously looked down at the top sheet, which was emblazoned with the sigil for the Ministry of Magic.



Approval for Custodianship of Minor Squib



The undersigned applicant ABERFORTH GAIUS DUMBLEDORE as of  24 MARCH 1977 is approved as custodian of the minor squib HARRY  [NO SURNAME] until such time as the applicant dissolves custodianship or the squib achieves its majority in the Muggle world.

By signing, the applicant agrees to:
a. instill in the squib a clear and accurate understanding of its place in wizarding society.
b. provide adequate food and shelter appropriate for a child of its standing.
c. act as an intermediary between it and wizarding society.
d. consider and promote options for the integration of squib into non-magical society.

By signing below, the squib acknowledges its acceptance of the applicant as its custodian, with all the rights and privileges over its person as the position grants.

Aberforth had already signed the approval form, apparently more than a month before. Another line contained the signature of a witness – Peloother P. Pepst. A single blank line at the bottom waited for Harry’s name. He flipped through the rest of the small pile of parchment. They all looked like official application forms, full of legalistic language and subsection after subsection (even the word “subsection” made Harry nervous).

What the hell is this?

“What the hell is this?”

Ab cleared his throat. “You’ve paid your debt to me, an’ I think you might’a guessed that you were paid up long ago. But it was cold, so I kept you here. An’ I ain’t goin’ to apologize for that. But I knew you’d be leavin’ soon, arse all fired up to go back to a bloody cave for whatever reason. Thought, well, I thought I’d give you another option. If you were interested. You ain’t half shit company, and the regulars like you. An’ the goats. Thought you might want to stay on the Head, that is.”

“This – are you adopting me?”

“No!” Ab exclaimed, “and be careful with that word. A wizard can’t adopt a squib, s’ against the law. This is just custodianship – it’s the only way an adult wizard who isn’t a blood relative can legally look after a squib child. Form’s a new thing. Came out of the Squib Marches a’ the 60s. Used to be that any wizard could just claim any unattached squib kid, less regulated than house elves they were. You can imagine, well, things usually didn’t go well for kids claimed like that. They only managed to get the form passed because the pureblood bastards liked the terms. Look at ‘em, for Merlin’s sake. Pile of shit, but we can work ‘round them easy enough.”

Harry looked again. They were horrible. “It. Its standing. Its place.”

Ab nodded at Harry’s grimace. “No, the form hasn’t done much for squibs, not really. Sure, the purebloods made a stink about the requirement of a squib’s signature, but one compulsion charm later and you got yourself your very own squib kid. ‘Course, there’s not many unattached squibs, but I’m sure some poor lost souls are falling through the cracks.”

“So,” Harry said slowly, “if I sign this, what exactly does that mean for me?”

Ab shrugged. “Means nothin’ really changes from the way it’s been. You can stay here, work ‘round the inn and pub, though we’ll have to figure a way to teach you magic. I won’t letta charge a’ mine be uneducated if I can help it.” He paused. “An’ if you decide you want to go back to your cave or somewhere else, I won’t stop you.”

Pel cut in. “It’s more than that, though Harry. See term 3? Well, I think we can bet the Ministry is going to come after you for Macnair, an’ they might try to do something to Ab because of the other two he’s saying he killed. First, this protects Ab, because its his job to ‘act as your intermediary.’ If he comes under fire we can argue that his rescue of you constituted his fulfillment of a contractual obligation. If that doesn’t work, well, one could make the case that he was just retrieving what essentially is his property.” Pel spat out the last word.  “Second, this might help protect you as well, because you’re now connected to a wizarding family. You don’t take his surname, of course, but having such a connection could help you if they pursue this ridiculousness.”

“But I’m not a squib! If I sign it, will the contract, I don’t know, kill me or take my magic because I’ve violated its terms?”

The two men looked at each other and laughed. “Bloody hell, Harry, this isn’t the Goblet of Fire,” Pel said. “It’s a squib form. Not like the Ministry cares. There’s no magic involved, just ink and parchment.”

Harry rolled all this over in his head. “You were a barrister, Pel?” The man nodded. “If you were me, would you sign this?”

Pel looked at him carefully. “Ab, would you give the boy and me a moment?”

As the door closed behind the bartender, Pel turned to Harry. “Yeah, Harry I would sign it. This does open you up to an incredible amount of abuse by the applicant, so I would normally say absolutely not, but this is Ab. Ab won’t take advantage of you. He asked me to get these together more than a month ago because, I think, he was worried about you. And more than that, I think he just doesn’t want you leave … He likes you, and he wants to help.” He chewed thoughtfully on his lip. “And given everything else that’s happened to you before you arrived here, I think you’re better off with Ab than you would ever be alone.”

Harry looked at the form, a strange throbbing welling in his chest. I’ve always wanted a grown-up. It should have been my parents, or Sirius, or the Dursleys, but it wasn’t. Ab could be my adult.

Images from the last four months popped into his head. Ab getting him shoes, the hot chocolate after the pub fight, him sleeping next to Harry all night after he broke down, Christmas … He raised his eyes and looked vaguely around the room before he caught sight of the dreadful carving of Amaltheia that he had given to Ab. It was on the man’s dresser, next to a small framed picture of Ariana.

Oh.

I think … Ab’s already my adult. I just hadn’t noticed it yet.


And he signed this a while ago. Before he knew who I was in my time. Before he knew there was anything special about me.

He pursed his lips to keep his smile from growing, though Pel was looking at him knowingly.

“Yeah, well then I’ll sign.”



Ab came in later with a tray full of potions and hot chocolate for the both of them.

“Thanks, Ab. Oh, and Doris works the first night shift at the Ministry counter usually,” Pel remarked. “If you can rustle up an owl, I can send her these forms immediately so that she can backdate them to February and have ‘em lost in the files by morning.”

A flash of a small smile appeared on Ab’s face, Harry was sure of it, but it melted away just as quickly. Instead, he just grunted and made to head out with the parchments.

He’s happy! I know he is! Maybe … maybe something good can come out of this mess with Macnair.

Macnair …


The man’s name echoed in Harry’s head. There was something there, something that suddenly felt horribly, unspeakably wrong. Harry shivered away from picturing the man’s face, but there it was, dead and white on the cell floor.

There it was, mouth gaping through a Death Eater mask as he looked on the newly-risen Voldemort.

There it was, grinning maliciously as he sharpened his axe in preparation for Buckbeak’s execution.





Oh dear God. Macnair!

“Macnair!,” he cried out pure terror. “Macnair!”

I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. Oh God. Oh God. I can’t breathe.

“What? Lad, what is it? Harry!” Ab was at his side, blue eyes wide and concerned.

“Macnair!” I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.

“Dammit, lad, what?” Pel bit out.

“I killed Macnair!”

The two men frowned in deepening concern.

“Nothin’ to feel guilty about, lad, we know –” Ab began.

Harry had to make them understand.

“It’s 1977!” he managed to choke out. “I killed Macnair! But – but – but I met him a few times in the 1990s!”

Dawning horror spread across Ab and Pel’s faces.

Harry shuddered as he voiced his nightmare, struggling not to vomit. “I’ve changed the timeline. My timeline. For sure.” His whisper felt like a scream.

The room was filled with the quickened breaths of the trio. Finally, Pel spoke up with surprising calm.

“Well, I suppose it’s all right.”

Harry and Ab wheeled on Pel in shock.

The man shrugged. “Harry killed Macnair hours ago. I’m no expert – I just worked for ‘em – but I’m guessing that if it were a problem, either the universe would have, I don’t know, imploded or whatever then. Or our Harry would have just vanished then. But it didn’t an’ you’re still here. So I suppose it’s all right. Either way, nothing for it now but to toast to the continued existence of existence, lads, and to the fact that the universe apparently doesn’t revolve around Walden Macnair.” He flipped the cork out of the bottle of Firewhiskey and took a long pull. It was Harry’s turn to laugh helplessly – really, what else could one do? – and grab the bottle from Pel for himself.

Ab left, papers in hand, muttering darkly about time-traveling teenagers and alcoholic barristers.



Much later, long after Harry had fallen asleep, Ab came in with another round of potions.

Pel cocked a sleepy eye open at him. “Again?”

“Shouldn’t fuck around with Cruciatus. Drink up.”

The barfly grimaced but obeyed. “You going to wake him for his doses of piss?”

Ab snorted what Pel knew translated as a ‘yes,’ but didn’t move toward the sleeping teenager.

“His is quite the story, isn’t it?” Pel commented casually, watching Aberforth watching the boy. “Soon you an’ I should have a talk about what all that future history means. A basilisk in the school. Dementors running amok, sending boys back in time. All that about Voldemort. A lot of it we can let slide, but those things … something should be done, some people told without implicating the boy.”

“Boy’s probably right, though, ‘bout not meddlin’ with the timeline if we can help it. Don’t want to try to do somethin’ good only for Harry to, what? Pop away into nothin’?” He sighed. “At any rate, We can’t trust my brother. I don’t know what he was playin’ at with the boy, but a lot of that doesn’t sit right at all with me.”

Pel nodded slowly. “Nor me. Your brother … your brother is a great man. But for a long time now, since the Unspeakables, I’ve been of the opinion that every man who ever had a statue made of him – or gotten a Chocolate Frog card with his picture on it – was a son of a bitch in one way or another.” (*)

Ab snorted. “Too right, mate.” He stood and quietly roused Harry, who woke only enough to down his potions before flopping over, dead asleep again. “You think they’ll come for ‘im?”

The old barrister regarded the sleeping teenager for a long moment. “Yeah. Yeah, I think we can bet on that.”



30 March, 1977


Rough hands yanked Harry awake. He was being manhandled to his feet before his bleary mind screamed Macnair!  Twisting his body, he attempted to find a better defensive position even as he heard Pel should, “No, Harry! It’s just Aurors!”

He stilled and looked around, his wretched eyesight straining. Three figures in crimson Auror robes surrounded his bed. Pel was on his knees on his own bed, reaching out to Harry. Ab was fuming in the corner, flanked by two more Aurors.

The Auror who was manhandling Harry, completely unconcerned about the boy’s obvious half-healed injuries, had his wand raised and pointed at Harry’s chest. “I’m sorry!” Harry gasped out. “I – I thought I was being kidnapped again.” The man’s expression didn’t change. Instead, he intoned in a bored voice, “Squib who goes by the name Harry. You are under arrest for the murder of a pureblood wizard. You are to be taken to the Ministry for processing.”

Before Harry could say anything, the Auror shot a golden spell that wrapped around him like ropes before fading out of sight. As the man moved to lead him away, Harry found that he couldn’t control his body – it simply followed the man in precise, perfect steps. He tried to flex his hand into a fist. It remained limp at his side. “Ab? Pel?” He couldn’t keep his apprehension from bleeding into his voice.

“Just procedure, Harry,” Pel said, “Don’t worry, my young friend, I’ll see you as soon as I can and we’ll get this matter all cleared up. Just remember that the price is fixed, even though you, as a squib, can’t see that.”

What? What the fuck does that mean?

He had no time to puzzle over Pel’s strange repetition of the Dementor’s words. Harry tromped downstairs after his captor, followed closely by the other two Aurors, his heart beating so hard that he wondered if he would have a heart attack. Behind him, the remaining Aurors were saying something to Ab about taking his statement at the Ministry, but Harry was moved towards to the door before he could hear anything else. The group exited the pub into the morning sun. A few residents of Hogsmeade who were up early paused to gape at the scene.

“Oi! ‘S ‘e a Death Eater?” an old man called out.

The lead Auror’s expression didn’t change as he pulled a feather duster from his robes that could only be a portkey. “No, sir. This one’s just a murderer.”

 

Chapter Text

X. Not to Worry, Luv

13 April, 1977

. . . . .

There was a young wizard from Mudchute
who lacked even a bronze knut.
But his cock was ready
And the whores were heady
So he

 


The limerick had been scratched onto Harry’s cell wall in an unsteady hand directly across from the dilapidated cot that served as his bed.

So he what? What did he do? What? What?!

Two weeks into his stay as an unwilling guest of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, he was convinced that whoever had penned the little poem had deliberately left it unfinished as an insidious method of psychological torture. He’d spent hours – days, at this point – puzzling over the final line, methodically thinking of every word that ended in ‘-ute’ and trying to give the poverty-stricken, horny young Mudchutian some closure.

Harry had finally given up trying to guess what was going to happen to himself, but he at least wanted to know if the poor fellow ever managed to get laid.

Growling to himself about toots, brutes, and coots, he nestled as comfortably as he could into his cot, left as unfulfilled by yet another failed attempt to solve the limerick mystery as the Mudchute man probably was.

Two weeks today.

He wished he could say the last fourteen days had been a blur, because that at least would imply that they had passed quickly.

They had most definitely not been a blur. They’d been a snail’s-paced sulk through oscillating boredom and despair.

When the Aurors had arrested him, he’d expected to be led immediately to a dimly-lit room and interrogated by a stern-faced wizard. Such an interrogation did happen, but it wasn’t until a week after he’d been arrested. Instead, he’d spent his first seven days of imprisonment entirely in what he learned was called the “Squib Temporary Incarceration Fortified Facility,” or STIFF, located somewhere in the bowels of the Ministry. The cell block was a long hallway flanked by six or so muggle-looking prison cells on either side, each separated by two feet of concrete wall. Harry had been unceremoniously dumped in the first one as the only prisoner currently in residence.

He was not, however, the only resident of the STIFF. Hours after his arrival he had been shocked when he realized that a lone Dementor, its ragged cloak blowing in a wind that wasn’t there, stood watch at the darkened far end of the cell block.

I haven’t even been found guilty of anything and they stick me with a Dementor! Those
bastards!

It suddenly occurred to Harry as he seethed over the injustice that he hadn’t heard his mother scream once, nor did the unnatural cold of the Dementor seem to touch him, though he could just make out some frost gathered on the bars of the cells closest to the wraith-like creature.

It should not have taken me hours to notice a Dementor this close to me.

Over the course of the next few days, Harry kept dreading when he finally would feel the Dementor’s effects, but it never happened.

Maybe giving the Kiss is the worst it can do, and since I’ve already been Kissed, I’m immune?
That explanation had felt wrong from the start – Harry doubted he would be so lucky as to have a “get past Dementors free card” – but it was all he had for the moment.

On his second day of contemplating the Dementor, Pel’s strange parting words finally made sense.

“Just remember that the price is fixed, even though you, as a squib, can’t see that.”

He was quoting what I told him the Dementor had said … and then he said I was a squib, even though he
knows that I’m not…

Can – can squibs not see Dementors?

Harry had immediately stopped looking in the Dementor’s direction, just in case he was being watched. If squibs couldn’t see them, he could easily give away part of his disguise by his staring.

He had been concerned that his long considerations of the resident Dementor would come up in his eventual interrogation, but found instead that the two Aurors assigned to the meeting didn’t seem to care much about him at all.

A week after his arrival, Harry had been shackled with what he recognized from Macnair’s as Panoptica cuffs and led through a labyrinth of hallways and offices to a simple room that fulfilled all his clichéd expectations. Three simple chairs, low-lighting from a single oil lamp, a basic table, and nothing else. He found himself wondering if his interrogators would play “Good Auror/Bad Auror.”

Apparently, he didn’t rate such games. The meeting couldn’t really even be called an interrogation. The men never introduced themselves and moved right into questions that had already been prepared in advance.

“You are the squib known as Harry?”

“Do you admit to killing Walden Macnair on the 29th of March, 1977?”

“Do you admit to knowing that Walden Macnair was a wizard when you murdered him?”

At that last, Harry had had enough. “Yes, I knew he was a wizard, but I didn’t murder him. I killed him in self-defense. He’d kidnapped me and was clearly intending to kill me if I hadn’t killed him first!”

The Aurors had been unimpressed. “So, squib, you admit to knowing that Walden Macnair was a wizard when you murdered him?”

Harry was proud that he had refrained from cursing.

And then the interrogation was over and he had been shuffled back to his cell. All his requests for a solicitor and his questions about what he could expect, when he would be tried and, above all, if Ab was okay or imprisoned as well, were stoically ignored.

That had been the last meaningful human contact he’d had.

Well, the last with the exception of Auror Alice.

On his third day of incarceration, the Auror who had delivered his lunch and a round of substandard healing potions was a young woman who bounded into the cell block with an enthusiasm that contrasted sharply with the setting. Her bear cub patronus gamboled ahead of her and plopped itself down in front of the Dementor as she strode in bearing Harry’s mid-day serving of I-don’t-want-to-know-what-I’m-eating and you-call-this-piss-a-healing-potion.

He had eyed her curiously from his cot as she approached. The Auror was quite young, not all that much older than him, really, with a lithe frame and feathery blonde hair done in a short pixie cut. She had a friendly round face which she was quite unsuccessfully trying to mould into the stoic Auror glare that Harry was coming to believe came standard issue with their red robes.

“Prisoner, uh, Prisoner Harry No Surname, here is your lunch!” she proclaimed with a deeper voice than Harry guessed she normally used. The woman snuck a glance at him as she slid the tray through a slot in the bars, seemingly to make certain he was suitably cowed by her Auror-ness.

A smile threatened to break out on Harry’s face. She is trying way too hard. Matching her commanding tone, he responded, “Prisoner Harry No Surname thanks the terrifying Auror for her delivery of said lunch!”

Her mouth dropped open.

Maybe I went too far with that … I’m just so bored!

Then she laughed. Hers was a tinkling, bell-like laugh that seemed to be its own patronus. Harry couldn’t stop himself from immediately warming to her.

“I did sound ridiculous, didn’t I?” she confessed with a rueful smile. “Sorry about that, Mr. Harry.”

Hmm. She’s the first Auror to actually say my name, not ‘squib.’

Harry smiled back hesitantly.

“Er, I’m Alice, by the way. I mean, Auror Fawley. Alice Fawley.” She stuck out her hand as if for a handshake, then realized she had to stick it through the bars on his cell. The woman floundered for a moment, but Harry stood up and crossed the short space to briefly shake her proffered hand.

Wow. She’s the first person outside the Head to volunteer to shake my hand. Or even properly introduce herself.

“It’s nice to meet you, Auror Fawley,” he said politely, then paused. “Are you, um, supposed to be introducing yourself and shaking my hand and stuff?”

The woman jumped back and shot a glance at the door to the hallway beyond the cell block. “Shit! No! I mean, no I’m not, sorry. It is against policy …” The abashed look bled away into another smile. “Well, damage is done, I guess. But when it’s just us, please call me Alice. The whole ‘Auror Fawley’ thing is still pretty odd.”

Yes,
Harry thought,  I do like her.

“I won’t tell anyone you went against policy, Auror Faw – I mean Alice.” He looked at her more closely. She was young. “Are you pretty new at being an Auror then?”

She grinned. “Yep! It’s that obvious, huh? This is my first assignment. I mean, I’m still a trainee, but I graduated classes last week and now I start on real assignments.” Her grin morphed into a frown. “I probably shouldn’t have told you that either …” And then the smile returned. “This is just really exciting!”

My God, her expressions change back and forth as quickly as a pendulum on a clock.

“Wow, guarding me is your first assignment? I … I’m really not sure how to feel about that.”

“Well, you are pretty scary! ‘Squib-Who-Killed’ and all.” Harry pulled a puzzled face. “It’s what the papers are calling you, the ‘Squib-Who-Killed.’ Though really, in person you don’t seem scary at all, to be honest.”

Harry’s mind screeched into blankness when he heard his new moniker. He could even hear the hyphens.

He couldn’t escape the hyphens.

For the sake of my sanity, I’m going to pretend that she didn’t say that for as long as possible.

Auror Alice hadn’t noticed Harry’s horror at his newest nickname and was rambling on. “Of course all my mates are jealous that I get to deal with a real murderer on my first assignment! Midge – she’s my best friend – she said that it wasn’t all that much since you can’t do magic, but seriously, look what you’re in here for! You definitely qualify as dangerous,” she finished with relish.

Harry’s smile didn’t return as his voice turned colder. “Well, I guess I’m glad I can be a cool story for your mates or whatnot,” Alice suddenly looked sheepish. “But I’m not a murderer.” With that, he picked up his lunch tray and moved to his bed to eat, his back not entirely to Alice, but enough to signal that he thought their conversation over.

He hadn’t seen Auror Alice for a few days after that, but then one evening, the day before his joke of an interrogation, she once again had entered in the company of the cub patronus bearing his dinner and potions tray.

“Um, Harry? It’s Alice. I brought you your dinner.”

Harry had to stop himself from snorting when she identified herself. Seriously, did she think he couldn’t see her through the bars? Sure, he missed his glasses, but she couldn’t have known that.

“Thanks, Alice,” he said, “I’ll get it in a bit.”

She paused, her left foot fidgeting. “I’m sorry I was insensitive the other day, I really didn’t mean to be!” Her face broke into an embarrassed smile. “I tend to let myself get away from myself, if you know what I mean … I told my boyfriend – he’s an Auror too – what I said and he said that, well, that it was kinda mean of me. So, I’m sorry.”

She really is hard to dislike
.

“Don’t worry about it,” Harry said after a moment. “You’ve still been the nicest person in here. Nicer than most of the lot out there too, come to think of it.”

“Oh.” Alice watched him awkwardly. “Harry, why don’t you eat now? I can stay in here while you do. My patronus – that’s the spell we use to hinder the effects of the, uh, Dementor down there  – can keep it nice in here for a while. I mean, I know you can’t see it, but you have to be able to feel it, yeah?”

Shite. Maybe I should be acting more freaked out by the Dementor
.

Harry forced himself to shudder and look down, as if he wanted to hide his reaction. “Y – Yeah. Thanks, Alice. That’s really … really nice of you.”

She leaned against the opposite wall while he spooned the gruel robotically into his mouth, willing himself not to taste it. A companionable silence fell, to Harry’s surprise. Alice didn’t seem the type to be able to appreciate quiet. When he was done, he passed the tray back through the grate. “Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it!” A quick glance down to the far end of the cell block and the smile faded. “Seriously, don’t mention it. They, uh … Well, I didn’t say it, but they … they shouldn’t have put a Dementor in here with you. I mean, you’ve not even been tried yet!”

Harry eyed her curiously. She seemed truly upset by the Dementor’s presence, which apparently was arranged just for him. He supposed he had thought that the Dementor just lived here all the time.

“Thanks,” he repeated softly.

She nodded.

Her face looks even younger when she looks sad.

“Oh, and one more thing not to mention,” the smile returned. “Here!” She plopped a carton of Chocolate Frogs in his hand. “It’s not much, but …”

“It’s great,” he assured her with a grin. He didn’t need the chocolate to help with the Dementor’s effects (or non-effects, in his case), but getting to eat something other than Ministry-issue gruel was the best news he'd gotten since his arrival at the STIFF.

After that day he’d seen her three other times, and on each visit she’d brought him chocolate. He kept attempting to wheedle information out of her, but while she was happy to help here and there, some lines even she wouldn’t cross. By the time his second week in the STIFF ended, all he knew was that Aberforth had apparently been cleared of wrongdoing somehow, and that Peloother had been in several times clamoring that he was Harry’s solicitor and therefore had a right to meet with his client. Alice wouldn’t divulge much more, though he picked up the word “squib” as she muttered an angry answer when he had wondered why Pel couldn’t get access to him.

Harry was roused from his sulking over the incomplete limerick by the unmistakable sound of the cellblock door opening and closing. Must be dinner time. He hoped it was Auror Alice again. Maybe he could ask her what she thought the ending of the poem might be? Or maybe I’m not supposed to ask girls about things like that? I would have to say ‘cock’ in front of her …

His musings were for nothing. A blank-faced Auror who personified ‘nondescript’ marched in stiffly. “You are summoned.”

Oh gee, that’s not ominous
.

Auror Nondescript waved his wand to unlock the cell and promptly smashed Harry up against the wall to pull his arms around his back and into the Panoptica cuffs.

Without another word he marched Harry on another long journey through the bureaucratic labyrinth to a different poorly-lit room. Waiting for him inside was the Auror who had arrested him and, Harry’s breath quickened, Barty Crouch Senior.

Well shite. This really can’t be good.

Without preamble, Crouch began to speak in the same stern tones as he had once used when he proclaimed that “the law is absolute” and forced Harry to participate in the Tri-Wizard tournament. “You have been brought here as a squib accused of murdering a wizard. We are here to evaluate your case and arrange a suitable punishment.”

“What?” Harry couldn’t stop himself from yelping. “I don’t even get a trial?” Sirius didn’t get a trial either because of this bastard, he thought furiously.

Crouch frowned so hard his mustache seemed to be frowning in sympathy. “All accused are afforded the right to a trial. This meeting, however, will likely obviate the need for such a draw on the Ministry’s time and resources.”

Harry squinted and mulled that one over carefully. “So … you mean you’re here to offer me a deal, right?”

The two men scowled and said nothing.

“Where’s my solicitor? If we’re here to talk about my case, shouldn’t Mr. Pepst also be here?” Harry was well aware he was grasping. His knowledge of the law was entirely based on hearing the Dursleys watch courtroom dramas on the telly, half of which were set in America and none of which involved wizards.

“Squibs only have the right to a solicitor if they are being tried in a court. As this is simply a discussion, Mr. Pepst has no place here,” Crouch snapped.

Figures.
Harry sighed. “Then, er, I suppose we should get on with it.”

Crouch cleared his throat impressively. “As you have admitted guilt in the murder of –”

“I most certainly have not,” Harry growled. “I only admitted to killing a person who had kidnapped, tortured, and planned to murder me, as well as doing the same to my … acquaintance, Mr. Pepst. This was not murder. You would know all this if any of your Aurors had actually bothered to really question me!”

Crouch glared at him. “The Ministry is aware of the circumstances of your brief and unwilling sojourn at Mr. Macnair’s property. Today they are neither here nor there,” he quelled Harry’s outburst with a chopping motion of his hand. “As I said, you have admitted guilt. Given the circumstances, the Ministry and Wizengamot leadership have jointly decided that they will permit you to be incarcerated in Azkaban Prison for no less than one year and no more than four years, after which time you will be compelled to live entirely in the Muggle world.”

Harry gaped.

“As the typical punishment for a squib who murders a wizard is either life imprisonment or the Dementor’s Kiss, you can see that the Ministry and Wizengamot have decided to be quite merciful.”

It was all just so surreal. Before even attempting to formulate a response to Crouch, Harry found himself wondering what would happen to him if he were Kissed again. Maybe nothing? I’d love to see the looks on their faces if that happened … No, bad idea. Very bad idea.

And then the rage hit. The white-hot, burning, inarticulate rage of righteous indignation that Harry knew so well.

Taking a deep, steadying breath (don’t kill Crouch, don’t kill Crouch), he kept his temper simmering safely below the surface of his demeanor.

“No thank you.”

“What!” The arresting Auror bit out. “That Dementor drive you mad already, squib?”

Harry didn’t even look at him. “I said, no thank you. As in, I thank the Ministry and Wizengamot for their … mercy, but I’d rather go to trial.”

“Why you little shi – !”

“Auror Hooch! Please await the prisoner in the hall,” Crouch commanded. The Auror slammed himself to his feet and left in an obvious huff.

Crouch considered Harry silently and slumped over a bit when he finally heaved a sigh.

“Your actions have caused many problems, young man. Problems I’m certain you cannot understand.” He actually sounded rather sad.

That … that wasn’t what Harry was expecting.

“I don’t know politics or whatever sir, but not knowing now doesn’t mean I can’t understand.”

Crouch raised an eyebrow and looked at him even more speculatively. “You realize we are a world at war?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “Those who support our adversary have made it clear that they would … prefer you be found innocent.”

“What?”
Crouch was right. Harry really had no idea what was going on. “The Death Eaters are on my side?”

The man sighed again and ran a hand through his hair. It was the most human Harry had ever seen him look but for the night he died. “If you are found innocent in a public trial, they will be able to use that to advocate for even more stringent laws in favor of purebloods and as a tool for recruitment.”

Yeah, I’m still not getting this.
Harry shook his head helplessly.

“Dammit, boy, all they need do is plaster your picture up, point to it, and say ‘Our society allows squibs to murder wizards with impunity! Fight for us! For a society that would never permit such an atrocity!’” He curled his hand into a fist. “If you go to trial, all those sympathetic to this Dark Lord will simply not attend that day. The remaining factions, who would naturally be more sympathetic to your case, would thus be forced to choose between morality and practicality. Do they acquit you because you acted in self-defence, or do they convict you to help stave off a propaganda war they may well not be able to win?” His fist came down hard on the table. Harry jumped a little.

Throughout Crouch’s outburst, he had felt the anger in him bleed away, leaving nothing in its wake but a profound exhaustion. He didn’t want to care about political battles, or factions, or plea bargains, or propaganda wars. He wanted to sleep in the stable and wake up with Goat eating his hair and Ab yowling about getting some nasty chore completed.

That’s not so very much, is it?

Harry sighed, then raised his eyes to look into Crouch’s. He didn’t like the man. Hadn’t liked him in fourth year. But today Crouch’s eyes looked much the way he imagined his own did. So bloody tired of all this shit.

“Thank you, sir, for explaining the situation to me. I – I didn’t know any of that, you’re right,” he admitted sincerely.

“But?”

Harry smiled faintly. “But. But I won’t consent to being some sort of pawn that the Ministry can choose to just sacrifice.” He stared at the man for a moment. “And sir, forgive me for saying it, but a society that gives up its morality for the sake of – of a kind of practicality that comes only from fear might … might be a society that won’t let itself be saved.”

Crouch stared at him, eyes wide.

“I mean, look at you, sir. Even I know about your dedication to upholding the law, no matter the cost,” even if the cost is your son, “but rather than being out there, in the courts and on the streets, upholding that law, you’re in here, becoming the avenger of a Death Eater.” Crouch’s mouth dropped open silently. “So no, sir, I’ll not sacrifice morality for practicality, even if everyone else will.” He paused and took a deep breath. “Please arrange for my trial.”

Adrenaline coursed through Harry. His entire body was rigid in anticipation, of being cursed, or beaten, or screamed at. But Crouch just stared at him for a long moment before briskly rising and leaving the room without another word.



14 April, 1977


Late the next night, long after Harry had picked at his dinner only to give it up as a lost cause, a soft voice woke him from an uneasy doze.“Harry? Harry? Please wake up.”

He yawned and reached for his glasses, only to remember that they were long since lost.

“Auror Alice? What is it?”

Alice was sitting on the floor of the cellblock, her face almost pressed against his bars. “I, well, I’m on your watch outside tonight, and I’m not really supposed to come in if it isn’t a mealtime, but … Well, I thought you should know that your trial, er, started this afternoon.”

But they just offered me a deal yesterday!

“What! Why didn’t anyone tell me? It’s my trial! Shouldn’t I be there?”

Alice shook her head quickly. “No, no, see, squibs can’t attend court unless they’re giving testimony. You’re slated to appear tomorrow. I thought you should know,” she repeated a little helplessly.

Seriously!? I’m really beginning to understand Filch’s permanent bad mood.

He forced himself to breathe. “Okay, okay. I mean, thanks, Alice. For telling me. Is it – I mean, can you tell me anything about what happened today?”

She frowned. “Well, I wasn’t there, but I heard Hooch and Turner talking about it. The representative for the Ministry – Pother Futz – you know him?” Harry shook his head. “Well, Futz is a turd. Not a Death Eater turd mind you, just the regular variety. Anyhow, he presented their case against you pretty quickly. Then your solicitor gave his own testimony, then your custodian spoke, and they re-questioned the Aurors who’d looked over the scene. That took a while, I guess. So I think all that’s left is your testimony. Scheduled for first thing tomorrow morning.”

“Oh.” His heart began beating faster than he would like it to. “Alice, do … do you know, if they find me guilty, would I, would I get Kissed right away if they voted that way?”

Alice looked away. Her voice wasn’t much more than a mumble when she finally responded. “Yeah. Yeah, I think so. Or real soon after. I mean, you’re at least seventeen, right?”

That was enough for Harry to almost forget his impending trial. “What? You’re joking, right? No one ever thinks I’m older than I am!” I can’t believe I’m almost laughing right now.

“You’re – you’re not seventeen? I mean, you look like you’re twelve –”

“Oi!”

“– but I guess I thought that since you were here like this, you – you had to be of age.” She wasn’t looking at Harry.

Harry let out a humorless laugh. “No, I’m fifteen.”

Alice didn’t say anything, just sat picking at a non-existent bit of fluff on her Auror robes. Harry floundered for something to say.

Shit! Sad girl! What do I do with a sad girl? He could handle Death Eaters, dragons, and other monsters, but upset women were something for which he felt entirely unprepared.

“Are you okay, Al –”

“Shut up.”

Her hiss brought Harry up short. “I –”

“Just shut up, Harry! You could be in Azkaban tomorrow night, or worse! Don’t you dare sit here and comfort me!”

Oh. Okay then …

Alice sat on the floor, shaking her head for several tense moments. Finally, she looked over at Harry, her friendly face pale in the bleak torchlight of the cell block, before quickly looking away. Her patronus was nearly fading out. She gave a funny little laugh. “You know, my family thought I was a squib for the longest time.”

Harry glanced at her in surprise.

“If I ever did accidental magic, no one was around, and I never noticed. At first, it wasn’t a big deal. Mum would go on and on about how I was a late bloomer. She’d just keep saying, ‘not to worry, not to worry.’”

She paused, her eyes far away. “But then Dad stopped teaching me potions as often as he once had, and then altogether, and I was sent to the gardens to work with the gardener instead. Still, ‘not to worry luv,’ Mum would tell me.”

Her smile was bitter. “But one day my grandparents didn’t seem that interested in me anymore, even though I’d always been their favorite. They started to always ask to see my little sister, not me. They’d look so surprised when I showed up with her. But ‘not to worry, luv, not to worry,’ said Mum … And then when I was nine I realized that I hadn’t been invited to any birthday parties that year, even though I had lots of friends my age whose parents had always invited me to their parties in the past. Mum said not to worry, but she was starting to sound worried. And then suddenly when I was ten mum stopped telling me not to worry. She … she didn’t say much at all for a long while there.”

Alice shook her head and wiped at her eyes. “It’s funny, I’d always believed her. Always. I’d never worried. But all at once one day I knew. I knew it then, clear as I ever knew anything, that I was a squib … and that my family didn’t love me anymore.”

Her sudden laugh was sour as bile. “But then I got my Hogwarts letter and everything was right as rain again! Dad laughed as he taught me potions. I was the apple of my gran and gramp’s eyes. I went to birthday parties almost every other week. And my mum would smile and smile and smile and say, ‘see, I told you not to worry, luv!’ But I still knew. That whole time … they were getting themselves ready to stop loving me.” She looked back to Harry finally, tears streaking down her round cheeks.

“And now here I am!,” she exclaimed her bitterness so strong he could taste it. “Twenty and an Auror! Everyone is so very proud of their little late bloomer, you know. And here you are. Fifteen and … here.” She shook her head. “We’re all kinds of fucked up, aren’t we?”

Harry could only shrug and give her a small, sad smile. “Yeah, Alice. We are so many kinds of fucked up.”

Alice giggled helplessly, though she sobered soon enough. “Harry, I lied when I first came in tonight. They know I’m here – they – they sent me here. I would have come anyway,” she rushed to say, “but they sent me in. To – to try to convince you to take the deal. I think your solicitor is doing a better job at it than they expected, see, and, well, they sent me.”

She’s too good a person to deal with this crap. “Are you going to? Try to convince me, I mean?”

Her face hardened as she paused. This time, she wasn’t attempting to shape it into something intimidating. The effect was natural. She took a deep breath.

“Fuck them, Harry. You do what you think is right. Merlin, fuck them all, Harry.”

Harry felt like bursting. He wanted to kiss her or, or, something. “Alice, if I’m not soulless, dead, or imprisoned in the near future, you should try slumming it at the Head. Drinks are on me … but come in before nine at night, yeah? I have a curfew.”

She laughed her tinkling laugh, and her bear cub gamboled out after her.



15 April, 1977


Harry hadn’t slept much the night before. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw Sirius that night in the Shrieking Shack, except his godfather’s face kept changing and his body kept shrinking until Harry was looking at himself, wasted away by years in Azkaban. He tried to lighten his mood by imagining what sort of bad-ass prison tattoos he could get, but all he could see was the shrunken chest, wraith-like arms, and hollowed face that they could be inked upon.

He just couldn’t bring himself to be as worried about the possibility of getting the Kiss as he was about imprisonment in Azkaban. Sure, he’d definitely like to avoid the Kiss, but it was difficult to be scared of something so terrible when he’d already experienced it and come out, well, okay enough.

Before he knew it two burly Aurors he didn’t recognize were lumbering past his untouched breakfast tray and wrangling him into the now-familiar Panoptica cuffs. They said nothing as they winded him none too gently through the Ministry, into a lift (Oh God, please don’t have been drunk on the job, Dalcop, he silently prayed, thinking of the red-faced barfly) and down an eerie black stone hallway to a grimy wooden door marked ‘Courtroom X.’ A heavy iron lock and gilt Lady Justice affixed above it made the door seem particularly forbidding.

The hulking Aurors – whom Harry had already nicknamed ‘Crabbe’ and ‘Goyle’ – stopped him at the door and took up guard positions.

“Er – are we supposed to go in?”

Crabbe and Goyle said nothing.

They waited. And waited. And waited.

Programmes on the telly always make this whole process seem to go a lot faster.

Harry was beginning to miss his cell. At least he could sit down in there.

Without any warning, the gilt Lady Justice opened her eyes, stretched, and surveyed the trio imperiously. “He is called,” she sniffed as she eyed Harry suspiciously.

Great. Even Justice seems to have it out for me. This can’t be a good omen.

Harry’s heart was beating a violent tattoo against his Adam’s apple. He swallowed hard, turned the heavy iron door handle and stepped inside the courtroom.

Harry gasped, he could not help himself. The large dungeon he had entered was horribly familiar. He had not only seen it before, he had been here before. This was the place he had visited inside Dumbledore’s Pensieve, the place where he had watched the Lestranges sentenced to life imprisonment in Azkaban.

The walls were made of dark stone, dimly lit by torches. Empty benches rose on either side of him, but ahead, in the highest benches of all, were many shadowy figures. They had been talking in low voices, but as the heavy door swung closed behind Harry an ominous silence fell (Order of the Phoenix, ch. 7 and 8).

Crabbe and Goyle led him to the chair in the center of the room. As soon as he was seated, the chains attached to it sprang to life and bound him, just as he had seen them bind Death Eaters in the headmaster’s Pensieve. His breath quickened.

A discreet throat-clearing to his left made him turn his head. His eyes widened when he saw Pel sitting at a small table covered in parchments off to the side. The erstwhile solicitor gave him an almost imperceptible smile. Harry tried, but could not smile back.

Squinting his blurred eyes into the darkness, he spied at the very back of the benches to his left a lone figure that could only be Ab.

I’m not alone. I’m not alone here.

To his right was another parchment-covered wooden table, at which sat a man nearly as small as Harry himself. His thin hair was perfectly combed over the dome of his head. Small, frameless glasses perched on his nose over a mouth with lips so thin they almost seemed non-existent. That must be the Futz person Alice mentioned. The turd.

Looking ahead at the benches were many more people sat, people whom he presumed to be judges, he again lamented the loss of his glasses. There were many humanoid-shapes, but not so many, he guessed, to fill much more than half of the seats in the benches. So these must be what’s left when the people who support Voldemort don’t come. Directly before him and more easily viewed because of the better lighting was Albus Dumbledore, looking … like Dumbledore, clad in resplendently tacky hot pink robes with violet and orange stars. They reminded Harry of the design on Mr. Weasley’s Billywigs shirt and clashed horribly with the plum-colored robes everyone else seemed to be wearing. Barty Crouch Sr., frowning and looking rather constipated, was on Dumbledore’s left, while another wizard, sitting so far back in the shadows that Harry couldn’t make out his features, sat on the headmaster’s right.

Dumbledore’s presiding over my trial? This is great!

Memories of his few conversations with the 1976 version of the man popped into his head.

… This is great, right? Maybe? Probably?

“Very well,” Dumbledore began genially. “Now that the accused is present, we may conclude. Are you ready?” Receiving a curt nod from a young woman sitting down the row of benches, Dumbledore addressed the court, his eyes on Harry.

“Mr. Harry No Surname, you are today being charged with Crime 246, that is, the murder of a wizard by a squib. Your solicitor, Mr. Pepst, has entered a plea for you of innocent in light of extenuating factors, namely self-defense and defense of a wizard during the commission of crimes allegedly committed by the victim, namely Crimes 21a and 48, grievous assault and kidnapping. Do you wish to contest this plea?” Dumbledore’s tone sounded like he was asking a schoolboy if he really wanted to persist in claiming he was innocent of some prank. He looked down his spectacles at Harry, a stern, parental expression on his face.

“No, sir, I don’t. That – that sounds about right.”

“Before this court renders a verdict, it is my obligation by law to ask if you would like to speak in your own defense, though I must warn you, doing so allows the Ministry representative prosecuting the right to interrogation, as well as any of the judges here.”

What do I say? Shite, I don’t know how to talk to a bloody court!

He cast a desperate look at Pel, who sighed and gave the tiniest of shrugs. It’s up to you, that shrug said.

Thanks a lot.

Harry squared his shoulders and looked at Crouch, then Dumbledore. “Yes, sir, I would like to speak in my own defense. And I’ll answer any questions Mr. Futz asks me.”

Dumbledore looked a bit startled that Harry knew Futz’s name but graciously motioned to the man in question to begin.

Futz stood and smoothed out his unwrinkled tweed robes. “We have already been given a complete overview of your crimes. I will not waste any more of these good witches’ and wizards’ time by going over well-trodden ground.” He nodded toward the benches in a way that was probably supposed to have been politely deferential but seemed obsequious instead. “I have but one question for you.” Harry held his breath. This sounded like he had some damning evidence. “Did you, a squib, kill Walden Macnair, a pureblood wizard?”

Harry caught Pel roll his eyes. Seriously? They must already know this! “Er, well yes sir, I did. I’ve already admi –”

“There you have it!” Futz proclaimed triumphantly.

The man to Dumbledore’s right leaned forwards and nodded, a grim smile on his face. He was an older man whose muscular frame looked awkward in his business robes, reminding Harry of a Ludo Bagman who hadn’t let himself go.

“Thank you, Mr. Futz, but I do have a rather more pertinent question whose answer we don’t already know,” came a cultured voice from near the back that dripped with sarcasm.

The beefy unknown at the front scowled, while Crouch sighed, his eyes downcast. Dumbledore quirked an eyebrow. “Yes, the court recognizes Mr. Potter.”

Harry started violently.

Oh my God, they recognize me! Shite, shite, shite! What do I do?

But the cultured voice was speaking again. “Mr. Harry, I’m curious. How many times did you stab Walden Macnair?”

Wait.

That man’s Mr. Potter? But my dad is still in school, he can’t be here!

“Mr. Harry?”

Holy shite, that must be my grandfather or something.

“Mr. Harry!”

“Sorry, sir, I – I’m just a bit nervous. Um, I … I’m actually not sure the number sir. It was several times,” Harry finally managed.

Futz interrupted in annoyance. “The court has already been informed of this! Evidence 15c clearly states that the number was eight. Eight times the squib stabbed him.” He huffed. “I thought you were going to ask something we didn’t already know, Potter.”

Potter ignored the man utterly and addressed Harry again. “I see. Why, Mr. Harry, did you stab him so many times?”

Harry blinked. He had not even thought of being asked this question. “Er – well, sir, I don’t really know. I was scared, see, and I had to get out of there to help A – my custodian – I’d heard him screaming earlier – and Macnair was big and could do magic. I guess …” He petered off thoughtfully. “I guess all I was thinking at the time was that I wanted him to fall down and stop moving so that I could get out. Sir.”

Whatever answer Potter (my grandfather?) and the rest of the court had expected him to give, this wasn’t it.

Crouch looked at him sharply. “Are you claiming that you left the cell to try and come to the aid of another wizard in distress? Our records do not show that your custodian had been kidnapped and your solicitor did not address it!”

“No – I mean yes! I mean, yes, I left to go and help the person I thought at the time was my custodian. See, Macnair mentioned something about how they really wanted the old man, and then I heard one of the other men call him that too. Since they took us from the pub in the middle of the night, I figured the old man had to be my custodian. I didn’t realize they meant Pel – I mean, Mr. Pepst – until I found him after they had Crucioed him.” Harry finally stopped for a breath. Damn, I probably could have said that a lot better.

“We were unaware that you attempted to rescue Mr. Pepst,” a woman’s voice said softly. “I suppose I assumed you simply happened upon him in the course of your escape.”

“Does it really change anything?” the burly man at the front asked.

The woman puffed up. “Yes, Minister, I – "

“No,” he answered his own question firmly. “It does not.”

That must be the Minister for Magic!

“Regardless of his intentions for his custodian or Mr. Pepst, that does not change the fact that he murdered Walden Macnair!” Futz cried. The Minister seemed visibly upset. Crouch was staring at the wall behind Harry, and Dumbledore … Dumbledore just sat there.

Fuck them, the memory of Alice whispered in his ear. Fuck them.

“I did not murder Walden Macnair!” Harry would have been on his feet if the chains on the chair allowed it.

The court went deadly silent.

“I didn’t murder him. I killed him. There’s a difference, you have to see that!” His head buzzed and his hands curled into fists.

The Minister and several members of the court scoffed. Harry glanced quickly at Pel, who nodded slightly and smiled at him sadly.

Fuck them.

“I’m allowed to speak in my defense, yes?”

It was Crouch, not Dumbledore, who looked at him and nodded. The headmaster’s gaze, on the other hand, was trained on the shadowy form of his brother.

Harry breathed deeply, willing his body to stop shaking, his voice to be steady. He was gaping at himself internally, completely at a loss for what to say but preparing himself to say it nonetheless. “I’d appreciate it if you would just listen to me for a few minutes. A few minutes out of your whole lives. Please.”

I have to make them understand.

“Please, imagine this.” Deep breath. “Imagine it was just another day. A good day. You spent time with a friend, got your work done, had a nice dinner, and went to bed. But you wake up in the middle of the night with a huge man on top of you, in your home, in your bed, and before you can even scream he hits you hard and knocks you out. You wake up again, this time alone in a locked cell in a place you don’t recognize. You don’t know where you are or why you’re there, but you’re pretty sure it isn’t for good things. Then the man returns, and you realize he’s a man who’s already tried to kill you once.”

Harry tried to calm his heartbeat. It didn’t really work, but his words were coming out clear and strong.

“He takes his time with you, telling you the sorts of things he plans on doing to you, to your body. And then he takes out his knife and stabs you in the chest. You think you’re going to die as you watch the blood run down your shirt, soak into puddles on the ground below. But he hasn’t hit anything important. He wants it to last after all.”

Harry licked his lips. Several of the judges were staring at him, but he couldn’t stop himself to take the time to interpret their expressions.

“Then the man’s friend calls him, and you realize that it isn’t just you, but that another person you care about has been taken by these men, these men who do things like stab kids. The man leaves. And then you hear the screaming of your friend as they torture him. But you can’t get out. You’re stuck in the room, listening to your friend being tortured. Then you realize that the men didn’t think you were a threat enough to even search you, and you find that you still have the knife your custodian once gave you. The man returns, talking about his plans for you again. He has a knife of his own out, but not his wand.”

Harry paused and looked at Crouch.

“This is your chance. Your only chance.”

The huge dungeon seemed to be holding its breath.

“When the man rushes at you with his knife out, you meet him with yours, and yours is the one that lands. But he’s so much bigger than you, has powers you don’t. You stab him again. And again. You stab him until you’re sure he’s not going to move again. And now you can go and save your friend.”

Harry shrugged helplessly.

“Tell me, tell me please, Mr. Crouch, Minister, judges, anyone. Did you have any other choice that could have led to you and your friend living through the day? Or should you have just laid in your cell and taken the torture, let yourself get stabbed by a crazed Death Eater, hoping that someone else would come and save you?  Did you do the right thing by fighting back against a man – a Death Eater – who tried to kill a kid, who took him from the safety of his bed simply because he wanted to? I bet most of you are thinking that yeah, you didn’t do anything wrong.”

He spied several judges nodding slowly. Deep breath.

“Now imagine that you’re me. You’re a squib.” Crouch’s eyes grew wider and the Minister tensed. “Are you in the wrong now? Because if you could absolve yourselves of guilt but you can’t absolve me, when there’s only one bloody thing different between us…”

Fuck them.

“… well then, honestly, I think that you’re on a different side in this war than the one you’re claiming to be on.”

With that, he sent a pointed look at the judges, tilted his chin up, and let the rising din of dozens of clamoring voices wash over him like so much water over a rock.



The indignant shouts of judges continued for several minutes, unabated by Dumbledore’s ever more desperate strikes of his gavel. Pel took the opportunity to inch closer to Harry and gave him a grin.

“Damn, my young friend, you certainly know how to put a pixie in their pants!”

Harry didn’t have it in him to smile back. “Do you think it helped? Is Ab okay? What are my chances? How’s the rest of the case goin–”

Futz’s strident tones cut across the chaos. “Chief Warlock! Accused squibs are not allowed conferences with solicitors within the courtroom!”

“Always was a ruddy snitch,” Pel grumbled and moved back behind his table, blinking innocently at Dumbledore.

Eventually, after several more bangs of his gavel and a fully deployed arsenal of chastising looks, the headmaster managed to get the courtroom under control.

“Now then,” he continued as if nothing had happened, “Mr. Harry, would you care to add anything to your testimony?”

One of the judges snorted nervously.

“No sir. Thank you, but I think I’ve said all I really can.”

There was another snort, this one more appreciative and coming from the area where Harry knew only Ab was sitting.

“Well, all that remains is for the court to hear closing remarks. Mr. Futz?”

Futz rose and straightened his robes. “Despite what the accused may imply, Witches and Wizards of the Wizengamot, this is not a trial about politics. Indeed, it does not need to be, for the Law. Is.  Clear.” His last three words were emphasized by his fist pounding on wood. “Crime 246 is governed by Ashby’s Law of 1431, which states that it is “illegal for a squib to take the life of a pureblood wizard.” There are no clauses, no addendums, no extenuating circumstances described. Did the accused kill Walden Macnair? Yes! He freely, even proudly, admits it himself!”

The man began to pace, affecting an air of thoughtful contemplation.

“Do some of you disagree with this law? Yes, I imagine you do. That is, perhaps, understandable. But today we are convened as a court of law, not as a legislative body. You are here, by our charge, not to make new laws, but only to interpret the existing law as it pertains to a given case! And, fellow witches and wizards, it is not a hard law to interpret. You must find the accused guilty of murder. Of that, there is no question.”

It was well done, Harry had to admit. At the end, he nicely parodied genuine concern, even regret, for the heavy task before the court.

His stomach roiled.

“Thank you, Mr. Futz,” Dumbledore said gravely. “Mr. Pepst, do you wish to speak on the accused’s behalf?”

Pel stood up slowly, his head nodding. “Yes, thank you, Chief Warlock. Witches and Wizards, I am here to argue this case because of the accused. Had he not escaped his kidnapper and torturer, he would not have found me and given me the chance I needed to incapacitate the late Mr. Folteren. I am a wizard whose life was saved by a squib.”

He pulled a puzzled face. “I’m not sure how many other wizards can say the same thing. Indeed,” a bitter little laugh punctuated his pause, “depending on how today goes for the accused, I may well be the last!”

Some judges scowled.

“I do, however, believe that Mr. Futz is quite incorrect when he claims this trial is not about politics. You should certainly see through that. After all, did we not just last week convict a Madame Olive Hornby, a Ministry agent in the employ of the DMLE, for colluding with Death Eaters by concealing a wardreader in the Hog’s Head Inn and Pub during the course of a routine Ministry inspection, a crime that directly facilitated the kidnapping and torture of both myself and the accused?”

The fuck? That Ministry bint who inspected the pub was involved in this? 

“And now you sit here in judgment of a case that touches directly into the very heart of the war we are being called to fight against a Dark Lord. No, members of the court, I suspect this case is all about politics.”

Pel sighed.

“But it shouldn’t be. You heard the accused only moments ago, speaking a truth about our world that hurts to hear. But you should hear it.” He paused and seemed to make eye contact with every person sitting on the benches before finishing somberly. “And you should heed it. Thank you.”

As Pel returned to his seat, Dumbledore addressed the court. “You have heard testimony, viewed evidence, and listened to final considerations. The time has come to vote. All those in favor of conviction?”

Harry’s heart was in his throat as his eyes frantically scanned the crowd of judges before him. Slowly, as though no one wanted to be first, the witches and wizards of the Wizengamot began raising their lighted wands. Harry forced himself not to cringe when Crouch’s wand lit. It seemed … it seemed like every judge was voting for his conviction! He was too shocked for his heart to break when he vacantly observed Dumbledore raising and lighting his own wand.

“All those in favor of acquittal?”

Four lonely lights from the back benches.

Four.

And none from the vicinity of the Potter who had spoken.

“The accused is found guilty of Crime 246, as per the laws of wizarding Britain,” Dumbledore pronounced slowly.

No. No. This … this isn’t happening. This isn’t happening! How … how could they do this? How could they!

Barty Crouch Sr.’s words echoed in his head. “Do they acquit you because you acted in self-defence, or do they convict you to help stave off a propaganda war they may well not be able to win?”

I guess I have an answer to that. Oh God. Oh God. He felt like he was going to vomit, like he’d faint if the chains holding him fast let him go and he tried to stand up. And below his shock and terror, there welled a burning, churning disappointment in them all, in Dumbledore and Crouch, the Minister, the unknown Potter, the whole bloody wizarding world.

How could they?

But Dumbledore had cleared his throat and was speaking again, addressing him. Harry rallied everything he was to keep his back straight and face expressionless.

“The two traditional punishments for those convicted of this crime are either life imprisonment in Azkaban Prison or execution by the Dementor’s Kiss. At this time, the convicted may express a preference for either, is he so desires.”

Theythey want me to pick between those options?

To those watching him closely, which was most in the courtroom at this point, his eyes seem to glaze over for a few moments. Ab, who burned with his own rage alone on the spectators’ benches, however, recognized it. He’d seen that vacant look fall over the boy a few times when the kid was getting ready to ask him so damn fool question about magic. The little idiot was thinking, and thinking hard.

Harry’s eyes snapped back into focus. The shock had already begun to ebb away, leaving only incredulous fury and biting disappointment roaring in its wake.

Alice had it right.

Fuck them all.


“Thank you, Mr. Dumbledore.” A few gasps at the perceived – and frankly intended – impertinence echoed in the otherwise silent room. “Given the two options you’re offering, there is only one choice to make. The lot of you seem intent on making me your sacrificial lamb, just like Macnair wanted me to be his victim. I’m not really interested in being either.” He spat the words. “I would much rather die quickly than be tortured to death slowly, whether it’s him doing it or you all.” He couldn’t contain a sour chuckle. “Maybe there really isn’t much of a difference.”

He shook his head and then made absolutely sure that he stared hard into the eyes of the Minister, Dumbledore, and Crouch in turn.

“Therefore, of the two options, I prefer to be administered the Dementor’s Kiss.”

Bedlam reigned in Courtroom 10.

 

 

Chapter Text



XI. More Balls Than Brains

15 April, 1977 

Last time on The Second String:

“The two traditional punishments for those convicted of this crime are either life imprisonment in Azkaban Prison or execution by the Dementor’s Kiss. At this time, the convicted may express a preference for either, is he so desires.”

They—they want me to pick between those options?

To those watching him closely, which was much of the courtroom at this point, his eyes seem to glaze over for a few moments. Ab, who burned with his own rage alone on the spectators’ benches, however, recognized it. He’d seen that vacant look fall over the boy a few times when the kid was getting ready to ask him so damn fool question about magic. The little idiot was thinking, and thinking hard.

Harry’s eyes snapped back into focus. The shock had already begun to ebb away, leaving incredulous fury and biting disappointment roaring in its wake.

Alice had it right.

Fuck them all.

“Thank you, Mr. Dumbledore.” A few gasps at the perceived—and frankly intended—impertinence echoed in the otherwise silent room. “Given the two options you’re offering, there is only one choice to make. The lot of you seem intent on making me your sacrificial lamb, just like Macnair wanted me to be his victim. I’m not really interested in being either.” He spat the words. “I would much rather die quickly than be tortured to death slowly, whether it’s him doing it or you all.”

He made absolutely sure that he stared hard into the eyes of the Minister, Dumbledore, and Crouch in turn.

“Therefore, of the two, I prefer to be administered the Dementor’s Kiss.”


Bedlam reigned in Courtroom Ten.



Harry was immediately ushered out to the hallway he had waited in before his trial. Through the chaos, he was able to catch Dumbledore saying something about the convicted being removed while sentencing was debated.

Whatever.

His legs wanted to shake desperately but Aurors ‘Crabbe’ and ‘Goyle’ were leading him out and he refused to let them see him break down. Goyle’s hands, he noticed vaguely, were far gentler this time than when he’d led him here ... was it less than an hour ago?

Holy shite, what did I just do?

A stoic Crabbe took the same position as he had before and was mirrored by Goyle, whose staunch implacability was belied by the little glances he kept stealing at Harry. Harry ignored him and wallowed deep in the darkening whirlpool of his own mind.

I can’t believe I did that. They’re going to have me Kissed. Dementors, oh God, Dementors... I don’t want to die, I don’t want to leave, I have Ab now, please, I don’t want – it’s not fair, please, why is this happening, how could they –

Finally, the man cracked. “Kid? Kid, ah, can I ask how old you are?”

Harry roused himself enough to pretend not to notice Crabbe’s eyes dart over in interest.

“I’m fifteen.”

And my life is probably over. God, Merlin, please, I don’t –

“Oh.” Goyle looked away and said nothing else for a very long time.



Aberforth, meanwhile, remained forgotten in the shadows and watched the crowing of the Wizengamot. As a member of the public he certainly wasn’t supposed to witness the court’s deliberations, but he’d learned early in his life that being completely forgettable had its advantages, especially when dealing with idiots. Thus, while the few reporters who’d camped on the other side of the courtroom were ejected, Ab was left to eavesdrop to his heart’s content.

Some members were screaming at each other, others strutted about trying to be logical in loud claims dripping with condescension. A few, like Crouch, were simply sitting silently, eyes wide, seeming deep in thought or shock. It was the sort of scene that should have him snorting in amused derision. His goats had better deportment than these sad sacks of the so-called elite.

But nothing about today is funny.

His ears strained to pick up comments from those whom he knew really called the shots. Of course, Albus had told him to expect something like this to happen. They had planned for the boy to be found guilty, there was nothing for that, dammit all, but neither of them could have predicted the little fool would so audaciously and effectively shame the collective political powerhouses of wizarding Britain. He essentially told them that if they found him guilty they should just sod off and join Voldemort, of all things!

“I’ll always choose head-on,” the boy had said to him the night of his first fight with Macnair. Ab shook his head in bemused wonder. Well, you hopeless fool, at least you’re a man of your bloody word.

“Why are we arguing at all? I say give the squib what he wants and let’s go home!,” one reedy voice shouted over the din.

Madam Marchbanks, who was one of the few to vote acquittal, huffed herself up. “Why? Why?! Maybe you have no problem sending a fifteen-year-old child to have his soul removed, but some of us aren’t contemplating getting a tattoo on our arms!”

The reedy-voiced man’s indignant reply was drowned out by hushed exclamations and shocked gasps after the woman observed Harry’s age. Apparently the fucks couldn’t even be bothered to pay attention to the first bloody page of the file. Yes, you shits, you’re condemning a fifteen-year-old who still ain’t even shaving yet.

C-Can we take his age into account?” Potter the Ponce stuttered, suddenly looking pale and nauseated. Apparently, the Sleekeazy’s tycoon hadn’t pulled himself away from his hair care products long enough to note the boy’s age. Good. That’s your fucking grandson you were so quick to condemn.

“How young is too young to be our scapegoat?” Barty Crouch choked out rhetorically, sounding sick. His laugh was so bitter that most in the courtroom stopped and looked at him in concern. “It doesn’t matter and we all know that. We tried to make him a scapegoat, but instead he’ll be a martyr.” Ab quirked an eyebrow at that. Maybe Crouch had a bit more to him than he had thought.

“Well to hell with his preferences then!,” came another voice. “You’re all acting like we have to give him the Kiss. We don’t! Let’s just chuck him in Azkaban for life and when the war’s over we can commute his sentence if we want!” Desperate voices raised in support of this.

Albus shot a quick glance his way. Your turn, Albus. Rope ‘em in and mind you, make it good. Ab tried to ignore the worried way his hands were grasping at his robes. Don’t fuck this up, you bastard.

“I’m afraid that’s no longer as viable a plan as it was,” Dumbledore began, sounding remorseful. “Records of the official court proceedings are, of course, available to the public, and reporters were in attendance for the trial.  By tomorrow morning – perhaps even tonight – all of wizarding Britain will know what the boy said, why he did what he did, and our response.” He sighed heavily. “The problem will remain, my friends. I fear that any significant punishment – Azkaban included – will be twisted into proof of our ideals’ similarity to those of the Dark Lord. The people will know. And they will judge us. And, I fear, they will act on that judgment.” Albus’ voice was solemn, the voice of a long-time statesman and one-time war hero. It was the perfect tone to sell the load of shite they were trying to convince the Wizengamot to buy. Not the way we planned to do it, but a nice way to respond to the boy daring them to give him the Kiss.

Harold Minchum, the Minister, started nodding quickly, looking like someone had punched him in the gut.

Griselda Marchbanks piped up, almost as if on cue, though Ab knew she wasn’t aware of the brothers’ scheme. “From what I have seen today,” she began in that soft voice of hers that was studded with steel, “I am unconvinced our ideals are not as dissimilar as I would want to the Dark Lord’s.” A stern glare hushed the rising protests. “Don’t fool yourselves, my friends. Every single one of us knows that if it was one of our children, one of our grandchildren, who was involved in this mess we would be singing to the rooftops about his bravery, his fortitude, his heroism. We’d probably be sitting here debating whether or not he deserved a third-class Order of Merlin. Not Azkaban, not the Kiss!”

Silence fell, and the Wizengamot members shifted in their seats.

“I understand, Madame Marchbanks,” came the heavy voice of Elphias Doge. “But we all knew how the Dark Lord would make use of the boy’s acquittal. For the greater good we had to –” Worthless, sycophantic gob as always, Doge.

Marchbanks laughed. “The ‘greater good,’ Elphias? Yes, yes, I can see that. But after today, I cannot help but wonder what it will take to finally subdue that elusive beast! If we keep on as we have been, sacrificing decency and right for the sake of this greater good, I suspect when we finally track it down we’ll discover only the corpse of a thing we killed long ago with a thousand arrows made from all the littler evils that we perpetrated and allowed.”

Well fuck me, Zelda, you sexy old cat! Bet Albus’ arse is smarting from that one.

Minchum finally found his voice. “Well, Crouch, you offered him that pretty good deal the other day, right? Bit of prison time and then exile? Couldn’t we just sentence him with the deal? That wouldn’t be too hard on him and we could differentiate ourselves from Voldemort.”

Ab perked up. This bit was the trickiest, and he could only thank Merlin that wizarding Britain had so many ridiculous laws still on the books.

Crouch shook his head, mustache bristling. “Paragraph 94, subsection alpha of the charter for trials of 1763 is specific on the matter and has never been officially repealed. The Wizengamot cannot use a punishment already refused in the form of a pre-trial offer for sentencing. Thus any shorter term of incarceration and/or banishment to the Muggle world are both off the table for us. Had we only offered him one of those punishments, things would be different, but ...” He paused thoughtfully. “However, nothing explicitly prohibits a convicted criminal from accepting the offered deal up to and until the point of actual sentencing.”

“Fascinating,” Albus murmured, “Mr. Pepst, you have been silent during all this. Would your client be interested, do you think, in accepting the previously offered deal? Surely he’ll find it more amenable than the Dementor’s Kiss or a lifetime in Azkaban.”

You’re on, Pel. Make it good, keep it simple.

Just as they had planned, Pel stood up and regarded the Wizengamot thoughtfully. “I cannot speak for my client, as I have not been given the opportunity to meet with him since his arrest.” Scowls and some embarrassed glances graced the faces of the court.  Ab gritted his own teeth. I’d feel so much better about this if we could have told the lad about the plan. “That said, knowing Mr. Harry as I do, I suspect that he would throw the deal back in your faces.”

As the assorted protestations of the court died down, Pel paused and sighed heavily. “Witches and Wizards, I’m afraid he’s seen you now. He knows exactly what you’re willing to sacrifice – including him. I think it was apparent to all today that he’s not overly impressed with the august body of the ancient Wizengamot. That is a brave, principled, decent young man whom you just convicted, a young man who knows what he did was not wrong, and he will never admit that it was.” The old solicitor shrugged and reclaimed his seat as he surveyed the court. “He’ll take no deal.”

“This is a bloody nightmare! What the hell can we do?” Minchum exclaimed.

Albus steepled his fingers and sat back in his chair. Now or never, you bastard. “Our choices are, alas, quite limited at this juncture. We can give him the Kiss or life imprisonment, but I believe we all now understand the political and public relations boondoggle that such a sentence would become for the Ministry, one we must avoid given our precarious position of late. We cannot give him a shorter sentence in Azkaban or banishment because of the terms of the deal once offered. As we found him guilty, we cannot simply resolve not to punish him. Lastly, we must deal with the severe consequences to the war that would come with our perceived lenience and sympathy for a squib.”

“Shite,” Aberforth heard Potter whisper. “This is impossible.”

Albus’s eyes were twinkling. “Perhaps not, Mr. Potter. Perhaps not.”



Crabbe and Goyle both jumped a little when the golden Lady Justice snapped into life and addressed them. “Bring in the convicted for sentencing,” she said gravely without deigning to look at Harry.

Harry, for his part, had eventually slipped into an unfeeling stupor as he stood and waited for the Wizengamot to deliberate his fate. It was the same nothingness he used to shelter in when Vernon was in a particularly vile mood. Apathy, he had found, was sometimes the best shield.

Before his stupor set in, he had briefly toyed with the idea of proclaiming to all that he was a wizard, and that their stupid law didn’t apply to him. It was so very tempting, and he figured he could still do so if he absolutely had to, but Pel’s panicked warning about never telling anyone about himself kept coming back to him. Sure, he could probably reveal his magic without disclosing the time travel, but Harry knew himself well enough to know that he was a terrible liar, and he had no idea how to convincingly explain why he hadn’t attended Hogwarts and why he wouldn’t do so now. Maybe, maybe if there was time before the Kiss, he could talk to Ab and Pel and come up with a good story …

The beefy Aurors grasped him by the arm once again – where the hell do they think I’m going to go? – and led him through the large door, though this time both their hands only kept perfunctory on his arm. A calming chant ran through his mind. Keep your back straight and your face dry.

When they neared the chair, Harry was surprised that he wasn’t forced back down and chained. Instead, Crabbe and Goyle kept ahold of him as he faced the assembled Wizengamot. Back straight, face dry.

Dumbledore peered down out him from over his half-moon spectacles. “Mr. Harry, you have been found guilty of violating law 246, a crime for which life imprisonment or the Dementor’s Kiss is typically proscribed. Between the two, you have elected to be punished via the Kiss. Do you wish to alter your decision?”

Back straight, face dry.

“No sir, I do not.” Good. I don’t think my voice even shook.

“The court acknowledges your choice,” Dumbledore said slowly. “However, some final considerations have guided the Wizengamot’s ruling on your punishment.” Huh? “Although Azkaban or the Kiss have been traditionally used for such crimes, no law requires them to be the only punitive measures that we consider. Moreover, it was discovered in the course of our deliberations that no minor squib has ever been sentenced to either. This, we admit, concerns us.”

Dumbledore leaned forward. “Furthermore, it cannot be ignored that your actions, while criminal and foolhardy, nonetheless were instrumental in saving the life of a pureblood wizard, Mr. Peloother Pepst. Law 246 was specifically designed for violent, insolent squibs with no respect for the wizarding world, those who would dare raise a hand against wizards with no care for the value of magical lives. You, however, have shown through your concern for your custodian and Mr. Pepst that this, at least, is not a crime of which you are guilty. Indeed, the very fact that you willingly entered into a Ministry-sanctioned custodial agreement earlier this year demonstrates your willingness to conform to Ministry procedures for one of your inferior social status.”

Dumbledore paused, and Harry’s mind floundered in confusion.

“Thus the Wizengamot found itself in a quandary. Given your youth, clean criminal record otherwise, and obviously high regard for members of British wizarding society, we have decided upon the following sentence.”

Back straight, face dry.

“Mr. Harry No Surname, you are hereby sentenced to Auror-enforced parole until the day when you come of age. You will submit yourself to regular meetings to ensure that you are living with respect for the laws and traditions of wizarding Britain in such a way that accords with your inferior status. Moreover, to help instill in you the proper respect for your betters in this society, you are sentenced to 600 hours of service to wizards at times and places to be determined, though we shall take into account the limited mobility of squibs when devising your assignments. Should you violate any of the terms of your sentence, this body shall reconvene to deliberate on whether you should be incarcerated for the rest of your natural life or given the Kiss. So ends Wizengamot Criminal trial 1977.141.” The sound of his gavel echoed through Courtroom 10.

What?

The members of the Wizengamot were slowly filing out.

“What?” Harry asked dumbly.

Goyle gave him a little smile. “It’s over kid. Guess they didn’t want to kill you after all, huh?”

Harry felt like he couldn’t stop blinking. “But – but I compared them to Voldemort! … I don’t, I don’t understand, I –”

Crabbe finally broke character and actually laughed. “Oh, we noticed that, kid. Thought some of ‘em were goin’ ta kill you on the spot.”

This was too surreal. “Wha –, so – so what do I do now?”

A gentle hand on his shoulder had him turning around. “Now,” said Pel, “we get to go and fill out the forms for your parole release.”

As Harry threw his arms around a startled Peloother, he caught sight of Ab discreetly leaving the courtroom. The man turned and shook his head when he saw Harry watching him. Bloody fool, that shake seemed to say, but then Ab snorted and cracked a ghost of a smile before disappearing through the door.



The next two hours were spent filling out forms for his parole and listening to three different Ministry representatives drone on about the terms of his release. Harry didn’t listen to any of them really, and coasted through the processing with his mind nearly blank. Pel thankfully spoke, and nodded, and seemed to do all sorts of helpful solicitor-y things. Please Pel, just explain all this to me later. I can’t care right now. I just can’t.

And then Pel grinned at him and led him to the DMLE’s public Floo. A handful of powder later and Harry was back in the Head, Pel’s arm keeping a firm grip that kept him from falling over.

Dalcop, Wigol Palter, and Ab were sitting in the otherwise empty pub, early afternoon sunlight streaming in through the windows whose curtains were, for the first time Harry could remember, pulled back to let in the light.

Dalcop cheered when Harry appeared, “You showed ‘em, lad!,” Wigol clapped and grinned silently, and Ab just regarded him seriously as he vacated Pel’s regular seat. “Pel, your drinks are on the house today. I’ll take him.”

With a quiet “Well done, my young friend,” Pel departed from Harry’s side. Harry could just nod absently and stare at Ab.

The old bartender shook his head again. “Dammit lad, you’ve really got more balls than brains, don’t you?” He sighed. “Come on, your ruddy fool. I’ll explain what happened today.”



Harry dropped onto his straw bed gratefully as Goat virtually galloped over to his side and began to make short work of his long hair. “Missed you too, Goat,” he murmured.

Ab snorted and took a seat opposite him. “You’re probably wonderin’ what the hell is goin’ on, yeah? You want the long or the short version?” Ab took in Harry’s glassy eyes and shook his head. “Aye, short version it is, I think.”

He sat back comfortably. “We figured there was no way you’d not get in trouble for this once the Aurors came. The Ministry can’t let a squib who’d killed a wizard for whatever reason just go. Heard you had a visit from Crouch and I ‘spect you got a feel for the politics,” he spat the word, “of your case, yeah?”

At Harry’s nod, he continued. “Well, me, Pel, and my bastard brother came up with a plan to make sure you got off light. Was a huge gamble, sure as shit it was, a fuckin’ massive gamble, but … See, the way it was supposed to go was you’d get convicted – law’s clear, after all, that fuck Futz was right on that score – and then during sentencin’ deliberations, Albus would make ‘em think about all the negative publicity they could get for sendin’ a kid to Azkaban, ‘specially given the circumstances of your crime. Pel had played up that your actions helped save his life, which helped show that you aren’t some squib revolutionary who doesn’t give a toss about wizards. We, well we didn’t know that you thought it was me that was kidnapped, not Pel. Your testimony really helped then too, since it made it look like you valued your custodian’s life more’n your own at the time. ”

He gave Harry a strangely soft look then took a long pull on his hip flask. “I’m sorry we couldn’t tell you any of this. Pel kept tryin’ to get access to you, but, well, you know how things go. Would’a been suspicious if Albus had come, and there’s no way they’d let me in.” Harry just nodded. “Anyway, we had the sentence you ended up gettin’ planned out in advance. It’ll play well with the papers – you might’a noticed all that rot in there about teaching you your place and whatnot. Helps combat what the other side might say about the Ministry valuing squibs too much. Instead, it looks like the Ministry is being merciful, yeah, but is still rubbin’ your nose in the dirt.”

Harry nodded dumbly. This made some sense, but … “Wait, why was it a huge gamble? It sounds mostly logical to me.”

Ab laughed long and bitter. “Lad, the whole fuckin’ thing hinged on making the ‘Gamot and the Ministry terrified of the negative publicity they’d get if they were too hard on you. Think about it! You’ve been a squib long enough to see the flaw here!”

Harry thought. The faces of the people in the Head the night of his fight with Macnair popped to mind, the furious Yarda, and the nicer patrons who still hadn’t helped him … then Cordwaine the cobbler, Celeste the perfect shop girl at Gladrags, the Aurors who watched his cell, who – but for Alice – didn’t even really look at him … his teenaged father bullying him, Sirius calling him ‘Squibbulus”… Clarity suddenly burned through him.

Oh.

Oh God.

“It was a huge gamble because you had to make them think that people would be angry about what happened to me, angry I was sent to Azkaban, angry enough to – to do something, when … when they probably wouldn’t have really cared one way or the other.” His voice sounded like a dead thing to his ears.

Ab nodded gravely. “Aye. We know that some might’a felt bad when they read the story in the Prophet, but then they’d have just shaken’ their heads and gone about their day. The squib movements of the ‘60s have been washed away by the advance of this Dark Lord, so it’s not as if the government would have protests to deal with. No, lad, no one would’a cared, not enough as to do anythin’. But we had to make those fucks in the ‘Gamot believe they would.”

Harry’s stomach fluttered violently as he thought about the terrible gamble the three men had made with his life.

“Wait – even if they were nervous about bad publicity, why didn’t they just give me a shorter sentence in Azkaban or something?”

“Well,” Ab said a bit grudgingly, “my brother’s a bastard, but he’s not stupid. Found some stupid rule in trial proceedings that’s never been changed. Ignored, yeah, but never changed. Said that convicts can’t be punished with the terms of any deal that they’d been offered and refused prior to their conviction –”

“Dumbledore was behind the offer Crouch gave to me, wasn’t he?” Harry guessed shrewdly.

Ab nodded. “Aye. Made sure to write it up with both prison time and exile. Crouch is a stickler for any rule he finds, too. Once Albus pointed that old law out to him right before the trial, we knew he wouldn’t be able to keep mum about it. That made sure that they couldn’t give you a lesser sentence in prison or exile you from the wizarding world.”

Harry looked at his hands. “I – I thought today that Dumbledore had decided not to help me.” The vision of his old headmaster solemnly raising and lighting his wand seemed burned into his soul. He shied away quickly after prodding gingerly at the hurt that perceived betrayal had caused to well inside him.

Ab was silent for a few moments. “My brother …,” he finally began, “is a political animal. Not a bad one, no, not really, but those types of beasts have different rules than simpler creatures like us do.” He wordlessly offered his hip flask to Harry, who likewise took a long pull. The whiskey inside burned going down his throat, but he barely noticed.

“So, that was the plan. But you,” Ab growled, “had to go an’ almost muck it all up!”

Harry looked at the old man, shocked.

“Damn it all, boy, you shamed the hell out of the Wizengamot and then dared ‘em to give you the Kiss of all things!”

“Well what the hell was I supposed to do? I get that you had a great plan and all, but no one told me about it! Those were the same people who let Sirius rot in Azkaban! I – I couldn’t let myself go there, can’t you see?” Harry gulped in a deep breath. He was just so tired. “Besides, I’ve already been Kissed once, and the Dementor in the STIFF didn’t even affect me! I just – I just figured it was better than a living death in Azkaban. And I thought I might get a chance to talk to you and Pel before the Kiss and see if there was a way I could tell them I have magic without … without talking about all the rest.”

Ab sighed. “No, I get your reasons, and they ain’t bad ones. Scared the hell out of me, though, an’ Pel.” He chuckled a little. “You should’a seen those bastards – all their crowing and hand-wringing! Though you do owe a case a’ something nice to Griselda Marchbanks. Withered little minx gave ‘em quite the kick in the arse on your behalf – she’s one of the ones that voted for your acquittal.”

Harry nodded and smiled.

“And in the end, that move probably helped more than I can say. Far as I know, no one’s ever had the stones to ask for the Kiss before. Shock and shame can go a long way when you’re dealin’ with decent-hearted bastards.”

Ab stood up and dusted the hay off his robes. “’S’more to tell you, but that’s the gist of it. Get yourself washed and cleaned up, then come down and have somethin’ to eat, got that lad?

“Yeah, thanks Ab … Wait!” Harry pursed his lips. “There was a Potter there, yeah?”

Ab nodded, his face blank. “Fleamont Potter. James Potter’s father.”

My grandfather. “Did he – he didn’t vote for my acquittal, did he?”

“No, lad. He didn’t,” Ab’s voice was quiet. “But he was one of the first to come ‘round to Albus’ proposal.” Harry nodded silently. “You all right with that, Harry?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I expect so.” He gave Ab a faint smile. “It’s good to be home.”



Harry luxuriated in the shower for nearly twenty minutes, scrubbing the grime he’d accumulated in the STIFF off every plane and crevice of his body. Another twenty minutes later – Goat had been most insistent that he give her the amount of attention she was due – and he was entering the public room of the Head.

He grinned as he stood in the doorway. Several of the other regulars had arrived – Nappy Clank, Martial Sorner, Dung Fletcher and a few others – and were lounging around the bar and nearby tables. Dalcop Shicker was eyeing a plate of heaping sandwiches with longing, but Pel slapped his hand away. “You spend two weeks in prison and then you’ll get sandwiches!” Ab grunted a half-laugh and placed a dusty bottle of butterbeer next to the plate in front of the empty stool. Catching sight of Harry, the old man waved him over. “Eat. You like crap.”

The sandwiches seemed to melt in his mouth as he tucked in with gusto. “Oh God,” he moaned, “real food is so good.” Dalcop made for a sandwich on the far end of the plate again, but Harry quickly stabbed his butter knife down between the man’s fingers. “Not happening. Mine.”

“Aw, don’t be like tha’ Harry!” Dalcop whined. “You’ve always bin the nice one here!”

“Prison changes a man, Shicker,” Harry deadpanned. A beat later and the barflies were snorting beer through their nostrils.

“Nicely done, kid,” Nappy approved, wiping his nose.

The next hour was spent in pleasant, distracting conversation. Indeed, all the barflies seemed intent on making sure that Harry didn’t think too many long thoughts about the turn his life had taken. Nappy and Dung regaled them all with stories about their many brief stints as guests of the Ministry holding cells – the two just couldn’t not try to steal anything that wasn’t nailed down. Martial waxed long about a wizard he’d known by the unlikely name of Aphid Beeblebrox who’d gone on a five-day bender filled with unlikely adventures after he’d gotten out of a prison term for trying to rig a Quidditch World Cup.

“So, how’d ye occupy yerself in the nick, lad?” Dung wheezed at one point.

Harry laughed. “Mostly by whinging to myself about how my life sucks.” He pulled on his butterbeer. “At one point I spent some time imagining what sort of cool prison tattoos I would get if they sent me to Azkaban.”

Pel giggled – he’d been celebrating his first legal foray in years a little too hard – “Decide on any, my friend?”

Harry shook his head. “Lots of black involved. Some fangs here and there … though I did think of getting one of my old owl Hedwig.” He smiled reminiscently. “She’s beautiful – a snowy.”

The regulars roared with laughter. “A snowy white owl prison tattoo!” Pel gasped.

“Yer really not meant for prison, are ya, Harry?” Dalcop finished.

“Oi! I almost forgot!” Harry grinned suddenly. “Any of you know a limerick about a horny bloke from Mudchute?”

For the next half hour, the group brainstormed possible endings for the unfinished ditty that had so tormented him during his stay in the STIFF. Harry learned all sorts of colorful and exciting terms for various parts of the human anatomy and interesting things that could be done to and with said anatomy, but the crew of the Head ultimately had to concede defeat. Eventually, most of the regulars moved to a table to play a wizarding version of poker called Bragg, leaving Harry, Pel, and Ab at the bar.

 “Hey, Pel,” Harry said suddenly into the companionable silence, “you said in court that it was that inspector woman who did something to the protection charms on the Head?”

Ab’s face grew thunderous. “Aye, Hornby, Olive Hornby. Bitch set up the inspection, we think, just so she could plant a wardreader.” At Harry’s puzzled look, he explained. “Little enchanted box that slowly gathers all the information on the charms and other wards affecting whatever place it’s in. S’how Macnair and those shits slipped right through the night protections on the Head – they knew everything they needed to know about the particulars. Don’t worry about it now, though, we put up all-new charms to ward the place while you were gone.”

“Wardreaders are extremely regulated, Harry,” Pel added, “rigorously so. Only to be used with the Head of the DMLE’s authorization. Apparently, Hornby managed to steal one from the properties room and put it in a cupboard in the kitchen on her last visit here. Everything up to that was just to get her inside.”

Harry shook his head in disbelief. “So that – that woman, the well-dressed snotty one, is a Death Eater? Seriously?”

Ab gave a snort of a laugh. “No, my friend,” Pel continued. “They checked her arm – it was clean.”

“Then why would she work with Macnair of all people?” This just doesn’t make any sense.

“She wouldn’t,” Ab put in bluntly. “We couldn’t find any connection between the two of them, or between her and either Folteren or Unsonsy.” Harry obviously still didn’t get it. “Think, lad! We know both Hornby and the three Death Eaters were involved, but didn’t know each other. What’s missing?”

Oh. “There’s someone else involved – someone who connects to all of them.”

“Aye,” Ab agreed. “A middleman. Trouble is, we got no evidence of who that might be. So we know that there’s at least one person still out there who doesn’t have warm an’ fuzzy feelings for you or us.”

“And,” Pel added, “because of Hornby’s contacts in the Ministry, they deigned not to subject her to truth potions. She’s not talking, even though they’re sending her to Azkaban.”

“Well shite,” Harry breathed, then checked to make sure no one else was listening in and quirked a smile. “Maybe we should check out whoever’s teaching Defense at Hogwarts this year.” The men looked at him, confused. “Well, they’ve always been the ones trying to kill me before, haven’t they?”

This earned quiet chuckles, but the three sobered quickly enough. “Albus is looking into it,” Ab said quietly. “I’ll let you know he finds anythin’ out, but we may have to wait for this middleman to expose himself.” He stood up. “Any rate, pub’ll start getting busy soon. I’m off to finish the stew – you get the night off, boy, but I expect your arse to be making up for the last few weeks startin’ tomorrow.”

Harry smiled. “Thanks, Ab, you got it.”

As Ab lumbered off, he turned back to Pel. “I’m sorry, I just realized I haven’t had a chance to really ask you if you were okay after … what they did to you.”

Pel lowered his head. “I’m fine, but thanks for asking. It was one of the more unpleasant days of my life.”

“Do you – d’you know why they took you? I heard the Folteren man asking you about devices or passwords or something before I came in.”

The wayward solicitor sighed. “Not really something to talk with children about –,” he waved away Harry’s indignant protest, “but, as you’re already involved, and I’ve you to thank for escaping the bastard … I take it you know that I was the primary target, yes? That they only took you because of Macnair’s grudge?” Harry nodded. “Yeah, it’s one of the reasons they target me here rather than my place. Figured they could get me easy enough at the end of a night at the pub. Anyhow, they wanted me because of my past, when I worked for the Department of Mysteries. You know I used to be a barrister for them? Well, they got it into their heads that I’d have memories of … sensitive information.”

He gave Harry a calculating glance. “They wanted to know how to go about getting a hold of a lot of different artifacts in the DOM’s collections, a lot of it dangerous. Things like experimental wardreaders, time-turners, some stuff I’ve never even heard of, and a bunch of mythical crap that exists, I think, only in popular imagination, like Realigners.” At Harry’s blank look he continued, “A rumored joint project between the astronomers and prophets in the DOM. Big ‘exposé’ came out about in the Prophet some years back. Supposed to affect the alignment of cosmic forces to change fate or some such idiocy. Not surprising morons like Macnair and Unsonsy seemed to think they could just get a password and pocket them.” He snorted. “Anyway, we’re guessing that the Death Eaters kidnapped me to find out how to get these things … But we need to be worried about this. Really worried. It’s terrifying to think of what the man could do even with just a single time-turner.”

Merlin,” Harry breathed.

“They could have tortured me all they wanted, of course, I don’t know anything that could help him get them, after all.”

Harry’s eyes narrowed in confusion. “But they weren’t doing it on Voldemort’s orders, though.”

Pel wheeled around. “What?!” He grabbed Harry’s shirt. “No, don’t say anything. To the stable—now!”

The old barfly ushered him quickly out of the pub and down to the stables.

“Christ, Pel, what is it?” Harry exploded when the door was shut securely behind them.

“Why do think he wasn’t involved? Explain!”

What the hell is going on with him? Harry shrugged off his confusion and recounted his last conversation with Macnair, how he had pushed him to fury, disclosed Ab’s relationship to Dumbledore, and his eventual discovery that Pel and Harry’s kidnapping hadn’t been sanctioned by Voldemort.

Pel took it all in thoughtfully. “All right,” he said when Harry was done, “Voldemort didn’t authorize what happened to us, that seems clear enough, but it doesn’t mean he’s not still trying to get the DOM goodies, whether it’s something specific or he’s just hoping to get something useful. These Death Eaters might have just taken the initiative to get information he wanted and hoped to get themselves a nice reward.” Makes sense, Harry thought. “Still, though, I’m glad you told me. I’ll pass this information on to Ab, who can pass it on.”

Pass it on to whom? Harry wondered, Probably Dumbledore again, like with the Hayle Massacre … Ab, what exactly are you up to with your brother?



“So Ab,” Dung Fletcher slurred out much later that night, long after an exhausted Harry had been sent off to the stable, “Yer a paren’ now, are ye?”

The barflies laughed drunkenly into their cups.

“Custodian, you dumb fuck,” Ab responded idly as he glared down a young werewolf who seemed moments away from attacking Panty Wacco, the lascivious Welsh vampire. That biter won’t ever learn that it can’t grope everyone without earning itself a few broken bones.  And shit, the wolf just called Panty a ‘fag.’ Hope the furniture survives …

“Bah, whatever ya wanna call it, Ab,” came the voice of Dalcop from somewhere near the floor of the pub. “Yer a daddy now!”

Ab kept drew his wand and kept his eyes on the brewing barfight. “Stuff it, ya gob. You’re lucky you’re already on the floor.”

Dung smirked. “I fink iz gonna make him soft, yeah? Hey Ab! How ye fink yer doin’ so far as a paren’?”

Aberforth did not respond, as he was currently stunning a horny vampire and attempting to throw an apparently homophobic werewolf out of the pub. A stray spell shattered one of the windows while some of the defter patrons helped themselves to the remainders of the two fighters’ drinks.

When Ab finally returned to the bar he had a cut lip and disheveled robes. “How ‘m I doin’ as a parent?” He feigned contemplation. “Well, ‘s only been two weeks now, but in that time my charge has been arrested for murder, tried by the ‘Gamot, told the lot of ‘em to fuck off, got convicted of murder, signed himself up to lose his soul, and somehow still got home in time for dinner today.”

He flashed the regulars a feral grin.

“I think I’m gettin’ the hang of it.”

This time Ab joined in when the boys roared with laughter.



16 April, 1977

Harry woke up the next morning just as a pale dawn was beginning to color the night with blue and lavender. It took him a few moments of confused blinking to figure out what was wrong – why am I so comfortable? – before he remembered that he was no longer in the contraption the STIFF insisted was a bed.

A thought suddenly lanced across his mind and woke him completely.

I killed three people. Macnair, Folteren, and Unsonsy were alive. And then I killed them, and they weren’t anymore.

With the chaotic aftermath of the kidnapping and the long nights filled with anxiety in the STIFF, he hadn’t given himself a chance to consider the events that led to his incarceration themselves. It seemed his brain had decided that now was the time, whether he liked it or not.

Gingerly exploring his emotions, he frowned in disbelief. He thought … he thought he should feel overcome with guilt, with remorse, especially for Folteren. In Macnair’s case he was desperate and barely thinking, while with Unsonsy he wasn’t even sure if what he would do would work. But Folteren …

He had slit Folteren’s throat without a second thought. Some people can just do with a good killin’ Pel, he had said. He had meant it then.

What does this mean?

What does this make me?

It makes you a person who’ll do what has to be done, even if it ain’t pretty, that clear male voice he’d heard in his head at Macnair’s spoke up. Some might call you a murderer for it, but it’s the same reason that Pel’s around to call you his savior.

Harry blinked when he realized he felt no guilt, then again when he realized he felt no guilt about his lack of self-loathing. The guilt just … wasn’t there.

He found himself thinking instead about the last few months spent with Tweeny Twig’s Guide. He’d been so excited to try and figure out creative ways to use old spells, and ways to turn common ones into unexpected offensive moves. It had been … it had been really fun. But looking back, he thought himself terribly naive. Now that he’d intentionally killed people, that excitement seemed juvenile and even a little obscene.

I can kill people when I need to and be okay. That’s good. But I have to remember that it isn’t fun, it isn’t something to get excited about. This is … something to do because I have to, or because it’s right, but it’s also something to regret had to happen.

His mouth curled into a slow smile, an intimate expression of surprise that wasn’t for the rest of the world, only himself. What I did might not have been the good thing to do. It might not have been the heroic thing to do, even. But it was the right thing. And I can live with that.

Still smiling and bemused at the unexpected turns his life had taken, he padded out the door to the back garden.

I’m free and I’m alive.

He thought of the welcome he’d received when he returned to the Head, of Ab and Pel in the courtroom with him.

And I’m not alone anymore.

A bark attracted his attention.

Oh! I’m actually not alone anymore.

“Colin!”

The adolescent thestral had been carefully inspecting the area behind the Head’s shed but perked up immediately upon hearing Harry’s footsteps.

He pranced over and quivered in ecstasy when Harry hugged him and gave him some enthusiastic scratches down his bony flank. “Wow, Colin, I think you’re almost taller than me now! It’s so great to see you – I’ve missed you this winter.” Colin gave his odd barking purr. “Oh, and I have to go and see your mum later! Ab told me that she helped him find me. I’m going to get some meat from the kitchen – don’t tell Ab! – and take it to her.” At the word ‘meat’ Colin looked around in excitement, then settled back, content with scratches for the time being.

The calming, repetitive motion of scratching the thestral brought to mind nights that seemed almost like they belonged to another person’s life, when he was snug in the Gryffindor common room, petting Crookshanks and talking about whatever with Ron and Hermione. He cringed a bit when he realized he hadn’t thought about them in a while, though in fairness he’d had a lot on his mind.

“I wish I could see them, Colin. I have so much to tell them … Can you imagine Hermione’s face when she finds out about how squibs are treated? She was a machine when it came to the house-elves – this would be so much worse! And Ron would love to hear about all the dodgy stuff I’ve learned working at the Head…”

As the spring sun rose over Hogsmeade, Harry reminisced with Colin about friends long lost but not yet born, missing them desperately but strangely happy nonetheless.



The next several hours were spent working on all his regular chores. He’d never enjoyed mucking out the stable quite so much before.

In the late morning, Ab plodded down for breakfast, still exhausted from his early morning for court the day before and his late-night working the bar. Harry wordlessly slipped him a plate piled high with an English breakfast.

“Aurors’ll probably be by later today or tomorrow,” he grunted as he wiped his mouth clean.

“What!?” Harry immediately flew into a panic, expecting to be dragged back to the DMLE at any moment.

“Ah, calm yourself boy! Don’t you remember? S’a condition of your parole to meet with ‘em regularly. They’re comin’ soon for the first meetin’ and to set up a schedule.”

Harry blushed. “Oh. Well, that’s okay then.”

“They’ll probably also inform you about where you’ll do your ‘service to wizards’ bollocks.”

I had conveniently forgotten about that. Dammit.

He sighed. “Any idea where I’ll have to go to learn ‘proper respect for my betters’? Please tell me it won’t be the Ministry. I’d die happy never having to go there again.”

Ab chortled. “Don’t be stupid, lad. Remember who’s behind this deal of yours, after all.”

The younger wizard’s eyes grew suspicious, then gradually widened. “You’re not saying that I have to work at –”

“Aye, that’s exactly what I’m sayin’.” Sarcasm dripped from Ab’s every word. “What better place for a young squib to learn he ain’t worth shit than the finest school of witchcraft and wizardry in the world?”

Harry stared at the old bartender in horror.

“Oh bloody fuck,” he breathed. “I have to go to Hogwarts.”

 

xoxoxox

 

This concludes Arc I.

 

xoxoxox

 

 

Chapter Text

XII. The Devil Reversed

22 April, 1977



“You cannot be serious.”

“Aye, I am, an’ you’ll do it.”

“Oh, c’mon! No! Why?

Ab rounded on an indignant Harry. “Why? Why? I don’t know, because you’re a wizard, that’s why!”

Harry sputtered. “But, but, but what about the whole ‘people can’t know I do magic’ thing?”

“Don’t be thick, boy,” Ab grumbled. Merlin, teenagers. “We want the Ministry and wizarding Britain in general to think you’re a squib, sure, but there’s a much bigger world out there that don’t give two shits what you are. You’re a wizard, an’ from what I’ve seen you’ve got some talent, which I don’t aim to have you squander. ‘Sides, if they ever do find out you’re what you are, you’d have to do it anyway. This takes care of all that.” The boy still looked defiant and Ab glared. “Don’t make me say ‘you’ll do it ‘cause I said so’.”

Harry dug into the bar with the toe of his boots. “You know, the one good thing about all this was that I at least didn’t have to take tests.” His lower lip threatened a pout. “I don’t wanna take my O.W.L.s!”

Ab stared flatly at him. “That’s some expert whingin’ you’re doin’ there, lad.”

Harry had the grace to flush a bit. “Fine, fine. Have it your way,” he surrendered. “I’ll start studying and I’ll take the bloody O.W.L.s. When and where will I be doing this, anyway?”

“I’m thinkin’ this winter. We can have you do it in Belgium – they offer the test in English for home-schooled kids there.”

Harry sighed. “I don’t even really know what’s on them, though! Hermione always took care of that stuff.”

“Bah, there are study guides we can get easy enough. I can help you with Defense and Potions – they were always my best – an’ you’ll surely be spendin’ time helpin’ Hagrid at the school for your parole, he can teach you Creatures far better than the moron Kettleburn could, and he don’t even need to know anythin’ about you havin’ magic. You’ll also probably have to work the greenhouses in the summer, so pay attention. Pel’ll probably be fine with helping you with History of Magic, though he’ll be useless for anythin’ else. You don’t even need to study Muggle Studies. You do Runes or Arithmancy?”

Harry shook his head. “Divination.”

Ab snorted. “Well, if we need to, I bet ol’Wigol will help. Hell, crazy fuck probably knows half your story already anyway, and even if he were to say something’, no one would understand him.”

Rows of crystal balls and predictions about Muggle soap operas came to Harry’s mind. I was rightWigol does do Divination or something.

Ab looked thoughtful. “Well, that leaves Astronomy, Charms, and Transfiguration. Screw the stars, no one cares about an Astronomy O.W.L. As for the others, wanded courses are the most important. I know you can do Charms on your own – all that wandless shit and those little rocks of yours prove that well enough. I can help too. Transfiguration … well, you don’t have to be great, you just gotta pass.”

When Ab put it like that, there just seemed so much to do. “But Ab, when am I going to do all this? Between working here and having to do that service bollocks, how will I find time to study?”

“You’re my charge, boy. That includes seein’ to your education. Head ran just fine before you got here, she’ll sure run fine if you’re makin’ potions rather than washin’ dishes. We’ll work it out.”

Ab pushed back his cleaned breakfast plate, stood, and grabbed his cloak. “As for now, I’m curious what you can do with a wand. We’re goin’ to your cave, and then the Forest.”

This had Harry grinning with excitement. It felt like it had been forever since he’d done any proper magic, and his hand already itched to hold familiar holly and phoenix feather.

Teenagers, Ab lamented.



An hour later saw an unlikely quartet standing in a glade not far from Harry’s original practice grounds (before they were rendered unusable by the fallen giant tree). Ab shook his head in disgust as Colin pranced around, shaking his thickening main of black hair exuberantly. Goat, who had just shown up without preamble as they were walking from the cave, ignored them all and began scarfing down some wild marjoram.

“All right, lad. Let’s start with you showin’ me your best defensive spell.”

Harry bit his lip. He knew several shields, and there was always Expelliarmus but … He brandished his wand and thought – felt – hard for a happy thought.

Christmas at the Head. People no one else wanted, people like me, having a place. Gifts from Hagrid and Ab. The war of the chessmen on Dalcop and Pel. Hot chocolate that someone who cares made for me.

“Expecto Patronum!”

Silver-white mist surged from his wand and coalesced into the shining form of …

Of not Prongs.

He gaped as the massive glowing bird gave a single wingbeat and then glided effortlessly through the glade before alighting on a nearby tree branch and sending Harry a questioning look.

“Oh, um, hello,” Harry stuttered in shock. “I was just – don’t worry, there aren’t any Dementors or anything here.” The bird slowly shimmered away.

Ab raised an eyebrow. “Damn fine patronus you got there.”

“But, that’s not my patronus!” Harry exclaimed. “Mine’s a stag – it’s always a stag!”

“Don’t you know shit about the spell you can do, boy?” Ab barreled on without waiting for a reply. “You think of happy memories to do it, yeah? Well, did you think of the same happy memory this time as you used to? Did it involve the same people, the same sort of happiness?”

Oh. I guess … no, it didn’t. Different people, different place, and the happiness was different too. It … it wasn’t about wanting something, like it is when I think of Mum and Dad or Sirius. It was more about already having something.

Ab was watching him closely. “I can tell by your face it wasn’t. See, the memory not only powers the patronus, it determines it, what it looks like.  Person practices enough, they can make a bunch a’ different patroni, dependin’ on how many different types of happy memories they can use.” He leaned against a tree thoughtfully. “I’m sure you could still make your stag, just have to think a’ the things that make him real for you. I know my brother can make at least five different ones, though the bastard always uses his phoenix when others are gonna see it. Flashy git.”

Harry hid his grin. Hearing Ab insult the headmaster was always funny, and he was deeply relieved that he hadn’t lost Prongs forever despite his rather unfavorable opinion of his teenage father. “So what do you think this new patronus was? All I could tell what that it’s a big bird.”

Ab shrugged and had Harry cast it again.

Whatever it is, it’s huge. Hell, it’s wingspan’s almost as big as Buckbeak’s!

“Albatross, s’gotta be, bird that big,” Ab pronounced as the bird slowly faded away, “Definitely one of the giant types … maybe a Wandering Albatross, if I had to guess.”

A faint memory of his muggle schooling flitted across Harry’s mind. “An albatross? Aren’t they bad luck or something?”

The old man sighed. “What the hell are they teaching you, boy? No, in fact, most sailors think ‘em rare signs of great fortune if left alone to their business. They’ll fly on to wherever they’re headed through any type a’ storm, so they say, no matter how dangerous. Every so often one’ll follow along with a ship on a long journey – most believe it a sin to kill one, no matter how hungry a crew may be.” Harry missed the searching look Ab sent him.

“Oh. Well that’s good then,” Harry finished lamely.

Ab ran Harry through all the shields he had learned, nodding in general approval but barking out a number of unknown spells that he wanted Harry to look up and master.

“Now! Let’s talk offensive spells. I hope you got somethin’ that packs more of a punch than that stupid Expelliarmus you said you used against that Dark Lord bastard. Show me your best, an’ I don’t want to hear Reducto. Already know you’ve got that one covered.”

Harry grinned internally. He knew just the spell to show Ab.



“But … but … but that’s a fucking bread-slicing spell!” Ab gasped, dumbfounded, staring at the newly-fallen tree.

“Yep.”

“A bread-slicing spell!”

“Mmm-hmm.” Harry wasn’t really one for sounding smug, but when he did, he pulled it off brilliantly.

Ab nearly snarled in frustration. “Explain.

Harry smiled. “I just have to really believe that the target is bread, and it works. If I don’t, nothing happens.”

“You just believe it’s bread? That’s it?!  But … that’s not how it works.” The man suddenly looked a little lost. “Don’t think that’s how it works, at least …” Aberforth paused for a long moment and then licked his lips. “You got more?”

“Oh yeah,” Harry’s grin got larger as he pulled out his battered copy of Tweeny Twig’s Guide for Young Domestics. “Want to see what happens when you really believe a tree is a carrot and cast a peeling spell on it? Ever think about what would happen if you cast Scourgify at someone – not thinking about their mouths, like parents do for kids that use profanity – but thinking about their eyes or even their brains? Or what happens if you cast a refilling spell at a person’s stomach so that it fills them with their own blood to the point that it surges up their digestive track and chokes them?”

Ab stared as Harry continued thoughtfully. “Difference between all these spells and the normal defense ones is simple. There’s shields for things like Expelliarmus and Reducto and Stupefy and, more importantly, people react with shields when they hear those spells. If a wizard hears a carrot-peeling spell … I’m not sure he’d think to throw up a Protego. Plus, do you actually think any of the rich, poncey, house-elf owning purebloods in Voldemort’s army actually know what most of these spells do? They’d be completely lost if they heard the incantations.” He smiled triumphantly. “And the best part? None of them are illegal or even Dark. Just simple, innocent, household spells.”

Ab continued to stare, a strange look in his eye. “You’ve not just been learnin’ to defend yourself, have you lad? You’re … you’re goin’ to war.”

Harry blinked. “Er – maybe … Yeah, I guess, though I still have to figure out a way to fight without messing up the future.” He sighed. “Still, the way I see it, war’s going to come for me, just like everyone else, whether I prepare for it or not. Just looked at what happened the other day!”

Four days after Harry’s trial ended, Voldemort had staged raids at the Muggleborn outreach offices in Cardiff, York, and Belfast. Luckily their wards had held, but a number of magical and non-magical people outside the buildings had lost their lives. From the reports in the Prophet, the DMLE was working like mad to contain the news and convince the muggles that the attacks were the products of disgruntled Irish revolutionaries.

He sighed and toed the dirt. “Look, Ab, I know I’ve been lucky so far against Voldemort and the Death Eaters. I … I don’t want to be just lucky anymore.”

The old man nodded slowly and gazed at the remains of the tree that Harry had used Panemseco on. “Bloody fuckin’ hell, lad.” He shook his head and spat. “You’re goin’ to war armed with household charms.” Ab slowly began making his way back to town, shaking his head and muttering darkly about Potters, teenagers, and insanity.



The two arrived at the Head not long after a scowling Quisby had opened for the afternoon. As could be expected on a weekday, the public room was nearly deserted, but for a group of four –  including Wigol Palter – seated at a table drinking tea and apparently playing cards.

As Ab took off to do something or other, Harry grabbed a sandwich from the kitchen and set himself up at the bar to eat, smiling as he thought again about Ab’s shocked reaction to the bread-slicing charm. I actually think I impressed him!

“Oh, look at that smile! Yes, this is a kindly little Devil turned on his head, one who resists being the scapegoat and bowing to tradition, resists allowing the status quo to remain, yet still knows joy!” crooned an ancient, feminine voice.

A laugh of derision from another woman sounded. “True, but the Five of Wands awaits him – he won’t stay happy with such a lot for long, will he?”

Wigol murmured something that set the others to nodding and clucking.

“Oh dear,” the first voice gasped, “look at that – the Tower with an upright Six of Swords! Poor little Devil reversed, it can be so hard to have to grow up …”

What are they on about?

Brow furrowed, he turned and found the group at Wigol’s four-top peering at him. He’d seen them in the Head before a few times, three very wizened women and Wigol, but hadn’t really paid them much mind. Conversing with old ladies was not, he believed, his forte.

“Er-, sorry, were you talking about me?”

The woman whose seat was at the fore of the table and who’d spoken last favored Harry with a smile that was a bit too wide and had a bit too much teeth for his liking. She was old – ancient, really, her skin was white and papery, her hair, pulled back in a bun and covered with a fuchsia lace doily, was nearly the same color. Too much plum-colored lipstick covered her lips and, he noticed, several of her teeth. Her burgundy dress belonged in the nineteenth century, a true gown complete with puffed sleeves and cameos. Really, she made Dumbledore seem young. But it was her eyes that unsettled him. Bright, dark purple eyes that flashed and peered at him with a disconcerting clarity.

“Ah, young man, you’ve caught us out! My apologies for any rudeness, dear.” Harry made to politely assure her that no offense was taken, but she was already speaking again. “I don’t believe we’ve met, my dear. I’m Moira Pemphredo. Professor Moira Pemphredo.” She held out her hand imperiously, fingers tilted downward as if she expected him to kiss it. Harry walked over and shook it instead, much to one of her companion’s amusement.

Before he could introduce himself, she was again speaking. “I am, of course, a professor at Hogwarts, as I’m sure you knew.”

Harry blinked. “Ah, well it’s nice to meet you, ma’am. What do you teach there?”

The other two women snickered as Professor Pemphredo’s smile faltered slightly. “Why, Divination, my dear, the Art of Seeing and Knowing.”

“Oh. Er – that’s nice.” She narrowed her eyes. “I mean, it sounds really cool,” Harry tried again. She must be Trelawney’s predecessor … Why are Divination teachers all sososo much like every word they say should be capitalized? “So, I’ve seen you all in here before, playing cards and other stuff.”

The three women seemed scandalized, but Wigol flashed him a toothless grin.

“Boy, we are hardly ‘playing cards’!” Gasped one of the other women. “We are unlocking the Fates, charting the Unseen Lines that guide the Universe, casting ourselves into –”

“They’re gambling,” Quisby interrupted with a smirk.

The women huffed up indignantly while Wigol laughed.

“I – I don’t understand.”

Quisby snorted and answered before any of the women could. “There’s a surprise, squib. Anyway, they come in a couple times a month and make predictions and bet on the outcomes. Next meeting they see whose came out best, argue like old cats for a while, and then divvy up the winnings. It’s not just tarot cards and tea leaves, neither. Oh no, they’ll bet on anything.”

Wigol happily held up the notebook Harry had seen him writing in when they had watched the telly together. “Crnatshunshtret!

Harry squinted and tried to puzzle that one out. “Wait – did you say Coronation Street, Wigol?” The man nodded. “Are you telling me you … do what? … divination gambling on a muggle soap opera?

Quisby laughed. “Yeah, heard ol’ Wig here took them for more’n a hundred galleons last year on that muggle shit alone!”

Wizards are just so weird sometimes.

Professor Pemphredo sniffed in disdain. “Yes, well, not hard to see why you couldn’t pass your Divination O.W.L., is it Mr. Rakefire? At any rate,” she rose and creaked over to Harry, putting a boney arm around his shoulders, “you, my little upturned Devil, have quite the interesting spread already! Why don’t you come over and we can try to See more about you?”

Wigol giggled.

“So, you’re uh, all Seers?” Harry had long since come to agree with Hermione that Divination was a very wooly discipline, but he most certainly did not need prophetic busybodies taking an interest in him. If they can See even a little, I’m humped.

“Of course!” simpered the third crone, the only one who hadn’t spoken yet. She peered at him from under a black lace Victorian mourning veil that matched the somber black taffeta her frail body was swathed in.

Pemphredo sent her an indulgent smile before muttering to Harry “Well, all but dear Cassiopeia … one of the many misguided interlopers, I’m afraid but, well,” she cackled quietly “her money’s good.”

“Oh,” Harry choked out. I really don’t want to be a part of this conversation anymore. “That’s … really nice. It was great to meet you all, but I, uh, have to get back to work in the kitchen now!”

“No you don’t,” Quisby, that traitorous git, piped up, grinning broadly.

“Yeah! Yeah, I do. Ab said so. So, uh, I’m sure I’ll see you ladies again. Have a pleasant time … doing all that. Later Wig!” He left the pub at a near run, headed up the back staircase, and only stopped when he reached the Yellow Room, hoping to have a more rewarding conversation with Ariana.



An hour later, Harry was gratefully rescued by Ab. His conversation with Ariana had not been as enjoyable as he’d expected. Apparently, the poor girl had wandered into the cityscape that hung in the Red Room the night before and had found Yarda Gobermouch ‘entertaining’ a client, to her horrified fascination. Harry was thus unexpectedly thrust into the uncomfortable position of explaining sex to the scandalized young portrait. He was fairly sure that he’d done a rubbish job of it, and suspected that it would take weeks for Ariana to stop blushing and casting appalled little looks at his pelvis.  The diagrams had definitely been a mistake. Now I get why Ab didn’t have any paintings in the guest rooms. And if she mentions any of this to him, I won’t see sunlight for months.

His relief at Ab’s sudden presence, however, abruptly disappeared. “Aurors are downstairs for you,” was all he said.

Shite.

Harry had been expecting them, of course, but the single day he had thought he’d have to wait for them turned into two, then three, then a week. He’d been quietly hoping that the Ministry would just forget about his parole meetings. No such luck.

He noted with some relief as he entered the public room that at least the gambling seers were gone but for Wigol. His relief only increased when one of the two red-robed Aurors near the door turned around and flashed him a familiar friendly smile.

“Alice!” he beamed. “I mean, uh, Auror Fawley! Are you my – I didn’t expect you.”

The young Auror’s smile broadened “Harry, it’s great to see you without bars between us! Yep, you are looking at the official Auror overseer of your parole!”

At this, her hulking companion turned around. “Goyle?!” Harry couldn’t help but yelp. Oh shit, I didn’t just say my nickname for him out loud. Please tell me I didn’t.

Auror ‘Goyle,’ whom Harry remembered well from his trial, frowned. “Mr. Harry, I didn’t think I’d told you my name before,” he remarked in confusion.

There was a beat before Harry’s mind caught up with that comment. Seriously? He really is a Goyle? II thought that they would all be Death Eaters or something, but at the trial he seemed … pretty decent actually.

“Lucky guess, I suppose,” he choked out, trying to smile.

“Well, anyway, Goyle and I are going to be in charge of you. Honestly, I shouldn’t even be here as a trainee, but, well, no one else was really interested in taking your case, so they let me. I’ll be your main contact. Goyle’s just on to make sure I don’t arse up the paperwork.” She gave him an apologetic look, as if Harry would have preferred a real Auror. He snorted internally. “Sorry it took so long for this visit, but I expect you know about the attacks … Things have been pretty busy. Plus now with what happened to the Hogwarts professor!”

Harry’s ears perked up at that. “What are you talking about?”

She raised an eyebrow. “Figured you’d have heard. Apparently, the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Statim Moriens, managed to off himself while trying to show his NEWT students how to do some counter-curse the other day. They’re pretty sure it was just an accident, but Aurors are investigating just in case it was something more sinister.”

Goyle cleared his throat meaningfully. “Sorry to interrupt, but this isn’t a social call. Fawley, you take care of making sure he understands the realities here. I’ll arrange for his service to wizards with his custodian. Be back at HQ in an hour.” With that, he waved a glaring Ab over to a table in the back and began pulling out parchment.

Discreetly rolling her eyes at her companion, Alice linked her arm in Harry’s. “Let’s go out and do this. I haven’t really had any time to visit the village since I graduated!”

Harry grinned as they strolled around the corner and then down High Street, with Alice chirping on about her various adventures in the village as a student. She seemed entirely unconcerned with the occasional glares sent her way for acting so pleasantly around Harry.

Indeed, Harry had only been out in the village once since his trial and had been met with an even more chilly reception than he was used to receiving. Witches and wizards crossed the street when they spied him or watched him from windows, wands in hand and eyes furious. Only one had dared to speak to him, an ancient old woman who hissed “Wizard-killer” as he passed her. A few, however, had seemed more speculative than angry. When he had passed the ‘Sticks, for example, Rosie had given him a strange sort of half-smile.

Alice prattled on, immune to it all.

The two spent some time looking in the windows of Honeyduke’s and Zonko’s, though moved off from the latter fairly quickly. An old man in rags was sitting against the storefront, begging for spare coins and muttering darkly to himself in a wheezing voice. Although Alice gave him a few knuts and a sickle, he hissed wordlessly at the pair of them.

“Sad that,” the young Auror observed as they hastened on their way.

“Yeah, you don’t really seem homeless people or beggars in Hogsmeade,” agreed Harry, thinking back to the disappointment he had felt last August when he realized the village would offer little in the way of dumpster-diving.

Alice sighed. “With the way the war is going, we’ll probably only see more folks down on their luck, especially squibs and muggleborn.”

At one point they bumped into Celeste, the perfectly coiffed shop-girl from Gladrags. His eyes widened as the cold and abrupt young woman broke into a smile at seeing Alice and proceeded to spend several minutes talking excitedly with her. Apparently, they had been dormmates in Hufflepuff. When she finally took the time to notice Harry, the shop girl gave Alice a strange look. but she was polite enough, compared to most of the other villagers at least.

“Your clothes are an improvement on last time,” Celeste archly observed.

Harry laughed. “Yeah, thanks for recommending that place to me.”

The girl looked uncomfortable and seemed to search for something else to say. “You … you look different – better – without your glasses.”

“Thanks!” Harry grinned.

“You wore glasses?” Alice cut in.

He grimaced. “Yeah, they were broken in the … well, with everything that happened. After I came home Ab got me this brilliant potion that keeps my vision perfect. I have to take it every five years or so and it tastes like goblin piss, but it’s definitely worth it!” And I look even less like James Potter, so there’s less of a chance of discovery.

Both young women gaped at him. “But, but Harry the Oculi Corrigendi potion is really expensive! Your custodian actually got it for you? Wow!”

Harry’s eyebrows raised, but a warm feeling settled in his stomach. “Yeah, yeah he did. I didn’t know it cost so much …” He had to concentrate to keep a silly smile from his face.

Celeste eventually departed with many promises to Alice to meet for drinks in the future. Somehow I don’t see a girl like that having those drinks in the Head.

The pair soon passed the monstrously pink storefront of Madame Puddifoot’s Tea Shop, and Alice pulled him to the door. “I haven’t been to Puddy’s in forever! Let’s do the official tripe here. They have the best biscuits in Hogsmeade!”

Harry followed her in with obvious reluctance. He’d never been inside, now or in the future, but felt that no biscuit could be worth subjecting oneself to this many bows, cherubs, and lacy pink frills.

A very stout woman in her early thirties with black hair that cascaded out of a bun in perfect ringlets bustled over to them, all sweet smiles and bright eyes. “Miss Fawley, my dear girl, how marvelous to see you!” She talks like she’s sixty, not thirty. “And who is your frie – Oh.” As soon as she caught sight of Harry standing awkwardly behind Alice, her smile evaporated. A glance at Alice had her clearing her throat overly delicately. “Auror Fawley, dear, while I always appreciate your custom and think it lovely to see you, I’m afraid that I can’t allow my establishment to be used by the Aurors for, ah, official purposes.”

Alice looked a bit confused but grinned. “Oh, not to worry Madame Puddifoot. Harry and I are just here to go over a few details and enjoy some of the best tea and biscuits in Britain!”

“Yes, well,” the older woman’s hands twisted nervously in her apron, torturing the fragile pink lace that edged the garment. “I’m afraid, Auror Fawley, that some elements are simply not welcome here, whatever the reason and whoever their company.” She tittered. “You do understand, of course, my dear. Why, I have a reputation to uphold!”

The handful of other customers in the shop – all women, whose median age seemed at least seventy – watched the goings-on shamelessly.

Indignant confusion marred Alice’s typically open and friendly face. “I don’t – are you saying you won’t let Harry in here? Seriously? Why – ?”

“Auror Fawley!” Puddifoot herself seemed shocked at the sharpness of her own tone and immediately adopted a more simpering approach. “Dear, this is my establishment after all. Please, do come back anytime yourself, of course.”

“This is – !”

“Alic – Auror Fawley,” Harry interrupted. “Let’s go.” He looked around the fussy tea shop in disdain. “The air in here is rather rancid, after all.” He turned on his heel and strode out the door, not turning to see if Alice actually followed him.

She did, her round cheeks as red as her robes and her eyes flashing. “What the hell was that?!” she fumed as she followed Harry down a less populous avenue to a small park. “She wouldn’t even let you in!”

As they sat down on the benches Harry quirked a smile. “Well, I am a convicted murder meeting with his parole officer. I’m dangerous.”

The young Auror looked appropriately sheepish, remembering their first conversation, then frowned. “Oh. Well. I guess that is true.” Alice worried her lip for a few minutes while Harry watched the birds. “She seemed to know you. Have you been in there before?”

“Nope, this was my first time. Though most of the village knew of me a bit, I think, even before the Macnair business. I try to avoid most places, but sometimes Ab has me run errands to the ones that’ll let me in.”

Alice goggled. “Wait – you mean there are other places that won’t sell to you just because you don’t have magic?”

His humorless laugh seemed to startle her. “Well, yeah, Alice. Most places won’t. That friend of yours – Celeste – she wouldn’t let me buy anything at Gladrags when I first came here, even though I had plenty of gold. She wasn’t really horrible about it, said it was company policy, and even pointed me to Jinky’s Jumble. Other folks don’t even bother to be polite. That cobbler, Cordwaine, I think, he drew his wand and threatened me as soon as I entered his shop. Some are okay enough – like Rosmerta – but most … not so much. And this was all before Macnair.”

The Auror looked near tears when he finally glanced over at her.

“Alice? I mean, don’t you know this?”

He was concerned that she’d worried her lip so much it would start bleeding before she finally responded. “Yeah, no, I don’t know. When I was little I knew that being a squib meant that my family wouldn’t want me anymore, but I guess I never really thought about what it’s like to have to actually live as one. I thought … I thought people were, I don’t know, better or something.”

She looked down at her boots and toed the designer’s name stitched in gold on the side. “I bought these as a graduation present for myself a few years ago. From Cordwaine. He was really nice to me. And Celeste is probably the most Hufflepuffian Hufflepuff I know.”

Alice heaved a sigh and seemed to sink deeper into the bench. “I just don’t like seeing people I thought were good not being good, I guess. Makes me think of how they would have treated me if things were just a bit different … And I’m mad at myself for never noticing how people like you are treated, I guess.”

Harry wanted to say that, in his old life, he’d never bothered to think about how squibs were treated either. That doesn’t make me a bad person, he thought, what’s bad is when you do notice, but ignore it or go along with it. Instead, he smiled. “Look, Alice, there’s no reason to beat yourself up. You’ve been one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I – I’m really glad I had you when I was in there. You made it better, so much better than it would have been. And the fact that you’re this angry on my behalf? Well, that’s great. It shows what sort of person you are.”

He paused thoughtfully, “As for the others, well, I know you can’t change people unless they decide to change. Celeste probably is a really nice person. But she’s not perfect. She’s not even mean, really. She’s just … ignorant about some things, I guess. Maybe seeing us being friends or whatever will help her change, I don’t know. Either way, I certainly can’t expect a warm welcome in the village anymore.” He widened his eyes into a mock-scary face. “I’m a deranged murdering squib, after all!”

Alice laughed a little, catching on to the fact that he was referring to the descriptions of him that had been in circulation prior to the trial. When he’d been released, Dalcop and Dung had taken great delight in quoting some of the more scathing Prophet articles. Even three years before I’m born I can’t escape bad press, Harry had thought wryly. Pel and Ab weren’t surprised when the final outcome of his trial was only reported in a small piece several pages in and below the fold, in an article that didn’t even mention Ab’s name. Apparently, both the Ministry and the Dark Lord’s supporters considered his trial a public relations wash and were content to focus on more potentially productive avenues.

“Well, speaking of that, time to do the boring stuff.” She pulled out and resized a shrunken sheaf of parchment. “What all this is essentially stuff I’m supposed to read you about how wizards are amazing, squibs are lowly scum, and you’re lucky we let you remain part of our wonderful, magical world. Sign your initials at the bottom of the last page verifying that you have read or heard the contents of the packet and understand them, and then we’re done!”

Harry groaned and turned to the first page of the long, scrawling text to begin reading. Ugh. Legal language.

Alice’s mouth dropped open. “Wait, you’re not actually going to read it all, are you? We’ll be here forever!”

It was very long and tedious. But the Goblet of Fire … “Alice, I’m definitely going to read it all. It’d be stupid not to – you’re asking me sign some sort of contract thing without knowing the terms! No way am I going to accidentally get sucked into some magical contract with the Ministry – not after all that’s happened!”

“But – but, Harry, I swear it’s nothing. It’s just a bunch of crap and then you sign it to verify that you read and understand it!” she sputtered.

He sighed. “I do believe that you think that, but I won’t trust them. Get comfortable.”

She sat back in a huff, muttering about a date that night and stupidly long documents.

Reading it was as torturous as Harry expected it to be, even as Alice kept making puppy dog eyes at him, hoping he’d give it up. Statement after statement was full of words like “heretofore” and “aforementioned,” all essentially beating it into him that squibs were worthless. By the time he finished, he was sure he couldn’t sign it.

“There you are!” a male voiced boomed into the park. Alice perked up immediately and turned to the newcomer with a broad smile. “Frank! What are you doing here?”

A tall, broad-shouldered young man with dark hair and Auror robes was striding over towards them. His serious face brightened when he looked at Alice. “Well, Goyle said you’d be back by five, but it’s just after six and we were supposed to meet…”

“Oh, damn, I didn’t realize I’d been gone that long! Someone just had to read the entire document I gave him before he’d sign it!” She rolled her eyes in Harry’s direction. “Harry, this is my boyfriend Frank. Frank, this is Harry, the kid I told you about.”

Frank eyed Harry sharply before he decided to stick out his hand. “No offense, but that’s Auror Longbottom to you.”

“Longbottom?” Harry sputtered. He shook the man’s hand in a daze. Auror Longbottom?! As in Neville? Neville Longbottom? He supposed he could see the resemblance, though this man looked far more capable and confident than his former dormmate.

Suddenly the voice of Igor Karkaroff boomed in his mind. “… This man took part in the torture by use of the Cruciatus curse of the Auror Frank Longbottom and his wife!” His wife. Frank … and Alice Longbottom. (*)

Oh God.

Alice’s friendly round face. Her infectious smile. He knew that smile, only he was used to seeing a far more rare and shy version of it.

Oh God. They’re Neville’s parents. Alice is his mum. And … and they don’t really make it through the war.

The air is in his lungs felt wrong, and Harry wanted to cry, to scream. He really, really liked Auror Alice. But Frank was looking at him strangely. This is not the place to lose it.

“Yeah,” Frank said slowly. “Longbottom. You know the name?”

Harry forced himself to smile. “Actually I do.” Breathe, for fuck’s sake. “A long time ago I sort of met your mother really briefly, I think. Ah, big hat with a vulture on top, right?”

Frank’s suspicious face melted into a smile in return. “Oh, that hat. Yes, you’re thinking of Augusta Longbottom.”

“Well now that we’re all caught up,” Alice said, sounding a bit annoyed, “Harry, please initial the damn thing so that I can go on my date. Please.

Harry’s face fell. “Look, Alice, I’m really sorry, but I can’t. The shit in here … Like this bit here basically says that ‘the person who signs this believes that every witch and wizard is better than he is.’ I mean, come on. I’d be lying if I said that I think some bloke like, like Quisby Rakefire is inherently better than me! What happens if I do initial this but I don’t believe any of it? Does the magic in it punish me or something? Am I contractually obligated to believe this tripe?” He was breathing very fast. Focus on the contract, not on Alice.

She put her face in her hands while Frank smirked. “No, Harry!” Alice protested. “I swear, this is just pro forma bullshit. No magic in this anywhere! Plus, since you just initial it, it doesn’t count as a contract or anything. It really is just a bureaucratic heap of bullshit that you’ll never see again or have to think about again after you sign it. I swear.” Frank was nodding.

I trust her …

But not enough.

“No, I’m sorry … but walk with me back to the Head. I’ll show it to Ab. If he says it’s fine, I’ll initial it immediately.”

Both young Aurors groaned but accompanied him readily enough.

“So, Quisby Rakefire?” Frank said. “He’s your example of a wizard lower than you?”

When Harry shrugged helplessly and nodded, Frank burst into laughter. “Well, I’d say that’s fair enough. Thanked the fates that I was born a few weeks early, else I would have been in his year and had to share a dorm room with him.”

“Wait –” Wasn’t Neville’s dad a Gryffindor? “You were in the same house as him?” he asked incredulously.

“Yep, both Gryffindors.” When Harry continued to look astounded that Quisby Rakefire had been a lion, Frank shrugged. “Everyone’s got to go somewhere. I always figured that, whatever else he is, Rakefire certainly had the loud and brash bit down. He still going on about Rosmerta and his rightful future inheritance?”

Harry laughed, continuing to temporarily squelch his horror at Alice’s identity, and the three spent the remainder of the walk telling funny stories about everyone’s least favorite bartender.

They cornered Ab in the head, and when he verified that Harry need not be concerned with initialing the packet, the younger man marked the final page with an ‘H,’ much to the relief of his parole officer.

“See you next month, Harry! Try to be good until then!” Alice trilled as she walked out of the Head with her boyfriend. As the door closed behind him, he heard Frank say into her ear “I see what you mean.”

Harry watched them go, his heart close to breaking. He hoped they had a wonderful date, a wonderful night together.

Because they seemed like a sweet young couple.

Because they’re going to be tortured into insanity in four years’ time.

Bile welled up in his stomach and he barely managed to make it to the private loo next to the kitchen. He violently vomited until he felt like he couldn’t have anything left in his body to expel, then sat on the floor of the loo, eyes vacant.

At some point, Ab came in with a glass of clear, cool water that still tasted sour when Harry gulped it down.

“They … I really like them. Especially Alice. She’s … good. In a way that most aren’t.”

Ab nodded wordlessly.

Harry suddenly felt the tears streaming down his face. When did I start crying? He sat there and sobbed for what seemed like forever, Ab making no move to leave but no move towards him.

The words came without him expecting them.

“They – neither of them – they don’t make it through the war! Their son, he’s my mate. I – I know what happens to them! I know when it happens and one of the bastards who does it! And they walked out of here tonight not knowing that their lives are way closer to being over than they are to starting! And I, and I, and I, and I –” his sobbing threatened to render him inarticulate, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.

He felt Ab’s firm hand on his shoulder and looked up gasping into pale blue eyes.

“And I don’t know how to save them! I can save them, yeah, I think I can, but if I do, won’t that, I don’t know, change things so that I’m not the person I was in the future, and then I don’t ever come back, so I never am here to save them in the first place? I’m just, I’m just not smart enough to know what to do!

Harry sobbed into the silence.

“Neither ‘m I, lad,” Ab said in a low voice. “I wish I knew the answer for you, but I don’t. We have to fumble through, I suppose. We’re just human, after all.”

A vicious, mounting fury suddenly snapped itself to life inside Harry. “THEN—I—DON’T—WANT—TO—BE—HUMAN!” he roared and clutched his gut as it roiled against him once again.

Aberforth’s hand moved to cup Harry’s cheek. The sudden, unexpected intimacy of the gesture shocked Harry’s rebelling stomach into momentary silence. “I know, lad. Been times I don’t want to be human either. But I am. And you are.”

He suddenly dropped his hand and stood, his face clouding. “Now as for doin’ somethin’ about all this, about savin’ everyone, which you seem so bent on doin’, ever stopped to think that maybe it’s damn foolish to think it’s up to a fifteen-year-old shrimp to save the bloody world? Ever stopped to think that maybe you think too damn much of yourself to even dare have the notion that you have a chance of savin’ it? Worst type of narcissism, that is. You’re a kid! It ain’t your fuckin’ job!”

Harry stared at Ab with wide, shocked eyes. Ab’s sudden anger made him feel strangely calm, and a lancing clarity stabbed through his mind. He licked his lips. “Maybe. Probably. Yeah, it’s probably not my job to save everyone, or to save the world, or even to save Alice, or my mum, or whoever. Okay, fine. But…” But what? “But I’m the one who has to live with myself. And I can’t do that if I don’t try to do something.”

“Bah, spare me your moralizing bullshit! I tend my bar, keep myself to myself, an’ I live with myself just fine. I let people save themselves. You haven’t learned it yet, but there will always be another war, another threat, another day some poor, well-meanin’, dumb fuck has to save the world or the helpless or whatever. Nothin’ changes. Best get used to that,” he spat.

Liar.”

The hissed word lashed out and speared across the room.

Ab rounded on Harry with the speed of a striking snake. “What the fuck did you say?”

Harry stared at him, a creeping numbness invading his entire being. “I called you a liar. You don’t stay out of this war, I know you don’t. I know you do way more spying for your brother than you’ve let on to me. And I know that maybe you think you’ve given up, but that’s bullshit. Because you saved me. At least twice. Once in the Forest when you brought me here, and then again at Macnair’s. You saved me, I think, the first time because you’re a decent person, and decent people save other people when they can. That’s what they do. You saved me the second time because you give a shit about me, and people try to save the ones they care about.” He shook his head violently. “And don’t you dare even try to say that if it was you who’d gone way back in time that you wouldn’t be killing yourself thinking of a way to save Ariana.”

The old man recoiled as if Harry had punched him.

A cold, biting disappointment pumped through Harry, making him feel fierce, making him feel bold. He stood and faced Aberforth. “Don’t you dare stand there and play the worst of hypocrites, trying to make me lose faith in the world even when you haven’t, much as you may wish you had.” Harry curled his hands into fists and scoffed. “I’ll try to save my mum and dad, and Alice, and maybe this stupid, stupid world because I give a shit about them, and because I’m a decent person, and because I think I can actually do something that may be worth something!”

Ab was staring at Harry as if he had never seen him before.

“So, Aberforth Dumbledore, you either help me figure this out, help me do this, whatever I’m going to do, please, or … or just shut the fuck up and mind your business. You say you’re good at that.”

They stood in the grimy, poorly lit loo looking at each other for a long time.

Finally, Ab sighed and murmured he’d go over his study and “service to wizards” schedules with him in the morning. Harry nodded mutely and slid to the ground after the old bartender had left and closed the door. The cool porcelain felt soothing, and the room was quiet. He sat there as the hours ticked by, thinking about Alice, about his mother and father, about Ab.

He knows I’m right.

He’s a good man.

He wishes he’d lost hope, but I know he hasn’t.

He’ll come ‘round. He’ll come ‘round.

 

Chapter Text

XIII. Some Dark Sarcasm in the Classroom

23 April, 1977

The next morning Ab trudged down and tucked into his breakfast without looking at or speaking to Harry, who was at a loss as to what to do other than return the same treatment.

Of course, both kept eyeing the other when his attention was turned away.

As he folded up his Prophet, Ab finally seemed to surrender. “Today you read up on those shields I wanted you to learn. We’ll practice ‘em tomorrow morning when we start workin’ on duelin’. Later Pel’s gonna come and start on your History of Magic with you before you start on the cookin’ for the dinner rush tonight.”

Harry looked at him. Shields? Dueling? . . .  I don’t know what this means, but it seems like he’s at least accepting I need to work on fighting.

“Sounds good, Ab,” he managed to say neutrally.

“Talked with that Goyle fellow about your service requirement. You’ll be at Hogwarts, of course. Set up a schedule for you, though if you need to be here more or whatever you can change it around a bit. Got you down for twenty hours a’ work a week. Monday through Thursday, 8 in the mornin’ to 1, startin’ next week. That keeps you here on the busy days, but also gives you time in the afternoons and weekends to work on your O.W.L.s.”

Harry mulled over the schedule. “Monday through Thursday in the mornings? Students are usually in classes for most of that. So I don’t have to worry about time-travel complications as much.”

“Aye,” Ab agreed. “Was actually Goyle’s idea. Man was concerned that you’d be a target for the students and wanted to keep you well away from ‘em. ‘Course it’ll be easier come June when they go home. But make no mistake – those that know what you did, older ones especially –may come after you. Others may just try to fuck with you even if they don’t know about Macnair. Don’t get into fights, and don’t take your wand with you.”

Harry made to protest that he didn’t start fights, they just found him, but Ab talked over him. “I know that’s easy to say, I know. But you fight with the wrong wizard’s little prince or princess, and I’m not sure even Albus could protect you. So try to be smart, be creative, and tonight, stop working on that stupid wandless Alohamora that ain’t ever goin’ to work and concentrate on how to control that wandless Accio of yours so well that you can use it on the sly if you absolutely have to without anyone noticin’.

Nodding, Harry cleared their dishes and began speaking without knowing what he was going to say. “Ab, about last night, I –”

“Shut it.”

“Ab! I –”

“Shut it. You said your piece like a man last night. Don’t fuck it up by acting like a kid today.”

Harry blinked as Ab sighed. “Don’t know what I make of it all yet, lad. We might both just be different brands of fools, for all I can see. But …” he paused uncomfortably. “But I’m thinkin’ on it. And you think on what I said. And we’ll see what comes.”

With a stiff nod he gave Harry a scrap of parchment and turned to leave the room. “Those are the books you need – they’re all on the shelf in my room. Grab them, take ‘em to the stables discreetly, and get to work on those shields. We’ll see if you learned anythin’ tomorrow. If not, your arse is mine,” he finished with relish.

Harry’s arse throbbed in anticipation of what he assumed would be many, many falls to the ground. But Ab was still going to work on fighting with him. It was an olive branch, he understood that, and he accepted it. “Thanks, Ab. Thanks.”



He easily found the defense books in Ab’s room, propped up against a tarnished silver picture frame with a grainy photo of a pretty young woman lazily spinning on a swing attached to a great oak. Not Ariana … Maybe I’ll ask Ab about her later. The next few hours were spent memorizing four new shield spells and all their applications. Harry wasn’t used to studying spells this closely, but he could admit to himself that he wanted to do well for Ab far more than he’d ever wanted to excel for any of his Defense teachers, even Lupin.

Eventually, the time came to clean up the two guestrooms that had been let out the night before, and then to await Pel in the stable for his first History of Magic lesson with the old lawyer. This has got to be better than Binns, he assured himself.

Two hours after his lesson with Pel had ended, he grinned to himself about how right he’d been.

Pel was the most engaging teacher Harry had ever had. He came armed this time with a single slim volume entitled The History of the International Confederation of Wizards: The Whole Truth, Including What the Bastards in Power Don’t Want You to Know, by Logius Verian. Harry had raised both eyebrows at the title.

The former barrister shrugged. “It was written by an acquaintance of mine in the Department of Mysteries some years back. Poor sod was the lead researcher on variants of truth-telling spells and potions and used himself too often as a test subject. Couple years later, he couldn’t tell a lie to save his life and got drummed out of the Ministry for telling the Minister exactly why he thought the man’s wife would choose to take up with some French siren.” He paused as Harry chuckled incredulously. “At any rate, his loss is our gain. Bloke wrote a number of history books that don’t whitewash anything. You can probably guess that wizarding Britain banned them all immediately. I’m lucky enough to have gotten copies from him. Now, you take an hour and go over the first two chapters on the ICW’s formation. I’m goin’ to get a pick me up at the bar and come back then.”

Verian’s book turned out to be quite different than bland panegyric that was the Bathilda Bagshot text he had been assigned for years. The man took to rambling digressions that told way more truth than he wanted to know, but were fascinating nonetheless. He vaguely recalled from Binns’ droning lectures that Lichtenstein had refused to attend the first meeting of the newly-formed ICW. While Bagshot had claimed that this was because the new leader of the ICW didn’t agree with them that troll-hunting should be banned, Verian – who was no fan of Bagshot’s – told a much seedier tale. Apparently, Pierre Bonaccord, the first Mugwump, was involved in an illicit affair with a half-troll, and promised his lover’s family that French trolls would have representation in the ICW. However, Bonaccord’s ex-lover, Geliebt Getränkt, was the principal adviser to the Lichtenstein government, and had convinced them not to attend simply out of spite for his errant boyfriend, using the rising number of troll attacks in Lichtenstein as the ostensible excuse. Verian even included copies of steamy love letters-turned scathing missives between Bonaccord and Getränkt that testified to the true reasons for Lichtenstein’s obstinacy.

Wow. History’s a lot dirtier than I expected.

By the time Pel returned – smelling strongly of Firewhiskey – Harry had encountered a number of eye-opening stories about the ostensibly banal origins of the ICW. He easily answered Pel’s questions and listened as the man expounded even more on what Verian had said. One worry, however, nagged at him.

“Pel, uh, thanks for helping me with all this, I really appreciate it. But, er – can I actually write any of this in my O.W.L. exam? Wouldn’t they prefer the more boring version?”

Pel laughed. “Oh don’t worry about that, my young friend! Sure, there’s no way you could get away with writing anything from Verian in a British O.W.L., but you’ll be taking them in Belgium, and Belgians love this sort of thing. I suspect they may even use Verian on the sly. Of course, the Belgians haven’t really done anything to be embarrassed about, at least compared to the British, French, and Germans, so it doesn’t fuss them much.”

He stood. “Well, I’m off back to the pub. We’ll meet this time next week for more, yeah? For then, read the chapters on the development and early history of the International Statue of Secrecy, and write me a short something on the real history and implications of the actions of Emily Rappaport. When you do it, think of at least three different ways to defend her. I don’t give much of a crap for reading essays, but I want to make sure you can write without coming off as an idiot.”

After Pel left, Harry sat back in his straw thinking about his day at what he was secretly calling “Hog’s Head School for Witchcraft and Wizardry.” His first lesson had involved a lot more cursing, alcohol, and interspecies sex than anything he’d encountered at Hogwarts. However, he vaguely recalled that Binns had spent weeks on the formation of the ICW, yet he didn’t really remember anything much from those lectures. A two-hour session with Pel and he felt he had a firmer grasp on history than he’d ever had before.

The Hog’s Head School would probably drive Hermione insane. But … but it might just be perfect for me.



April 25, 1977

Two mornings later and Harry was walking slowly up the path to one of the places he had been most keen to avoid his arrival in the past. Typical. Live in the Forest, pretend to be a squib, and I still end up going to Hogwarts.

He sighed and began running through his general plan for the next several months. Keep my head down, do my work. I’m a squib. Most will be in classes, and if they aren’t, most will ignore me.

As he rounded a once-familiar bend of the road, the castle spread out before him, the morning light that glanced off the hundreds of windows making the whole building gleam. The Black Lake in the distance glittered in the sun, and even the entrances to the Forbidden Forest seemed less … forbidding than normal. A curl of smoke rose lazily from the chimney of Hagrid’s hut, but today there was no time to stop and see his friend.

Instead, he headed straight for the front gate, having been informed by Goyle via Ab that he was to meet his “liaison” there. He’d been wondering just who this liaison would be. For some reason, he expected Professor McGonagall – probably because he associated arriving at Hogwarts with seeing her – or maybe some other professor (please, please don’t let it be Pemphredo!), or perhaps a house-elf?

He found himself stopping short and biting back a groan the moment he saw the person waiting for him on the other side of the great Hogwarts gate.

Seriously, universe?

Lily Evans watched his approach suspiciously, her back rigid and her eyes sharp.

Why the hell would my mother be my liaison?

When he reached the gate she drew herself up in a way that reminded Harry just a bit of Percy Weasley. “Mr., ah, Harry, I’m to be the Head Girl here at Hogwarts next year.(*) I’ve been sent because I’m authorized to give you contingent admission through the wards from 8 a.m. until just after lunch. Please take care that you leave no later than 1:30 in the afternoon, lest the Headmaster be informed of an unauthorized presence. Now I shall add you to the wards.” She looked rather nervous as she drew her wand. Harry barely had time to worry that this was probably her first time casting whatever spell she was going to cast before she fired a bolt of painless gold light at him, then the gates. “And now I shall lead you to your first occupation, which should take you several days. I’m told that your liaison will fetch you later this afternoon before your scheduled departure.”

Oh, so she’s not the person who oversees me. Thank God.

The gate creaked open as the winged boar statues on either side looked him up and down suspiciously. Lily turned on her heel to begin marching towards the front doors without looking back. Harry had to jog a bit to catch up with her.

She gave him an even more suspicious glance when he drew up to walk beside, rather than behind her.

“It is also my duty to inform you of the code of conduct you must observe while you are on Hogwarts grounds.” She ran through a long list of rules that all essentially amounted to ‘leave magic folk alone and don’t start shit,’ as they walked through the halls of the schools to whatever Harry’s destination was. “Do you understand this code of conduct?” she concluded in a formal voice.

Harry nodded neutrally as she led him towards up flights of stairs towards and down the long corridor on the fourth floor.

At one point she glanced over, the pretense of authority momentarily abandoned. “You don’t seem impressed with the school. You’re barely looking at it!”

Shite. I’m not supposed to have been here before.

He shrugged silently. Let her think what she wants about how I feel about Hogwarts. The less I say, the better.

Eventually, they reached a tight circular stone staircase that Harry knew led to only one place – the Owlery in the West Tower. It seemed his first job wasn’t going to be all that pleasant or educational.

The two climbed the staircase quickly and Lily led him into the still-cold Owlery. Harry had to physically restrain himself from instinctively looking to Hedwig’s customary perch, the pang of her loss hitting him harder than it had done since he’d arrived in the past.

Lily must have misinterpreted his small grimace, for she smiled tightly. “Yes, your job today and until you complete it satisfactorily is to thoroughly clean the Owlery. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but witches and wizards use owls to carry their post and  –”

“I’m aware, thank you.” Does she know how condescending she sounds?

She gave a small hmph. “Well then, I’ll leave you to it. Just remember, Hogwarts does not condone the sort of actions you engage in.”

Her tone bordered on actual hostility, and Harry couldn’t check the look of surprise that he felt flitter across his face.

Lily narrowed her eyes. “Of course, I know exactly why you’re here – it’s your little punishment for murder.” Judgment burned in her tone, and Harry felt it scalding him.

Looks like someone’s a Prophet reader.

Oh fuck this. I love you mum, but fuck this.

Keeping his tone as light as he could, he responded. “Thank you for your thoughts, Miss – shite, she never introduced herself – Miss Next Year’s Head Girl. I’ll certainly take your morals into account the next time me and my friends are kidnapped, tortured, and about to be murdered simply for existing.”

Her mouth dropped open, her eyes wide with indignation and shock.

“Now, if you’ll excuse me, it seems I have quite the job ahead of me.” He should have stopped there, but he couldn’t resist. Her whole tone just irritated him. “I do find it rather odd that a school with this many witches and wizards has to rely on manual squib labor to clean its owlery. I would think one could easily do it in seconds with a spell.”

Lily recovered from his earlier retort enough to pull a puzzled face at his last comment. “That’s – that’s actually true …Why would they have you do this?”

He gave her a hard, humorless smile. “I believe it’s metaphorical.” With that he turned and began going over the cleaning supplies in the corner. It took a few minutes before he heard her quiet footsteps exiting through the door and walking slowly down the tower steps.

Of course it’s metaphorical. Put the squib in with animal shit. Where he belongs.

He sighed and picked up a large scraping tool that could only be for one thing.



After nearly four hours of scraping bird shit off stone, Harry was wishing he had time to go into the Forest this afternoon because he seriously felt that he needed to blow some shit up.

Only a few students had visited the Owlery that morning. Three ignored his existence completely, a pair of mealy younger Ravenclaws had snickered at him, and the lone Slytherin had looked at him imperiously before “accidentally” overturning Harry’s bucket of collected droppings. Two little Hufflepuffs had looked at him curiously, but were too timid to attempt a conversation.

The owls, on the other hand, seemed highly offended that he had the audacity to alter than home, so he had to regularly ward off angry, dive-bombing balls of feathers.

A bit after noon, by his estimation, he heard very light steps on the stairs once again and tensed in case a more aggressive student was sneaking up to pay him a visit.

He had to blink several times when his newest visitor turned out to be a kitten. A rust and gray striped kitten holding a neatly folded piece of parchment in its tiny jaws.

The little thing strode over to Harry with all the confidence of any cat and looked up at him, the demand clear in its eyes.

Shrugging, Harry sat down and gently removed the parchment from its mouth. “Er, thank you.”

The demand in its golden eyes remained. “Oh, er, right. Sorry.” Harry let it sniff his hand before beginning to scratch it behind the ears. A rumbling purr resounded through the Owlery, drawing the attention of its hungry occupants. The kitten glared the parliament of owls into submission. “Oh, you’re bloody adorable,” Harry couldn’t help but gush. Thank Merlin no one was here to hear that. The kitten closed its eyes in contentment.

Smiling, Harry turned his attention to the parchment.

Mr. Harry: Please come to my office upon receipt of this. You may follow Mrs. Norris, who knows the way. – A. Filch, Hogwarts Caretaker.

No fucking way.

“Mrs. Norris!” Harry bit out. The kitten continued purring. Harry looked at her carefully and realized that yes, add on nearly two decades and a ton of grime, and the kitten could become the evil ball of hissing fur he so knew and despised. “Damn, Mrs. Norris, you look great!” She nuzzled his hand. And you’re a right sight nicer.

“Well, Mrs. Norris, I’m to see Mr. Filch. Would you mind showing me the way?” Of course, Harry knew precisely where the cantankerous old caretaker’s office was, but it wouldn’t do to give that away, even to Mrs. Norris. In his time she had always seemed to know more than one would expect of a cat.

The kitten regretfully hopped away, stuck her tail straight up in the air, and marched out of the room, turning once to make certain that Harry was following her.

Bemused, Harry trailed behind her on the short walk down to the fourth-floor corridor where he knew Filch’s office was located. On the way, he puzzled over the unexpected tone of Filch’s note. He even said ‘please.’ Weird.

He knocked on the door as Mrs. Norris disappeared through a cat flap. “Come,” a brusque voice responded.

The office looked somewhat similar to what Harry remembered, though it was nowhere even close to approaching the over-stuffed state it would boast in the future. The man seated at the old fashioned desk turned away from his filing cabinets and Harry just barely kept his mouth from dropping open.

Holy shite! That can’t beyeah, that’s Mr. Filch!

The forty-something-year-old man at the desk had rather poor posture, a hint of the hunchback he would eventually develop, but his caramel-colored hair was neatly-cropped and framed a fairly, well, normal – perhaps even attractive – face, at least in the right light. (*) The frown that seemed cut into his skin and the pale eyes that gazed steadily at Harry were nonetheless eerily familiar.

Merlin, Filch must have had a rough 19 years to go from this to what I remember!

“Have a seat young man,” Filch said in a clipped, if polite tone, gesturing to the dark green leather office chair perched in front of his desk.

“Thank you, sir.” Harry felt decidedly wrong-footed. He had no idea what to do with a nice-ish Filch.

The caretaker clasped his hands together and put both elbows on the disk, giving Harry a penetrating look. “I take it the girl they sent explained their rules about your time here, eh?”

“Yes sir. She was quite … thorough.”

Filch sneered. “I take it also that you understood the gist of them.”

Harry nodded.

“And that is?”

“Don’t bug magic folk and don’t start shi – anything.”

Filch nodded and snorted. “That’s about the right of it.” He sat back in his chair. “I’m trying to set your assignments so that you can avoid most students. After the Owlery – which Dumbledore suggested you do – I’ll be in charge of your work, so if you finish a task, check in with me when you’re done.”

“Yes sir, I will.” This is the most civil I’ve ever seen Filch … I guess it makes sense. He does think I’m a squib after all.

“You’re done for today, so you can go. But listen up and mark my words. The shits out there are spoiled little cretins who think having wands makes them gods. They may well target you for some of their little ‘pranks,’ which usually hurt and always leave a bloody mess that’ll be on you to clean. It ain’t nice, and it ain’t right, but you squawk at all and their mummies and daddies will be here before you can breathe, and it’ll be all your fault. No one cares about the truth when it involves the likes of us. I expect you know that already, but don’t dare forget it.”

“I won’t, sir,” Harry responded quietly. He knew this all too well.

Filch sneered at his desk. “Off with you, then, Mr. Harry. Oh, before you go,” he rummaged in a drawer, “have at ‘em,” and tossed Harry a few chocolate frogs. “Took him off some misbehaving second years, eh?”

Harry laughed. “Thank you, sir, but please just call me Harry.”

“Argus, then.” Harry raised his eyebrow. That would take some getting used to. “Oh, and good work on those scumbag wizards that messed with you. Bloody good work.”

Harry grinned sheepishly and bid the man goodbye – stopping also to wish Mrs. Norris a nice day, to Filch’s surprised approval – before making his way down through the bowels of the castle to the entrance hall.

Just as he was about to leave, a familiar voice called out to him. “Ah, young Harry!” Harry cringed when he realized his first thought was at least he got my name right this time. He stopped and turned, wrestling with the sudden rush of feelings that voice caused to well inside him. Ab’s description of the headmaster as a “political creature” had stayed with him. It was apt, he thought, and Harry couldn’t bring himself to trust a Dumbledore whose motives were part of some giant political game that he couldn’t even begin to understand. At the same time, the old feelings of affection for the man he had known stirred themselves within him. Was he always like this and I just didn’t see it, or did the first war change him into the man I believed I knew?

At any rate, the man was smiling at him genially enough now. “Hello, Headmaster.” I should thank him or something for helping Ab get me out of as much trouble as I should have been in … But the headmaster’s wand raised in favor of his condemnation seemed burned into his brain, regardless of the helpful intentions behind that action.

Dumbledore didn’t give him time to decide whether or not to express any gratitude. “I do hope you found your first morning at Hogwarts magical!” he beamed.

I cleaned up owl shit.

“It’s – it’s a beautiful castle sir.”

“Indeed, indeed she is. I’ve spent almost my entire life here, and yet she can still surprise me!”

Harry smiled and nodded, unsure of what he should say to that.

Dumbledore peered down at him, blue eyes alight. “Although I can’t, regrettably, extend such an invitation every day of your time here helping us, I was wondering if you would like to join me at the Head Table for lunch in the Great Hall? It’s one of the most astounding magical rooms in all of Europe – the ceiling is even enchanted to reflect the outside sky!” He smiled at Harry encouragingly.

If Harry had still been eleven, if Harry had really been a squib who’d never experienced Hogwarts, if Harry was some lost waif disowned by his family, if Harry had been any of those things, he probably would have jumped at the invitation. Dumbledore spoke as if he believed he was offering Harry something of a treat, a rare privilege, and honestly he probably really was.

But this Harry was not some wide-eyed lost young thing. He stood in the entrance hall of Hogwarts, sweaty and disheveled from hard labor, covered in and stinking of bird shit, paying the penance for saving his own life. Walking into the Great Hall, sitting at the Head Table, he’d become a side-show, something for the students to point at, to use to confirm their assumptions that squibs were stupid, dirty things who deserved, at the very best, a sort of patronizing pity. Some of the less prejudiced might look at Dumbledore and praise his magnanimity, his generosity in letting someone who didn’t belong enjoy their world for a day, despite his ‘dark, criminal past.’ Nine months ago, when he had first arrived in the past, he would have refused the invitation because of his fear of changing the timeline. That fear still thrived within him, but it wasn’t the real reason he was going to refuse today.

“Thank you, Headmaster, that’s a very generous invitation,” Harry smiled, trying to make his lips feel less tight than they were. “But I’ve got a lot to do today, so I’m just going to head home now.” He turned and strode to the front door. Opening it, he cast what he hoped was a polite look over his shoulder. “I hope you have a nice afternoon, sir.”

Dumbledore’s brows were furrowed slightly in confusion, but he smiled again nonetheless. “And you as well, my boy.”

Harry was out the door and halfway down the road back to the village before he realized that Filch and Mrs. Norris made rather better impressions on him today than his mother and the Headmaster had.

Time travel can be so, so confusing.



13 May, 1977

The next three weeks passed contentedly enough without any real incidents. It took Harry all four days of his first week to finish cleaning the Owlery, though he wasn’t entirely sure how Filch could decide he was actually done. Sure, there were a lot fewer droppings, but the owls had risen valiantly to the challenge of restoring their home to its former, stinking glory.

After that, he’d spent another two days – strange days – helping the librarian, a heavily-accented man named Zenodotus Furcsa, track down wayward books. Apparently, this was actually a job that couldn’t be completed in a moment with a wand. Rather, Harry discovered that some of the Darker, more powerful books in the Restricted Section had a tendency to wander off and go undercover, so to speak, in the benign stacks where they gradually attempted to corrupt their more innocent neighbors. The books had long since wised up to their human captors, and had managed to figure out a way to avoid being summoned. Thus it was Harry’s task to hunt down those texts that Furcsa believed had infiltrated the stacks over the course of the school year and to notify the ancient, but still sharp-eyed, old man whenever he had one cornered.

He was too nervous about being caught to attempt to use his time in the library to research spells on the sly, though he did pay close attention to books whose titles suggested they treated either time travel or Dementors. The few he found were quickly added to a list for Pel, who had offered to try to research Harry’s predicament.

The rest of that second week had been spent helping Professor Sprout in the greenhouses. She was pleasant enough, certainly, but couldn’t seem to stop herself from making sure that Harry understood she wasn’t like the rest of the bigoted wizarding world.

“It’s so terrible what they do to you poor folk,” she had gushed on the first day. “In fact, as a child some of my very best friends were squibs. The things we got up to … well, I won’t bore you.” She had paused thoughtfully. “I do wonder whatever happened to them … I suppose I haven’t heard from Susie – she was my best friend before Hogwarts – since I was eleven or so …”

And later: “I don’t understand why folks say squibs are so useless. Look at you, you can clearly pot a plant and sweep a floor just as well as anyone! Why, I’ve always said that squibs can be contributing members of society, we just need to find the right sort of jobs for them!”

And finally: “Well done, my dear! Such a sweet young man you are! Have I mentioned that some of my best friends were squibs?”

Only about ten times.

Harry was glad to leave the greenhouses on the last day of that week.

After that, he’d been delighted to spend this third week helping Hagrid. For the first time his service at Hogwarts felt more like a return to his first home than a punishment. Much of the week saw Colin delightedly following Harry all around the grounds, to the shock of those few students and professors who could actually see his companion.

Hagrid had been dumbfounded by Harry’s facility with his charges, though the boy desperately wanted to tell him that he himself was principally responsible for everything Harry knew about creatures. He’d been worried that he’d revealed too much when he’d automatically bowed upon seeing Windracer, a lanky brown hippogriff, but Hagrid had just proudly proclaimed he was a natural.

This week had seen him introduced to a number of creatures he hadn’t yet had experience with, including Porlocks, a large family of which resided in the thestrals’ winter stables, Bowtruckles, and Knarls, which followed him around for the better part of a morning for some unknown reason. In the back of his mind, Harry hoped his time with Hagrid helped him on his upcoming O.W.L.s., but at least he wasn’t dealing with anything as alarming as Blast-Ended Skrewts.

His afternoons and evenings were largely now spent in the stable or Forest studying. Ab had procured the fifth year Charms and Transfiguration texts for him, and Harry was steadily trying to work his way through them, though without peers to compare himself to or professors to grade him it was hard to say if he was making normal progress. He’d enjoyed another few history lessons with Pel, as well as several sessions of “Getting My Arse Handed to Me 101,” otherwise known as Ab’s DADA lessons. Soon enough, the old man promised, they’d start working on Potions. When he heard this, Harry tried to avoid imagining Ab striding about the pub kitchen in black robes that billowed just so, but was unsuccessful and dissolved into giggles.

Ab was less than amused.

After he had strung up the last of the dead ferrets Hagrid would use that afternoon to work on training Windracer, he bid farewell to the half-giant and headed through a glade towards the gate that would lead him to the path back to Hogsmeade.

As he rounded a corner he was suddenly met with a group of more than a dozen students – sixth or seventh years, judging by their height – who looked to be setting themselves up for a Care of Magical Creatures practical lesson.

“Is that him?”

“He’s the one who –”

“…seriously, a wizard-killer!?”

“–s’a squib, yeah?”

“— killed —!”

Shite. Keep moving.

Harry refused to duck his head but quickened his pace almost imperceptibly. It wasn’t enough.

“Oi! You! Squib!” A rough voice bellowed out.

Harry could have kept walking, but he couldn’t bring himself to offer his back as an easy target. He turned in the direction of the voice, face calm and neutral.

“Yes?”

A bulky, dark-haired Slytherin who looked to be some relation to Marcus Flint, the captain of the Slytherin Quidditch team back in the 1990s, was standing with his wand trained on Harry.

“So you’re the little shit who killed a wizard.” The boy scoffed. “You don’t look like much. Maybe we should teach you to respect your betters.” Two other boys in green and silver ties laughed.

What is it with wizards and talking about being someone’s “better”?

Harry sighed.

Don’t fight. Be creative, Ab said in his head.

“Okay,” Harry agreed, casually folding his arms across his chest.

“Huh?,” one of Probably-a-Flint’s companions asked.

Harry made a polite ‘get on with it,’ gesture. “I said, ‘okay,’ as in, I suppose you can go ahead and give it your best.” The three Slytherins sputtered. Probably-a-Flint looked like he wanted to start casting spells, but Harry’s attitude had confused him.

“What are you doing?” asked a Hufflepuff girl in shock. “They can really hurt you!”

Although his every instinct was screaming at him that it was a bad idea, he nonetheless turned away from the threat before him and smiled humorlessly at the girl. “Yes, they can. But I don’t think that they plan to kill me, which is what the rest of the wizarding world would do to me if I defend myself right now. So, between death and torture, I’ve got to go with torture.”

Several of the students looked confused, others scandalized, a few looked extremely guilty.

Harry turned back to Probably-a-Flint. “In any case, please do get on with it. Or not.” He shrugged. “Either way, let’s make a decision, as I have plans for the rest of my afternoon.”

The three boys looked angry but hesitant. This confrontation clearly hadn’t gone the way they had expected.

They aren’t going to do anything. They want to look big and tough, but they’re too confused to do it now.

“Hey – what are you snakes up to?” came a voice from behind Harry that made the hair on his neck rise.

“Looks like they’re thinking of messing with dear Squibbulus here, Prongs.” Shit. Really, Sirius?

Harry wanted to bury his face in his hands as his dad and godfather suddenly stepped in front of him, wands brandished and pointed at the Slytherins, their shoulders raised and heads cocked in a most dramatic, most noble, pose. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Lupin flank them, along with –he growled internally – a chubby little teenaged fucking Peter Pettigrew.

Don’t kill him. Don’t kill him. Figure all that out later. Don’t kill him. Don’t kill him.

“Well, in that case, Padfoot, I say we have to defend the poor bugger,” James smiled, his eyes flashing.

The fight was already over before it started, you dumb shits!

“I hardly think that necessary,” Harry observed, allowing his annoyance to bleed into his tone as amusement.

Sirius kept his wand and eyes on Probably-a-Flint, but addressed Harry over his shoulder. “Quiet, Squibbulus. Don’t get involved in things you don’t understand.”

“There’s a war on, kid,” James added in dread seriousness.

“So get out of the way and let us fight it,” Sirius finished.

“What do you say, Padfoot, we can nail them with some choice pranks later, but for now should we show everyone what little Flint has to offer under his pants? Levicorp"

Harry had learned much more about self-control in his time as a squib than he ever thought he would. But, he could admit to himself, he was still a bloody Gryffindor. And bloody Gryffindors aren’t known for their restraint.

He laughed. It was a mocking, derisive laugh, there was no hiding that, and it brought his father up short.

“Really? I, of all people, ‘don’t understand?’? ‘There’s a war on?’” he parodied. “Are you, seriously, are you stupid?” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Lupin plant his head in his palm. Harry didn’t wait for a response. “Why, yes I am aware of the current war, and I think I understand what it means better than either of you.”

The two Marauders forgot the Slytherins and rounded on Harry.

“Look,” he continued, before either could respond, “you two seem to think that war is like some fight at school. That you’ll curse at each other a few times until a teacher stops it and then reminisce over dinner about how you made your enemy puke slugs or show his pants or something stupid.”

Harry’s bitter amusement was morphing into a sharp, dangerous fury. He wasn’t sure if he was being unfair to his father and godfather, but he didn’t care.

You die when you’re twenty-one, Dad! Is this how you fought the war? Like a game? Like a fight against another House? Did you just not take it seriously enough?

Is this why you died?


Is this why I grew up alone?


“That’s not what this war is, you stupid fucks! You fight here at your school for, for what? Your reputations, to prove how cool you are. Out there, in the real world where there aren’t teachers or mummies and daddies to run to, you’re fighting for your fucking lives.” Macnair’s face grinned as he stabbed his shoulder. Crucio, Crucio, Crucio. Kill the spare. Cedric’s empty eyes. “Christ, only bullies and kids treat war like a fucking game. And I bet that they’re the first to die.”

He noticed that a few of the gathered students looked stricken but were nodding slowly, Remus Lupin among them.

“So puff yourselves up and strut around your school like war heroes all you like. Run home to your mummies or to your Heads of House if things don’t go your way and you get hit with an embarrassing spell. But don’t you dare try to tell me what war is.”

James and Sirius glared at Harry as if he were Voldemort himself, their wands pointed at his chest.

“I mean really, just look at you now,” he remarked, suddenly just so weary of it all. “Someone says something you don’t like, and it’s ‘wands out! Get the enemy!’” He shook his head bitterly. “Go back to your classrooms, and Great Halls, and parents. Please. Leave the real world for those of us who know how to live in it.”

With that, he walked directly between the two snarling, sputtering Gryffindors, past a shocked looking trio of Slytherins, and out of the glade on the path to the gate. His back was in a rictus of anxiety, waiting to be hit by a spell sent from someone in either group, but nothing ever came.

Instead, Harry walked on unmolested and found Goat grazing just outside the gate. She nudged his hand for a head rub, then silently fell into step at his side.



Harry wasn’t sure how he felt as he walked back to the village. He was disappointed in the way James and Sirius acted, but as his temper cooled he knew that it probably wasn’t all that different from how he and Ron may have behaved with regard to Malfoy and his cohorts. It had probably been unfair to talk down to them as he had, but their condescension and bravado – and their stupid, bloody innocence – aggravated him to no end.

He was so wrapped up in his thoughts that he could easily ignore the various glares and disapproving shakes of their heads that he earned from most of the villagers as he passed by. Indeed, he barely noticed anything other than his own musings and Goat’s presence until the realization hit him that he had walked past the turn that took him to the Hog’s Head a few blocks back.

And so maybe it was simply luck – or fate, or design, or coincidence –  that brought Harry to the point in the road that faced the side wall of the Hogsmeade Post Office. As he raised himself out of his turbulent thoughts, he could not miss the new addition to the normally-smooth gray stone in front of him.

Scrawled – wait, no, carved – into the stone in sharp, uneven letters at least a foot high each, was a single phrase.

A SOUL FOR A SOUL

Harry’s stomach dropped as the memory slammed into him.

Suddenly a voice sounded in the nothing. Though no louder than falling snow, it cut across the emptiness, so shocking in the endless silence that the words seemed to tattoo themselves in the not-air … A soul for a soul, little wizard …

He stared in horror at the graven words.

What the–?

No way.

Oh God.

 

Chapter Text

XIV. Platform Nine

12 May, 1977

“And you’re sure that’s what it said?” Pel asked.

Harry threw up his hands in frustration. “Yes! It’s not something I’m going to forget, Pel! ‘A soul for a soul.’ That’s exactly what the Dementor said in my head when it Kissed me, just before I came back to this time. And the words were carved there on the wall, plain as I’m seeing you in front of me now.”

The stable door banged open, startling them both, as Ab strode in. “Message is gone now, but I checked with ol’ Strix Reuters at the Post Office and yeah, that’s what it said. He had it removed himself, but has no idea who put it there or why. Just said it wasn’t there when he opened this morning.”

“This means –” Harry’s head buzzed with possibilities. “Shit, I don’t know. What does this mean?”

Pel rubbed his face with his hand. “Well, I’d say that someone knows something about what happened to you, but there’s no way to tell exactly what they may or may not know.”

Ab cursed. “Could even have been some seer who got a whiff a’ your past and tranced out to write it. They may have already forgotten havin’ even done it.”

“You really think that’s what happened?” Harry asked, his doubt evident.

It was Pel who answered. “My friend, there’s no telling right now who did this or why. Or really what it means. I suppose we’ll just have to keep on our toes. The fact that it was on the Post Office rather than the Head is rather encouraging. You’ve no connection to that building, have you?”

Harry shook his head and Ab sighed. “Pel, can you keep at lookin’ in to all this? I know it ain’t exactly your thing, but you’re the best we got at it now. Just keep trying to find anythin’ you can on Dementors, the Kiss, time travel, whatever.”

“Of course, I will, but so far … there just isn’t much. The books whose titles Harry saw in the library say nothing that’s at all related to all this.”

 “I really appreciate you trying, Pel,” Harry said.

“And remember,” Ab added, “we gotta be vigilant. Keep our eyes an’ ears open.”

Harry grunted a half-laugh. The bartender reminded him more than ever of Mad-Eye Moody today.

“‘Constant vigilance’ it is, then.”

A thought occurred to him. “Hey, Ab, did you ever figure out a way to ask the headmaster about all the Death Eaters I saw in the graveyard and his pensieve?

“Mostly no, figured out it wouldn’t matter. I checked them out first. Half of ‘em are either still students – hell, Crouch is a bleedin’ fourth year – and most of the others he already knows about – Karkaroff, for example, he’s in charge of recruitment at Durmstrang apparently, but it’s out of Britain’s jurisdiction either way. I did ask him if he thought the younger Malfoy was joinin’ up – Albus didn’t seem surprised, but didn’t know. As for Rookwood, the one you said was passin’ information to Voldemort from the Department of Mysteries,” Ab scowled and shook his head, “well, I never heard the name so I had Pel root around his old Ministry contacts. No record of any living wizards with that surname. At all.  Last one he could find was a Domitian Rookwood who died sometime in the 1920s. Told Albus I heard the name in passing an’ he doesn’t remember ever having a Rookwood as a student.”

“That doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist. The people in the Department of Mysteries often go by codenames or have their personal records erased. And there’s no reason this Rookwood can’t have gone to school elsewhere,” Pel added thoughtfully.

Ab grunted. “Like I said, we just gotta keep our eyes an’ ears open.”

“That’s it?” Harry sighed.

The older men could only shrug.



18 May, 1977

Remus Lupin raised an eyebrow when he entered his Potions class on Wednesday. The squi– the kid who’d so wound up his best friends was assigned to Professor Slughorn today. He was busy preparing potions ingredients at a small work table in the corner behind the professor’s desk, his body turned to the classroom only in profile, his chin-length black hair tied back out of his face with a leather string.

Remus turned to see two of his best friends – Peter hadn’t made the grade to qualify for NEWT Potions – watching the boy with dark looks on their faces. They weren’t about to forget the verbal spanking he had given them the previous week.

The young werewolf held back a chuckle. Granted, the kid had seemed to Remus more than a little arrogant and self-righteous – I mean really, one fight, no matter how serious, doesn’t make someone some great and wise veteran – but still … wounding Prong’s and Padfoot’s pride was a difficult thing to do, and the boy had managed it spectacularly.

“Pompous little prat!” Sirius had groused later that night. “Acting all 'don’t mess with me, I know all about war ' when he’s just another kid!”

“Yeah … but he has actually killed a Death Eater …” Peter had pointed out uncertainly.

Sirius and James had scowled at that. “Well, maybe it’s about time we actually do something too,” James had muttered with a significant look to Sirius.

Yeah, that kid lit a fire under their arses.

Yet his reluctant admiration for the way that the kid had so gotten under his friends’ skins didn’t lessen Remus’ own unease about the squi – boy. He had long been obsessing over the boy’s comments to him at the Hog’s Head some months ago, when he had all but said he somehow knew about Remus’ condition and his romps in the Forest on the full moon. The other Marauders had been furious and had wanted to break into the pub and cast some secrecy binding spell or other on the kid, but Remus didn’t have the heart to let his friends break into private property and assault some defenseless boy.

The boy’s subsequent trouble with the Ministry, on the other hand, sure proved that he wasn’t as defenseless as Remus had thought and, more importantly, had convinced James and Sirius that breaking into the Hog’s Head and targeting the kid was a very bad idea. If the sq – boy didn’t manage to stop them, then they were convinced the terrifying owner would.

Lily and Marlene in front of him were watching the boy as well, as was, he discovered as he cast his eye about the room, just about the entire class. The boy had to feel the eyes of more than a dozen teenagers on him, but there was no pause in the staccato beat of his knife as he chopped pungous onions, and his face was blank.

As he gazed blatantly at the boy (what was his name again?), it suddenly occurred to Remus that he didn’t really seem the type to blab about Remus’ lycanthropy, unless Remus or the Marauders forced his hand. He could have said something during the argument the other day, but he hadn’t … And he’s a squib. Sirius may be right that he’s a prat, but he does know what the world is like, especially for people like us. All he really did back then was warn me. Pretty politely, actually, given the circumstances.

A few of the Slytherins were mumbling angrily, but the arrival of the corpulent Professor Slughorn staved off any potential plans they may have been forming, at least for the moment.

“Ah, here you all are! Now, I see that you’ve noticed we’re being joined today by a guest!” Slughorn beamed at the class. “Young mister – ah – this fine young man (he doesn’t remember the boy’s name either, Remus thought) is simply here to help me prepare ingredients for the bulk potions I’ll be making to help resupply the Hospital Wing, so let’s just leave him be, shall we?”

“But sir,” Wendy Slinkhard simpered, “if a squib touches magical ingredients, doesn’t it, like, render them powerless for use in potions?”

The boy continued chopping, as if oblivious.

“Oh ho, that old wives’ tale Miss Slinkhard? I would think someone in my own House would know better than to believe that little myth. In fact, E. M. L. Potions, run by very dear old friend Euclid Lawrence of the Hampshire Lawrences, uses squib labor for the preparation and packaging of many of its ingredients. A clever move that helps him keep his costs down so low!”

Some of the Slytherins looked scandalized. So did Lily and the Hufflepuffs, though Remus suspected it was for an entirely different reason than the Slytherins.

“So, have no fear of any adverse effects on our stores because of this, ah, young man’s help. Indeed, I’ve found he’s quite the dab hand with a knife!”

Dead silence blanketed the room, marred only by the steady chop chop chop of the boy cutting onions.

Remus winced. Did he seriously just say that out loud?

Slughorn’s face flushed so deep a red it was almost purple as he realized his gaffe. Chuckling awkwardly, the professor quickly moved on to quizzing them about the various ingredients for the Polyjuice potions that they were set to start on that day.

“Now then, that’s Lacewing flies, leeches, powdered bicorn horn, knotgrass, Boomslang skin, Valerian sprigs all sorted, but really, can no one tell me the last ingredient needed – other than a bit of the person whom one plans on turning into, of course!”

Remus looked around. Snape definitely could have, if he wasn’t busy gazing at Lily, and Lily probably could have, but she was too busy muttering about something under her breath to Marlene.

A tiny movement in the corner of the room caught Remus’ eye. Squinting, he saw the boy – still chopping away – mouth fluxweed to himself, seemingly unaware that he was doing so.

Why not? Remus raised his hand. “Fluxweed, sir?”

“Ah, there now, Mr. Lupin, I knew you had to have made it into this class somehow! Very good, five points to Gryffindor. Now you’ll need to pick your fluxweed …”

Padfoot and Prongs stared at him in shock. Potions, after all, was not one of Remus’ strong points. A glance at the squib – boy showed a very tiny small playing across his face.

No, he won’t tell on me. Remus was hit by the sudden conviction, though where it came from he couldn’t say, and then felt several stones’ worth of anxiety lift from his shoulders.

Soon the dungeon was filled with plumes of smoke as the bases for their Polyjuice potions simmered over their burners. Slughorn paraded around the class, offering little pointers here and here, especially to his favorites. He spent nearly twenty minutes speaking to Lily about Merlin-knows-what. Meanwhile, Remus’ ears pricked up at a whispered conversation from the Slytherin side of the room.

“It’s the gold one, not the blue one, that’s counter-indicated for pungous onions, you moron,” hissed Snape.

“This’ll really show that piece of shit,” another boy muttered.

Remus turned just in time to see Malquim Avery lob a golden jarlsap pod directly at the pungous onions on the boy’s cutting board.

It seemed to sail through the air in slow motion, rotating lazily as it bore down on the tray.

Lupin wasn’t good enough at Potions to remember exactly what the effect of combining a jarlsap pod with pungous onions was, but he was damn sure it was bad if Snape was in on it. He opened his mouth to say something – a warning, he supposed – but then found himself simply gaping.

Without even turning his head, the boy snapped out his hand and caught the pod, which made a satisfyingly solid slap  as his fingers curled around it. He didn’t look to find his attacker, didn’t call out to Slughorn, didn’t do anything, really, just set the pod well out of the way of the onions in the far corner of his table and continued chopping.

“Holy shit!” Sirius breathed. The Slytherins scowled. James’ mouth dropped open. The squi – boy seemed supremely unconcerned.

Remus raised his eyebrows and fought not to grin. Yeah, the kid might be arrogant, but you can’t say he doesn’t have style.



Harry smothered his smile as he carefully put the pod on the corner of the worktable. It would be easy enough to slip it into his mokeskin pouch when the students left and Slughorn turned his attention to preparing his next lesson.

Thank you, greasy git!

He and Ab had found that their work on Potions was severely hampered by their lack of access to a number of ingredients that were too expensive for them to purchase. These same materials, however, were in ready supply at Hogwarts. His three days with Slughorn so far had netted him quite the tidy haul. The jarlsap pod alone was worth at least three galleons and would provide enough of the sap for several potions.

At first, Harry had felt squeamish about stealing from Hogwarts, but Ab had reminded him that his fifth-year tuition had probably already been deducted from his Gringotts account in the future before he was Kissed.

So really, Hogwarts owed him.

Potions preparation was quickly becoming his favorite job after working with Hagrid. Sure, Slughorn turned out to be a smarmy bastard who made certain to highlight Harry’s squib status in every class (yet still couldn’t be bothered to learn his name), but he was also a far superior teacher to Snape. As Harry sliced, diced, minced, shredded, peeled, and squeezed, he kept his ears trained on Slughorn, whose lectures were surprisingly informative and even entertaining. After three days of five hours each in the Potions lab, Harry felt he had learned more than he had in his entire fourth year.

And attending today’s sixth-year class was definitely proving worthwhile. Of course, Mini-Snape and his crony hurling the jarlsap pod at him was pure luck, but he had to admit it felt good to hear Sirius’ shocked curse when he caught the thing. Finally getting to put those Seeking abilities to good use again, I suppose.

It was strange feeling the eyes of so many people he knew, but who didn’t know him, on his back. Snape, Lily, Sirius, James, Professor Lupin … All the real Marauders at school again.

As he continued to chop the foul-smelling magical onions, he found himself wondering what sort of things his dad and friends would be getting up to during the night’s full moon. Sure, the Marauders’ behavior annoyed him, but deep down he still cherished a rather romantic view of his father’s school years. Becoming illegal animagi, sneaking around under the Invisibility Cloak, using the Marauders’ Map to play pranks …

He barely refrained from slapping his own face.

The Marauders’ Map! I completely forgot about the Marauders’ Map! All they have to do is look at it once and see me on it, and I’m completely humped!

Harry stewed over the problem as the class ended and he surreptitiously pocketed the jarlsap pod, some fluxweed, boomslang skin, and a few other goodies. Slughorn barely reacted when Mrs. Norris showed up to escort Harry out of the castle now that his five hours of prescribed servitude had ended for the day. As he followed the kitten, its tail hitched high like a medieval standard, the memory of either Lupin or Sirius talking about the Map hazily flitted across his mind.

It was something … something about how they lost it. It got – it got – oh! It got confiscated in their seventh, or maybe their sixth year … Fred and George found it in Filch’s office in their first year, and gave it to me when they were fifth years!

Harry glanced at Mrs. Norris, a plan forming in his mind. I can’t remember if it was their sixth or seventh year … but that doesn’t matter. I’ll definitely change the timeline if I don’t do anything.

“Mrs. Norris? Mrs. Norris?” The kitten stopped and turned to look at him, sitting delicately on her haunches. “Uh, I know it’s about time for me to go, ma’am, ” – did I seriously just call a kitten ‘ma’am’? – “but there’s something important that I think Mr. Filch should know about.”

The kitten eyed him.

He crouched down. “Really! I think some Gryffindors are planning something!”

Mrs. Norris arched and curled herself around his outstretched hand. He gave her a thorough scratching behind her ears. “Please, can you take me to wherever Mr. Filch is?”

The kitten returned to her earlier position ahead of him, hitched her tail up, and took off in the direction of the Charms corridor. Smiling, Harry followed.

A few minutes later and Harry found Filch attempting to wash some graffiti off a statue of Kallipygia of Keos, the witch who once had wooed a thousand warlocks. The man turned with a glare when Harry first addressed him but, on seeing who it was, the glare almost melted into a smile. Almost.

“I’m sorry to bother you, Mr. Fi – I mean, Argus, but I saw something that I thought you should know about.” The man arched a suspicious eyebrow. “See, I was leaving the dungeons when I saw three Gryffindors – I think their names are Black, Lupin, and Potter – holding a huge, folded parchment that was a bit beat up. They were saying things like ‘Filch won’t catch us since we have this!’ and ‘it’ll be a great prank so long as no one finds the parchment.’ I don’t know what the parchment was, but I thought it might be something they shouldn’t have or that would cause you trouble.”

Now Filch really smiled.



The caretaker stopped him on his way to the dungeons early the next morning. Filch tossed him a few – probably confiscated – pumpkin pasties and grinned.

“Thanks for the tip, Harry. Don’t rightly know what that parchment was, but those four idiots who call themselves the Marauders all looked near tears when I caught ‘em out and relieved ‘em of their possession of it. Tucked away nice and safe in my secure files now.”

Harry smiled back. “Glad to hear it, Argus, and I’m happy to help.”

Filch walked away whistling a jaunty tune, while Harry considered the best ways to get access to the man’s files and borrow the Map for himself.

As long as it’s back there in time for Fred and George’s first year, it’s all mine. Sorry Marauders, but your sacrifice is for a good cause.



June 17, 1977


Spring passed into early summer with a flurry of activity. Harry continued to try to learn from Ab, Pel, and his unsuspecting ‘instructors’ at Hogwarts. Between his studies, his service to wizards, and helping Ab and Quisby keep the Head running, Harry felt as though he’d never get a moment to just hang out in the forest with Colin and Goat again.

Indeed, manning the Head in the early evenings before Quisby showed up was starting to become Harry’s responsibility, as was getting things ready for the day on the weekends. Ab had taken to disappearing at random times, only to stomp in later looking even more cross than normal.

“Oi, ‘Arry,” Mundungus Fletcher had whispered one night in early June, “ya fink ol’ Ab has hisself a secret girlfriend?”

Harry had blinked and tried not to form a mental picture of Ab and some woman together doing – oh, too late. He pulled a tortured face. “Thanks, Dung, I can’t unsee that now.”

“He can ‘ave me Vera!” A drunken Dalcop offered magnanimously.

“Ah, everyone who’s anyone already has!” retorted Martial Sorner.

Harry had cursed them all as he mopped up the puddle from the tankard Dalcop had emptied over Martial’s head for that one. Apparently, Dalcop could say whatever he wanted about his wife, but no one else better dare to.

It seemed everyone else was busy as well. The Aurors, he heard, had been inundated with calls about domestic disputes, petty theft, public drunkenness, and public brawling. As the war slowly heated up, so did everyone’s tempers. Auror Alice had even sent Harry a last-minute message to meet her instead at the Three Broomsticks for their monthly check-in. He found her in the kitchens in the middle of rousting the old homeless man they’d seen on their first walk through the village. The thoroughly shnockered man had taken to throwing bread loaves at the cooks and cursing inarticulately.

“Meeting time, Harry,” Alice had called with a grin as she crouched to stun the drunken wizard. “You doing anything illegal that I should know about, and are you still respecting wizards – Stupefy! – as your betters, blah blah – Stupefy! – blah?”

The man fell to the ground in a heap.

“Nope, nothing illegal that you should know about, and sure, still licking the boots of every wand-wielder I see,” Harry responded from behind a half-open door, thoroughly amused.

“Great,” she huffed as she put magic-dampening cuffs on the man. “Good talk! See you next month.” And she and the loaf-chucking carouser were gone in a crack of apparition.

Today, however, as Harry returned from a rather, ahem, productive morning in the greenhouses (Sprout didn’t really supervise him much at all as she set him to pruning non-threatening herbs, which gave him plenty of chances for opportunistic harvesting of various magical plants), he found Ab sitting at a table in the still unopened public room, apparently waiting for him.

“Sit.”

Harry sat, giving Ab a searching look. “What’s going on?”

The old bartender looked at him in frank appraisal. “Wasn’t sure if I should tell you this, but … well, s’ppose you should know.” He sat back in his chair. “Shit’s probably goin’ to go down, and soon. You are not to get involved, you hear me?”

“Huh? What – what are you talking about?”

“I’m sure by now you’ve figured out I use the pub to get information, yeah? Stuff about that Dark Lord and his boys that I tell my brother?”

Harry nodded impatiently.

Ab sighed. “Well, me an’ some others who keep an eye on different folks have all been hearin’ rumblin’ about the same thing. Talk that the Death Eaters have somethin’ planned for the day Hogwarts sends the kids home for the year.”

Harry sat forward in excitement. “But that’s next Friday! What are they going to do?”

Ab shook his head. “No one’s really sure. Some mutterin’ about the Hogwarts Express. My brother thinks that they’re goin’ to attack the train on its way to Kings Cross, or maybe hit Platform 9 ¾ itself. Him and his band a’ lobcocks are settin’ up guards on the train an’ outposts with folks ready to Apparate in all along the route and at the station.”

Though he was rather curious about this “band of lobcocks” of the headmaster’s, Harry pushed that off for later. “But, what? You don’t think that’s the plan?”

“I don’t know! Maybe.” Ab bit out in frustration. “But it makes no bloody sense for Voldemort to attack a train full of kids, especially since a bunch of ‘em are his own followers’ sprogs. Man’s still trying to get recruits, build up credibility for his cause, see? Worst thing he could do right now is show himself to be a murderous lunatic who’ll even threaten pureblood kiddies. Same problem if he hits the platform.”

That … that makes a lot of sense.

Harry bit his lip in confusion. “So why does Dumbledore think that he’ll do it?”

“Albus knows this man, says he isn’t the most stable a’ sorts. I don’t know …” Well, Dumbledore has a point there. Some of Voldemort’s plans in my time weren’t exactly sensible. “Hitting the train or the platform would be a big statement, and Albus reckons that Voldemort’s gettin’ tired of stayin’ relatively quiet. Nothing big’s happened since Hayle but for those attacks on the outreach offices.”

“So what do you think he’s going to do?”

A dark cloud settled over Ab’s features as the man sighed. “Honestly? I’m not really sure. But if he ain’t goin’ for drama … well, me and a few others I know suspect whatever he’s plannin’ will happen way after the Express gets to London. All the kids from magical households’ll just Floo, Portkey, or Side-Along home. But the muggleborns … they’ll have to go through the station to cars and other trains with their families.”

A lead weight settled in Harry’s stomach. “You think he’s going to go after them, don’t you?”

“Aye, I suspect so. I just don’t think he’s ready to piss off the purebloods who might be considerin’ supportin’ him. But the muggleborns … Hell, takin’ some of them out might actually win some folks over to his side, and it’ll certainly please the ones already there. But if he does this, then whatever he’s goin’ to do to them though, won’t be big or flashy, I reckon. He’s not gonna send Death Eaters to fight in the middle of the muggle part of Kings Cross – he might be evil, but I can’t see anyone in his spot riskin’ alienatin’ his base by violating the Statute a’ Secrecy … No, it’s gonna be quiet, that’s my bet. Quiet and clever. Maybe just follow them right to their homes and kill ‘em there. Make it a muggle problem, not something for the Aurors to care about.”

In his mind’s eye, Harry imagined Hermione happily chattering to her parents about her adventures that year as masked figures in black robes burst in and filled her kitchen with green light.

“And … and is Dumbledore planning anything in case this is Voldemort’s plan?”

“No. He ain’t. Like I said, he thinks the attack’ll be on the train itself or the platform.” Ab sighed. “To be fair, he does only have so many people to work with. He just can’t cover both possibilities.”

“Fuck,” Harry breathed. “But what about the Aurors? Why does his group or whatever have to be the only ones taking care of this?”

“Think, boy! DMLE’s sure to have some of his spies in it. At least Albus is able to try to protect folks with people he can trust aren’t spies.”

Harry refrained from rolling his eyes and reminding Ab of Peter Pettigrew. He wouldn’t be a spy for at least a while yet anyway.

“Now,” Aberforth continued gruffly, “I’ve been workin’ with some folk who are concerned about the possible targetin’ a’ Muggleborn and we’re tryin’ to get things set up –”

“You’re helping?!” Harry blurted out incredulously.

Ab glared. “Aye. I am. I’ve been told that doin’ what you can to save people is the sort’a thing decent folk do,” he retorted in a flat voice.

Harry bit back a smile and said nothing. He … he really listened to me that night, I guess.

Anyhow, we’ve got a plan –”

“Can I know what it is?”

“Well you will, if you’d stop bloody interruptin’ me!” Ab snapped back and Harry mumbled an apology. “As I was tryin’ to say, I’ve been workin’ with some folks to set somethin’ up. The sister of a man who works for the Department of Magical Transportation – Caradoc Dearborn’s his name – is teaching Muggle Studies at the school this year. She’s been tryin’ to discreetly warn the muggleborn that they might be in some real danger, though she’s gotta be careful it don’t get back to my brother or to the Ministry. Both want to avoid a panic, so aren’t really contacting the muggleborn families at all about the war if they can help it. So far she’s got about twelve muggleborn and their families in the know. Doc Dearborn’s managed to get portkeys authorized for most of ‘em on the sly. They’ll take the keys to the port in Hull, where there’ll be a boat waitin’ to take ‘em all on to Belgium. After that, they’ll probably try to find places for themselves at Beauxbatons or Ilvermorny or wherever.”

Harry furrowed his brow. “Why not just portkey them straight to Belgium?”

Aberforth shook his head. “Impossible to get permission for that many international portkeys without goin’ through a couple of Ministry offices. We know that he has spies all over the Ministry, so we can’t risk any a’ them noticin’. Plus, it’d be a job to get international portkeys for muggleborns, let alone their families.” He paused thoughtfully. “Originally thought to put them on one those muggle flyin’ things, er –”

“Airplanes,” Harry supplied.

“Aye, those. But the notion of trying to protect somethin’ that high up that could be hit by a spell from the ground had us all too worried. Boat’s much easier to guard, see? Anyhow, it’s goin’ to be a big job. We can’t just meet the families at the station, as that calls attention to what we’re up to and might start a fight in the middle of Kings Cross. Different groups of us are set to meet up with a couple of families each at their houses or in London to get them to the harbor with portkeys and by Side-Along.”

Harry nodded slowly, taking it all in. This was all very … involved. “Let me help – I can fight.”

Ab snorted. “Like hell. You’re too young, you ain’t good enough yet, and you get caught an’ the ‘Gamot would have your arse. Plus, you really want to come out as a wizard to a group of folks you don’t know?”

Dammit, dammit, dammit.

“Now I’m tellin’ you all this for a few other reasons. First, I know you’ve noticed I’ve been out, and I don’t want you getting it in your head to interfere. Period. You’d maybe find out anyway, as the Head is one of a few places people are to go to if things go bad. Quisby won’t be in that night until eight, so you’ll be holding this place down. If things get hairy, people might start showing up in the stables, so I want you to be prepared for that. You and me are going to spend this weekend making healin’ potions. I ain’t no healer and neither are you, but as much as you’ve been hurt in the past, I expect you know your way around the basics.”

Harry nodded, pleased that he would actually have a possible part to play even if he wasn’t able to join the fighting. “But why come here? Why not just go St. Mungo’s?”

“Fightin’ for muggle families in the muggle world? Too easy for that to be turned into a violation of the Statute of Secrecy, even if all the fightin’ is done at someone’s house. Plus, even if what he do ain’t illegal, none of us would like to out themselves as people opposin’ Voldemort. We’ll all be wearing glamours for that as well. Injured’ll come here or one of the other safe places first, then go on if they need to with a suitable story to explain their injuries.”

Ab regarded him seriously. “I also expect not to have to tell you to keep your mouth shut about this. A lot of people are goin’ to be stickin’ their necks out for folks who got no way of fightin’ back. Tell no one, includin’ Quisby. Pel knows somethin’s up, but I’m keepin’ him outta it in case we need a solicitor. In the meantime, if you hear anyone say ‘Platform Nine,’ you haul your arse straight to me. That’s the code phrase we’re usin’ for this foolishness.”

“I will, Ab.” Harry gave the man a small half-smile. “I – er – I think it’s really great that you and other people are doing this.”

The man dismissed him with a snort. “Big damn heroes, the lot of us,” he spat sarcastically.



20 June, 1977

The next Monday morning a grumbling Harry trudged to the Hospital Wing nursing his bleeding hands. He’d been working with Hagrid again, and the younger knarls Hagrid oversaw had taken to following him around again. This time, though, Harry offered them some bread, which caused them to fly into a fury and attack him with great prejudice. Okay, so now I know. Don’t give food or anything to knarls if you don’t want to spend half an hour pulling quills out of your hands.

He had told Hagrid he was fine, but the half-giant insisted he check in with Madame Pomfrey to get bandaged up and a potion to fight off infection.

When he arrived the wing was empty of students, while Madame Pomfrey looked to be taking an inventory of her stores.

“Excuse me, ma’am, but” – Pomfrey’s eyes widened when she saw his hands – “Hagrid sent me because of these.”

The matron gave his injured hands an almost predatory glance before bustling him over to a bed. “Were you rolling in knarls, child? My goodness, you should have come straight to me!”

I did come straight to you.

“Well,” she harrumphed, “these’ll be tender for a while, but I can fix them well enough that by tomorrow you won’t even know it happened.” She departed for the store cupboards and came back with a few potions. “Well, drink up!”

As Harry swallowed the last of the vile concoctions, Pomfrey gave him a strange look and ushered him into her office. A flick of her wand had privacy wards in place, to Harry’s astonishment. “I don’t know if you realize it, but I am, having treated you earlier in the spring, aware of, well,” she faltered, “what you are, young man.”

He looked at her, eyes clouded with suspicion. “Yeah. I am. But Ab told me that you can’t release that information without his authorization because you took some oath, right?”

“Indeed,” she nodded gravely. “But I feel it my duty to ask you: are you certain that hiding what you are and not attending school is truly in your best interest?”

“Yes.” His answer was immediate and absolute. “I really appreciate your concern, ma’am, but sometimes … sometimes being thought nothing is a lot safer and smarter than being something.” The matron still looked disquieted. “Besides, in a way the sentence the Wizengamot gave me has kind of helped. I’m learning a lot working with Hagrid, and helping Professors Sprout and Slughorn.” He smiled. “Even if they don’t realize they’re actually teaching me. And Ab teaches me tons at home as well.”

Pomfrey didn’t smile back. Instead, she was looking at him with an oddly appraising look. Fumbling for something more to say, he didn’t notice when she drew her wand and pointed it at his left hand. “Minor Abiunge!” Suddenly a thin cut appeared across the top of his hand and a narrow trickle of blood curled down to the side of his palm.

“What the hell?! Madame Pomf –”

The matron spoke over his shocked indignation as if giving a lecture. “There are a number of healing charms that can be used on lacerations, be they minor, such as this one, or more severe. The most basic of these is Sanus Redditus. To cast the spell, one need only make a gentle wave of their wand from the farthest edge of the cut to the closest edge while intoning the incantation and keeping their flow of magic constant, like so.” She pointed her wand at Harry, who was busy gaping at her. “Sanus Redditus.” The flesh on his hand immediately knit itself back together, all evidence of the cut erased.

Pomfrey pointed her wand at her own left hand. “Minor Abiunge!” A similar thin cut appeared. She handed him her wand. “Now you, Harry.”

Shocked, Harry nonetheless grasped the foreign wand, which seemed to sulk in his hand but grew a bit warm nonetheless, and copied her had motion. “Sanus Redditus.” Both smiled when her hand was suddenly unmarred.

“This charm will only work on relatively minor wounds, however. Perhaps later we’ll work on slightly more challenging ones.” Her grin turned rather devilish. “Tell me, what do you know of healing burns?”



24 June, 1977


Harry realized he had never truly appreciated how hard it had to have been to be Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley.

It wasn’t that he’d achieved some enlightened understanding about what it was like to be a brilliant muggleborn female or to be the youngest male in a poor, pureblood family. Such things, he would have said if asked, were probably beyond him.

But today for the first time he fully empathized with them as friends who had to sit patiently and wait while someone dear to them was off doing dangerous, terrifying things. Hermione had had to wait with an unconscious Ron while Harry went on to confront Snape-actually-Quirrell-actually-Voldemort in first year. Ron had been forced to stay behind in the caved-in corridor while Harry had gone on to the Chamber of Secrets. They’d both had to sit through how many Quidditch games when Harry deemed it advisable to nearly dive bomb straight into the earth, and had had to stay in the stands while he battled a dragon and entered a dark labyrinth filled with beasts, traps, and other horrors.

They’d had to sit and deal with the fact that they couldn’t really do anything to help their friend.

Being the person involved in life-or-death situations seemed surprisingly easier than being the person who had to wait for their loved one as they were involved in a life-or-death situation, Harry mused as he passed pints to the barflies who’d lumbered into the Head just after its opening on Hogwarts’ leaving day.

It was now half-three. In thirty minutes’ time, the Hogwarts Express would roll into Kings Cross station, and after that Ab and his cohorts would start trying to smuggle muggleborns and their families to a ship that would take them to Belgium.

All day Harry had guiltily entertained the hope that word would come the headmaster had been correct and Death Eaters attacked the train en route (of course, being soundly thrashed by the forces of Dumbledore’s unknown group in Harry’s fantasy).

No such news arrived. Ab left at half two to get into position.

Now Harry hoped that the intelligence suggesting an attack today was incorrect.

Three minutes to 4.

Dalcop was telling a story about how he stopped the neighbor’s kneazle from bringing him dead rodents. It seemed to involve an attempted obliviation, lots of alcohol, a miscast Incendio, and a furious Vera. He smiled vaguely and laughed when the others did.

4:45.

The families have to travel to wherever they’re meeting the wizard teams. They’re all in London, but that still takes time.
Harry realized he was standing in the kitchen. He had no idea why he had come down there.

5:20.

Harry poured Mundungus a pint of Bungbarrel Spiced Mead instead of the Knotgrass Mead he’d ordered, much to the thief’s surprised delight.

5:45.

Harry was interrupted from thinking the worst by the sound of a persistent, loud chime that he knew only he could hear. Ab had keyed him into the stable wards.

Someone had just portkeyed or Apparated into the Head.

Jerked immediately out of his distracted obsessing, Harry barked at Pel to handle the bar as he nearly ran towards the door to down to the stables. He never even heard Pel’s startled “Okay, Harry…”

Please be okay Ab. Please be okay Ab. Please be okay Ab.

He thundered down the steps and burst into the stable to find a huge bear of a man, maybe in his late twenties, with a farmboy face and one arm hanging onto his shoulder by nothing but bone and a few strips of frayed, bloody flesh.

Who the hell –?

Glamours. Ab said everyone was wearing glamours. This could be him. This could be anyone.

The man’s eyes rolled back into his head and he began to convulse. Harry stared at him dumbly.

What – what do I do? I have my wand… But even if I were to use magic, I don’t know any healing spells for something like
this.

Suddenly his mind seemed to reel itself back to life. Yeah, but I’ve been hurt before enough to do something, at least. Tourniquet. Have to slow down the blood loss. Blood-Replenishing Potion. Stitching Elixer. Pain Potion.

Harry stripped off his belt and snapped over to the man to tighten it just below his soaked shoulder. The man grunted a bit, but seemed so far gone that he barely registered the application of the makeshift tourniquet. Without really even thinking Harry wandlessly summoned the three potions from their place over on a barn table – he’s so out of it he won’t notice that – and began pouring them into the man’s mouth, massaging his throat until he swallowed. Seconds later the blood slowed and the frayed flesh of his arm started trying to knit itself back together.

But there just wasn’t enough skin or muscle left for that.

He is going to die. Harry ran over to the potions that were lined up on the table. None of these can do anything more for something like this.

What can I do? Should I try to get him upstairs and Floo him to St. Mungo’s?

Feeling desperately helpless, he went back to the man, sat down, and held his hand.

Somebody who knows what to do, please get here soon, he prayed into the silence. Even the goats had paused whatever they were doing.

It seemed like hours, but couldn’t have been more than a minute or two, when the alarm chimes sounded again in Harry’s head as two women portkeyed in. He had a brief impression of a grandmother and a redhead before they dissolved their glamours and rushed to the fallen man.

Harry scampered out of their way.

One was a pretty woman in her twenties with dark hair and a kind face. “Oh Merlin, Doc! Doc! Please, can you hear me?” Tears started streaming down her face.

The other, about the same age but tall, darker-haired, and powerfully built, turned suspicious eyes on Harry. “Codeword!” she snapped.

“Oh, uh ‘Platform Nine’.”

Her hard face softened a bit. “Did you give him anything? Do anything?”

Everything was going so fast. Harry begged his mind to catch up. “Yeah, yeah – uh – I put my belt on as a tourniquet, then I gave him Blood Replenishing, Stitching, and Pain potions. I don’t know if they did anyth –”

“That’s good work.” She turned to her companion. “Guin? Guin! You and Doc had a cover story sorted, right?”

The smaller woman nodded vaguely. “Yes … it wasn’t … we didn’t think of something to cover something like this though … but I can modify it a bit.” She seemed to pull herself together. “Yeah, I can cover this.”

“Do it. Get him to Mungo’s now … and please update me when you can.”

The dark-haired woman nodded, grasped the man (Doc, Harry’s mind supplied) and Disapparated them both with a pop. Harry winced at the ward bells rang in his head at their departure.

The remaining woman sighed and ran a bloody hand through her hair as she sat back against a bale of straw. She really was quite big, easily over six feet tall, but right now she seemed to shrink as she gazed into nothingness.

Harry ran his eyes over her and noted a number of lacerations and bruises. He moved to the potions table and grabbed a Stitching Elixer, bruise salve, and a Pain potion.

“Ma’am?” he said hesitantly as he slowly approached her. She met his eyes and he held out the potions.

She blinked and accepted them. “Thanks, kid.”

Neither spoke as she downed the potions and began applying the salve. But Harry was coming unraveled as every second ticked by. He finally couldn’t take it anymore.

“Please, do you know, can you tell me if Ab is okay?”

The woman looked at him in surprise, as if she had forgotten he was there, but then gave him a sharp nod. “Yeah, he is. A team or two obviously ran into trouble, but I didn’t hear that his had. I expect he’s with the families that … that made it to the boat.”

That must mean some families didn’t make it. Christ.

The woman was still speaking. “I’m sure he’ll be back soon.” He could tell she was trying to sound comforting, but her voice was shaking a little. “I, ah, I’m Adelis Dearborn. That … that man’s my brother Doc – I mean, Caradoc, and his wife Guin.”

“Oh! You’re a professor at Hogwarts then, right?”

She smiled a bit as she nodded. “You did well for my brother. Thank you.”

Harry bobbed his head. “I really hope that he’ll be okay, Professor.”

They lapsed into a short silence that was abruptly broken when the woman cursed. “Shit! Kid – when you found him, did he look like he did when we arrived?”

 “Of course! I mean – I didn’t do that to him!

She waved her hand in irritation. “No, I know that, but his features – big, brown hair, twenties – he looked like that when you got here?”

“Well, yeah,” Harry affirmed in confusion.

The woman put her head in her hands. “Oh Merlin. His glamour must have dropped when he got hurt.” She stood and began to pace back and forth across the stable floor until she stopped abruptly and said, more to herself than Harry, “So they probably know. They know Doc was involved.” A bitter chuckle. “Well, shit.”

Both jumped when they heard a pop just outside the stable door, and Ab burst into the room. He had a few cuts and there was some blood on his robes, but otherwise he looked fine. Harry thought he might burst from the relief that suddenly coursed through him.

“Heard about Doc. Guin take him?” he asked without preamble.

Professor Dearborn nodded quickly. “We lose any more?”

“Nah. And all the families that made it are on the ship. They just pulled outta Hull a few minutes ago. Burke’ll contact us when his brother gets ‘em to Belgium.”

The young professor sighed. “Doc lost his glamour. Not sure when.” As Ab cursed, she continued “I better get back to the school in case someone from Mungo’s or the Ministry comes to notify me that he’s been hurt.”

As she left, she glanced at Harry. “Thanks again, kid.”

Ab sat down heavily. “You got questions. We’ll deal with ‘em later. Just know we got most of the families out. But not all. Doc was the worst of the injured.” He hit Harry suddenly with a cleaning spell that vanished the man’s blood from his robes. “I’m gonna rest a bit. You hold things down upstairs ‘til Quisby shows. Don’t tell anyone about this.

“I understand … I’m really glad you’re okay, Ab.”

Ab grunted but his eyes were soft. “Off with you. Work do to an’ the job ain’t done.”



25 June, 1977


Harry didn’t see Ab the rest of the night. Quisby was hacked off when Harry informed him that Ab was under the weather – the man wasn’t keen on doing a Friday night by himself – but Harry just shrugged and observed his nine p.m. curfew anyway. When he got to the stable, Ab was gone, presumably having either retired to his bedroom or departed to meet with his contacts.

He was up with the dawn the next day to wait on the front stoop for the owl that would bring the morning’s early edition of the Prophet. Would the wizards really notice what happened yesterday? His eyes were busy scanning the skies, so he didn’t immediately notice the trio approaching the pub.

“Morning, kid.”

Harry jerked his gaze in front of him with a start.

Nice constant vigilance there.

Professor Dearborn, looking much less disheveled, smiled as she walked past him up the stairs to the pub. A very tall man with dark skin gave him a curious look but said nothing.

The third in the trio was … well Harry honestly couldn’t think of any word other than “perfect” to describe the youngish man whose eyes twinkled at him with suppressed mirth. He looked like a statue of some dark-haired, blue-eyed Greek god come to life. A Greek god clad in black trousers that were entirely too tight and a puffy black shirt with laces up the chest. Harry knew logically that in those clothes the man should have looked ridiculous but … Well, I think Hermione would probably say they make him look ‘dashing’ instead.

He gave Harry a frankly appraising glance. “Well, good morning,” he beamed a gleaming white smile and arched an eyebrow suggestively.

“Er –” Maybe Hermione would say ‘rakish’ instead

The man gracefully stretched forth his hand, giving Harry a view of a polished silver knife at his waist and a silver wand holster around his forearm. “Nice to meet you. I am Caffrey Burke, Captain of The Bachelor’s Delight and one of the infamous Burke Brothers.” His smile grew wider. “You may have heard of us.” (*)

Although his apparent arrogance and flashy smile screamed “Gilderoy Lockheart,” the air of mischief about him gave Harry a very different impression.

“Uh – no, no I haven’t sir. But it’s nice to meet you?” Why did I make that a question? Harry felt his face grow warm as he shook the man’s hand.

“Oh, for heaven’s sake! He’s what, fourteen, fifteen?” Dearborn scoffed. “Keep it in your pants, Caffrey. We’re here for business, not child molestation.”

Captain Burke affected a disappointed pout. “Too bad that, wouldn’t you say, green eyes?”

“Huh?” Harry flushed more deeply and floundered, then promptly begged the world to swallow him whole. What the fuck am I on about?

The bloody world was apparently ignoring him that day, and did not oblige.

The two men laughed in an amiable enough way as they went into the bar. “He’s just messing with you. Ignore that one, kid, if you want to stay sane,” smiled Professor Dearborn. “Oh, and you should probably go back to your room. A few more are coming, and they might get spooked since they don’t know you.”

Harry nodded as he watched the door swing closed behind her and tried to shake off the palpable weirdness that he felt after meeting Captain Burke. He waited a few beats, then hightailed it around the Head, through the stable door, then on to the kitchen. He paused and listened for several minutes until he was sure he had placed the sound of footsteps. Yes, they’re definitely upstairs in the hall. The sound of their tread stopped abruptly. Some kind of silencing spell or ward on whatever guestroom they’re in?

Biting his lip, he figured it was worth a shot. He moved over to the small painting and whispered “Ariana? Can you hear me? Are you there? … Ariana?”

It took a good ten minutes of gentle prodding to get a very grumpy looking young portrait to stalk into the frame and give him a venomous glare.

“Oh … I forgot you aren’t a morning person, Ariana.”

She scowled and made a gesture that clearly meant get on with it.

“Sorry, but would you mind tuning the radio to whatever room the meeting is taking place in?”

The thundercloud on her face dissipated a bit as she grew thoughtful. A few moments later she ran out of the frame and returned a piece of parchment from the Yellow Room.

?meht no yps ot tnaw uoy wonk bA seoD

Does Ab know you want to spy on them?

“Er – well, no. No, he doesn’t … But it’s not like I’m going to tell anyone what they say! I just want to know what’s going on. I can beg if you want …”

Ariana wavered and made a gesture – Oh all right then.

She sat in the armchair and tuned the radio until it snagged on a conversation already in progress in one of the guest rooms.

“—hardly philanthropists!” Burke. “We helped once, yes, but you want The Bachelor or The Elizabeth to help your cause again, it’s going to take gold from somewhere. We have to pay our crews, after all.”

“Understood. We do appreciate your assistance, and we’ll keep it in mind.” Professor Dearborn. “How about your people, Cramer?”

“At this point, I think Clark would agree we’re satisfied with a mutually beneficial arrangement.” The voice that responded was feminine, breathy, and high-pitched, but there was a biting edge to it. Harry suddenly envisioned a delicate hummingbird with a razor-sharp beak. He heard another man murmur in agreement. “My friends certainly enjoyed the opportunity to do something more to help others against those shits,” the breathy voice went on. He could almost hear a feral smile through the radio.

I – I think I know that voice. From where? His mind prodded at his faint recognition like a tongue prods a loose tooth.

“Good. As for casualties,” continued Professor Dearborn, “we lost the two families who didn’t make it to the rendezvous point, and the father of one of the students in my group. There’s no evidence that the Death Eaters expected us – they seemed shocked when we pulled our wands, and the one who hit Doc got in a lucky shot. Our most immediate problem, as I already said, is that Doc’s glamour failed. Armstrong’s trying to keep an associate near his hospital room at all times, and Guin’s there. We’ll just have to wait and see if anything comes of this.”

“Will he live?” the familiar, girlish voice – Cramer – inquired.

There was no answer, so Harry assumed the professor had nodded when he heard the voice say “Good.”

That voice is definitely familiar … But I don’t know anyone named Cramer … Harry started running through every magical adult female he knew, which he soon discovered was not a terribly long list.

“Right then,” grunted Ab. “We’ll see what happens and meet in a week’s time. Here?”

A few murmured assents followed, but then a pleasant tenor interrupted. “What about your boy, Ab? Saw him outside when I arrived. Can he be trusted?”

“He’s the one who kept Doc alive long enough for the Healers to pull him through, Will,” Professor Dearborn said.

“Don’t worry about him, Armstrong,” Ab added. “Boy who knows what’s important and how to keep a secret. You can trust Harry. If you need to get a message to me and I ain’t around, he’s one you can tell.”

Harry stopped reviewing possible owners of the breathy voice long enough to enjoy a small swell of satisfaction.

“Harry?” The woman called Cramer inquired. “Harry the squib?” Ab must have nodded. “Isn’t he the one who – back in April – with Walden Macnair?”

Ab must have nodded again, because a low, impressed whistle rang through the radio. “Really? That’s the little blighter who shuffled old Macnair off the mortal coil?” Captain Burke asked.

“Yeah,” responded Dearborn, “kid seems to know what he’s about. So, you scoundrel, you best leave off trying to corrupt the poor boy!”

“Are you serious? Oh Professor, now I’m definitely interested in corrupting him!”

“Touch the boy and he’ll have to be the one doing the fucking, Burke,” Ab threatened flatly.

Cramer giggled. “From what I’ve heard, the boy can probably take care of himself just fine, Aberforth.” The woman sighed with relish. “I should see about getting him a little thank you gift. Because of him that cow Olive Hornby got sent up to Azkaban.” Her tinkling laugh turned vicious. “I just doubt the Dementors will appreciate her fashion sense.”

The others might have responded, Harry didn’t know. He vaguely registered the sounds of people getting to their feet through the radio, but something the woman said had gotten caught on a loop in his brain.

… Because of him that cow Olive Hornby

Olive Hornby …

Wait. I knew that name before I came to the past, before she ever came to the Head to do the inspection. I didn’t recognize it then though …

… Because of him that cow Olive Hornby

… Olive Hornby …

… Because … Olive Hornby …

The voice in his mind grew clearer.

… Because Olive Hornby …

… Because Olive Hornby was teasing me …

… Because Olive Hornby was teasing me about my glasses …

… I just doubt the Dementors …

… I just remember …

… I just remember seeing a pair …

… I just remember seeing a pair of great big yellow eyes …


Harry’s mouth hung open in shock and his mind stuttered in absolute disbelief.

No way. This can’t … She can’t … I must have misheard, I must have

Coming to life as quickly as he had fallen into the trance of his memories, he raced up the kitchen stairs and into the public room just as Ab’s guests were coming down the stairs. His eyes flew past the Captain, the professor, a thin red-haired man, Ab, the dark-skinned man (Armstrong? his mind idly guessed) and landed on the petite woman standing on the landing. Despite being in her late forties or so, she wore skin-tight brown pants that made even Burke’s trousers look baggy and a tattered safari vest covered in pockets. Her glossy brown hair was streaked with gray and hit her shoulders cut in a perfectly straight line. Glasses perched atop her nose, glasses whose rims were silver and stuck out a bit at the top of the frames, extending into sharp, jagged points. They gleamed with perfect polish, reminding him of surgical knives.

As she turned to look at the sudden intrusion, recognition thrummed in him like adrenaline injected straight into his bloodstream.

It’s her. My God. It’s really her.

Moaning Myrtle stood in the Hog’s Head.

A walking, talking, middle-aged, decidedly not dead Moaning Myrtle.

“Well bugger me,” Harry breathed.

The woman cocked an eyebrow his way. “What’s the matter with you? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

Chapter Text

XV. The Ghosts of Memories Past

25 June, 1977

Harry’s hand shook as he downed a big gulp of his second glass of Ogden’s. Ab must know this is serious. He broke out the good stuff.

He distantly heard the rush of the Floo and the sound of someone wiping themselves off.

“All right, all right, I’m here, though it’s too bloody early for any civilized person to be conscious. Especially a person who was rudely woken an' is in dire need of a hangover potion. As in, give me a hangover potion, you bastard,” Pel grumbled.

“Keep your knickers on. Here.” A chink of a glass on the counter.

Pel breathed in relief. “Oh, thank Merlin for these.”

Suddenly Ab and Pel were at his table looking at him expectantly.

“Huh?”

The others – and her – they must have left. Shouldn’t I have noticed them leaving?

“Lad! I said, you want to explain what bug is up your arse now that Pel’s here like you wanted?”

Harry took another swig of his whiskey. I asked for Pel? His mind couldn’t seem to work correctly. “Okay. Okay. That woman … the one who was here. Myrtle.”

Ab slammed his fist down. “Hold it there, boy, she doesn’t want folks talking about what she’s up to.”

Pel laughed. “Well, if you’re talking about Myrtle Cramer, I suspect she’s up to illegal enchanting, trafficking in illegally-enchanted muggle items, an' probably not a little bit of vigilantism, among many other new an' exciting crimes.”

The other two stared at him.

“What?” Pel asked innocently. “She does late-night deals in here all the time! An’ I was a solicitor, if you’ll recall. One day my money’ll run out an' I’ll have to take more cases. Doesn’t hurt to know folks who might find themselves in need of legal advice at a reasonable price.”

Ab was saying something. Harry’s mind … wasn’t doing all that much.

More whiskey. More whiskey now.

Yes, that’s a fine idea.

“Lad! Would you listen?! What the fuck are you on about Myrtle Cramer for?”

“I – I knew her. I met her before. In my time.”

“So? You’ve met other people here that you knew there. Didn’t cause you to go soft in the head.”

Harry sighed shakily. “No, you don’t understand, I’m doing this all wrong …”

He paused and closed his eyes.

“Okay. Remember how I told you about the Chamber of Secrets, y’know, with the basilisk?” The older men both nodded impatiently. “And I know I mentioned that the Chamber had been opened before, in the ‘40s, by Tom Riddle – Voldemort – when he was a student. So, the last time he set the basilisk against students it killed one of them. A girl. Her name was Myrtle Warren. But see, I met her, ‘cause she became a ghost. We called her Moaning Myrtle. She lived in the girls’ loo where the entrance to the Chamber was. I talked to her a whole bunch of times in my second year, and then again last year. That woman – the one you call Cramer – she’s definitely Moaning Myrtle. Only she grew up. She … she should be dead. Dead as a teenager, not some middle-aged, not dead woman!”

He was breathing too fast. He took a swig of his whiskey only to realize that Ab, the bastard, had switched his glass for one with water.

Pel and Ab stared at him.

The former solicitor roused himself first. “But, Harry,” he said gently, “no students died when the Chamber of Secrets was opened in the ‘40s. I remember it well – several got petrified, but then the attacks stopped. Rumour was that’s the reason poor Hagrid was expelled, that he’d been keeping the beast that was responsible.”

Ab nodded. “Weren’t any deaths, lad. I’d not have forgotten somethin’ like that.”

Harry felt like he was going insane. “But there was one! I know there was! I saw it all in Tom Riddle’s diary, and I know Myrtle. Hell, she even got in a bubble bath with me last year!”

Pel’s eyes widened. “Well done there, lad. Didn’t think you had it in you!”

Harry sputtered. “Oh for – she’s a ghost! It was creepy, really. Anyway, I know it’s her. She even hates Olive Hornby just like her ghost did! And her name was Warren before, right? Did she get married or something?

A curt nod from Aberforth.

This just doesn’t make any sense. I know Moaning Myrtle! I remember her. I’m not crazy!

The concerned looks from Ab and Pel made Harry realize he’d said that all out loud.

Ab made a helpless gesture. “I don’t know what to tell you, lad. You remember one thing, Pel and me know the truth is different. No one died in the Chamber of Secrets fiasco. Myrtle Warren married some bloke. Grew up. Didn’t die as a teenager. It’s just facts, Harry.”

Pel, however, suddenly sat very still, his hand over his mouth and his eyes very wide.

“What is it Pel?”

“ … Maybe it’s not …”

“Not what?” Ab barked impatiently.

The old solicitor shook his head as if to clear it. “Maybe … maybe they aren’t facts. Not really. Or maybe they’re definitely facts.” Both Harry and Ab made to press him but Pel waved them to silence. “Give me a mo'.” His eyes looked off into the distance. “All right. What do we know? We know that Myrtle Warren lived through Hogwarts an' grew up, got married. No one died in the Chamber. We also know –” he glared at Harry as the young man reared up indignantly “ – we also know that Myrtle Warren was killed by a basilisk when the Chamber was opened an' became a Hogwarts ghost. Agreed?”

The other two nodded, both looking thoroughly confused.

“We’re also agreed, generally speaking, that Harry isn’t insane.”

“Damn right,” the boy in question muttered while Ab snorted. “Where’re you goin’ with this? Spit it out, for fuck’s sake.”

“I –” Pel paused and then nodded to himself. “I think we’re all correct. All our facts are accurate. Both versions are true. So there’s only one explanation, so far as I can see.” He turned to Harry and licked his lips nervously. “How do you know you time travelled?”

“Huh?” That was the last question Harry would have expected. “Er – because I got Kissed in 1995 and I woke up in 1976,” he replied in a tone that said he now worried for Pel’s sanity.

But Pel just nodded. “Yes, the year’s different. An' because you were in what you perceived to be the past, in a time where people, events, an' things were largely mysteries to you, it was easy for you to chalk up any new thing that you didn’t know about as something from the past, yeah?”

I have no idea what he’s talking about.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Pel sighed. “Think, Harry, how much of what happened in the 1970s did you actually know before you came back here?”

Harry frowned and slowly began constructing a list. “Well, Voldemort was on the rise. My parents were at school. I know Dumbledore was headmaster, and that McGonagall, Sprout, oh – and Flitwick taught them… I know that Hagrid was the groundskeeper because he got expelled for the Chamber of Secrets … Mad-Eye Moody was an Auror during the war … Frank and Alice Longbottom got together at some point … um, some people became Death Eaters … Barty Crouch worked in the DMLE …”

“Keep going,” Pel urged.

“Er – the Whomping Willow got planted … my dad’s group of friends were called the Marauders and they, well they did a lot of cool things with magic … there were acromantula in the Forest … Filch worked at Hogwarts … Pomfrey too … Oh, and the Weasleys started having kids! Bill, Charlie, and Percy so far, the twins can’t have been born yet … I don’t, I don’t think I know any more.”

Pel smiled grimly. “How much do you really know, then?” At Harry’s confused look, he went on. “Can you list every student at Hogwarts in 1977? Can you list every offensive Voldemort took in the ‘70s? Can you list any offensive action Voldemort took in the ‘70s that you didn’t learn about here? Do you remember the precise details of any of them at all? Do you know the name of every Auror, or Ministry worker? What Ab and I were doing in ’77, again, apart from knowledge you got after the Kiss? Any of that?”

“No!” Harry cried, frustrated. “Of course I didn’t know that stuff! Hell, I still don’t know most of it. I only know little bits and pieces, most of it really general, okay? Look, I know I should have paid more attention to the history of Voldemort’s first rise – I could probably be way more helpful but –”

Pel shook his head. “That’s not what I mean. Before you came back, you knew as much about the decade before you were born as I know about the decade before I was born. Which is just bits an' pieces, general things an' things pertaining to my own family. This is precisely my point.”

“I don’t understand,” Harry said miserably.

“I think I may.” Ab’s voice was grave and incredulous at the same time. “I think I may at that.” He cleared his throat. “What Pel’s tryin’ to get at is that you don’t know enough, enough details, about the time you landed in to know if it’s any different than what your 1970s were, yeah Pel?”

Pel nodded. “Sure, many things are the same, most of them that we know of have to do with Hogwarts, the Potters, an' their friends, but it’s not like you, Harry, can look at a newspaper and say ‘wait, that didn’t  happen!’ If you hadn’t met Cramer, you might not have even noticed the differences. An' I bet there are differences. Likely a lot of them, though given how similar things seem to be, most can’t be too drastic.”

Harry shook his head. “Please, spit out whatever you’re trying to say, I just don’t get it.”

Ab and Pel shared a glance. “Lad,” Ab sighed, “Pel’s suggestin’ that you didn’t just time travel. He’s thinkin’ that, well, this ain’t even your world in the first place. That whatever that Kiss was, sent you to a, a what –?”

“Parallel universe,” supplied Peloother.

“Aye, a parallel universe. A world so like your own that you didn’t even notice it wasn’t the same one. You just figured anythin’ you didn’t know about or understand was because you were in the past.”

Pel laughed without humor. “Technically, you may not have even time-travelled. In our universe time might move at a different speed than in yours. You may have woken up on the real day after your Kiss, we just move nineteen years more slowly.”

Harry stared at them.

“Augustus Rookwood!” Ab suddenly shouted into the silence.

Numb, Harry could only say “Huh?”

Pel gasped. “That’s why there wasn’t any record of him!” The old solicitor’s eyes blazed with excitement. “Harry, you said that Augustus Rookwood was a Death Eater who infiltrated the Department of Mysteries, but we haven’t been able to find even a trace of any Rookwood since the last known one died the 1920s.”

“It’s ‘cause he doesn’t exist in our world,” Ab concluded. “Maybe his ancestor didn’t die off in yours, and thus he existed, but the man just isn’t here.”

Pel nodded emphatically. “Honestly, now that I think about it, if the Dark Lord had a person already in place in the Department of Mysteries, why in the world would Macnair an' the others have had to kidnap me in the first place? This Rookwood would know far more than I do, certainly.” He paused and looked at Harry, compassion in his eyes. “Oh Harry, this is the only explanation I can think of to account for Myrtle’s existence here, an' her death in, well, your world.”

Harry could barely find the breath for words. “So, so, I’m in a different universe?” The men nodded silently. “I – I – I seriously don’t know how to handle this.”

Ab gave him his tumbler of whiskey back and Harry slurped it down desperately.

Nope, that didn’t help. Still apparently in another fucking universe!

His hands were shaking and they wouldn’t stop.

Suddenly he knew he had to get out of there. Now. Right goddamn now!

So Harry ran. He had intended to dart through the stable door and out into the world, to the Forest maybe, but found himself instead only making it to his hay bed

I’ll never see Hermione and Ron or Sirius again. Not really.

Oh fuck. Oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck.

“Harry?”

“Lad?”

The two older men were in the doorway.

Harry only shook his head as he struggled to find words. “Things just won’t stop happening. I – I’m just … I’m tired,” he finally confessed.

Ab crouched down and handed him a glass of water. “Aye, lad, I ‘spect you are, at that.”

“I’ll never really see my friends again.” The admission felt like knives in his throat. “I mean, I was getting used to not getting to see them until I’m a grownup and they’re little kids, but … now it won’t really be them.” He couldn’t seem to raise his voice louder than a jagged whisper. “It’ll be other thems.”

There wasn’t much either man could say to that. After a few minutes they gave him some privacy and he tried to put himself back together. No thoughts buzzed in his head, and his emotions seemed to have fallen asleep.

Eventually, he realized he couldn’t stay moaning about his fate in the stable forever, so he slowly returned to the pub. Ab and Pel were in quiet conversation at the table.

“Harry,” Pel hesitated, “I can’t imagine, well, what this must be like. But we did think of something positive in this whole mess.”

The boy looked at him blearily.

“You’re free,” Peloother said. “I mean, you’ve been so scared of changing the timeline. You don’t need to be scared of that anymore. Your actions can’t cause you or anyone else to wink out of existence, because this isn’t your past. If your mother an’ father don’t get married an’ have you, you’ll still exist. If for some reason your friend Ron’s parents don’t have him, or give birth to a different child a day earlier than his birthday, that’s not on you. Meanwhile, I expect your friend will continue to exist in his universe. This is truly a different world, Harry, so different things will happen. Of course, there’s consequences to your actions like there are to all of ours, but your responsibilities are no different than any other person’s now.”

Ab sighed. “I know you were worried about killin’ Macnair, about how you could have memories of him, but him dying in 1977. The Macnair on your world didn’t meet you in the ‘70s. He lived. This Macnair died. Pel’s crazy theory explains why that could be without the universe unraveling. Because it doesn’t matter to this universe any more than any other action.” He sighed even more heavily. “’Course this means that we can’t rely on your knowledge of this war to help us. Same things may happen, but others just as well may not.”

Harry barely registered Ab’s comments.

I’m free. The words felt funny on his tongue. I’m free. Things happen. They won’t be all my fault.

Harry nodded mutely. I’m free. The thought was beyond disconcerting. He’d spent so many months, nearly a year now, being terrified and pummeling his mind with worry, that he couldn’t quite wrap his head around his new-found liberty yet.

As most of his mind poked at the strangeness of not having the power to eradicate the space-time continuum, he found himself voicing a thought that he hadn’t even realized he was having, the words slurring out of him unbidden.

“Gaspard Shingleton and Aeris Potage.”

“Wha –” “I don’t understa –” Both men were caught wrong-footed as the conversation seemed to take a sharp turn.

Harry roused the majority of his mind out of its stupor. “Gaspard Shingleton and Aeris Potage, remember? They both died in the Hayle Massacre back in February? When I saw their names in the Prophet I freaked out because I knew that they hadn’t died then … in my world, I guess. Shingleton invented a self-stirring cauldron in ’83, and I remembered it clearly because I got it right on an exam … I – I thought I’d somehow done something that changed the timeline and led to their deaths, but I couldn’t figure anything I could have done to make that happen but … so it really wasn’t me, then, huh?”

Ab and Pel both were nodding. “That sounds about the right of it, my friend,” said Pel with a small, encouraging smile.

“So … I’m free.” He tasted the words on his tongue as he said them aloud for the first time. Shaking his head in surrender, he let out a hollow, disbelieving laugh. “I … guess that bit’s good then.”

The three men sat quietly for some time, drinking their drinks and thinking long thoughts.

“Wait,” Harry burst out suddenly. “Were you guys saying that Moaning Myrtle is some, what? Vigilante enchantress or something here?”

Ab nodded. “That’s ain’t off the mark, I s’pose. Lady’s got a lot of fingers in a lot of pies.”

The younger wizard tried to assimilate that information with his impression of his Moaning Myrtle. “That’s just so, so… not what I’d expect. Her ghost in my world was always really sensitive and girly.  She was pretty annoying, to be honest.”

Ab snorted. “Well, I expect most of us thank Merlin we don’t have to grow up to be the people we were when we were teenagers. Don’t know about her as a kid, but now Myrtle Cramer ain’t one to cross.”

“Can’t see her as the whinging type, myself,” Pel added.

Harry shook his head. “Weird.”

They slipped back into silence, each lost in his own reflections.


 
29 June, 1977

Hogwart’s Professor Found Murdered!
—Mallard Dowling—

Sources at the DMLE have just revealed that they have identified the body of a witch found yesterday in a wizarding neighborhood of Manchester as that of Hogwarts Muggle Studies professor Adelis Dearborn, aged 29.

Although the cause and circumstances of Professor Dearborn’s death have not been officially released, according to one Auror, who wished to remain anonymous, “it is hardly idle speculation to say she was murdered, as her body was discovered magically attached to her front door and disemboweled.”

Rumors that attribute her demise to Death Eater activity are thus far officially unsubstantiated.

Professor Dearborn was an instructor at Hogwarts for two years. Colleague Pomona Sprout of the Herbology department describes her as a “principled woman who cared deeply for her students.” Filius Flitwick, longtime Charms professor, notes that “despite growing up immersed in pureblood culture, she took her subject seriously and spent many years living and working in the Muggle world so as to become fully experienced in her subject.”

Professor Dearborn is survived by her younger brother Caradoc Dearborn, of the Department of Magical Transportation, and his wife Guinier, as well as several cousins and other extended family. Funeral arrangements are on hold pending the conclusion of the DMLE’s investigation.

Harry stared at the morning edition of the paper, not sure how to feel. There had been no mention in the Prophet of Doc Dearborn’s injuries, which he knew was a good thing, since it meant whatever cover story he and his wife had used had probably been successful.

Yet there also hadn’t been any report in the newspaper of the murdered muggleborns and their families. Entire families hadn’t made it. That should merit some notice, his mind insisted.

On the other hand
, the more rational part of himself argued, maybe they were deemed muggle crimes only, so the wizarding world didn’t even notice. This could be a good thing, it urged, it means that the others all got away and probably no other wizards attacked them, right?

For three days Harry and Ab had thought that the attack on the muggleborn families had escaped the British wizarding world’s notice, and thus that their little coalition wasn’t on anyone’s radar. “Maybe Doc’s glamour failed mid-Portkey,” Ab would wonder.

Apparently, they were wrong.

Harry had only met Adelis Dearborn twice, both times quite briefly, but … but he had liked her. He liked that she fought, and that she helped the muggleborns, and that she seemed kind and competent.

But now she was dead. Stuck to her own front door and disembow — don’t think about that.

She smiled at me just the other day. Thanked me for helping with Doc. And … she’s just … gone, without any warning at all.

The others would be scared, Harry knew. Obviously, the Death Eaters had seen Doc, and as he was still in St. Mungo’s, they’d gone after his sister. Did they know the professor was involved in the smuggling of the families? Did they bother to try to torture information out of her? Had she been forced to tell them with whom her brother had been working?

I suppose we’ll find out soon enough
, Harry thought grimly, if and when the Death Eaters start making more house calls.

And then, of course, came the type of thought that had been plaguing him constantly since he’d realized the true effects of the Dementor’s Kiss, that crept into his brain whenever anything happened.

I wonder if she’s still alive in my world.

He sighed and picked at his jumper.

There’s no point in thinking like this. This
is my world now, period. It’s doesn’t matter if she lived back home or back there or whatever. The Adelis Dearborn I met – the only one I know or will probably ever know – is dead.



25 July, 1977


Despite their fears that those who had helped smuggle the muggleborn to Belgium might have been outed by Professor Dearborn, no reprisals were visited upon any of the other participants, Ab told Harry. It seemed that the Death Eaters knew Doc Dearborn had been involved, but didn’t suspect the professor (ruddy morons, Ab had grumbled, almost as if disappointed in their enemy) and that her death had probably been intended to punish her brother.

Doc had eventually been released from St. Mungo’s, minus one arm, and had moved into a better-protected home with his wife, though he still continued to go to work. Guin had taken to dropping off freshly-baked biscuits and pastries every so often at the pub in gratitude for Harry’s help. After the second time she woke a very grumpy Ab by stopping by quite early – long before any self-respecting bartender should be up and about – she had taken to leaving them wrapped with a small bow on the porch. Harry was rather embarrassed by her insistent appreciation, but Ab and the barflies were quite enthusiastic about the delicious rewards.

As he walked upstairs in the castle for the last part in yet another day of ‘service to wizards,’ Harry dwelt, as usual at this point, on the best way to move forward in this world. He couldn’t count on Voldemort coming after his parents, Alice, and Frank like he had, nor could he be sure that Peter Pettigrew was destined to turn traitor. It was beyond comforting to know that he truly had the freedom to act to save them should things play out the same way but, as Ab had said before the Platform Nine operation, Harry knew that he certainly wasn’t ready to actually fight in a war. He was much better than he had been in the graveyard, but he couldn’t bring himself to really believe he’d improved enough.

Just keep learning from Ab. Practice. Pay attention when lessons at Hogwarts start up again. Pass my O.W.L.s. Just get better!

And don’t think about home. There’s nothing for that. I have a life here, and I’m free.

That bit last had become an oft-repeated mantra. Harry didn’t want to imagine how he would have felt if he didn’t have Ab, and Pel, and the Head.

I’ve lost one home, but I’ve gotten another. It could be so much worse. I have a real life here, and I’m free.

He had actually been looking forward to working at the school this morning. With the students and most of the professors gone, he had spent most of the summer hanging out with Hagrid and learning more – sometimes more than he ever wanted to know – about how to care for magical creatures. He shuddered as he remembered helping the half-giant deliver Umbra of a new brother for Colin the thestral. Sometimes hands-on learning was entirely too hands-on.  He never wanted to be elbow deep in … that ever again, though the now nearly fully-grown Colin had been ecstatic that his friend participated in bringing his new sibling into the world.

When not with Hagrid, Harry was usually with Madame Pomfrey. Professor Sprout, who was away for the summer months, had tasked him with the upkeep of all her non-magical and non-threatening plants, while the professor had asked Pomfrey to care for those plants which required spells to manage. Together the two would spend hours in the greenhouses, with Pomfrey teaching Harry both how to manage the more dangerous plants and all about the various magical properties of each specimen. In a given day they might work on material related to Herbology, Potions, Charms, Defense, sometimes even Transfiguration, all of which Harry hoped would prove useful on his upcoming exams and, more importantly, in the war.

At one point Harry’s curiosity had demanded to be satisfied.

“Madame Pomfrey,” he began, as she finished warding off a particularly frisky Venomous Tentacula, “why are you helping me? I mean, I know why you aren’t telling people my secrets, but why bother teaching me all this stuff?”

The matron had paused for a few moments. “Well, Harry, I suppose I don’t rightly know why. You should know things, I know them, so teaching you it just seems natural enough.” She stood back on her heels thoughtfully. “Though I suppose I do get rather lonely and bored in the Hospital Wing all day. My only long-term guests tend to either be unconscious, asleep, or prone to a deplorable amount of whinging. Not the best conversationalists, you can imagine. In the summer I see people even less.” She smiled at him as he snickered at her description of her student charges. “It is a nice change to work with someone else, especially someone likable. And of course, someone not bleeding, swelling, or snuffling.”

Harry had laughed, but later reflected as he walked home that it was a very strange thing to hang out with adults he had known in his former life. As a Hogwarts student, he’d never thought to actually get to know any of the faculty or staff. A thick invisible line had separated the “adults” from the “students.” The latter were potential friends, the former just authorities. Now, however, all his friends were adults but for Ariana (who didn’t quite count as a kid either), and Madame Pomfrey was fast approaching joining that group. He couldn’t imagine his “original” matron ever confessing to him that she was often lonely at Hogwarts, yet here she was, speaking to him of her actual feelings, like he was … just a regular person.

It was all rather nice, he had concluded.

Today he was again slated to work his last hour and a half with Madame Pomfrey once again, after he having care of the greenhouses that morning. She had been asked by St. Mungo’s to brew some more difficult healing potions in bulk, and she had invited him to help her starting today. It would, Ab agreed, be invaluable training for the looming war.

As he approached the Hospital Wing, he noticed its doors were open and a cultured male voice was booming loud enough for him to clearly overhear every word.

“ – believe you boys would be so reckless! I had to pull several strings just to get Jackson to track down those officers or whatever they’re called to Obliviate them! I’m still not even sure we Obliviated the right men! What did you think you were doing?!” (*)

Harry nearly bit his tongue when he heard a young Sirius responding. “Honestly, Mr. P., it was an accident! We didn’t expect to be set upon by Death Eaters!”

What?!

The man harrumphed. “Well, I’m sure you didn’t, but that doesn’t explain why you had been stopped by muggle officers – Jackson said that the men planned to arrest you both!”

An exhausted sounding James began to respond. “Well, Dad, we may have been going a little fast on Sirius’ bike …”

“No one told me there were even Muggle laws against that! I swear!” Sirius added.

“And would you care to explain why a trio of Death Eaters on broomsticks just happened to find you?”

“Bad luck?” 

Harry grimaced. Sirius was a terrible liar.

Apparently, Mr. Potter felt the same way. He gave a disbelieving laugh and then sighed. “Well, the fact that you both broke the International Statute of Secrecy can’t be debated. Really, levitating one of those muggle vehicles into flying Death Eaters in full view of muggles – muggles in law enforcement no less, and then just leaving them there!”

James went from sounding tired to sounding scared. “But … but you can get us out of any trouble, right Dad?”

“Yes, yes, of course I can. I’ve already had to make a few donations to keep you two out of having an informal hearing with Barty Crouch, and I expect I’ll have to call in even more favors to make this go away completely.” The man paused. “Stupid mess, this is! Don’t think you two are going to get out of some punishment!”

Harry wanted to snort. Sure, I save my own life and someone else’s after being kidnapped, and Potter’s voting to convict me to a lifetime in Azkaban; these two break the most important law in the wizarding world and he’s going to make it all just go away.

“No broomsticks for the rest of the summer, and no motorcycle either.”

An eruption of protests followed, but the man cut it off.

And I’ll be telling your mother.”

“Well shit,” James muttered. “Now we are done for.”

Harry heard one of the people move a bit in the room, and then Mr. Potter spoke again, this time his tone much softer. “I am glad that you weren’t really injured Sirius, and that your injuries aren’t … aren’t as bad as they could have been, son. Or as bad as they really should have been. I’m just …” the man broke off for several moments before finally bursting out, “Merlin, fighting Dark Wizards at seventeen!” Mr. Potter sounded at once flabbergasted, angry, and more than a bit proud before composing himself “I’m off to the Ministry to get this worked out. You two stay here until the matron releases you, James.”

The rush of an activated Floo followed.

“Oh, come on, Padfoot,” he heard his father (the dimensional counterpart of my father, Harry’s mind corrected) say after a few moments. “Mum’ll just yell a lot and make us work with the house-elf for a few days. She won’t actually do anything or make you leave. You know that.”

“Yeah, ‘course. Okay.” Sirius sounded morose and entirely unconvinced.

“She won’t.” There was a long pause before James made an annoyed sound. “Fine, mate. If you want to start obsessing, I’m taking a nap.”

Silence fell. Harry lingered in the corridor for a few minutes, unsure of what to do. Pomfrey was expecting him, but it didn’t sound like she was in there, and he was reluctant to speak with his father or godfather when something was obviously going on (the dimensional counterparts of my father and godfather, his inner voice corrected yet again).

Before he could come to a decision Harry heard the Floo again, and the sound of more than one person entering the ward. “Oh, well done you two!” a male’s voice said, dripping with sarcasm. I know that voice.

“Sure, let’s hit these wizards with a police car, great idea!” a female voice mocked. Wait – that’s Auror Alice! And the man has to be Frank Longbottom.

What in the world are they doing here?
Harry supposed it made sense that Longbottom would know them, though he must have been an upper-year when they started Hogwarts …

And you both were wearing those stupid Order shirts you made? Seriously?” Frank seemed quite angry now. “Why don’t you take an ad out in the Prophet: “Hey everyone, we’re members of a totally secret society?!”

“And this is why I told Dumbledore not to let kids into the Order! Ruddy untrained, unthinking idiots, the both of you! Hardly ready for a war!” The voice was much older and far more caustic than the others. That’s … yeah that sounds like Mad-Eye Moody! “You’re bloody lucky you only got hit with a Bone-Breaker and a glance of Cruciatus, Potter. By rights we should be scraping pieces of you both off the streets.”

What?!  
Harry realized he was breathing very fast.

Calm down. They’re okay. They’re okay. They’re
fine.

Alice started to say something, but Moody shushed her.

A warning from Harry’s instincts hushed his swelling concern for his dad and his godfa – for James and Sirius.

Why’s it so quiet all of a sudden?

No sooner had Harry thought this then Sirius unexpectedly, and quite loudly, broke into a story of their battle. Apparently, the two had been watching some house, then decided to speed home on his motorcycle after they were done, at which point the Muggle police pulled them over. At that point, three Death Eaters on broomsticks arriv –

Wait, what was that?
Harry caught a slight flurry of movement just behind him out of the corner of his eye. He hadn’t even fully turned around before he –



It had been a nice enough day, Harry supposed as he walked slowly back to the Head from Hogwarts. Bit boring, though. He’d been assigned to cleaning out old classrooms, yet found he hadn’t really minded sweeping, mopping, and scrubbing for nearly five hours straight. Feels good, I guess, to have gotten some hard work done.

It was a Monday, so the pub didn’t open until the early evening because of non-existent lunch and afternoon business. When Harry got home, Ab gave him a wicked grin.

“Let’s do some duelin’, shall we lad? See if you can keep off your arse for at least five minutes this time?”

Harry grinned back as the two left the Head and headed deep into the Forest where they’d found an ideal practice ground. Ab took up position in the north side of the glade while Harry chose a defensible spot in the south and fetched his wand from his mokeskin bag. The second the familiar holly rested in his palm, Harry felt a sudden jerk in his mind, not unlike the hook-in-the-navel feeling of a Portkey. Without warning, he seemed to be back at Hogwarts, watching himself – another Harry –  going through the entire morning in the greenhouses all over again.

What the fuck is happening?!

No matter what he did, the other him just kept at pruning, re-potting, and watering Sprout’s plants for hours. What was even worse, Harry found himself completely unable to leave the room, as though some invisible cage held him captive near what seemed to be his past self.

Finally, after what had to have been several hours, the other him packed up his supplies and then departed. Harry followed close on his heels as he slowly made his way to the Hospital Wing.

With wide eyes he watched himself listening to conversations first between James, Sirius, and his dimensional grandfather, then the two teenagers, Alice, Frank, and Mad-Eye Moody, of all people.

He caught sight of the same flurry of movement at the same time as his other self did. While the other Harry was hit by a silently-cast stunner before he could glimpse his attacker, “real” Harry got a full view.

Albus Dumbledore?

Dumbledore had stunned him in the back.

What the hell is going on!?

As soon as the spell impacted his memory counterpart, the world around Harry himself dissolved into a muted, cloudy gray.

After a few panicked breaths, he reined in his concern and cautiously began exploring the haze.

Nothing here. Nothing here at all. What the hell is going on?

I think … I think I must be unconscious from the
Stupefy, but still alert enough to form something of a memory. A memory of nothing, but a memory.

It was impossible to keep track of time in the gray cloud, but it felt like it must have been nearly an hour, he reckoned, when he realized that he was slowly able to discern strange, barely-heard sounds that were gradually but consistently becoming more audible.

Wait … those are voices!

Harry shut his eyes and concentrated on the almost comforting susurration of low voices.

“… Dock deer born hsnt shoynd oldmoor haz ee sur?”

“no … dad woodnot splain demerderov profssr deer born. Ima frayed ime attaloss.”

Yeah, I must be coming out of it. I’m – the other me, that is – isn’t quite conscious yet, but I’m not unconscious either…

Shit, pay attention! They’re still talking.

“ –diots mess. Andeel with tha won.”
The strange distortion of the voices was lifting enough for Harry to recognize Mad-Eye Moody’s voice. “Wanta use Lejilleh men see or veritasirum to see whatee nose Albus?”

Fuck. I have no idea what that first bit meant, but he’s got to be asking if they want to use ‘Veritaserum to see what he knows.’ Oh fuck.
Harry could feel his heart in his throat as the voices became clearer and clearer. They were still strange and dream-like, but finally discernible.

“Sir eyedohn think thas wry. We need warrens for eitheran they’re bof invasive,”
a woman’s voice responded. “Harry probably jus came by accident!”

Yes! Thank you Alice!

“I agree.”
Harry sagged in relief. That decisive voice had to be Dumbledore’s, and the distortion was lifting so quickly that it was nearly gone. “Based on all of Mr. Fletcher’s reports concerning him, as well as his own status, of course, Harry is hardly one we can suspect of Death Eater sympathies and is undeserving of such intrusions. His devotion to my brother is not in question. Fletcher is quite sure." Dumbledore sighed. “Nevertheless, the fact that he overheard sensitive information is concerning. Had you and your marvelous eye not been here, Alastor, I fear what else he may have heard.”

Oh, crap. Moody can see through walls … Dammit – that’s why they all went quiet and then Sirius started prattling on. Moody must have seen me and used Sirius as a distraction until Dumbledore got here!
He chafed at the thought he’d been duped.

Whaboutbliviashun?” A far more distorted voice chimed in, sounding farther away.

A man closer to him responded. “Can’t Obliviate a non-muggle without authorization, and the obliviator has to be licensed. Too easy to cause major issues if the spell goes wrong.”  That has to be Frank.

Once again, a voice from farther away, and far too distorted to make out at all, entered the conversation.

“Again, I agree,”
he heard Dumbledore say. “While I admit I am unlicensed, I believe I can manage the procedure well enough.”

What? Procedure?! What – don’t you dare!

“Sir? I mean, are you sure? It just doesn’t seem right –”
Alice hesitated.

“Miss Fawley, you understand the situation as well as I do. Can you offer a viable alternative?”

Alice fell silent.

“Very well then. Alastor, revive him on my mark, and I shall cast the spell. Please be exceptionally gentle with him – I barely powered the
Stupefy lest I injure the poor boy. The rest of you, observe silence.”

“Now, Alastor.”

“Renervate!”

Memory Harry’s eyes must have opened as the world around Harry burst into clarity and color so quickly that he almost lost his balance. His memory self was on a bed in the Hospital Wing, around which were clustered Alice, Frank, Mad-Eye Moody, and Dumbledore, who had his wand pointed directly at Other Harry’s head. James and Sirius looked on from beds across the aisle.

“NO!” Harry shouted in vain.

“Obliviate.”

Dumbledore started to speak as the eyes of Harry’s past self became glassy and unfocused. “Today you arrived at Hogwarts and were asked to tidy up a number of unused classrooms. It was hard work, sweeping and mopping and scrubbing, but you are pleased with a job well done. You did not come anywhere near the Hospital Wing, and you spoke to no one other than the house elf that gave you your orders.”

Other Harry nodded absently slowly stood to make his way to the door, completely oblivious to everyone else in the infirmary.

“No fucking way!” Harry cursed.

“By the time he’s halfway to the main doors of the school, he will be acting normally, have no fear,”
Dumbledore assured the others.

“What the hell is going on here!?”
Pomfrey thundered from the doorway on the other side of the ward.

If it weren’t for the circumstances, it would have been funny to see all of them jump in shock.

“Ah, Madame Pomfrey, we were just –”

“Obliviating a harmless young man who was coming here because I
asked him to! What was that for, Headmaster Dumbledore?”

No one seemed to pay any heed to Other Harry as he slowly walked towards the doorway with a hesitant, unsteady gait.

Dumbledore cast his eyes down in regret. “A necessary precaution, Poppy. Young Harry overheard something that, ah, could cause a great deal of harm to brave witches and wizards. I assure you, all we did was remove a single memory and send him on his way. These Aurors,” he gestured at Moody, Alice, and Longbottom, “oversaw the whole thing.”

“Headmaster, I must protest –”

But Harry couldn’t hear the rest of the conversation. Instead, in much the same way as happens in a pensieve, he was forced to follow his other self down through Hogwarts, watching as Other Harry’s pace became more steady and his eyes less clouded. They were halfway home when the entire scene winked out and Harry was suddenly back in the Forest.

Holy fucking … Dumbledore
Obliviated me!

It seemed no time at all had really passed, for Ab was still getting ready to cast at him from across the glade. “No, stop Ab, stop! Get over here!”

The man ran up, brow furrowed. Before he could speak, Harry gasped out, “Your brother! He – shit – he Obliviated me today! I just grabbed my wand and I was at the school –”

Ab’s face turned truly terrible. “Put a charm on your wand some time back that restores Obliviated memories. Told you about the one on my wand, yeah?”

Harry nodded absently.

“Sit down and tell me everythin’ you saw.”



“And that’s it. That’s what I heard and saw.”

Ab’s jaw was working furiously, but he said nothing.

“Um, Ab, what’s the Order? Why’s it so important that they would … do that to me?”

The bartender shook his head and spat on the forest floor. “Oh that,” he said as if it were just a trifling thing. “The Order of the Phoenix. My brother’s secret society.” Harry’s eyes widened. “It was created to stop Voldemort. Members are Aurors, interested civilians, and, apparently, braindead teenagers.”

“The ones you called ‘ruddy lobcocks,’ yeah? The ones who wanted to protect the train.”

Ab nodded. “Order of the Phoenix. Pretentious, self-aggrandizin’ name if I ever heard one.”

Oh.

I thought it sounded kind of cool.

“Honestly, they ain’t doin’ much of anythin’ lately. Sure, they’ve fought a few small fights, but nothing big yet, though their hearts are in the right place and most know what they’re about in tough spots. Right now they mostly just gather information to hand off to Albus. Then he decides whether or not to tell anyone else. Hell, Doc Dearborn used to be a member but resigned after the Hogwarts Express fiasco. Guess it didn’t sit right with him that the Order was followin’ the Ministry’s line about not informing the muggleborns’ families of much.”

Harry frowned. “It – I’m pretty sure my dad and Sirius are in it. They got hurt in a fight with Death Eaters. James got hit with Crucio.

“Don’t know what the fuck he’s thinkin’ getting bloody kids involved.” Ab cursed under his breath.
“They aren’t even graduated yet! But no, for my brother there ain’t no problem or conflict of interest involved in bein’ a teenager’s headmaster and the general that sends him off to war.”

Harry … didn’t really want to think about that. Maybe. But if I were still back in my first universe, I’d be begging Dumbledore to let me fight with that sort of group.  He moved to a less personal topic. “Ab, what about Dung? He said that Dung’s been giving him reports or something.”

Harry could actually feel the man’s magic snapping like a wild dog trying to break through a muzzle. “Mundungus Fletcher,” Ab growled, “is a member of the Order. Reports on what the ‘seedy underbelly’ are sayin’. And apparently, reports on me and mine!” His magic crackled like an exclamation point.

Sometimes I forget that Ab is … well, Dumbledore’s brother, and no slouch in the power department.

“That sit well with you, lad?” As the boy shook his head emphatically, Ab made a face that was far too vicious for anyone to ever call a smile. “Now on, Dung’s blacklisted. I’ll catch him out informin’ on us to my brother as soon as I can and let him know that he’s dead to the Head. I don’t want any of them to know that the Obliviation didn’t stick.”

Harry really didn’t want to prod, he really didn’t. But …

“Ab? Are … are you a member of the Order?”

The old man laughed. “’A course I am! My brother couldn’t get on without his spies, and I’m the best of ‘em. So yeah, I’m technically a member.” He smiled. “And I’m gonna remain a member. Best way to get information I can put to real use.”

Harry frowned, and Ab continued. “The others, the ones that helped the muggleborn … things like that might be needed in the future. I ain’t much interested in glorious battles and renown, but I appreciate that those folks don’t hold will with delusions of grandeur and aim to just get the bloody job done. Me stayin’ in the Order might help us.”

“Wait – won’t the Death Eaters know that you’re the headmaster’s brother after the whole thing with Macnair? Isn’t your cover blown?”

Ab laughed. “Nah, doesn’t seem to have been. My name was never mentioned in the papers, and only those who oppose Voldemort showed up for your trial. Sure, he might find out, I s’ppose, but I ain’t seen sign of it yet.”

They lapsed into a contemplative silence.

Ab looked at him searchingly and gave a great sigh. “What about your Auror friend, the girl? She didn’t stop ‘em in the end.”

“No, no she didn’t,” Harry admitted. “I mean, she did defend me, and she didn’t want to let Moody do that other stuff to me, thank God, but she didn’t stop the Obliviation, even though she knew at least that it should be specialist who did it.”

“How’s that strike you?”

Harry glared at his hands, his emotions bubbling. “Dunno … I guess … yeah, I’m mad at her. Really damn mad. I mean, she probably thought she was doing the right thing for the war, and I get that, I do. But … well, I guess we aren’t really friends like I thought.”

Ab raised an eyebrow and Harry went on. “For me, friends are … you don’t compromise anything for them. She let Dumbledore mess with my mind. My mind. She didn’t like it, but she didn’t stop it. So she’s not one of them, like you and Pel are.”

Ab’s face was unreadable as he considered Harry’s words. “Well then.” he said, standing up and clearing his throat. “Ah, fuck dueling today. Today, we work on detection spells so your scrawny arse don’t get cursed in the bloody back again!”



26 July, 1977


Harry would have denied it if asked, but his stomach fluttered nervously as he walked the still halls of Hogwarts the next morning on his way to the Hospital Wing. He was supposed to work with Madame Pomfrey this week, after all, and since Dumbledore hadn’t obliviated his knowledge of the rest of his schedule, he figured he should act normally.

But he felt like he was entering a den of potential enemies. Stop being so dramatic. They didn’t actually hurt you!

The matron was busy checking the contents of a cupboard in the ward when he entered.

“Harry! Good morning, dear.” Her hands nervously twisted in her smock. The hairs on the back of his neck stood at attention. They don’t normally do that … and her voice is too high-pitched … Harry’s hands started sweating as his gut turned a cartwheel.

“Why don’t we go ahead and get started in my office?” she beamed, her smile wide.

Maybe too wide?

Another cartwheel.

This is not normal … I’m not being dramatic.

Helpless to think of a reason not to go into her office, he followed, absently fingering the mokeskin bag that held his wand and marking various objects he could wandlessly Accio to himself if absolutely necessary.

She bustled him through the door and sat him down in the seat across from her desk. Without a word, she retrieved a small bottle from a locked drawer and handed it to him. “Drink. Drink it now.” Her overly-enthusiastic demeanor had entirely vanished.

Like hell. “No. No, ma’am, not unless you tell me what I’m drinking.” Oh God, do I have to fight Madame Pomfrey? Oh please, no.

“I’ll explain after you’ve had the potion young man. Now, I said drink it!” Her voice was tense, worried. Whatever she was up to, she didn’t seem to want to be up to it.

Harry closed his eyes in silent prayer, then threw the delicate glass bottle against the wall as hard as he could. He wandlessly summoned Pomfrey’s own wand from her unprepared grip and pointed it at her.

“I – I don’t want to fight you!” His voice sounded scared and young to his own ears.

“Harry!” she gasped, looking stricken. “Harry … I’m sorry! But you must know, I wouldn’t hurt you!”

He hardened himself as much as he could. “Then explain. Now. And don’t lie.” His voice was still shaky, but the hand that pointed the wand at her chest was absolutely still.

The matron put up her hands in surrender and sat down heavily in her chair. “I’m sorry. I … I didn’t know what to do … They don’t cover this in healer training,” she gasped helplessly. “Yesterday, yesterday Harry I found you in the Hospital Wing. The headmaster and some others, oh dear, I guess you heard something they didn’t want you to hear, so they Obliviated you. Do you know what that means?” He nodded mutely. “I don’t … it just felt deplorable, what they did. They skirted around it, but I know that it was even illegal, not that anyone would care what high-ranking wizards did to a supposed squib. But I just didn’t want – and I took an oath, and … Oh bother.”

She seemed momentarily lost for words, and then began again more professionally. “The potion you just destroyed reverses Obliviations. Please believe me! I don’t have any more of it, but perhaps I can procure some from …”

Oh thank God.

“Poppy.” He shocked himself by using her first name. “Poppy,” he repeated. “Thank you. I can’t tell you … see, I know all about what they did. The Obliviation was reversed almost as soon as I got home yesterday. So … I know what I missed, the bits that I was coming ‘round to consciousness for, anyway.”

She sagged back in relief. “I’m sorry, I must have terrified you – ”

Harry smiled as he handed her wand back to her. “I think we’re even on that one now. And thank you again. Really. I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you’d do all this to help me.”

“Should I ask why the headmaster felt it necessary to perform an illegal Obliviation on you?”

He thought it over and shook his head. “Honestly, no. I’m just going to go on like I don’t remember it happening. I’d rather not draw attention, and what I heard honestly wasn’t all that important.”

She raised a skeptical eyebrow but didn’t push it. “And … the headmaster?”

“I …” he chewed over the words for a moment. “I suppose I can understand why he felt it necessary to do what he did.” Harry could actually feel his expression darken and he fought not to curse in front of the matron. “But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to remember what he did to my fuc – my bloody mind. I’ll remember that really well.”

Poppy seemed to want to say something but then thought better of it. “I see, then. Well now, rather than working on the bulk potion order today, what do you say we talk in here for a while about the various potions that can manipulate, modify, and mend a person’s mind? Seems the sort of topic a young man like yourself may want to be well-versed in.”

He laughed “Sounds perfect, Poppy.”

She didn’t correct his use of her first name.



13 August, 1977


The Head was nearly deserted that afternoon. Pel and Dal weren’t in yet, and the only patron was the white- and purple-haired old woman in a lace veil who sometimes came in to nurse Corpse Revivers. Today she sat so quietly in a darkened booth that it was easy to forget her presence. Ab was at the bar, watching Harry sweep with an odd expression on his face.

“Don’t you have a parole meetin’ in the village with that Auror a’ yours about now?”

“Yeah.” Harry glowered at the floor and didn’t stop sweeping.

“I suppose you’re up to somethin’ then, yeah?”

“Suppose so.”

“What?”

The force and speed of Harry’s sweeping became vicious. “I guess I want to make sure we aren’t really friends.”

Ab raised an eyebrow but said nothing.

Twenty minutes later Alice burst into the pub.

“Harry! Why didn’t you come to our meeting?”

Harry stopped scraping wads of Droobles gum off the bottom of a table into a rag and looked at Alice with an expression of vague bewilderment pasted across his face. If either the Auror or the teenager had glanced at Ab, they would have seen him rolling his eyes, having already cottoned on to Harry’s plan.

“Huh?”

“Our meeting Harry. The parole meeting? Ringing any bells?”

“Meet – I’m sorry, but I don’t … I don’t think I know what you’re talking about, Miss, uh – ?”

Alice’s eyes boggled at the same time as the color began draining out of her face. “Harry? It’s just me! Alice! You know, Auror Alice?”

Harry blinked at her.

“Oh dear Merlin,” the young woman whispered in dawning horror. “Harry?”

“Hmmm?”

“You know me! You know me, right? Alice, Alice Fawley?” She seemed very near tears, and Harry finally took a little pity on her.

He blinked a few times as if trying to clear his mind. “Oh … Oh, hey, er …Alice. Are you and, um … Fred here for a drink?”

“Frank, Harry! My boyfriend is Frank!”

“Yeah, right, sorry Alicia, er Alice. I swear I knew that, I think, I just can’t … So why are you here then?”

She was staring at him in concern, but seemed to be rallying now that he appeared to be coming round. “Um, I’m here for your parole meeting. Everything … Everything still going okay?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

“Okay. Okay, that’s good. And sir,” she turned to Ab. “Has, um, has Harry been okay this month?”

Ab frowned and sent Harry an annoyed look. “S’pose so. Boy’s always a bit of a fool …” The old publican broke off with a shrug.

“Oh – okay then. Well, thank you both, I’ll see you next month Harry, if I don’t run into you sooner.” Alice nearly ran from the pub.

A few beats after the door was shut firmly behind her, Harry slammed his rag down on the table.

“That was cruel, lad,” Ab said, his face severe.

“Probably, yeah.”

“I thought better of you.”

Harry huffed and pulled an ugly face. “I know. But if I don’t get a little payback, it’ll fester and fester in me and I’ll start to hate her for daring to act like everything’s just fine when she knows damn well what they did to me. What she let them do. So, yeah, I acted like a berk. Fine. Besides, if it makes her think the next time anyone’s trying to do shit like that, maybe she’ll stop it. It’s her damn job to uphold the bloody law, after all.”

He shook his head and curled his hands into fists. “Plus, she just saw me acting definitely not right. She should have taken me to St. Mungo’s based on all that. She didn’t. Now I know what I need to about her.”

Ab considered him for a few moments. “Next time you see her, you act normal for her, you got me? Only reason I played along was because they don’t need to know the whole thing didn’t take. But you act right next time, boy. Fuck, you really want her to take you to Mungo’s?!” He shook his head in disgust. “We don’t need this to cause us problems we don’t need.”

Harry agreed with a roll of his eyes and slouched down to the kitchens without another word.

“Bastard teenagers,” Ab grumbled to the old woman. “Unthinking and bloody spiteful, the lot of ‘em.”

The woman chuckled lightly and sipped her drink. “Really? I seem to remember someone who was a bloody spiteful bastard all through his twenties, his thirties, his fort –”

“Bah, you hush now, lass,” the old bartender snapped without real venom. The woman just laughed again.

 

Chapter Text

XVI. The Unbirthday Boy – Who – Lived

25 August, 1977

“Won’t somebody please buy this lad an accomodatin’ lady?” Nappy Clank roared, to the delight of the crowd in the Head.

Martial Sorner clapped Harry on the back. “Anyone seen Yarda?!” The patrons laughed again at Harry’s expression of horror.

“Oh, Marty, that just isn’t right!” Pel snorted.

“But look at ‘im!” yelled Nappy, sloshing the contents of his tankard over Wigol. “Sixteen years old and blushin’ like a ruddy virgin, he is! Looks as Ab is failin’ in his, wazzit, ‘parental obligashuns,’ so it’s on us to fill in, mates! Somebody run to Mingy Chincherd’s in Knockturn an’ find him a pretty enough lady to make ‘im a man!”

Harry put his head in his hands.

I’m never going to mention my birthday ever again.

And fuck them. I’m not blushing.

It had started innocently enough. Two days earlier the old divination gamblers, as Harry had come to call them, had been in and Professor Pemphredo had wriggled his birthday out of him (with the year changed to 1961, of course). She’d taken off in a rush to spout all sorts of tripe about how this marked him an outgoing family-man who would excel at badminton or whatnot, though he blanched a bit when she claimed he was a great traveler. (Even a broken clock’s right twice a day, he’d grumbled to himself).

The problem was that the barflies were in that afternoon. And they were quite put out they’d missed Harry’s birthday.

Any excuse to drink, after all …

Which led to tonight’s very belated party at the Head. There wasn’t much in the way of traditional birthday party elements. His presents consisted of everyone buying him shots of ever more disgusting drinks (most of which he passed off to others or poured down the sink) and, it seemed, a prostitute.

Maybe.

A smiling, one-armed Doc Dearborn had come for a while, with his wife Guin accompanying him and bearing Harry a delicious homemade chocolate cake. Despite her small frame and sweet face, the young woman had held her own with the crass clientele for quite some time. Harry rather suspected that Loch, one of the regular werewolves, had developed a bit of a crush on her as they traded recipes for meat pies.

He had been shocked when Argus Filch wandered in behind Hagrid at half-nine. The man ordered a single finger of whiskey, looked Harry in the eye as he raised his glass in a silent toast, downed the drink. With a flashed wry half-smile he walked out as quietly as he had entered.

By eleven that night – his new pub curfew on nights when he didn’t have to go to Hogwarts the next day – most of the customers didn’t really know Harry at all, but happily embraced the excuse to party.

Oh Merlin, they’re still talking about prostitutes.

Nappy, Martial, and a few others whose names he didn’t know were apparently debating which of two girls at Chincherd’s House of Scarlet Women would be better a match for Harry. Hagrid, to Harry’s surprise, soon joined in, but also staunchly defended his young friend’s right not to engage a prostitute.

Maybe I can just slip out and make it to the stable …

Harry’s escape was thwarted when two people scrunched into his booth and pulled up very close to him.

Leather pants?

Harry looked up into the wickedly smiling face of Moaning Myrtle … er, Myrtle Cramer.

“I’m not sure you boys need to go all the way to London to find a lady friend for little Harry here,” she purred and gave Harry a very … suggestive look.

The men – that traitor Hagrid included – roared in laughter again as Harry fought the slight wave of nausea. Eurgh. She’s what? Fifty? “Yeah, really not interested Mrs. Cramer –”

“Harry, dear, I’m so very much a widow … just call me Myrtle.” The leather-clad leg pressed closer into his own.

The most awkward shared bubble bath ever appeared in his memory. Almost all the bubbles were gone. Moaning Myrtle had smiled at him like a ravenous predator back in the Prefects’ Bathroom in his fourth year. Yep, I can totally see Myrtle growing up and becoming … this. Merlin.

“Now my dear Widow Cramer,” drawled another familiar voice to his left. “Perhaps Harry here isn’t interested in what you and yours have to offer, hmm?”

Oh for fuck’s sake.

Captain Burke was sitting entirely too close to him on his other side. Today his shirt was unlaced a bit and Harry caught sight of a stylized skull and crossbones tattoo done in silver on his chest.

“Oh. Hi. Uh, why are you here? Is something … going on?”

“Nothing like that, dear, we were just here for a spot of business,” Myrtle said, “but since it’s your birthday – ”

“Well, we couldn’t resist spending a few minutes with the birthday boy!” Burke finished. His hand lightly stroked Harry’s thigh before retreating. “And besides, I make it a rule to always try to mix business with pleasure.”

Seriously? I have no idea what to do with this.

Harry latched onto the opening to have a conversation that was not laden with innuendo and which he knew he was totally unprepared for. “Oh! Er – what do you both do?”

Myrtle gave a squeaky little titter. “Little of this, little of that, don’t you worry about it, Harry dear.”

Burke leaned forward conspiratorially and flashed a rakish grin. “Me? Why Harry, I’m hurt you still haven’t heard of my brother and me. We’re pirates,” he confessed with relish.

“Pirates? Like, real pirates?” Harry deadpanned. The man couldn’t be serious.

“Indeed! Though I do prefer the term ‘marauder,’ myself. Adds a patina of sophistication to the whole business. I did tell you I was captain of my own ship, yes? The Bachelor’s Delight?” He winked.

Great. Another Marauder.

“Er – yeah, I guess you did.” This pirate business still seemed unlikely to Harry. “So, what, do you, I don’t know, pillage and plunder on the high seas or something?”

The Captain’s grin didn’t fade. “Now you’ve got it! My illicit adventures provide a critical service to the wizarding world while being fun, exciting, and profitable all at the same time.”

Myrtle snickered at Harry’s blank look.  “Dear, you do know that most of the wizarding world is kept going by the unsanctioned appropriation of Muggle-produced goods, right?”

“Er – no …”

“Honestly, where do you think we get all of our food?” Burke broke in. “Our non-magical potions ingredients? Most of our building materials? Fabric? All the little things that keep the world going? Most of those things can’t just be conjured or transfigured, and if they can, they aren’t going to last permanently.”

Harry frowned. “I guess I never really thought about it, or figured that some wizards, I dunno, ran farms or whatever.”

Both his companions laughed. “Can you seriously imagine wizards tilling in the field, Harry?” Myrtle asked in shock. “Oh no, they’re much too important and powerful for such menial labor. We’d have house-elves do it if we could, I’m sure, but there simply aren’t enough of them. Best leave it to the muggles, right Caff? Then all we wizards need to do is appropriate their products and sell them to wizardkind.”

“See, Harry, my brother and I, and others like us,” Burke explained, “target muggle shipments of all sorts of products, impound said products – usually without the Muggles even noticing – then transport them to Britain or wherever and sell them to distributors. That’s how places like even the greengrocers here in Hogsmeade get the vast majority of their inventory.”

Harry’s mouth dropped open.

“Now Peadar – my older brother – and I focus on maritime acquisition. Others concentrate on land avenues, but I rather like a life at sea. In fact,” oh great, there’s that smile again, “if you ever get bored with tavern life, I wouldn’t hesitate to take on a well-formed young man such as yourself as part of my crew. Life on the Bachelor can be quite … exhilarating.”

Making a valiant effort to just ignore the man’s shameless flirting, Harry persisted “But the Ministry? If you’re caught, won’t you go to prison?”

Myrtle and Burke shared a look and burst into giggles again. “Oh Harry, you’re such an innocent,” gushed the woman as she pressed her leg further into his own. “Sure, what Caff does is illegal, but the Ministry would never stop him. If they did, all the other pirates would take their business to another country and Britain would be left without food and other necessary things.”

It occurred to Harry that the meals he had eaten at Hogwarts over the years had likely been the product of piracy.

Weird … Oh, I bet Hermione would go rabid if she ever found out about this!

Further conversation was interrupted by a tall young man landing arse-down on top of their table.

Another, larger man was in the corner advancing on him as a witch with a pinched face surveyed them with delight. Oh, bar fight, Harry’s mind supplied even as his pint of Steaming Stout dripped into his lap.

Quick as lighting, Myrtle’s hand shot to her glasses and, before Harry could even blink, she had apparently transfigured them into two wicked little knives. One was suddenly implanted in the table between the first man’s legs, barely brushing against a very sensitive spot. The other slammed into the wall next to the second man’s head with hardly a whisper.

The pub grew silent. Myrtle smiled. “Boys, I don’t care much what you do, but it really isn’t polite to interrupt a girl’s conversation, yes?” Harry realized she was fingering a third, gleaming dagger.

The threat sounds so much scarier when she says it in that cute little voice of hers.

Raucous applause sounded in the pub as the two men both backed away muttering their apologies. Myrtle used her wand to summon the second dagger as she pulled the first from the table. In seconds her razor-sharp, gleaming silver glasses were again perched on her nose.

“That was brilliant, Mrs. Cramer!” Harry breathed.

“Thanks, Harry,” she winked. “Ah, but it looks like it might be your bedtime.” She nodded in the direction of the bar and Harry saw Ab starting to head his way.

When Harry turned back to Myrtle, her lips suddenly crushed against his own without any warning. “Happy birthday, Harry!” she beamed as she broke off the kiss.

His mouth dropped open, but before he could react to thatdisconcerting new thing, Captain Burke was swooped in to give Harry his own kiss.

I should have closed my mouth, was all Harry’s shocked mind could sputter as the pirate’s tongue gently made its way into his mouth to briefly massage his own.

The captain broke the kiss quickly and tipped Harry a little grin. “Indeed, happy birthday, love!”

“Yeah,” was all Harry said as Myrtle moved to let him out of the booth. “Though it’s not really my birthday …”

Wait, that just wasn’t on … Maybe I should have punched him?

“You – bedtime!” Ab thundered at Harry, to the delight of the crowd.

“Yeah. Yeah.”

As he headed for the door that would take him down to the stables, he heard Burke call out “Too bad you’ll be alone in that hay tonight, beautiful! Send me an owl if you ever want anyone to roll in it with you!”

“I will cut off your cock, Caffrey!” Ab yelled and the rest of the pub laughed again.

Yeah. Next time I’m definitely punching him.

“Oh, he is fun to fuck with, isn’t he,” he heard Myrtle say over the din as he closed the door to the stairs.

A rather nonplussed Harry laid down in his straw bed that night and didn’t even notice when Goat began eating his hair as usual.

So.

My first kiss was with Moaning Myrtle.

Moaning bloody Myrtle.

Merlin.

And my first kiss with tongue was with a pirate named Captain Burke of  The Bachelor’s Delight.

Suddenly he started laughing helplessly, imagining the looks on Ron and Hermione’s faces if they ever learned either fact, and his smile followed him into sleep.



27 August, 1977


Harry and Ab spent the afternoon in the kitchens, the older man cooking a stew for the few guests of the inn, the younger working on Potions. It would, Harry concluded, never be his strong suit, but his Strengthening Solution was only a few shades off the turquoise the book said was optimal, and the bartender had concluded it was “more’n passable.” Since it was included in the list of fifth-year potions, Harry was gaining confidence that he wouldn’t completely foul up his O.W.L.s when the time came.

As Harry bottled his creation and then vanished the unusable scraps of his ingredients (beaming internally because vanishing was a fifth-year transfiguration spell that he totally got), Ab turned and gave him the sort of penetrating look that usually meant he wouldn’t necessarily enjoy the impending conversation.

“What? What is it?”

“You ain’t done much with your freedom, Harry.”

Okay …

Harry frowned. “I don’t get what you mean – I’m still bound to the service to wizards crap and –”

“Not what I’m talkin’ about.” Ab sat down and kept giving him that look. “We figured out you didn’t time travel two months ago. We figured out you could act without destroyin’ the universe or whatever rot you were scared of. You’re free, but you ain’t done much with it.”

Harry shook his head in confusion. “I don’t – what would you have me do? I’ve mostly just been preparing for my exams …”

“Nothin’ stoppin’ you from goin’ to Hogwarts an’ learnin’ proper there.”

Harry’s mind rang with the sound of screeching tires.

“Wha – What? What are you – I can’t go to Hogwarts, Ab!” He stared at the old man as if he had gone mental. “I’m a squib, remember?”

“That was the lie you decided on when you thought you couldn’t go there because a’ the time travel. Moot point now.”

Ab sighed.

“What I’m sayin’ lad, is that we can come up with some reason you pretended to be a squib easy enough. Talk to some folks, get it cleared up, and you could be beddin’ down in the dorms in a few days, if you want to start as a fifth year. If you want to wait an’ take the exams, you could probably transfer in as a NEWT student at the start of winter term.”

The teenager laughed derisively. “Seriously? And what sort of excuse would cover pretending to be a squib?”

“You can have your pick. Pel an’ me came up with a whole list of ‘em. My favorite is that you’re an orphan an’ your guardian is an uncle who’s a piece of shit Dark wizard over in the Netherlands – no one bothers to keep track of all the piddlin’ Dutch wanna-be Dark wizards – so you ran away and pretended to be a squib so as not to have to live with him.”

“That’s your favorite? It’s a terrible lie!” No one would ever believe that.

Ab shrugged. “Most wizards are idiots, you know that. They’d eat shit like that up and ask for more.”

Harry thought of some of the articles he read in his original world’s Prophet. Not to mention Lockhart’s books. Ab’s got a fair point.

“So, you want me and Pel to get started on makin’ you a proper wizard again?” Ab stood and made to leave.

Harry was still floored by the possibility of publicly ending his ruse. “No … I mean, please don’t. Yet. I need – I need to mull this over.”

Aberforth seemed unconcerned either way. “Whatever. Just let us know when to start.”

The kitchen door swung shut and Harry went back to methodically straightening the potions area, his mind a million miles away.

Ab’s right. I could go to Hogwarts. There’s really nothing stopping me. I stayed in the Forest because I was scared of messing with the timeline and getting caught, but that’s all pretty much out of play now.

If I’d known then what I know now, I’d have been in Dumbledore’s office spinning some tale like Ab suggested my very first day here.

The only thing the authorities can’t know about is that I’m from another dimension, got Kissed, survived the Killing curse, and that I might have some unreliable knowledge about their future.

Seriously, who thinks “he must be a dimension traveler” when they meet a kid with a dubious history?


They’d never guess this.

. . . 

I really could go to Hogwarts again.

The thought didn’t quite set his heart to thrumming in excitement as he expected it to. Harry sat down at the tiny kitchen table and closed his eyes, picturing going to sleep in a red-and-gold trimmed four-poster, hanging out with friends, eating in the Great Hall, rushing to classes, maybe even joining the Quidditch team …

They were nice thoughts. Really, really nice.

Except every time he pictured his room in Gryffindor, he saw Ron, Neville, Dean, and Seamus there as well. It was Ron and Hermione he hung out with, he ate with, he rushed to classes with. The faces on the Quidditch team he would join were those of the twins, Angelina, Katie, and Alicia, not of James and Sirius.

And who’s to say I would get sorted into Gryffindor again? His inner voice asked him, bringing the idyllic scenes in his head to an abrupt halt. The Hat did want to put me in Slytherin … and all the sneaking around and lying I’ve been doing all year probably makes me an even better candidate … I don’t think I’d be a ‘Puff, and while I like studying more than I used to, I’m definitely no Ravenclaw …

Oh God, I’d be in the same House as Snape! And Barty Crouch Jr., I think, and probably dozens of other future Death Eaters.

No way.

The entire idea of being sorted again made his blood pressure spike.

But then Harry took a few steps back from his revulsion at the idea of being a Slytherin, because really, he thought, that’s not exactly what’s bothering me about the Houses …

. . .

I just don’t want … I just don’t want to be told who I’m going to be by a bloody hat. The next two years of my life, and probably a lot after that, would be determined by whatever name the Hat calls out. If I’m honest, I don’t really care all that much about being a Gryffindor again. I mean, the two people I’m closest to are a former Hufflepuff and a former Ravenclaw. The houses just don’t really matter to me now.

No, I don’t really want to be a Gryffindor, or definitely a Slytherin, or any of the others. But as soon as I’m made just one thing, who I get to be won’t be entirely up to me anymore like it is here …

And a thought that Harry had often had in a blurry, indistinct sort of way arced above the turbulence of his mind, fully and perfectly formed, shining like a newborn star.

I want to get to control my own life. I want to control who I am and who I become.

It was so very simple, but the thought confronted Harry so absolutely that all others shuddered to a stop.

Going to Hogwarts is a step backward. I’d be trying to get what I had in
my Hogwarts back, but I’d also be giving up so much of my ability to choose for myself.

And haven’t I earned the right to take control of my own life? At Hogwarts I’d have to answer to professors, the Headmaster, my housemates … I’d have to study what and when they tell me to, learn what they want me to, jump through the thousand little hoops that come with living at the school.

. . .

But I also have to answer to adults here – I answer to Ab, and he mostly determines our lessons, or Pel tells me what to read for History of Magic, so what’s the difference?

He gazed into an imagined distance, rolling his thoughts in his mind, searching for what he actually thought, because he knew there was a difference. An important one.

Oh.

It’s different because I chose to be here. I didn’t have to accept Ab as my custodian. I chose to. And even if my choices were forced some because of the Macnair thing … I would still choose him now.

I choose the Head over Hogwarts.

Because
I can.



The next morning when Ab lumbered down for his mid-morning breakfast Harry looked up from reading  Quidditch scores in the Prophet.

“Hey Ab, I thought about the proposition you made yesterday.”

Aberforth paused midway between the bar and the table with his plate of eggs.

“Thanks for thinking of that, but I’m not interested in going anywhere.”

The old bartender just shrugged. “Fine by me, lad.” He turned back around to grab a mug of tea he’d forgotten, so Harry missed the small smile that graced his face. “Eventually, though, you’ll want to come out as a wizard, I expect. Can’t have that great of a life as a squib, unfortunately.”

Harry blinked. He’d honestly not really thought about the future beyond saving people and fighting Death Eaters. “Really?”

“Aye, an’ we can use whatever cover story you want then. But since you aren’t goin’ to Hogwarts, I’d suggest waitin’ until you’re seventeen to make it known. You’ll have your O.W.L.s and you’ll be of age, so no one can touch you or try to make you go anywhere you don’t want to go.”

The younger wizard nodded. That makes sense … Weird to think I’ll be of age in less than a year!

“Well, that’s settled then,” Ab continued. “You got History with Pel this mornin’, yeah? After that, take the goats out for a bit – an’ keep a sharp eye on Amaltheia. Bint’s lookin’ fat an’ I’m guessin’ she gave it up to Silvanus on the sly and got herself knocked up outta season.” The man shook his head at Goat’s apparent promiscuity. “Then be back by two or so. It’s a Friday, so we got a lot of prep to get done before Quisby shows up. We’ll do Defense and Charms tomorrow when we have time.”

“Sure, Ab, sure.”



19 September, 1977


“Aberforth, thank you for seeing me so early in your day.” Dumbledore sat in the upstairs sitting room, at once trying to gaze at a beaming Ariana and to avoid making eye contact with her.

Ab snorted, watching his brother’s eyes grow more uncomfortable. It wasn’t an accident he’d made Albus meet him in this room.

“Well. I suppose I should note that Harry is performing his service admirably. Though I admit Zoilus Dorbel has voiced some complaints …” Albus trailed off.

“That’s what you get for hirin’ that obnoxious shitstain,” Ab said with a shrug. “Harry ain’t whinged, really, but I guess he has him moppin’ up animal guts every other day. The little fuck really havin’ students practice defense usin’ conjured pigs and cows?”

Albus grimaced.

“S’pose he is then. Anyhow, Harry ain’t stupid. He knows Dorbel’s only havin’ him do it so he can lord over him how much better he is. All he does is make himself look like a petty little shit.”

Dumbledore silently agreed with his brother that Dorbel’s conduct was abominable. In fact, in their capacity as Head Students, both Lily Evans and, to his surprise, James Potter had brought their own and some of the other students’ complaints to him about the way the teacher treated the boy during classes. There was, however, little he could do. Dorbel had come with the highest recommendations for his effective training methods, and the headmaster’s young charges needed to be able to defend themselves.

Plus they hadn’t had many applicants for the Defense position in the first place that year.

“But you ain’t here to talk about Harry, are you? So talk, if that’s what you want. I got other things I’d rather be doin’.”

Ab watched as his brother heaved a sigh and twirled a finger in his beard.

“Aberforth, I do not wish to involve myself in your business affairs –”

“Then don’t.”

“ – but, I must beg you to rescind the action you took against Mundungus Fletcher last night. You know as well as I that the intelligence he gathers could be of great significance.”

Ab folded his arms and scowled. “Nope.” After all, it had taken what felt like forever for him to catch Dung’s spying out without betraying the fact that he knew about Harry’s Obliviation.

Dumbledore made an irritated gesture. “But you must understand his actions were only the result of my requests.”

“Oh, I certainly understand that,” Ab retorted. “I understand that I caught the little sneak reportin’ to you on what he thinks me and my boy are up to. You had a spy spyin’ on your other spy, and your spy got caught. Bad generalin’ on your part, if you ask me.”

“Aberforth! Please believe I only asked Mundungus to keep me appraised of your situation for your own safety! We’ve discussed enough in the last year just how precarious your position could become, especially because of Harry’s presence here. I cannot rely simply on your word!”

Ab’s magic flared angrily and his mug of tea burst. Ariana huddled behind the stone archway at the fore of her portrait, her wide blue eyes peering around the corner.

“Oh, I believe you. But you listen to me, Albus,” Ab said in a quiet, furious voice that brought to Dumbledore’s mind the image of a roiling, seething river about to break its dam. “You send a fuck like Dung to my pub to spy on me an’ mine, and you think I’m gonna let that slide? So yeah, I blacklisted the gormless fuck! He ain’t allowed in the Head ever again. Period. And hell, if I thought I could get away with blacklistin’ you, I would.”

The bartender took a deep breath and looked at Ariana. He tried to send her a reassuring smile, but his mouth refused to lie.

“So it comes to this. What are you gonna do?”

Albus looked like he’d been punched. “Please, Aberforth … I want you protected and I need your information for the Order, but if I can’t trust that –”

“Seems to me the one who’s been shown less than trustworthy here sure as shit ain’t me.”

Albus looked at him for a long time. He eventually heaved another ponderous sigh, rose, and headed for the door to the stairs. “The next meeting for the Order is Friday at 11 p.m.”

“Thanks ever so kindly for respectin’ a barman’s schedule. Why, I never have anythin’ to do on a Friday night!” Ab spat.

“Oh, you know very well that most of our members have day jobs, Aberforth. Friday nights allow for long meetings and for those individuals working at the Ministry to still perform their duties. Not everything I do is targeted at you, and not every decision I make can take your best interests alone into account!” Dumbledore shot back, his nostrils flaring.

Damn. Looks like I actually got under the git’s skin,
Aberforth observed in some shock as his brother continued.

“You are becoming tedious, Aberforth.” Bloody hell, he’s right arsed off. “It may have escaped your notice, but we are no longer teenagers. To be frank, I grow weary of being tried for the same crimes for decades on end.”

“Don’t you dare –”

The headmaster cut the bartender’s indignant response off with a glare that made the air almost crackle. “I realize that you wish to imagine me some grand villain blithely tromping on the lives of the less powerful. Frankly, I care less and less about such dramatics. It is so very easy, after all, to occupy the moral high ground when the responsibility for orchestrating a defense of thousands does not rest on your shoulders, isn’t it? After all, you are not forced daily to make choices that afford no simple, perfectly moral solutions, are you?”

Aberforth hadn’t heard so much venom in his brother’s voice since they were boys. He threw back his head and laughed bitterly. “Yes, you’re so put upon. But I ain’t lettin’ Dung back in. Not when I got Harry here. That boy ain’t your business.”

Dumbledore threw up his hands in frustration, the last shreds of his attempt at equanimity eradicated. “I simply don’t understand why you insist on casting me as a threat to the boy! What have I done to him? Yes, I suggested he leave for the simple fact that he does compromise your position and he is in a fair amount of danger living in so public a place that hosts such clientele. It’s only a matter of time before another Macnair comes after him, and the nature of your business makes it nearly impossible to truly protect him! And, you’ll notice, given how much you care for the boy, I have stopped pushing for him to leave despite my concerns.”

The older man shook his head sharply in exasperation. “Yes, I voted for his conviction, but only because it was our agreed-upon plan! A plan, may I remind you, that could not have been successful without my intervention! Which I did for you, and because the boy honestly seems a fine young man undeserving of such a fate. Truly, I am a monster, I suppose, for such crimes.”

It took all of Ab’s willpower not to mention the Obliviation as his brother’s shoulders sagged and he sank back into his chair.

“We aren’t young men anymore, Aberforth. I am exhausted with you constantly demanding an impossible perfection from me.” He sighed, seeming to age another decade. “Make your decision. The next Order meeting is at eleven p.m. on Friday. Come, don’t come. It is up to you.”

Ain’t lost his spirit, then.
Ab swallowed his surprise at Albus’s outburst and avoided the memories of a much younger, much more passionate version of his big brother. Instead, he shot him a vicious little grin. “Well. There was some of your old spit and vinegar! Nice to see you still have a pair.” Ab gave him a long look. “At any rate, I s’pose I ain’t interested in abandonin’ the bigger fight. I’ll be at your meeting.” He paused. “Still think you’re a git though.”

Dumbledore blinked and then huffed as his younger brother started to chuckle. “Oh, bugger off, Ab,” he muttered as the door closed behind him.

The bartender let out a throaty laugh, drawing Ariana out from behind the stone. She rolled her eyes at Ab and the direction taken by her eldest brother.


 


4 October, 1977

It was official.

Snape hadn’t been that bad.

Sure, he had despised Harry for no good reason, and the wretched treatment Harry had received under his tender mercies had guaranteed that the man’s enmity was enthusiastically matched by his student, but … now that Harry looked back, Severus Snape hadn’t been that bad.

At least compared to Zoilus-fucking-arsehole-Dorbel. He didn't know if he could eviscerate a name, but just saying it in his head made Harry want to try.

The man was barely taller than Harry and almost as thin, yet he seemed far more delicate than the younger wizard. Only in his late twenties, Dorbel spoke like the most experienced of war veterans, though he had been most evasive when one of the sixth years in a class Harry was “helping” with had asked about his actual experience in combat. The more Harry listened to the man, the more he began envisioning a terrible chimera that boasted the officious snobbery of Percy Weasley, the self-satisfaction of Gilderoy Lockhart, and the morality of … of Adolf Hitler.

With regard to that last, Harry knew it wasn’t an apt comparison, but as a Muggle-raised young man, he also knew in his bones that Hitler was, in fact, the worst person ever. And that seemed fitting enough for Zoilus Dorbel.

The man constantly requested his services in his classroom. Luckily Filch had claimed that he couldn’t spare Harry more than one or two mornings a week, but those few mornings were more than enough to earn Dorbel an eternal place near the top of Harry’s “hate them forever” list.

The first time Harry had been required to help him was for his seventh year NEWT class, to which he’d apparently decided to teach the Entrails-Expelling Curse. On conjured farm animals. Only a few of the students didn’t look green as they watched and heard – and really the sounds were the worst – the animals’ guts explode out in massive heaps onto the classroom floor.

It was not the unfortunate ends that those pseudo-animals met which made Harry hate him. (After all, conjured beings couldn’t feel pain.) No, he had ordered Harry to clean up the piles of animal carcasses and wipe up the copious amounts of blood, guts, and other … inside stuff by hand, despite the fact that he could simply vanish it all or wait twenty minutes before it vanished on its own. And all the while that Harry was slogging through the disgusting mess, Dorbel went on lecturing the students and throwing in little digs against squibs. He’d actually heard his mother’s counterpart gasp in fury when Dorbel lamented, with a little laugh to show that of course he wasn’t serious, that they couldn’t just use “the squib” for target practice, since that would allow the students to work on aiming at a person.

Every morning that Harry worked for the man became a demeaning and revolting endlessness punctuated by blatant discrimination.

But it’s okay, Harry reminded himself as he walked home, covered in the vestiges of students’ vomit. Today Dorbel had taught his fifth years to distract their enemies by casting a quick Seasickness curse (which even he had to grudgingly admit was a nice trick).

It was okay.

Really.

It was okay because Zoilus Dorbel was going to die.

 . . .

Or become a werewolf. Or lose his entire memory. Or something, dammit!

Harry, just like most every Hogwarts student in his time, was convinced that the Defense position was cursed. Whatever else happened, Zoilus Dorbel was out at the end of the year.

Preferably in a very painful, very public way.

Oh yes. Zoilus Dorbel was going to die.

When the still-seething young wizard entered the pub he found most of the regulars in early and the divination gamblers happily ensconced in the corner arguing about an aspect of Neptune or some such nonsense. He was on his way to the private washroom to change and wipe away regurgitated Hogwarts breakfasts when he had an idea. A brilliant idea.

“Uh, excuse me, ladies and Wig …”

“Oh ho, well hello little Devil!” Pemphredo gushed. “What has your wand in such a knot on this fine day?”

Harry got straight to it. “Would you be interested in opening up betting on, ah, a particular event?”

Dalcop swiveled round in his stool. “Whatchoo up to, Harry?”

Pemphredo was looking at him with a cat-got-the-canary expression. “Indeed, my Devil, what sort of wager are you considering?”

Harry couldn’t help but return her evil little smirk with one of his own. “Well, ma’am, I, er – I don’t really wish ill on any of your colleagues, but I was thinking about opening up bets regarding whether or not … (hell with it, he thought) … Professor Dorbel finishes his first year at Hogwarts and, if he doesn’t, bets on what might happen to him.”

The two other crones whipped their heads around to look at the Divination professor so sharply that Harry was surprised their lacy veils didn’t catch on anything. Pemphredo’s eyebrows had risen high enough that he could view all the clumsily-applied layers of violet eyeshadow. Her plum-painted lips widened into a feral grin. “My dear, dear Devil, I think that’s an absolutely fascinating idea! I’ll even draw up odds and send them back to the pub, if you like.”

Pel and Dalcop were grinning. “I think we an’ many others would be interested in getting in on such action, though of course we can’t boast having the Sight,” Pel admitted with some grace.

With a toothless smile, Wigol said … something.

“All right, it’s agreed,” Pemphredo said, “I’ll draw up the odds, and Messrs. Palter and Peloother here will officiate all wagers made at the pub. Let’s close the betting, ah, perhaps on the first of the new year, and put down the fiscal end of the academic year – that’s July 31st – as the final date of play.”

Harry grinned. The first annual observance of what would become known as the “Plight of the Professor Pot” was underway.



17 October, 1977

“Okay, so that’s eight galleons for Flutterstock on accidental beheading or fatal amputation at 75-1 odds, two galleons for Sorner on misfired student curse at 10-1, sixteen sickles – seriously? – on murdered by irate father because he was fucking his daughter for Gobermouch at 30-1, an’ another one galleon for Harry on –” Peloother choked a bit on his ale “on death by auto-erotic asphyxiation, at 1000-1 odds.” The old solicitor shot Harry a look. “How the hell do you even know about this sort of thing?”

Harry shrugged. “I work at the Hog’s Head, Pel. At this point, how could I not?”

Pel conceded the point. “But haven’t you already bet on five other outcomes or so?”

“Seven. But I’m trying to cast a wide net. And besides, doesn’t he just look the sort to die like that?”

The crowd of participants in the Professor’s Pot and other interested onlookers laughed. Casting an eye over the Head, Harry was gratified to see just how well the new game had caught on. The entire west wall of the pub was now taken up by a huge blackboard that set out the odds and tallied the various bets so far. Every day they had to consult with the divination gamblers to get odds on ever-stranger situations. Certainly, most had to do with Dorbel’s death, though a good many had proposed that he live through his time at Hogwarts. Hell, some poor sod had even bet that Dorbel would luck into a plush position with the Aurors, at 150-1 odds.

He was less enthused to see that “Killed by enraged teenaged squib” was holding on as the most popular choice at 6-1 odds.

Pel was still at it. “We also have some absentee wages, several of which were sent to us under conditions of anonymity but the owls were, well, let’s just say that they live in a big castle nearby!” These were Harry’s favorites. Apparently, Pemphredo had let the pool slip to a few of her colleagues. McGonagall’s twenty galleon wager that the man found a way to be accidentally enslaved by revolutionary house-elves (20,000-1 odds) wasn’t one he was likely to forget.

Pel ran through the new bets quickly. For the last one, he sighed. “Need more odds again. This one wants to bet 3 galleons that cats feast on the man’s corpse before its discovery, regardless of the cause of death.” Harry snickered and grabbed the letter. Sure, it was supposed to be kept anonymous, but he worked here. He could barely contain a louder laugh when he saw the bet was signed ‘Pomona Sprout.’

As the crowd dispersed, Pel looked over his shoulder and snorted. “Ain’t surprisin’ that. Heard from Hagrid that Sprout’s been up in arms about the way Dorbel’s treating Filch. Seems he’s about as kind to the caretaker as he is to you. Poor bastard.”

Harry scrunched his face in confusion. “Dorbel? Why pity –”

“Not that moron, my friend, Argus Filch. There’s a man who sure as shrivelfigs doesn’t deserve what wizards dished out to him.” Noticing that the confusion hadn’t left Harry’s face, he pushed on. “Don’t tell me you don’t know! I mean, why Filch is at Hogwarts?”

Harry shook his head. I never even thought about it.

Pel sighed and took a pull from his drink. “It’s about the same sort of situation as yours, really. You know about the squib marches, yeah?”

Harry nodded hesitantly. “Kind of. In the ‘60s, they wanted better rights.”

His older friend shook his head in mild disgust. “I know what our next lesson’ll be on then. That’s about the right of it, though there’s way more to it than that. Anyhow, Argus Filch participated in some of them. Not an organizer or an agitator, just as a demonstrator. At the last really major one, back in ’70, some wizard kids attacked – or were just ‘playing with’ – a squib teenager who was there. Filch intervened, pulled two of ‘em away, and ended up beating the piss out of the last one. Broke his jaw and his collarbone. Luckily no one was permanently hurt, or Filch would’ve been done for. As it is, he got smacked with ten years of full-time “service to wizards” to be served at Hogwarts, so as he could, as they said, ‘learn to appreciate the unparalleled majesty of wizarding youth.’” Pel sighed. “Honestly, he was bloody lucky. That happened now, he’d be in Azkaban, no question. But back then the squib movement had more power.”

“Merlin,” Harry breathed. “That’s – that’s horrible.”

Pel nodded. “Well, it’s not like the man would do that shit job voluntarily. I heard he was expelled
from some rich pureblood family but made his way well enough to end up enrolled in some non-magical school to learn a Muggle trade.” He sighed. “That all ended right fast, I suppose, and his sorry arse got pulled right back into the world that didn’t want him.”

Christ, no wonder he hated us all. The Filch of Harry’s original dimension and time was certainly not one to elicit Harry’s sympathy – threatening to torture children and delighting when they were sent into dangerous situations in the Forest just wasn’t on, no matter how much the world had kicked a person in the teeth – but Harry’s time as a squib had more than showed him how easy it was to hate wizards. He could well imagine years of constant humiliation warping the decent man he knew today into the twisted, older Filch he had despised.

Harry looked around carefully to make sure no one was in listening distance. “Pel, he was still there in 1995 … why do you think he’d still be there if he’d served his sentence by what, 1980?”

The older man frowned. “Well, maybe things played out different where you’re from. Or … or maybe the sentence was the same, and he found that by the end there wasn’t another place for him to go to earn steady pay. I don’t know, Harry.”

Harry sighed. He didn’t know about his original Filch, but that man no longer mattered here. The Filch of this time and place was a decent man who treated him well, and Harry hated to think that he’d been subjected to the same Ministry bull. Ten fucking years of enforced service. Merlin.



1 November, 1977

One very good thing about living as a tramp in the wild, Harry decided, was that last year nothing bad had happened to him on Halloween for the first time in five years.

Well, maybe something did. It could have been Halloween the day last year when I twisted my ankle in that ravine. But as Harry hadn’t been more concerned with the exact date other than to note that it was “October-y” or “November-ish,” Halloween 1976 had passed with no fanfare.

This Halloween he walked quickly home from Hogwarts, much more on edge. He’d waited all morning for something terrible to occur, but his day in the greenhouses was entirely peaceful, with nary a Dark Lord, Death Eater, or Dorbel in sight.

The afternoon had been spent alone working in the barn on Transfiguration and reading a bit for Pel’s History of Magic class. No trolls, basilisks, escaped godfathers, or goblets of fire intruded on his solitude.

Although Halloween tended to be a busy night at the Head, this year it fell on a Monday, and the pub was near-deserted until nine, when Quisby relieved him and Harry went to the kitchen to take care of the dishes.

His bedtime came and he let out an apprehensive breath. Halloween was just about over, and nothing bad had happened.

Maybe Halloween is only cursed for me in my original dimension? he had thought.

Now, as the November morning dawned on him, Harry knew it had been too good to be true.

The scrap of folded parchment lying on the ground just outside his door could have been a bit of rubbish that had innocently blown by.

It could have been, but for the four rocks placed precisely in each of its corners that held it fast to the walk.

Harry was all it said on the top.

Yeah, definitely not random rubbish.

He should have waited for Ab to wake up before touching it, he knew. The paper could have been cursed with any number of terrible spells, it could have had a contact poison on it, it could – he repressed the flashbacks – have been a portkey. 

But of course he didn’t wait. Instead, he scooted the rocks off the top, picked up the parchment, and unfolded it. A single question, written in a shaky, jagged hand was scrawled across the cream parchment in dark red ink.

The price is fixed, isn’t it?

Harry had tried to forget about the graffito on the Post Office they’d found earlier that autumn (a soul for a soul), but he’d known then that somehow it would come back to haunt him.

When he closed his eyes he heard the rasping and strangely sad voice of the Dementor echo in his mind as he’d once heard it echo across a vast nothingness.

A soul for a soul, little wizard.

The price is fixed. A soul for a soul …

This … this just didn’t make sense. Am I being haunted by Dementors? No one in this world but me, Ab, and Pel know about what they said to me.

He shook his head in frustration.

No, Dementors just wouldn’t do this.

Breathe. Think. Take this inside and hide it. Tell Ab when he wakes up. Then go from there.

I can handle this.

Harry straightened his spine. He could handle this.

Or so he thought until he turned around.

The second message of the day was painted in huge, jagged, two meter-high letters across the back wall of the pub, the back wall of the stables – his bedroom – like an angry red tattoo.

THE BOY WHO LIVED

What? What?

His next thought branded itself on his brain in burning black and blistering white.

Someone knows.



Harry didn’t wait around for Ab to wake up. He Flooed Pel and ordered the very grumpy solicitor to get to the pub, now please, promising a hangover potion, then thundered up the stairs and pounded on the old bartender’s door until Ab wrenched it open.

Not waiting for the man to bark at him, Harry gasped “Emergency. Downstairs now. Pel’s coming.”

Twenty minutes later, after administering Pel his hangover potion and showing the two men the parchment and the back wall of the Head, the trio found themselves hunched over in the empty pub, trying to puzzle out the two messages.

Pel, as usual, took charge of getting them to focus on the facts after he had cast a small barrage of charms on the parchment.. “Okay. First, there’s no traces of anything magical on this, so revelation spells are a dead end. It’s clear that the note an’ the paint were done by the same person. The writing is identical. An’ Harry says it looks about the same as the graffito on the Post Office. So we’re probably only dealing with one person. A person who obviously knows something somehow about Harry’s life before he came here, maybe even what happened in his 1981.”

Harry narrowed his eyes. “I mean, yeah, they know the nickname, but that doesn’t mean they know about Voldemort, right?”

Ab shook his head. “Didn’tcha notice the ‘I’ in “lived” out there?” Without waiting for an answer, he dragged the younger wizard back to the back garden, Pel in tow.

Harry cursed when he realized the ‘I’ was rendered like a thunderbolt, an exact replica writ large of his own scar.

“Well,” the barkeep grunted, “now that we’ve all seen it, I’m gettin’ rid of this. Won’t do to have anyone else notice it.” With that, he vanished the paint, though Harry still felt as though it was there an invisible stain, reminding him that he wasn’t really safe here in his home.

A few moments later they were back in the pub. “So who could be doing this?” Harry asked. “I mean, Dementors in this world wouldn’t know about what happened … Though that one in the STIFF didn’t affect me, come to think of it … but even if they did, I just can’t see Dementors doing this. They’re … they’re Dementors!”

“Nor I,” admitted Pel.

“Could be like we thought was possible with the first one. Some seer getting a weird feel from the boy and just spoutin’ it off. Might not even remember doin’ it – lots of prophets have no memory of what they say.”

This … doesn’t feel like that time in third year with Trelawney though … Harry made a dubious face.

“I’m not convinced of that either, Ab. Doesn’t seem too seer-like to leave a note all nice and neat for the lad, an’ especially not like one to ask a question. Seers pronounce, after all, they don’t ask questions when they’re in a trance.”

“The price is fixed, isn’t it?”

Harry nodded slowly. That didn’t sound like a prophesy at all.

Eventually, the three men surrendered to a breakfast that was silent and contemplative, and didn’t inspire any sudden answers.

“Wait an’ see, again, I reckon. Whoever it is don’t seem to be interested in notifyin’ the Ministry, at least,” Ab finally said. “I’m strengthening the perimeter charms around the Head, but I can only activate them when we’re closed and have no guests, so I ain’t too optimistic about them stopping this fucker.”

Harry just shook his head and glared at the parchment. “Someone knows, guys. And … I think they’re playing with me. They’re fucking playing with me.”

Chapter Text

 

XVII. Examinations In Progress

17 November, 1977

 

So that’s that done, I guess.

A bemused Harry walked home after his final day of prescribed service to wizards at Hogwarts.

600 assigned hours. 20 hours a week. 30 weeks. Has it really been that long since the trial?

Given that he usually faced some sort of life or death situation every year before he could leave the school, he rather expected something dramatic to happen that week, especially since receiving the last communication from what he privately thought of as his “Dementor stalker.”

Yet nothing had happened, and the last few weeks had actually been quite … profitable. He’d spent them mostly with Hagrid, Slughorn, and Sprout, and had made sure to help himself liberally to the potions stores and the greenhouses. He’d figured at some point the mokeskin bag from Hagrid would finally become too stuffed for more stolen ingredients, but he’d never discovered that point.

Well, there are still chances in the future, he grinned.

On the previous Monday, he’d gotten permission from Ab to accept a one-morning per week job with Madame Pomfrey, who had extolled the virtues of his help to the headmaster. It wouldn’t pay much, but the matron was adamant that he continue to learn from her, and this would give them ample time together to practice. He was also tentatively set to watch the ‘squib-friendly’ greenhouses for Sprout again in the summer, so that would bring in some much-needed galleons and further opportunities for petty larceny.

His final meeting with Filch had been oddly bittersweet. He’d managed to reach the man’s office before him at the end of the day, and rummaged through his files until he found the Map, which he happily – if a bit guiltily – pocketed. Filch had walked in moments later, Mrs. Norris in tow.

With a terse grin and a final Chocolate Frog tossed his way, Filch admonished him not to be a stranger. Mrs. Norris curled around his leg one more time, and Harry realized with a pang that he’d rather miss being the one teenager in the school that Argus Filch and Mrs. Norris could stand.

Still, the prospect of having all his mornings but one back to himself was exciting. He had plenty to do right now with his Belgian O.W.L.s looming ever closer, but come spring he hoped to use the time for something more engaging than revising.

After a quick late lunch at the Head, he trundled off to the Forest to meet Ab for a Defense lesson, a now full-grown Colin lumbering at his side. Harry smiled as he watched him attempt to walk gracefully but failing miserably as he still hadn’t gotten accustomed to his increased height.

The thestral nearly walked into a tree. “Oh, Colin, watch where you’re go –”

And then Colin was in the air in a flash as the tree to Harry’s other side got hit with a curse and rained chunks of wood on the young wizard.

“Aigis Makra!” Harry sent up a shield designed to protect him both from spells and sharp debris as he dove for cover behind the tree into which Colin had nearly walked.

Shite, I don’t know where they are or how many there are.

Harry cast about frantically trying to think of a spell that could help him defend himself and get answers to those questions at the same time.

A transfiguration charm modification he had thought of some weeks back popped into his head. To his pride, he’d managed to perfect the bird-conjuring spell (though casting it non-verbally was still way beyond him). At the time, he’d thought that birds weren’t the most useful things to be able to cast, especially in battle, and had figured that the same wand movement with modified intent and incantation could perhaps produce something with a little more … sting to it.

What the hell, why not?

“Vespae Crabrones!” The sound of a gunshot echoed through the forest as plumes of smoke accompanied the small swarm of giant European hornets – a species known for their aggression and interest in bright lights – out of his wand.

At the same time, his opponent – or one of them – cast a Reducto at the tree he was using for cover. As Harry ducked out of the way just in time to avoid being injured, his hornets converged on the threat and zoomed to the underbrush ahead of him where his attacker seemed to be concealed.

A sharp half-scream followed by an angry “ever-living fuck!” sounded from the bushes before the hornets were engulfed in an Incendio.

Breathing heavily, Harry tried to hold back his grin as a sullen and disheveled Ab floundered out the bushes, a number of swelling red mounds popping out on his face. The flaming hornets slowly burned out and dropped around the older wizard.

“Hornets.” It wasn’t a question.

Harry grinned. “European hornets. They like to attack things. And most people are at least surprised when a swarm of two-inch-long hornets attacks them out of nowhere.”

Ab grimaced as he gingerly fingered one of the stings. “You really can be a mean little fucker, boy.” He pulled some salve out of his robes. “Figured I’d bring this ‘cause you’d need it. Hmpf. Well done, lad.”

“Should I ask why you were trying to take my head off without warning?”

“Wanted to see how you handled yourself in an ambush. Figured we could practice some dodging today as well.” Ab grunted. “Thanks for not sendin’ that bloody bread-slicing or carrot-peeling spell at me. Was a bit concerned about them comin’ my way, I ain’t too proud to admit.” Ab gently hunkered himself down on a stump and began applying the salve. “’Fore we get started, wanted to let you know I got your O.W.Ls all set up. You’re takin’ them in Leuven startin’ on December 12th and goin’ through the 23rd. Wanted to do ‘em in January, but they ain’t offerin’ them again until April.”

Harry’s breath caught in his throat. “So … so soon? That’s less than a month away!” His heart was beating entirely too fast and his palms were suddenly sweating. Is this what Hermione feels like all the time?

“Bah, you’ll be fine. Least on the tests that matter. I put you down for Defense, Charms, Transfiguration, Herbology, Potions, Creatures, History, Astronomy, and Muggle Studies. Figure you’ll probably fail Astronomy – no loss for you – but the rest you’re in good shape. Didn’t bother with Divination.”

Harry snorted. A single afternoon with Wigol ended with the wispy little man grinning and pronouncing him “totally rubbish” at the subject (at least that’s what Harry thought he said), so Divination was simply abandoned.

“Got your schedule for you back at the Head, but stop frettin’. You’re a fine enough wizard and you ain’t as stupid as you look.”

“Based on what I’ve seen, I’d have to agree. You are a fine young wizard, aren’t you Harry?”

Both men jumped at the high-pitched sound of the unexpected voice and whipped around, wands out.

Moaning Myrtle stepped out from behind a tree back down the path Harry had taken to the glade, slowly clapping her hands with a wicked smirk across her face.

“Well shit,” Ab muttered.

Myrtle gave her tinkling giggle. “Are you being a bad boy again, Harry?”

His mind wasn’t helping him think through the most logical response – it was too busy being stuck on a loop of profanity – so Harry just went with his first instinct. Deny, deny, deny.

“Myrtle! Oh! This, uh- isn’t what it looks like! I mean –”

Ab snorted into his hand.

The petite brunette’s grin got even wider. “Really Harry? Looks to me like the Head’s little squib is actually a wizard practicing spells with old Aberforth here in the Forbidden Forest and preparing to take his O.W.L.s next month in Belgium.” She clucked her tongue at their glares. “You boys should have been more careful. It was easy enough for a lady interested in where you two got off to so often to follow Aberforth, and walking through a forest with a great bumbling thestral isn’t so good for stealth, Harry dear.”

“Well shit,” Harry sighed. Though she followed Ab, so at least I’m off the hook for that one.

Ab’s face was like a block of granite. “Cramer, this ain’t a game. Don’t you –”

The smile dropped from Myrtle’s face as she cast a speculative glance at Harry. “Never said it was, old man. Harry could have come out as a wizard back in April and saved himself a whole heap of trouble. Instead, he kept his mouth shut and dared the old purebloods to give him the Kiss.” The woman looked faintly impressed. “Whatever is going here, it definitely isn’t a game, is it?”

“No, it really isn’t,” Harry admitted stiffly.

Myrtle nodded slowly, then gracefully plopped herself down on the stump that Ab had been sitting on. “Well then, let’s deal!” her voice suddenly bright and her eyes gleaming.

“Fuck’s sake, Cramer,” Ab began, “he’s a boy. Can’t you just keep your mouth shut and leave him be?”

“Course I could, Ab. But … I’m not going to just make a promise to keep my lips sealed about Harry’s little secret. Not without getting something in return.” Harry gaped as she turned and grinned at him. “Not to worry, dear. I promise it won’t be anything too strenuous,” the word curled around him like a cat wanting attention and he felt his face redden. “But you see, Harry, in my experience relying on others to keep your secrets out of the goodness of the hearts just leads to disappointment and regret. A person’s goodness of heart only seems to last as long as keeping that secret doesn’t hurt them.” She laughed without mirth. “No, I prefer to rely on something much more faithful than ethics. So, let’s deal!”

Harry glanced at Ab, who just shrugged, quirked an eyebrow, and made a ‘go on with it, then’ gesture. Merlin, is he testing me? Thanks a lot, Ab.

“Er, okay … so what do you want?”

“Fuck’s sake, lad.”

“Oh, Harry,” Myrtle said, shaking her head. “You never, ever start like that!”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Well, I don’t know how to do this!”

Myrtle brought a hand delicately to her temple. “And you never say something like that either.” She sighed. “Just this once, I’ll help you a little. First, when you’re dealing, you want to get as much out of the other person as you can, in addition to your main desire, and you want to give as little as possible. Now, you want me to keep my mouth shut. What else do you want?”

After a quick glance at Ab – who just closed his eyes in exasperation – Harry gave it a try. “Well, I want … I guess I want to make sure you don’t tell anyone. And I want – (I want to make sure I don’t have to tell you any more of my secrets) er, nevermind that one.”

The little woman sat back and idly played with a lock of brown and gray-streaked hair. “Don’t want to give away too much of what you want? Better. So how do you make sure I don’t tell anyone, keeping in mind there’s no way I’m taking any sort of secrecy oath?”

Harry frowned and thought hard. “Um … maybe if I knew something about you that you didn’t want me to tell?”

“Blackmail or extortion,” she grinned, “not a bad thought. And how would you get this material?”

What do I know about Myrtle Cramer? Harry racked his brain and recalled that Pel had once said that she was involved with a bunch of illegal activities … and when he’d asked at his unbirthday party, the woman had been evasive. “Maybe you could use my help a bit in your, um, business? That would be something I could give you, and I’d also probably learn some stuff that you may not want other people to know.”

Myrtle looked speculative. “Nicely reasoned, Harry!”

“Oh bloody hell,” Ab groaned. “You really can’t stay out of shit even for a day, can you, boy?”

The woman ignored him and smoothed the skin-tight leather of her trousers. “Not a bad idea, perhaps, but can you be useful to me? I know the old man won’t let me put you in danger, so putting you on the transport of … product is out.” She frowned. “Those wasps of yours were a pretty good on the fly spell. You any good at enchanting?”

“Um, no, I don’t think I’ve even really tried, Mrs. Cramer.”

“He ain’t complete bollocks at it,” Ab broke in. “An’ yeah, you have tried, lad. Don’t you remember those rocks round your neck?”

Harry’s eyes widened and his hand went to his mokeskin bag. Myrtle giggled, “Well, let’s see your little stones, Harry!”

Ignoring that bit of innuendo, Harry reached into his bag and withdrew a few of the rocks he’d programmed more than a year ago with Point-Me and banishing charms. Handing them to Myrtle, he quickly explained how he’d used them to hunt. By the time he was finished, she looked fairly interested.

“Definitely functional …” she murmured, “but juvenile in design …” Harry winced. “These, yes these show some promise, and you’re not incompetent for someone your age at inlaid charms.” She tapped her teeth with her fingers as rolled the stones in her palm. “Hmm … Just so happens I’m working on a project right now that could use someone who can handle simple inlaid magic.”

Harry stared at her. “Are you saying you’ll keep quiet if I what? Charm things for you?”

Myrtle hopped off the stump and gave him a quick lick on the nose. “Something like that, dear.” She laughed as he furiously wiped his face. “Yes, I think you’ll do nicely.”



“Well done, lad, well done,” Ab remarked dryly from his perch at the kitchen table later that afternoon. “I was lookin’ forward to havin’ you around more now that Hogwarts was done, but no, you had to go and get involved in Cramer’s little criminal empire.”

Harry huffed. “Sorry for your suffering. Seems you should have to give up more than just my extra help around the pub, seeing as you’re the one who led her to us.”

Ab gave the growling snort he reserved for moments when he was annoyed but couldn’t dispute a point.

“Besides,” Harry continued, “I won’t be gone more than a few half-days a week, I think, and it’s only until the New Year – thanks for adding the deadline, by the way. I can’t believe I didn’t think of it. A lifetime in the service of Moaning Myrtle …” He trailed off in horror.

Ab grunted again. “Just make sure you don’t do more than you agreed. You sure as shit don’t the sort of trouble Cramer and her little gang can bring on.”

The younger wizard nodded, though he couldn’t see how he’d be in much danger. The agreement they’d reached was relatively straightforward. Harry was to spend four to ten hours a week with Myrtle, charming something, he didn’t know what, to do something. Ab had even thought to prod him to demand a small fee for his services.

Harry suspected Aberforth grudgingly trusted Myrtle, since he didn’t raise too much of a fuss about the whole thing, and got her to guarantee that he wouldn’t be put in any dangerous situations. His only sanctioned excursion with the group was to be during his trip to Belgium for his exams. Apparently, a few families were hoping to escape to the continent, and Harry was to accompany them on a ship that would take them to Zeebruge.

The young wizard was convinced that he wasn’t really going to protect others so much as to have others protect him, given Ab’s satisfied expression when Myrtle agreed to have him on the ship.

“Well, you ain’t goin’ with that crazy little thing until Tuesday, so don’t be dwellin’ on it now. You got studyin’ to do and a weekend to get through, so just focus on that, yeah?”

Harry nodded again, thinking with some amusement that Hermione would probably never have expected him to get a job manufacturing illegally-enchanted whatevers on the day he “left” Hogwarts.



19 November, 1977

A few days later saw winter bluster into the village in time for a Hogsmeade weekend. Aberforth had turned the pub over to Harry for the morning and most of the afternoon, vaguely citing a meeting that the young man suspected had something to do with the group who had set up Platform 9 that summer. The howling winds, sleet, and snow seemed likely to prohibit even the feeblest Hogwarts business, especially since the students would have one more chance to visit the village before the holidays.

The white- and purple-haired old woman that Ab seemed to have a soft spot for, whose name Harry had learned was Hippia, sat in her usual back-corner table, and two men he recognized by sight but not name were ensconced in a booth by the window, drinking pints of Steaming Stout and having a murmured conversation. Harry was leaning back against the shelf by the till and leisurely reading the Prophet when he registered the sound of the door opening and someone taking a seat at the bar.

“What’ll it be –”  He cut himself off mid-question, as he looked into the anxious face of Lily Evans, her face flushed from the cold and her smart violet coat liberally dusted with sleet and snow. His mother sat at the bar, trying – and failing – to appear completely comfortable with her surroundings.

Why in the world would she be here? Sure, he’d seen her around during his service to wizards at Hogwarts, though he hadn’t spoken to her since his first day there in April. But now that he knew she wasn’t his actual mother, only her dimensional counterpart, he couldn’t resist the pull to interact with her, free from his earlier anxieties about the timeline.

Harry forced himself to keep his face neutrally polite. “What’ll it be for you, uh, This Year’s Head Girl?”

Lily gave a false, nervous little laugh. “Oh, I – I don’t … uh, tea?”

“Tea?” Harry swallowed his smile. “Sure, I can do tea. Want to make that a toddy though? Perfect for a day like today.” She looked hesitant. “I promise I won’t make it very strong.”

The girl gave him a helpless shrug but smiled. “Yeah, okay, why not. But, not too strong, right?”

Lily did not look enthused that he was leaving her alone in the pub while he went to the hob downstairs to grab the kettle, and her shoulders slumped in relief when he returned. They were silent as he steeped the tea, added honey, cloves, cinnamon, whiskey, and a bit of lemon, nutmeg, and vanilla. His mother kept her eyes on his hands the whole time, and Harry internally smiled in approval. It was a good idea for a young person to keep an eye on what they were going to drink, especially in a place like this.

Lily looked a bit suspicious as she took a tentative sip, but her face quickly brightened into a wide smile. “Wow! I’ve never had one of these … it’s really good.”

He answered with a pleased shrug. “Glad you like it.”

One of them might have said more, but Loch the werewolf and his new girlfriend entered, and Harry was busy for a bit preparing their lunch order.

Eventually returning to the bar, he found Lily fingering her empty glass and watching him with a strange look on her face. “Want another?”

“Yeah, actually I would,” Lily smiled, “but I better not. I’m not really used to drinking …”

“Well, can I get anything else for This Year’s Head Girl?”

The redhead frowned and then her eyes widened. “I – I never introduced myself to you, did I?” A blush crept up her neck and into her cheeks as Harry simply shook his head.

“I – I’m sorry. I should have.”

Harry just shrugged good-naturedly. “Don’t worry about it. I’m pretty used to it.”

She bit her lip and stuck out her hand. “Well, I’m still sorry. I’m Lily, Lily Evans.”

A bit amused, Harry shook her hand, barely keeping himself from raising an eyebrow at her surprisingly firm grip. “Harry. It’s nice to meet you, formally, that is.”

They stood in awkward silence for a few beats as Lily watched him and Harry floundered under her scrutiny. “So, Lily, can I get you anything else?”

Her eyes snapped to attention and a flush crept over her cheeks. “No – yes, actually – well, no…”

Well said, mum.

“You’re sending some pretty mixed signals,” Harry deadpanned.

Her blush deepened. “No, I mean, I don’t want anything else to eat or drink but, well, I wanted to talk to you. Um, please.” Harry blinked in surprise and motioned for her to continue. “I just, see, I –” She took a deep breath. “I really wanted to apologize to you. For what I said when I met you last year at Hogwarts. I was wrong to, to judge you like that.” Her brow furrowed in much the same way as Hermione’s did when she was upset, he noted absently. “And I wanted to say that last spring I – I didn’t know as much about what happened to you, but now I do, and I think it’s wrong that the Ministry would put you on trial and almost give you the Kiss just because you defended yourself against a Death Eater!” The words tumbled out in a rush, and then the girl looked around as if expecting the others in the pub to oppose her.

Perhaps surprised that no one had screamed something like “how dare you say such a thing!” Lily continued in a less strident voice. “Anyway. I just wish I hadn’t treated you like that. I want … I want to be better than those who, well do. Like that absolute shi – I mean, jerk Dorbel. That’s all. So I’m sorry.”

A soft, almost parental, feeling of pride welled up in Harry.

“Thanks … It’s actually really nice to hear that,” was all he said in the end. She beamed at him.

A wicked little smile crossed Harry’s face. “And as for Dorbel, don’t worry about him. That absolute shit is on borrowed time anyway.” At her puzzled look, he explained. “Haven’t you noticed you have a new Defense teacher just about every year? Most are sure the position’s cursed. We even have a bit of a flutter going on about how he takes his leave of the school.” He gestured towards the wall behind her and her eyes widened as she took in the now-hundreds of possible odds and bets.

“You’re gambling on him?” she exclaimed, aghast. “That’s – that’s … well, that’s actually kind of brilliant.” Her eyes scanned the bets. “Auto-erotic asphyxiation? Really?” Harry huffed a little laugh. “And the leading bet is that he’s taken out by an enraged teenaged squib?”

Harry pulled a scowl. “That one’s not mine. Can’t believe it’s still the top choice.”

Lily snickered as she pulled a galleon out of her purse. “Do you think you could put me down for the ‘house-elf revolutionary enslavement’ one?”

He’d been taking a sip of water and nearly spit it out his nose. “Promise you won’t tell?”

Confused, she nodded.

“That’s Professor McGonagall’s wager,” he revealed with relish. “It really is supposed to be anonymous, but…”

Lily’s loud laugh cut him off. “Well if the Professor is going for it, I definitely want in!”

Harry smiled as he took her galleon and promised to have Wig and Pel mark down her wager.

The redhead’s laughter subsided and she slowly adopted a more serious expression. “Um, Harry, I did come here to apologize to you, but I also came because I was kind of hoping to talk to the old man who runs this place about, well, about something.”

Ab? Mum wants to talk to Ab? Now that’s unexpected.

“Well, he’s out for the day. I can give him a message if you want.”

Lily worried her lip. “I don’t know. Maybe … See, I’m not even sure if he’s the right person to talk to. It’s just …”

Green eyes met green eyes as she gave him a long, searching look.

“See, I don’t know if you know it, but on Leaving Day last year, some Muggle-borns’ families were attacked. I think the Ministry chalked it up to Muggle-on-Muggle violence, but that’s just such lies. Well … there was this fifth year Gryffindor I was friendly with, and she wrote me a letter. She’s at Beauxbatons now, and she said that some people helped smuggle her and her family out of the country when she got off the train. She said, well, she said one of them looked like ‘the old man who ran the Hog’s Head.’”

Harry’s face had grown stiff and hard. People were not supposed to know the identities of the Platform Nine team. Ab’s glamour must have slipped at some point. Shite.

“Come with me. Now.”

Without waiting for an answer he firmly took her arm and nearly man-handled her down the stairs and into the stable.

She looked at him in shock, but he snapped, “Go on with what you were saying.”

Obviously apprehensive about Harry’s reaction, Lily continued much more nervously. “I … I don’t mean to … I mean, I was hoping if it was him who helped, that maybe I could convince him to take my parents out of the country. I can stay with my boyfriend (oh my God, is she with Dad now?) or my friend Marlene over the break and this summer, but my parents … they’re defenseless against magic and I can’t bear the thought of something happening to them!” She looked near tears. “Please, if you can help or you know someone who can … I’m just so scared.”

Shite. Harry swelled in sudden, furious worry for Ab and the others in the group.

“Dammit! Look, hypothetically speaking, people are not supposed to know about any of this. Your friend put a ton of people in real fucking danger writing you about it. That stupid, stupid girl!” He kicked at some hay and took a few deep breaths. “And I understand why you came here, but you cannot just start talking about it in public, do you understand?”

Lily nodded quickly and Harry sat down on his hay bed with a heavy sigh.

“Okay. Still speaking in hypotheticals, if I know contacts for this … group, I could get you in touch with them so you can see if they’re interested in helping.”

The girl let out a strangled sob of relief.

But.” Harry stared hard at his teenaged quasi-mother. “But, and I really, really mean this, if you work with them you cannot tell anyone. Not your boyfriend, not your friends, not the headmaster. In fact, given what your idiotic friend did, they might not be willing to help.”

“But the headma –”

“Fuck the headmaster.” Harry when shocked to realize he thoroughly meant what he said. “The headmaster is a great man, I know, but this just isn’t his business. Period. If you can’t handle that, I’ll knock you out right now and have Aberforth Obliviate you when he gets back.”

What the fuck am I saying? There’s no way I can do that, right? Christ, what I am doing?

Lily looked as if she’d been slapped. Harry let out a frustrated breath. “Lily, this is war. But it isn’t a war between side one and side two. There’s lots of other people involved, people risking everything. I’m guessing that if they believe they can trust you, they’ll risk their lives to help your family. But you can’t just ask for someone’s help and not be prepared to help protect them in turn.”

Lily nodded again, and this time met his eyes. “I understand. I’ll take vows if that’s what they want. I don’t like not telling James – he’s my boyfriend – or my friends, but I understand.” She tentatively placed her hand on top of his. (My mum is touching me. She’s touching me.) “Thank you, Harry.”

He gave a jerky shrug of his shoulders. “I’m not sure how contact will work. But if you get a letter or some sort of communication, it must include the phrase ‘Platform Nine.’ If it doesn’t, it’s not from us. If that happens, I dunno, just send me a note asking how I am or something. I’ll know what you mean.”

She smiled hesitantly, then started in surprise when Goat approached and unceremoniously took in a large mouthful of fiery red hair.

“Don’t mind her,” Harry shrugged. “She does that.”



That evening Harry received yet another visitor.

My social calendar is positively bustling, he thought wryly.

Auror Alice bounced into the pub heedless of the looks that some of the dodgier patrons cast at her.

Harry smiled tightly. He’d seen her a few times since pretending his mind was boggled, and his temper had cooled in the interim. We can be friendly, he had decided, as long as I don’t forget I’m not a priority for her.

“Hiya Harry!” she beamed. “I know, I know, it’s not the day for my official visit, but I figured we could do it now and then I could tell you my news!” Without waiting for an answer she got him to verify that he was still abiding by the terms of his parole (yes wizards are just absolutely brilliant and I’m so very lucky they tolerate my existence) and then thrust her left hand into his face so hard she nearly took out his eye.

“See? See?!”

“Er –”

She growled. “The ring, Harry. The ring!”

He looked at her hand. Yes, there is a ring there … “It’s … nice?”

The Auror hissed at him.

What? What did I do? I said it was nice!

“Merlin’s sake, it’s an engagement ring, you idiot! Frank proposed! I’m getting married!”

Pel, Dalcop, and some of the other patrons brightened. “Well, I’d say this calls for a round in congratulations, young lady!” Peloother grinned.

Alice looked taken aback, but nothing could stop her ebullience. “What the hell? Sure, a round for everyone!”

Harry got to work pouring shots of Firewhiskey for the bar and then couldn’t stop his grin as the entire Head toasted the upcoming nuptials of an Auror.

Seriously, how often does that happen?

Alice wasn’t smiling when he put out his hand for money. “Hey, you called the round, Auror Alice, it’s on you.”

“Aw, ruddy hell,” came the sudden voice of a returning Ab. “She ain’t half a bastard. This one’s on the house.”

Will wonders ever cease?

As the pub calmed down and the patrons returned to their own conversations, Alice informed Harry that the wedding would be in late June. She suddenly looked rather uncomfortable. “I’m, well, I’m really sorry, but I can’t invite you.”

Harry hadn’t even thought she would invite him.

“Don’t worry about it, Alice.”

“No, I really wanted to,” she rushed on headlong. “It’s just Frank’s mum is pretty superstitious and, well, you know they say it’s bad luck to have a squib at the wedding.”

Well of course they do.

“I said don’t worry about it. This gets me out of having to buy you a gift, right?”

She laughed and smacked the back of his head. “Don’t bet on it. I can’t wait to point to some ugly vase or teacup or whatnot and tell my future children that ‘Harry the crazy squib murderer’ got it for me.”

“I’ll make sure whatever I get you is appropriately horrendous, in that case.”



Ab wasn’t nearly as happy later that night when Harry summarized his conversation with Lily. “Ruddy stupid little bint” was about the nicest thing the man had to say about his quasi-mother’s loose-lipped friend. At first, the old man seemed ready to dismiss Lily’s plea and somehow memory-charm her so she couldn’t divulge his identity to anyone.

He stopped when he saw Harry’s face.

“I … I thought about that too, right from the off. But …”

“People are riskin’ their lives here, lad! We need to protect our own.”

Harry toed the floor awkwardly. “Yeah, yeah I know. It’s just that,” he chanced a glance at Ab, “well, that’s pretty much what the headmaster thought when he Obliviated me.” Harry really didn’t want to think about how much his own reactions mirrored Dumbledore’s.

Outrage clouded over the older man’s features, but Harry stared at him unapologetically.

“Besides that, she’s my mum, Ab. Or the closest I’ll ever get to my mum.”

Harry wasn’t sure what words he could use to make this work out.

“Please. Please help her.”

He hadn’t intended to speak with Ab about all this in the upstairs sitting room, but the expectant look on Ariana’s face definitely helped his cause. The old man cringed when she arched her brow.

“Fine! Fine. I’ll write to her. See if I can set somethin’ up. But she better not be as stupid as I expect her to be. Dating Potter!” he growled. “Can’t be all that bright a lass.”

Harry knew that growl. It was a growl that translated to “I’m really irritated but you are going to get your way, so shove off.”

“Thanks, Ab. I mean it. And make sure you mention Platform Nine – I told her it was a codeword.”

Ab raised his eyes heavenward. “’A ‘course you did, Merlin. Go study or somethin’ that ain’t ‘round me.”



22 November, 1977

Dabbling in the world of illicit magical manufacturing and distribution was not shaping up to be as exciting as Harry had expected.

He sighed and went back to the little pieces of metal he’d slowly grown to loathe over the last few hours.

This is going to take forever.

While he wouldn’t admit it to anyone else, he’d been almost bouncing with anticipation when Myrtle Cramer arrived at the pub that morning to take him to his first day as a member of the British magical criminal underworld. A very excited voice inside his head kept chanting ‘this is so cool, this is so cool, this is so cool!’

The voice continued burbling happily as Myrtle apparated him to a nondescript urban industrial neighborhood (though it paused for a moment as Harry fought not to vomit), as she led him into a large windowless warehouse that looked exactly like he would expect an illegal operation would use, and as she used her wand to flip on the low fluorescent lighting that illuminated shelf after shelf of boxes containing … well, Harry was sure it was interesting, whatever it was.

His excited inner voice had reached a crescendo after she had sat him down at a metal worktable next to a giant map that literally pulsed with magic. Sitting by the wicked map seemed a distinct sign that he was totally involved with the operation. He almost stopped himself from preening until he realized that there was no one else around to see him do so.

This is so cool, this is so cool, this is so cool!

“All right, Harry dear. This is your job. See these sets of dog tags?” She had held up two standard-issue metal dog tags.

“Well, we’re pairing them together magically and selling them to Muggle-borns and their families. A magical can give their Muggle relative the companion dog tag that has the number ‘9’ engraved on it. We’re charming the sets so that if a relative gets attacked, all they need to do is press their fingers to either side of the tag and say ‘help.’ The magical’s tag will get hot and let them know to get their arses to their family. Not the best alarm system, I know, but at least it’s something.”

Harry had been impressed, but deflated a little. Enchanting necklaces wasn’t exactly what he’d been picturing doing. “And this is illegal?”

Myrtle let out a tinkling laugh. “Of course. Though the Ministry likes to wax poetic about our duty to protect the Muggles from this war, they don’t actually do anything much and certainly don’t intend to relax their policies about Muggles and magical devices. It’s against a number of lovely little laws to enchant anything for Muggles to use, let alone sell them anything magic.”

She plopped down next to him. “At any rate, we need you to do the enchanting. It’s isn’t all that difficult, just four-layered charms embedded in a certain order into the metal.”

Grabbing a sheet of Muggle notebook paper and a biro, Myrtle walked him through the ‘not all that difficult’ series of charms. First he’d have to cast a Protean Charm on both dog tags in a set, then something called Vox Familiae, which he gathered was some sort of voice-touch activation charm that could link family members This was to be followed by Calescere, a warming charm that would make the metal heat up, and finally, a nifty little spell called Contego Incantatem which could mute the magic in the tags so as not to garner unnecessary Ministry attention.

By the time Myrtle had finished explaining the four new charms he’d have to master and the way to apply them to the metal, Harry was seriously considering just coming out as a wizard. Simple charming my arse! This – I don’t even understand half of this!

“Not to worry, dear. Today I’ll just have you practice until you can do them correctly!” Harry did not find Myrtle’s enthusiasm infectious.

After a few hours of accidentally melting, duplicating, exploding, and, in one memorable accident, somehow tattooing the dog tags onto his own skin – and thank Merlin that effect was temporary – Harry had finally produced a charmed tag that Myrtle happily deemed a “better failure.”

“You just have to work on your timing, Harry. Remember, you have to wait exactly four minutes and twenty-five seconds after casting the Vox Familiae to imbue the warming charm; if you don’t, well, boom!

“Yeah, I got that one. Thanks,” the teenager had grumbled as he patted down his smoldering hair. “Aren’t you going to help make them?”

“Nope,” she said, popping the ‘p.’ “God knows I don’t want to be stuck doing this grunt work. When we finally figured out how to do them, I knew that it’d take forever for each set.”

Harry glared as Myrtle smirked and ambled over to her own workstation. That’s why she was so eager to have a little helper. Goddammit.

And so here he sat, looking down at an even better failure than his previous set.

I’m never casting a warming charm again after this.

With bleary eyes and a languid hand he was about to move on to his next attempt when Myrtle headed over with two men in tow.

Harry cursed silently to himself and made to stow his wand.

“Oh, don’t worry about them, Harry dear.”

Harry was not reassured as he stared at her companions, a hulking man covered in tattoos and sporting a thick 1970s-style chevron mustache and a tall, thin redhead whom he recognized as being at the pub the day he met Myrtle. What was his name? … He couldn’t recall, but looking at the two, especially the big one, he rather hoped their names were something cliché, like Spike and Tiny, or Boris and Red Jimmy.

“Harry, these are my colleagues Dwight and Clark,” (Dwight and Clark?! Harry had to bite back his sudden disappointment), “don’t worry about them seeing you do magic. Dwight here,” the big tattooed man grunted, “is a Muggle and doesn’t give much of a shit about, well, anything, and Clark is a squib who’s signed a binding secrecy agreement with me. He literally can’t tell a soul about you.” The redhead gave him a cold nod and didn’t look him in the eye.

“Anyhow,” Myrtle continued, oblivious to the awkward reception, “Dwight’s here to help me with a little something, and Clark does our books. He’s going to set you up on payroll.”

As Clark pulled a ledger out of his battered leather case, Myrtle began speaking quietly with Dwight. Harry barely listened as the redhead quickly laid out his pay rates and asked if he preferred Muggle or magical currency. His eyes drooped and he just wanted to take a nap after all the enchanting.

They snapped open when he felt a shield suddenly cast around him.

“Don’t worry, Harry!” Myrtle called. “It’s perfectly safe, and this is for science, after all!”

And then Dwight pulled out a gun and fired in Harry and Clark’s general direction.

The shield glowed momentarily as a bullet hit it.

“What the ever-living-fuck!?” Harry screamed. What the fuck? What the fuck? They shot at me!

Myrtle barely glanced in his direction. “Just an experiment for another product, dear.” She cast a spell that seemed to illuminate the bullet’s trajectory and frowned. “Damn, still not good enough. Definitely needs tweaking.”

Dwight grunted and laid the pistol on a table.

“Huh?” Harry’s hands were shaking. Wizards don’t use guns! They’re pointless for us! He shook his head quickly. What the hell is she playing at?

Everyone else in the room seemed entirely unconcerned about the goings-on.

They’re bloody mental.

“If I could have your attention, please?” Clark asked in a peeved voice. He pushed his wire glasses up the bridge of his nose. “I was asking if you had questions regarding the amount or method of dispersal of your pay?”

“Huh? Uh, yeah, no. Sir.” Yep. Completely mental.

The redhead cocked an eyebrow at the respectful appellation. “Well, that is settled then. All monies earned working for this organization will, naturally, not be subjected to magical or Muggle taxes, so do be careful to avoid incurring an audit, as we will not supply any written records confirming or denying your pay.”

Harry thought about informing the man he didn’t even know how to pay taxes, but figured it might make him look even sillier. Instead, he pulled what he felt was a very adult expression and murmured “Of course,” while keeping a wary eye on the pistol across the room.

“Well, that concludes our business. If you do have questions pertinent to accounting, please inform Mrs. Cramer and she will contact me.” The man gave him a final cold look and stood.

I wonder if he hates me because I pretended to be a squib. Like I’ve insulted him or something … He considered apologizing or trying to explain, but the redhead, who every minute reminded him more of Percy Weasley in terms of both appearance and demeanor, didn’t seem to want to engage with him more than necessary.

Myrtle thankfully interrupted the uncomfortable moment. “Boys? Hello, Prewett? You done with Harry yet? I need to take his little bottom home soon or Ab’ll do his nut.”

A few minutes later and Harry had been apparated home. He stood in the scullery and winced at the mound of dishes Ab had left him from cooking the stew for that evening. Well, this might be better than enchanting dog tags and getting shot at with a Muggle gun. Maybe.

Sighing, Harry got to work, silently lamenting the hours of tediousness punctuated by moments of pure terror that apparently came hand in glove with entry-level positions in the exciting world of criminal enterprise.



10 December, 1977

The last few weeks had been a whirlwind of activity, and Harry couldn’t imagine having been able to get done all he needed to if his service to wizards at Hogwarts hadn’t ended. In addition to helping Ab and Quisby run the Head, he’d spent a few days a week enchanting dog tags after he finally managed to get the process down.

These had really better save some people’s lives, Harry would grumble to himself as he hunkered down for the exhausting and mind-numbingly boring task of mass-producing enchanted objects by hand.

The rest of his time had been taken up with ever-more frantic studying. For the first time in his life, someone else actually cared how he did academically – even if Ab said it didn’t much matter to him, Harry knew better – and he gingerly cherished the idea of making the old man proud, as well as Pel and Madame Pomfrey.

Indeed, the latter had been absolutely furious the week before when he informed her why he wouldn't be able to come in to work for the next two Mondays.

“You’re – you’re taking your O.W.L.s? Next week?” she had said, her tone going from a whisper to a near-shriek.

Harry cringed when her voice went up an octave. That had always been a bad sign with Hermione.

“Why the blazes didn’t you tell me, young man!?”

Oh no, she brought out the heavy curse words and the ‘young man.’ This will not end well.

He had stuttered some honest nonsense about how he hadn’t even thought of it, and that he had in fact been revising everything she had taught him.

“You – you – you!” She was nearly spitting. “I could have helped you! I could have helped you more, gone over how to approach the exams, how to formulate and structure written responses, how to time yourself appropriately, how to –”

Harry’s face fell. He hadn’t thought of things like timing himself. Is that something I need to do?

“Oh Merlin, Harry,” Pomfrey had moaned. “Well, there’s nothing for it now but to wish you good luck. However,” the hand on his shoulder suddenly clawed into him, “if you decide to ever take your NEWTs, you are going to tell me far in advance. Do you understand me?

He had nodded mutely, eyes wide, and vowed to himself that he would get her something nice while he was in Belgium.

And now he was on his way, he thought as he stood at a nearly-deserted dock in the city of Hull. The night wind was beating across the waves and freezing him to the bone as he looked up at the giant ship that was set to take him to his O.W.L.s.

It’s an actual bloody pirate ship.

The looming vessel reminded him sharply of the Durmstrang ship, though this one was smaller, less skeletal, and had black flags sporting the traditional Jolly Rogers that any Muggle child would immediately recognize as denoting a pirate vessel.

The flags were a bit much, Harry thought.

He had waited out of sight off the dock while the four Muggle-born families also traveling to Belgium were escorted onto the ship. Ab had been clear that they weren’t to see his face until after Captain Burke had cast a glamour on him. That Burke would be choosing the glamour left him more than a little nervous.

“You Harry?” a gruff voice asked.

Harry turned to find a tall man with dark eyes and a chiseled jaw covered with stubble peering at him. The man’s Muggle denims and thick nautical parka seemed distinctly unmagical, putting Harry on his guard.

“Who’s asking?”

Chiseled Jaw smiled. “Name’s Peadar, Peadar Burke. Captain of the Elizabeth here. I believe you’re acquainted with my little brother Caffrey, yeah?”

Harry stared. He wouldn’t have expected the younger Burke’s brother to be so … so normal. “Er, yeah, sorry Captain Burke. I had thought he’d be taking us, so you just surprised me, that’s all.”

The man gave him a grin that lacked any hint of sexual innuendo. “Sorry to disappoint you,” he quipped, then laughed at Harry’s obvious relief. “Caff can be such a dramatic little ponce, I know. I’ve always thought he needs to lose some teeth or an eye, learn some humility. Anyhow, I’m going to cast a glamour on you, and then we can get on board. You’re set to go to Belgium with this lot, yeah? But you’re supposed to take the Muggle ferry back in a few weeks?”

Harry nodded. “I know you and your brother won’t be around for my return, but thanks for helping me out. And the others.”

Burke laughed his easy laugh again. “No need to thank me, kid. I’m getting well paid for this little run.” He cast a weather eye on Harry. “Bit of an odd voyage you’re taking. Can you tell me about it?”

The younger wizard bristled. “Yeah. I could.”

Several silent beats later, Peadar grinned in approval. “Come on, let’s get you glamoured, get you on board, and I’ll show you around my girl.”

Twenty minutes later a blond, slightly older-looking Harry was being escorted by the elder Captain Burke around the ship’s holds as the crew of sea-bedraggled men and women readied the ship to depart from port.

“Now we just dropped off a haul of South American produce in London, so we’ll be looking in the next few days to find some Muggle transports to restock. For now, we’re just taking you and those other folks to the continent, and dropping off a small load of goodies for the Muggle-born there, and some others.”

“Goodies?”

The captain smirked. “Well, Mrs. Cramer mentioned you knew about the new tags?” Harry nodded. “Neat little things, they are. Got a few dozen sets ready to go for buyers on the continent.” He opened a case filled with the metal necklaces that were beginning to patrol Harry’s dreams.

“Then there’s these beauties.” He opened another case and Harry started.

Bullets?

Burke laughed. “Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. What good are bullets against wizards, right? But these are special, modified ones Cramer invented. They’ve got a series of charms in them that let them target enemies. So as long as a Muggle points in the general direction of a Death Eater, they’ll shoot true, even if the person has shit aim.”

Harry gaped. That’s – these – these are based on my rocks! Cramer stole my idea!

The other man misunderstood Harry’s open mouth as a reflection of his awe. “Now I know they sound amazing, but of course they’re as worthless as other bullets if the wizard raises a shield. Still, we’re thinking that most of the Death Eaters aren’t expecting much from Muggle targets, so hopefully they can get off a few good shots and maybe save their lives before the bastards wise up.” Burke smiled and fingered one of the bullets. “They work nicely with the dog tags. Call your relative for help, then shoot, and hope like hell that help comes before it’s too late.”

A curl of trepidation unfurled in Harry’s stomach. They’re using my idea to arm Muggles against wizards. He definitely wanted to help those who were helpless against magic, but the idea of creating weapons that could be mass-produced and used against wizards … This could become something really dangerous. Flashes of how much people like Uncle Vernon would love such power appeared in his mind, and he felt suddenly nauseated.

“Hey, don’t look like that!” Burke said, putting a hand on Harry’s shoulder. “If you’re worried about them being used against wizards in general, don’t be. Remember, all they do is make the shooter have great aim. They can’t tear through shields, so they’re no more dangerous to wizarding folk than a well-trained Muggle soldier.”

That’s true. Harry gave a jerky nod, though he intended to get Ab’s opinion on all this.

“Then there’s these, which go along quite well with the bullets,” Burke continued and opened a huge case filled with plastic Muggle bottles. They were all labeled with a loud, commercial-looking design proclaiming them Eazy-Klean! and filled with an acid green liquid.

Harry raised an eyebrow.

“Okay, say you’re a Muggle or a squib and you’ve just been attacked by a wizard. You managed to shoot him with one of the targeted bullets, and now he’d be just a bad memory if not for the fact that his body is currently gracing your parlor floor. What do you do? You can’t call the Muggle authorities and say you killed a man because he pulled a stick on you. If they found out, the DMLE or a continental equivalent would probably – well, I guess I don’t have to tell you how’d they react. Enter these totally innocuous-looking ‘cleaners.’ They’re actually filled with a standard Shrinking Solution. All you need do once you’ve dispatched your enemy is spray him with the potion. It’s designed to shrink the corpse down to the size of a small doll for a few hours, leaving you to easily convey it to the body disposal site of your choice.”

“Wicked,” Harry breathed. “And you’re just selling all this stuff to Muggle-born families who’re running from Voldemort?”

Burke nodded. “It’s more complicated than that, but that’s the essentials. What with all the recent attacks, they’re willing to pay top dollar.”

Harry’s eyes widened. “What attacks? I haven’t heard about them being up to anything.” He frowned. “I actually haven’t anything about them at all for a while now, come to think of it.”

“Well who cares about Muggles and Muggle-born in the muggle world being systematically murdered?” came a bitter, feminine voice. Harry turned around to see a youngish woman with strawberry blond hair and the beginnings of frown lines.

“Ah, Harry,” Burke intervened, “meet my first mate, Amber Satchmo. Satchmo, this is Harry. He works with Cramer.”

The woman nodded stiffly when Harry smiled at her. “Captain, we’ll be ready to leave British waters in about ten minutes.” She turned and left without another word.

“She’s angry about it, but she’s right, kid. Last few months there’s been dozens, maybe hundreds for all we know, of attacks on Muggle-born and their families in Britain, Ireland, and even in some places on the continent. Prophet doesn’t care enough to report on it, so most think we’ve reached a lull in the war.” He sighed. “We haven’t. Just the ‘right sort’ aren’t dying right now.”



The cupboard under the stairs, Harry thought, had been good training for sleeping on a pirate ship. He had his own cabin, though concluded that the word was being used euphemistically. The room was literally large enough for a half-width single bed and himself – if he stood on one leg, that was. On the other hand, the ceiling art definitely reminded him that he was indeed on a wizarding vessel. Some thoughtful soul had papered the area with photos of nubile young witches pulling poses and doing … things, things that Harry would have thought were physically impossible. He felt distinctly uncomfortable trying to fall asleep with that many naked women – even two-dimensional ones – leering down at him and trying ever more, ahem, creative ways of getting his attention.

Unexpected ceiling pornography notwithstanding, the voyage would only take about nine hours, four or five hours less than the Muggle ferry he’d be taking on this same route back. Captain Burke had observed that they could do the run in less than half that time if they fully submerged, but apparently no magic could really lift the biting chill of the North Atlantic in winter, and staying above the waves kept the ship warmer. Huddling deep into his tight little nest of blankets, Harry soon fell into a restless slumber, his instincts wanting him to awake with every creak of the ship’s timbers.

. . . . .

“AH-AH, AH! AH-AH, AH! WE COME FROM THE LAND OF THE ICE AND SNOW WHERE –”

Harry bolted awake at the thunderous sound as a grey, icy dawn settled over the sea between Britain and mainland Europe.

What the hell?  He blinked in confusion as what he realized was Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” played on a loop at top volume from out of nowhere. Why in the world …?

–  FROM THE MIDNIGHT SUN WHERE THE HOT SPRINGS FLOW –

Yawning and still not having found those sea legs Peadar Burke swore anyone could obtain, he stumbled above decks as Robert Plant once again informed everyone aboard that he and his men were driving their ship to new lands. A few pirates sang along as they busied themselves with sails and hawsers, but there were no other passengers up on the decks yet except for a slender blonde woman standing at a rail near the bow’s forecastle. Harry hadn’t planned on approaching her, but she turned, smiled, and waved him over.

VALHALLA I AM COMING …

The woman seemed to be in her late forties or early fifties, but her blue eyes sparkled like those of a much younger woman. “Good morning!” she called loudly over the sound of the waves’ salt spray and a screaming lead singer. “I asked about the music – they pipe it through the ship as an alarm clock!” She grinned. “Zeppelin’s a nice touch for pirates, I suppose, don’t you think?”

Harry smiled politely and nodded, not sure what to say to the woman.

“Another refugee, I presume?” Halfway through her shouted question the music abruptly cut off and he caught only a hint of bitterness in the woman’s otherwise friendly voice. She continued at a more normal volume. “Are you travelling alone? Do you have family meeting you in Europe?”

He scratched his eyebrow. “Not a refugee, ma’am, no. And yes, I’m alone. I have to go to Belgium for … things. I’m coming back in a few weeks.”

She leaned on the rail and peered at him. “So, you’re magical then? My youngest daughter’s a witch. She, well, she rather strenuously convinced us to leave our home because of all your world’s … whatever it is.”

Harry nodded slowly. “I – what I am is a little complicated, I guess. But it’s probably best that you’re leaving. I know it’s probably horrible to have to do, but if your daughter’s a known  Muggle-born, there’s every chance they would come after you.”

The blonde’s eyebrow quirked when he evaded her first question. “Man of mystery, I see,” she murmured. “Is it – is it really so bad? Really?”

He moved next to her at the railing. “Yeah. Yeah, it is. I think maybe dozens of Muggles and Muggle-borns, maybe even a lot more, have been killed so far, but the Muggle authorities probably don’t know about it, and honestly, the magical ones just don’t give enough of a damn to even report on their deaths.” He paused and eyed her seriously. “You’re doing the right thing, leaving. Yeah, you might never have been targeted, but better than safe than sorry.”

The older woman looked sad but seemed to accept his words. “My older daughter just got married last weekend and moved into a brand-new house. I really wanted to help her get settled, but Lily was so adamant …”

Harry nearly choked on his tongue. Merlin, bloody hell! Lily? Ab must have … She’s … This woman is my grandmother! Older daughter … She must be talking about Aunt Petunia!

“Oh!” he couldn’t help but exclaim much more loudly than he would have liked. The woman looked startled, so he rushed on. “Sorry, I just, um, are you talking about Lily Evans? She’s your daughter?”

The woman grinned. “You know her! Yes, she’s my younger girl. I’m June, June Evans. My husband Harold is still below trying to get some sleep.”

I’m named after my grandfather.

“Yeah, I mean, I don’t know her that well or anything, but we’ve met a few times.” He searched for something to say. “She’s nice. I – I’m glad you’re leaving Britain.”

Her smile turned wistful. “Yes … A whole new life, maybe, at least for a while. And we aren’t getting younger.” June clapped her hands. “Ah well, never thought I’d be moving to the continent on a pirate ship of all things to escape a magical war, so at least it’s exciting!” Harry laughed. “But, I’d best go see if I can roust my Harry out of bed. The crew said we’re due to land in less than an hour and I suspect as soon as the racket stopped he just rolled back over.”

She gave him a little wave and then disappeared under the decks.

She seemed … really nice, Harry thought with a small smile, and went back to looking out over the sea.

I have no idea when or how they died. Was it Death Eaters? An accident? No one ever told me, and I never asked … It had to have been before mum and dad though, or I wouldn’t have been left at Petunia’s.

The waves glittered in the pale morning sun.

What if … what if things are different here because of me? In my world, Lily wouldn’t have known how to get her family out of Britain … she wouldn’t have known me, wouldn’t have been contacted by Ab.

His stomach fluttered with a strange sort of hope and a sliver of pride.

Maybe they’ll live through the war this time.

As he continued staring out at the grey-blue expanse, a thought suddenly struck him, and he took off at a near-run for the ship’s cargo holds, eyes peeled for Captain Burke. He found the man just entering the storage bays.

“Captain, sir!” The elder Burke brother started at his sudden entrance in surprise. “I know you’re probably busy sir, but I would really like to purchase a set of dog tags. Please. But I, well, I don’t have nearly enough money with me, I’m sure … is there maybe any way I could pay you later or have Myrtle take it out of my pay and give it to you?”

The man arched an eyebrow but nodded.

With a grin of thanks, Harry grabbed a set and hightailed it above decks, slipping on the unmarked tag and keeping his eyes peeled for his grandmother.

About ten minutes before they pulled into Zeebruge he spied her and her husband, a thin man with short-cropped auburn hair, on the other side of the deck.

“Er, excuse me, Mrs. Evans? June?” Harry interrupted as the two watched the Belgian landscape they were swiftly approaching.

“Oh, yes dear? I’m afraid I didn’t ask your name.”

Harry paused. “Well, ma’am, I’m actually not supposed to say … safety and all. I’m even wearing a glamour.” At her puzzled look and his grandfather’s stern frown, Harry explained. “It’s a spell that alters my appearance so that people can’t recognize me if they see me later.”

His grandfather grunted in disapproval, his green eyes flashing. “All this cloak and bloody dagger! More than normal folks can take!”

Huh. I have my grandfather’s name and his eyes.

Harry mentally shook his head and plowed on. “I’m sorry to interrupt you,” he repeated, “but I wanted to give you something.” He held up the dog tag. “If one of you wears this, all you need to do if you get attacked is hold it with your fingers on either side like this,” he grasped the tag with the number nine etched on it, “and say ‘help.’ It’ll notify m – people willing to help that you’re in danger.”

June smiled. “That’s a kind thought. Thank you.”

The man was staring at Harry and stopped his wife from accepting the dog tag. “And how do we know we can trust you?”

Harry blinked and thought hard. That’s a really good question, actually. “Er, well, I kind of know your daughter. If you want, write to her and ask her about, um, the boy from Platform Nine. That bit’s important. And tell her that he asked you to say ‘hi to This Year’s Head Girl’ from him. Just like that – ‘This Year’s Head Girl.’ She’ll know it’s me and can vouch for me.”

June raised an eyebrow and his grandfather shook his head. “Never thought I’d be going to Belgium talking to wizard spies or whatever you are.” He sighed and grasped the dog tag. “I don’t want this enchanted thing, young man, but we’ll take it. Just in case.”

Harry smiled. “I’m glad sir. I hope you never have to use it.” On a whim, he put out his hand to shake that of his grandfather, who looked grudgingly amused at the gesture. “It was really nice to meet you sir, and you, June. I hope things are okay for you in Belgium, and that you can go home soon.”

“Thank you, dear,” June smiled.

Harry looked one last time at his mother’s parents and retreated to the far side of the boat.



23 December, 1977


Harry relaxed in a small café by the port in Zeebruge as he waited to board the Muggle ferry that would convey him back to Hull.

The last two weeks had been an exhausting, solitary slog and he was ready to get the hell home.

After bidding goodbye to the man he now thought of as “Normal Captain Burke,” he’d taken a train to Leuven, the center of wizarding Belgium. Rather than having a set of Alleys like London, Leuven featured an entire magical village hidden in the Muggle city. The Groot Begijnhof was a very old neighborhood from the twelfth century that the Muggles believed only included about a dozen narrow streets. In truth, the wizarding part of the Beginjhof spanned more than thirty additional cobbled lanes upon which were nestled homes, shops, and official buildings looking out over the River Djile.

Harry had stayed in a room at the Boeken en Bieren, a little inn and pub frequented by wizarding academics who studied in the secret magical departments of the Katholieke Universiteit. The bookish clientele was a far cry from what he was used to at the Head. Though the peace and quiet had been helpful at night while he was revising, a detached loneliness had settled over him like a strange sort of Invisibility cloak.

I’m not used to being alone and unknown anymore, he had mused one night as he sat in a quiet corner of the inn’s public room, surrounded by strangers. This feels like I’m in the Forest again.

On the twelfth of December, the day after his arrival, his O.W.L.s had commenced. History of Magic came first, and he had to smile when he saw the first question:

Describe the circumstances that led to the formation of the International Confederation of Wizards and explain why the warlocks of Liechtenstein refused to join.

Well, Pel did say the Belgians wouldn’t mind a truthful answer … He had grinned more broadly and started writing immediately.

All in all, he found the exams anticlimactic. Other than Astronomy, which he figured he’d never pass anyway, both the Transfiguration written and practical exams had been the most challenging by far. He’d taken them on his second day, and the practical in particular threw him off. Mostly this was because it was just so odd to be doing magic in front of people other than Ab, Pel, and Myrtle, though the strange expectations of his examiners also chafed at him.

His vanishing spell had been perfect, but they’d asked him to do several spells he’d never even heard of. At the last request for some unknown transfiguration, he had actually got into a bit of a tiff with one of his examiners when he failed to turn a rather nervous looking owl into a pair of opera glasses.

Harry had apologized for never having learned the spell, but noted that he couldn’t foresee many situations which would require him to know such a limited-use piece of magic, let alone to torture a poor owl by turning it into eyewear.

“Generally, don’t we typically have inanimate things on hand more than animate things?” One of the examiners nodded as the other questioner scowled. “So why don’t you ask about spells that can create animals that have multiple uses instead of one that’s for a situation that just won’t ever happen?”

Although the woman scoffed, the male examiner had seemed rather interested, so Harry gave it a shot. “I mean … say you’re in a forest and are attacked by someone.” He turned a wooden chair into a rather awkward large bush. “I could transfigure leaves from the bush into hornets that would both potentially block spells and would likely attack the target.” A few incantations later and a dummy from the other side of the room was suddenly set upon by leaves-turned-hornets. “So I can’t do the owl-to-opera glasses one, but I think I can do much more useful things, depending on the situation, ma’am.”

He could only shrug when the woman continued to glare daggers at him, though the male examiner had clapped his hands and said something, apparently positive, in Dutch.

Other than the Muggle Studies exam – which was so out of date Harry actually had some trouble with it – his other exams in Charms, Defense, Creatures, Herbology, and even Potions went fairly well and there were no real surprises. Now, as he prepared to return to Britain, he felt certain he’d performed well enough, and was desperately looking forward to getting home to the Head for Christmas, almost an officially qualified wizard.

Chapter Text

XVIII. The Home Front                                      

 

10 January, 1978

Harry was tidying up the Head on a blustery, snowy Tuesday morning. There were no guests at the inn at the moment, and Tuesdays were typically just as slow as Mondays, so he didn’t expect any lunch guests – or any patrons really – until the regulars started filtering in that afternoon.

He really didn’t need to straighten up much. After the annual Head Christmas Day bash, he, Quisby, and Ab had made short work of the mess (it helped that Harry secretly and liberally used magic for his part this time around), and now the pub was enjoying the post-holiday slump.

It had been another fun Christmas. The day had been as raucous as the year before, even more so, as both Myrtle Cramer and Caffrey Burke had shown up and harassed poor Harry with a charmed sprig of mistletoe that followed him around and made wildly inappropriate comments at the most inopportune moments. Panty Wacco, the Welsh vampire who had groped him the year before, looked most put out and sent seething glares their way all evening.

For Harry, there had been two highlights of the day. The first was when an intoxicated Hagrid became convinced that it was actually New Year’s Eve and planted a very wet kiss on the old white- and purple-haired crone at the stroke of midnight.

His exuberant but misplaced affections proved unwelcome.

The stench from his burning beard had filled the pub for days, no matter how much Ab cast freshening charms, and Harry still couldn’t look at a clean-shaven Hagrid without giggling. While he had been deeply apologetic to the old woman, the half-giant was thoroughly disconsolate about his unexpected makeover. Apparently, most of his creatures didn’t recognize him and kept trying to attack the poor man.

Ariana’s reaction to Harry’s Christmas gift for her had been the other high point. He hadn’t thought to get her something last year (really, who buys presents for portraits?), but this year he had cobbled together enough money to purchase a complete set of the Chronicles of Narnia series that he had found in a used bookstore in Leuven. The girl had been absolutely thrilled, and wouldn’t stop dancing through the various paintings in the Head. (Yarda Gobermouch and one of her ‘friends’ had not been pleased that their transaction had been interrupted by a heedless, pirouetting portrait.) No gift Harry had ever bought anyone had elicited such a dramatic reaction, and his grin felt like it would split his face.

Now, however, he was a little less thrilled, since Ariana demanded that he read her at least a chapter a day.

Why did the series have to be seven books long? he lamented to himself as he scraped some nastiness off the leg of a barstool.

Just as he heard Ab tromp down the stairs, two owls flew into the pub through the little owl flap in the far corner of the ceiling.

“Post today?” the old man asked in some surprise and grabbed the two envelopes from the owls.  Usually, the Head got very little in the way of mail. Harry tossed each of the birds a few treats from the small jar on the bar and the owls quickly departed.

“Both for you, lad.”

Harry blinked in surprise. He never got mail. Even the stuff related to his parole went to his custodian, as apparently squibs couldn’t be trusted with such difficult tasks as opening and reading a letter. Ab shrugged and tossed him the letters, poured himself a cup of tea, and started rifling through the Prophet.

The top envelope was a pleasant cream parchment with Mr. Harry – The Hog’s Head written on it in neat dark violet ink.

 

Dear Harry,

Thank you again for your Christmas gift. I too am a big fan of Led Zeppelin.
I hope that you and your family are all well also. I wish that my boyfriend’s family were in similarly good positions.
All the best,

This Year’s Head Girl

 

Harry looked fondly at his mother’s handwriting. So she’s saying she heard from her parents and they’re safe. Thank God.

“Care to share?” Ab inquired.

The younger wizard hesitated. This felt very … personal. “No, actually. It’s nothing really important but …”

Ab waved his hand. “Long as it ain’t no love letter. Can’t abide dealin’ with a teenager in love, Merlin help us all.”

“God no, definitely not a love letter … But have you heard about anything happening to the Potters?”

Aberforth furrowed his brow and shook his head, and Harry moved onto the second letter with a frown of concern about his mother’s cryptic message. His full attention, however, was immediately captured by the much larger and thicker envelope, and his breath caught in his throat when he saw the addressee.

Mr. Harry J. Aberforth
The Hog’s Head Pub
Hogsmeade, Scotland

Holy shit, they actually wrote the name down!

Only one sender would address a letter to Harry J. Aberforth.

When Harry had been in Leuven, the official had demanded that he provide a surname, despite the fact that Aberforth had very consciously not given them one when he signed Harry up. Harry had tried to imply that he’d been disowned, but apparently in Belgium wizards couldn’t be cast from their families, so the man had refused to accept “Harry No Surname.” In the end, Harry had simply used the first name that popped into his head, and it seemed the man had faithfully recorded it.

One day I might need a surname. Especially if I come out as a wizard. There are worse things to be than Harry J. Aberforth.

His reflections on his new name suddenly flew from his mind when he realized that he must be holding his OWL results! Ab seemed to suspect the same thing, as he eyed Harry carefully.

Taking a deep breath, he opened the large letter and unfolded the thick parchment.

 

 

Dear Mr. Aberforth,

Below are your results for the Ordinary Wizarding Level Examinations, International Version C (Anglophone) which you completed in Leuven on 12 December 1977 through 23 December 1977. Congratulations on your achievement and best of luck in your future studies.

Sincerely,
Laurent L. Leclercq
Secretary of Education
Federale magische regering

 

Pass Grades: O (Outstanding), E (Exceeds Expectations), A (Acceptable)
Fail Grades: P (Poor), D (Dreadful), T (Troll)

Astronomy:                                                   D
Care of Magical Creatures                             O
Charms:                                                        O
Herbology:                                                    O
History of Magic:                                           O
Magical Defense:                                           O
Muggle Studies:                                             A
Potions:                                                         E
Transfiguration:                                            A (please see enclosed note)

 

Harry stared at his results.

Bloody hell. I did … really good! Though that Muggle Studies grade is stupid – the test was so out of date and half the questions were incorrect!

Still, five Os! And an E in Potions!

He noticed the parenthetical remark on his Transfiguration results and flipped to the other piece of parchment.

Dear Mr. Aberforth,

There was great disagreement between the two examiners for your practical Transfiguration examination. While one scored you at a D, the other insisted you had earned an O. Given the significant discrepancy, I viewed their memories of the examination and have judged your mastery of the art to be more than adequate for your age, despite your obvious lack of knowledge about non-defensive transfiguration spells and techniques. Thus I have awarded you a passing grade that aligns with the Acceptable you earned on the written portion. However, I advise you to make a much more thorough study of the subject should you wish to pursue it at the NEWT level. While some spells may seem impractical, they are designed to facilitate your mastery of particular aspects of Transfiguration rather than to serve daily use.
Regards,
LL Leclercq

Harry beamed.

“Well?” Ab bit out in irritation. “Are you going to share your results with your teacher or not?!”

“Oh! Sorry, Ab. Here.” Harry handed him both pieces of parchment.

A slow smile spread over the old man’s face, a smile that he quickly tried to smother but which kept creeping back. He clapped Harry on the shoulder. “’Bout as I expected, then.”

“Aw, go on old man! I did great!”

The smile was back. “Obviously. S’what I expected. Make sure you show it to Pel when he gets here.” He paused. “And what’s this about Harry J. Aberforth?”

Harry’s smile faltered under a niggle of anxiety. “I – well, I didn’t think it really meant anything, but they said I had to give them a surname, I couldn’t be Harry No Surname for them, and I – I mean, I just had to pick something fast, see, and I should have asked you, I know, but there wasn’t time and then I honestly forgot about it what with Christmas and all and –”

“Oh stop your babblin’. Makes you sound five years old.”

Harry shut his mouth.

“Harry Aberforth, then, is it?” Ab pursed his lips and looked away. “Sounds … well it sounds rather nice, if you ask me.” He snorted. “Too distinguished for folks like us though, so don’t be puttin’ on any airs, Mr. Aberforth, y’hear me?”

“Yeah Ab, I hear you. No airs.”

Aberforth still hadn’t looked back at him. “Well, you go an’ do the dishes or somethin’ yeah? Off with you!”

Harry left, biting back a smile.

Still holding the exam results, Ab traced a finger over Harry’s name. “Harry Aberforth, indeed.” He chuckled softly to himself and tucked the letter into his robe to give back to the lad later.



28 January, 1978

For once the lunch crowd at the Head actually was a true crowd. Apparently, the virulent strain of Dragon Pox that had fallen on Britain after the holidays had hit the Three Broomsticks hard, and Rosmerta had had to shutter her doors to care for an ailing Tab Brewster.

Quisby had been alternatively nervous and excited all week that this might finally be his time, to Harry’s great disgust.

It was now a Hogsmeade weekend, and the blustering chill had driven those sensible students who couldn’t tolerate Madame Puddifoot’s to the Head. Ab scowled more deeply with every butterbeer that was ordered by a pubescent customer and groused that he should have made Quisby come in early.

“Can’t abide servin’ sprogs whose balls haven’t even dropped yet,” he mumbled darkly. “S’a pub, not a ruddy sweetshop.”

Harry was just finishing cashing out a table when he heard a few people take seats at the bar. “Be right with you,” he called over his shoulder.

“Take your time, Harry,” answered a girl’s voice.

Turning, he saw a smiling Lily … along with James Potter and Sirius Black.

Wait – aren’t they banned?

Black! Potter! You gormless knobs!” Aberforth bellowed. Some of the Hogwarts students unacquainted with the man suddenly looked very nervous. “You got four years or so left on your ban!” 

Sirius and James looked at Harry with wide eyes.

What are they looking at me for?

Wait – Do they actually expect me to help them?

Sirius’ expression turned obviously pleading.

Oh. They do. Bugger.

Harry sighed.

“Ab – a moment?”

Harry didn’t wait for the old man to respond but pulled him into the service alcove behind the bar. “I know they’re banned, but can we maybe give them a break or another chance or something?”

Ab glared and Harry floundered.

“Look, I know, I know that they screwed up last year. It was stupid and shitty of them. But … even if they are pricks and morons, it’s my dad and godfather. Kind of, that is. One chance?”

The older man stared at him for a long minute. “Fine! But if word gets ‘round that I’ve gone soft, you’re dealin’ with the extra headaches, you get me?”

Harry nodded and headed back to the bar while Ab thundered off to deliver butterbeers to a table of terrified fourth years.

“So,” Harry smiled at Lily and gave a neutral nod to the boys, “what’ll it be?”

“You’re bloody fearless, mate,” Sirius breathed. James just frowned while Lily beamed.

“Three hot toddies please, Harry.”

“You got it, Miss This Year’s Head Girl.”

James’ frown deepened as his eyes darted between himself and Lily.

Whoa. Wait – does he think I’m flirting with her? Harry almost laughed out loud as he busied himself making their drinks.

When he came back, he quietly addressed Lily. “Hey, thanks for the update.” Despite his low tones, both boys overheard enough to perk up in interest, but Lily waved them off.

Harry paused and then turned to his father, er, father’s dimensional counterpart. “Um, Potter?” James glared. “I, well, I’m – I just wanted to say I was really sorry to hear about your parents.”

James blinked and stared at him. “Thanks,” his quasi-father answered shortly.

Sudden empathy moved Harry. “Toddies are on the house. Just these though, so don’t get crazy.” He tried to smile and moved away to another table, thinking all the while about his paternal grandparents.

A day after his OWL results arrived, the Prophet reported that Fleamont and Euphemia Potter had died in their home a few days earlier, felled by the same sudden and violent bout of Dragon Pox that now coursed through the countryside.

Harry had gone about that day in a daze, unsure how to feel. He didn’t have the best impression of his grandfather and had never even seen Euphemia, but after meeting June and Harold Evans, he keenly felt the sting of lost opportunity. He worried for his father as well. Being an orphan one’s whole life was quite different, he imagined, than one day having a loving family and the next day just … not.

He was roused from his musings by Ab, who beckoned him back to the bar. “Lad, you gotta handle this lot. My brother just sent word that shit’s happenin’ in Diagon and asked me to skulk ‘round Knockturn and try and figure out what’s what.” Without waiting for an answer, he was out the back door.

Lovely. I so wanted to be alone with two dozen needy Hogwarts students. He sighed and got busy fetching sandwiches and still more butterbeers.

Lily, James, and Sirius were finishing their second toddies – which Harry had made quite light; he’d seen enough of how the latter two behaved when drunk last year, thank you very much – when a sudden boom followed by several large crashes echoed through the village, sending every conversation in the Head to a screeching halt.

“Everybody stay where you are,” Harry said just as James called out “Nobody move,” in the same deadly serious voice.

The trio of Gryffindors, wands out, and Harry cautiously opened the main door to the pub. Smoke was billowing all over the town, and screams could be heard all too close to the pub.

Holy shite. This is happening.

Harry shut the door. “Okay, it looks like the village is under attack. No, don’t scream, you idiots!” he yelled over the sudden din. “Er … how about this … Students fifth year and below, raise your hands.” About half the crowd raised tentative hands into the air. “Okay, you lot, go down this back stairway into the kitchen. When the last of you get in, that person says ‘immediately!’ and defensive wards will come into place, making it a safe room. I don’t care how crammed in you are, you don’t leave until you get an all-clear. Go! Now!” The younger students obediently filed towards the door Harry had indicated.

James turned to Harry. “There are wards on this place, right?”

“Yeah, but only Ab can raise the active ones. And, well,” Harry surveyed the dozen or so upper years still gathered in the public room, “He left. Something’s happening in Diagon too and he went to help.”

Muttered curses and small cries of distress filled the room.

“So it’s up to us then, isn’t it?” James asked the group, eyes calm and hard.

More screams sounded from the village.

Merlin. Right then. We have to protect the kids here and help the people outside, right guys?” James said, running an anxious hand through his hair.

“Why don’t you have some people get students on the west side of town back to Hogwarts through the trap door in Honeydukes, and another group try to evacuate those on this side through the Shrieking Shack?” Harry suggested. “And some people can stay here and protect the younger students.”

Sirius and James goggled at Harry. “How the fuck do you know about – ” Sirius started to say, but James interrupted him.

“Yeah, yeah, that’s good. Okay. Me, Lily, Vana – a girl Harry vaguely recognized from the year before nodded –  and … you, Featherwaite,” an older looking boy in a Hufflepuff scarf looked up, “we’ll take the Honeydukes side. Sirius, you and three others can take the Shack.”

Sirius looked hesitant to break away from his friends, but he and James were the only two who knew the passages’ locations. The fact that three very pretty girls volunteered to accompany him perked his spirits up considerably.

Two others were stationed as guards by the door of the kitchen, while the last two Ravenclaws were sent to the barn to start casting every temporary warding charm they knew.

“What about me?” Harry asked as the students readied themselves.

As one the other teenagers turned and stared.

“Oh, er – look, kid … ” James started awkwardly.

Harry shook his head in frustration. “I don’t see anyone else here who’s actually fought Death Eaters!”

Sirius huffed and Lily sighed apologetically. Harry’s flaring temper abruptly cooled.

Honestly, I wouldn’t want to go into a fight with squib. They would be a liability. Fuck.

“Never mind. Fine,” he bit out tersely. “Go … and be safe, okay?”

They went.

Harry looked around the suddenly deserted public room feeling lost.

A crash of spells resounded somewhere outside.

Bugger this. I have to do something.

Everything in Harry cried for him to go out into the battle anyway, to somehow make sure his parents and Sirius and all the others made it through whatever battles they were about to face.

But there are kids here. Little kids. He wanted to kick a wall. The older students can probably protect them … but what if they can’t?

His shoulders squared.

The Head’s my home. My job’s here today.

Decision made, he turned to go up the stairs to the second story, but one of the students sent to guard the kitchen – a pretty strawberry-blonde girl in a Slytherin scarf – came up from the back.

“Where are you going? You should get into the kitchen so we can keep you safe!” the girl admonished.

Harry stopped himself from rolling his eyes. “This is my house. I know its secrets, okay? You go protect them, and I swear I can cover the front doors.”

She looked like she wanted to argue, but another burst of spellfire sounded and she only gave him a wary nod before heading back down the stairs.

The moment she was out of sight Harry ran up the main staircase, taking the steps two at a time, and slammed himself into the Green Room. He carefully made his way to the window that overlooked the street below.

Thick plumes of smoke filled the idyllic village. It looked like some building on the other side of town had been turned into an inferno, and smoke rose from smaller fires elsewhere throughout Hogsmeade. Harry’s eyes and throat began to water and sting from the acrid air, but he nonetheless forced his gaze to roam over the area, looking frantically for threats, gripping his wand firmly in his hand.

A flash of yellow just below and to his right caught his attention. He stared in horror as a young blonde woman stood dumbly before a trio of advancing Death Eaters.

What the fuck are you doing? Get out of there! His mind screamed at her.

The woman, however, seemed petrified beyond all rational thought.

Cursing to himself, Harry locked eyes on the back of Ceridwyn’s Cauldron Shop across the street.

One of the Death Eaters raised his wand.

“REDUCTO!” Harry bellowed the curse, confident that none would hear him over the din in the village.

Electric blue light coursed across the street and demolished the second story of the shop, sending massive chunks of wood and brick raining down on the Death Eaters below. Two went down and stayed down, dead or injured, Harry didn’t know, but the woman and the third Death Eater seemed relatively uninjured.

Without stopping to think, Harry took aim again and sent a pulsing Scourgify at the man’s chest. The Death Eater stiffened and fell, his limbs jerking and his hands clawing at his throat before he finally shuddered and stilled.

The woman didn’t move even as the man presented a completely passive target.

“Oh for fuck’s sake!”

He was running back down the stairs and out the front door of the Head before he even realized he was doing so. The woman remained exactly where she was. As he neared, Harry recognized Celeste, the Gladrags girl and friend of Alice Fawley, her eyes wide with shock, her wand lying forgotten on the ground below.

“What the fuck are you waiting for?” he screamed into her placid face, “come on!”

Her lip trembled. “I don’t know what to do … I don’t know what to do …” she repeated, heedless of Harry tugging on her shoulder.

The young wizard stared at her, incredulous, but before he could drag the woman back to her senses he heard the sound of sobbing coming from an alcove across the street. Abandoning Celeste for the moment he sprinted around the wreckage of the cauldron shop towards the sound and started as a pair of wide brown eyes stared out at him from the shaded corner.

Christ, what’s her name … He recognized the young child by sight as the granddaughter of Ambrosius Flume, the owner of Honeydukes … Melanie? No … Melody … Mellia! Yeah, that’s it.

“Mellia, come with me – it isn’t safe for you out here, okay?”

The sobbing girl – she couldn’t be older than seven, Harry guessed – literally leapt at him and attached herself to his body like a little monkey, her head bleeding onto his shirt. He rushed back over to Celeste, his haste made awkward by the weight of the trembling child.

“Dammit, Celeste! We have to get her inside! Now shrug it off, pick up your wand, and come on! You’re not even hurt!”

“I don’t know what to do …”

If ever asked, Harry would have said that he considered himself a gentleman, and that hitting girls was just not on. So he shocked even himself when he slapped the salesgirl across the face with his free hand.

“She’s a fucking little kid, you’re a grownup with a wand! Pull yourself together and get inside. Now!”

Understanding flickered in the young woman’s eyes and she finally – finally! – grabbed her wand and followed Harry back to the Head.

But the moment the door closed behind them the little girl in Harry’s arms started to squirm viciously and sob all the louder. “Rosie! We left Rosie out there! Please, mister, please, don’t let her die!”

Christ, there’s another kid out there?

“Okay, okay Mellia, calm down, I’ll go and get her. You and Celeste here, you go down those steps over there to the kitchen. The students guarding the door will help you, okay? Tell them, whatever they do, not to leave – they have to protect the younger kids, all right?”

The child wiped her eyes and nodded firmly. She grasped the still-boggled Celeste by the hand to lead her away. Future Gryffindor that one, I’d bet.

With that final thought, Harry ducked back into the street. The smoke was even thicker than it had been, and his quiet cries of “Rosie!” tore at his throat.

“Rosie? Rosie! Please, I just want to help you, where are you? Rosie?” Every word he uttered made him feel like a target had been placed between his shoulder blades, but dammit all, he couldn’t leave a little kid defenseless in a bloody war zone.

He cautiously made his way up towards the intersection with High Street.

“Rosie?”

There was a soft, tinkling metallic sound to his right, and Harry turned to stare at a tiny black schnauzer puppy, a rose-printed collar around its neck, its red leash dragging behind it.

You have got to be fucking kidding me.

“Seriously!? A dog?!”

This is why Ab doesn’t like children, he fumed as he tucked the wriggling, yipping, ungrateful little beast under his arm. Sharp claws dug into his stomach and he didn’t hesitate to stun the bloody thing, tender emotions of seven-year-olds be damned.

The smoke thickened even more, and Harry realized with dread that the derelict building between the Hog’s Head and the junction with High Street – a hulking mass that Ab had said used to be a theater at one time and spice market at another – was on fire.

Two black-robed figures appeared through the dense clouds of smoke in front of him.

A young voice echoed through the first one’s mask. “Oi, ain’t you the little squib who did ol’ Walden?”

Fuck. Are we doing this?

Harry cast a quick glance around. The area seemed deserted, and it wasn’t like anyone watching could see much of anything through the smoke of the burning building.

All right then. Bold recklessness swelled in him. Yeah. We’re doing this.

He smiled at the pair. “Well, no and yes.”

“Huh?” the other wondered, and Harry snorted.

“Yes, I killed Macnair, you sack.” He gripped his wand and their eyes widened. “But I’m no squib. Depulso!

Both men were lifted off their feet by the banishing curse and sent hurtling straight through the wall of the now fiercely-burning ruin. Harry fancied he saw two flares of flames where the men must have landed, and their screams – horrible, inhuman sounds that made his stomach roil – stopped after only a few moments.

Okay then.

With a last glance around the street, Harry stowed his wand and turned towards the Head. It’s got passive anti-fire wards on it. It should be fine.

The public room of the Head was empty when he re-entered. Harry quickly cast an Enervate on Rose-the-bloody-dog-who-almost-got-him-killed and trudged down the steps to the kitchen. Two sets of wide eyes met his, and the strawberry blonde he had spoken with earlier quickly stood aside so he could enter the room.

“Rosie! You saved her mister, you saved her!” Mellia crooned rapturously and clutched the dog to herself while simultaneously trying to hug Harry.

As he sank to the floor, Harry could only cough, his smoke-filled lungs searing. He ran a hand through his hair and stared when he realized it was black with ash and soot. I must look like hell.

Mellia worked her way into his lap, fussing over her dog and her new idol’s heroics.

Gladrags girl sat huddled in the corner and would not meet his gaze.

Harry closed his eyes.



When Ab pushed his way past the crowd in the Head half an hour later, Harry was running through his story – a highly edited version – for the second time at the bar with Alice and Auror Goyle. Several of the older students had remained in the pub and were corroborating what they could of his account of the attack. Celeste remained in the corner and only responded with nods or shakes of her head when Goyle questioned her.

The chaos in the village thankfully made the other Aurors less interested in his actions, though all he encountered praised his rescue of Celeste and Mellia, though some seemed decidedly reluctant to do so. Indeed, the little girl had left ten minutes before with her mother and grandfather, both of whom couldn’t stop thanking Harry. Granted, neither had ever deigned to speak with him before, but he was too worn out from the anxiety of the battle to get angry at their sudden change in heart.

Most of the Aurors’ attention was instead centered on James and Lily who, Harry was shocked to learn, had actually engaged Voldemort himself when he appeared near Honeydukes at the end of the battle. From what Harry gathered, they’d only fought for a minute or two, but it gave the crowd of students they were escorting time to get into the store before Dumbledore himself apparated in and drove an uninjured Dark Lord away.

Well shit, go Mum and Dad!

Meanwhile Sirius and his group, Alice informed him, had evacuated a large crowd of students to Hogwarts through the Shack. Harry expected his godfather’s counterpart was thoroughly enjoying any female attention he was receiving as a result of his heroics.

Ab said nothing as he listened to Harry’s account, though his face was thunderous. Alice had been a bit cold when he admitted to slapping her friend, but she still warmly clasped him on the shoulder when she and Goyle stood up to leave and escort the remaining students back to the school.

Silence filled the empty pub.

“A ruddy dog, boy?”

Harry scuffed the floor with his soot-covered boot. “Well, I was under the impression that it was another little kid … You angry I went out?”

The older man stared at him and sighed. “Yes. No. Don’t know. Glad this ain’t goin’ to make problems for us … And you did the right thing, I reckon. Still, I don’t like you bein’ out in that sort of mess. And a bleedin’ dog, of all things …” He sat down heavily in a chair. “Plus I left too, after all.”

Harry joined him at the table. “So what did happen in the Alleys?”

Ab shook his head. “’Bout what happened here. Death Eaters showed up all of a sudden and started attackin’ the buildings. Spent more time focusin’ on stuff rather than people, so I suspect they were either just tryin’ to scare folks or it was a diversion. Talked to a young Auror outside. Same story near abouts here. Lots of property destroyed, not too many deaths given what the number could’a been.” Harry didn’t need to ask. “Fellow I spoke with said the count for the village is six, not countin’ at least half a dozen or so Death Eaters. Two were students, killed by debris. Not sure the count for London.”

Harry nodded slowly. “So, it’s possible that both attacks were diversions? But would Voldemort show up a diversion? That just … doesn’t seem his style.”

The bartender shrugged. “Lad, I just dunno. My brother’ll have an idea, sure enough, but really, not like he knows either.” He gave Harry a searching look. “Rookie Auror said that most of the dead Death Eaters were found around here. Two buried in rubble from the fucking second floor of Ceridwyn’s exploding, two burned in the building they were setting on fire next door. Kid implied that they thought the men’s own spells probably went wrong … Was it you?”

Harry coughed delicately. “Yeah, er – sorry about the cauldron shop …”

Ab gave a sudden bark of laughter. “‘Sorry’ he says!” He kept on chuckling. “And the fifth one that inexplicably drowned in the middle of the road?”

Harry shrugged. “That idea I had about an internal Scourgify worked.”

The bartender’s mouth turned up in a mean little smile. “I imagine it’s goin’ to drive the poor Aurors crazy trying’ to figure out who’s goin’ around casting cleaning charms on Death Eaters.” He turned suddenly more serious.  “Well, you keep Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon free. Don’t like the thought a’ you being stuck places when things get dodgy, so I’m teachin’ you to Apparate. Can be tough, but I don’t think it’ll be too hard for you after some practice.”

Harry grinned at Ab. “Brilliant!”

The door to the Head creaked open, and both men whipped around.

“Merlin, relax, it’s just me,” said Pel as he wandered into the pub. “Glad to see the pub’s all right.”

“Yeah, you ruddy drunk, the beer and whiskey’s all undamaged so you’re free to drink to your liver’s content. We’re fine too, so’s you know,” Ab added wryly.

Pel gave him a tight smile that didn’t reach his eyes and carefully put a folded scrap of parchment on the table. “Just found this stuck to your door.”

Aberforth unfolded the parchment and Harry’s breath caught as he looked at the familiar, spiky handwriting.

 

Right little hero you are, Potter.

 

Fury and bile rose up in him in equal measure. “Fuck – fuck this! Dammit, this isn’t some spaced-out seer, this guy knows exactly what he’s saying and he’s fucking taunting me with it!  He knows my real name, even! What the fuck is going on?

The bartender didn’t bother to tell him to calm down – truth be told, Ab just wanted to iterate Harry’s outburst. “You come back home through the front?” he asked the boy. When Harry nodded, Ab cursed under his breath. “Bastard had to have put it up either while the Aurors were here or right after they left. They’ve only been gone, what, not even five minutes.”

Pel raised an eyebrow. “Bold, that.”

“He’s playing with me,” Harry said in a flat, furious voice, seething with the same thought he’d had the last time the ‘Dementor Stalker’ left him a note. “Like a cat with a mouse before it finally kills it. He’s fucking playing with me.”

“Aye.”

“Whiskey all around, Ab?” Pel asked. “It’s never too early.” The other two grunted their agreement and Harry got up to pour out a generous three-finger measure for them all.

They sat silently drinking and staring at the note, willing it to give up its author’s identity.

Finally, Pel broke the silence. “I don’t have answers for you about this, my friend, but last night I was genning up on all this and finally found a bit of something that might relate to your general situation.”

Harry perked up. “I’ll take any scrap of information I can get, Pel.”

The man pulled out a battered leather-bound notebook. “All right. All the creatures-oriented books that mention Dementors that I’ve found don’t give us anything helpful or that we don’t already know. So I broadened the search and included Ministry documents that I could get my hands on – I owe drinks to about five blokes now, so that’s on you two – an’ found two things. The first is a reference from the DMLE daily ledger from, get this, 1774.”

Both men raised their eyebrows as Pel shuffled to find the right page of his notes. “I copied it down exactly. It reads: ‘Aurors Rowle and Zeller were called to a disturbance at the home of Galahad and Gwyneth Gudgeon, Number 3 Allihock Place, Godric’s Hollow, Wales at 11:38 a.m. Aurors found a middle-aged witch accosting the couple in their parlour. The woman claimed to be Glinda Gudgeon nee Perdit, the owner of the home. No records of a woman by this name exist, and the couple denied any relation. The alleged Ms. Gudgeon (G) was arrested and interrogated by Aurors Rowle (R) and Zeller (Z). Transcript of interview follows.’ Now a lot of this is pointless waffle for us, but here’s the good part:

 

G: But you must have records of me! I was a Ravenclaw, class of ’64, and my husband’s been involved with the Ministry for years! Just last week the Prophet published a piece on his challenge to the Minister’s new policy on interaction with Muggle representatives of the government!

Z: I know of no such new policy, and forgive me for saying it, but if you graduated only ten years ago, time has not been kind to you, madame. I was also in Ravenclaw at the time, and I have no recollection of you.

G: Ten years ago? Are all Aurors so dim-witted? The numbers are simple, sir. It’s 1889. That’s twenty-five years!

R: Madame, you believe it’s 1889? (Subject nods). It’s 1774, madame.”

 

Pel cut in. “So there’s a long bit where she argues with them – lady’s got an impressive mouth on her when she gets her hackles up – and here’s the next bit that concerns us:

 

G: I don’t know, I don’t know. All I know is that I was sitting at home reading and suddenly everything went cold. I went out onto the stoop to see what was the matter and … it was so much worse. And then I saw it. I’ve never seen one before, but I knew enough to know what it was. A Dementor. I … I didn’t know what to do, and then before I knew it, it had me and it leaned in … (Subject begins crying) It was like I was in nothing, and I didn’t even care. And then I heard a voice. It said something, something about the price, and souls for souls. And then it hurt, and I heard those people screaming to get out of their house, but it’s my house! I know it is! But my things weren’t there. I just … I just don’t understand. Please, please, can’t you find my husband?

Z: So to be clear, you maintain that you received the Dementor’s Kiss?

G: I know how it sounds, I know! But it’s what happened.

Z: And have you committed any crimes that would merit this? Have you been convicted of any crimes by the Wizengamot?

G: No! Never! (Subject begins crying again.) Please, can’t you find my husband?”

 

Pel sat back in his chair. Harry felt cold all over and shivered despite his proximity to the fire. The price is fixed. A soul for a soul, little wizard. He had no doubt at all. Glinda Gudgeon had been telling the truth.

“Mrs. Gudgeon, I’m sorry to say, was eventually committed to the long-term care ward – then called the Derwent Facility – at St. Mungo’s under the name Glinda No Surname. She, well, they found her body a few months after that. She’d hung herself with her bedsheets,” Pel said quietly.

Harry gulped down the last of his Firewhiskey and tried to still his shaking hands.

“There’s obviously no question about the similarity between her … experience and yours, Harry.”

The younger man gave a jerky nod. “They sent her back or here or whatever, and there was more than a hundred years’ difference between her time and theirs. Mine was only nineteen years.”

Pel sighed. “I know. I have no answer to that. Maybe she was from a different universe than you are, an’ their time moved at a different pace, just like your own world might move a bit faster than ours. I just don’t know. Funny thing is – I did more research after finding this –  in 1866 a Gawain Gudgeon did in fact marry a Miss Glinda Perdit, Ravenclaw graduate of Hogwarts, class of ‘64. By all accounts that Mrs. Gudgeon lived a peaceful life – had some kids an’ whatnot. Her great-great-grandson plays Chaser for Ravenclaw right now.”

The man shook his head and leaned forwards. “Beyond all that, there are two other similarities that I find interesting. First, neither you nor Mrs. Gudgeon were criminals, an’ neither of you had ever been tried for a crime. Second, I think you both had … tempestuous relationships with the Ministry. Her interview goes on for a while, an’ it seems that her husband was a great critic of the Minister. According to her, he apparently had planned to expose his significant ethical violations against Muggles before Glinda was Kissed. Could be that the Minister sent them after her husband, but they only found her instead. Or maybe she was the target, I don’t know.”

Pel looked at Harry sympathetically. “From what you’ve told us, your Minister – Fudge, was it? – reacted poorly when you informed him of Voldemort’s return. Given that Dementors are supposed to be under Ministry control, that might be important.”

Harry felt sick. “Are you saying that you think Fudge set those Dementors on me?”

The old solicitor nodded and Ab grunted his agreement. “Ain’t no one able to order Dementors around but the Ministry, s’far as I know. Have some sort of agreement with ‘em, from what I’m told.” He paused. “‘Course it might have been your Voldemort somehow. You said he said somethin’ about approachin’ the Dementors when he got brought back to life in the graveyard.”

“So, so what does this information do for us? For me?”

“Well,” Pel began, “it at least confirms that you aren’t the only person that this has happened to. Beyond that, we’ll have to see.”

I’m so damn tired of ‘waiting and seeing.’

“There is one other weird thing. On a hunch, I dug through the Prophet edition for the day Mrs. Gudgeon arrived in 1774. And I found something – well, I don’t quite know if I should call it ‘alarming’ or ‘interesting.’ On that day, September 17th, 1774, a mass murderer by the name of Caedes Acriss was administered a sanctioned Kiss in Azkaban. Near as I can tell, it happened at about the same time as Mrs. Gudgeon’s arrival in Godric’s Hollow.”

“A soul for a soul …” Ab muttered thoughtfully.

“Huh?” Harry’s mind just wasn’t working fast enough. This day had seemed to go on forever and it wasn’t even late afternoon yet. Shit, we still have to do regular Saturday night business.

“I was thinking the same thing,” Pel admitted and turned to Harry. “The synchronization of Acriss’ demise an’ Gudgeon’s arrival, combined with what the Dementors said to the both of you, Harry, suggests that they slid Gudgeon into a spot in this world to, well I don’t know how to put it exactly, maybe to balance out the removal of Acriss’ soul? They bring one new soul in just as they take one native soul away? In other words, ‘a soul for a soul.’ Of course, that’s just a guess but …”

“Merlin,” Ab cursed.

“Wait,” Harry said with some feeling, “if they’re just sliding our souls into empty spots, then why aren’t there more people from other dimensions popping up? The Dementors surely have Kissed more than a few, yeah?”

Both men shrugged helplessly.

“So who was Kissed the day I arrived?” Harry asked. “It would have been August 2nd, 1976 – I didn’t wake up until the next day, but it definitely happened on the second.”

Pel frowned and finished his drink. “That’s just it, my friend. I’ve been through the records, not just for Britain but for every country in the world, an’ I’ve checked myself three times. As far as every magical government in existence is concerned, no one was Kissed that day, or any day around that one. In fact, the most recent Kiss I could find was in Britain in 1912.”

Harry stared at his hands and felt the thrumming of his heart. “So whose spot did my soul take then?”

Pel shrugged again.

“Bugger me,” Ab growled.



19 March, 1978

Despite the horror of the coordinated Hogsmeade-Diagon Alley attack in January, and Harry’s private mounting anxiety over the anonymous notes, the next month and a half passed peacefully enough. Voldemort hadn’t launched any more large-scale measures, though if a person paid close enough attention they’d notice people still disappearing in a trickle, and no further messages had been left for the young dimensional traveler.

Ab had indeed taught him to Apparate – definitely not his favored means of travel – though it took nearly six long practice sessions before he managed it to the bartender’s satisfaction.

His Mondays at Hogwarts with Poppy continued – she had been most impressed with his OWL scores and had insisted on teaching him ever more tricky healing techniques – and each week he could feel the gloomy pall cast over the school by the Hogsmeade Raid lighten a bit more. This set him to grumbling about idiots who let themselves be lulled into a sense of security rather than maintaining constant vigilance, to Poppy’s amusement.

He found himself missing Hagrid quite keenly. The half-giant had shown up to Aberforth’s surprise birthday party and told Harry that he was being sent on a “secret mission” to parlay with the giants on behalf of … Hagrid realized he’d said too much then, but his friend was quite sure he could fill in the blanks. In the meantime, Harry was feeding most of Hagrid’s creatures – he drew the line at even thinking of approaching the acromantula colony – and fretted often about his absent friend’s safety.

The surprise party he’d thrown for Aberforth had been a great success that was well-received by all but the birthday boy himself. When a giggling Ariana had told him that her brother’s birthday was February 14th, Harry, Pel, and Dalcop had given the entire public room a mini-makeover to look like Madame Puddifoot’s. Hours of drunken Valentine’s Day hijinks followed. It would be a very long time, the young wizard assumed, before he found the picture of Captain Burke, Sanguini, and a very drunk Dalcop draped suggestively over a scowling Ab unfunny. Harry suspected that Ab would have put an end to the whole thing, had the younger man not sent word to all their regular Christmas clientele. Business boomed that night, even Quisby seemed content, and Ab raked in the coins.

This morning Harry had spent some time in Jinky’s Jumble, rifling through racks and boxes for some new used clothes. Ab had pointed out the day before that both his shirts and trousers had grown far too short for his frame, and Harry had been delighted to discover he’d actually grown three inches. Granted, three inches in a bit over a year at his age wasn’t all that much, and he still griped about evil Dursleys and stunted growth, but he’d gladly accept whatever inches the fates deigned to bestow upon him.

Walking back to the Head with his bag of purchases, he smiled politely when tiny old Mrs. Flume, the matriarch of Honeydukes, gave him a toothy grin and tossed him a chocolate frog. She’d always been one to simply pretend he didn’t exist, but had changed her tune abruptly after he’d saved her granddaughter. Now, every time he passed their shop she seemed to notice and tossed him some sweet or another. It was annoying to only find growing acceptance in the village after risking his neck to save a kid and a bloody dog, but he wouldn’t deny that it was rather nice not to be hated or ignored by his neighbors.

Well, not all of them, I guess, he shrugged to himself as Celeste the Gladrags girl, with whom Mrs. Flume was speaking outside that morning, determinedly didn’t look his way. Whatever.

When he arrived back in the pub, Ab had just come down for his late breakfast and was opening up the newest gift from Guin Dearborn. She’d never stopped leaving them baked goods in the morning every week or two, much to both men’s delight. Today it looked like apple and cinnamon scones, complete with icing sugar. “Don’t you dare eat all of those, old man!” Harry warned him as he thundered down the stairs to drop off his packages.

He legged it back up with all the intensity of a teenager presented with a load of good food. “Do we need to warm them or did Guin put a charm on – Ab?”

A broken plate was on the floor. A partially-eaten scone lay near a hand attached to an arm that was not moving.

“AB!” Harry rushed around the bar and found the old man on the ground, his face unnaturally pale and his stomach heaving almost imperceptibly. A dusting of sugar was on his lips. “Oh fuck, Ab!”

He’s old. Heart attack? Stroke? Harry looked at the scone. The sugar was just a bit … wrong. Too gooey, the wrong viscosity. Guin’s icings … they never looked like that. At all.

Cold certainty slammed into him so violently he felt like he’d been punched in the gut.

Poison. They’re fucking poisoned.

What do I do?!

What do I DO?!

One of his OWL questions popped into his mind, accompanied by the almost-forgotten sneering voice of Severus Snape. A bezoar is a stone taken from the stomach of a goat and it will save you most poisons.

Harry took the stairs to the hallway between the stable and kitchen three at a time and threw open both doors. Where would he keep them?

Accio bezoar!” he roared.

Nothing happened.

He waited.

He tried again.

Nothing happened.

“How many goddamn goats do we have in this place and we don’t have a single fucking bezoar? Seriously!?”

Keep yourself together, dammit.

Okay. No bezoars. Poppy talked about accidental ingestion of toxic substances once. What the fuck did she say? Panic was starting to fray Harry’s thoughts and quicken his breathing. What the fuck did Poppy say? he screamed to himself.

Oh.

Poppy. Ab taught me how to do this. Happy thoughts, dammit please, happy thoughts. Harry concentrated with everything he had.

“Expecto Patronum!” He nearly burst into tears when his albatross appeared. “Please, go to Hogwarts. Tell Madam Pomfrey that Aberforth has been poisoned at the Hog’s Head! Go now!” The giant bird soared away leaving a fading trail of silver mist in its wake.

But what, what did she say? A bit calmer now that something had been done, the memory filtered back to Harry. Poppy was serving him tea and said … said something about how, when in doubt, the best thing to do is to administer an em – an em – what the fuck was the word? Something to make the patient vomit … Fuck it.

Accio something to make a person vomit!” he cried desperately.

Looking back later, Harry would cringe when he realized how huge a gamble it had been to cast such a spell in a place like the Hog’s Head. In addition to the hundreds of bottles and casks full of liquor guaranteed to lead to potential vomiting, the Head wasn’t exactly known for its cleanliness. Half the building could have barreled at the desperate boy.

But perhaps his magic understood what he meant, for no liquor bottles, or anything else for that matter, came flying at the young wizard.

Instead, he felt a soft fluttering against his breastbone. Opening his shirt collar, he looked down with wide eyes to see the side of his mokeskin back lightly indenting as if something in it were trying to get out.

Numb fingers undid the drawstring and opened the bag’s mouth. Harry deftly caught the small object that had responded to his summoning spell.

Opening his hand he looked down to see the corncockle Ariana had given him so long ago.

“Wha –?”

Ab is dying you fool! Get MOVING! his internal voice roared.

Screw it.

He clamored up the stairs and almost wet his pants in relief when he saw that Ab was still breathing, albeit faintly. A thin stream of viscous, discolored liquid was running out of the side of his mouth. Without preamble, Harry crushed the flower as much as he could in his hand, wrenched the man’s mouth open, and stuffed it down his throat. He summoned a glass of water and pulled Ab to a sitting position, all the while praying Please don’t choke, please let this work. Filling the man’s mouth with water, he massaged his throat to make him swallow the liquid and to push the flower down his digestive tract.

And then nothing happened.

Harry sat and stared at the old man, his ears alert for the sound of a rushing Floo and the arrival of someone who knew what the hell to do.

Silence.

Without warning, Ab reared forward in his arms and vomited up a huge stream of nastiness that covered both men.

The old man retched for several long minutes until Harry was sure that there simply couldn’t be anything left in his stomach, then slumped back, unconscious. Harry wiped his guardian’s mouth and face with his own sleeve, completely at a loss to do anything else, but slightly encouraged that Ab’s breathing seemed a tiny bit stronger.

“Please, Ab, please don’t die. Please don’t die on me …” He vaguely noted that he was whispering those words over and over again, but had no recollection of when he had started speaking. “Please don’t die, Ab. Please, Ab.”

After what seemed like hours but couldn’t have been more than a few moments, he registered the rush of the Floo.

Poppy Pomfrey bustled over to them. “Harry? Harry!” She snapped her fingers in front of his face. “I need you smart and present right now, young man!”

Harry roused himself with difficulty. “Okay. Okay. Thanks for com –”

“What happened? Quickly now!”

“He – he was fine when I came in, I dropped some things off downstairs, came up, and he was on the floor. He’d dropped the scone and was heaving a little. Not – he wasn’t breathing much. I figured he’d been poisoned since he was eating … but I guess I don’t know for sure. Couldn’t find a bezoar, so I put a corncockle down his throat, gave him water, and he vomited a lot. Seems to be breathing better but I don’t –”

Her wand was already out and casting spells. “Hush now. He has been poisoned with a caustic substance that was beginning to dissolve his internal organs. Your treatment slowed the process enough, though it’s done more damage to his digestive tract.” She gave him a compassionate look. “I can fix this, Harry.”

Harry looked at her for a moment, uncomprehending. I can fix this Harry

He burst into tears.

“We – we – we – have so many – so many – fucking goats – but there weren’t, there weren’t any – any bezoars anywhere – I – I –”

Her arms were suddenly around him. “Hush now, child. You did well. How you thought of a corncockle, I don’t know, I haven’t heard that old remedy in years, but he’ll be all right. It’s all right.”

Harry nodded jerkily and dried his face off, already chastising himself for crying at his age.

“Now, Harry, I have everything in my bag that I need to treat him for the moment. I could move him to the castle, but given his age and condition, I’d rather not risk the Floo. I’ll levitate him to his room if you’ll please call the Aurors.” When his jaw dropped open, she tsked in impatience. “This is attempted murder, dear, you must call them!”

“Yeah, yeah of course.” Attempted murder. Merlin. “But, uh, can you start treating him here and … maybe Floo the headmaster? He can call the Aurors. They, well I don’t think most of them like me much and they think I’m a squib, so they’ll probably get here faster if someone like Dumbledore contacts them, yeah?”

Poppy sighed and opened her bag. “Unfortunately, I suspect you are correct.” She handed him a bottle of pale green liquid. “Give him a spoonful of this, be sure to massage his throat, while I Floo the school.”

Not five minutes later, Poppy was further attending to Aberforth up in his bedroom while Harry waited anxiously in the pub, still covered with sick. He looked at the headmaster with hollow, shocked eyes when the man arrived and hurried to his side.

“What happened?”

There were no ‘my boy’s,’ and no pretense at serenity. Dumbledore, Harry dumbly observed, looked terrified. In a dead voice, he quickly ran through the events of the morning. “Poppy says he’ll be okay in a few days, maybe a week. He’ll have a bad sore throat and upset stomach for a while, and he might get tired more easily, but he’ll be fine, she said.”

Dumbledore nodded and clasped his shoulder with a trembling hand. “Thank you, Harry. Thank you. I’ll – I’ll contact the Aurors. Just tell them what you told me.”

It wasn’t a long wait for a trio of Aurors to arrive. Apparently being contacted by the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot lit fires under arses. Harry distantly recognized one of the three as working sporadically in the STIFF back when he was imprisoned, but the man had been little more than another suit to him then. One of the other two went to speak with Poppy, while those that stayed behind had Harry go through his story twice and remained exceptionally polite. The presence of Dumbledore and the solicitous care he showed Harry likely cued them into the fact that now was not the time to get crabby with the squib.

Dumbledore had visibly paled when Harry mentioned giving Ab a corncockle he had in his possession, but said nothing.

The Aurors quickly put the entire box of uneaten scones, as well as the one that Ab had been munching, into a sealed box for testing. They then poked and prodded around the Head, paying special attention to the kitchen and the bar area. However, when they moved to start searching other rooms upstairs, Harry roused himself enough from his shocked stupor to put his foot down.

“I’m pretty sure you need a warrant or something to search our home, right?” Out of the corner of his eye, he spied Dumbledore giving him a small nod. “You’ve got the evidence you need, and we’re the victims here. If you want to search any more, come back with something official.” The men hesitated. “I’ll call my solicitor then. Chief Warlock Dumbledore, would you please observe these men and make sure that they stick to their prescribed duties while I’m in the other room and your brother is upstairs?”

And that stopped that. He thought he saw a faint smirk grace Dumbledore’s face.

Soon enough, the Aurors were gone, two to interview the Dearborns and the other to head back to the Ministry with the evidence.

It was suddenly awkward, the room empty but for Harry and the headmaster.

The older man fiddled with his beard. “Ah, Harry? You said … you said you used a corncockle as an emetic? Something to make Aberforth vomit?”

Harry nodded.

“And you knew that corncockles had such properties as to be a suitable emergency measure?”

Well no, but Accio worked so … Instead Harry softly said, “Yes sir.”

Dumbledore gave him a very odd smile. “Well done, my boy. But please, satisfy an old man’s curiosity. Where did you get such a flower in March?”

Harry blinked. “Oh. I’ve had that particular flower for more than a year. It was a gift, see, and I guess there must be some magic on it to keep it fresh. Though honestly I never really thought about that until now.”

“May I ask from whom you received such a gift?” Dumbledore’s eyes paradoxically looked both very young and beyond ancient at the same time.

Harry coughed uncomfortably. “Honestly, sir? Ariana gave it to me. The painting of her, I mean. I don’t – I don’t know how she did it, but she sent it through her portrait and it became three dimensional somehow.”

Only the smallest gasp betrayed Dumbledore’s surprise. “Ah! … I suppose I should have suspected. It would be she, wouldn’t it?” Harry had no idea what to say in response to this. “Well, as I said, very well done, Harry. I shall look in on my brother for a moment and then I must head back to the school.” He made for the stairs before pausing and calling back over his shoulder, “If you find yourself in need of anything, or if Aberforth’s condition changes, please do not hesitate to contact me again. Trust that I shall keep you updated on what the Aurors discover.”



Harry sat in the darkened room and stared at the sleeping form of Aberforth Dumbledore. It was hours later, but it seemed like days. He had heard faint carousing in the pub through the floorboards and the occasional calls for toasts in Ab’s honor, but he didn’t really attend to the noise.

Poppy had finally left around ten that evening, after she was certain that Harry knew which potions to give Ab and when, and emphasized that he was to contact her if he had the slightest concern. He hadn’t really moved from his chair since then.

Earlier Doc and Guin Dearborn had come by after being released by the Aurors, the latter looking absolutely crushed that someone had used her early morning gift to try to kill Ab – or maybe Harry, as Pel had noted.

When Quisby had refused Harry’s plea to come in and run the pub – “Course I feel bad about the old man, squib, but I got me a date with Elmira March tonight! Figure it out on your own.” – Doc had taken a position behind the bar while Guin disappeared into the kitchen.

“You mind Aberforth, kid,” Doc had said. “We’ll mind your pub for you.” Harry had started to protest, but Dearborn cut him off. “You saved my arse, Harry. Least I can do is help you a bit while you and yours are in the same sort of place I was. Get your arse upstairs, and don’t let me see you until you come down for some food later.”

Doc Dearborn would make a good dad, Harry had thought distractedly as he climbed the stairs. The pub hadn’t burned down or hosted a revolt yet, so apparently he made a decent publican as well.

But now the pub was silent, the Dearborns either in one of the guestrooms – please not the Blue Room. Yarda was in there last night and I never got around to cleaning it – or gone home.

Harry nearly had a heart attack when the door was pushed open and a very pregnant Goat lumbered in and sat herself down heavily next to Harry, her head resting on the bed.

He quirked a tired smile. “He’ll be okay, girl. Don’t worry.”

Goat passed gas, gave a long, satisfied bleat, and helped herself to a large mouthful of Aberforth’s beard.

“Bah’s right, ya bint,” came a very weak voice from the bed.

“Ab!” Harry cried. The man winced. “You shouldn’t be awake yet,” he added in a quieter voice.

 “Do what I please, boy. What the fuck happened?”

“You went and got yourself poisoned with a Baneberry Potion, least according to the Aurors’ tests.”

Ab grunted. “Well that was ruddy stupid a’ me, huh?”

Harry laughed softly. “Guin was pretty broken up that someone spiked her scones.”

“You eat any?”

“No,” Harry responded, trying to smile. “The whole bit you did with flopping unconscious and shaking kind of put me off breakfast. Very dramatic.”

Ab sighed and closed his eyes. Harry handed him a Pain potion. “You aren’t supposed to have this for another hour, but it shouldn’t hurt to have just this one early.”

The man gratefully chugged down the vile swill and looked at the teenager gravely. “Tell me what happened. Baneberry’s some serious shit. Why aren’t I dead?”

Harry bit his lip and then told the bartender everything, not the abridged version he had given his brother. When Ab heard about the younger wizard’s desperate search for a bezoar he muttered “Usually sell ‘em. People pay a pretty galleon for such things, after all.”

“Yeah, let’s keep a few on hand from now on,” Harry responded dryly.

“Too right, that.”

When Harry got to the part about the corncockle, Ab’s eyes widened in a way so reminiscent of his brother that it would have been funny under different circumstances.

“You’re talking about the flower Ariana gave you, yeah?”

“Hey! I never told anyone about that! How’d you know?”

Ab smirked as much as his weakened condition allowed. “I spied on you that night, lad.”

Harry frowned. “Well, that isn’t nice.”

The old man wheezed out a laugh. “Says the kid who knows all about that special painted radio in the kitchen!”

“Oh … Didn’t know you knew about that.”

“Why else would I make the bloody kitchen the pub’s safe room, lad? Painting’s dead useful, if you can convince Ariana to help, a’ course.” Ab’s eyes narrowed. “You seem quite the dab hand at convincin’ my  sister to help you.”

The teenager had the smile sheepishly before swiftly moving on and finishing the story.

“I haven’t heard that they’ve figured out who did it yet, but your brother said he’d keep us updated.”

Ab nodded. “You worried it was the note-writer, then?”

Harry’s stomach dropped. He hadn’t even thought of that. Shite. If that gets out, I’m humped.

The old man waved his hand dismissively. “We’ll deal with it when he have to deal with it.” He closed his eyes and sighed.

“You should rest, Ab. You need anything, just ask.” Harry watched the man’s face as he nodded drowsily. “Ab? I … I’m really glad you’re okay … I thought – I thought that you were going to die.” Harry was grateful the man didn’t open his eyes and see the tears that were silently coursing down his cheeks. “You’re … you’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me, I think.”

Ab grunted, barely half-awake. “Your life’s in a sorry state, then, lad, a sorry state … Thanks, Harry …” His face relaxed in sleep.

The younger man sat for a long time and watched the steady rise and fall of Ab’s chest, gently touching it every so often to reassure himself that yes, he was still fine. Goat flopped over and fell asleep not long after Aberforth.

Harry eventually rose to stretch his legs and refill the water pitcher by Ab’s bed. As he passed through the sitting room, he found Ariana wide awake and apprehensive.

“Oh shit, I’m sorry Ariana! You’ve probably been terrified!” He quickly explained everything to her, and she sank down in relief.

A thought occurred to Harry. “Ariana, can you meet me in the Yellow Room, if the Dearborn’s aren’t in there, that is?”

She nodded, and a few minutes later he joined her in the empty guest room.

“I have to get back to Ab, but I really wanted to ask you about the corncockle … Did you know, back then when you gave it to me, I mean, did you know that, I don’t know, that Ab would need it? I mean, I didn’t know anything about them having healing properties.” The thought had been plaguing him all day.

She shook her head slowly.

“Well, then can I ask why you gave it to me?”

A thoughtful frown appeared on her face as Ariana wrote a reply on the painted parchment.

It was pretty and you were sad. I have so many of them anyway.

The perfect Ariana answer, that is. “Okay … can I ask … well, how did you give me your flower? I don’t understand that part.”

The blonde grinned at him impishly when she showed him her response in the mirror.

It wasn’t my flower, really. It was my brother’s!

She waved goodnight and skipped off out of the frame, leaving him in the darkened guest room to mull over that confusing little riddle, and to steam that she’d nicely managed to avoid his actual question.

 

Chapter Text

XIX. Of Cobblers, Cooks, and Clockmakers

26 March, 1978

“NO\o! And that’s final! I can’t take this anymore! I’m gettin’ up, gettin’ dressed, and gettin’ to work and you ain’t gonna stop me!”

Harry folded his arms and stared at Aberforth impassively. “About done with the tantrum? If you’re not, that’s fine. I’m perfectly happy casting a silencing spell on your withered old arse.”

“Fuck you, boy! I’m almost a hundred years old and I can do what I wa –” The expression on his face as the younger wizard flicked a Silencio at him seemed nearly as lethal as an Avada Kedavra.

“As I was saying,” Harry went on calmly, “you nearly died. You are not getting out of that bed until Madame Pomfrey gives you the all-clear. She will be here soon enough. Until then, you. will. stay. in. bed. I’ll stick your arse to the mattress and strap you there with chains if I need to. Just try me.”

Ab would die before saying it to anyone else, but the boy’s final, growling dare was actually quite well executed.

A chuckle intruded upon the stand-off. “So, that’s the sort of thing you boys get up to in this place then?”

Harry’s face flushed so red it turned nearly purple, while Aberforth gave an appreciative snort.

No bloody way!

“Poppy!?” the younger wizard exclaimed in shock when he saw the identity of the newcomer. “Holy shi – that – you – Madame Pomfrey, did you – did you just crack a sex joke?”

The matron of Hogwarts huffed. “Yes, dear, and a fine one it was, if I do say so myself.” She rolled her eyes and straightened her apron. “Oh do close your mouth, Harry, you look like an idiot. I hate to rupture your fragile young psyche, but yes, middle-aged women know all about the exciting and sundry varieties of sexual intercourse.”

Harry continued gawping.

“Goodness, child, I work around hundreds of teenagers who all bring their delicate little problems with their nethers straight to me.” She chuckled. “You wouldn’t believe some of the things I’ve had to extract from various orifices. Remind me to show you my photographic collection of some of the more memorable ones next week, dear.”

“Oh my God,” Harry choked out. No mental pictures, no mental picture, no mental picture – shite, too late. “I – you’re here – Ab – so, so, me – I’ll go somewhere – else. Away.” He fled the room, Poppy’s rich, mocking laughter following him down the stairs.

Harry bypassed the public room and the kitchens – Doc and Guin were in them, respectively, and while he appreciated the dedicated help they’d given him all week, he didn’t need more people teasing him about the deep blush that he could still feel coloring his face. Instead, he headed out the back door and took in a deep breath of the mild spring morning air. 

Colin strode into the garden gracefully, having long since acquired the fluid, aquiline movement of an adult thestral. His first friend in this world had stayed close to the Head the last few days, somehow, Harry suspected, cottoning on to his human friend’s anxiety. The beast looked at the young man hopefully, but Harry shook his head.

“Sorry Colin, no meat with me for you today. I’ll scrounge up something from the kitchen for you later.”

The thestral snorted and meandered out of the garden, presumably to find a better-supplied person.

Harry sat on the stoop and considered the last six days.

Ab had barely woken the first two days, and when he did, he had been alarmingly agreeable. Poppy had said that it would take several days for a man of his age to heal from the internal damage that had ravaged his system, but Harry couldn’t help but fret that there was some unseen malady which was still afflicting the old bartender.

On the third and fourth days, Ab had stayed awake for much longer. Although he had scoffed, he didn’t stop Harry from moving Ariana’s portrait into the room and reading to both of the Dumbledores from The Chronicles of Narnia. He had to grin when Ab suggested he find a “bloody wardrobe and get his arse home,” since they apparently hosted trans-dimensional portals. The old man had affected skepticism when Harry emphatically claimed that the author was a muggle and this wasn’t actually a history book.

Minor arguments about fiction and the possibilities for inter-dimensional travel aside, those two restful days had actually been really … nice. Harry and Ab didn’t talk much, but Harry rarely left his side, the two of them either reading, snorting at the Prophet, or quietly playing cards. The younger wizard religiously kept to Ab’s potions schedule, even if the old fool didn’t like it, and Ariana watched over them both, beaming.

Quisby, the arse, had religiously kept to his own, pre-poisoning schedule, adamantly refusing to come in and cover extra shifts, despite professing his own lukewarm concern for Aberforth. The Dearborns, however, had immediately moved into the Green Room and had taken it upon themselves to keep the pub open and operating smoothly. Harry had been a bit worried when he learned that Guin often worked the pub at night – she’s just so sweet and nice, they’ll eat her alive – but his concerns were quickly dispelled earlier that week.

A grinning Doc had regaled him with the story of his petite little wife bludgeoning a werewolf (who’d gone nearly feral when another man hit on his date) over the head with a conjured Beater’s bat. As soon as the man dropped to the floor, she eyed the rest of the bar, smiled sweetly, and asked if anyone else felt like misbehaving. The pub had been remarkably pacific the rest of the week.

Harry had laughed into his tea when Doc told him that Guin had put the unconscious werewolf in the Red Room, along with a plate of freshly-baked ginger biscuits and a pain potion to comfort him when he woke up. She may have been the star beater on her house team at Hogwarts, as Doc had bragged, but damn if she wasn’t exceptionally kind to those she’d beaten into unconsciousness.

Indeed, Harry suspected that most of their patrons would be heartbroken when the Dearborns’ help was no longer needed. Guin’s cooking, he admitted to himself, far surpassed even Mrs. Weasley’s, and their clientele was enraptured with the improved fare. If we aren’t careful, they’ll revolt and hand the whole place over to the Dearborns anyway …

On the fifth day of Ab’s convalescence, Harry had come up from breakfast to find the man staring thoughtfully at Ariana as she wandered in the background of her portrait picking flowers. He didn’t even seem to notice when the younger wizard had sat down, shrugged a little, and started thumbing through his battered copy of Tweeny Twig’s.

Half an hour later, Ab was still staring at his painted sister, the look on his face old and rather broken.

“You want to talk about it?” Harry’s soft voice felt like an obscene intrusion into the long silence they had maintained.

“No.”

Harry had nodded and moved to go back to his reading.

“I told you I might’a been the one to kill her. Remember?” He hadn’t look at the younger man, but seemed to feel his slow nod. “There was a fight. Me, my brother, and his lover, that fuck Grindelwald.”

What the holy shite is he – wait … Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald? The Grindelwald? Whoa … Fuck me, Dumbledore’s gay?! Bloody – Harry had to clasp hold of his inner voice and shake it into submission since Ab was continuing and he seriously did not want to miss this.

“Ariana’d been … well, she’d been hurt bad years before, didn’t understand things sometimes, got upset real easy, but she was always so sweet. Innocent, y’know, just like her portrait. She didn’t – she got between us, scared and confused because we were fighting.” Ab pressed his eyes closed. “Never was able to figure out which a’ the three of us killed her.” He looked at his hands. “Don’t s’pose it really matters.”

“Why – why were you fighting?.”

Ab sighed. “S’long story. Really want to hear it?”

You’re goddamn right I want to hear it!

The old man read his face easily enough. “Course you do. Settle in then. Ain’t a pretty story though.”

An hour later Ab had drifted off into a restless sleep and Harry had spent the afternoon contemplating the strange, tragic tale that was the adolescence of the Dumbledore children. His mind continued to reel in disgust at the thought that Dumbledore had originally been Grindelwald’s willing partner in a plan to bring the Muggles under the power of magicals, but he couldn’t help but pity the man for coming around and having to fight his former best friend and lover.

I guess I never really knew him at all, he had thought sadly.

Or maybe … he brightened a bit … Maybe I just didn’t know the man he had been, only the man he became. He wrestled with his feelings, trying to map them out. It’s like … it’s like with Sirius. He’s a stupid little shit right now, but I know he has it in him to grow up into someone wonderful. Just because I don’t like him all that much now doesn’t mean I can’t love the man I did know.

And maybe Dumbledore wouldn’t have become the man I trusted back home if he hadn’t done all those things in his past that make me trust him a little less now.

Harry had smiled sadly at the thought and, like so many other times since his arrival in this world, decided he could live with less than perfect, but somehow more humanized visions of those he once had so wanted to idolize.

The three relatively peaceful days Harry and Ab had spent together had come crashing down the day before. Ab was feeling better. Ab was not pleased to still be bed-ridden. His young caretaker’s amusement about the childishness of the bartender’s behavior had dried up rather quickly, and now both were ready for Pomfrey to pronounce Ab healed so that they could both have a break.

Harry's musings on the back steps of the Head were interrupted by a dry voice. “This what you do when I’m laid out, boy? Laze around the garden?”

He turned to see a smiling Ab. “Don’t get your knickers twisted, lad. Matron pronounced me healed. Know what that means, yeah?”

Harry’s eyes widened as Ab’s grin turned wicked.

“Means I’m in charge again.”

The younger wizard gulped.

 


 

27 March, 1978

The next morning Harry, Ab, and Guin – who showed up again even though Harry and Ab had insisted they were fine – were enjoying tea and some of her homemade pastries when a knock sounded on the door.

“We’re aren’t open yet!,” Guin had called at the same time as Harry yelled “No one’s home!” and Ab had boomed, his mouth full of pastry, “Goghway!”

“Aurors!” barked the unmistakable voice of Mad-Eye Moody.

Eyebrows raised all around the table, and Harry went over to unbar the door, silently reminding himself that Moody thought he had been obliviated of the one time they had met last summer.

Moody – whom he noted still had both legs – and an Auror he had dealt with in the STIFF (Auror Nondescript, he reminded himself, that’s what I called him then) stalked in and headed towards Ab and Guin’s table.

Both looked at him as he resumed his place.

“You want the boy here for this, sir?” Nondescript asked in a voice that implied he thought Ab clearly didn’t. Moody rolled his eyes and sat down comfortably.

Ab glared at him and addressed Harry instead. “Want another Chelsea bun there lad?” Harry grinned brightly at Auror Nondescript and helped himself.

Moody gave an odd half-grunt, half-chuckle at the old man’s antics. “Well, Ab, good news is we’ve caught your assailant. Bleedin’ idiot ordered the Baneberry Poison under his own name and had it sent directly to his business. Even signed for it!”

“Sounds like a real criminal mastermind,” Ab snarked. “Who?”

The grizzled Auror flipped open a parchment notebook. “Crispin Cordwaine.”

Guin’s mouth dropped open and Harry spit out, “The cobbler?!”

“Aye, lad. That Crispin Cordwaine. He’d noticed Mrs. Dearborn regularly left baked goods for you both, so he ordered the poison, waited, and spiked all those scones when he saw the box on your stoop.”

Ab’s face was gray with rage, but he didn’t say a word.

“But why?” Harry gasped. “He must have had a motive – was he trying to kill Ab or me?”

The Auror sighed. “He didn’t much care which of you he got, though he had hoped for both. Pretty put out you both lived, he was. As for motive, he seems the basic sort of idiot. Hated that you were a squib, that you lived in the village. Got in his gob that people were going about praising you for saving the Flume lass. And he went on about how you dared come into his store a while back, and how Aberforth had threatened him into making you a pair of shoes.”

Shaking his head didn’t help to clear it. “But, I don’t understand! I hardly could have mattered to the man, we met for less than a minute! How could that make him want to kill me and Ab?” Harry asked, completely flummoxed.

Moody gave him a hard look and shrugged. “Hate’s like that, lad. Some people hate so much it’s not ever going to be rational.”

“Stupid’s too stupid sometimes to make sense,” Ab added in a low voice.

Auror Nondescript coughed pointedly and Moody nodded. “Yeah, there’s also more. In the interrogation we discovered that Cordwaine was the middleman between Olive Hornby and Walden Macnair in the assault on your pub last year.”

“What?” Ab roared.

 “Man confessed that Hornby was a regular customer at his shoe store and they shared similar views,” Moody confirmed. “Somehow he knew about Macnair and his grudge against the boy. Apparently, Macnair supplied the wardreader that was used, and Cordwaine passed it on to Hornby to plant during her inspection. Couldn’t get more details. We can only use Veritaserum on purebloods when he’s actually accused of committing a murder, not trying to commit one.” The man’s derisive snort made it clear what he thought of that policy.

A vision of a golden-stitched signature on delicate high heels that were sinking into mud flashed across Harry’s mind. The same golden signature reading Cordwaine was stitched into his own pair of leather boots, the pair that Ab had once procured for him from the man.

“So is Cordwaine a Death E – ?” Harry started to ask, but Moody cut him off.

“Man’s not marked, no. But his daughter Caliga’s married to Thorfinn Rowle, a reported friend of Macnair. He’s been suspected to have joined the Death Eaters –”

“ – but his involvement has never been confirmed,” Auror Nondesript finished in a firm voice.

Moody slapped his notebook closed. “That’s all I’ve got for you. Cordwaine will be tried sometime  in the next few months – you’ll receive a written notification – but given his connections to the purebloods, I wouldn’t expect him to get as long a sentence as you would like.” Disgust at the situation briefly flashed across his face as he stood up to leave.

“Thank you, Professor Moody,” Harry said in a distant voice, still thrown off-kilter by the stupidity and baffling randomness of Cordwaine’s hatred against them. There’s a lot of bad I can say about Voldemort, but at least he sometimes made better sense.

Distracted, he didn’t notice Moody staring at him for a few seconds.

“You fall on your head lad? Don’t know much about me ever being a professor, of all things!”

Harry mentally slapped himself and shook his head. “Sorry, I don’t know why I said that. This is all just so …”

He was saved from having to articulate what ‘this all is’ by Moody’s dismissive gesture. “Whatever, lad. You folks have a good day, and for Merlin’s sake, be vigilant about what you eat!”

As the two Aurors left the pub, Harry overheard Nondescript chuckle under his breath. “You, a professor Alastor? I’d pity those kids.”

Harry could hear the grin in Moody’s response, “Me too.”

Ab, Guin, and Harry sat in silence for a while.

“Well, that’s that, I s’pose,” Ab finally said. “Least we know who did this.

Harry stared at him, noticing the strange intonation. With a sinking feeling, he realized what Ab was really saying. There’s no way Cordwaine is the letter-writer. He simply can’t know about my past.

Someone’s still out there, waiting for us.

They finished their currant buns without further conversation.

 


 

30 March, 1978

Harry was working the Head’s lunch rush alone that Thursday, though he used the term ‘rush’ loosely. So far he’d hardly been taxed with customers. Doc had stopped in during his lunch break from the Ministry to grab a sandwich, and the purple- and white-haired crone occupied her normal perch, today feasting on a vodka concoction and a fresh mango she’d brought for herself.

He looked up when the door opened and the sound of several boisterous male voices suddenly began to fill the pub.

It’s a ginger invasion, he thought in bemusement as he watched four tall redheaded men, one holding a toddler whose fiery hair poofed out wildly from underneath his blue hat, usher in another two ginger-haired and freckled little boys. They filed to the front tables and pushed two together, transfiguring one of the chairs into a high chair for the littlest one. As the men sat down, Harry heard one of them mutter “Oh thank Merlin it’s quiet in here. Still can’t believe you got yourself banned from the Sticks, Fabian. I was looking forward to Rosmerta’s stew.”

The one settling the baby in addressed the two older boys sternly. “Best behavior, right boys?” The children, who looked to be about seven and five, nodded seriously. “You sure we can bring kids in here, Billy? It’s rather …” he turned and asked the redheaded man who had first spoken, all the while warily eyeing the giant wall of betting odds for Zoilus Dorbel’s still-awaited demise.

Harry cringed when he read things like “Eviscerated by Filch,” and “Beheaded or Death by Amputation” from the perspective of a father of young children.

Thankfully Ab and Pel had outfitted the Demise Wall, as the patrons had taken to calling it, with a long gray curtain that could be pulled closed if the wrong sort of visitor entered the pub. Harry quickly walked over and shut the drapes before turning and smiling at the packed front table.

“Sorry about that,” he said. “Kids are welcome in here this early in the day, but we don’t normally expect them.”

The concerned father gave him a polite smile and Harry started as he recollected the worn-out Billywigs shirt that still resided in the stable. It’s Mr. Weasley! After a moment of anxious worrying that Mr. Weasley would remember him from his arrival, Harry realized that the odds of that were slim. He looked fairly different than he had back in 1976. And the baby must be Percy … it has been a bit more than a year and a half since I arrived, hasn’t it?

The man Mr. Weasley had called Billy, a balding redhead who looked to be in his thirties and was clearly related to Arthur, gave him a curious look. “Those were betting odds, yeah? Who’re you all betting on to die?”

Harry laughed nervously, watching Mr. Weasley glance at Bill and Charlie with a frown. Leaning in close to the man so that the kids couldn’t overhear, he answered in a low voice, “Well, the Defense position at the school doesn’t have a great history of professors actually finishing out the year, and this year’s guy has offended a bunch of folks, so … the pub started it as kind of a joke.”

Billy laughed heartily, as did the other, younger redhead who sat next to him and sported a big grin nearly hidden under what Harry could only classify as the most 1970s chevron mustache he had ever seen. Mustache then whispered Harry’s reply to the fourth adult, a rather handsome young man with a close-cropped red beard, who smiled slightly.

“Anyway, welcome to the Hog’s Head. You gentlemen hungry or just thirsty?”

Asking a troupe of Weasleys and relations if they were hungry was apparently the magic question, as Harry soon found himself elbow deep in sandwiches in the kitchen. Thankfully Guin had prepared a few loaves of fresh bread and homemade mayonnaise the day before, so the tray laden with meat and cheese sandwiches that he finally heaved back up to the pub was better fare than the Head normally offered. Harry could admit to himself that he wanted Mr. Weasley to leave with a good opinion of the place.

The Weasley table was loud, boisterous, and quite a bit of fun to watch. After a while Harry gathered that Billy was Arthur’s older brother – he wondered if this was the same Uncle Bilius whom Ron had once told him had died after seeing a Grim – but the other two adults remained a mystery to him until near the end of their meal.

“So how long will this all take, Arthur, do you think?”

Mr. Weasley, who had been attempting to clean Percy (the child had thought it a good idea to liberally smear cheese in his ears – a far cry from the fastidious boy Harry had known), sighed and shook his head. “No telling. Bill took two days, Charlie three hours, and Percy about, I don’t recall, fifteen or so.”

Mustache groaned. “Ugh, it’s already been twelve hours! This is getting boring.”

Young Bill and Charlie immediately piped up their agreement.

“Thank you, Fabian, for setting such a wonderful example for your nephews,” Mr. Weasley remarked dryly.

“Well is there any way we can hurry her up? I have a date tonight and need to know if I should cancel it!”

Red Beard had been silent most of the meal but now finally spoke up. “I’m sure our sister would appreciate hearing about your impatience to meet the newest addition to the family.”

Mustache – whose name was apparently Fabian – turned and looked at Beard in mock-horror. “You’d tell her? Traitor! My own brother!”

Okay, now I think I’ve got it, mused Harry. Red Beard and Mustache, Fabian that is, must be Mrs. Weasley’s brothers, so they’re Mr. Weasley’s brothers-in-law … and it seems like they’re waiting on her to have a baby – oh shit! Tomorrow’s the first of April … He did some quick calculations in his head and had to dig his nails into his palms to repress his grin. Oh Merlin, it’s them. It’s gotta be!

Fred and George Weasley are on their way.

Harry buried his head in the Prophet to hide the smile that refused to be smothered and daydreamed a bit about the future antics of toddler-aged Weasley twins. He didn’t look up until he heard some of the chairs scraping the floor.

“You gentlemen headed out?” he called from the bar as he saw Billy and the two older boys standing up.

The man grinned at Harry. “We three are – I’m taking my nephews here over to Zonko’s to get them things to properly welcome their new brother or sister, but the rest of these jokers get to stay and have a few pints without me,” he lamented.

“Well, that’s what you get for what you did the last time you got your hands on Firewhiskey,” Arthur bit back. “We’re just lucky the hag, that kneazle breeder, and the barrister didn’t press charges!” The others laughed. “Consider this your penance, brother.”

As the pouting man left the bar with Bill and Charlie in tow, Harry overheard him whisper to the boys, “and let’s also get some things to use on your old dad, eh boys?”

“So, what’ll you be having then?” Harry asked the remaining men and then hurried off to pour their stouts. On a whim, he added three shots of Firewhiskey to his tray.

Red Beard arched an eyebrow when Harry set out the shots and the younger wizard shrugged. “Sounds like you all are waiting on a baby to be born, yeah? These are on the house – congratulations and good luck, sir!” he smiled at Mr. Weasley.

The man wavered for a moment, casting a glance at Percy, who had fallen asleep and was creating an impressive puddle of drool on his chest. “Oh, why not?” Arthur surrendered. “But come, join us!”

Harry gave a surprised smile and returned a few moments later with his own shot. “To your new arrivals, sir!”

After the four had downed their Firewhiskey – Mr. Weasley sputtered impressively – the lanky one called Fabian gave Harry a strange look. “You made it plural – you said to the new arrivals.”

Oops.

Harry cocked his head. “Did I? Slip of the tongue, I guess. You gentlemen let me know when you need another pint, yeah?”

The young wizard retreated quickly to the bar and set up his customary drink for Wigol, who had shuffled in mid-toast.

All patrons fed and watered, Harry started checking the stock of alcohol behind the bar in preparation for the Thursday night crowd that would start shuffling in later that evening. Twenty minutes or so later, he looked up to find Red Beard staring at him. They probably need refills, he thought as he walked over.

“Up for another round?”

Mr. Weasley looked regretful as he instead pulled out coins to settle their bill and the other men stood up. “I’m afraid we should go back to my home and wait for the baby. It can’t be much longer now.”

It’s only three in the afternoon. They won’t be born for at least another nine hours. Looks like the Weasleys are in for a long night.

Poor Molly.

“Cheers then, and good luck.” Before Harry could turn and walk away, Fabian grabbed his arm.

“Hold up a moment mate. You work here long?”

The dark-haired wizard paused, wary. “Long enough. Why?”

“You know who owns the lot next door? The one with the burned-out building?”

Harry frowned. “Actually no, I don’t. You could come back another day and ask Aberforth – he owns the Head – or maybe check with Gringotts, I suppose.”

The thin man nodded thoughtfully at his brother. “Thanks, mate. And thanks for the shots.”

Harry smiled and nodded at the group. As he walked over to the bar he could have sworn he felt eyes on his back as the Weasleys trooped out. Wigol was giggling softly.

“What so funny Wig?”

The old man favored him with a toothless grin. “Awhrry, yera goo’ la’, tha’ ye ar,” was all he said before more giggles burbled out.

“What? What does that mean?” The man just laughed into his beer. “Dammit Wig, what?!”

 


 

1 April, 1978

It really is a day for twins, I guess, Harry thought as he looked at his ruined trousers and tried to figure out the best spells to remove ergh, placenta.

That morning he and Ab had found a very fat Goat angrily pawing the ground and butting her head up against the stable wall.

“Figured it’d be happenin’ bout now,” the old man grumbled. “Keep watch but leave her alone or she’ll take your hand off, lad.” He walked off muttering something about getting some towels and Harry letting him know if he had any problems.

“Huh?”

Fifteen minutes later, Harry’s confusion was replaced by alarm when he suddenly spied a … bloody bubble with hooves, of all things, coming out of Goat’s –

Oh, that’s not right!

“Ab …?”

“Ab!”

“AB! Dammit, there are … there are things happening here, man!”

And then there was a baby goat on the ground.

“Holy fuck!” Harry grabbed a towel that Ab must have dropped off at some point and started cleaning off the little thing.

Goat didn’t seem much relieved, he noticed as he rocked the towel-swaddled kid. Am I supposed to swaddle baby goats?

A few minutes later another bloody bubble thing appeared in Goat’s … personal area – the sense of worldliness that Harry had been acquiring since arriving at the Head did not extend to caprine vulvas, it seemed – and he gently laid the goat he was holding down to grab another towel.

How many babies do goats even have at a time?

Apparently two, at least in this instance, he decided fifteen minutes later as he watched the twins latch onto a rather exhausted and irritated looking Goat and wondered how to get placenta out of denim.

Ab finally waltzed in around then. “Oh, she’s done already. Good job girl,” he praised with supreme calm.

“Yeah, thanks for all the bloody help!” Harry exclaimed.

The older man shrugged. “Figured you had it in hand. The oaf told me you helped that thestral deliver last summer, after all.”

Harry paused. “Well, yeah, I mean, I did. But … but thestrals are magic and nearly bloodless. Colin’s sister didn’t come out nearly so, er … wet.” He helplessly reviewed his soaked trousers. “Are babies usually so, I dunno, gooey?”

Ab snorted. “Ruddy fool. Get yourself cleaned up and come down to the pub. We gotta think of names … you’re in charge of it, since you helped her.” As he made to leave he barked over his shoulder, “And for fuck’s sake, you better think of something better than Goat this time, or I’ll have your balls for it!”

Twenty minutes later, Harry and Ab sat at the bar whilst the divination gamblers argued about what seemed to be an inventor whose life was saved by an enraptured wraith or some such rot.

“Er… how about uh, Bob and … Cindy?”

Ab glared at him. “I ain’t callin’ such a noble creature Bob.”

“Okay, okay …” Harry wracked his brains for more acceptable names. “Errol and Crookshanks?”

“Which one’s for the doe?”

Harry frowned. “Oh. Good point.”

Ab scowled. “If you ever become a father, do your kids and favor and let someone else pick the names, boy.”

Twin names. Twin names. What are cool 1970s twin names for goats?

He snapped his fingers. “Got it! Luke and Leia. They’re perfect!”

Ab shrugged, which was probably about the best he could hope for, but Professor Pemphredo broke in from her table with a frown. “Hardly appropriate names for siblings, little Devil! I assure you, the famous Luke and Leia whom I’m sure you’re referencing are destined to be epic lovers!”

Harry brightened. Sure, the Dursleys had never actually let him watch Star Wars, but one can’t be a kid at primary in the 1980s without being made intimately familiar with the major plot points.

“Really, Professor? Care to make a wager on that?” His grin was positively devilish.

 


 

10 April, 1978

It was a beautiful afternoon when Harry left Hogwarts, having spent the morning learning more about poisons and emergency treatments from Poppy and then feeding Hagrid’s menagerie. His stomach fluttered whenever he thought about the big man, off tromping somewhere through the continent and trying to play diplomat to giants.

Still, it was hard to be weighed down by anxiety on such a lush spring day. Harry walked back towards the Head with a spring in his step, looking forward to spending an hour or so with Luke and Leia, who were just ridiculously adorable. And alarmingly energetic. Goat, he was sure, would appreciate a bit of time to herself.

As he rounded the bend off High Street, the sight of three redheaded men staring at the ruin next to Head greeted him.

“I can’t believe you two actually did it,” Arthur Weasley said in both wonder and horror. “Are you insane?”

The lanky, mustachioed one called Fabian clapped his brother-in-law on the back. “You just can’t imagine it because those twins of yours haven’t let you sleep in days.”

Mr. Weasley nodded with a moan. “If one’s asleep, the other’s awake and crying, and then he wakes up Percy, who just can’t stand to have anything interrupted, and then he cries and wakes up the rest of the house! In fact, the only one who can sleep through all the racket is the other twin! It’s not fair.”

Red Beard, the other brother, clapped Mr. Weasley on the shoulder and said something in a low voice.

“We—ell,” Mr. Weasley hawed, “I really do hate to leave Molly and her cousin alone with all the boys … but okay, I need it. I’ll go back to your place for a bit. But please, make sure I’m awake by five!” A moment later the exhausted father disapparated.

The two brothers continued gazing at the empty lot and talking in low voices as Harry approached to head into the pub.

“Afternoon,” he nodded politely as he passed the men. Sure, he was curious why they were so interested in the place, but he’d been around Ab for long enough to appreciate the value of minding your business.

Fabian distractedly returned his greeting, and Red Beard gave a tight smile but said nothing.

Twenty minutes later Harry was chatting with Nappy and Dalcop, who’d skipped out on work at the Ministry even earlier than normal, when the two redheads entered the pub and took a booth across the room. The bearded one immediately spread out parchments while Fabian enthused to him in a low voice.

He stared at the brothers for a few moments before heading over to get their order. Something about the tilt of Fabian’s face or the way he moved his hand as he spoke in excitement reminded him of the twins even though his thin build seemed more reminiscent of Bill and Percy. The other brother … Harry looked at him closely. His chin-length hair waved and curled rather like Mrs. Weasley’s, but his tall frame was stockier than most of the more lithe Weasley boys, though he didn’t boast the bulging muscles of Ron’s brother Charlie.

Yet something seemed different about him in comparison to the Weasleys Harry knew, something more than just the fact that he had a beard, and it was difficult for him to identify. It has to do with his eyes, at least in part, the young man mused. None of the Weasleys have gray eyes, I don’t think. And his taciturnity was hardly a typical Weasley characteristic, he added to himself.

Why did Ron never mention either of them to me?

Shaking his head slightly, he shrugged internally and headed over to the brothers.

“Hi, neighbor!” Fabian greeted him with a grin.

Harry cocked his head in confusion.

“That’s right, meet the newest additions to Hogsmeade!”

“Wait – did you buy the ruin next door?” Why would anyone in their right mind want to buy that lot? Harry’s disbelief must have infected his tone, as Red Beard gave a small snort.

Fabian’s smile widened. “We sure did. Going to build our place there! Figured out it’s cheaper to just buy the land, demolish what’s there, and build ourselves than to either wait for some other store to vacate its premises or to open in Diagon like we’d originally planned.”

Harry blinked. “Oh, you’re going to open a shop? What kind?”

Suddenly Fabian thrust his hand out and shook Harry’s own. “Well, I’m Fabian Prewett, and this is my little brother Gideon, and we,” he puffed up importantly, “are in the time business!”

Nonplussed, Harry had no idea what to say to that sort of nonsense. What the hell does that mean … Though in a way I suppose I could say the same about myself, he admitted, thinking of the hefty bet he had made with Pemphredo regarding relationships in Star Wars.

“Fab, no matter how many times you say it, it isn’t funny,” Red Beard – apparently Gideon Prewett – chastised him quietly. Gideon turned to him. “We make clocks. Regular clocks as well as wrist-watches and pocket watches.” It was the most he had heard him speak, and Harry was struck by the softness of the man’s baritone.

“And this is why you aren’t in charge of marketing, little brother,” Fabian lamented with his hand to his temple. “They are so much more than just clocks. Any idiot, any Muggle, can make a clock, after all. We make … we make art that harnesses magic, time, and place!”

Harry must not have looked convinced by the sales pitch.

Fabian sighed but then rallied as he fished a large photograph out of the stack of parchment in front of his brother. “Take a look at this beauty! One of our first major innovative pieces, just finished it before Christmas. This clock doesn’t tell time, oh no, rather it reports on the well-being and current activity of every member of the owner’s immediate family!”

It was Mrs. Weasley’s clock, the one that had always hung in the main room of their home, that had spoons with pictures of each family member on it that pointed to things like ‘Quidditch,’ ‘school,’ ‘work,’ and, of course, ‘mortal peril.’ The picture Fabian was showing him only had five hands on it, for the Weasley parents and the three oldest boys.

So that’s where the Weasley family clock came from.

“I think it’s bloody brilliant,” Harry admitted honestly.

Fabian beamed – God, his smile really looks like Ron’s – and Gideon quirked a ghost of a smile. “Thanks! We’ve got tons of ideas for clock-related inventions, and maybe eventually some other things, so we’re opening our shop here. Hey, Gid, show him the plans!”

The man’s enthusiasm was infectious as he talked Harry briefly through the drawings of their future premises. A nice, comfortably sized two-story building in the same style as the rest of the village, with the shop on the main floor and their apartment above. Harry especially liked the tall clock tower they planned to build high above the roof, though the two hadn’t decided what sort of clock – time-telling or otherwise – it should sport.

“Well, welcome to the neighborhood, I guess,” he grinned. “What are you going to call your shop?”

The elder brother struck a dramatic pose. “Imagine this on a sign: ‘Prewetts’ Dangling Pendulums,’ with the slogan ‘You can’t get enough of our clocks!’”

As Harry floundered for something nice to say, Fabian rushed on “It’s funny, get it? See we’re making a play of ‘clocks’ on ‘cocks!’ And the name is supposed to make people think of penises, but it’s about clocks! See?”

Gideon sighed and looked at Harry. “It’s a work in progress.”

Harry bit back his smile. “Well, er – it is memorable,” he managed before heading to the bar to get them some pints.

For the next hour or so the young bartender continued to chat with the regulars, but he found his gaze alighting upon the brothers Prewett several times. At one point Harry glanced up and caught Gideon looking at him before the man simply turned back to his brother.

Harry found himself looking forward to having the clock shop next door, whatever its name.

 


 

20 April, 1978

“Ever-living-bloody-fuck!” Harry cursed and threw up his hands in frustration. “This is bloody pointless!” He glared at the offending objects that were strewn out over the metal worktable.

From across the warehouse Myrtle sent him a bland look and tsked. “Ooh, such strong language, Harry dear.”

“Well, you seriously need to find someone who actually knows something to try to do this,” Harry complained in a voice just quiet enough so Myrtle couldn’t hear him. “Just because I can turn them on and I know the word ‘frequency’ doesn’t mean I can do this MI-5 shit.”

To be fair, the whole thing had been Harry’s idea in the first place. He’d taken Myrtle’s offer to enchant more dog tags – extra money was always welcome – and had gotten Ab’s blessing to continue on as a part-time member of her little criminal empire. When Harry had told the man about the enchanted bullets, Ab had just grunted that it seemed a fine and innocuous enough thing to do, and hadn’t care a whit that the woman had stolen Harry’s idea.

“If you didn’t want her to copy you, you should’nt’a given her your rocks in the first place, lad,” he had shrugged.

Dog tags were one thing, but this … a few weeks before he’d listened to Myrtle going on about magical hacks she wanted to create on other muggle objects, particularly ways to detect incoming magic. Harry had, innocently enough, asked if magic had a frequency, since some spells audibly buzzed or sizzled.

Myrtle had immediately thought of the electromagnetic frequencies used in radio waves, and somehow Harry ended up being asked by the crazy former-Ravenclaw to “cobble something together for us, dear.”

She just had to go and bring up the continued disappearances of Muggleborn families, he groused. She bloody knew that I’m soft on all that.

He had not made much in the way of progress.

Harry had, in fact, not made any progress at all. He was looking at the dismembered corpse of the  fourth radio Myrtle had given him to take apart and figure out, and he still hadn’t managed to even put one of them back together again yet, let alone devise some ingenious magical frequency electromagnetronic whatever-the-fuck tracker thingy.

The Point-Me rocks were simple. ‘Make rock hit thing,’ that was all. Easy. This … yeah, this isn’t going to happen for me.

He sighed and swept the dismantled radio into a crate with the mangled bodies of its fallen comrades.

“Harry, can you come here please?” Myrtle called, as Dwight, her tattooed, hulking henchman, glowered. “I need someone to test just how violently the magical-repelling charms I layered in this letter-box react to wizards.”

Harry groaned. Whenever that evil mastermind said ‘please,’ he seemed to end up covered in bruises or worse.

“Oh, none of that, now!” Myrtle said brightly. “This is for science, after all!”

 


 

Later that night, after showering and rubbing copious amounts of bruise balm all over his discoloured, aching body – Myrtle was disappointed that her prototype for magical-repelling mailboxes was entirely too potent and would surely come to the notice of the Ministry as is – he trudged up the stairs to see if Quisby and Ab were busy enough to need his help.

Rather dead night, then.

It was slow enough that Ab had gone to the cellar to check stock, leaving Quisby to busy himself with thumbing through a pornographic magazine while barely glancing at the dozen or so patrons in the pub. The members of the regular crowd were all faithfully in attendance, as was Loch the werewolf and a few other semi-regulars, including, he noticed after a beat, the Prewett brothers. The two redheads were sitting as usual at one of the front tables going over parchments. Harry watched a lock of Gideon’s hair slowly escape the clip that held it back and curl around his jaw.

Magical construction, Harry had learned, worked at a fairly fast clip. They’d only bought the lot a week and a half before, but already the half-formed stone walls of the Prewetts’ shop were rising up, much to Ab’s dissatisfaction. He seemed to tolerate the brothers well enough – they were holding steady in the ‘fools’ category and hadn’t yet nudged very close to the ‘worthless pieces of shit’ class – but the workmen for the shop had taken to coming in for a late breakfast/early lunch, and their boisterous voices tended to wake the old man up.

Harry headed over to the bar and started refilling drinks since Quisby didn’t seem to want to overtax himself. The next hour or so was spent in pleasant conversation, with Ab eventually joining some of the regulars who were playing cards.

Pel broke off his story about some Norwegian selkie’s illicit tryst with the Spanish Minister for Magic some years back when Fabian and Gideon wandered up to see if they could order some food.

“So this one told us about that bet you all have going on the Defense professor,” Fabian observed to Dalcop, Nappy, and Pel with a gesture to Harry. “How’s a guy get in on that, anyway?”

From his seat at the end at the card players’ table Wigol started to answer, but Pel saved everyone that pointlessness by interrupting the old man and explaining that bets had closed earlier in the year.

“Bad luck, that,” Fabian grinned. The mustachioed young man reviewed the long wall of possible demises. “You boys got pretty creative though, didn’t you? Piranhas? House elf revolutionaries? Damn …” He laughed. “Whoa, look at the short odds on that one – why do you all favor some squib killing the bloke, anyway?”

Nappy clamped Harry on the back. “Well, he pissed Harry here off somethin’ fierce earlier this year, and we all know what happens to folks who get on the wrong side a’ him!”

The brothers didn’t laugh with the rest of the regulars and the atmosphere began to dull into awkwardness.

“You’re a squib?” Gideon asked without intonation. The man stared at him, his gray eyes serious and penetrating.

It was like someone had turned the volume in the pub off, Harry thought.

Everyone cast apprehensive looks back and forth at him and the redhead. Quisby closed his magazine. Ab watched carefully, posture alert.

Harry managed to keep his tone neutral. “You have a problem with that?”

Shite. I like you. You’re Ron’s family. Don’t be a berk. Please.

A few beats passed before, “You’re a squib, and your name is Harry?”

Fabian whistled, the sound too shrill for the silent pub. “Wait – Merlin, are you the one that killed Macnair last year then?”

Without taking his eyes off the fathomless expression on the bearded brother’s face, Harry simply said “yes” in that same balanced voice.

He could feel some of the others getting ready to pull their wands, suspecting that they might have a repeat of the fight which had led to the whole debacle in the first place last year. The difference between the regulars’ reactions then and their behavior now filled Harry with a glow of affection and not a little pride. They have my back … Well, Quisby probably still doesn’t, but most of them do.

The sliver of a smile on Ab’s lips told him that the older man had noticed this as well.

Gideon kept staring at him and until he finally responded with a slight inclination of his head. “Well done, that was.” Harry let out a breath he didn’t know he’d been holding. “Should I bet on you killing this professor then?” the bearded young man deadpanned, though his eyes glinted with good-natured amusement.

Although Quisby openly scoffed, the rest of the bar filled with laughter that was probably fueled more by the alleviation of the mounting tension than by the actual humor in Gideon’s response.

“Nah,” Harry grinned. “Not unless he starts it, that is. Now, you gents said you wanted sandwiches, right?”

Ab caught his eye as he headed to the kitchens and gave him a nod and tight quirk of his lips. Well done, lad, Harry knew that look meant, and he flushed a bit with pride even as he sighed in relief that the Prewett brothers hadn’t turned out to be as openly dismissive of squibs as most of the wizarding world.

 


 

23 April, 1978

It was fast approaching Harry’s eleven p.m. bar curfew, and the Head was packed to the gills with a Saturday night crowd considerably larger than normal. From the grumbling of the non-familiar faces, The White Wyvern, a shady pub in Knockturn Alley that made the Head look like Madame Puddifoot’s, had been popped by Aurors looking for suspected dark wizards. They hadn’t made any arrests so far as anyone knew, but were rousting undesirables out of the area, especially vampires, werewolves, and wizards with dodgy pasts.

Naturally, most of the rousted undesirables came to the Head rather than simply returning to their homes, lairs, dens, or whatnot.

Tensions were running high in the pub, Harry noted as he skittered between the crowd delivering drinks. The White Wyvern catered to a dangerous crowd, and some of the Head’s regular patrons were already involved in long-standing feuds with a handful of them. Sanguini, Panty, and the other regular vampires in particular scowled deeply at a black leather- and lace-clad group who sneered back at them with relish, while Nappy Clank had stormed out in fury when Harry served an innocuous-looking old man whom he later caught trying to steal tankards from the kitchen. Ab had already broken up three fights, and Guin, who was helping while Quisby went on a date, kept fingering her cricket bat.

The Prewett brothers just ignored it all and sat at their customary table. The outside of their shop – still-unnamed – was coming along nicely and they were getting ever closer to opening the business.

“Surprised you two can get anything done in this racket,” Harry remarked as he dropped off pints for the two men.

“Well, one of us can,” Gideon replied with an arched brow at Fabian. The elder Prewett, Harry noticed, was staring intently at an ethereal blonde in a dress of white lace among the regular vampires in Sanguini’s group.

Fabian licked his lips and grabbed his new pint. “Be back later, Gid.” Without another word, he plastered a charming smile on his face and sauntered over to the hobnob with the undead.

Harry and Gideon watched as the man effortlessly insinuated himself into the crowd and began flirting outrageously.

“You know, I’m not entirely certain that’s a good idea,” Harry thoughtfully observed to Gideon as Fabian sidled up to the vampire. “They’re a really nice group, but –”

Gideon snorted. “Whatever you’re about to say doesn’t matter to Fabian. Long as a person’s pretty enough and has a pulse, he’ll be interested.”

Harry choked out a laugh, thoroughly tickled by the thought of Molly Weasley having such a promiscuous little brother. “Well, the pulse thing might be an issue then.” When Gideon frowned, Harry added “Vampire.”

“Figures,” Gideon sighed. “Bloody Gryffindor still won’t really care, I expect.”

Fabian was a Gryffindor? Guess that’s not surprising.

A tingle ran through his body as Harry felt Gideon’s keen stare on him. “What?”

“Just realized you never asked what House we were in. Strange.”

The younger wizard furrowed his brow. “What’s strange about that?”

Gideon shrugged. “It usually comes up in the first conversation you have with any new person you meet, that’s all. I guess people use it as a way to place a person, to get the measure of them.”

“Well I didn’t go to Hogwarts” – well, this Hogwarts – “and, I dunno, guess I’d rather get the measure of a person from talking to them than trust what a hat decided they were when they were eleven.”

The redhead nodded slowly and his lips twitched into a small smile. “So you’re not going to ask me now?”

“Nope. Don’t really care what you were in school,” Harry responded with a smile of his own, surprised to discover that he actually didn’t care. The days of Slytherins versus Gryffindors just seemed so far away.

“Well then, cheers Harry,” Gideon grinned broadly for the first time and tipped his beer towards Harry, who inexplicably felt his stomach flutter strangely.

Their conversation was suddenly interrupted by a pair of firm hands cupping Harry’s arse from behind. He reacted without even thinking, whirling around and punching the groper hard in the jaw.

The man dropped, and the crowded pub buzzed in interest.

Harry had time to notice very tight black pants and a puffy shirt before Caffrey Burke was clamoring up to his feet and rubbing his face.

“Damn, love, nice reaction time.” He winced. “And a nice punch too.” Captain Burke shrugged and slung an arm around Harry, pulling him in close. “Just wanted to say hello, green eyes,” he murmured in low voice.

“Cock cut off, Caffrey!” came Ab’s roar from across the pub.

Harry firmly removed Burke’s arm. “It’s good to see you, Captain. Want a drink?” his tone clearly implying that Burke wouldn’t be getting anything that wasn’t on the menu.

“Tempting, but no. I’m just here to drop something off and chat up a few friends. But I’ll be sure to see you later.” He gave Harry a quick peck on the cheek before Harry could stop him and then disappeared into the crowd.

“Ruddy shit of a pirate,” the young man groused as he rubbed his hand. Punching people really hurts. Gideon was watching him with an unreadable expression. Harry gave him an awkward half-smile and murmured, “Back to work, let me know if you want another beer.”

A few minutes later he was back at the bar, loading up a tray of drinks that Ab had mixed. The old man tilted his head Gideon’s way. “Nice enough bloke, that one. Ain’t half a fool, I reckon.”

Harry followed the old man’s eyes with a thoughtful expression. “Yeah, he’s … I like him. A lot. Glad they’re opening up next door.”

As the younger wizard hurried off to deliver the round of drinks, Ab stared hard at the bearded Prewett, who in turn was alternating between glaring furtively at Caff Burke holding court near the door and watching the lad hand out drinks.

After a moment he sighed and shook his head, though a smile twitched at the corners of his mouth at the thought of his boy getting to act his age for once. “Merlin help me, but the hormones had to happen sometime, I s’pose,” he murmured to himself as he turned his gaze back to Harry. “But the lad’s got a fine head on his shoulders. A damn fine head.”