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Kairos Amid the Ruins

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Harry tumbled through the mirrors.

That was what they looked like, broken mirrors flashing past on either side of him. He saw the faces of his parents, and Severus Snape, and Gellert Grindelwald, and Garrick Ollivander, and fellow Aurors, and Voldemort, and thousands upon thousands of people he didn’t know, staring at him with open mouths, wide eyes, or shouting voices, or focused on someone else entirely.

The mirrors broke and broke and broke again, a rain of glass and sand joining Harry’s fall through the non-time.

Sand. Sand, glass, hourglass. Harry remembered, for a hazy second, the sand of a Time-Turner pouring from one bulb to another. Like Hermione’s in third year. Like the one he’d held, briefly, before a crazing crack had torn across the air right in front of him.

He’d been in the Department of Mysteries, in the Chamber of Time, and all he had been trying to do was travel back in time to keep Voldemort from killing his parents.

Voices passed him through the non-air, meaningless words. Harry fell and fell and fell. He became aware he wasn’t breathing, tried to suck in a lungful of air, and felt the burn and the burn and the cough.

He still didn’t breathe, as he tumbled through a sky the color of rain towards a destination he didn’t understand.

Cracks ripped apart the greyness. He saw—not blackness through them, but a kind of dull non-existence. Nothingness. Cracks all around him, the sound of shattering glass of what sounded like an aeon of mirrors, and the nothingness increased.

Congratulations, Mr. Potter, you broke the universe, said a voice that sounded like Snape’s, but could have been his. Snape was dead.

Except, was he? In this universe that was tearing itself apart around Harry, maybe all the people who had ever been dead were alive. And all the people who had been alive were dead.

He had doomed his friends, in a rash effort to save his parents.

The guilt burned in a way that the non-air hadn’t. Harry struggled furiously to get his feet underneath him and lunge in a particular direction. The mad thought danced in his head that he ought to be able to fix what he broke if he just found all the sand and glass particles that had made up the Time-Turner. He might have forever to search, if time was no longer passing, right?

But he couldn’t stop falling, or even stop turning head-over-heels. He thought he would vomit, but a marble whirlwind clamped his chest and a rain of sand or fine, fine glass tore into his eyes.

Harry shrieked. There was no sound. There hadn’t been a sound, he abruptly realized, since he had heard Snape or not-Snape’s voice talking about breaking the universe. All around him was nothingness, and when Harry stretched out trembling hands, he felt nothing.

He recalled a scrap of text in a book he’d read about Muggle sensory-deprivation tanks, and how people could go mad floating in them, suspended, unable to see or smell or touch or hear—

Or maybe he was already mad. Maybe he was already dead. Tumbling endlessly through non-dark while the universe apparently broke apart around him could qualify.

Harry looked around, and then gasped as a spark of light appeared in front of him. He reached out to it, since he still appeared to have a body, honestly not caring at the moment what it was. A way to the King’s Cross afterlife where he had spoken with Albus Dumbledore once before? A reflection from a mirror? He wanted to touch it.

Warmth suddenly sprang into being around him, and Harry sobbed his gratitude to a god who might not exist to hear it. He shivered as the warmth abruptly changed to cold, but then one of the cracks began to knit together, slowly, looking as if a surgeon were working on the biggest wound in history.

Mirrors abruptly ignited all the way around the space he had been falling through, revealing it as circular. Or maybe dome-shaped, or a sphere. Harry didn’t care about that, either. What he cared about was that the universe appeared to be healing itself.

Do you think you are that lucky, Mr. Potter?

Harry ignored the voice this time. He didn’t even have evidence that it was more than the product of his own mad delusion. He stared upwards as faces appeared in the mirrors and light filtered back in and voices spoke, and sobbed.

Do you deserve to return to the world you came from?

Harry didn’t know if he did, or even if it was possible, but he was going to try. He found himself reaching up and out, towards a mirror with Ron and Hermione smiling at each other, standing with arms entwined and waving to him with their free hands. It looked identical to a photograph he had had on his mantel for years.

His hands closed around it—

And then tore away.

Harry went spiraling down towards other mirrors, and what looked like a knitted skein of light, with a cry of loss. Hermione and Ron receded faster and faster, still waving, still smiling at him as though everything was fine. Harry tried to swim up through the air, or the waves, towards them. Nothing happened. The force continued to suck him in faster and faster.

Then Harry collided with the light, and felt pain for the first time since he’d tried to breathe the non-air. He thought his head struck something, and his eyes certainly slammed shut.

The last thing he heard was the cool, judgmental voice that reminded him of Snape’s.

You go where you are needed.

*

Harry opened his eyes to rain.

That wasn’t so unusual for England, and it actually made him sit up and look around in hope. He was under a thick, old tree with drooping leaves, one he didn’t recognize right away. Well, he wasn’t Neville to be a genius in Herbology. Far more important was the slope of mud right in front of him and the torrential river that flowed at the bottom of it.

Harry stood up, slowly, wavering back and forth, and got a better glimpse of the river as he finished brushing mud off his robes. He stared.

There was something wrong with it.

The water flashed and twisted with sparks of yellow and blue, as though it had drowned a neon sign when it began to rise. The sparks leaped up and brushed against each other like entwined, dancing dolphins. And the hum of magic that Harry hadn’t been able to feel from under the tree was obvious once he stood on the bank—or what was left of it.

Harry remembered, vaguely, reading that running water was one of the hardest things to work lasting enchantments on. Who had done this? Was he outside some wizarding estate that used magical water to guard its borders? Perhaps this was a place near Malfoy Manor he’d never seen before?

Shaking his head, Harry drew his wand and cast an Impervious Charm, and then concentrated. Transfiguration that lasted a long time had never been his strong suit, but all he needed to do was create a bridge from rock and wood that would get him over the actual water.

Carefully, he formed the bridge, the floating pieces of rock snapping into wooden planks and the splinters of bark into handrails. The bridge grounded itself at his feet, and Harry ran across it, light-floated, his wand still drawn. If the river really was an enchanted defense, then it might fade away when he got above the middle, and he wanted to be ready to perform a quick Levitation Charm.

But the bridge held, and Harry set foot safely on the other side of the river. He shook his head as he glanced back at the rush of heavy, sullen water. The magic in the water didn’t feel as strong from over here. Odd. Perhaps it was meant simply to deter people who would have tried to cross it on foot.

Harry Vanished the bridge and set out to find exactly where he was.

*

Harry leaned on the dirty wall behind him and closed his eyes. His stomach hurt from the sharp clenching in it, but he couldn’t do much about it. Nor could he do anything about the soundless breaths pouring from his mouth, or about the tears making their way down his cheeks.

He had noticed something was wrong almost as soon as he began to walk down the streets of London, which had proven to be just beyond the enchanted river. For one thing, the cars and buses going past him looked different. Older. And streets wound in places that he knew they shouldn’t wind, and there were more cobblestones he remembered, and there were—

There didn’t seem to be things like Muggle mobile phones that he’d got used to over the last decade, either.

Harry opened his eyes and stared in silence at the Daily Prophet clutched in his hand. It felt like it had taken him forever to find. Then again, Diagon Alley hadn’t been where he’d expected it to be, either. The Leaky Cauldron was gone.

And Diagon Alley had been...far more than an alley.

There was a pop in the distance like a champagne cork, and a glittering display of fireworks rose overhead. Harry stared blindly upwards, flinching as one of the rockets flared green like the Killing Curse. But there wouldn’t be that much association with it here.

Because, as the front page of the Prophet, dated April 2nd, 1961, proclaimed, Voldemort was dead. They had printed his full name and everything.

And there was a photograph of the boy who had defeated him, black-eyed and scowling even at the age of fifteen months, the lightning bolt scar standing out hideously on his head. Harry closed his eyes.

The boy’s name was Severus Snape. Already he was being called the Boy-Who-Lived, and the paper reported breathlessly that his Prince grandparents, who had disowned his mother Eileen when she married a Muggle, had agreed to adopt their “precious grandson.”

Harry understood more now than he had an hour before. The universe had knitted itself together any way it could. It was a theory that he had heard Hermione discuss once before, during an idle hour when he and Ron were joking around and she was reading, as usual. If something did happen where a wizard managed to meddle with time enough to break it, most wizards thought time would mend the break.

But it would probably do so by grabbing great events and stitching them together in a new order. Hermione had even had a theory of times during wizarding history when that might have happened, but Harry was half-pissed and trying to beat Ron at Exploding Snap when every loss meant he had to drink a third of a mug of Firewhisky. He hadn’t listened.

He would have given anything, at the moment, to hear her voice again.

In all probability, his world no longer existed. In all probability, Ron and Hermione might not be born now. Their parents might have other children, or perhaps they had lived and died in some other time. There was no way to tell. They existed only in his memory now.

Neville was gone, too. Ginny. The rest of the Weasleys. Hannah Abbott, who had become a close friend after the war as she dated Neville. Luna and her fascination with weird magical creatures. Minerva—

“What you doin’, mister? You can’t cry here.”

Harry looked up, and something about his face made the young man in front of him step away very fast. The man swallowed nervously. He wore sleek robes of a style that Harry hadn’t seen before, made of blue and silver cloth and wound tightly to his body. He pointed a willow wand at the ground with a hand that shook.

“I’m moving on,” Harry snarled, and sounded savage even to himself. No wonder the man sort of cowered and watched him cautiously. He stuffed the paper into his robe pocket and turned away.

“I mean—sorry, did someone die?”

“Something like that.” Harry kept walking, not looking at the man next to him. He had to make the best of things, he told himself in a numb echo of his voice inside his head. If he gave in and mourned the way he wanted, he’d never recover. And none of his friends or family would want that.

“You a stranger here?”

“What gave it away?” Harry asked dryly. His robes looked nothing like those of anyone else on the street, but so far that hadn’t caused many people to look at him. They were far too occupied with the fireworks and the other parts of the celebration of Voldemort’s overthrow.

“Well—it’s just, I took a NEWT in Divination, see?” The man waited for Harry to grunt. “And my old professor, he told me summat once...”

The young wizard trailed off. Harry sighed. “Yes?”

“He told me that I’d meet a man crying against a wall with a piece of paper in his hand, and that man was the one who could help me make my business a success.” The young wizard abruptly darted around in front of Harry and aimed his wand at him. Harry just stared at him incredulously.

“And he’d do that because you took him prisoner?”

“Just don’t want to chance you getting away, see.” The young man studied him from under floppy blond hair. “What’s your name?”

“Harry Evanson,” Harry said quietly. It was true as far as it went, and he had no desire to claim the names Evans or Potter, not when he had no idea what the status of their families was in this world. Maybe they were dead, or famous criminals. Maybe they were alive and snooty blood purists. He had no idea.

His mum might not end up being Muggleborn even if she was born. That was beyond weird to think about.

The man nodded briskly. “Laocoon Palmer.” He paused, as if he thought Harry would react to the name somehow, but Harry only blinked at him. Palmer grunted. “I make my business selling defensive objects.”

Harry reflected bitterly for a moment that he could have used a mirror that was enchanted to yell at him about playing with Time-Turners. “You mean dragonhide gloves and that sort of thing?”

Palmer drew himself up with offended pride. He didn’t go very far. “Hardly such trinkets! No, I make my business with ward-imbued stones, amulets that cast the Shield Charm for you, boots that snap at people who try to steal them—”

“All right,” Harry interrupted. He’d never heard of or seen a shop in Diagon Alley that sold that kind of thing, but he would simply have to get used to this world being different. “And how do you think I can help?”

“My Divination professor said so!”

“Look, for all you know I could be a Dark wizard.” It looked like the naïveté and stubbornness of the wizarding world had stayed the same, anyway, Harry thought. Maybe it was one of the foundational building blocks of any universe.

“How many Dark wizards would be leaning against a wall in the alley and crying?”

Harry sighed. He had to admit there probably weren’t many. “Fine, but I don’t have NEWS in Defense or anything.” He actually did, but he doubted any such records had made the transition with him.

“That’s fine! You have some practical experience, right?”

Harry stared at him, and Palmer pointed smugly to some of the scuffs on his boots and the slashes in his cloak. “I recognize the spells that made those. I know that you can probably duel. Well, come and apply that experience to my shop! Cast the curses for me so I know how to create objects that defend against them.”

“You can’t cast them yourself?”

Palmer adopted an innocent expression that didn’t conceal the way his cheeks flushed. “Don’t want to get in trouble with the Aurors, do I? Minister Dumbledore has serious opinions about curses like that.”

Harry felt as if someone had punched him in the solar plexus, but he forced himself to put his astonishment aside and move on. “And the real reason? If it was the one you just said, you wouldn’t want me to cast them and bring the Aurors down on your shop, either.”

Palmer’s blush deepened before he sighed. “I have such a strong affinity for defensive magic that it’s hard for me to cast offensive spells. I can do all the countercurses you want, but I need to see the curses at close range when I’m not trying to bloody survive so I can know how to put different defenses on the objects.”

Harry nodded slowly. He doubted he would get a better offer, and he was here with no money or friends or shelters to his name. “All right.”

They started down the street again, Palmer chattering brightly away about how glad he was that he’d found Harry, that his Divination Professor had been right, and that Harry’s hair could use a wash. Harry found himself wondering distantly what kind of detritus would get into your hair from a fall between universes.

“Where did you come from, anyway?”

Harry started and looked up. Palmer had apparently run out of things to chatter about for the moment and was walking backwards, studying Harry with eyes as bright as a squirrel’s.

Harry chose the least harmful lie. “I committed a stupid error and got kicked out by my family.”

“No place to go, then?”

“No.”

“Don’t worry, Evanson,” Palmer said, and took Harry’s hand and shook it up and down. “You’ll find that you’re better off with me than you’ve ever been in your life! You’re my Felix Felicia, I just know it! We’ll be rolling in Galleons soon.”

“Felix Felicis,” Harry couldn’t help correcting.

“Yeah, one of them things.”

*

That was one beginning.

Chapter Text

“How was governing the ungrateful world today?”

Albus rolled his eyes as he removed the scarf from around his neck and extended his hands to the fire. He shivered, despite the heat pounding out from the hearth. The older he got, the more the wind bit. “I’m still handling it better than you would have, Gellert.”

“Being ready to kill everyone has its good points, you must admit.” Gellert raised a lazy eyebrow at him from where he lounged in a huge golden-and-red chair. Well, at least it had been golden-and-red when Albus left for the office. Gellert had changed it to plain black since then. “I would have been more efficient.”

Albus sighed and sat down on a chair in front of the flames. “There are more important things for the Wizengamot to consider than being efficient, Gellert,” he muttered, but his heart wasn’t in it.

“What’s really wrong, Albus?”

“The fools in the Ministry who think that Severus Snape is some kind of powerful Dark wizard and want him either imprisoned in Azkaban, or growing up under Ministry control.” Albus slumped back with a hard huff of breath. “Those are the ones who deserve your particular brand of justice.”

“Severus Prince, now, I heard. His grandparents changed the name.”

Albus nodded. “Yes. They didn’t like that, either. There were some who said that he should always be identified by the name that his mother gave him, to ensure ‘continuity with the history books’ or something like that. As though Ebenezer Greengrass even knows what history means.

Gellert chuckled lightly, but his gaze didn’t waver. “And that’s all? Greengrass’s understanding of history, or rather his lack of it, has infuriated you, and there’s nothing else?”

Albus shook his head, tightened his mouth, and stared into the fire.

Gellert moved so that he was standing beside Albus’s chair, but he didn’t interrupt his gaze. He never did. “Something that perhaps has to do with blood family and how they’re not always the best ones to leave a child with?”

Albus shut his eyes. “I don’t feel like discussing this tonight, Gellert.”

“Such a shame that your wants don’t matter in this situation. We’ll talk this out now, or I’ll be woken up from sleep tonight by you shouting Ariana’s name.”

Albus jerked around, furious, but Gellert just met him stare for stare. When he wanted to, Albus privately admitted, Gellert could still by the handsomest man in the world. White had touched his golden hair, and his eyes had a faded whiskey color now, but it didn’t matter, not with the way his face glowed.

He stared down at Albus as if he were the sun, and the way he had all those years ago, when Gellert had sought him out with an apology and a determination, Albus melted. He closed his eyes and leaned back in the chair.

Gellert stepped behind him and began to massage his shoulders. “You were thinking about her,” he said, this time not like an accusation.

Albus nodded wearily anyway, the weight of the past crushing him into the chair. Again he could see Ariana dying from the curse that he might not have cast, but which he was going to take responsibility for. Again he could hear Aberforth shouting at him about how he didn’t deserve a sister like Ariana, not when he would have given up taking care of her to travel the world with a budding Dark Lord. “Yes. The Wizengamot takes it for granted that no one would ever harm someone of their own family. Greengrass had the bollocks to tell me that I would understand better if I had an heir of my own blood.”

Gellert’s fingers didn’t become like claws, but Albus knew they would have, were he anyone else. “I do wonder if Greengrass has troubled the world long enough.”

Albus said nothing. The vows Gellert had made, the spells they had cast, ensured that was only an idle threat. Still, Gellert would be able to make Ebenezer’s life miserable, and at the moment, Albus hardly felt sorry for the old fool.

“And so the Princes have changed their grandson’s name,” Gellert went on as though the rest of the conversation hadn’t happened. “One would think that would please Greengrass, with all his reverence for family.”

“He thinks the parents matter more,” Albus said. “Or at least the wizarding parent. And she chose to give up the Prince name.”

“Plus, I suspect that this will make it harder for the Ministry to control the child, whereas if he had no living family, he couldn’t be renamed and he would remain a Ministry pawn with whoever they chose to place him with.”

“Yes,” Albus said, with a long sigh. “Not to mention that Ebenezer tried to use Ariana against me when I told him that I was sure the Princes were competent guardians.”

Gellert gave a long, low laugh. “Then he’ll have nightmares of his own tonight, won’t he?”

Gellert’s vows were loose enough to permit such a thing, so Albus only shrugged. “He was the most persistent and personally insulting, but I actually hate the ones who were recommending Azkaban for a fifteen-month-old more. You have to admit,” and here he got in his own dig, “that the British Wizengamot has their own particular reasons to fear a Dark Lord arising from a young man.”

“But we all agreed that Azkaban wasn’t an appropriate punishment.”

Since at least a third of Albus’s own nightmares revolved around the moment when Gellert had knelt in front of him and sworn his surrender—nightmares that it had gone differently, that Gellert had managed to trick him, that it hadn’t happened at all—he only nodded in agreement.

“Tell me who the ones were who wanted Prince in Azkaban. The same ones who wanted to punish me?”

“You know most of those are dead or retired now,” Albus muttered, but he obliged. “Arcturus Black. Abraxas Malfoy. Lucietta Dagworth-Granger.”

“Dagworth-Granger surprises me,” Gellert admitted after a moment. “I would have thought that she could understand the value of letting a child grow up with his parents.”

“She hasn’t been the same since the rest of her family died. She’s obsessive about protecting that niece of hers, and she’s convinced the best way to do that is to snuff out any hint of a Dark Lord ever rising.”

“Even if it means driving another child insane or killing him?”

“Even then.”

Gellert snorted. “Then that makes me glad that you have no children of your own. It seems to make people focused on the welfare of their own family and ignore others’ more often than it makes them choose a future worth fighting for.”

Albus shrugged. Normally he would have been fair, he would have brought up the times when he had seen concern for one’s children translate into concern for all children, but it had been a long day.

“The house-elves have roast beef prepared under a Warming Charm,” Gellert said, changing the subject with a lack of grace he usually demonstrated only when it was the two of them. “Come eat, and we can think about how to pay the idiots back without violating my vows.”

*

As he had known he would, Albus dreamed of the moment when Gellert had surrendered that night.

Albus strode across the golden battlefield, golden with the fire he had called and mastered. Every flame that swayed around him danced in the shape of a phoenix, all of them cleansing and purifying. The soldiers that had followed Gellert had passed through those flames. They had cast down their wands and knelt with their hands behind their backs, willing to be punished for their crimes.

It had taken Albus years of work to perfect that spell. Purification magic was common, but it was meant, most of the time, to remove stains and smoke and blood. Few spells worked on a human’s soul, and fewer of those were of the kind that Albus would employ, the kind that would grant a true redemption.

Albus did not tear apart their souls or force them to obey his will, the kinds of spells that had existed before he made the Phoenix Fire. Instead, he lifted the criminals to an objective point-of-view and showed them the harm their actions had done.

After viewing those, most of the troublemakers were ready to surrender of their own free will.

Albus halted in front of Gellert, who still stood tall. The wand he carried, of blackthorn and thestral hair, dangled in his hand. It was a special wand, one made to Gellert’s exacting specifications by Gregorovitch, but it was no match for the Elder Wand, which Albus held at his side.

It had also taken years of work to make the Elder Wand cast the Phoenix Fire spell correctly, instead of corrupting it to drain others of their magic or crack their minds. The Elder Wand had always been a tool of destruction.

But it was no match for a man who had sought redemption for himself, and sought the wand to strengthen the chains of his own principles.

Gellert stared at him, his golden hair hanging ragged in his eyes. The Phoenix Fire ringing the battlefield was more golden, but, Albus had to acknowledge, he might have made the spell in memory of that hair.

“What exactly do you think I’ll do?” Gellert asked.

Albus sighed. His body ached. It had been a long battle, that misty day in 1937, on a battlefield still ravaged by the Muggle Great War. “I don’t know, Gellert. I know that you’re going to surrender and we’ll find a place for you in the world we’re creating, or you’ll go to prison. Or maybe die. I wouldn’t put that past you.”

“This brave new world of yours has no place for executions, Albus?”

“That you can quote a Muggle work shows—”

“Shhh,” Gellert said, and winked. “All of them think it’s my genius for turning a phrase.”

“It shows that you might not be entirely lost,” Albus finished, determined to ignore Gellert’s ability to sidetrack the conversation. “Come, Gellert. Will you not either surrender or submit to the Phoenix Fire? One or the other.” He was aware that this might end with Gellert’s death. He didn’t want it to, but the possibility was there, breathing the same air as the possibility of Ariana’s death had before it happened.

Gellert shook his head slowly. “I have no intention of submitting to your mind-wrenching curse.”

“Then I suppose it will be a duel.” The Elder Wand felt like a boulder in Albus’s hand.

“Oh, no.” Gellert dropped the blackthorn wand on the ground and spread his hands. “I surrender. I simply have conditions.”

“People who surrender cannot set conditions, Gellert.”

“Oh, I think you’ll find these more than acceptable,” Gellert purred, leaning towards him. Albus ignored the way that the sunlight shone on his hair. He only had to remember the blood Gellert had spilled to resist the enchantment. “I want you to personally take charge of me and my trial. If I’m issued a punishment other than Azkaban, I demand to be released into your custody.”

Albus looked at him, long and steady. Gellert might not want to go through the Phoenix Fire, but Albus would have thought he’d want to avoid Albus’s custody even more fervently. He had to know how Albus would hold him to his word and make him face his failings. “Why?”

Gellert gestured with one hand. “I failed on the battlefield. The next best way to change wizarding society is to be close to the most powerful man.”

“It’s not ever going to be like it was, Gellert.”

“Of course it won’t be. You grew up and embraced responsibility for some reason. But I want it to be like what it was.”

Albus shook his head. He could only assume that Gellert wanted to try and manipulate him again. Fine. He will fail. “If I agree to this absurdity, will you kneel in surrender?”

“I’ll always kneel to you, Albus.”

Albus did not blush, but only because he’d had years of practice at resisting the temptation by then. He watched as Gellert knelt in front of him and put his hands behind his back, the way the others subject to the Phoenix Fire spell had been doing, and sighed when an Auror gingerly clasped holding chains around his wrists. Yes, all right. The thing that had seemed so impossible for years was becoming a reality as he watched.

Gellert looked up at him and ran his tongue along his lips in a gesture Albus knew to be deliberate. Albus didn’t flinch. Gellert pouted slightly about that as the Aurors, clustered around him like sheep who couldn’t believe they had a wolf chained up, urged him to his feet.

“You are going to have to observe my trial,” Gellert said.

“I know that.” Albus let his voice slow in confusion. Gellert could take little advantage of that, the way things were right now.

“So you’ll have to look at me, listen to me, and hear my arguments for why I did what I did.” Gellert’s voice remained low and precise, but his eyes were shining in the way that Albus had learned to distrust with all his being. “Do you think you can withstand it? Who will convert whom, when we’re in close quarters together?”

Albus laughed before he could stop himself. The smile froze and cracked on Gellert’s face like rotten ice.

“You can’t compete with the dead, Gellert,” Albus said, shaking his head a little as he moved away from his one-time lover. “Her voice is stronger than yours.”

And it remained strong as he watched the Aurors herd Gellert—always keeping at least a foot of distance between them and him—towards the station set up with hastily-made Portkeys. Ariana’s death had been Albus’s fault, whoever actually had cast that fatal curse, but her voice slowed and quieted a little as she watched the other half of the equation taken away.

*

And here and now he woke in bed and reached out to feel Gellert breathing next to him.

Funny how these things work out, he thought, and he honestly couldn’t tell if that thought was in his own voice, or Ariana’s, or Gellert’s.

But Gellert was either playing the longest of long games Albus had ever seen, more than twenty years in the making, complete with Occlumency shields that would foil both Albus’s probing and those of every other Legilimens in the Ministry, or he was sincere. He had given in. He had admitted his crimes and served his time in Azkaban and then in Albus’s custody.

He had become Albus’s lover and then husband. It was a game, maybe, but when you could no longer tell the game from the reality, Albus thought wearily, what was left?

“Did you feel it?”

Albus’s thoughts had intertwined enough with the past that the first, absurd thing his mind jumped to was that Gellert had thrust some kind of blade between his ribs and was asking him if he had felt the cut. Then he realized that there was a twanging sensation in the back of his mind, something that seared and became more like a fire the longer he thought about it.

“Yes,” answered Albus, disturbed. That was the kind of change to the fabric of reality he had felt only when he wielded the Elder Wand. He sat up and frowned at Gellert. “Do you know what it is?”

“No. Only that I’ve felt something—approaching, for the last half-hour or so.” Gellert was lying with his arms tucked behind his head, frowning. That was unusual. If Albus sat up, most of the time Gellert had to achieve the same height at once to be equal to him. “Like someone coming down a tunnel of pure magic from another world.”

“Or another time,” Albus breathed, and his heart gave a sharp thump. There had been two accidents with Time-Turners in the past ten years that the Department of Mysteries had barely stopped before they could spread and unravel reality. It had been enough for Albus to support a bill banning research into time travel when it went up before the Wizengamot.

“Maybe.” Gellert raised himself on his elbow. “Could anyone have stumbled on the research just casually, though?”

“No. All the Unspeakables who showed some signs of wanting to keep their notes and spread the research were Obliviated and forced out of their jobs. Imprisoned, in a few cases, when they wouldn’t stop trying to propagate it.” Albus’s fingers tapped on his knee in agitation. “Of course, we have no proof that this is time travel.”

“None except the exquisite sensibilities of two powerful and fully-trained wizards.”

Albus nodded slowly. It was unlikely that most other people had even noticed the sensation, unless they were trained in both time travel (which Gellert had made his followers research) and powerful enough to feel a disturbance in reality.

“What are we going to do about it?”

“Go back to sleep.”

Gellert rolled his eyes. “I meant in the future, Albus. I’m not demanding that you leap out of bed and storm the Ministry tonight.”

“I don’t think it came from the Ministry,” Albus said slowly, closing his eyes and reaching out with his will. He laid his hand on the Elder Wand, and felt a strong pull leading him in the direction of London, but…the more he concentrated, the more he was certain it didn’t come from the Ministry. No, it was aiming in the direction of Diagon Alley. “No, it didn’t. It came from Diagon.”

“Really?” Gellert huffed a breathless laugh. “I suppose you can go and inquire in the morning if anyone has opened up a mysterious shop selling ancient artifacts there.”

“You read too much Muggle fiction,” Albus said, and couldn’t help the fondness in his voice. He lay down and reached out to drape his arm gently over Gellert’s chest. “Go to sleep. We will deal with it in the morning. You can even come with me, if you like.”

“I’d like that,” Gellert murmured, closing his eyes. “You only want me for my expertise in forbidden magic, of course.”

“Of course.”

Though Gellert fell asleep before him, the soft, steady sound of his breathing was one of the major reasons Albus followed him so quickly.

Chapter Text

Seneca Prince studied his grandson closely. Meanwhile, Mariana sat on the other side of the room with her hands folded in her lap.

“You cannot learn much from a child’s face,” was something Seneca’s father had said often. But Seneca considered that you could learn much if you only tried to read it. His father had never tried, and had perished in a duel with a rival that his eldest son could have told him he would not survive.

Severus was black-haired and black-eyed, like Eileen. He had nothing of the Muggle in his features, from what Seneca could tell, though admittedly he had only seen the man dead on the floor. His stillness was impeccable, something Eileen must have been training into the boy. Seneca had seen children who were squirmy at the age of fifteen months and whined and complained if the adults around them did anything but slave for their entertainment. Severus was not like that.

Seneca drew his wand. Severus focused on it, but still didn’t move. A small shiver had run over him, though. Seneca wondered idly if the boy was remembering half-images of the Dark Lord’s wand, or if Eileen had perhaps used hers to clean and discipline the child.

Seneca cast a nonverbal spell with a quiet flick. Officially, there was no way to determine if a child had magic or not until their eleventh birthday arrived with or without the Hogwarts Eater. Officially, pure-blood families clung to hope that their children might not be Squibs until that final, damning day.

There were many things about the Prince family that were unofficial.

The room filled with pulsing purple darkness, and Seneca’s awareness moved outside his body. He focused his attention on Severus. If the boy did have magic, he would see light inside his body. It would look like an empty silhouette if he did not. And although Seneca was almost certain his daughter’s strength would have prevailed over common Muggle mud, still, he was not arrogant enough to assume he simply knew that and commit the Prince family’s resources to raising someone dead inside.

The blaze that reached out to him made Seneca smile, as much as he could in a mostly bodiless state. Golden and white light eddied and flowed back and forth in Severus’s chest, along his limbs, up to his head. That it wasn’t gathered in one place and staying there was another excellent sign. It meant Severus would command more of his power and would probably start showing accidental magic younger than most children.

Not that Seneca intended the “accidental magic” to be accidental for long. Such happenstance did not befall a member of the Prince line.

He canceled the spell and returned to his body. “He has magic,” he announced to his wife, picking up their grandson and subjecting him to a gentler hold this time. “We can raise him.”

*

Mariana Prince shut her eyes for a long moment.

She felt things in layers, and always had since she had married Seneca. There was the relief that their grandson had magic, that a daughter who had failed them in other ways hadn’t failed them in this. There was a distant sadness that the boy was a half-blood and would receive teasing from other children whose obsession with purity would make them see nothing but his heritage.

But underneath that—the emotions that Seneca would find if he examined her thoughts with Legilimency—there was silent rage. It had brooded ever since Seneca had exiled Eileen for marrying a Muggle, never seeing that in his daughter’s face was the reverse side of his own stubbornness.

She stood now and reached out her arms. “Do you want me to take him to the nursery? I don’t think we should allow the elves to handle him.”

“Really? Why not, my dear?”

The dark eyes that turned to her were the eyes of a hunting predator. Mariana gazed steadily back and said with the cool flippancy she had learned as a child, “We let the elves raise Eileen, and look how that turned out.”

Seneca hesitated only once before he held Severus out. “Very true, my dear. Take him, then.”

Mariana nodded and gathered Severus close. Severus gazed up at her, eyes narrow and a faint line down his forehead as if he was working up the nerve to scowl at her. Well, truly, it was hard to separate that line from the lightning bolt scar that he bore.

Mariana carried Severus in silence to the nursery, untouched and laid under Preservation Charms since the day that Eileen went to Hogwarts. Then, she and Seneca had not discounted the thought of more children, or of Eileen moving back in with them to raise her own young ones (since of course anyone she married would understand the honor in taking the Prince name and living in such a large manor). Mariana used her hawthorn wand to clear away the Preservation Charms and placed Severus in the large cot that Eileen had used until she was two. From the way Severus dragged himself upright with his hands on the bars, he might need a bigger bed than this soon. He was a sturdier child than Eileen had been.

“Thank Merlin you are,” Mariana breathed, “or you would have died when the Dark Lord invaded.”

She spent some time clearing away the still air, arranging the toys in new piles, and summoning an elf with orders to bring a breakfast of cut-up fruit and small pieces of meat fit for a child. She turned back to find Severus watching her. So far, he hadn’t said a word. Even Seneca had attributed that to the child’s shock after watching his mother die in front of him, but Mariana thought it just as likely that he was deliberately holding his silence.

“Would you like to come here?” Mariana asked, but she wasn’t surprised when Severus shook his head. “All right.” She sat down on the chair where she had rocked Eileen as a baby and took a deep breath, folding her hands in her lap.

Then, never touching her face or concealing herself in a way that might look suspicious if Seneca were suddenly to come into the room, she finally allowed herself to weep for her daughter, who was gone.

*

“Albus Dumbledore. How good to see you.”

Seneca kept his voice utterly flat and devoid of emotion as he let the Minister into his house. Albus never indicated that he noticed the coldness. He only nodded to Seneca and then looked around as if admiring the beams of the roof and the paintings on the walls.

The paintings included portraits of the Prince ancestors, of course, but only the ones who did what Seneca told them. He had ways of dealing with the ones who did not.

“What are you doing here, sir?”

Dumbledore turned back to Seneca. Seneca had to stifle his own annoyance as he felt cold magic arch above him like a waterfall made of snowflakes, ready to come down. Dumbledore ruled partially because he was the most powerful wizard in the world. He had once acted cheerful and twinkly-eyed, but that persona had been destroyed by the rigors of war.

“I came to see young Severus and how well he’s adapting to life here, of course.”

“I fail to see why you should have any more interest in him than any other boy his age.”

“You are smarter than that, Seneca. You know what some members of the Wizengamot think about him, and what they wanted to do to him, rather than leaving him to your guardianship.”

Seneca inclined his head as he led Dumbledore into the drawing room meant for unwelcome guests and flicked his fingers, summoning a house-elf. “Tea for two,” he said, and then turned back to Dumbledore. “I also know that I have you to thank for my ability to keep my grandson with me.” The words curdled on his tongue, but they were true, and a Prince always paid his debts.
“Yes.” Dumbledore didn’t dwell on those debts, which might be the only thing Seneca liked about the man. He sat down with his hands folded in his lap and gave a single polite sip to the tea that the house-elf brought, then put it down again and said, “I wanted to see how strong your defenses were.”

Seneca narrowed his eyes, but tried not to hear a threat in the words. Not even Dumbledore would fight so hard to see his grandson given to him only to immediately take him away. “What do you mean?”

“I don’t trust some of those in the Wizengamot at all. They might attack you for the boy.”

“We have strong defenses,” Seneca said, and hated the way he wanted to cringe when Dumbledore drew his wand. The damned Elder Wand, the infamous Deathstick, which had been utterly tamed by Dumbledore’s will.

“You will forgive me if I test them?”

I will not. But Seneca bit back the words, and nodded curtly. Dumbledore waved his wand, and the magic raced around the room, invisible but tangible to someone who commanded the Prince wards the way Seneca did, touching and sampling.

It was uncomfortable, like having a hand on his naked chest, and Seneca was more than relieved when Dumbledore put the wand away. “I’m impressed, Mr. Prince. Severus should be safe here. Good.” And then he frowned into his teacup in a way that made it clear this was about more than such a simple visit.

“What is it, Minister?”

“Three nights ago,” Dumbledore said quietly, “both Gellert and I felt time ripple as someone came through. I was afraid that it might be part of an attack on your grandson, that either Voldemort’s followers had discovered some sort of time magic or someone was using it against your wards. Did you feel anything?”

Seneca tried not to feel flattered that he was being considered equal to such powerful wizards in their ability to feel magic, and instead only shook his head, concentrating on the actual question Dumbledore had asked him. “No. I know that time magic is forbidden…”

“Which hardly stops most people.” Dumbledore finished his tea and stood with a frown. “Very well, Mr. Prince. Then it is possible that time traveler, whoever he was, had nothing to do with your grandson. I hope that’s the case.” He paused. “May I see Severus before I leave?”

Seneca didn’t want to agree, but once again, there were certain things that one did when confronted with Albus Dumbledore and certain things one did not do, and this was one of the latter. He smiled and nodded. “Of course. Tipsy!”

One of the elves, who had been waiting with the boy in her arms since Seneca had known Dumbledore was coming up with the path, Apparated into the room. The Minister leaned in and stared at the boy. Seneca found himself holding his breath. He exhaled in annoyance. There was no way that Dumbledore could bestow a blessing like the mages of old. Just because he was powerful, Seneca had to stop revering him, especially if he intended to instill a proper sense of pride in his grandson. A Prince bowed to no one.

“Such dark eyes,” Dumbledore whispered, in a doting tone that made Seneca abruptly wonder how much he missed being Headmaster of Hogwarts. He turned and nodded to Seneca. “Very well. Thank you. I will look for our time traveler elsewhere.”

Seneca saw Dumbledore to the door himself, as he had let him in. “Thank you for stopping by, Minister.”

“Thank you for admitting me, Mr. Prince.” Dumbledore paused with a hand on the banister of the steps that led down from the door. “A word of advice. Children do better when raised with love instead of sternness.”

“I hardly think so,” Seneca said, startled into replying when he had meant to let the man go in dignified silence. “We raised Eileen with love, and we indulged her so much that she indulged herself by running away to marry a Muggle.”

“I wonder,” Dumbledore said, looking over his shoulder. Sunlight coming through the front door lit up his silver hair. “Was she indulging herself, or was she escaping?”

Seneca narrowed his eyes as Dumbledore let himself out. Only the Minister for Magic was powerful enough to get away with implying that anyone would ever need to escape from the luxurious lifestyle the Prince family could offer its descendants.

No one will ever let Severus escape, and he will never need to, Seneca vowed to himself as he turned back towards his grandson’s rooms.

*

Mariana hesitated for a long time before she finally stepped into Diagon Alley and wrapped her cloak more firmly around her face. There was an illusion on her face beneath that and a subtle charm that would nudge people not to remember her without being an outright Obliviate, but she still trembled.

It was worse that Seneca should find out the purpose of her visit here than that he should find out she had come. She had never revealed her family’s talent to anyone. The knowledge slumbered in the back of her mind behind impenetrable shields that only owed as much to Occlumency as a snowflake owed to a blizzard.

Seneca would want to use her for the gift. Other people would want to kill her. And they might want to kill her grandson, too, although as far as Mariana knew, no one not actually born with the last name of Peverell had ever inherited the talent to tell when someone had traveled through time and track time travelers.

Now, she opened the shields that she had kept closed since the death of her father five years ago and sent a single pulse of seeking down the alley.

For a moment, the buildings around her rustled and blurred, and it looked as if she was walking through a silvery-pale fog that had leaked from their walls. In that fog, Mariana lifted her magic and looked around. Ordinary people, those born in this time, would look like shadows moving through it. There would be a clear circle around the time traveler.

And there he was, although to all appearances, he was one of the most ordinary of the ordinary, a dark-haired man who looked unfavorably tousled, coming out of a shop that was so new it still had no name and shutters over the windows.

Mariana drew back into the shadowy corner opposite the shop and watched. The silver fog faded as she locked away her magic again. She studied the man, and saw only a flowing cloak, black hair that looked as if he had run a comb through it but backwards, and tatty glasses that he pushed up with one finger.

“You might as well come out, you know. Those spells don’t work on me.”

Mariana sucked in a frightened breath. The man had spoken without looking at her, still wandering down the middle of the alley and looking at a scroll in his hands that resembled a map. But he had spoken. He had known she was there.

No one should have, except family. But Mariana had it on excellent authority that she was the last direct-line descendant of the Peverells.

She hesitantly matched steps with the man, who didn’t look around until they were in an alley off the man one. Then he leaned an elbow on the wall and considered her frankly. His eyes behind the glasses were an astonishing shade of green.

“Who are you?”

“I should be asking you that question,” Mariana murmured. The man didn’t look like someone who had studied esoteric magic for a long time to break the barriers of time and space. “Time traveler.”

The man tensed at once, and stopped seeming ordinary. Mariana gasped as his hand whirled to his wand, and the air around him gleamed with a magic that was like the glint off a blade. Then the man seemed to gain back control of himself, and shook his head in irritation as he dropped his hand from his wand.

“I promised myself I wouldn’t do that,” he muttered. “But how did you know?”

“Ancestral magic of my own,” Mariana said, which was far as she was prepared to discuss it. “You must not fear that anyone has tracked you in the same way. But you are in danger if found.”

The man nodded. “I’ve done some research since I’ve been here. I know that they’ll probably put anyone they think deliberately traveled in time to death.”

“Time travel was not forbidden where you came from?” Mariana asked, since she had always wondered. She had met a time traveler only once before, and only briefly.

“You could say that. More that we didn’t know enough about the consequences.” The man looked at her, and there was something dangerous about him that continued to glint, despite the mildness of his eyes. “Now, I do have to know who you are.”

“Mariana Prince.”

The man froze for a second. “You mean the grandmother—you must be his grandmother—of Sna—the Boy-Who-Lived?”

Mariana nodded and took a deep breath. “And I fear what my husband will try to do to my grandson. I want you to promise that you’ll protect him.”

“Of all the people in this world you could ask that of, you come to me, someone who would be the most hunted fugitive in your society if people only knew?”

“I know that you must be powerful, to have survived a journey back in time. And sensible, not to have announced yourself and immediately tried to change things, the way most people who historically have traveled in time try to do.” Mariana shifted her shoulders, disliking the way the man stared at her. “Do I have your promise?”

The man closed his eyes and seemed to commune with himself in silence for so many moments that Mariana feared what his answer would be. But then his lips shaped words she could read.

Why not? Maybe I came back for this.

Wariness rose up in Mariana’s heart. The man didn’t even know why he was here? Someone that uncertain would not be a good protector for Severus after all.

But then he looked at Mariana, and nodded. “I vow it.”

The world around them rang as if they were all inside a crystal globe and someone had nearly knocked it off a table. Mariana found herself falling to her knees. The man came over and grasped her hands to help her up. Mariana shuddered a little, fighting back the temptation to cower away, and stared at the man. “Who are you?”

“You might as well call me Harry Evanson. Most people will.”

Chapter Text

"Who's she, mate?"

Harry smiled weakly at Laocoon as he sat down at the table just inside Diabolic Defenses. (He had tried to get Laocoon to change the name, but Laocoon had just said that they needed a memorable name, and this was memorable). "Someone who wanted my help."

"But that's once. She's been here almost every day." Laocoon's eyes traveled up the stretch of Diagon Alley right outside the window as though he could still trace Mariana Prince's path.

Harry sighed and leaned back. In general, Laocoon didn't ask that many questions, because he regarded Harry as his token of good fortune and thought he might leave if he didn't get what he wanted. But Harry knew that he wouldn't get away with answering some of these questions. "She's someone from my past. Listen, you can't tell anyone about this, okay?"

"That's fine!" Laocoon beamed at him and set up a sparkling-strong Privacy Charm on the door, such that the normal noises of Diagon Alley suddenly dimmed. "Just tell me whatever you want to tell me, Harry!"

Which is nothing, Harry thought, but he lowered his voice as though he didn't trust the Privacy Charm. "She was a friend of my mother's. My mother, she was...different from what other people thought she should be. She caused a rift in the family."

Laocoon's eyes lit up. "Did she have mysterious magical powers like you do?"

"I do not have mysterious magical powers," Harry began, but cut himself off with a sigh when he saw the beginning of a pout forming on Laocoon's face. He seemed utterly convinced that just because Harry had stronger skills in offensive magic and could cast some spells that were original to his universe but didn't seem to exist here, Harry was some sort of magical prodigy, or hidden wandering mage doomed to crisscross the country, "you know, like a comet, except on earth."

"She was like me," Harry restricted himself to saying. It was even true, at least if you were just talking about eye color. Harry ached as he thought of all the ways he wasn't like his mother. Lily Evans wouldn't have broken the universe.

"Ooh." Laocoon sat on the table that he had used earlier to put together an adamantine shield and swung his legs. "And this Marian woman knew her?"

Harry managed a wan smile, impressed that Laocoon actually remembered the name that Mariana had chosen as a cover. It wasn't foolproof, but then again, she never gave her last name, and Laocoon would have announced it in an excited voice if he'd had any idea who she was. "Yes."

"Is she part of the same secret brotherhood of sorcerers that you and your mother were?"

Merlin, it's hard to even lie to him without him coming up with a better lie. "You could say that."

Laocoon nodded. "And don't tell me! She's coming here to give you dire warnings against betraying any secrets to me!" His eyes sparkled as Harry eyed him in disbelief. He honestly couldn't imagine being that young.

"That's only part of it," Harry temporized. Maybe that would cover Mariana's visits here, especially if Laocoon kept the secret to himself from the sheer pleasure of having it. "The other part is that there's a young--sorcerer I have to swear to protect."

"Oooh! And you're reluctant to fulfill your duty because you think I'll keep you too busy in the shop!" Laocoon sat up proudly. "Please don't worry about it, Harry. I'll be happy to give you any time off that you need."

"What? No, I'm not reluctant to fulfill that duty! I just don't think I'll...do a very good job." Harry let his voice trail off as the words sounded in his ears and he finally named the source of his reluctance even to himself. Mariana shouldn't have had to answer so many of his doubts, especially since he was the one who had put Severus in this position, and yet, she had.

Shit. I really might mess this up. I broke the entire universe. What makes me think that I'd be a good protector for anyone?

"I think you'll be perfect for it, Harry."

Harry looked up. Laocoon had leaned forwards to pat his shoulder. His smile was bright, if a little condescending. Harry shook his head. "You don't know me that well, Laocoon. It's nice of you to say, but--"

"No. I'm sure you'll do fine."

Harry paused. Laocoon looked as sure as Neville had when he cut Nagini's head off. When he used to cut it off, or when it had once happened, Harry thought then. "Why?" he couldn't help asking, despite the fact that he didn't think he'd share Laocoon's unshakable certainty even if the man explained it to him.

Laocoon smiled. "You're a protector."

"You are, though. I'm good with offensive magic--"

"Which can make someone a good protector." Laocoon sounded calm now, and much older than he usually did. "And you care about people. It's obvious from the way you talk with this Margaret person. And me. And that girl I saw you give all those Sickles to the other day, the one who was hungry."

"So because I make foolish decisions out of impulse, that means I have to be a good protector and capable of accepting this destiny?"

Laocoon pointed a triumphant finger at him. "Even you think it's destiny."

Harry sighed and leaned back in his chair so that it came near the glass window at the front of the shop and Laocoon sat up in concern. "Well, maybe not that way..."

"You said it. You can't take it back. You said it." Laocoon all but bounced in place, then abruptly became serious again and nodded importantly. "Maybe it's only because we're coming out of a war, but did you notice that not a lot of people have those charitable impulses?'

"You do."

"When?" Laocoon looked around quickly as though beggars would crowd out from behind the walls of Diabolic Defenses any second.

"When you took me on."

"You had me worried for a minute there, Harry!" Laocoon pressed a hand against his chest. "That wasn't charity, that was employment, and I hired you because my Divination professor said so."

Harry just sighed and decided that discussing his continued employment at Diabolic Defenses probably wasn't helping anyone. "Fine. Well, I don't want you to have to constantly reassure me. And I already agreed to accept Marian's petition for protection, so I can't back out now."

"Marian? I thought her name was Margaret."

Harry smiled in spite of himself, even though he thought this was probably a pretense and no one could be as naive and silly as Laocoon seemed. "Marian. Thanks for talking it through with me," he added, even though Laocoon hadn't really said anything he needed to hear. He'd still made the effort.

Laocoon leaped up from his chair and clicked his heels together, bowing his head. "You're welcome, Harry! Now, about that Shield Cloak." He picked up the heavy steel shield from the center of the table. "If you could come with me, then maybe we could try firing curses at this and getting ready for the cloak."

Harry frowned as he took the shield. "Do you want the cloak to be made of steel, though?"

"If necessary. What do you think of an overlapping pattern of steel scales? We could make it look like a trout's. A salmon's, of course, is right out."

Harry rolled his eyes, but he was smiling. Laocoon hadn't come close to replacing Ron and Hermione, and never would, but it was good to know that he had a friend.

*

"It took me a while, but I have Severus here. Seneca doesn't actually pay attention to him most of the time, unless he wants to pose for a picture for the paper with him in his arms. He thinks the house-elves are bathing him right now."

Mariana seemed utterly determined to make Harry hold the toddler, so Harry swallowed and extended his arms. Severus stared at him in silence as Harry steadied him on the counter that ran along the side of his small room at the back of Laocoon's shop, which was kitchen and bedroom in one. At this age, he should be talking, and Mariana said she was sure he could, but apparently Severus hadn't uttered a word since the day he had seen his mother killed in front of him.

And why should he? Harry thought wearily as he met the black eyes under a lightning bolt scar it was strange to see from the other side. He has enough people trying to manipulate or trick a reaction out of him. Maybe he wants to see what they'll do when they don't get it.

"Severus, this is Harry Evanson, who has promised to protect you," Mariana said. Her voice was soft and nervous. She was standing on the other side of the counter, and she seemed smaller now that her grandson was out of her arms. "To teach you magic, and watch over you, and make sure that you survive to adulthood and defeat your enemies."

Harry twitched as she laid it out like that. It wasn't that he objected to doing it, in principle. It was simply that it hadn't been part of the oath that Mariana had had him swear.

"But he doesn't want to."

Harry's head snapped around, and he ignored Mariana's soft cry. He focused on Severus, who was glaring at Harry with the most intense look he'd ever got from him, even counting the first day of Potions class back in his original universe. That Severus had had his gaze clouded by bitterness and his sureness about what he would see.

"He doesn't want to protect me," Severus said, and reached to poke his finger for a second into the side of Harry's cheek. He faced Mariana. "You should find someone who wants to protect me."

Harry swung Severus to the floor, so that he could go back around the counter to his grandmother if he wanted to, and stared at her. "No one should be talking like that at the age of fifteen months," he said.

"Well, he's nearly seventeen months old now--"

"What did you do to him?"

Mariana straightened her back, while Severus frowned at Harry but made no move to step away from him. "Don't yell at her."

"It's not what we did," said Mariana, twisting her hands. "I-it's something that Eileen did. I found the evidence of it on Severus the first time I gave him a bath. I think she was terribly worried that her son would turn out to be a Squib, since she married a Muggle. So she used runes on his skin, and probably fed him certain potions, the kind of thing she could do without a wand and that wouldn't be obvious to her non-magical husband--"

"I see. What did they do?"

"Modified him," Mariana said, softly enough that Harry had to strain to hear her. "Made him smarter, and gave him the ability to think through things that no normal child of his age should be able to."

"I don't want to be normal," Severus announced. "It sounds boring."

Harry managed a shaky smile, even as his mind raced. What kind of mother would do that because she would rather have an altered child than a Squib one? "It was pretty boring when I was a kid."

Severus turned to stare up at him. "Why was it boring when you were a kid?"

He repeated Harry's words almost exactly, down to the intonation. Harry ignored his own uneasiness and smiled at him. "I lived with Muggle relatives. They thought being normal was the best thing on earth. They wanted me to be, but my magic wouldn't let me. So I decided that I would be something better than normal, and normal was boring."

"Your mum was a Muggle?"

"No, she was Muggleborn, but she died when I was young," Harry said quietly, and then wondered if he should have. He had given a very different story to Laocoon, after all. But Mariana knew he was a time traveler, and she seemed much more focused on what he could do for Severus than questioning him about his past. "So I lived with her sister. My aunt."

"What about your father?"

"He died at the same time as my mother."

"So he wasn't there to protect you."

Harry shook his head. "Things were pretty bad for me until I got my letter and went to Hogwarts. But that's one reason I want to help you, if I can. If you'll let me protect you," he added. It seemed clear that the choice would be up to Severus, this time, instead of Mariana.

Severus folded his arms and paced back and forth. He shivered slightly. Harry cast a Warming Charm in the air above him, wordlessly, because he thought any charm cast on Severus's robes right now wouldn't be a good idea. Severus still looked at him as if he knew what Harry had done.

Mariana stood with her hands pressed close to her mouth and her eyes brilliant with something that looked like wary hope.

"What do you want to protect me from?" Severus asked, looking up. "I live with my grandparents. Not my aunt."

Mariana started to shake her head, but Harry was already answering. If he was going to be Severus's protector, and Severus was like this, then he owed his loyalty to Severus first. "Your grandfather. He doesn't sound like a pleasant person."

Severus considered that in silence, then nodded. "And who else?"

Now Mariana really looked as though she wanted to tell Harry to shut up, but Harry answered freely anyway. "The people who will want to you use because you're the Boy-Who-Lived."

"What would they want to use me to do?"

"To make themselves popular and win popularity contests." The minute he said it, though, Harry was unsure if he should have phrased it like that. What if he made it sound as if these people weren't really a danger to Severus?

Severus tilted his head back and locked his eyes with Harry. "How can you stop them?"

"With magic and knowledge." Harry felt more and more like this was an interrogation, but he didn't feel tempted to smile. Severus's eyes were utterly serious, and Harry thought he owed him the courtesy of taking this seriously.

"What kind of knowledge?"

"Some of that is about magic, too," Harry admitted with a shrug of his shoulders. "But the other stuff..." He bent down towards Severus, noting the way he curled his lip at the word "stuff." Apparently he wasn't impressed with Harry's vocabulary. "If I tell you a secret, can you keep it to yourself for the rest of your life?"

Mariana cleared her throat. From that, and the red tint to her cheeks, Harry thought that she probably hadn't told Severus he was a time traveler.

"Yes," Severus said. He looked at Harry with such old eyes that Harry was suddenly sure that he'd kept many secrets to himself already. Maybe about his parents, maybe about the Princes.

Harry's uncertainty, not fully quelled even by conversations with Laocoon and Mariana, abruptly snapped into place. He had to do something to help Severus. He would do whatever it took. Severus desperately needed someone on his side.

"Then I'll tell you," he said, and leaned towards Severus, casting another wordless spell that would prevent Mariana from listening in, if she was even trying. "The main reason that I know about this is that I used to be the Boy-Who-Lived."

Severus's eyes widened for the first time since the conversation had begun. "Are there--lots? Do you get a new Boy-Who-Lived every generation?" he whispered seriously, tiptoeing towards Harry and looking like a real child for a moment.

"Not like that," Harry said. "I was one in another world. But it was the same thing. Voldemort killed my mother and father, and my mother sacrificed her life to save me, and I had a scar like yours on my forehead."

Severus stared at him. "But you don't have that scar now."

Harry pressed his wand against his forehead and peeled back a section of the glamour he'd taken to wearing the morning after he'd come to this world. It was a risk, but without the context of the conversation, he didn't think Mariana would know what he and Severus were talking about. And the scar was little more than a faded dark line at the moment, anyway.

Severus stared harder. Then he reached up a hand, trembling with something that Harry hoped was wonder rather than fear, and ran his fingers along the edge of Harry's scar as Harry bowed his head down towards him.

There was a weird sensation all through the room then, and Harry realized later that he would probably never know how to describe it. The closest he could come was likening it to someone playing a drumbeat in his head. Severus's hand dropped, and he shivered next to Harry, confirming that he'd felt it too.

"I don't know what happened," Severus whispered. "I don't know what I want to do. I don't know what you should do."

He stepped back and met Harry's eyes with a fearlessness that overwhelmed Harry. "But I'll trust you."

Harry put a hand on Severus's shoulder and smiled, since he thought trying to embrace him would be misunderstood by everyone in the room, including Mariana. "Thank you. I'll do the best I can to keep you safe."

"What did you tell my grandson?" Mariana asked, her face uneasy.

Harry shook his head as he stood up. "I'm afraid that I can't tell you that without his permission, and I don't think that he'll give his permission."

"No," said Severus, in a snotty tone that was more the way Harry had thought he would behave as a child. But he met Harry's eyes, and smiled, and the drumbeat sensation traveled through Harry again.

For this, Harry was thinking, I would give up almost everything.

Chapter Text

“I already know that spell, Grandfather.”

Seneca paused and stared at Severus. It was true that he was no ordinary child, and Seneca had supposed that the Prince blood had bred true even through Eileen’s unfortunate wedding to a Muggle. He spoke like a child several years older than he was, he understood adult subtleties in a way that meant Seneca rarely had to speak to him twice, and he could read already, although he was only twenty-seven months old now, a year after his mother’s death.

But he had never said this sort of thing before. Seneca had thought he was smarter than that.

“You cannot know this spell, Severus,” he said patiently. “Neither I nor your grandmother have ever cast it in front of you.” Mariana would not have dared.

“I saw Mother cast it.”

Seneca studied his grandson in silence for a second. Severus was sitting in a chair on the other side of the library table, albeit one with several padded pillows on it to prop him up to the right height. His eyes were quiet and dark, as always, but his hand closed into a little fist on the table.

“Why would she have cast a ward that is meant to silence a room, Severus?”

His grandson watched him, and then said, “Because she wanted to practice magic, and didn’t want the Muggle finding out.”

Seneca half-relaxed. At least Severus had taken enthusiastically to calling his father “the Muggle,” and never sought to use any other name for him. “And you can remember the movements of the wand?’ Seneca had cast the spell wordlessly, which meant Severus could not be sure this was the same incantation.

“Yes, Grandfather.”

Seneca hesitated only once before he reached over and handed his wand to Severus. “I want to see you cast the spell.”

Severus listened for a second, his head tilted to the side, which Seneca had come to recognize as a gesture that he used often himself, almost communing with the magic. Then he said, “This wand doesn’t like me, Grandfather.”

Seneca grunted. Part of him was proud that his grandson was smart enough to recognize a wand’s affinity, or rather the lack of it, at such a young age.

The rest of him was suspicious enough to scream. He leaned forwards and asked softly, “Who told you about wands not liking you, Severus? Was it your grandmother?” That was not on the list of approved subjects he had told Mariana she could discuss with Severus.

“No one told me, Grandfather.” Severus sounded genuinely puzzled. “I can just feel it. The wand doesn’t like me. It doesn’t want me to hold it. It wants me to put it down and go away.”

Seneca slowly eased back from his desire to call Mariana down to the room. “Very well. Then put it down in the middle of the table and make the wand gestures with your hand.” He glanced at the scar on Severus’s forehead. He did wonder, sometimes, if the residue of the curse had caused some change in Severus, as well, if he had managed to boost his power by stealing some from the Dark Lord.

Severus nodded and laid down the wand. He slowly raised his hand, moving his fingers as if he didn’t know if he should align them all or not, and then he decided to and waved his hand around with all his fingers aimed in the same direction.

Seneca fought down the instinct to snarl as he watched the heavy air swirl and dance. Ripples ran towards the corners of the room and died out. In the end, not real magic, not a silencing ward, but there was power there that his grandson could call upon.

Seneca looked back at Severus, realized the boy was waiting for him to respond, and gave him a tight smile. “Well done, Severus.”

Severus beamed and soaked up the words, and Seneca nodded, letting his half-smile substitute for the full one he might otherwise have given. He had given Eileen full-hearted gestures like that, and it had built up her confidence to the point where she had thought she could openly disagree with him, even run away, and still be forgiven. Seneca was not about to make the same mistake with this generation of Princes.

Not that he would, he thought as he called the elves to take Severus up to the nursery. This time, he had much finer material to work with.

*

“Grandfather was having me practice a silencing ward.”

Harry focused thoughtfully on Severus as he set down a tray of cheese and bread on the table between them. “Did he have you handle a wand?”

“He tried to get me to use his. But it didn’t like me, so I didn’t use it.”

Harry raised his eyebrows. “That’s unusual magical sensitivity to have so young, but I’m not surprised.” He took his holly wand from his pocket and tossed it to Severus. “Touch this one and pretend that you’re going to cast a spell with it. Don’t move it in the right way yet. Just think about it.”

Severus gave him a suspicious glance as he picked up the wand. “I could cast it if you wanted. I could do that.”

“I know, but right now, I just want you to see what it feels like to you, and what happens when you hold it.”

Severus closed his eyes and waited for a long moment. His fingers tapped back and forth across the wand. Harry watched curiously. He had thought he might get something of a twinge when Severus touched his wand, but it seemed the connection was neutral.

“This one likes me more than Grandfather’s wand did,” Severus murmured, his eyes closed. “But…” He waited for long enough that Harry wondered if something was wrong, then looked at Harry again. “It doesn’t feel like your real wand.”

Harry froze. At the same time, he heard an impatient rattle from the cupboard at the back of Laocoon’s shop, where Harry had stored some things that he didn’t want to tell anyone about.

“Where is your real wand?” Severus asked. He sounded interested and not impatient, and he handed the holly wood back to Harry and then looked around the room. “Can I meet it?”

Harry managed to smile. “I suppose it would be all right,” he said, and walked over to the cupboard to open the door. He barely had time to get it out of the way before the Elder Wand sprang directly into his hold, radiating brilliant golden light.

Wow,” Severus breathed, sounding awed.

Harry had to shield his eyes against the light, it was glowing so. Then the glow died, and he was left with an ordinary-looking wand of elder wood—or at least as ordinary as it could look if you didn’t know what it was. He took a deep, difficult breath.

Of course it couldn’t be the real Elder Wand. Dumbledore openly carried that one, and Dumbledore was the Minister. Harry had assumed, when he came back in time, or broke the universe, however one wanted to refer to it, that he had left the Hallows behind as well. Certainly the Invisibility Cloak hadn’t made the journey with him, and the only wand he’d had with him had been the holly one.

But then one morning, a few days after he’d agreed to vow his protection to Severus, the Elder Wand had shown up lying on his doorstep. Or a good copy of it. Harry had swept it inside, thrown it in the cupboard, and then waited tensely for the newspaper stories about how Minister Dumbledore had lost his wand.

But no such stories had spread. And the photographs that came out in the papers, which often showed Dumbledore with his wand, hadn’t changed.

The Elder Wand had reproduced itself, or had come with him through time, or something like that. Harry supposed he would never know for sure. He did know that it was getting more and more difficult to perform magic with his holly wand, which was ridiculous. He had refused to carry the Elder Wand, hadn’t used it since he stuck it back in Dumbledore’s tomb in his original world. What did it think it was doing, showing up on the doorstep like a lost Crup?

“Can I see it?” Severus asked.

For a moment, Harry tightened his hold on the Elder Wand, and projected a thought to it as hard as he could. Hurt him and I’ll find a way to burn you to ash. I don’t care if it takes me as long as I’ve got in this life.

For a moment, the wand warmed in his hand, to the point where it was painful. Harry didn’t know why, but he kept holding it, and after a second, the heat died away. Harry nodded and turned to Severus, ignoring the slightly wary look on his face. He still had that expression no matter how careful and gentle Harry was, but given the bastard that was his grandfather, Harry could hardly blame him.

Severus took the wand and turned it back and forth curiously, not gasping the way Harry would have expected if he had been able to sense its power. Then he nodded and handed it back to Harry. The Elder Wand vibrated, and a tone like the edge of a phoenix’s song showed up in Harry’s mind.

“That one feels like your real wand,” Severus said in some satisfaction.

“Well, good,” Harry muttered, and tossed the Elder Wand back in the cupboard. Then he shut the door and turned around to find the Elder Wand lying on the table next to the holly wand. He drew in a long, slow breath.

“Why did you hide your real wand in the cupboard, Uncle Harry?”

Harry smiled at Severus, his pleasure in the name overtaking his annoyance at the question for a moment. Then he sighed and said, “I won the wand from someone, but I didn’t really want it. The holly wand is the one that chose me when I was eleven. That’s the one I chose back, and the one I want to use.”

Severus studied him with quiet, intelligent eyes, and then shook his head and said, “I don’t know if you can do that now.”

Harry didn’t know what he meant until he reached out his hand and touched a mere dead piece of wood. He swallowed. All warmth was gone from the holly wand, as if it had been burned out by the Elder Wand’s warning. He desperately snatched it up and tried to perform a spell, but not even sparks came out.

“Why would it do that, Uncle Harry?”

“I don’t know.” That made no more sense than the Elder Wand following him through times, Harry thought. It might have made a little sense if he had woken up here with the Elder Wand and not the holly one, but why would it stop now?

“I think the real wand is the one that chooses you now.”

Harry glared at the Elder Wand. How could he use that? It was so recognizable. Maybe not to people in most worlds or times, but people who were used to seeing Dumbledore’s wand in the papers would notice in seconds.

“Why are you so upset, Uncle Harry?”

“It looks like a wand that’s famous,” Harry said reluctantly. He wouldn’t drag Severus into all his troubles, any more than he intended to tell him all the details about his time travel, but he didn’t want to deny him explanations, either. That would encourage Severus to distrust him faster than anything else. “People are going to think that I stole it and get upset if it turns out that there’s just two of them.”

Severus leaned forwards and studied the Elder Wand intently. “It’s powerful, right?” When Harry nodded, Severus looked up at him with wide eyes and asked, “Then you could make it just look like something else, right?”

Harry blinked. Maybe he could. Of course, that would mean he was willing to work with the Elder Wand instead of against it.

But if his holly wand really wouldn’t work for him anymore, he had no choice. He refused to leave himself or Severus defenseless.

Harry sighed and picked up the Elder Wand. For a second, it shone, and Harry didn’t think it was his imagination that it went white and transparent, resembling Voldemort’s yew wand more than anything else.

Then it stopped shining, and it looked exactly like an ordinary, stubby wand of dark wood. Probably a little shorter than the holly one, but no one would know that unless they actually laid that side-by-side and compared them. Harry relaxed. Except to Laocoon, Severus, and Mariana, he simply wasn’t important enough to anyone here for them to do that.

“Thank you, Severus,” he said. “That was a good idea.”

“It was?”

Severus sounded so uncertain. Harry turned and knelt in front of him. Severus was an extraordinary child, but still only a child. And he didn’t get the kind of emotional support that he needed at home with his Prince grandparents, even if he got intellectual admiration.

“Yes, it was a good idea,” Harry said quietly. “I hope that you never think I’ll lie to you. There are certain things I shouldn’t tell you because they might hurt you, but I won’t lie to you and say something I don’t mean.”

Severus stared at him with big eyes, then nodded. “I’m hungry. Can we eat some of the lunch that Grandmother brought?”

Harry nodded and reached for the pile of cheese and bread that Mariana always sent with Severus. She appeared to think that he might starve between the time that she placed him in the shop with Harry and the time she gathered him, even though those were usually short periods of time to avoid Seneca Prince noticing. But Harry wasn’t insulted by her caution, not really. With someone like her husband in the mix, it paid to be cautious.

“I like studying with you better than I do with Grandfather.”

Harry rested his hand for a second on Severus’s dark hair. “And I like being with you, Severus.” Strange and confusing though my existence in this world usually is. Even after a year here, Harry didn’t think he was really all that close to understanding the changes.

*

Orion had sat with his eyes closed, for hours, in the hidden room behind the black oak paneling in his library. When he sat like this, he drifted. The silver bowl in front of him, on the plinth in the center of the room, radiated light, and it was the only thing that could tell him when to wake up.

And when to come here. It summoned him, and he would open his eyes in the darkness of his unhappily shared bedchamber and know that the bowl had filled with glowing liquid starlight and that he was to come.

Now, a picture formed on the surface of the darkness behind his eyes. Orion waited, and didn’t let his surprise when the image divided in two raise him from the trance he needed to use to sit there.

There had never been two images before, but then, as far as Orion knew, there had never been someone in his family who could do this, either. He breathed in, he breathed out, and the images gained form and definition.

Both were faces.

The one on the right was the face of his wife. Orion didn’t bother studying Walburga’s glazed dark eyes, her heavy piled hair, or her slightly-parted lips. He had seen her face like this for several months now, at least in the hidden room. She had never looked like this in real life, but he had faith that someday she would.

The one on the left was no one he knew. The man’s hair was nearly as dark as a Black’s, but far wilder. His eyes had a deep green shine to them that stirred Orion’s memory, even though he was sure he had never seen this man before. He was half-turned in the image, looking as if over his shoulder when his name had been called.

Orion was examining him in deep absorption when the starlight breathed out a name. Harry Evanson.

That was enough to break his concentration—the bowl had never spoken to him before—and Orion’s eyes snapped open. The bowl on the plinth was empty. Orion sat back and took a long, stilling breath.

He didn’t understand why this room existed, or why the bowl summoned him here sometimes and gave him visions. He wasn’t even sure that they were visions. He knew the people and actions he saw would be important to his life at some point, but that was all. Given that most of the time he saw people he already knew, he didn’t know if he was glimpsing the future or not.

Nor did he know if he was the only Black who had been in this room, summoned to dream in front of a bowl filled with starlight that appeared and disappeared. There were no records of this room anywhere in the library, nor had Orion heard any family member mention it, but several of his relatives could well have come here for years and kept the secret. That would be like the Blacks.

Orion stepped back through the door, shutting it behind him and watching it blend seamlessly with the wall. Then he started as a wail broke the silence of the house.

“Daddy! Daddy!”

Orion made his way immediately towards the nursery that held two-year-old Sirius and his infant brother Regulus. He came up in time to clasp his hand around Walburga’s wrist as she raised her wand towards the children.

“No,” he said calmly.

“You don’t know what they did!” Walburga spun towards him with her eyes bright and mad.

Orion sighed and prepared himself to both listen to his wife and defend his children. Walburga’s madness had only been incipient until after Regulus was born, but the crying of their sons seemed to derange her senses.

Part of him that no one would ever be able to see, no matter how skilled a Legilimens they were, kept thinking about the Harry Evanson he had seen, and wondering if the man might be able to help with this problem somehow. Perhaps Orion would end up hiring him as a tutor? But then again, why would he, when his last name indicated he was a Mudblood?

But somehow, he must be able to help with this. Otherwise I might go mad myself.